Director: Anil Ravipudi
Cast: Nandamuri Balakrishna, Sreeleela, Arjun Rampal, Kajal Aggarwal
Duration: 164 minutes
Available in: Theatres
If you are a Telugu cinema enthusiast, you know that ‘Balakrishna’ is a separate genre with its own set of rules. When he makes half a dozen bad guys fly in the air with a kick, you don’t question the practicality of this action because that’s how this genre works. Not only have we accepted the unbelievable nature of a standard Balakrishna film, but the excess and exaggeration are a part of its DNA. Complaining that a Balakrishna film has too many punchlines and hero-glorifying moments is like nagging about a horror film for having too many scares or a comedy film for having too many laugh-out-loud-moments. On this front, Bhagavanth Kesari is a pretty entertaining outing from both its star, Balakrishna and filmmaker, Anil Ravipudi. It is two films rolled into one. On one hand, it’s the high-energy masala outing that’s constantly creating whistle-worthy, quirky and heroic moments. And on the other hand, it’s trying to be a meaningful, mature tale of a father-like figure and his girl child. Despite having some issues, Bhagavanth Kesari works pretty well on both fronts to a large extent, offering us an action entertainer with its heart at the right place.
It’s a simple but interesting storyline, especially for the masala treatment it gets. An angry, ex-convict Bhagavanth Kesari (Balakrishna) is assigned the responsibility of upbringing Vijayalakshmi aka Vijji (Sreeleela), the daughter of an honest police officer, and making her an army officer, the dream of her biological father who passes away in an accident. But it’s not that simple. Vijji, after witnessing her father’s death, develops anxiety issues as a kid, and deems herself mentally and physically unfit to become an army officer; it’s also because she sees it as her chiccha’s dream and not hers. To spice up things, we have Rahul Sanghvi (Arjun Rampal), the quintessential corporate villain whose path crosses with Bhagavanth when Vijji gets tangled up in a deadly situation. Rahul himself has an ugly, violent past with Bhagavanth, and this is where I stop myself from revealing more.
For a film that’s trying to be both massy and meaningful, the narrative flows very well, with the humour, heroism, and emotion complementing each other wonderfully. For instance, take the scene where Bhagavanth confronts Rahul in the second half at his place. A super serious Rahul delivers a dialogue that he thinks is a powerful threat, an analogy involving the Sun and darkness. Anil’s writing immediately diffuses the situation by making a drunkard deliver the same line in a completely different context, making the dialogue a joke, while also serving as a mass moment for the hero.
There’s an undercurrent of humour in Anil Ravipudi's writing throughout the narrative of Bhagavanth Kesari, lending a clever quirk to heavy-duty drama and action sequences. Be it Bhagavanth’s intro sequence set in a jail, where an old man and his decision to pump water into a bucket is used to give a humour tinge to the otherwise massy hero-entry sequence, or the hilarious stretch in the second half’s flashback where the hero goes on a killing spree based on the appearance of thugs, the humour going hand-in-hand with the action makes these sequences pretty enjoyable. Yes, it’s exaggerated and loud. Yes, the dosage of heroism seems to know no limits and we keep getting one sequence after the other to celebrate the swag and valour of Bhagavanth, but thankfully, the humour comes to the rescue and avoids the monotony of hero glorification. It’s not just humour and heroism going hand-in-hand but the styles of Balakrishna and Anil. It’s a fun cocktail.
Bhagavanth Kesari is not a perfect film. The VFX, for instance, is patchy and extremely distracting, especially in most of the scenes featuring the antagonist in his glass palace. Rampal’s character itself offers very little novelty and at this point, we are exhausted seeing villains who lack a real personality. Kajal Aggarwal’s Kathyayani, a psychologist, feels like a missed opportunity considering the film had so much potential to use her character more resourcefully. While we are told that Vijji has anxiety issues, having a psychologist right beside her for the most part, without ever really helping her (although there’s something on these lines towards the end), was just baffling. Seeing Kathyayani just stand beside Vijji, without ever directly helping her overcome her fear is like watching a terribly hungry guy throw away a plate of hot biriyani served to him because he is insistent on cooking his own food, even if it takes hours. But despite all these issues with the writing, Vijji’s character culminates in a cracker of an ending that might just be one of my favourite moments of the year. It’s a killer climax, literally.
Where Bhagavanth Kesari really surprises is on the emotion and the ‘message’ front. The tool it uses to deliver its women empowerment message is quite simple and familiar: arrogant, narrow-minded men. These characters exist only for Bhagavath to instill some sense into them. It does feel like a basic choice, but if you think about it, perhaps the film is treating these men as personifications of prejudiced sentiments. And at one point, Balakrishna takes to the stage, literally, to educate children about the "bad touch". I’ll be honest, initially, I thought it would have been much more poignant had this message been delivered by a female character; Kajal Aggarwal would have been a wonderful pick. I felt it would have made Bhagavanth Kesari a better film. But, if you think about it, a star like Balakrishna, who is idolised by many, might be a more powerful and potent voice to deliver this message to the ground level. You can question whether kids need schooling from a Telugu mainstream film, but it’s always a welcome move when such an important message is communicated in a film, that too in an earnest, mostly non-preachy way, by a star because this film reaches the ground-level audience. I never thought I’d ever see Balakrishna take on such a sensitive, pertinent topic and address it in one of his larger-than-life entertainers, and I’ll respect this film for its intentions.