Director: Boyapati Sreenu
Cast: Nandamuri Balakrishna, Pragya Jaiswal, Jagapathi Babu, Meka Srikanth, Shamna Kasim
Some films prepare you for what to expect the minute you walk into a theatre. If you’ve followed the films actor Balakrishna and director Boyapati Sreenu have done together in the last decade you know the formula that they believe in.
Balakrishna essays two roles in the film. One is a do-gooder with super-human skills to bash people but just a little bit of vulnerability to shake his leg to fill the first half with songs and dance along with massy fights. There’s a gruesome villain doing an illegal activity and is probably an extreme version of some real life political opponent of Balakrishna, the politician. Then, an interval fight sets up the entry of the second character, who is a super-super-super-human with a tragic backstory to justify the violence that’s about to follow. The thrilling climax with fight sequences and punch dialogues aim to bring the roof down. Finally, everyone exits the theatre saying “Jai Ballayya.”
Rather than being story-telling entities these films are supposed to be vehicles of adrenaline pumping energy through the dialogues and actions of its leading man. If you’re a young male Balakrishna fan who feels safe to express themselves in a single screen theatre, these movies are dream stuff. It guarantees a better high than a cocktail of Redbull, black coffee and any other drug. Akhanda works even better if you want to thump your chest over Hindu myth and folklore.
In this film, Balakrishna plays Murali Krishna and Akhanda. The first is the relatively (using the word loosely here) sensitive do-gooder in Anantapur district where he’s settling disputes and arguing for peace while resorting to violence where needed. This part has meta baggage because Balakrishna is the MLA of Hindupur which is in Anantapur district.
Srikanth plays Varadarajulu, the tormentor-in-chief, who’s conducting illegal mining and ruining peoples lives and the environment. Like Jagapathi Babu, Srikanth is trying to reinvent himself by playing super-villainesque characters but it’s hard to find freshness in his interpretation of these characters. Jagapathi Babu brought a certain mix of suaveness with local flavour last seen in Raghuvaran. Jagapathi Babu’s voice helped the loudness required of these characters. But Srikanth struggles to get originality to these portions and seem more like a younger brother aping an elder brother.
Pragya Jaiswal plays yet another part which confuses a highly qualified character (she’s an IAS officer named Saranya) for an important one to the plot. But then again her purpose in this film is to dance well and sell her pairing with Balakrishna and cry bucket loads of tears when she’s pushed into the path of trouble. She does a good enough job of that.
Balakrishna as Akhanda does the greatest amount of fan service that any star has done in a long time. He dances, gives hat tips to real life situations, utters dialogues that his fans want him to, brings energy to badly written scenes and tries his best to sell the fights. It’s everything fans expect from him but it’s not the actor who was seen in films such as Aditya 369, Bhairava Dweepam, and Goutamiputra Satakarni (films of his that I personally like). They have shown us that he’s capable of films that are relevant beyond his fans and seep into ‘average’ cinema audience. They age well and linger in the mind years after their initial viewing.
However, in this film, he delivers exactly what his fans want. He relishes the dialogues and shows how much fun playing to the gallery is. When hell almost breaks loose around the interval mark and it’s time for Akhanda to enter, hell does break loose. But it is for the bad guys on screen and in the single screen theatres across the Telugu speaking states. People whistled, hooted, howled and threw bits of colored paper in the air.
In the hands of Thaman, the music becomes the green chilli that some people eat along with food that’s already spicy. It’s not for everyone but those that do relish it enjoy it in a way others might not fully understand.
Boyapati Sreenu’s earlier work is not something I’ve been particularly impressed by or enjoyed but it’s rare to find an actor-director pair that knows exactly what they want and who they are catering to. That’s admirable and a quality other storytellers and directors can imbibe.
If this review sounds a little muddled I think it’s because I’m also confused. It wasn’t my cup of tea but I couldn’t not smile seeing those that enjoyed it doing their thing in the theatre. I found many problematic elements but this film doesn’t care to be on that page because that would be like expecting a bulldozer to excel in miniature art.
Ultimately there’s a simple litmus test for how you would react to Akhanda. I’m going to throw a phrase at you. You could repeat it sincerely with all your heart or you could utter it ironically with a goofy grin. I know which side I’m on.