In the now-derided 1980 comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy, a tribe living in the Kalahari desert mistakes a bottle thrown from an airplane to be a sign from the creator. In Ashwin Gangaraju’s Aakashavani, a tribe that is cut off from civilisation first worships a stone, then a man whom they believe to be a divine messenger and finally a radio.

Aakashavani, which is out on SonyLIV, is better treated as a parable about oppression and liberation than in literal terms. Filled with wide-eyed indigenous people in desperate need of saving and villains out of your average potboiler, the movie benefits from solid production values, sincere performances, and a message about choosing your gods widely.

Although the 124-minute film is set in an unspecified period, the hair-styles, costumes and analogue technology suggest a time not long after Independence. The cruel Dora (Vinay Verma) has a tribe under his heel. Using the services of a one-eyed enforcer named Samba – who appears to have escaped from the sets of SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali – Dora rules with an iron fist and oodles of deceit.

The blind faith of the tribals in Dora’s divinely ordained powers is unwittingly shaken by the discovery of a radio. The communication apparatus that occasionally crackles to life replaces the stone and Dora as the new god.

Displeased with the competition, Dora proceeds towards a devious plan that involves the radio’s finder, the sprightly boy Gidda (Prashanth). Salvation comes in the form of Chandram (Samuthirakani), a school teacher who strays into Dora’s fiefdom and faces a situation beyond his understanding.

Naive by design, Aakashavani even dips into mythology on its road to freedom. Unfortunately for the tribals, portrayed as gullible supplicants until an outsider shows them the light, there is no escape from the limitations of the simplistic story.

Aakashavani (2021).