If one hopes for objectivity in a biopic that was commissioned by a family member of the subject, it would be a ridiculous expectation. Especially so, when the subject is a celebrated figure like Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, a venerated actor-politician of Telugu cinema who is not just a legend in his own right, but also someone who left behind a legacy in the form of a family that still rules the roost in Telugu film industry.
It is no wonder then that NTR Kathanayakudu makes no attempt to shy away from the fact that it is the celebration of an individual’s life, and at no point are we going to see an element of criticism in the narrative. It only helps that his life had as much drama off screen as it did on it. And it is for that reason this film aims to be a perfect showreel of a man who made massive impact on Telugu people’s hearts in many ways.
Kathanayakudu takes us through the journey of a young lad in the newly independent India, who leaves the comfort of a well-paid job to move to Madras to pursue acting. Struggles follow, but stardom surely was “destined” for this man who makes it big in no time, as they keep telling us again and again. And from here on, we are given glimpses of the actor’s characteristic traits—be it his aggression before the camera or his consistent idealism in every facet of life. From encouraging his colleagues to use their fame for people’s good to having no qualms about going amidst people even after becoming a star, the man is shown to be glowing with virtues galore.
For most part of the film, all we see are stories we have heard from his days as an actor. Scenes from several of his hit flicks are reenacted, making space for cameos by Shriya Saran, Rakul Preet Singh, Shalini Pandey, Hansika Motwani, Payal Rajput, and the most impressive of all, Sumanth as his grandfather Akkineni Nageswara Rao.
While these acts bring out some very well-made sequences, one of the most glorious moment in the film would be when Balakrishna walks into the film set dressed as Krishna, immediately attracting people’s devotion, with one boy on the set going ahead to break a coconut in front of him!
When Balakrishna first announced the film, it didn’t quite seem possible that he would be a fitting casting choice to portray his charismatic father on screen. However, he impresses with the way he has engulfed himself to look like his father. Even though he seems out of place when he plays the young NTR, he is a revelation as the star starts to age, and visuals from the late 70s seem believable to say the least.
And Vidya Balan is a treat to the eyes even though she’s presented with a limited dialogue and screen space. She owns the screen every time she’s on it, making us appreciate the choice to cast her as Basavatarakam.
Director Krish Jagarlamudi stirs up quite a cocktail of emotions and drama in the second half of the film that is much needed after the endless showreel of the first half that offers nothing new to the moviegoer. A dramatic turn of events, encounters with fans and the understanding of politics pushes him into a turmoil that comes across as quite intense on screen. It is in this part that we probably get the best scenes of Kathanayakudu where a frustrated NTR is moved by how a massive storm has destroyed the common man’s life.
It is noteworthy that the drama that NTR’s life had was mostly post his political sojourn began and it is for this reason that this film steers clear of drama with a dry narrative going on for a major part of its length.
Krish is aided brilliantly by M.M. Keeravani whose music is one of the biggest value additions. Gnana Sekhar’s camera work engages the audience, hooking us on even as we look at a different era in time.
With a very long runtime of 171 minutes, Kathanayakudu is tiresome at the outset, and all we get is only an intro into an icon’s life. But that seems the point because the main drama, it seems, will unfold in the sequel Mahanayakudu, a sneak peek into which we get with this one. Director Krish, it seems, tried to build a mood of anticipation for the sequel that releases in a month. And he sure has been successful in that area because we now know that the real deal is yet to come.
Movie: NTR Kathanayakudu,
Cast: Balakrishna, Vidya Balan, Kalyan Ram, Sumanth
Director: Krish Jagarlamudi