Director Venky Kudumula’s masala entertainer Bheeshma, now on Netflix and SunNXT, begins with a grand old man named Bheeshma (Anant Nag) announcing his desire to find a new CEO for his multi-crore organic agriculture produce company. He could choose from any one of the dozens of able men who work there, populating a conference room table the size of a small island. He may even choose Chaitra (Rashmika Mandanna), his brilliant second-in-command, who sincerely feels for the soil and the farmers the way our politicians conveniently feel for both during election time. But if you’ve ever seen a masala movie, you know very well that it’s the main man on the film’s posters who’s going to end up taking this place. The question isn’t the WHO, like the film wants us to think…it’s about the HOW.
To simplify, how will a good-for-nothing nobody with all of five people on his contacts list go on to become the CEO of a billion-dollar company? And to complicate things, Bheeshma is about how Bheeshma (Nithiin) becomes the CEO of a company named Bheeshma, replacing its visionary CEO Bheeshma. This broad outline is perfect to accommodate the must-haves of the masala movie template, but it also makes it really difficult to keep things moving along when the situations are not out of the ordinary. But the difference is that Bheeshma is a film that’s aware of this. So when nameless, faceless goons “proposition” Chaitra when she’s with Bheeshma Jr., you know he’s going to beat them up, but at least there’s a self-deprecating joke about what he’s going to do. Even later, when the film builds up to some explosive drama with Chaitra’s father (a hilarious Sampath) holding a gun to Bheeshma’s father, the film defuses the tension by turning it into the film’s funniest scene.
In short, the film works as long as it’s able to factor in its brand of self-aware comedy into seemingly dramatic moments. But what if these situations get too serious? How do you lighten a scene that involves an ageing farmer and his fatherless granddaughter? What can one do to keep it entertaining when the scene is essentially a group of farmers being cheated of their land by an evil corporation, for the millionth time in our films? These are moments when we see the film for what it is, a drama that lacks the bite to deal with serious issues. Bheeshma Jr.’s transition, from that likeable nobody to the upright saviour of the downtrodden, is anything but smooth, further exposing the shallowness of its central conceit.
The love story too is conveniently pushed to the background, rearing its pointless head whenever it’s time to transition into songs that are called “Whattey Beauty”, “Sari Sari” or “Super Cute”. Even so, the film does manage to make a comeback once it retreats to its original strengths towards the end. It’s as though the film realises its flaws and makes a beeline towards the comfort zone. The seriousness is, again, dissipated and there’s suddenly nothing that can’t be made fun of. Add a cleverly hidden twist to the mix and you end up with a film that leaves you with a smile on your face, something you would have never expected going into the third act.