Dasara on Netflix Review: Nani and Santhosh Narayanan Excel In A Distracted Film

I can’t think of the last film in which Nani was disappointing and this film proves that we might have to wait longer
DasaraFilm Companion Review

Director: Srikanth Odhela

Cast: Nani, Keerthy Suresh, Shine Tom Chacko, Dheekshith Shetty

Here are some film pitches:

A coward who hides behind his macho best friend has to come of age when his best friend is unfairly murdered. Will this coward find the courage?

A young boy finds out that his best friend and the girl of the boy's dreams are in love. Will he get them together? Will he sacrifice his love? What happens when they all find out about each other’s love?

A bar in a remote village in Telangana becomes a site of contention between a Sarpanch and two young men belonging to an oppressed caste. Will the addiction to alcohol consume them as they chase the high given by power? 

Ten friends must form a motley crew of assassins to avenge the deaths of those who were unfairly killed by the powerful men in a village. This is juxtaposed against the metaphor for Dasara in which a man with ten heads was killed by one man. 

Each one of these ideas can become an outstanding film by itself but writer-director Srikanth Odela’s Dasara packs all these ideas into one film and therefore what we get is an exciting world of Veerlapalli that we know thoroughly.

We know the village has a clear demarcation of caste. We know that even in the bar, the one place where men claim to drown their sorrows and boredom, they cannot drown their differences. Like gossip, we learn that Padma who lives a few houses away from the protagonists is a widow whose husband was killed and the Sarpanch nominee might be involved. We know which grandmother loves to drink a lot. We know that coal mining is the primary livelihood and that the black soot that most would gawk at is viewed as an ornament worn with pride by the villagers. We know that the Sarpanch’s wife has a comfortable life but lives with an uncomfortable truth. We even know that the local priest is the umpire in a cricket match - take that for a metaphor about India’s villages and how caste claws into everyday life. 

This world-building exercise by Srikanth Odela is immersive and he makes us feel the spice in the boti curry. We smell the stench of the bar, but we also want a sip of the alcohol they are consuming. The coal mines look exhausting to work at but Odela makes us want to dive in and dance to doom dhaam dostaan with everyone. 

But Srikanth Odela struggles because he’s chosen a love triangle to explore this world. Dasara tells the story of Dharani who is in love with Vennela (Keerthy Suresh). But she and Dharani’s best friend Suri are in love and as a child, Dharani “sacrifises” his love. Things take a turn for the worse when a bar and an evil Sarpanch get in the way and the two men turn towards politics. 

This love triangle feels the least interesting among the many little stories in the world of Veerlapalli not just because of the similarity in its premise to Sukumar’s Aarya 2 (2009), but also because of how weakly Suri is written. He’s supposed to be the “classic” hero — stronger, braver, nobler, and amiable. And Dharani is the coward, the addict, and the man-child. So Suri’s presence should have been like that of Julius Caesar — imposing despite not being present in the scene. But sadly, his presence ends up propelling the plot and the action scenes forward rather than leave a mark.

It’s not the predictability of his fate but rather how immemorable the character is that makes the triangle least interesting. In Aarya 2, Ajay was at least cunning - he had flavour. When he took advantage of Aarya, his presence was felt even when he wasn’t in the frame. Here the odds are so heavily tilted in favour of Dharani, the character and Nani, the star that Suri’s eventual fate never registers as a trauma but it is rather a convenient way to skip the line to reach Vennela. By setting up a weak vortex in a love triangle what we get is a straight line and this linearity in such a non-linear complex world feels cumbersome. 

Similarly, Odela wants to flex cinematic moments that leave the audience spellbound. The climatic action sequence (watch out for the one where Dharani is underneath a heap of bodies), the cycling sequence near the interval, and even the opening stretch show that this debutante has the imaginative muscles to creatively show masculinity and machismo on screen. But what about image-making in emotional sequences?

A song around a funeral seems to match a similar scenario in Rangasthalam (2018). There is a scene in which Vennela finds out an important truth and Odela chooses a bizarre straightforward approach that seems out of character for the person telling her the truth. More creativity and imagination here would have the thawing of a relationship between Vennela and Dharani seem more natural. Even when Dharani barges into the villain’s house (reminiscent of Rangasthalam) a twist is revealed to him in the least imaginative and convenient of ways.

It is to Odela’s credit that in his debut film, more is expected of him than most could expect from filmmakers in their third or fourth films. But maybe to appreciate his strengths in world-building, which make him feel like an experienced director, his weaknesses in writing needed to be spelt out.

But where the writing falters, Nani and Santhosh Narayanan push the screenplay forward. I can’t think of the last film in which Nani was disappointing and this film proves that we might have to wait longer. Never before has machismo looked so easy on a person's shoulders. Even cheesy scenes where his face lights up at the sound of Vennela’s anklets become lovable because of him. Keerthi Suresh as Vennela, after shining so brightly in the first half, struggles to bring freshness in the second half, but that is because the writer chooses to make her passive.    

Similarly, Santhosh Narayanan seems to be at home driving home points when the frames struggle to convey the same. A poorly framed cricket match sequence leading up to a “hero shot” is saved once the rap music kicks in. Similarly, a melodramatic sequence right at the end is saved by a simple background score that reduces the general pitch of the scene. 

Srikanth Odela knows his world inside and out. The bars, the gullies, the politics, and even the best recipes for food found in Veerlapalli. But having chosen a love triangle, he falters in doing justice to all ends of the triangle. Luckily for him, Nani and Santhosh Narayanan bridge most of those gaps making Dasara an exciting film to watch, discuss, and dissect. 

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