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Syeraa Narasimha Reddy (Telugu); Cast: Chiranjeevi, Tammannah Bhatia, Nayanthara, Sudeep, Vijay; Direction: Surendra Reddy; Rating: ** and 1/2 (two and a half stars)
By the time the British villains stopped snarling and sniping at the trembling deshbhakts of our country their days were over. At least as far as Indian cinema is concerned.
"Syeraa Narasimha Reddy" propounds the most basic kind of patriotism practised in cinema: Portray the invaders, in this case the Britishers, as cheap avaricious villains, pitch them against a one-man army and let the drama unfold.
"Syeraa Narasimha Reddy" is a fast-flowing, frenzied and hysterical homage to an unsung martyr of Andhra Pradesh who fought the British goons (the film tells us that's what they were and who are we to argue?) with his faithful bunch of unarmed warriors. While the legendary Chiranjeevi occupies the central part with confident swagger, the supporting cast, specially in the mob sequences, are reduced to two basic emotions: cowering and glowering.
The Britishers are played by a bunch of inept actors -- one more oafish than the other. One smirking ruler, a Ranveer Singh lookalike, orders the villagers to send all their daughters to him before their weddings.
"One at a time,ahe adds considerately. Not impressed by his generosity our hero the hotheaded Narasimha cuts off the oversexed colonizer's a" no, not what you think a" just his head.
One wonders if there is any historical truth to this demonization of the British. And if not, why can't they take action against being portrayed as brutal louts? Or is the prerogative of being touchy restricted to us Indians only?
Big names from the South are reduced to mere perky props. Anushka Sharma makes a fleeting appearance as Rani Laxmibai to tell us of Syeraa Narasimha Reddya¿s valorous deeds against the despicable firangi dudes. It isn't clear why we needed her intervention to appreciate the enormity of celebrating the life of a freedom fighter who remains largely unknown.
But then clarity is not a virtue to be sought in a film that serves up reams of rabblerousing rhetorics and dollops of deifying drama.
The prevalent mood of the film remains unflinchingly eulogistic. In almost every frame at any given time there are five dozen junior artistes gazing reverentially at their beloved leader. The look of unadulterated love is easy when it's Chiranjeevi on the pedestal. The rest of the cast, including Tamil cinema's superstar Vijay Sethupathi, is reduced to glorified lamp posts. Nayanathara and Tamannah make pretty lamp posts. While the latter impresses in a fiery dande number, Nayanthara has an embarrassing sequence where she fawns over her co-star like a fan gone berserk.
Kannada superstar Sudeep plays the kind of ambivalent warrior whom we never know, which way he would go. Reassuring that at least one co-star isn't required to keel over with spams of hero-worship. None of the characters including the two women in the hero's life get breathing space in the sweaty hijinks. The war sequences are moderately impressive, though the scale of the battles are considerably reduced in comparison with Rajamouli's "Baahubali".
R Rathnavelu's camera seems to have been given standing instructions to simulate grandiosity in every frame. There is scarcely an intimate moment among the characters, who are constantly captured in cascading crowds hollering dialogues on the evil Britishers.
We get that. But isn't there a life beyond the posturing? How free is the spirited freedom fighter? Does he allow himself to think of the things he really wanted to do in life if he didn't have to be the flag bearer? Such questions are beyond the range of ambitions that this film sets for itself.
Amitabh Bachchan appears unnecessarily in a few scenes as Chiranjeevi/Narasimha Reddy's spiritual guru. At the end of the film he's packed off on a swaying ship to serve a prison term in an unnamed island. Strangely, as he swayed in the computer-generated ocean I felt a deep sense of empathy with Mr Bachchan's character.
For more than 150 minutes "Syeraa Narasimha Reddy" takes us deep into the bowels of a primeval urge to get even with the conqueror. It's a world governed by self righteous anger. The tone of self-congratulation is as unmistakable as the true intentions behind making this larger-than-life tale of illimitable heroism.
See this film if you are sold on Chiranjeevi's heroics. In the original Telugu version his dialogues have far more punch. And Pavan Kalyan's voiceover in Telugu helps mitigate the muddle that is generated by the narrative's constant endeavour to maintain a sustained shrill high-pitched mood.