Writer and Director: Praveen Sattaru
Duration: 135 minutes
Available in: Theatres
Gandeevadhari Arjuna falls in a rare, strange slot, especially in the context of Telugu films in 2023. It's technically sound, neatly shot and the writing is almost always focused, never opting for detours for the sake of entertainment in the traditional mainstream way. Ten years ago, Gandeevadhari Arjuna might have been lauded as a good effort. But now, we are facing a new question: Are technical finesse and international aesthetics enough to please us?
The film encapsulates many elements that we might find admiring: Cool foreign locations, largely realistic — even if stylised — action sequences, a globally relevant and socially conscious conflict, and a very Hollywood-ish feel. But the question remains the same. Is it enough? Do we need a Telugu film emulating a Hollywood actioner? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ambition to craft a Telugu film with an international look and feel, but the problem with GA is that it succeeds in replicating the look, but fails to invoke the feel; the rush, fun and the 'wow' factor are nowhere to be found.
If you have seen enough Telugu films, you might clearly see what the film is about and how it'll progress from a mile. A sincere Indian minister (Nasser) is in London to attend a global summit to take a decision that'll affect a "ruthless businessman" Ranvir (Vinay Rai). The bad guy, naturally, wants the minister to pass a bill that's in his favour or he'll have him assassinated. And our protagonist, Arjun (Varun Tej), is a former army officer currently working as a private bodyguard after moving abroad to get his mother treated for her health condition (something that the doctors seem to have no clue about). When Arjun is compelled to take up the position of the minister's security guard, you know what the film is going to be about.
I appreciate the film's intent to keep the narrative focused on the subject. Sure, early on, there's a brief detour into Arjun's relationship with Ira (Sakshi Vaidya), who is now working with the minister. Although the romance did come across as a distraction initially, there's an attempt to interweave Arjun's profession and his broken relationship with Ira. Did the film benefit from the backstory? Not really because their relationship adds nothing to the plot or their personalities but at this point, I'm just glad that the film at least tried. But again, is that enough?
For a film that's about saving lives and a man on the run, you expect a racy screenplay, and sure, the film does try to keep things happening. There are chases, fights, innocent characters die, bomblasts happen, arms are fired, bones are broken...something keeps happening relentlessly, but we do not really feel the tension or the mad rush. It can be attributed to two things. One, we have seen it all. Two, the lack of a strong villain. Vinay Rai's Ranvir is the 8352th caricaturish 'corporate villain' we have seen in Telugu cinema. Even if we are constantly reminded about his cruel and psychopathic nature, it's impossible to find him threatening. As I said, the problem lies in the film's feel. When we are shown the horrors of dumping toxic waste, we barely feel the fear, even though graphic real-life images are presented. When character deaths happen, we barely feel sad for them. And when the great cause is finally served, we barely experience a sense of victory. Everything in GA feels surface-level, every character comes across as a stock character, not as a real person, even the 'message' that's supposed to shock and warn us, doesn't feel serious.
On the bright side, the action sequences are well-shot. Fast and energetic. But... is good action enough?