Director: Sampath Nandi
Cast: Gopichand, Tamannaah, Digangana Suryavanshi, Preethi Asrani
Gopichand is one of the few actors who is keeping alive a certain kind of Telugu ‘mass’ cinema which is different from ‘masala’ cinema in one crucial way. While masala moments focus on enhancing emotional drama, mass cinema tries to deify the hero and make the audience whistle for the ‘Hero’ or towards the cinema’s hyper-masculine moments. And if you had any doubts about the kind of film Gopichand would act in, this film is titled ‘Seetimaar’ – literally ‘blow a whistle’. But the film disguises these whistle worthy moments using Kabaddi.
In this film Gopichand plays Karthi, an honest bank employee cum Kabaddi coach. The first part of his job is quickly forgotten as the film leaves him with three specific missions:
- Save the government school that his father built for the people of his village.
- Ensure that the young women in his village are treated with respect in their house by making them win a national level Kabaddi tournament.
- Save the girls and his brother-in-law when they are kidnapped by a cruel police-cum-gangster from Ghaziabad.
It’s obvious right from the start that he’s going to achieve all goals and it doesn’t warrant a spoiler alert. But as the audience in a film that sets out to tell this story you wish to be wow-ed by the ‘how’. It mostly feels stale barring a few brave moments. Usually one would expect such films to end the first half on a ‘massy’ high but the filmmaker and the actor are bold enough to ensure the hero is at his most vulnerable at that moment. He’s literally surrounded by a sea of darkness.
Then the film’s second half plays out as a race against time action thriller with Karthi in the unfamiliar setting of Delhi. It was easy for him to be a Hero in his own village and he could smooth-talk conservative parents into letting the young women play a sport and write their future for themselves. The film, as it rightly should, throws a bigger challenge at Karthi — ‘Can you overcome these monstrous villains from Ghaziabad?’.
But what should have been a Taken-esque tense second half turns out to be flaccid because the film wants to punctuate its story with traditional beats of a mass film. The girls of his team have been kidnapped and he’s taken responsibility for them and the villain, Makan Singh, has given him two options – save the girls or save your brother-in-law. Any choice is bad and not choosing is worse. Karthi is not supposed to tell anyone and he — a small time coach — has to find his way around Delhi. It’s a ripe set up leading the audience with many questions such as:
- Will the girls be safe?
- Will he tell his brother-in-law, who himself is an accomplished IPS officer?
- Will they make it on time for the match?
But the film cuts to a song between Jwala Reddy (Tamannah) and Karthi. It’s a massy song meant to create publicity and rake in YouTube numbers. If the film and filmmaker don’t respect the girls enough to worry about their safety because of the need for a crass song why should the audience care? And the less said about the two women protagonists, the better. Tammanah, in a screechy and caricature of a Telangana accent playing the coach of the Telangana Kabaddi team, and Digangana Suryavanshi playing a local news channel anchor, are utterly replaceable. Tammanah tries hard to make do with what the role offers her but her Telugu is awkward and when claims regional pride the irony is funnier than the jokes in the film.
The film has two preachy tangents both of which have been served terrible justice. The first is the ‘banter’ between the Telangana and Andhra team. Then there is something about defending South Indian pride. It’s all riff-raff to make it seem like Jwala Reddy has an important contribution to this film but none of it is necessary. I was watching the film with other Telugu people in a theatre in Bangalore and none of the regional sentiment hit home. I doubt my experience would have differed had I been in a single screen theatre in either of the Telugu states.
The second one is something about ensuring girl children are treated properly but none of that feels convincing because of how badly the women of the film are treated. I think there was something about privatization of education but this is barely touched upon after it’s first mentioned so I’m not sure.
The film’s most heartening aspect is that the ‘team’ of girls led by Sailu are deeply convinced by the situations given to them. And set to Mani Sharma’s background score, their scenes are all terrific. They manage to sell all the masala shots they get, even the outrageous fight sequences and Kabaddi moves. In fact, Preethi Asrani who plays Sailu eats up the screen with her performance and her more experienced coactors — including the leads — pale in front of her when she’s on screen. She’s the most exciting thing about Seetimaarr. There is a line about her character Sailu having a beautiful future and I think that rings true even for the actress who played the part.
I’m not too sure that based on this film I can be too excited for the future work of the lead actor, and the filmmaker. But the good news for Gopichand and Sampath Nandi is that Telugu cinema always has an appetite for such hero-worship mass cinema. But devoid of strong logic and emotion to tie it all up, the two of them might fade away as better and younger actors and stronger filmmakers may take their space. As people who made a film on Kabaddi they should know a thing or two about the young replacing the old.