“Rangasthalam”… An overlong, yet interestingly narrated tale that makes for unusual masala movie

Posted on March 31, 2018


Spoilers ahead…

Read the full review on Film Companion, here: http://www.filmcompanion.in/rangasthalam-movie-review-ram-charan-sukumar-baradwaj-rangan/

Everything that some people will think is right (and others wrong) in Sukumar’s Rangasthalam (Stage) can be glimpsed in the song, Ee chethi thone. It’s a dirge that plays over a murder victim being prepared for a funeral. We see the body being held upright and bathed. We see the grief-stricken father being helped into his ritual clothes. We see the bier being built, the body hoisted onto it. We see people coming to pay their last respects. We see the toes being tied with string, the women wailing, the body being carried away for cremation, and at the site, we see rice being sprinkled, a dung cake being placed on the face, the pyre being lit. Are we watching a star-driven masala movie, or a documentary on the death rites of a community living on the banks of the Godavari?

But that is Sukumar’s approach. Rangasthalam can stand a good half-hour trim – it runs 179 minutes – but there’s a method behind the (apparent) madness. One, the film is set in the 1980s, and songs (and scenes, and running times) of this sort weren’t uncommon then. And two, Sukumar wants to immerse us in this milieu, in the lives of these people. His lingering on (sometimes excruciating) detail helps elevate a routine story about a village ruled by a tyrant known as “President” (Jagapati Babu, whose screen presence says a lot with very few lines). He has held the post, unopposed, for three decades. As someone says, “For 30 years, this village has seen the same play… There’s no hero, only a villain.” No one dares to walk past President’s house with their slippers on. He returns the favour by usurping their land and crops under the pretext of unpaid loans.

In short, we are in the feudal realm of Benegal’s Ankur and Nishant – or to recall a more commercial variant, something like Mana Voori Pandavulu. But here’s the twist. It’s not the loud, uneducated hero – Chittibabu (a forceful Ram Charan) – but his soft-spoken, Dubai-returned brother (Kumar, played by a deliberately unforceful Aadhi Pinisetty) who seeks to change the status quo. Sukumar plays a clever game with this “mass”/ “class” mix of siblings. He makes a movie about a morally uplifting social uprising. He also makes a movie about carefully nurtured vigilante justice. This is the kind of “political” film where Kumar goes around the village, beseeching people to support his candidacy for President. It’s also the kind of “personal” drama where Chittibabu, early on, vows to crush a cobra that’s bitten him, and then we discover the President’s real name is that of the king of snakes. It’s a great punch moment.

Continued at the link above.

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Posted in: Cinema: Telugu