Director: K.S. Ravindra
Writers: K.S. Ravindra (story), Kona Venkat (screenplay), K. Chakravarthy Reddy (screenplay)
Cast: Chiranjeevi, Ravi Teja, Shruti Haasan
Chiranjeevi is stellar in Waltair Veerayya. At the peak of his stardom in the nineties, Chiranjeevi spoke to the experiences and represented the aesthetics of the non-bourgeois like no other save for Rajnikanth, and it is precisely because this film leans into this persona of Chiranjeevi, that this is a long-awaited return to form. To understand Chiranjeevi, watch the scene in which he arrives at an airport, after an extended machismo build-up, only to start shivering because he’s scared of air-travel. There is mass hypermasculinity in the film, but it is often immediately undercut by a vulnerability, expertly rendered relatable by its lead actor.
The aesthetics also reveal how mass-ness, especially in the South (The Hindi Industry’s remakes of South films don’t quite understand this) often includes and expresses the culture and emotive grammar of areas that lie beyond the metropolitan city. In the song 'Boss Party', the lyrics are a debate on what the best place to have a party would be, with arguments put forth on how a beach party wouldn’t have great “reach”, and a cruise party would not allow the “mass” to bloom. So, the song concludes, the best place to have a party is on Veerayya’s fishing boat, with the music on full blast: the message is clear: they, the elite, don’t really know how to have fun, but we do.
This is made more explicit in the song Poonakalu Loading: Poonakalu refers to a possessive trance often exhibited in Jaatharas, rural pilgrimage-festivals, and in this context the film is using it to refer to the ecstasy in the celebration of its own mass-ness as a festival by its fans, when two stars Raviteja and Chiranjeevi come together to dance. When the song tells you “Don’t stop dancing, Poonakalu loading”, it is articulating the grammar of ecstatic celebration in rural terms, in naatu terms.
This ties well into the film’s winking self-awareness, how the lead star allows himself to be at the end of many of the jokes, even those that reference heroistic punch dialogues from his older films. There is also a refreshing degree of formal inventiveness, like when Veerayya’s deceased father appears as an apparition wearing a garland of wilted flowers and asks when Veerayya plans on changing the flowers. Shruti Haasan’s character is largely irrelevant to the plot; her character exists only to enable Chiranjeevi to lean into another of his strengths—playing the man who is smitten by a woman, but is intimidated by her and awkward around her—but one wishes that commercial star-vehicles had more age-appropriate romances. She does, however, get a Trinity-esque action scene.
The film is also helped by good performances from Bobby Simha and Prakash Raj in villainous roles, and by Raviteja’s presence in the second half, despite his character being somewhat underwritten. The second half also has an engaging underworld plot and serviceable melodrama that allows Chiranjeevi to showcase more “serious” acting, a task he excels at. This is a competent masala screenplay elevated by its performances and self-awareness, and its caveats are mostly ubiquitous as far as mass films are concerned. The action too, while mostly unremarkable, doesn’t wear out its welcome.
What did raise questions for me is that the films’ villains seem to belong almost exclusively to minority groups. Is this something that sticks out only because of the times we live in, or is it an attempt to tailor the film to penetrate northern markets? As always, the undercurrents of films, even mass films, must be scrutinised—the latter often reveal a lot more than films considered to be “respectable” or “authentic”. Go for Chiranjeevi, though. Boss is back.