Banners: Konidela Production Company, Excel Entertainment, AA Films
Producer: Ram Charan
Director: Surender Reddy
Cast: Chiranjeevi, Amitabh Bachchan, Jagapathi Babu, Kichcha Sudeepa, Nayanthara, Vijay Sethupathi, Tamannaah Bhatia, Anushka Shetty, Ravi Kishan
Writers: Parachuri Brothers (Story), Surender Reddy (Screenplay), Manoj Muntashir (Hindi dialogue)
Music: Amit Trivedi
Period dramas, be it historical or fictional, have takers in every generation and film industries across the world. Hollywood has given us films like Troy, Gladiator and the Lord Of The Rings series in this genre. For that matter even superhero movies and web series like Game Of Thrones more or less fall in the category of the larger-than-life costume dramas. Indian cinema also has had its fair share of period dramas. Recent historical films like Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi and Kesari have brought back the flavour of films based on India and its freedom struggle. Then we have the Baahubali franchise that proved that costume dramas made on a huge scale can rake in massive numbers when a good story coupled with cutting edge VFX is being told. No longer are the raja-rani stories just for the bygone era.
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy banks on all of these factors and the real-life success stories to bring to the Indian audience the story of the first freedom fighter of India.
The film begins with an animated storyboard of the 1857 sepoy mutiny against the British. The story talks about Rani Laxmi bai and it is through her words that we are introduced to Narasimha Reddy, his valour and his fight against what was then the East India Company, a struggle that started 10 years before 1857 uprising.
Defying death right from his birth, Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy is moved by the plight of his people at the hands of the British. Though his family rules the land and is provided pension by the East India Company, Narasimha Reddy finds in his heart the desire to fight atrocities. His Guru Gosayi Venkanna appreciates his ferocity but makes him realise that this is not a war he can win alone and that he will need to ignite the fire that is within him as well as his people. Thus begins his long arduous journey to prepare himself for what would become the purpose of his life and death.
In his cause he meets Laxmi, a devadasi and dancer. They fall in love with each other but circumstances separate them. He continuous his marital life with Siddhamma, whom he had married as a child while Laxmi goes on to spread the stories of Narasimha’s valour and his fight for freedom through her song and dance performances. Narasimha Reddy finds several friends and traitors (from expected and unexpected quarters) as he eliminates hundreds and thousands of British soldiers. Veera Reddy, Avaku Raju and Raja Paandi stay by his side in life and death. Narasimha Reddy is finally captured by the British and tried in court for murder and robbery. He is punished to be hanged till death.
In telling of the story of this not much-known first freedom fighter of India, the writers have taken some creative liberties so that the narrative of the film matches the persona of Megastar Chiranjeevi. As a result we have an exciting story but which seems more of that of a superhero rather than a freedom fighter. There are a lot of dramatic scenes liberally strewn with chest-thumping dialogue. This can be excused given that this the story that sets the tone for a freedom struggle that lasted 100 years. One of the biggest drawbacks of watching a dubbed film is that sometimes the impact of the dialogue is lost in translation in trying to match the lip sync of the actors. The film does suffer from that to some extent. The camera work by R Rathnavelu is top notch. He captures the grandeur of every frame, especially the fight sequences. Here the credit also goes to the action directors who have choreographed some amazing scenes. The music doesn’t add much to the film, except for the title track. At nearly three hours, a bit of editing would have worked wonders for the film. The slow-motion shots are great to watch, but when used repeatedly, tend to get a bit tedious.
All the above-mentioned flaws are more or less negated by the towering presence of Chiranjeevi. The actor defies his age to perform the most amazing action sequences. His agility is enviable. And of course, there is no question that he is still a powerful actor with a charismatic screen presence. His eyes show love, passion and anger so effectively that it is mesmerising. Sadly the Hindi dubbed version does not have the power of his voice, which would have definitely taken his performance several notches higher.
Of the remaining cast, Jagapathi Babu as Veera Reddy, Kichcha Sudeepa as Avuku Raju and Tamannaah Bhatia as Laxmi have the meatiest parts. Jagapathi Babu has one of the most layered characters in the story, and is quite a joy to see him underplay the role so well. Sudeepa is a treat to watch. His frenemity with Narasimha Reddy is one of the exciting plot points of the film. Tamannaah has a good screen presence and does a good job.
Nayanthara as Siddhamma has her moments, but she gets a rather raw deal. If only the writing had delved a bit more on her character and less on making Narasimha Reddy into a demi-God, the Hindi-speaking audience could have experienced her acting chops. Vijay Sethupathi as Raja Paandi is also totally wasted. Of course, he does his part well, but sadly, he doesn’t have much to do.
Amitabh Bachchan makes a cameo appearance as Guru Gosayi Venkanna. Though he is there in just a couple of scenes, when he talks you listen. Another cameo is that of Anushka Shetty. As Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi she does a decent job.
Verdict: A laudable effort