Rana Naidu Works More As A Fatherhood Drama Than An Action Comedy

Purely as an exploration of broken father-son dynamics, Rana Naidu is a delight on paper. But the usual strengths of its creator go missing with this Netflix series
Rana Naidu Works More As A Fatherhood Drama Than An Action Comedy

Director: Suparn Verma, Karan Anshuman

Cast: Rana Daggubati, Venkatesh Daggubati, Suchitra Pillai, Rajni Basumatary, Gaurav Chopra, Surveen Chawla 

Director and creator Karan Anshuman has been an exciting voice who seems to have flourished because of the freedom of being able to tell stories on OTT platforms. His debut film, the underrated Bangistan, told the story of two religious terrorists from the fictional Bangistan who have identical suicidal missions. The satire had to hide its punches without making its political and religious targets too obvious. But with the new internet-dependent medium he has been able to take punchier digs at the world of cricket through the pulpy Inside Edge, and the political struggles of small-town Northern India in Mirzapur. I haven’t seen the original (Ray Donovan), but when Rana Naidu was announced I was expecting some equally punchy digs at Bollywood and the grey unregulated spaces film personalities delve into that seem other-worldly to the common folk. It felt even more symptomatic of our times that Rana Naidu (Rana Daggubati) is an amoral fixer who solves the problems of our immoral elite – whether they are about to be blackmailed or whether they need a dead body dealt with, Rana Naidu turns up and cleans the mess with a poker face. Could it be a metaphor for our times? Was this Karan Anshuman talking about Bollywood needing a savior to protect it from a civil society that has turned against it? Is it a coincidence that the two leading men are stars from the South or was that a deliberate touch in the metaphor?

But as Rana Naidu progresses it reveals that underneath its Bollywood-y gloss, it isn’t about celebrities and their devious ways but actually about many broken father-and-son relationships. Almost every man in the show is a morally reprehensible father or a son who is a victim of the actions of such fathers. Leading the pack of devilish fathers is Naga Naidu (Venkatesh) who doesn’t realise that part of being a good father means being a good and faithful husband too. But he is one of those fathers who thinks being a dad is about being a friend – an immature one at that. He barely sees his own actions as damaging or his own role as a bad husband leading to being hated as a father.

When he deals with his tortured sons Pawan aka Jaffa (Abhishek Banerjee) and Tej (Sushant Singh), Naga assumes he can wipe over his misdeeds with a quick joke and an easy reference to his womanising ways.  Naga treats their mental traumas and physical decays, which are due to his own (in)actions, as minor inconveniences because addressing them directly would require him to be punished. He doesn’t want to address them because Naga has spent 15 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Being wrongfully convicted for a decade and a half seems an easier punishment to him than addressing his own moral failures as a father. Maybe that is why he decides to confront Rana, the one son who he hasn’t really damaged. Or so he thinks. Venaktesh is an exciting choice for the role because of his own family-friendly image as an actor. But the audacity in choice is overwrought by eagerness in performance - whether it is to appear menacing, to abuse, or to appear cunning. It doesn’t help that the atrocious wig gets in the way far too often. But when he has to appear as a failing father, Venkatesh is in fine form. 

On the other hand, Rana thinks of himself as a good father because he creates an environment of comfort and abundance. He seems to be one of those fathers who thinks that intentions make up for actions. If the children know that he’s working hard to get them into a posh school, his absence will be forgiven. If the children know that he’s angry because of all the mental tension he’s been through, they’ll forgive him for using gaalis at them. We know fathers like this all around us who wish to see their misgivings as minor and their intentions as godly. They relish fatherhood not because of the mundanity required by love but the largeness of heart dictated by appearing as a ‘Hero’ to their child. Rana Daggubati’s wooden performance chisels this struggle of Rana Naidu between the character’s other larger-than-life conflicts. There is a lot of crassness, and there is a lot of sex, but Rana Daggubati ekes out the required tenderness in the smaller moments with his children. Or rather for the children. As he struggles to be a son and a father, he finds himself hating being both. Even as a brother, he is basically a father – protecting, giving, and cleaning up messes. And the final sequence with his wife Naina (Surveen Chawla) has him almost being like a child in front of her. He says as much – that he wants her to give him the same ‘magic’ she gives their son.

