Director and Writer: Trivikram Srinivas
Cast: Mahesh Babu, Prakash Raj, Sreeleela, Ramya Krishnan
Duration: 169 mins
Available in: Theatres
“Greatest battles are fought with closest people,” says Jayaram’s character in Ala Vaikuthapurramulo (2020). Trivikram has been fascinated with this concept so intensely that this has remained the core theme of most films written and directed by the filmmaker in the past decade, beginning with Attarantiki Daredi to A Aa, Agnyathavasi and Ala Vaikuthapurramulo. The same Jayaram is here in Guntur Kaaram. And he is in a similar desolate situation.
Estranged families and broken bonds have been recurring elements in his films beginning with Attarintiki Daredi (2013), after which we saw a significant shift in his stories. Trivikram’s films started following a pattern, patented by Trivikram himself and this formula—featuring power dynamics, misunderstandings between people, a battle for the throne, and a final twist—is pretty evident in all his films post-Attarintiki Daredi.
The filmmaker's latest, Guntur Kaaram, is woven around these same beaten-to-death themes but it’s perhaps his most intimate and contained story since Attarantiki Daredi. Pardon me if I’m referring to Attarintiki Daredi quite a bit; the film compels me to. Like Attarantiki Daredi, in which the protagonist is tasked to reunite his grandfather with his estranged daughter, Guntur Kaaram too is one of the most personal or say, tender, one-liners to ever be made into a star-vehicle. It’s kind of surprising that anyone would envision such a soft, sentimental story as a full-blown commercial film. The problem, however, is that it doesn’t strike the balance between the emotional story and the desire to mount a grand heroic affair around it with the finesse that Attarintiki Daredi did, and as a result, it ends up neither as a tender family drama nor as a grand masala entertainer. It gets stuck somewhere between, struggling to make sense of its own identity.
Guntur Kaaram’s one-liner might sound like an off-spring of Attarintiki Daredi (sorry for another reference), but it still holds the emotional gravitas. After the events of an unfateful night that ends in a murder, Ramana’s (Mahesh Babu) father, Royal Satyam (Jayaram) is sent to prison, and his mother, Vasundhara (Ramya Krishnan), disowns him and gets remarried under the guidance of her father Venkataswamy (Prakash Raj). 25 years later, Vasundhara is now an influential politician, and her second son (Rahul Ravindran in a thankless role) is set to enter politics. Fearing that her first marriage and elder son—Ramana is now Rowdy Ramana— might come in the way of her political career, Venkataswamy wants Ramana to sign a document accepting to be erased from her life and legacy. Now, for a son who has longed for the love and care of an absent mother, this is an unfathomable and cruel request, but he resists, saying he is willing to fight anything that poses a threat to his love towards his mother. It’s the mother’s indifference towards her own child that makes this “love story” all the way more unconventional and fresh. This angle makes the film’s first 20 minutes, where the drama and the conflict are directly introduced, a solid opener. The opening and the core conflict held so much promise and it’s just painful to see all of that go down the drain almost immediately.
The issues in the film start to appear when the film takes a detour into a romantic subplot featuring Sreeleela and the story comes to a screeching halt for a while, as song-and-dance and comical sequences come to the foreground. Mahesh Babu makes these scenes watchable but the problem with these bits is that they never know when to stop. Take, for example, the drinking scene in the godown which ends with Mahesh and Sreeleela shaking a leg to a dance number. The scene just goes on and on. The same extends to numerous sequences in the second half too. Take, for instance, a comical action sequence set in a factory where a terribly hungover Ramana has to take down goons set to kill him, or another sequence featuring Ajay Ghosh, these scenes just seem to have no end.
Almost every scene overstays its welcome in the second half, and most of it is because the screenplay, much like its protagonist, lacks motivation. At one point, we get a random scene of Sreeleela filming Instagram reels with sad songs, and there’s a police officer (played by Brahmaji) and there is also a subplot featuring Jagapathi Babu… all of them just exist there like an incohesive mess. There are several scenes in the second half that you can just do away with. It wouldn’t have been an issue had these scenes at least worked on a humour level but that doesn’t happen either. When a scene doesn’t contribute to the film’s world, the story’s progression, and its entertainment value, there’s no utility in it and Guntur Kaaram has numerous scenes like that.
The staging and the background music are so flat that even the film’s first fight, which should have been a cracker of a sequence ideally, creates zero impact and feels painfully long. To think the film comes from the same actor-director combo that gave us Athadu (2005) and Khaleja (2010), which are not short of contemporary classics, is just baffling. And to see a master writer like Trivikram—who singlehandedly inspired an entire generation with his ability to effortlessly blend wit and philosophy—incorporate viral social media content, even if it's just to evoke a chuckle, feels reductive of his own brand.
In spite of the ineffective and incoherent narration, it’s just Mahesh Babu who lends some gravitas to the film and makes the scenes watchable with his energy. Just to see the actor loosen up, take a joke, and flex his comic timing is the only respite in this otherwise confounding film.
But I’m still unsure whether it’s the film that’s a total damper or it's just the way it was positioned as an out-and-out mass entertainer. Perhaps pushing it as a conversational family drama would set the expectations right. Somehow, it was hard to accept that the film’s climax was just built around Ramana’s verbal confrontation with his grandfather because this was not the film we signed up for. It’s a lost-in-translation scenario of sorts.
As a family drama, there are glimpses of what it could have been. At one point, Ramana confronts and comforts his aunt (Eeshwari Rao), who feels she’s complicit in the tragedy that ensued in their lives. Her character gets a neat closure. As a mass entertainer too, there are traces of how great it could have been. The sequence with Ajay Ghosh, even if it's overlong, blends humour and action pretty well. You see, with Guntur Kaaram, the idea is great, and the emotional beats were all there but somehow, they don’t come together to make a strong impact.