In his new Telugu film Waltair Veerayya, directed by K S Ravindra aka Bobby Kolli, when Chiranjeevi says ‘records lo naa peru undadam kaadu, naa peru meede records untayi’ (it is not about my name being in the records, records are written in my name), amid loud cheers of course, it is an undeniable assertion of the sway he has had over mainstream Telugu cinema in his career of more than four decades. The writers — Bobby, Kona Venkat and Chakravarthy Reddy — dip generously into Chiranjeevi’s blockbusters of the past to evoke nostalgia. As an added bonus, their story has room for Ravi Teja — another star who has cemented his place in the masala genre. The writers’ fanboy tribute to these stars has a few fun segments, but the narrative that anchors it is patchy.
Chiranjeevi plays Waltair Veerayya, a fisherman in Vizag who smuggles luxury goods and wears bright, floral shirts. Even before we see him on screen, his voice sends a goon into a panic spin and makes him drop his lungi! The Indian Navy also turns to Veerayya to save coast guards because when everything fails, Veerayya aka ‘samundar ka sarkar’ aka ‘Bay of Bengal ka baap’ can help.
The film does not take itself seriously and hopes that the audience will not either. Thankfully there is a story, even if it is sketchy and trite. A wanted criminal, Solomon Ceaser (Bobby Simha), is temporarily sheltered in a village police station and it leads to a massacre. Sitapathi (Rajendra Prasad), a grieving officer, seeks Veerayya’s help to avenge the loss of his colleagues.
The first half of the 160-minute narrative is loaded with dialogues and dance moves to remind us of vintage Chiranjeevi. He shows that he’s still got the moves when he dances to Devi Sri Prasad’s ‘Boss Party’. There is also a throwback to Chiranjeevi and Sridevi’s ‘Abbani teeyani debba’ song from Jagadeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari when Chiranjeevi reimagines the dance with the much younger Shruti Haasan. Later in the film they also dance to ‘Nuvvu Sridevi aithe, nenu Chiranjeevi...’ These nostalgia moments are punctuated by jokes on contemporary cinema. A dialogue refers to heroes walking in late to attend audio functions flanked by bouncers.
The narrative retains this flaky and fun flavour when it moves to Malaysia so that Veerayya can take on Solomon Ceaser and his brother, Kaala (Prakash Raj).
If you are wondering where Shruti Haasan fits into the story, she gets a slightly better deal than she did in Veera Simha Reddy. As a duty manager in a star hotel, she gets to repeatedly hold Chiranjeevi’s hands in the elevator while assisting him to the 15th floor since he is scared of heights. Remember you aren’t supposed to take anything seriously in this film. A little later she also gets to perform a few slick action moves, never mind that it is cut short since she has to be ultimately saved by Chiranjeevi.
The film brings in Ravi Teja when it feels the need to lend some emotional depth to the story. As police officer Vikram Sagar, Ravi Teja plays the stepbrother to Chiranjeevi and gets enough bandwidth to evoke memories of his early film with Chiranjeevi, titled Annayya. They dance to the foot-tapping ‘Poonakalu loading’ that is choreographed to showcase their camaraderie and dancing skills. The face-off between the two actors is replete with crowd-pleasing references to their earlier hits.
Prakash Raj tries to roar in the character given to him but we have seen him in truly menacing parts before. The same goes for Bobby Simha whose villany seems like a put-on act.
Vennela Kishore makes an impression in a few scenes but there are plenty of others including Rajendra Prasad, Catherine Tresa and Sathyaraj who are saddled with forgettable parts.
Waltair Veerayya is fun for those who want to spot the plentiful references to Chiranjeevi’s earlier films like Khaidi and Gang Leader or revel in Ravi Teja and Chiranjeevi referencing each other’s hit dialogues during the face off. But if you are looking for a solid fanboy tribute that pays homage to Chiranjeevi’s stardom with an engaging story, this isn’t it.
Nostalgia is interesting when served right, not when it becomes a tool to prop up a pale narrative.