Readers Write In #97: Why I Loved Nani’s Gang Leader

Posted on September 24, 2019

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(by Aman Basha)

“Gang Leader” is arguably one of the massiest flicks that came out in Telugu, more than two decades ago. Its star, Chiranjeevi was the man who brought mass to Tollywood, the ultimate star whose success is yet to be repeated by others who keep making movies, similar to the potboilers he made, not only in an attempt to replicate that success but because these aspects have become so deeply ingrained in the blueprint of Telugu Cinema.

In the new “Gang Leader” too, there is a character trying to succeed as a writer by blindly copying scripts of popular Hollywood thrillers and passing them off as his own. This character, cleverly named “Pencil” Parthasarathy may be a clever analogy to the director-writer Vikram K Kumar himself, who takes all the familiar items of a Telugu mass movie, the revenge, the romance, the family emotion, the brilliant hero, the bad guy and, unlike Pencil, creates something that feels wholly original despite its borrowed title.

While Vikram K Kumar is known for his clever scripts and unique dabs at different genres, he does something really clever and unexpected here: he does a “genre” twist, something a Tarantino would possibly do. The revenge angle, while being a catalyst for the story, is thrust away into the background, it’s literally used, even by a character to bring together a group of lonely people together and watch as they slowly become a family. Though twists, turns and action are a part of the story, it’s the bonding between these five women and man that’s the heart of the film.

Taking this basic, done-to-death revenge plot, he tries to imagine everything different: the heroine-seducing-a-comedian(the actual seduction is a hoot; and possibly a first for mainstream Telugu), quirky comedy, the freshness of watching women, that often underused, undervalued aspect of humanity, plotting revenge, the way revenge is actually taken and most cleverly, a character imagining possible scenarios. There’s even a scene that seems straight out of the Mahabharata (Parthasarathy is no random name choice after all).

The excellent technical values are of great help too, as are the in-form ensemble. As the villain, Karthikeya has a very minor part, which he manages to own due to his gigantic personality. The five female characters are a class of their own; the detailing put on each female is more than the average of 10 Telugu movies. Lakshmi and Saranya Ponnvannan are a delight to watch, their comic timing and expression working out great in roles they could sleepwalk through. Priyanka Arul Mohan is a revelation and I loved her arc with Nani, it feels true to character and goes in the most unexpected, refreshing ways, a constant and sweet undercurrent. All the five females share great chemistry and make you instantly root for them

But ultimately, the show belongs to the Gang Leader, Nani. The film which could have been a mess unable to make up its mind, feeling incomplete in every way, ends up a clever subversion of the revenge genre, due to the sheer effect of his performance. As Pencil, Nani gets to show his incredible comic timing, making one smile even in the simplest scenes. The chemistry he shares with the cast is incredible and it’s a pleasure to watch him recede to the background at times, allowing himself to be upstaged by others around him. He does comedy, romance, drama, emotion, even action and elevates the material. It’s a one man show and in a movie so different from Chiranjeevi’s Gang Leader, he still puts on the Chiranjeevi mask.