Director: Bobby Kolli (KS Ravindra)
Cast: Venkatesh, Naga Chaitanya, Raashi Khanna, Payal Rajput
On paper, the idea of a collaboration featuring Naga Chaitanya and his real-life uncle Venkatesh, might have sounded great. It's indeed exciting to watch these actors share the screen and have a gala time together. But it gets akward when Chaitanya tries to match Venkatesh's comic timing. The latter has been acting for around three-and-a-half decades while the former has been in the business for just about 10 years. I'm not saying that experience alone counts, but even their fortes aren't the same.
Venky Mama, like the other January release this year, F2 – Fun and Frustration, requires the actors to go overboard. Whenever Venky (as Venkatratnam, alias Military Naidu) turns the goofy switch on, the other actors find themselves on the backfoot. There's a particular scene set in a rice mill, where Karthik (Chaitanya), in order to push his Mama (Uncle) towards a woman he thinks is the right fit for him, starts making elaborate plans; he whispers into his ears about all the love that the new Hindi teacher (played by Payal Rajput) harbours. There, you can see how easily the two actors are on different planets of acting. It was the same case with F2, as Varun Tej and Co., couldn't quite quite showcase their humorous side.
Such comedy scenes usually don't depend on the dialogues and background score – it's about the characters' instant reaction to what's being said or done. If the 90s' foolproof masala puts even a little smile on your face during the first half, it's purely because of Venkatesh. In the words of the corrupt MLA (played by Rao Ramesh), this is what you call "charm" in English. This stereotypical MLA character keeps coming up with rotten plans to make more money in the village he's supposed to develop, and he fancies explaining the situation that's unfolding around him by tossing in an English word or phrase into conversations with his subordinates.
Like the Hindi superhit War, the chemistry between the romantic leads is zero, and the focus is entirely on the men. Venky Mama is a family drama that has a bit of all emotions – a grandfather who doesn't like his grandson much, an MLA (his daughter, played by Raashi Khanna, is Karthik's glamorous love interest) who thinks distributing money to the voters will keep him in power for another five years, and the unshakeable bond between two gentlemen who give up their individual goals to be with the other.
The film is not so much of comedy as there are villains everywhere (how else can a director show the muscle power of his heroes?) and the biggest villain is the curse that Karthik carries on his head. I'll just stop with saying it concerns a horoscope. The conceit isn't as wonderfully woven into the plot like Krishna Vamsi managed in Murari, though. Even then, it's an interesting subject that can be mixed-and-matched for use by scores of other filmmakers, considering the amount of astrology beleivers we have. That way, Venky Mama is a message movie, but even without the note in the end credits regarding familial love, it'd have still made a point.
The formula for romance is something not all writers and directors achieve perfectly. Bobby isn't Mani Ratnam or Sekhar Kammula. So, while it is okay to have his principal characters dance to Thaman's crazy songs in crazy costumes, the scenes and dialogues should at least have had a morsel of freshness. All that I'm asking for is one brilliant scene with four leading characters, of which three don't look lost. You can't expect Venkatesh to pull off such quirky scenes single-handedly, even though they are a cake-walk for him.
Also, Venkatesh has already starred in one of the best multi-starrers, Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu (alongside Mahesh Babu), this decade. Beating that film in terms of the cinematic effect it offers is a tall task, and it's not fair to demand the same from the director of Power, Sardaar Gabbar Singh and Jai Lava Kusa. Now that Venky Mama is out on the big screen, I'm eager to see what somebody might come up with for a movie starring Venkatesh and his other nephew, Rana Daggubati. Would that be called Chinna Naanna (as Rana calls him)?