One of the biggest stars of Telugu cinema, essaying the role of his father – the biggest icon in Telugu cinema. And yet, a disaster of Titanic proportions.
It’s been three weeks since the biopic on NT Rama Rao, played by his son Balakrishna – has released. And suffice to say no Raju is going to become a Gentleman from the revenues of the movie. Which is strange for a Balakrishna movie. There are very few experiences that match watching a Balakrishna film.
I am more than familiar with Balayya’s fan following, and have over the years witnessed abhishekam over cut-outs, flowers, and garlands being thrown, money being showered on the screen, and people dancing in the aisles – in urban multiplexes!
I once went to watch No One Killed Jessica. There was a blackout in the adjoining hall, so his fans barged into ours and forcibly played the Balayya movie. On that day, Balayya Killed Jessica.
In the hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh, loyalty and devotion to the star also have a clear caste-based pattern. Fans belong to a particular caste and clash with fans of other stars, who inevitably belong to other castes.
I watched the movie in AMB (Asian Mahesh Babu) Cinemas, and counted a total of two laughs, not a single clap, no hoots – the kind of silence when India is 35 overs into a losing chase with Pakistan. Which is tragic because the filmmakers had access to a great story.
NT Rama Rao is arguably the most famous Telugu person to have ever lived. He went from theatre actor to film star to icon to Chief Minister. Three decades ago, you could walk into a Telugu household, and you’d find a picture of NTR being worshipped as Rama or Krishna.
NTR then went on to form his own political party, contested elections and became the Chief Minister of the state. The next part of his story seems to be written by George RR Martin. When his position seemed invincible, he was removed in a coup by his son-in-law, and ousted from power. It’s a great story, but unfortunately, we Indians do not understand the nuances of making a biopic. Our biopics are hagiographic odes of glory. You notice this in the first few minutes.
Five minutes into the film, NTR has helped a poor man earn his rights, delivered a speech on oppression, another on women’s emancipation, rebuked a corrupt colleague, refused a bribe, and resigned from his job! Yup. By then, you know how things are going to be.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a scene with NTR shown in Vishwaroopa like Lord Krishna himself – that is the level of hero-worship the film resorts to. Director Krish must have had a nightmarish 2018, having walked out of Manikarnika and onto this project.
It’s a great story, but unfortunately, we Indians do not understand the nuances of making a biopic. Our biopics are hagiographic odes of glory.
The film’s real problem is in its casting. Balakrishna is the producer of the film and inhabits every single frame in the movie. In hindsight, the makers could have allowed a younger actor to essay the role of a man in his 20s.
The film begins with NTR at the age of 24, and Balakrishna honestly looks the father of a kid in Intermediate. It is baffling why the makers did not consider Jr. NTR for the role. He is young, looks like NT Rama Rao. And he’s called Jr. NTR – for heaven’s sake! Balakrishna doesn’t look the part, and in the early railway station scene, I was half-expecting him to slap his thigh and stop the train.
The most disappointing part of the film is the fact that it doesn’t seem to care for the audience. It is almost as if the makers did us a favour by releasing the film.
We are subjected to dialogues that were seemingly written for a high-school play. In one scene that must have been written in a “time machine”, Vidya Balan hides a raw mango behind her to reveal that she is with child. In another absurd scene, NTR and his counterpart ANR are shown giving advice to Savitri (whose biopic released last year to critical acclaim) on how to lead her life. It has no relevance to anything and sticks out like an elaichi on a pepperoni pizza.
But the most mind-bending scene is one where NT Rama Rao holds up his son (Balakrishna) and announces that he will grow up to be a great actor. Chew on that for a bit. It is Balakrishna playing his father, holding Balakrishna and announcing that he would be a great actor. Makes you wonder if Christopher Nolan studied in Sri Chaitanya IIT Coaching Institute.
The film also suffers from shoddy production values. The costumes are customary. For a biopic revolving around cinema, the ‘sets’ look like sets. Which doesn’t hamper your viewing experience because the entire film itself looks like a gigantic set.
A tattoo on the right forearm appears and disappears magically like a Death Eater’s mark. Balakrishna is shown as a 25-year-old, but you can see the actor’s grey chest hair peeking out of his shirt.
The most cringe-worthy part of the film was Balakrishna sweating all through the movie. Literal drops of sweat rolling down his face during scenes. In one scene, he walks into an IT raid on his house (they find nothing, of course). His entire shirt is drenched with sweat on both sides – and nobody on the sets bothered to even inform the star about it.
The film is a few minutes short of three hours. Add to that the interval, National Anthem, and advertisements, and there are moments when you want to jump into the Hussain Sagar to end your life.
It’s interesting that the reviews of the film all ranked three stars and above, perhaps out of fear of the star and his fans. Or to avoid looking foolish when the film rakes up crores at the Box Office.
NTR: Kathanayakudu is by far the worst movie I’ve watched in the last few years. An artistic sadomasochism on the senses. It makes you question the intentions behind the release of the film, and how it was released hurriedly before the coming elections.
The second part releases on February 14, and I’m going to watch it. I am into BDSM.