Ten-to-15 minutes into the film, anyone would think that the reason why Radha Mohan christened his story as 'Gouravam' is because the hero stirs the conscience of the oppressed, educates them, inspires them to fight for their honour (gouravam). While his film should have said that so-called 'honour killings' are in reality 'dishonour killings', the script should have been more about giving goddamn solutions to the atrocities committed against the subaltern groups in the caste-ridden Bharat (rural India). Disappointingly, the film is so illiterate that it is not only naive and unnatural, but also as absurd as it would seem if Anna Hazare were to seek out in which all Swiss bank account numbers the loot is, instead of focusing his energies on making real a strong anti-corruption law.
The film would look like taking place in an India where the atavistic Bharat has not yet seen the first honour killing. When the missing case of a Dalit boy and an 'upper' caste girl becomes a big sensation thanks to 24X7 news channels, questions would be raised by several commentators about the possibility of their having been killed by some elder, especially because SM Palli (where the story takes place) is a hamlet where an 'upper' caste father would rather prefer to see his child killed in an accident than be saved by an untouchable woman, whom he would rape at night without compunction.
Shankar and Rajeshwari, an untouchable and an 'upper' caste girl respectively, have been missing for the past few months. Since everyone believes that the rich, feudalist father (Pasupathi, played by Prakash Raj) wants the village to forget the elopement of his daughter with Shankar, they show reluctance to talk about it. Arjun (Allu Sirish), the son of a rich father, lands up in the village, believing he will encounter characters we see in films like 'Onamalu' and happily spend time with his friend Shankar in the lush greenery resembling Vamsi's films. What he encounters is VS Naipaul's violent and sick-minded villagers in the "area of darkness."
Just as one expects Radha Mohan to show the imagination of a Balachandar at this point, he irritates us by making the film nothing more than a personalistic story with occasional reference to caste-based disabilities and sobbing, shouting and a filmi fight. Some 20-30 educated and public-spirited youth he galvanizes turn up once before the interval and again in the climax, and we don't' see them contributing to solving the mystery behind the disappearance of the couple, much less strengthening the cause of the village's Dalits.
When the 'upper' caste goondas are shown to burn the hearth of untouchables with impunity despite SM Palli's now State-wide prominence, how can the film look realistic and what message can it be said to deliver? Reality is much better in that such goondas would not be emboldened to commit atrocities at least during the time when the media spotlight is on their village.
By the time Arjun is done with lecturing an individual, it is clear that he has achieved nothing great. Any investigative journalist would have successfully unraveled the mystery behind such killings in real life without putting the depressed classes to undue inconvenience.
There is a strong ideological foundation on which caste discrimination rests, and caste-based killings are an offshoot of the systemic malaise, but in here the killer has killed the couple in a fit of a rage. Had the killing of the couple been shown as cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder, it would have made greater relevance to the social subtext of the film.
It is hypocritical for the film to suggest that it is a virtue on the part of politicials the subaltern group in wearing their caste identity on the sleeves and, worse, that IAS/IPS officers too of this social group should start doing it. Wow! Is it? If bureaucrats start promoting caste consciousness like organized politics (political parties), then God save India. What is worse, it is said by a Communist character (Nasser), who belongs to an ideology whose adherents strictly abhor to talk about caste in public and in private. Dalits are today aspirational and they don't need Dalit IAS officers to egg on them to aspire. It is sad that the film doesn't talk about the imminent need to provide them quality education and not make them dependent on a patronising state that is good at only trapping them into permanent vote banks.
Even if these intellectual blunders are excused, the script is not even remotely mature. Sirish himself looks like a side character towards the end. The film needed a format where there was no (pre-)climax fight. Bairagi's character elevates the hero as one destined to change the collective fate (the only good song involves him) of the oppressed, but we find him doing nothing more than show pain at his friend's death (which Sirish's expressions do not exude even remotely), and no angst, not even a bit. When he comes to the village, he is completely ignorant of the caste system, but he is forever ignorant (like the rest of the characters) about the ways of the caste-maddened people.
The climax is utterly simplistic. The scene is executed quite outrageously and BVS Ravi's dialogues lack the required depth.
The film needed a character like SRK in 'Swades'.
If Sirish hones his skills thoroughly and works on his physique, he could one day impress a mediocre director to cast him in a sidekick's role. He is not hero material. Yami Gautham had a sparkling expression on her face and she should have been avoided for the same reason. Prakash Raj is routine. The only actor who adds seriousness is Brahmaji, whose wailing out of heart is realistic.
Verdict: With nothing to talk about the lousy script and the amateurish performances, Gouravam is a ridiculous watch. If you want to be inspired, prefer to read Arundhati Roy's essays.