Director: Ramesh Varma
Cast: Ravi Teja, Dimple Hayathi, Arjun Sarja, Unni Mukundan
Wow. It's been ages since we've seen such a fine Ravi Teja film. There are so many layers in this film and as each character is peeled, we see the emotional depth and trauma they've been through. Particularly the conflict between daughters and fathers has not been explored in as nuanced a manner as it has been here.
The way Khiladi juxtaposes the corruption of the nation, and greed with the way daughters love their fathers or the misogynistic nature of the fathers in the country is a stand-out metaphor that Telugu cinema hasn't seen in a while. I was particularly impressed with the way the film uses its leading women—Dimple Hayathi, Meenakshi Chaudhary and to an extent Anasuya and it shows the respect that director Ramesh Verma and Ravi Teja have in letting the plot do the talking.
Wait are you convinced? Or confused?
That's a twist. You see. I was so obviously telling you a lie that you knew something was off from the beginning. Khiladi thinks it's too clever but you can see all its twists coming from a mile. The only thing being peeled are the clothes off its women. The only nuance you are getting is Ravi Teja screaming "I love you baby", "Shadapp", and constantly saying things like "Sweety pie".
The film thinks its so clever that it can bore you to death in the first hour, only to come up with a harebrained twist that makes no sense logically. You're just wondering how this pile of barely-edited footage could make it past any approval. I'm not really asking for logic or realism here. But look at films like Swami Ra Ra and Adbhutham, which have equally-illogical twists. But they commit to them fully while bending the rules of the universe they've set for themselves. They make them fun and make you cheer rather than breath a sigh of relief that isn't "what the hell am I seeing?"
But it's once the interval is over that the film finally finds form. Ravi Teja is in his comfort zone playing the whacky Khiladi suited to his trademark comedy style. And with help from the comedy of Vennela Kishore Ravi Teja finds footing as a performer too. As the action shifts to Dubai and Italy, the film's production standards increase and so does its respect for audience.
Did you fall for it again? You see I just twisted the plot again. I mean most of what I said is true but it's truly atrocious, loud and jarring. The dialogues are cheesier than dosa in those viral videos where dosas are tortured. There is some silly plot regarding Ramakrisha (Unni Mukundan) and his daughter that makes no logical sense and is so obviously emotionally manipulating the audience that it's not fun. It's like playing hide and seek with an elephant that wants to hide behind a blade of grass and you have to play along with it because you have no friends. Even Arjun Sarja who plays the cop who is chasing Mohan Gandhi (Ravi Teja) is playing a version of the character that seemed so fresh in Mankatha that now even he seems bored. We get it. He's 'Action King'. He's gruff. He's tough. Just put him in different scenarios at least.
And finally, when the climax hits, one realizes that it was all a set up and eventually all a part of the long con that the Khiladi is playing. And then it really makes sense.
You get it, right? Because, I can't do it anymore. Each twist is an assurance that it's not as bad as things really seem. But the real game is that all of us who once loved Ravi Teja have to put up with all of this mediocrity while letting a fantastic actor, performer, and a proper mass masala star not live up to its potential.
Now there is no psych or twist here.