Cast: Balakrishna, Vidya Balan, Rana Daggubati, Sachin Khedekar, Nandamuri Kalyan Ram.
Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao’s popularity in the books of Telugu cinema cannot be matched by anybody. While Akkineni Nageswara Rao, his biggest contemporary, was building Annapurna Studios in the 70s to lure his friends to make films in Hyderabad instead of shooting in the then Madras, Rama Rao was thinking of moving to another line of work. He founded the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and became the Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh within a year.
There’s a cheeky line in the second part of Krish’s NTR series, where Vennela Kishore who plays NTR’s brother-in-law, says there’s no looking back after losing the first round in films, or politics, for NTR since the latter’s debut film as the lead, Shavukaru, was also a flop, but the movies that came later turned him into a superstar.
In the scene, the 1983 election results are being announced, and they come to know that TDP has lost a seat to the Congress Party. But Basavatarakam (Vidya Balan) is unaffected by it as she’s confident that her baava (dear one) will serve the state of AP as the CM, come rain or shine. And her optimistic statements indeed ring true as TDP wins the most number of seats.
The husband-wife equation between them, in Mahanayakudu, is sketched dramatically. It’s as if she didn’t have any ambitions of her own or even a moment to collect her thoughts. She’s always surrounded by her children and well-wishers with whom she’s seen showering praises on her baava. There isn’t a moment dedicated to her alone. This is definitely a biopic on the actor-turned-politician NTR, but whatever little we see of Tarakam comes in the form of a flower falling on a god’s photo. She’s his devotee first, and his wife next.
When you walk out of the film, the chorus of, “Jai NTR, Jai NTR,” which is a fixture throughout the runtime, will haunt you, for that’s how this biopic is created. It’s co-produced by Balakrishna, who is Rama Rao’s son, and, as a consequence, the lines between reel and real keep blurring under the weight of the writers’ pens.
In Kathanayakudu, Balakrishna played the character by aping his father’s body language a bit, but he had brought his baggage along too. However, in this week’s release, since he stars as a man who’s only giving political speeches, the real Rama Rao’s famous hand gestures are used to amplify Balakrishna’s mimicking abilities
Mahanayakudu strategically begins from the point where Kathanayakudu ends, but Krish and his team have probably learned a lot from the failure of the first part, so they’ve crammed all the campaigning scenes into montages. They don’t want to give you time to read NTR’s mind. Is NTR happy with what he’s got, or is he aiming for something bigger? In Kathanayakudu, Balakrishna played the character by aping his father’s body language a bit, but he had brought his baggage along too. However, in this week’s release, since he stars as a man who’s only giving political speeches, the real Rama Rao’s famous hand gestures are used to amplify Balakrishna’s mimicking abilities. It feels more like a stage play, featuring college students, instead of a scripted film which has an actor of repute in the center.
In Ram Gopal Varma’s yet-to-release Lakshmi’s NTR, Chandrababu Naidu is the main villain, whereas Nadendla Bhaskar Rao (Sachin Khedekar) and Indira Gandhi (Supriya Vinod) are the antagonists here. Of course, Lakshmi’s NTR takes place a decade after the 1983 elections. That means it has taken only ten years for Naidu to turn against his father-in-law.
Bhaskar Rao and Indira don’t walk around with guns or knives. Mahanayakudu is structured like a drama thriller, and, hence, the villains don’t make veiled attacks. The story of how NTR was removed from the Chief Minister’s chair when he was in the US for health reasons is out in the public domain, and you can access it right away, but, when you watch it on the big screen along with MM Keeravani’s scintillating background score, you’ll feel his pain. The scenes where he’s mocked by Bhaskar Rao’s associates during the floor test – which never takes place – are literally the highlights of Mahanayakudu, for they convey his state of agony without making him utter a single word.
The southern states have always been looked down upon by the bigwigs in Delhi. And there has been no political movie that has brought that anger into the limelight and Mahanayakudu has finally filled that gap. In several scenes, NTR’s friends from the South, like MG Ramachandran – Tamil Nadu’s then CM who calls him an “Aambala Singam” (ferocious lion) – stand by him for the wars he wages. The biopic isn’t free of blemishes, or uncalled for loyalty towards the Master, but it’s something that’ll take you back to the 80s where landlines ruled and resort politics made headlines.