Director: Vi Anand
Cast: Ravi Teja, Payal Rajput, Tanya Hope
Ravi Teja the actor has been taking a backseat for a while now. It’s Ravi Teja the star that we get to see, and even though he misses the mark more often than not, there is no going back. This is where a film like Disco Raja, which is both about the story and the star at the centre of it, makes you feel nostalgic for the Ravi Teja of the past. The character(s) he plays isn’t really as fleshed out as you’d want it to be — a cruel gangster whose only redeeming quality comes from the actor playing him and his likeability — but Ravi Teja makes it work. Despite his obnoxious mannerisms — he has a whole different way of mixing ice to his alcohol — and gleefully-sexist remarks, Teja helps us invest in this man’s life, even if partially.
Ravi Teja plays the titular role of a gangster who, like the name suggests, likes to listen to high-energy music while finishing off his opponents. He turns Burma Sethu (Bobby Simha) into his enemy by offering him a job, while Sethu wants to rule just like Raja. Things start to go the way they do in 80s-inspired gangster flicks. Meanwhile, there is a family of orphans living in Delhi, waiting for their brother to return and pay off their debt. How Raja is related to this family, and how he avenges the deaths of his near and dear forms the rest of the story.
Disco Raja has a rather elaborate plot that I cannot really talk about without revealing the story. Director Vi Anand, to his credit, writes a very detailed and seemingly well-researched story, but makes the mistake of adding too many plot points. The film starts off as a science fiction that talks about advances in medicine and ethics, before it turns into a story of gangsters and meanders into a love story, among other things. A screenplay that travels a lot is not a bad thing. It’s just that when your template is a commercial endeavour, the best thing to do is to keep things as simple as possible. That said, there is novelty in the way Anand tells his story. There is body shaming and sexism (why wouldn’t there be?), but there is also unexpected gentleness in the way he handles the love story between Raja and Helen — Payal Rajput is effective as this defiant woman. Raja says this about Helen and why he loves her: “Amma ku leni dhairyam thanalo undhi” (She has the courage my mother lacked).
I understand the choice of inserting an interval a bit sooner than usual, but it creates a very uneven rhythm. As it is, the first half isn’t interesting enough to keep us invested, and the second half becomes too stuffy. The film beats around the bush with a lengthy flashback, and even if it manages to regain its momentum, the credit has to go to Thaman’s music. It’s not always subtle, but, sometimes, his BGM is the only thing that keeps the energy alive. ‘Nuvvu Natoh’ song enlivens the dragging film as it aptly takes us back to the glorious days of 90s Telugu cinema with its tune and SPB’s irreverent voice. Even though the love story between Raja and Helen is charming, it leaves a lot to be desired where Naba Natesh’s character is involved (You don’t even remember her character’s name!). Vennela Kishore, Naresh, Satya, and Sunil get to have substantial screen time and they, expectedly, make the most of it.
Technically too, the film sets itself apart by going the distance. The introduction sequence is shown as taking place in Ladakh, but it’s been shot in Iceland. Karthik’s cinematography takes advantage of this topography, its innate beauty and vastness. The CGI work, too, especially in the title credits, is well done,
When the film is about to begin, there is a disclaimer: ‘Every person in the film speaks in Telugu to make it easier for the audience to understand it’. This is not a film that is trying to be realistic, and so, you have to appreciate its honesty. Even within the template of a masala entertainer, the film does manage to tweak a little. The hero’s introduction shot is unique, so is the way the twists are written — they are reasonably twisty. However, encumbered by the cliched 80s production design (everybody in the 80s loved Gold Spot or what?) and the film’s love to travel — the story moves across at least five different places — it gets unnecessarily dense and complex, all to tell an age-old tale of ‘guns and roses’.