Narappa, the Telugu remake of the Tamil blockbuster Asuran, sticks to the original without straying away from any of its conflict points. And Venkatesh, who plays the eponymous protagonist, brings a similar kind of anger to the screen. When provoked by his detractors, he roars, and when grief hits the ceiling, he cries his heart out. Yet, his demeanor doesn't echo the depth and poignancy that Dhanush displayed in the Tamil version. After all, the latter earned a National Film Award for his role.
Venkatesh is not new to the game of remakes. He has starred in several such movies and many of them have indeed turned out to be better than the originals — Intlo Illalu Vantintlo Priyuralu (1996), which is a remake of the Tamil comedy Thaikulame Thaikulame (1995), immediately springs to mind. In Narappa, however, he doesn't look for the soul of his character exactly and merely tries to replicate Dhanush's histrionics. I wish he had gone ahead and imagined the angst of his character anew. He would have delivered a stronger — and brighter — performance then.
Why does he still expect us to believe that he can gleefully dance to a romantic track as though he's a teenager? There just can't be a flashback episode where the clock turns backward, in which he appears beardless, to show us that he's much younger. This gimmick works only for Dhanush because he's still in his thirties and his boyish face lends a breadth of legitimacy to the younger roles that he portrays.
And, despite featuring the demonic spirit of casteism, Narappa is presented as a story about the struggles between the rich and the poor. A voice-over narration, while providing context on the hush-hush nature of the protagonist's behavior, says, "A poor man has no caste or religion; a rich man has no goodwill or humanity." The maker of Asuran, Vetrimaaran, certainly won't bat for that line.
When Dalits are humiliated — and killed — for exercising their rights, filmmakers cannot say that it's a class issue. Poor Brahmins and poor Dalits aren't treated the same way in our country. And, most importantly, the forces of caste enter various fields of human life, including education and marriage. There are many dialogues in Narappa where some folks complain about the community that they're born into and yet director Sreekanth Addala wants us to look the other way.
For some strange reason, people who live under the same roof employ different patois. That's a glaring cultural detail that Addala forgets to fine-tune. Anyway, since this is a film filled with likeable actors, you may be inclined to gently train your mind's eye to the events unfolding before you.
Narappa, who lives with his wife, Sundaramma (Priyamani), Munikanna (Karthik Rathnam), Sinnabba (Rakhi), and Bujjamma (Chaitra), faces troubles from a bunch of upper caste men because he owns a piece of land – it actually belongs to his wife, but women, as always, are removed from the equation.
If a Dalit owns something, it irks the upper caste men since they think they can't pass orders anymore. It affects their pride and when people attach their existence to caste and religion, they naturally become fanatics. Narappa doesn't wish to let go of his property as he sincerely believes that it should be handed down to his children and not be sold off for making a quick buck. On the other hand, though, he's an alcoholic who's not respected by his middle child since the latter considers him to be utterly powerless. Adolescents want their fathers to be heroic and brave and not throw up in the house after downing liquor as if it's some sort of a fruity beverage.
These family dynamics make Asuran, and, in a way, Narappa, more relatable. Some short dialogues that are placed here and there give you a picture of how smart the hero is. He comes across as a person who can't even walk on his own occasionally, but there's definitely more to him than meets the eye.
In Drushyam (2014), Venkatesh played a character with similar shades. Even there, he left no stone unturned to keep his family together. As an avid movie-watcher, he devoured everything that he could get his hands on and came up with a set of ideas to hide a dead body. And in the latest release, he misleads a pack of baddies cleverly by leaving no footprints behind — he roams around a forest with his son all night without getting caught. Of course, the plots of these two movies are not the same and they're as different as chalk and chinaware. But if you draw a map with all the remakes that Venkatesh has appeared in, you'll probably find yourself slotting Narappa into the lower bottom.
Venkatesh doesn't rise above the horizon and grab you by your collar here. The movie, nevertheless, has an excellent supporting cast (Jhansi, Rajeev Kanakala, Brahmaji, and Rao Ramesh). These are people who know their job pretty well. And as far as Addala is concerned, this is the most violent film that he's helmed so far. His earlier dramas, Kotha Bangaru Lokam (2008) and Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu (2013), were all about pomp and color. With this one, though, he simply shows that he can reach his destination by taking the road more travelled.