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'George Reddy' movie review: The biopic falls short of being compelling

Sandeep Madhav as George Reddy

Sandeep Madhav as George Reddy   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

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Though interesting in parts with excellent performances, the film barely scratches the surface of the key conflict points

It’s been a year of biopics, mostly political ones with the exception of Mallesham. At the fag end of the year, there’s room for another one — this time steeped in campus politics. George Reddy is a name that those who studied in the Osmania University (OU) campus in the late 60s and early 70s are unlikely to forget. For many of us in the following generations, George remains a question mark. Writer-director Jeevan Reddy brings to the fore a forgotten story.

Jeevan makes it clear that he looks at George as a hero, a revolutionary. The heroic depiction is accentuated hugely by Harshavardhan Rameshwar’s rousing background score. Harshavardhan approaches it like he’s composing for a stage musical. Cinematographer Sudhakar Reddy Yakanti employs a hurried, hand-held camera technique for some portions while deliberating lovingly on the rich texture for another era.

 

George Reddy (Telugu)
  • Cast: Sandeep Madhav, Abhay Betiganti and Muskaan Khubchandani
  • Direction: B Jeevan Reddy

When New York University student Muskaan (Muskaan Khubchandani) arrives in India to make a documentary, for a moment I was reminded of Rang de Basanti. George’s journey also has the Bhagat Singh influence. Gradually, the details emerge. She’s the granddaughter of Maya (Muskaan Khubchandani again, sporting a bouffant, headband and winged eyeliners) who knew George from her campus days. Muskaan’s starting point is a video footage of George from the 1971 documentary Crisis on the Campus (skilfully recreated by this film’s team with the lead actor).

Like Muskaan, we too have questions — who was George and what did he fight for? Was he truly, as his peers describe, the Che Guevara of (undivided) Andhra Pradesh? He had the opportunity to pursue higher studies elsewhere. Had he done so, wouldn’t he be a scientist or a professor today? He was a gold medallist after all. But then, George was wired differently.

George’s eponymous slogan ‘Jeena Hai To Marna Seekho’ and his belief that death only comes once, implying that he wouldn’t back off, drives the narrative. In his childhood days in Kerala, the diminutive George (child actor Srinivas Pokale) lends his shirt to a fellow student who’s humiliated for his shabby clothes. He learns kalari, is curious about Bhagat Singh when he spots a book in his mother’s (Devika Daftardar) hand. He uses a blade to get even with an opponent for the first time. This is shown so casually without an explanation of what could make a child so angry. The question would remain in the campus years; George hates caste politics and becomes a champion of the downtrodden. The blade becomes his staple weapon and he flips it in his mouth like someone else might with a chewing gum!

There are plenty of references to Bhagat Singh, Che Guevara and the Russian revolution. As George rises in power, the in-campus enmity also heightens. The pre-interval action sequence, choreographed to draw wolf whistles, is a nod to Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva in using crude weapons to create a hallmark action sequence. Much later, the NYU student takes a photograph of the Gandhi statue, when the background dialogue is about violence.

There’s a lengthy opening disclaimer that the film doesn’t doesn’t intend to hurt anyone. So ABVP conveniently becomes ABCD and PDSU, which George founded, is simply called PS.

A stand-out factor in this film is its actors. Sandeep Madhav leads the show; he looks and walks the part of an academically-inclined and polished student who at first glance wouldn’t be expected to throw punches. Abhay Betiganti as Rajanna, Chaitanya Krishna as Kaushik, Manoj Nandam as Arjun, Thiruveer as Lallan, Satyadev in a cameo, and a whole lot of others seem like they belonged to the campus of that era. In the later portions when the narrative stops being compelling and plunges into one long thread of conflicts, it’s their performances that hold things together.

The awe that one feels while walking through the OU campus comes across when George looks at the podium with reverence. The entire campus is a set and the production design serves a mention.

There’s a lot happening in terms of student elections and struggle for power. In all this, there aren’t enough moments to let the lead characters’ thoughts, and fear if any, come through. There are fleeting moments that aren’t enough. Also, that song featuring Maya pining for George was so needless.

George Reddy is an interesting biopic. It had the scope to be powerful and spark conversations about the history of student leaders and their ideologies, among a newer audience. This film doesn’t rise up to that potential.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 10:38:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/reviews/george-reddy-the-biopic-falls-short-of-being-compelling/article30049951.ece

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