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Language: Telugu

Cast: P. Vijay Kumar, Aningi Rajsekhar, Yagna Shetty

Directors: Ram Gopal Varma, Agasthya Manju

Before a Ram Gopal Varma film reaches the theatres, a set of controversies related to the movie and the maker will reach the audience. Varma too seems to take delight in these activities. The director’s recent films have joined the list of B-grade cinema, for they are pieces of unentertaining trash. But his latest directorial venture (the credits mention Agasthya Manju also), Lakshmi’s NTR, is different.

Varma hasn’t gotten his mojo back. He’s a few hundred miles away from the legacy he built for himself two decades ago. Nevertheless, with this film, he gives us an unapologetic peek into the life of N. T. Rama Rao, Telugu cinema’s biggest superstar and the then-undivided Andhra Pradesh’s three-time Chief Minister.

If Balakrishna stepped into his father’s shoes as a vivacious gentleman in N.T.R. Kathanayakudu and as a rebel with a cause in N.T.R. Mahanayakudu, P. Vijay Kumar plays Rama Rao as an emotionally shrunken man in Lakshmi’s NTR. There’s a sea of difference between the perspectives of Krish (director of the Balakrishna starrers) and Varma-Manju. Rama Rao was once a revered figure amongst the Telugu speaking population. But, due to the heartbreaks he suffered in his twilight years, his personal-and-political life has become a matter of public debate even today.

While Mahanayakudu showed how resort-politics helped Rama Rao become the Chief Minister of AP after Nadendla Bhaskara Rao usurped his seat in 1984, Lakshmi’s NTR turns the tables to put Chandrababu Naidu as the brain behind the 1995 coup.

Varma and Manju opt for the overdramatic background score whenever Naidu (Sritej) appears on the screen. Do the directors think that we wouldn’t be able to spot the chief architect of villainy without the loud score? If you couldn’t guess Naidu’s role from the trailer, you’re either a rookie learning about the dirty tricks in Indian politics, or a nincompoop.

In a political career littered with scams, Lakshmi’s NTR is the single biggest blow for the present AP CM, but I don’t think it’ll put a dent in his image. It has been two and a half decades since Rama Rao passed away and I’m not sure if one film would be enough to take the power-hungry politician to task.

Lakshmi Parvathi has spoken about the insults she has faced from Rama Rao’s family for marrying him, in innumerable interviews. In the movie, she’s played by Yagna Shetty, who’s almost always in tears. She falls at NTR’s feet regularly and calls him Swami, with a dash of devotional fervor. But NTR, though, shifts only from addressing her as Lakshmi Parvathi gaaru to Lakshmi. He announces his decision to marry her at the success celebration of Major Chandrakanth, and this irks Naidu and his gang, for they are waiting in the bushes to grab his wealth.

The relationship-dynamics between the two aren’t explored further than what we’ve already seen and heard. Lakshmi wants to understand the enigma that is NTR better and write a biography, whereas the actor-turned-bitter-politician wants to offer her his vacant heart. The scenes that bring the two together have few sparks and there’s really no romantic tension even though there’s a thirty-year age-gap amongst them. This isn’t how the fall of a legend should make you feel.

Since this a biopic made without the blessings of Rama Rao’s children, Naidu’s son Lokesh is called Akash, and, Telugu Desam is called Mana Desam. Some of the cuss words, directed at Lakshmi, are also muted.

Varma and Manju have done half their job by giving their main actors the right look. You’ll know who’s playing whom in a flash of a second. If these people were made to act on the stage on a rainy night in a small town, the locals would have gone into a frenzy and they’d have whistled and howled throughout the performance. But this is a feature film that’s supposed to be watched on the big screen in a dimly-lit auditorium, so there needs to be more than the “right looks” for the story to keep us glued to the struggles and cunning ploys. And the actors, too, should have gone deep into the souls of the real-life people to do justice to the latter’s psyches on-screen. With none of these making a simha garjana (roar) in Lakshmi’s NTR, it sits as a mediocre film in Varma’s library.

Rating:   star
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