Will a star’s enormous fan base appreciate an engaging, script-driven film or should a director make a film banking solely on the star’s strength to reach out to the fan base? The Telugu film industry has been plagued by this debate over the decades and will continue to be. There’s a section that wants to see its heroes elevated to the status of demi-gods and there’s a section that’s not averse to potboilers but wants a film with a well-narrated story, taut screenplay and performances. How much you like and appreciate certain films depends on which side of the divide you are in.

Ramayya Vasthavayya comes from director Harish Shankar of the gigantic hit Gabbar Singh. If he made Gabbar Singh to suit Pawan Kalyan’s devil-may-care attitude, here he largely relies on NTR’s charisma.

The film opens with Mukesh Rishi surviving an attempt on his life during his daughter’s engagement and then veers off to introduce Nandu (NTR), a college student, who woos Mukesh Rishi’s younger daughter Akarsha (Samantha). Nandu wins the trust of Akarsha, her sister and their elderly caretaker Rohini Hattangady. He travels with them to their hamlet for the older sister’s wedding and offers to help Mukesh Rishi who still faces death threat. What begins as a harmless (in fact, aimless) romance turns out to be a revenge drama.

Remember the divide we talked about earlier? If you’re an ardent NTR fan, you’ll love the way he beats goons to a pulp, reels off both one-liners and lengthy dialogues with ease and how he shoulders a film that has little to offer in terms of a story line in the first half.

If you’re not a fan of the star and go in expecting a well-made film, you’ll disagree with the lack of sensitivity with which this film shows NTR wooing Samantha, you’ll get tired of the one-liners (example: ‘I am not acting smart; I am smart), you’ll get bored since it takes a long time before the film gets to the story, and above all, you’ll cringe at the way this film depicts a lustful villain (a menacing performance by Ravi Shankar) with lewd dialogues and body language.

NTR looks toned, dances and fights with appreciable agility, is one of the few actors who can be counted upon for impeccable dialogue delivery and can emote with ease. But he alone cannot prop up a film that falters with its screenplay.

We’ve seen Samantha in better roles and better films. Here, she tries to do what best she can. Shruti Haasan springs a surprise in her brief role of an educated woman standing up for the rights of her village folk. Rohini Hattangady and Ajay are thoroughly wasted.

Until a few minutes before the interval, you’re left looking beneath the surface of the comedy, songs and romance to see what the film is trying to communicate to you. And post interval, when the film takes you into a rural hamlet and recalls an ill-fated past followed by revenge, there’s way too much bloodshed that leaves you numb.

Watch this film if you are an NTR fan.

RAMAYYA VASTHAVAYYA

Cast: NTR, Samantha and Shruti Haasan

Direction: Harish Shankar

Music: Thaman

Story line: The hero avenges a death caused by greed and lust.

Bottom line: Tailor-made to appeal to a fan base.