Writers: Madhusudan Padamati, Bhupathi Raja
Cast: Gopichand, Jagapathi Babu, Nassar, Kushboo, Dimple Hayathi
Ramabanam is less of a film and more of a representative of a genre that's very specific to Indian cinema and one that we have enjoyed for years and continue to do, although the quantity and quality of such films have diminished significantly in the recent past. It's a "full meals entertainer", a term widely used to describe films meant to entertain audiences of all ages and sections, like the kind of films Chiranjeevi and Venkatesh were synonymous with in the '90s and for the most part of the 2000s. Bhupati Raja, who penned the story of this film, has so many films to his credit in the genre. If I have to borrow words from Trivikram, this genre always has some charm and is never boring, "like Amma, Avakai and Anjali." It's difficult to box these films into a single genre; they are packed with action, family drama, romance, revenge, comedy... you name it and you have it. In that sense, Ramabanam truly encapsulates the spirit of a full meals entertainer from the 2000s, and the fact that the film deals with restaurants and advocates for quality food corroborates my claim. The problem with it, much like the villain who adulterates his food products with chemicals, is that the writing is contaminated by corny dialogue and ideas that do not represent the finest of our cinema from the past.
Ramabanam features a familiar but delicious setup. Vicky is aggressive, the polar opposite of his brother Rajaram, played by Jagapathi Babu, a man of principles. When their ideologies clash, Vicky runs away from home as a teenager, reaches Kolkata, and runs into KGF's Shetty Bhai who adopts him immediately after listening to him speak about the difference between earning food with hard work and begging for food. The boy is groomed by the gangster as his son — "beta mil gaya (Found a son)," he screams in joy, the immediacy is laughable and shocking — and grows up to become Gopichand and develops the superpower to take down hordes of men without a single fold on his well-ironed shirt. Jagapathi Babu remains Jagapathi Babu.
What connects the estranged brothers after years is a futile love story —featuring Bhairavi (Dimple Hayathi) — which the film has no interest to explore. This entire romantic arc is established with a song in which Vicky follows and disturbs her. She merely exists, never reacting to any of his actions. By the end of the song, she recalls Vicky's antics, smiles, and falls for him, making Veera Simha Reddy's romantic arc look like Casablanca. When Bhairavi's family disputes their marriage, citing he has no family, Vicky is compelled to make amends with his past and reconnect with his estranged brother and family. While doing so, he has to keep his violent life and its possible repercussions concealed from his noble brother, who is fighting a battle of his own. See, it's a great premise for a masala entertainer but the writing is rudimentary and never rises above the bare minimum.
For instance, when the estranged brother returns home after years, we expect a heart-warming scene but there isn't a single effective moment that communicates the family's longing, pain, and eventual relief. These scenes are written and staged with no novelty. We have to wait till the end of the film to get a solid moment featuring the brothers. When that happens in a scene where Vicky confronts Rajaram about the inefficacy of his principles in a polluted, oppressive world, it ends up being the best scene in the film. Ramabanam needed so many such dramatic moments that go beyond the artificiality of the characters and drama. At one point, a character jokingly compliments that Rajaram's house looks as good as a shooting location. That's because it is indeed a shooting location and it looks exactly like one; the staging of scenes, by populating the frame with actors who barely utter a dialogue renders many sequences painfully artificial.
The biggest problem with the film is that it looks and sounds exactly like a film. The characters operate at such a level of cringe-worthy theatricality that our consciousness is constantly reminded that we are watching a loud film, refraining us from immersing in the proceedings.
The dialogues and the villain (Tarun Raj Arora as the blazer-donning, evil businessman he has played a million times), after a point, make you wonder if we are witnessing a parody of action entertainers from the past. "Vaadu Tammudu la ledu, terminator la unnadu," the villain says, staring at the massive LED screen that's live-streaming the 'interval bang' action sequence. It makes no sense logically and this idea is unintentionally hilarious.
Speaking of dialogues, the film is crammed with countless gems. For instance, take, "Nuvvu entha yaagam chesina nee yogam maaradhu (your prayers won't change your fate; well, the translation kills the joy)". My favourite dialogue from the film has to be the one that comes right after Gopichand finishes delivering an intense monologue about the need for organic food in a court. The defence lawyer curtly responds, "Ilanti speeches ki janam maarau (People won't change by listening to these speeches)." He is right.
Also, it's extremely disheartening to see a popular film aimed at the masses in 2023 trying to evoke homophobic humour using an effeminate character. It's a black mark in an otherwise well-intentioned film. What's more disappointing is seeing a charming comic like Vennela Kishore being relegated to being the subject of such crude humour. There's another disturbing instance. At a point, the wedding of Rajaram's daughter is called off by the groom's father because he's in dire need of ₹50 crore, which the villain facilitates, on the condition that he gets his son married to the daughter of a wealthy politician. When our hero pays him the money, the man immediately agrees to cancel the wedding and agrees to get his son married to Rajaram's daughter. The whole marriage scenario plays out like a business proposition but this is never problematised. I guess some things should be left in the past.
Despite all the problems, the ever-dependable Jagapathi Babu who lends a certain level of majesty to his character, ensures that there's some fun to be had. His transformation, in the end, is perhaps the film's best moment. But I can only think about the potential this film was loaded with and how it could have been a wholesome entertainer in every sense if only the writing was less cheesy and derivative.