Making a movie about Gandhi's ideals, using gore for 95% of it - both physical violence and violence of the thought - is as unimaginative as teaching your bully of a child to not hit his classmates, by giving him a sound spanking. It is probably effective, but if you stop and think a little, you'll reason out that it doesn't make sense.
Mahatma is simply the story of a rowdy sheeter who reforms during the last half hour of a movie of 2.5 hours. That is, after what can technically be called an item song that revolves around the father of the nation - a song that, we must admit, does blow you away, and that turns out to be quite a spiritually exhilarating experience.
The story's set in a basti in the center of which a statue of Gandhi stands grossly neglected - the statue does nothing more than serve as the nightly boozing chowk for Das (Srikanth) and his gang. Das is the local goonda out here, and one who's loyal to the local slimy politician Dada (Jayaprakash Reddy). Dada has his horns locked with his party rival Kalarani (Jyothy), and they're both fighting for their respective personal gains in the building of an SEZ.
Somewhere along the story, the illiterate, uncouth Das starts having starry-eyed dreams of becoming a movie star, a vision he looks up to Dada to fulfil. Dada has evil plans of his own, and tunes up Das' dreamscope by promising he'll make him a corporator. There's a murder that accelerates Dada's implementation of his viciousness, which is when Das realizes he's being used.
The Das decides to contest the elections, and is egged into ahimsa by his lawyer girlfriend (Bhavana). Whatever is left of the movie is about how the turning of the other cheek changes the course of his life.
What works for Mahatma is that it's ultimately the story of triumph of good over evil (wonder where we've seen that before), has impressive dialogues (that are credited to the Paruchuri brothers), and has a few finely crafted scenes of the hero's contrition. Oozing with all the digs you'd want to take - on politicians and on movie heroes - the lines are sure to get loud cheers from benches all the way to the top.
Mahatma really could have been any movie with an anti-hero who has a change of heart. One of the problems with the film is that it exaggerates the villainy, making it perverse towards the end. For example, there's a scene in which a whole family is out for the blood of their patriarch, and when he hides from them in his bedroom, they goad him out by threatening to kill his grandchild, a 1-year baby, instead. It's indeed a questionable state of affairs when you have to resort to looking good by making the bad - in this case, the villains - look ugly. In another scene, Das immolates himself - something that surely the Mahatma never endorsed.
And Das' goondaism - that lasts for more than half the movie - seems contrived. Srikanth can seem coarse and boorish only upto a point, and after that, it's a desperate attempt to connect with the masses. Also, SEZs and Tollywood - 2 firebrand topics that Mahatma begins to talk about - end up abandoned after a few teases. Indeed, there are quite a few issues that are left unresolved, and this makes it look like Mahatma Gandhi was an afterthought that Krishnavamsi came up with because he couldn't close those issues.
Plus, it's not like Gandhism saved the day. The real villain ends up being stabbed brutally and in a kind of a human error - it takes place simply because Das happens to move an inch away... which happens because he's busy throwing up blood (oh yes, and you get to see a close-up of him doing it, too)...
Well, there's nothing you can complain of about the performances. Srikanth, like we said, did what he could, and his conviction carries his role through. Jayaprakash Reddy is in a role that he can no longer improvise on. Uttej is enthusiastic, and Paruchuri adds to the thrills with his lines.
The music is quite loud and unimpressive, save for the song on Gandhi and another well-choreographed romantic folk number towards the end. Some of the scenes have been creatively shot, like the first fight sequence. There's also a character who plays a street theatre artiste who dons roles of different freedom fighters - an innovative story-telling ploy that could really have been used better.
Don't take your kids or any women to Mahatma. And if you love a quiet introspective film, there's nothing in it for you, either. To pay a real tribute to Gandhi, here's a lesson
that we'd rather endorse. Srikanth should have stuck to the syllabus