Director and Writer: Boyapati Sreenu
Cast: Ram Pothineni, Sreeleela, Saiee Manjrekar, Sharath Lohithaswa, Ajay Purkar, Daggubati Raja
Duration: 167 minutes
Avalaible in: Theatres
The best, or say, the only, way to describe or critique Skanda is to just say that it's an out-and-out Boyapati Sreenu film. Those who are familiar with his filmography know what it means. In fact, they don't even need a review to understand its merits and demerits. The label, 'A film by Boyapati Sreenu' conveys everything, encompassing both the highs a quintessential, heavy-duty mass movie has to offer and the irritating, silly, and temper-testing lows that come along with it. But just because we are familiar with a filmmaker's oeuvre, its place in the larger context of Telugu cinema, and how his audience perceives it, does it mean that we should normalise troubling filmmaking choices instead of calling them out? And if we do point fingers at the glaring issues, will it make a strong enough impact to encourage the creator to ponder on and rectify the mistakes he keeps committing? Won't the cheers, claps and hoots in the packed single-screen theatre I watched it in overpower my complaints about filmmaking, braving S Thaman's score which doubles up as a formidable competent to decibel levels of the sound produced by the hundreds of people screaming their lungs out? Should we let bad filmmaking pass just because all this particular film intends to do is make people scream, an objective it seems to largely succeed at? Is a review even needed for this film? Skanda is bound to make a film critic question a lot, personally and for the medium on a broader level. Such is its confounding place in mainstream Indian cinema.
Skanda is a true-blue Boyapati movie. This means that people fly in the air during the unbelievable action sequences and die like flies when they have to face the wrath of the protagonist or the half-a-dozen antagonists. It also means that most of the men in the film exist to kill or die or paruvu (honour) and women exist to fill frames, for the emotional reaction shots with tears in their eyes, drool over the hero, get kidnapped and be used as a means to threaten the men and their paruvu. Gautami, who plays Ram Pothineni's mother, has exactly one dialogue in the film. Just one dialogue. "Are we going to lose?" she asks her husband in the middle of the heavy-duty climax action sequence. If she was asking this question as the representative of female characters in Skanda, the answer would be positive.
The story and structure of Skanda are pretty similar to a myriad of films we have seen in the past. The structure and the political angle remind you of Sarrainodu (2016), and the ego clash between the two CMs that triggers the screenplay reminds you of Jaya Janaki Nayaka (2017), the way Ram is treated like a mythical figure towards the end feels straight out of Akhanda (2021), the big interval twist is from Ramaiya Vasthavayya (which itself was not novel 10 years ago). So here's the plot: the daughter of Andhra's CM elopes with the son of Telangana CM (Sharath Lohithaswa), instigating a war between the two politicians. As the Andhra CM vows to seek revenge and restore his paruvu, there enters Ram Pothineni as the classmate of Sreeleela, the daughter of Telangana's CM. You know what's going to happen and that's exactly what happens in the film. There's also a sad subplot about a businessman named Rudrakanti Ramakrishna Raju (Srikanth) who is set to be hanged for committing fraud and murdering 35 innocent people. We know that Ramakrishna Raju is being threatened by these big shots to confess crimes he hasn't, by keeping his daughter (Saiee Manjrerkar, think of Rakul Preet Singh's character from Sarrainodu (2016)) as ransom. If the name of the fraudulent businessman sounds familiar, it might have been deliberate. We also see Ram Pothineni in a wild avatar, which happens to be the most perplexing and rewarding part of the film. You might think it's too much plot but trust me, it all comes down to a pretty simple point: revenge. We have seen it all. But unlike Boyapati's previous films, the villains here are a joke.
Considering it's a Boyapati film, there is also a little preaching about the importance of family values, just so the film can qualify to be called a 'family entertainer'. The hero talks about prioritising his parents over money and career in what's supposed to be a heart-warming scene. But the staging and the reaction shots are so basic that it looks more like a parody of the scene it is trying to be. The same can be said about the supporting characters populating the universe of Skanda. Every character, from Sreeleela's quintessential female lead to the protagonist's father, Manikanta Raju (Daggubati Raja), are a joke. Even Chief Ministers of the Telugu states are treated like cheap hooligans. Sreeleela, for instance, is a political science student who wants to be an activist but all she cares about is being called "average" by the man. Again, it's not a film that pays heed to logic or authenticity, cultural or political. But should we accept the bloated artificiality without not problematising it just because the film did it on purpose?
If there is one aspect of Skanda that I genuinely found interesting, it's that the filmmaker at least attempts to create a subversion using a second character (another Ram Pothineni). You see, this second character, which is often introduced late in the narrative has always been the high point of Boyapati's films. He uses it well here. The filmmaker surprises you with a banger of a climax sequence that's just so high on energy, body count and insanity that I couldn't help but keep logic aside for a moment and enjoy the sheer violent mayhem on display. That was possible only because Boyapati thought of holding back a character and letting it explode at the right time. Sure, we have seen a similar setup in the intermission sequence of Legend (2014) too. But the heroism works in the climax because by then, Boyapati inured us to the madness for 160 minutes straight with full conviction. The question again arises: just because the filmmaker convinced you for a moment to believe in the insanity of his universe, does it make Skanda a good movie? It's not, for sure. But that doesn't mean you cannot have fun with it either. I mean, there are some wild ideas in the climax that are sold with ease and I wish there were more such mindless but cool choices.
The violence in the film, thankfully, is not as disturbing as Akhanda or Sarrainodu. Hordes of innocent men are not murdered in mass after being run over by trucks and tractors, phew! There's still a lot of violence though, but apart from one scene set in a police station, most of it is quick and not sensationalised just for the sake of establishing the villain's power. The action too is violent. Ram Pothineni doesn't fire a single bullet from the gun because that ain't cool; he instead pierces the gun into the bad guy's body like a knife. And more than anything, I was glad there wasn't any portrayal of sexual violence, like in Akhanda. That brings me to the question: Have we reached a point where we have to thank filmmakers for not including rape scenes?