One hundred years ago, on May 3, 1913, Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harischandra released, marking the beginning of a long journey for Indian cinema, undoubtedly the first choice for the country’s insatiable appetite for entertainment. Greeku Veerudu’s release coinciding with the hundredth anniversary of Indian cinema maybe mere happenstance but it seems befitting to see K. Vishwanath, whose contribution to Telugu cinema is insurmountable, on screen to mark this occasion. As Nagarjuna’s grandfather, the veteran actor-filmmaker is one of the highlights of the film.
Greeku Veerudu, which brings back Dasaradh and Nagarjuna together 10 years after Santosham, is an archetypal family entertainer. Just as masala entertainers abide by a formula, there’s an unsaid formula that govern family entertainers. A crisis, a hero who stands up for his family against all odds, a handful of characters designed to make you laugh and a little something for the children. Weave all this together around a love story and you have a film that will end with a picture of a happy family. Greeku Veerudu mostly follows this route.
Chandu (Nagarjuna), a self-made businessman in New York, is in a financial soup. He has to pay Ashish Vidyarthi a huge sum within a month, failing which he’d be behind bars. A silver lining comes in the form of a call from his extended family in India that wants him to come home. The family, headed by K. Viswanath, has enough and more moveable and immovable assets to ease him out of the cash crunch. There’s a catch. Chandu doesn’t believe in love, family and relationships. A smooth talker, he prefers casual flings to long-term commitment. As expected, the woman who wins him over is a quintessential believer in strong family bonds. Sandhya (Nayantara), a doctor who works as a volunteer with Make A Wish foundation, helps terminally ill children realise their last wish.
When the story moves to India, we sense a Santosham hangover. There are moments of bonding with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. By this time, you’d have guessed that the happy family will have a threat (here through Tanikella Bharani) and our hero will have to put aside his selfish needs and rise to the occasion. Again, no brownie points for guessing that he will be a changed man half way through the film.
This predictability of the story would have been easier to overlook had the screenplay been fresh, racy and laced with crisp, witty dialogues. But once the premise is established, the tempo slows down drastically.
M.S. Narayana and Brahmanandam take up the onus of making us laugh and succeed in parts. Remember the comic portions between Nagarjuna and Brahmanandam in Santosham that most of us have watched innumerable times and still laugh? We aren’t sure if the comedy in Greeku Veerudu will have that kind of a shelf life. As we walk out of the film, we remember a few funny lines and forget most others.
Perhaps wanting to have something for the children, there are a few sequences at NASA (enjoyable), at an amusement park (disbelief: the security doesn’t come down heavily on Nagarjuna because he pre-empted a chase to fulfil the wishes of a terminally-ill boy!) and on slow-clad mountains (this one is intended to tug at heart strings, but falls flat).
Carrying this film on their shoulders are Nagarjuna and Nayantara. In his 50s, Nagarjuna looks as fit as actors half his age. Appreciably, the film doesn’t show him as someone in early 20s. Introducing him as a businessman whose company is at least 10 years old (this we learn through a bespectacled office assistant) makes it convincing. Despite the impeccable styling, perhaps for the first time, one can see the age on Nagarjuna. Still, it’s his presence that keeps you hooked when the film loses momentum.
Nayantara breezes through her role. Clad in colour-coded saris, she is completely at ease in front of the camera.
The sore points of the film, besides the sluggish screenplay, are the montage shots of New York and cardboard-ish sets of the family home in India. However much the camera stays focused on the characters thus blurring the background, one never gets the sense of watching the proceedings unfold in a real location with all those stock frames.
This is a film you could watch with your grandparents without squirming, but not engaging enough to watch with a group of friends.
Cast: Nagarjuna, Nayantara and Brahmanandam
Plot: A non-believer in relationships gets sucked into the vortex of family bonds and finds love.
Bottom line: A family entertainer minus the zing.