Cast: Ram Pothineni, Aadhi Pinisetty, Krithi Shetty, Akshara Gowda, Nadhiya Moidu
Director: N. Lingusamy
As a child, before going to boarding school where movies would never be screened, I'd pester my parents to bombard my brain with as many Telugu movies as possible. Mind you, this was the early 2000s. The films were terribly predictable and would be an assault on the senses. It was the mental equivalent of extra schezwan crispy fried noodles with extra garlic and chilly sauce. But because of the artificial scarcity created by boarding school, I would devour all these Telugu films.
Watching The Warriorr took me down a nostalgia trip I never wanted to go down. It has all the elements of an early 2000s Telugu cinema and barely any nuance or twist expected in contemporary cinema.
A hero enters a new town. Check.
A villain terrorizes the whole town. Check.
A ditzy heroine who's annoying. Check.
Garish costumes and songs. Check.
Hero and villain lock horns at an iconic location. Check.
Unsurprisingly in this film, it's Kurnool and Konda Reddy Buruju. There is much grouse to be taken with Telugu films depicting Rayalaseema as the badlands of the Telugu states. Agreed the region has a history of faction leaders who terrorized towns but hasn't this point been made a billion times?
Do we need one more film to show it again?
Do people from these towns not love? Are there no other stories to tell? Are they all part of a client-patron relationship and are always either subservient to the villain or in awe of the hero? Are there not interesting stories and dramas to be explored there? Are there not fascinating people there who aren't murderers or people waiting to be saved? Auto drivers, teachers, doctors, lovers, students, historians, farmers…film reviewers watching films massacre the image of the region. (Yes yes, I'm from that part so this trope is even more tiresome).
The Warriorr on the other hand chooses to tell the story of Satya (Ram Pothineni) an MBBS intern who comes to Kurnool to become a doctor. He believes that only mothers and doctors know the pain of saving a life and therefore its value. You know he's a good guy because he plays Holi with children, he has a playful relationship with his mother, and lectures the heroine Whistle Mahalaxmi (Krithi Shetty), a successful RJ, to get married. And terrorizing Kurnool is Guru (Aadhi Pinisetty) a real bad bad bad guy. He's so bad he beheaded someone when he was 14 and doesn't care about using children as bait to arm-twist his rivals. Ingenious stuff this is. But he also has a quasi-environmentalist bubbling inside him because every time he takes a life, he plants a tree. A piece of barren land has now become a forest. So maybe this Guru chap is on to something. Is he a misunderstood misanthrope? Only time will tell because this film surely doesn't tell us much more.
Aadhi Pinisetty grimaces and scowls as he delivers dialogues in his accented Telugu and it is commendable that he's trying to salvage a part so comically derivative of every villain in every masala film ever that after a point I was happy that he got this pay cheque. I hope he used the money to buy something nice for himself because I definitely didn't get anything for my money.
Whistle Mahalaxmi is such a poorly treated character, she asks Satya to take her on his bike over speedbumps in the hope that he could cause a bump of his own in her belly. When playing with this kind of subtlety I wonder what kind of notes she was given as an actor. Was it just a page full of emojis with notes that say "Move your mouth a little bit so there can be dialogues dubbed over"? Who knows? But if the art tells something about the artist, then I know the top 5 emojis used by writer-director Lingusami.
I remember as a child walking out of Jagadam in 2007 and Ready in 2008 feeling that Ram Pothineni is going to change the kind of stories that Telugu films tell. But in 2022 his title card which used to read "Ram Pothineni" now reads "Ustaad Ram Pothineni". I guess that's change. And you can't say nobody didn't warn us that progress was going to be slow.
But let's talk about DSP. No, not the clever trick the film thinks it has up its sleeve. Not even Divya SriPada who is another talented actor in this film wasted in the role of "woman getting chased by goons so that Hero can enter" character. I could just imagine her holding the cheque and looking at the camera guiltlessly to say "I did a film called Middle Class Melodies but that doesn't mean I want to remain middle class."
I am talking about DSP – Devi Sree Prasad. He croons a song that goes "He's a fighter, He's a survivor, He's the warrior". That's him. Nearly 3 decades in, he's churning out films and knowing when to give good music and when not to. You knew Pushpa: The Rise was going to be a great film when the music felt fresh and rooted in the film's context. You felt the same with the music of Uppena and Rangasthalam. But listen to him croon the above lyrics in The Warriorr and it feels like he probably sang it when he was stuck at a traffic signal, after missing three meals in a row, and he had heard the story of this film.
But the real fighters, survivors, and warriors are my parents who put up with me when I was a petulant child. Now I understand what they felt like while they sat with me through countless mediocre films.