Director: G Nageswara Reddy
Cast: Sundeep Kishan, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Hansika Motwani.
Shortly after the interval block, we are introduced to two fake witnesses who are going to help with the bad guys’ case against Vara Lakshmi, a millionaire businesswoman played by Varalaxmi Sarathkumar. Satya Krishnan, whose voice has a rough texture to it, plays one of the false witnesses, and her schtick is that words only come out of her mouth in the form of a song. This is highly absurd — the powerful men couldn’t find a woman with normal voice? — but the film and the actress commit to it well enough to be entertaining. There are few other instances where the film uses absurd premises to elicit humour and move the plot along. This kind of ludicrous storytelling could have be fun, had the film decided to take the illogicality seriously. But no, this film is mighty pleased with just pretending to be smart.
Tenali Ramakrishna (Sundeep Kishan), the film’s lead, plays a lawyer who has zero cases. Tenali is sad and frustrated that his career hasn’t started yet, but that doesn’t stop him from being pretty pleased with himself. He is sad one moment, doubting himself the other, and confidently following a woman who shows no interest in him the next. His father, a legal broker, wants his son to achieve all that he couldn’t, and is disappointed that he hasn’t done anything great yet. Soon after this, Tenali falls in love at first sight with Rukmini (Hansika Motwani) because, well, she is fair, dammit. So fair. This relationship leads Tenali towards something that might finally get his career started.
This kind of behaviour, where a character’s mood and tonality jumps without reason, is common among male leads in badly-written movies, but, interestingly enough, Sundeep manages to pull off all the shifts. He is funny when he has to be, sweet when he needs to be, brazen when he is dealing with the evil powers, and sombre when he is about to advise a woman to go back to her cheating husband, because the kid needs a father. In fact, he and Varalaxmi — she rarely gets to speak, but has such powerful screen presence — are the only saving graces of the film. Even though the supporting cast — Murali Sharma, Raghu Babu, Annapurna, Vennela Kishore, Sapthagiri, Posani, and others — tries to keep us from dozing off, there is only so much actors can do. Technically, the film is fine, though none of the departments stands out, and I am going to blame the script for that. The production design in the songs is impressive and might be the only artistic element in the film.
Compromise is a word the film chooses to throw at us from time to time. So, that is where I am going to end this. Even though I shouldn’t, I agree to loosen up about body shaming and fat shaming, if you agree to entertain me in return. I agree to ignore the fact that Hansika is yet again playing a dumb woman — although she is lawyer now, so promotion, I guess — who goes to meet a client in an empty, shady-looking godown, because you very well know why. I agree to not get furious at the fact that your idea of a joke is Vara Laxmi, a 34-year-old woman, constantly being addressed as ‘aunty’ by men much older than her, because those men rightfully get beaten up immediately after. After all these compromises, this is what the film gives me. A guy named Chammak Chandra — Jabardasth, a comedy show, is slowly ruining Telugu humour and we are just letting it — in drag, and numerous, tasteless jokes and innuendos. That is not what meeting each other halfway looks like.
When you name a film after a supposedly clever, witty character such as Tenali Ramakrishna and make him a lawyer, any hopeful viewer will expect sharp banter and snarky courtroom exchanges. None of that is present in the film, and the sequences pertaining to the actual case are painfully unimaginative and surprisingly curt. We are told that our protagonist’s father names his son Tenali Ramakrishna hoping that he would grow up to be as intelligent and respectable as his namesake. He doesn’t. The filmmaker is guilty of something similar; the film does not smarten itself up along the way, either.