‘Tiger Nageswara Rao’ movie review: Vamsee and Ravi Teja’s ambitious biopic-style drama is occasionally interesting

‘Tiger Nageswara Rao’, director Vamsee’s biopic-style film on the notorious Stuartpuram thief starring Ravi Teja, begins with promise and withers into an overdrawn, generic tale

October 20, 2023 03:59 pm | Updated 05:28 pm IST

Ravi Teja in ‘Tiger Nageswara Rao’, directed by Vamsee

Ravi Teja in ‘Tiger Nageswara Rao’, directed by Vamsee | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When director Vamsee’s ambitiously mounted Telugu film Tiger Nageswara Rao (TNR) begins with a note ‘inspired from true rumours’ and a voiceover informs us that it is a tale of blood and tears, it indicates the tone of the film. Ravi Teja plays the title character inspired by the real-life dacoit of Stuartpuram in Andhra Pradesh, Nageswara Rao who earned the moniker ‘tiger’ for his daredevil acts. In the absence of substantial documentation, the director and his team relied on accounts shared by the late dacoit’s wife and a few others in the village and the police. Sharing the writing credits with Srikanth Vissa, Vamsee attempts to unravel the murky sociopolitical story of Stuartpuram and its notorious thief. A story like this would ideally be complex with grey areas. But this film presents black and white characters and the promising narrative is gradually diluted into an oft-repeated mainstream story. 

A biopic-style presentation of a dacoit would warrant jaw-dropping sequences that establish his ingenuity in pulling off improbable tasks. The events are set in the 1960s and 70s and we are introduced to the story of Nageswara Rao through Guntur-based police officer Vishwanath Sastry (Murali Sharma). There is a sense of urgency with which he recounts the exploits of the dacoit to a group of top-ranking police and intelligence officials in the country. The first big episode introducing the Stuartpuram donga aka Ravi Teja on screen is a train robbery. R Madhi’s cinematography, GV Prakash Kumar’s music and the editing create an adrenaline rush. But the sub par visual effects are a huge dampener. 

Tiger Nageswara Rao (Telugu)
Cast: Ravi Teja, Nupur Sanon, Gayatri Bharadwaj, Anupam Kher
Direction: Vamsee
Music: G V Prakash Kumar
Storyline: Nageswara Rao, a notorious dacoit from Stuartpuram in Andhra Pradesh functions like Robin Hood to help folks in his village lead a life of dignity. Can he cross the hurdles in his path? 

Despite that, Vamsee manages to keep things interesting for some time, thanks to the dark characterisation of the dacoit. Events that unfold in his childhood supposedly make him a monster, setting the stage for an interesting story. For a while, it appears as though the makers are trying to narrate the story of a man who stops at nothing to get his loot. His rise is fuelled by poverty and the desperate need for power to survive. He finds himself locked in what turns out to be a lifelong battle with a local politician, Yelamanda (Hareesh Peradi) and a devilish police officer (Jisshu Sengupta). This is also a story of a hamlet and its hapless people caught in the iron grip of money-minting powerful men. It is a familiar template.

Vamsee traces the rise of Nageswara Rao through a string of heists that might have been more interesting on paper than on screen. The Chennai port theft and his escape from prison are among the few sequences that comparatively make a mark. Appreciably, the makers allow the smattering of Hindi, English and Tamil as the story progresses. Avinash Kolla’s production design accentuates the gritty milieu. Rao’s supposedly daring feat at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi could have been much smarter. 

In Stuartpuram where there’s no dearth of men who are brutes, there is no space for women to lead a life of dignity. Early on we see a sex worker being abused and violently dealt with in public. Much later someone unleashes sexual violence on another woman. The titular dacoit himself, at first, is presented as a brutish character who announces that Sara (Nupur Sanon), a college-going woman he barely knows, is his ‘property’. One could argue that nothing better can be expected of him; yet, stalking being passed off as a lamely-written romance does not augur well.

The 181-minute-long film manages to hold interest until midway. When the covert operation for TNR begins, the narrative turns into a Robin Hood tale. Each of his dark acts shown in the first part of the film is explained from another angle, painting a humane image of him. At one point a character urges another to listen to Ravana’s story from the people of Lanka. 

We are told TNR wants to be an agent of change and supports education but his battles and those of the village are far from over. While showing the transformation in the village, the film makes every character appear either white or black with no room for complexities. We also get repetitive sequences of bloodbath. Several limbs are chopped off and heads roll. 

Ravi Teja is stoic and convincing in his portrayal of a man hardened by circumstances. Others, like Care of Kancharapalem Shiva and the leading lady Gayatri Bharadwaj who portrays TNR’s wife, get a few moments to make their presence felt. Nasser, Murali Sharma and Anupam Kher (as an intelligence officer) add credibility with their presence but have little to do. Renu Desai appears in a cameo as social reformer Hemalatha Lavanam.

Towards the end, the film inevitably glorifies the dacoit and his every action. History is complex and so is truth. I just wished the film hadn’t watered down everything into a generic Robin Hood tale.

Tiger Nageswara Rao is currently running in theatres

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