He is a rock star and a troubled one at that. Amidst performing to a roaring audience, he senses the presence of one of his parents’ killers gunning for his life, chases him down, finishes him off and surrenders to the police. The world around him is stunned to discover the hitherto unknown facet of the rock star. Meanwhile, a video footage shot by a television reporter reveals the truth — the rock star was fighting an imaginary opponent. It appears that he suffers from a psychological condition termed Interpretation Disorder, which blurs his capability of differentiating reality and imagination.
Director Sukumar’s 1 is not a film one can watch passively. Soon after the fantastically picturised opening song ‘Who are you?’, he draws you into the thriller mode only to tell you it’s not going to be a linear story. How often do we get to watch a Telugu film where the audience, along with the protagonist and supporting characters, is also required to think and distinguish between events unfolding in real and imaginary spaces? The television reporter Sameera (debutante Kriti Sanon) sniffs a TRP-friendly story and trails Gautam (a leaner, fitter Mahesh Babu) as he retreats to a luxury cocoon in Goa.
Rathnavelu’s roving camera rarely comes to a halt, just like its protagonist, searching for answers across surreal, low-lit streets, exotic beaches, and the cold, grey streets of London. Gautam, meanwhile, is at the risk of injuring himself and anyone around him as his mind refuses to stop playing tricks on him.
Habitual to watching films that begin with a great premise only to fall into the commercial trap of force-fit comic situations, it comes as a relief when Sukumar laces the psychological thriller with subtle wit that never takes the focus away from the plot. A few eye-popping sequences raise the bar for action in Telugu cinema, with well-choreographed stunts helped by good cinematography, editing, visual effects and background score. But once the dots begin to connect and a few plot points become easier to guess, the drama tends to drag and one wonders if the conflict between what’s real and imaginary has been stretched too far. With a run time of a little less than three hours, the film can test a viewer’s patience.
This isn’t your regular paisa vasool, masala cinema and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re willing to invest some patience and soak in the mood of a film that attempts to appeal to an audience that’s used to watching global cinema, 1 will not disappoint. In this visually stunning film, Mahesh Babu delivers his career-best performance. His son Gautam makes a debut through a cameo and appears at ease in front of the camera. As a surprise there’s Devi Sri Prasad’s background score that’s so different from his regular fare. He’s been given the chance to push the envelope and boy, he does it so well.
Cast: Mahesh Babu and Kriti Sanon
Genre: Psychological thriller
Bottom line: A well-intended attempt to raise the bar for Telugu cinema that falls short.