At close to three hours, Rangasthalam is a film I'd started watching many times, only to give up due to distractions along the way. Given that it's the second day of the lockdown, there were no more excuses for finding the time to finally finish it, and I'm so glad I did. When one, especially those in other States, talks about Telugu cinema, it's always easier for the Jerseys, the C/O Kancharapalems, the Fidaas and the Gang Leaders to reach you (Baahubali, of course, is bigger than any one industry) . But it's the thoroughbred masala films from the industry that need to find a bigger audience outside the State. Sukumar's Rangasthalam is no doubt a blockbuster. But it's also a film that deserves an audience across the country. Along with War and the more recent Allu Arjun-starrer Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, Rangasthalam is among the best masala films of recent times.
It's also an excellent cure for the cabin fever caused by the lockdown. The film's first interior shot happens close to 25 minutes after it begins. For a person stuck at home without direct sunlight for over a week, Rangasthalam is like a healthy dose of Vitamin D. I'm not exaggerating about its outdoorsiness…even women taking a bath in their outdoor bathrooms get top angle shots. What about the feeling of isolation (we also get a nice little love-at-first-peep scene before this)? Given the number of people populating the film's every frame, you feel like you're attending the wedding of a popular local politician.
Rangasthalam is as much about a place as it is about its hard-of-hearing hero Chitti Babu, played by an excellent Ram Charan. It's a bit of great writing when you get the feeling that you know almost everyone in this fictional village. The writing is so good here that even the absolutely mandatory item number actually has a purpose in the film (it's a ploy to take the hero away from his brother so people can attack him). But where the writing really surprised me is how effectively the film weaves in the hero's hearing disability in so many different ways.
At first, as you'd expect, it's just to bring in the laughs. He doesn't want many people to know that he can't hear what people are saying. But even these seemingly inane scenes are used to pass on vital information like how he lip reads, a detail that becomes very important later on. In another instance, a standard-issue proposal scene gets a fresh new take when the hero can't really hear it when the heroine asks him to marry her. Later, the stakes are heightened when he tries to walk into her house at night thinking he hasn't disturbed anybody.
The barebones conflict of the film itself incorporates this. The man whose words are the most powerful in an entire village takes on a man who can't listen. Even the film's main fight uses this incredibly well when he can't hear someone shouting for him (it's a torchlight that comes to his rescue here). Whoever thought sound design would take care of such heavy-lifting in a proper mainstream masala film.
This is also a very good-looking film. Shot by Rathnavelu, there are several swooping drone and crane shots that aid in the film's world-building. There's also a consistency in its visuals that go beyond loud bursts of extreme contrast and colour, keeping the film very pleasing to the eyes. The songs, of course, are legit blockbusters in their own right; one more reason why one should watch this film is these sobering times. Classics can wait; with all the blandness going around, Rangasthalam might just be the masala we've been pining for.