Allu Arjun excels in Race Gurram, a film with carefully couched comedy with the right dose of filial love, romance and songs shot in exotic locales
Andhra filmgoers are a unique lot. They are not mere fans but fanatics. They select their screen idols carefully for whatever reason and stick by them in any endeavour they later choose which in all probability will be politics. A fan may forget his parent’s birthday but will unfailingly bathe a cutout with milk and distribute sweetmeats generously on the day his idol was born. Arguments about who’s better between fans of two stars will surely end in fisticuffs. Most of the superstars too cannot stand each other and indulge in chicanery and backbiting when not throwing barbs on-screen which further incites the fans. The one remarkable aspect is that their taste is eclectic. They will watch a ‘Sampoorna Ramayanam’ with as much fervor as an ‘Adavi Ramadu’. Sometimes a ‘Shankarabharanam’ will do much better than a Chiranjeevi potboiler. I’ve seen busloads of fans from far flung towns in Andhra driving straight from Thirumala to NTR’s residence in Chennai awaiting his ‘darshan’, their tonsured pates sweating in the searing heat. I’ve also witnessed elders prostrating before Somayajulu in the lobby of a hotel.
Little has changed. Chiranjeevi’s fans have had to choose between his brother, son and nephew. NTR’s huge fan base has shifted loyalties to his son and grandson. Very few from outside the filmi lineage have shone like the sons and siblings of stars. Some things have changed tough. Telugu cinema was accused of garish sets, outlandish costumes and tacky cinematography. Now stars like Mahesh Babu and Allu Arjun wear cool, comfortable attire. Gone are the days of sequined, multi-hued costumes. Their acting is subdued. They converse casually instead of spitting out fiery monologues. They leave that to the likes of Balakrishna. The sets in song sequences when they’re not shooting abroad are classy. The content hasn’t changed much. Only the location has. Most of the mega budget ventures centre around Rayalaseema which is portrayed as a lawless place populated with unkempt men who speak with guns and bombs. ‘Blood for blood and life for life. This is the anthem in Seema,’ are the words of a song played constantly in the background of Ramgopal Varma’s last release ‘Rowdy’. The lesser stars knowing their worth thrive on campus romances. There’s the occasional comedian like Sunil who suddenly thinks he’s hero material, is shown his place and ultimately shunned for comic roles too.
What I like about Telugu directors who helm mega budget ventures is that they don’t have a condescending attitude. They don’t pretend they’re purveying to lesser mortals. They know what the fanatic filmgoer expects and gives it to them, no holds barred. This is also because the star is never blamed for a film’s failure. The entire onus is on the hapless director who suffers the ire of irate fans. Take ‘Race Gurram’. It’s two hours and forty minutes of relentless action, carefully couched comedy with the right dose of filial love, romance and songs shot in exotic locales. You can see that a think tank has conceptualised the film, not a single individual. The seed seems to be from ‘Agni Nakshathiram’. The character of the two brothers is the same. The difference is that they’re legitimate. One is studious while the other is full of pranks. When asked to write about Tagore, the latter writes reams. Turns out it’s about the Chiranjeevi starrer rather than the Nobel laureate. The brothers are constantly at loggerheads. One grows up to be an ACP while the other remains a vagabond. The refreshing twist is that the parents don’t discriminate. Well, hero falls in love with a heiress who drives around in a Range Rover. Heroine reciprocates promptly. Enter the baddie from Seema who wants to become the CM. Hero’s brother, the good cop has incriminating evidence against him. Obviously there’s an attempt on his life. Hero discovers this and suddenly realizes how much he loves his brother. He batters baddie who swears revenge. The rest is about who emerges triumphant. You cannot change stories. There are only so many. You can only tweak the screenplay to make it interesting and that’s exactly what director Surinder Reddy succeeds in doing. Believe me, this is not easy. You have to first realize what you would endure and enjoy in a theatre.
‘Race Gurram’, in trade parlance is a super-hit. ‘Paisa vasool’ said a fan while exiting. Allu Arjun excels, be it dance, action or holding his own against that inimitable performer, Bramhanandam. The applause that the comedian’s entry at the fag end of the film evoked would make any star envious. Shruthi Hassan has to look stunning which she does. Manoj Paramahamsa’s cinematography is excellent be it action or song sequences in tastefully designed sets. The formula may be the same but success is slippery. A few Telugu directors though, seem to have a vice like grip on it.