If Ayyappanum Koshiyum (2020) was considered mainstream masala in Malayalam cinema, in hindsight, it appears like an arthouse project in comparison to its Telugu adaptation Bheemla Nayak. Director Saagar K Chandra, aided by Trivikram Srinivas who steers the screenplay and dialogues, dishes out a racy, crisp adaptation that amps up the beats to cater to the fanbase of Pawan Kalyan (Bheemla Nayak), while ensuring that his battle with the ego-driven Daniel Shekhar (Rana Daggubati) is not one-sided.
The battleground is the forest region connecting Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In the opening minutes, Bheemla Nayak pays his obeisance to the forest, while Daniel quips that he’s the tiger who is resting after a few drinks. Ravi K Chandran’s camera and the catchy folk number composed by S S Thaman lead us through the terrain.
Cast: Pawan Kalyan, Rana Daggubati, Nithya Menen, Samyuktha Menon
Direction: Saagar K Chandra
Music: S S Thaman
Daniel Shekhar does not think it is a crime to have a stash of alcohol as his car zips through the forest zone, while the cops will have none of it. The clash between the cops and Shekhar swiftly snowballs into something bigger, both trying to have an edge over the other. Bheemla tries to keep things in check, in vain.
The dialogues oscillate between a few politically charged statements to the filmy. Bheemla Nayak is a sub inspector and a demigod for the locals. His reputation of coming down hard on criminals while being considerate to hapless souls who err out of desperation precedes him. Then there’s his backstory that the villagers know but will not discuss and consider it a ‘sacred oath’, which comes into play later.
Daniel Shekhar is an aspiring politician, backed by his family’s wealth and power. He fancies himself as a hero, paving way for pop culture references to Pawan Kalyan’s Gabbar Singh and the iconic character from Sholay.
Trying to broker some peace between them is circle inspector Kodandaram (Murali Sharma). The first hour shows a somewhat restrained Bheemla Nayak, like Ayyappan in the original. The difference, however, lies in the atmospherics. The title song, choreographed with ample slow movements and hundreds of junior artists dressed in multi-hued apparel, is enough indication to Daniel Shekhar that Bheemla Nayak is no ordinary S.I.
In this adrenaline-laden battle, the women get some room to make themselves heard. It is fun to watch Nithya Menen as firebrand Suguna, though her character is paler than her counterpart in the original, stripped of the communist leanings. Thankfully, there is enough spunk and Nithya makes it worthwhile when she eggs Bheemla Nayak to not let go of any wrong-doer easily. Samyuktha Menon as Daniel Shekhar’s wife gets a character that is a tad more assertive than in the Malayalam film.
The battle heightens once Bheemla Nayak is stripped of his official duties. His backstory, though an overused and stale template in Telugu films, is salvaged to an extent when used for a turning point eventually.
The end is a bit tame after a fierce face-off over two hours. Nuances of class divisions are downplayed and Bheemla is mostly whitewashed, rather than coming across as a multi-layered and flawed personality. But perhaps that is asking for too much. Pawan Kalyan does not have it easy in the battle and that itself is a win. Bheemla is also his most restrained performance in recent times.
The one who appears to have had a blast is Rana Daggubati, leveraging his towering personality and physique to good effect and owning that devil-may-care attitude. Samuthirakani and Rao Ramesh are saddled with one-note characterisations. Raghu Babu, Teja Kakamanu and Narra Srinu are effective in their brief parts. Thaman’s score is enjoyable and adds to the intensity of the drama.
Bheemla Nayak is Ayyappanum Koshiyum on steroids, serving its purpose of a theatrical outing amid cheers. The cheers got deafeningly loud when Brahmanandam arrived on screen, drowning out the next few lines delivered by both Rana and Pawan Kalyan.