There's only so many politically inclined movies backed by politically inclined families you can watch before your paranoia inclined brain starts smelling conspiracy. However, this is Tollywood and we're in Hyderabad, so a gorgeous boy popping his thespic cherry with a violent crusade rather that a jolly good romance has apparently become par for the course. Thus, we have Mukunda, a film about a college kid's battle against a politician that, despite all of writer-director Srikanth Addala's efforts at otherwise, leaves you dissatisfactorily convinced that, had this movie not had this hero or this schedule or this director or this something, you might have gotten a movie you'd want to watch again.
As for the story, Mukunda (Varun Tej) is a college kid who gets into trouble with the municipal chairman (Rao Ramesh) because his friend falls in love with the evil chairman's niece. The chairman goes after the hapless friend's life, and Mukunda decides to retaliate by bringing him down. Our resourceful hero then decides that the best way to do this would be to pit an eloquently idealistic hobo (Prakash Raj) against the chairman and have the hobo. Oh, and he also decides to fall in love with the chairman's nubile young daughter (Pooja Hegde).
As you can see, this is an insane premise that could've begotten an equally insane movie, but then the makers seem to have realized that this film must be a "commercial" success about halfway into making it, giving us a film that straddles uncomfortably the line dividing what is expected to entertain and what actually does entertain. Either way, what you end up watching are a set of decent dialogues spoken convincingly by a few people who seem to be doing a different film, punctuated by fight scenes that are as superfluous as they are badly done.
Rao Ramesh has the privilege of being the baddie, apparently the only mainstream Tollywood flat character allowed to actually enjoy their performance, and he takes full advantage of it, pitching his dialogues with precision and wielding his facial muscles with skill. Prakash Raj, on the other, does put all of the heart that only he possesses into his role, but is defeated in his endeavour by a character with all the depth of a bowl... turned the other way round (what, did you think we're stupid?).
Varun Tej, in stark contrast to these veterans, shows every bit of his inexperience, making a distressingly shallow impression despite all of his well-publicized 6 feet and 4 inches. He looks terribly good, but that doesn't make up for how uncomfortable he is on screen or his awkwardness in the music videos or even the fact that his face doesn't quite seem capable of emoting. However, one must keep in mind that all Addala seems to require from Varun Tej are the utterly mindless heroics that don't much require emoting. Pooja Hegde looks enchanting, and has a beautifully designed wardrobe, especially in all of those beautifully shot songs that the director shoehorns into the screenplay wherever the fancy hits him.
Bramhanandam, Ali and the rest show up as usual, and leave without making nary an impact, which is not as usual.
The cinematography is well done, making the best of all of the film's beautiful locations. The choppy screenplay, however, mars what would otherwise have been a fun watch. The editing department seems to have phoned it in, with cuts in the oddest of spots, not to mention the oddly placed songs. Mickey J Meyer's songs are hummable and might stick around in your head for a while.
Mukunda is that rare thing, a debut platform for a scion of Tollywood royalty that shows substance beyond the spectacle of it all. Too bad the substance wasn't quite allowed to rule the roost.