“Bhakti ayina Brandy ayina limitationlo vunte ye godava undadu,” sang Nutan Prasad in his immortal burrakatha in Intinti Ramayanam, comparing and contrasting the lifestyles of Ramadas and Devadas (“Bhakti taagi okadu, mandhu taagi okadu…”).
Sri Ramadasu is a full-fledged venture on the 17th century legendary devotee who did not keep his devotion within proper “limitation”, causing major upheavals in his life, and forcing God to interfere against the course of nature to bail him out.
And if you did not know even before the movie was released, it is going to be one of the biggest hits in Telugu cinema. If you don’t believe us, ask all those who saw Annamayya. And continue to see it.
Beyond star value and professional story-telling, what works for Sri Ramadasu is you. It only shows you what you already know you will see, and what you went in to see. This is a film you are not judging – you are only taking it in.
It helps, of course, that it is seasoned actors and showmen doing the job. If you have any reason to be grateful to God, or if you want to be, the tears flow faster. Perhaps, even otherwise. It’s hard to believe how many you see with moist eyes when the lights go on at the end. And the age and culture brackets they belong to.
Kancherla Gopanna (Nagarjuna) marries Kamala (Sneha), daring a prophecy that whoever marries her will go to jail. He is appointed Tehsildar (modern day Collector) at Bhadrachalam by Tani Shah (Nasser), the Deccan king who rules from Hyderabad. He displaces the king’s own brother-in-law (Jayaprakash Reddy), who swears revenge. Due to his honest ways, Gopanna makes other powerful enemies, too.
Meanwhile, Thammakka (Sujatha), and old ardent devotee of Lord Rama, has a dream that leads her to discover an idol of the Lord, His consort and His brother, in a forest in Bhadrachalam. Her fervor to protect the idol and her dream to build a temple for it move Gopanna, whose life she saves one day when his enemies try to attack him.
The thoughts soon take over his mind, and he moves from the lavish quarters of the Tehsildar to living under a tree near the idol, deciding that that is where he will stay until he builds a temple for the Lord. With the help of the villagers, he collects money for the purpose from the Tehsil and, after paying the King his taxes, uses the remaining 600,000 gold coins to build a magnificent temple.
The Lord Himself moves into the neighbourhood to see for Himself the construction of what will be one of the greatest shrines ever for Him, and stays there with Sita and Lakshmana.
However, the enemies first do not deliver to the King the letter Gopanna sends requesting permission, and then poison the King’s mind against Gopanna. Tani Shah imprisons Ramadas (as Gopanna is now called), and subjects him to brutal torture to extract a confession and an apology.
Prompting Gopanna to ask, “Evadabba sommani kulukutu tirigevu, Ramachandrayya?”
Yes, in case you missed it, there are the songs. All the immortal gems you grew up listening to, whether by Bala Murali Krishna or by M S Subbalakshmi:
Pahi Ramaprabho Pahi Ramaprabho
Takkuvemi Manaku Ramundokkadundu Varaku
Taraka Mantramu Korina Dorikenu
Ye Teeruga Nanu Dayachoochedavo
Paluke Bangaaramayena, Kodandapani
Nanu Brovamani Cheppave
Seethammaku Cheyisthi Chintaaku Patakamu
Ramachandraaya Janaka Raajasa Manoharaaya
Needless to say, the Lord has His reasons for making Gopanna suffer. And when the time comes, He does what He can. Which is what only He can.
Raghavendra Rao, of course, takes his cinematic licenses. Like the whole role of ANR as Kabir. And the parrot episode – various versions have narrated that Ramadas had to be in jail for imprisoning a parrot, but none (at least among those this writer has read) have said that it was the Lord Himself as the parrot.
But nobody’s really looking there. They did not come to count the cinematic licenses.
Several, however, came for star power too. Which brings us to Nagarjuna.
To understate it, he’s good.
Even if you’re among those who’ve mostly been indifferent to Nagarjuna as an actor, you’ll agree that something seems to make him brilliant in these roles. He roots for the Gopanna lost to the world, the Ramadasu. If he doesn’t pick up some awards this year, someone else would have had to be exceptional.
Several people of Andhra perhaps have had Suman as their face for Lord Venkateshwara whenever they prayed, for several days after watching Annamayya. Lord Rama in this film isn’t altogether as chirpy as Lord Venkateshwara was in Annamayya, but mostly, everyone’s happy that it’s Suman again.
Sneha is quite good, especially when she needs to take over the pleading for mercy. Perfect casting. And Archana is surprisingly emotive in an abbreviated role as the helpless Sita.
In other news, the CGI looks like what was used 30 years back. And the comic track is all about weird mannerisms than about actual humor. But guess what? Nobody’s come looking there.
Sri Ramadasu is one of those films that are an implant in your sub-conscious. It is an exposure to the outer extreme of something “good”, which makes you feel a prick in your head every so often that maybe you should do something in that direction, too.
The film can marginally enhance the role of God in your life, but it will do it permanently. It can make you a marginally better human being. If you are still doing all the same wrong deeds, at least from now on you will start feeling the need to give yourself stronger explanations. Which is perhaps a good starting point.
Religion, like they say, is the opium of the masses. If you are part of the simple mass, with no irreconciliable differences with the concept of God or highly evolved standpoints on religion, this is a great experience.