Director: Sachin Ravi
Cast: Rakshit Shetty, Shanvi Srivastava, Balaji Manohar, Achyuth Kumar, Pramod Shetty
Rakshit Shetty, the hero of the new-wave movement in Kannada cinema, is back on the big screen in a full-fledged role after three years. His previous release Kirik Party was a runaway success. To this day, the song 'Belageddu' plays on the radio like it's a recently released number; proof enough that the craze around the movie hasn't yet died down. It's certainly a difficult benchmark to live up to, and Avane Srimannarayana falls way off that particular target.
Comparing the two films is like pitting a case of apples against one of oranges, but when you consider the number of boxes ticked, Kirik Party wins hands down. It was a pure mainstream film packed and wrapped in youthfulness, whereas Avane Srimannarayana is a parallel offering that's mounted on a larger scale with none of the charm it says it possesses.
The opening scene is similar to the scores of loud action thrillers that South Indian cinema (especially Kannada and Telugu) is known for. The villains introduce their vileness to the double-crossers by killing them mercilessly – of course, the proceedings involve many heavy monologues uttered by the main baddie, and his followers announce their presence through unpunctuated laughs. Once the motives are made clear, the real hero makes his entry, to take you on a ride on a giant wheel of emotions. This passage is actually interesting as it brings together two clans: one belonging to a group of looters and murderers (called Abhira) and the other belonging to a travelling drama troupe.
For all the folk tales that Avane Srimannarayana courageously sets up, it doesn't dig into the alternative versions of mythology related to the Ramayana. It sticks to the basics, but it does take a strong dig at the epic by naming its ageing antagonist (played by Madhusudhan Rao) Rama Rama. His sons, born to different women, are named Jairama (Balaji Manohar) and Tukarama (Pramod Shetty). If you wish to see these aspects through the same lenses a bit longer, you might also call this movie a strange concoction of sibling rivalry. The half-siblings are both eyeing the throne and they've harboured hatred for a long time. It's indeed amazing that they're not at each other's throats day and night. Perhaps, the only major difference is in the lengths they can individually go to, to achieve their dreams.
This is where Narayana (Rakshit Shetty), an Inspector in a small town named Amaravati, makes his entry – and, it's not a thunderous star entry! It's more like a blink-and-miss appearance, as it immediately moves to a tiny action episode. Narayana's agility may have gotten him a police job, but he's seen more in a local bar gulping down beers than solving cases in the cabin he's supposed to work in. He's joined by Constable Achyuthanna (Achyuth Kumar), who sings to his boss's tunes. They really make a great pair in delivering humour in subtle doses.
The jokes mostly spring from the unmanageable situations that they get invariably stuck in; so, it's fun to watch the two of them make the best use of satire to steer the narrative. An important point worth mentioning is that they don't resort to cheap humour in any place. Writers in Kannada cinema usually don't let go of an opportunity to insert double entendres, but Rakshit, who's a part of the writing team, stays away from it and maintains a sense of decorum.
The female lead Lakshmi (Shanvi Srivastava) has an equally important role to play. Shanvi's screen time is definitely lesser than Rakshit's. Why, even Achyuth gets more lines and dance steps than her, but the way her character is designed is intriguing. It's a bold cliché; however, it serves the purpose. The conversations between Narayana and Lakshmi aren't dipped in romance. It's a by-product that rears its head along the path of the three-hour-long treasure hunt. Oh yes, it's a one-line idea stretched into a 186-minute movie. That's partly the reason why it disappoints; the twists and turns can be smelled from afar! Plus, Bengali cinema has a tradition of making such movies. In Kannada, though, it's an unusual genre. What's that thing they say about experiments? I'll leave it to your imagination.
Avane Srimannarayana starts off as a Spaghetti Western – if you don't believe me, take a look at the guns, the men, and the locations – and ends on a sober, toothless note. Flashes of brilliance, like the clue regarding the phrase that a trumpeter keeps mouthing, are astounding. Nevertheless, they are too few and far between to hold your attention. Even though there's a connect-the-dots puzzle (which Bell Bottom did marvelously earlier this year), it gets tedious after two hours. The limited amount of suspense doesn't help the movie in the third act, as the clashes between the hero and the villain become sort of caricaturish.
Maybe, if it had stuck to a single genre instead of adapting some Baahubali tricks here and adding some Buster Keaton (inspiration for slapstick humour) moves there, something good could have come out of Avane Srimannarayana.