Director: Saagar K Chandra
Cast: Pawan Kalyan, Rana Dagubatti, Samyukta Menon
I'm going to resist comparing Bheemla Nayak to its Malayalam original, Ayyapanun Koshiyum. Firstly, because this one is a complete star vehicle meant to propel the legend of Pawan Kalyan the politician, so much so that the Malayalam original which had both the protagonists in its title here is just reduced to the character played by Pawan Kalyan.
This film's title card might as well have read Pawan Kalyan the actor 'in and as' Pawan Kalyan the politician.
Secondly, Bheemla Nayak is a much more polished and glamorised take on the sensibilities of Ayyapanum Koshiyum. Like the difference between an artisan who weaves a homespun saree and a designer with a FabIndia aesthetic.
Finally, the most important reason to avoid comparisons is because of the hurdles thrown this film's way. The sudden decrease in ticket prices in Andhra Pradesh by the government was seen as a vicious step to stamp out Pawan Kalyan's authority in politics and his source of income from films. The symbolism of Bheemla Nayak going against Daniel Shekar (Rana Daggubati), a bratty son of a politician who is known to be arrogant is assumed to be a metaphor for Jagan Reddy, whom Pawan Kalyan and his fans have accused of targeting the actor-politician. Even during promotions, the film was promoted as a clash between ego and survival. Jagan's ego vs Pawan Kalyan's survival as an actor and politician.
Now irrespective of the factualness of the political slandering and whether audience believes in it, this film believes in those ideas and is therefore keen to make a statement in support of this idea of Pawan Kalyan—the conscientious actor-politician who left his cushy life for politics and is now walking a minefield wearing a crown of thorns.
Therefore Bheemla Nayak viewed purely as a movie in terms of plot and structure feels weak and uneven, but viewed as a political statement by an actor who is crying harassment from the Chief Minister and gets to express rage on screen and give some catharsis to a tired actor and frustrated fans, the film works wonders.
Bheemla Nayak tells the story of the titular Sub-Inspector who locks heads with Daniel Shekar, an ex-army man and a former Minister's son. Daniel is caught transporting alcohol illegally without knowing the rules of the state of Andhra Pradesh (he's from Telangana). What could have been a simple case snowballs into an epic clash akin to Bheema and Duryodhana in Kurukshetra (the film uses the Mahabharatha metaphor to drive home how epic the clash is) as two unhinged powerhouses bay for each other's blood causing collateral damage they can't imagine.
Despite what the film wants you to think, it's let down by Pawan Kalyan the actor because at most places when he's not required to fight and scream; he seems disinterested in being in the film. In the two songs 'La La Bheemla' and 'Bheemla Nayak' the music composed by Thaman has the energy to lift the mood of the audience and elevate the masala quotient in the film. But the trio of Saagar Chandra, the director, Trivikram S (writer of the screenplay and dialogues) and Pawan Kalyan let the film down drastically. The songs don't come in at the right time within the screenplay; they are imagined in a poor fashion (the cameos make it especially awkward), and Pawan Kalyan performs as if he's suffering from second-hand embarrassment by being involved in them.
He even mumbles through most of his dialogues barely parting his lips. His sequences with Nithya Menen's Suguna could have been terrific but are let down by a film that does not give her character a proper ending and it also feels like the lead actor is disinterested in acting with her. Even when he's with his troupe of police in his station, Pawan Kalyan who relished playing the cop with umpteen sidekicks in Gabbar Singh, seems too indifferent and tired to care.
But it is when Bheemla Nayak is at loggerheads with Daniel Shekar that you see glimpses of the actor that Pawan Kalyan once was. The familiar comic timing is back with that raw energy that made films like Badri and Gabbar Singh such treats on screen. Whether it's the sequence leading up to the interval outside Sudha Lodge or the numerous times in the second half when they physically confront each other, the film reaches its highs and is a fun watch akin to watching Captain America: Civil War.
And it is here that Rana Daggubati steals the film from underneath its leading man because he hits all the right notes as the arrogant brat and justifies the hype Thaman's music gives him. He carries some of that physical aura from Baahubali's Bhallaladeva and that sure helps. But it's also the small scenes where he tells his father (Samuthirakarani) something along the lines of "I don't mind losing if it means you'll stop telling me how to live my life and fight my battles."
At once, the film respects the tenderness amidst all the brawn and arrogance. Even when he's seething in anger he doesn't forget that his wife (Samyuktha Menon) is pregnant and asks her to sit down and not worry. Rana manages to not turn the sequences at home into a melodrama. He is in fact let down by Trivikiram's dialogues which are unnaturally poor in the film where rhyming 'ego' with 'logo' is used to elevate Nayak. Daniel Shekar's usage of Hindi by bellowing 'Gaoonwalon…' feels odd and maybe a writer of Trivikram's caliber could have delivered better lines. Similarly, Pawan Kalyan's accent and dialect are never consistent and rarely reflect his character's roots. When he suddenly says the word 'Penimiti' towards the end it feels jarring and awkward.
The film struggles to resolve the tension between its male leads and its usage of the flashback and how it is resolved is almost laughable and would have been outdated in the 90s. I don't want to ruin it for you because it's a big departure from the Malayalam original but it's as though the film doesn't want you to forget that Pawan Kalyan has to have political baggage going into every film. It's not that the Malayalam ending or the film were perfect but somehow it felt like a truce between two egos whereas here it's just…
Okay spoiler alert…
I've warned you….
Here they go for sister sentiment and Pawan Kalyan has never been a good crier on screen and to see him reduced to tears after watching him and Rana try to kill each other is laughable. It's like if Captain America and Iron Man stopped fighting because Pepper Potts was Captain America's sister.
It ruins a movie that seemed to have been finding its footing and giving its character life as opposed to giving its fans veiled political punch dialogues and meta references to Pawan Kalyan, the politician and celebrity.
I thought the final scene really stood as a metaphor for the whole film. Rana dominates the scene by exuding Daniel's arrogance and brattiness while showing signs of change but the film ends on Pawan Kalyan mumbling his name. Even the credits are rolled over with a rap to Bheemla Nayak's name. But like Thaman did for the whole film, it's a catchy song and he lifts the entire mood as you leave the auditorium.