Varun Tej in Gaddalakonda Ganesh

Director: Harish Shankar

Cast: Varun Tej, Atharvaa Murali, Pooja Hegde

Harish Shankar’s Gaddalakonda Ganesh is an official remake of Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda. Subbaraj’s cinema is, at best, commercial-adjacent, while Shankar’s films are trademark Telugu entertainers. To this end, it is understandable that the remake chooses to defer from the original, in more ways than one. While Mani Ratnam, Vetrimaaran, and Vijay Sethupathi are replaced by Rajamouli, Sukumar and Nithin, respectively, plot points that need more time and fleshing-out are replaced by item numbers, slow-motion tracks, and familiar templates. For someone who appreciates Telugu cinema for the crowdpleaser it is, there is plenty to like.

Gaddalakonda Ganesh is about a director, Abhilash, finding his film, and a wayward gangster Gaddalakonda Ganesh, finding his true calling. The film is also about cinema and its people —the ones who make it and the ones who make it what it is. Even though it starts as a endeavour that wants to bring out the hero in a man perceived as villain by many, it ends up elevating the filmmaker. It is evident in the way Thanikella Bharani’s character is forcefully introduced post-interval, only to manufacture an emotional arc of an aspiring director getting his chance to say ‘action’. (This was better staged in the original because the character had more to do.) It is also evident in the way Atharvaa’s character walks out at the end of the film. The man deserving of a following isn’t a gangster-turned-actor, but the director himself.

Harish Shankar takes no time in getting to the point. He knows that ‘his’ audience is not patient enough to wait for the joke to land, so he chooses comedy that is easy and in-your-face. Characters such as Brahmaji’s acting coach — ‘I’m not done yet’ he says, while Bharat Enu Nenu‘s theme music plays in the background — and Satya’s Kondamalli — his love for chinthapandu, and second hero antics are a hoot — help a lot as well. Considering that the industry is involved, inside jokes are inevitable. Sukumar’s love for angles isn’t spared, and neither is our industry’s love for North Indian beauties. A man and woman, strangers to each other, are forced into marriage, and they bond over the fact that his name is Ravi Teja, and she is a fan of the actor.

There are many emotionally manipulative scenes in the film, and most of them don’t work. The one that does, involves Ganesh getting a kiss on the cheek from the same kid who was initially scared of him. The idea that bad men only settle for fear when they are denied love, is effectively conveyed without much noise.

Varun Tej gives an assured performance as the man whose unkempt beard and scar say as much as his eyes do. He is no Bobby Simha, but he doesn’t have to be to get two introduction scenes. Atharvaa’s Abhilash is a glamorised version of Siddharth’s Karthik, and his performance fits the film he is in. Mrinalini Ravi’s Bujjamma is as stereotypical as they come — a hormonal teenager with no life outside of the camera’s voyeuristic gaze. Pooja Hegde doesn’t get much screen-time, but any actress willing to risk getting compared to Sridevi deserves a pat on her back for being brave.

Varun Tej in Gaddalakonda Ganesh
Varun Tej in Gaddalakonda Ganesh

Speaking of which, watching milk pour down Sridevi’s cutout is a great sight, to say the least. The film features a short tribute to the screen legend — Elluvochi Godharamma is also a part of that, and Ayananka Bose’s cinematography does wonders with the colours around. The film begins with a well-framed tracking shot of Ganesh’s back and moves along him into a dimly-lit gambling den as well. Even though the highly-saturated heroines are a bit distracting, the camera and colour schemes add an edge to the film. Mickey (J Meyer) isn’t Mickey enough in the film, which is why most songs don’t make a lasting impact. Even the BGM — one of the strong points in the original — gets a bit noisy, and the repetitive ‘vakka vakka’ gets annoying after a point.

Abhilash thinks that bad men — gangsters and murderers — make better heroes than good men. No greater insight comes out of this theory than a standardised flashback with a shady childhood and a broken heart. This would’ve bothered me had the film pretended to be deep. The filmmaker confesses as much when Abhilash says, “I am not intelligent enough to educate people, so I will entertain instead.” The good news is there is a lot of entertainment. The bad news is it also includes gratuitous shots of the female body, numerous mentions of soft porn, and two men moaning pleasurably. But then, I have seen enough potboilers to know a laugh is inevitably followed by a wince, and this film — an ode of sorts to the genre — is no different.

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