Cast: Sharwanand, Sudharshan, Raja, and Aadarsh Balakrishna
Director: Sudheer Varma
When Sudheer Varma’s directorial debut, Swamy Ra Ra, arrived in 2013, it felt like a breath of fresh air. It seemed as though Nikhil Siddharth (the movie’s lead actor) had finally found an anchor in the Telugu film industry. All the departments clicked, and people thought that Sudheer’s subsequent films would have the power to change the fate of the crime-thriller genre. But Dohchay and Keshava couldn’t do that; they were merely bees that kept on buzzing. And the wait for the thrills grew longer and darker as the days went on amidst the viewers of Telugu movies.
Now, here comes Ranarangam, a film that feels heavy and soggy at the same time. It’s a thousand miles ahead of Sudheer’s recent pictures, but it still doesn’t possess the ingeniousness and dreamy brilliance of Swamy Ra Ra. Maybe that’s because Sudheer has jumped to bigger things, and he doesn’t care about making the silliness of his leads appear jauntily wholesome anymore. Or maybe that’s because he wants to dig deeper into the nexus between the politicians and their greed for acquiring more wealth by telling the story about a black ticket seller who stumbles upon the trade secrets of hitting the jackpot through the sale of liquor (albeit illegally)!
Ranarangam keeps moving between the mid-1990s and the present times swiftly. Though it comes across as a tacky method of narration in the beginning, it sets up the mood pretty quickly. The Spain portions (present times) show a middle-aged Deva (Sharwanand), a well-respected don who has connections in the European country. Politicians and business tycoons from around the world seem to queue up at his doorstep day in, day out. And then there are the flashback episodes that depict his rise to the top in the port city of Visakhapatnam.
Any Telugu movie that’s set in the 80s and 90s tries to immediately establish the era by zooming in on the posters of Chiranjeevi’s blockbusters. Deva and his friends (played by Sudharshan, Raja, and Aadarsh Balakrishna) are seen selling 10-rupee tickets for forty rupees in a theatre screening Alluda Majaka. Their shirts and trousers may have been inspired by the numerous on-screen avatars adopted by Chiranjeevi himself. But these characters aren’t playing the Mega Star’s fans. They’re simply making their ends meet, for they are unemployed youths who are out to make a fast buck before the sun sets for the day. And what do they do with the money they earn, you ask? They eat to their hearts’ content and drink. Yet they don’t look like third-rate loafers and that’s the biggest achievement of Sudheer’s writing.
Also, Deva and his friends live in a small house in a lower middle-class neighborhood. And therein lies the key to the hero’s dominance over the corrupt MLA, Simhachalam (Murali Sharma). I found traces of Vada Chennai’s Rajan (Ameer) in Deva’s DNA. The way he wins everybody’s love in his neighborhood soon after getting them a tank of water from the hands of a rowdy-corporator is similar to that of Rajan standing up for the rights of his people in Vetri Maaran’s Tamil crime thriller. Rajan and Deva don’t mind doing illegal businesses and use the breadth of the seas they live by to uplift the poor. And the people from their areas don’t mind going to any length to stick their necks out for them, as they know that these men from their basti are more reliable than the men in khakis and khadis.
In a superbly written scene, Deva’s friends make the liquor bottles disappear from the eyes of the police officers before they come to catch them red-handed. Men and women of all ages take it upon themselves to protect them. Even though Sudheer doesn’t dedicate much of the screen time to present their woes, you get a sense that Deva is getting more popular due to the allegiance he’s sworn to his people. He’s not becoming a don to get rich alone; he has other ideas, too.
Along with these elements, Sudheer concentrates on highlighting the love life of Deva. The clichéd romantic sub-story, featuring Kalyani Priyadarshan as Geetha, isn’t a total bore. It doesn’t take the heat off the tale, as well, as it sits neatly beside Deva’s larger arc. But Geetha isn’t somebody we have not seen before; she’s an amalgamation of all the female characters we’ve been seeing in thrillers for the last ten years. She’s charming and bold, but little else. She knows that it’s not easy to love a gangster, and, yet, she drops crumbs for Deva to gather.
However, I couldn’t understand the purpose of Kajal Aggarwal’s presence in the movie. What’s she even doing in Spain? And why does she become friends, in a jiffy, with a man who wields a gun? The entire section that brings together Geetha (yes, Kajal’s also named Geetha, ugh!) and Deva is awkward and unnecessary. It takes the life out of Deva’s zeal for vengeance. The structure of Ranarangam would have remained the same in her absence, too.
Long after you’ve exited the movie hall, you’ll remember the theme music (it’s still ringing in my head) and Sharwanand’s hairstyle. For some reason, it looks like a cobra’s hood, and, it’s not a compliment in any manner. And the other things (i.e., the guns, knives, and sickles that are used throughout the movie to make the action choreography look spectacular) will wither in the darkness of your mind, for everything that unfolds in Ranarangam is bereft of emotional suffering. It’s hard to empathize with a protagonist’s pain when he doesn’t wear his feelings on his sleeve in this kind of a setup.