There are other terrible fathers too in Rana Naidu. The series opens with a character who has no idea he is going to be a father and ends with Rana’s father-like mentor, OB (Rajesh Jais) struggling with a more literal version of the father-son conflict. Even the filmstar Prince Reddy (Gaurav Chopra) ensures that Prince Jr grows up worthy of a king – here too, it’s never about being a father and son as much as it is about being a ‘king and a prince’. My favorite father-son relationship is also Rana Naidu’s oddest one which is between a rapper named Toofan (Samarth Shandilya) and his protégé Rehaan. At first, it feels exploitative in many ways and we expect there to be a revelation of that nature. But its trick is that there is no such reveal and that this man-child rapper is a genuine father figure. He might be rapping about freedom and being a lover, but when it matters he enjoys the constraints and loneliness of his own awkward fatherhood. Despite this abundance of father-son duos, what makes Rana Naidu and Naga Naidu worthy of being protagonists of this father-son drama is that they both seem to understand that fatherhood is a steep slope and that they are constantly slipping.

The lack of motherhood or the constantly tired wives and lovers never appear as a disservice to women but rather serves as a testament to the toxicity present in all men - through nature and nurture. The scenes with the men have the ashy alcohol scent of a bachelor pad on Saturday mornings and therefore it’s an indictment of the failures of the men on screen rather than an indulgence of their masculinity.  Surveen Chawla could have done with fewer “What the fuck, Rana?” and “What the hell, Rana?” but she ensures that we never get carried away by the bravado of the men. She is a reminder to Rana Naidu that if he isn’t a good husband he can never be the good father he wants to be - a voice that the older Naga Naidu lacked. 

Purely as an exploration of such wonderfully broken father-son dynamics, Rana Naidu is a delight on paper and most of the time on screen. But it also has to focus on countless sub-plots of Rana as a fixer – so there is a Bollywood star who is guilty of a crime and one giant moral failure, a politician who is guilty of many crimes and many moral failures, and similarly, scrupulous cricketers, aspiring starlets, shady realtors, who emerge and disappear before they are registered. When the world created by Karan Anshuman wants to believe that Rana is in trouble we barely register a note. In a scene, a character remarks if Rana Naidu is someone who cries when he sees Baghban, and that rings true because the Baghaban-esuqe moments are juicier than the action/satire/comedy beats.

The sex grabs the eyeballs but never captures the sleaze and immorality of the characters. The action feels functional but doesn’t leave us sweating. Similarly, the humor relies on gaalis but not on circumstance or insight. The houses and interiors of most locations feel like they are custom-made for a Manyavar and Asian Paints advertisement but never bring home the vibe of lived-in spaces. Even Karan Anshuman’s strength of making the audience play a guessing game with the Easter eggs and the subtle digs and meta references are toned down compared to Inside Edge, which means that the sequences that are not dramatic seem excessive. There are a few clever references to Venkatesh’s filmography (my favorite one included the reference to Nepal) but there are far fewer than required. 

This ultimately brings me to what might have appealed to creator Karan Anshuman to adapt the story of a Hollywood fixer to India and Mumbai. The father-son drama that deals with sexual abuse and the thankless nature of being providing fathers and doting sons is new and sets Rana Naidu apart from other stories being told. This makes it a brave adaptation. The fathers are haraamis and the sons are all kameenas. But the usual strengths of its creator – the digs, the punchiness, the audacity in satires, and the authenticity all go missing. The story aims to fix the relationship between a son and his father and the show gets that right, but the creators needed to fix the rest of the show. 

Related Stories

No stories found.