Grab this: Sunil stops his dance in the middle of the opening song of Andala Ramudu
to salute a Chiranjeevi poster along the way, and breaks into adulatory prose about "annayya". Lawrence dedicates Style
to unabashedly singing paens of Chiranjeevi. Venkatesh, a huge star himself, spends half his time on stage at Richard Gere’s AIDS initiative at the Lalitha Kala Thoranam, praising Chiranjeevi who is to come later.
And for newer actors in smaller films, it seems de riguer to refer to the "Mega Star" in some way. From Uday Kiran to Navdeep and Sai Kiran and, of course, Allu Arjun, they have all done it. And finally, there are whole movies with titles like Seenugaadu Chiranjeevi Fan
. And a film just out called Dongodi Pelli
introduces its hero as "real Chiranjeevi fan, Rajendra Prasad".
Yes, Tollywood continuously makes Chiranjeevi almost mythical. It's a virtuous cycle - they are playing to the masses who love him, and all the references make him bigger. And a whole film casting him then becomes almost too good to be true. So when a new one is out after several months, it is not just a movie – it is meeting a need. It is the real thing.
So it’s hard to say if you will like Stalin. To understand that, try answering this: would the feeling of being in the Sanctum Sanctorum at Tirupati be the same if you could just stroll in and out whenever you wanted, as opposed to the effort of being in an 8-hour queue now? The hype and the long wait themselves enhance the experience.
Take Chiranjeevi out of it, and Stalin is a below-average drama. But you cannot take Chiranjeevi out of Stalin, for Stalin is not a movie that casts an actor. It is 3 hours of Chiranjeevi. Just as you do not compare apples with oranges, you do not compare Stalin with movies.
Stalin comes at a time when Chiranjeevi has had 2 average films in the last 2 years and just 2 hits in 5 years after Indra in 2002 (Tagore
and Shankardada MBBS
). The Chiranjeevi fever appears to be at an all-time high. It obviously has something to do with 9 months of all-hype and no-Chiranjeevi. That factor itself may help the film be a hit, even if very few will return to theaters to watch this a second time.
Stalin (Chiranjeevi) is an ex-Army Major, who quits the Army for certain reasons and settles down to social service in Hyderabad. He helps handicapped people write exams, he saves young girls from the flesh trade, and he helps couples in love get married. He has just one request of people he’s helped – that they pass the favor forward. They should in return help 3 others, and ask those 3 to help 3 others.
One day he roughs up some goons who hurt a beggar girl, and that snowballs into a huge issue which puts him in direct confrontation with the home minister himself. However, Stalin is all-powerful, and needs no brains to handle the crisis – he can just beat up any number of goons. The last fight sees him single-handedly beat up about 200 (no exaggeration) armed and well-built goons. The last people we knew capable of that lived circa 3000BC, and all fought in the Mahabharata war.
He then lands in hospital due to an injury he sustained while in the Army that’s aggravated now, and lakhs of people turn up to pray for him when they realize (through TV channels) that he is the one who started the 3 favors movement, which has spread across the state. Needless to say, he lives.
Stalin is a well-intentioned film, but suffers on structure and logic. Chiranjeevi has huge mass-following, and it is quite commendable that he is trying to use that to spread good. But wanting to spread good is not an end in itself – the execution needs thought for the effort to work to the greatest extent possible.
As a film, Stalin is much lesser than a professional effort. The film tries to be both a Rudraveena and a mass-potboiler at the same time, and can deliver on neither. The screenplay is poor, there is too much craving to have all the formula elements, there is too much preaching in the first half, the choice of heroine is disastrous and there are gaps of logic beyond even movie standards.
The movie has a mother-daughter fracas, a completely half-baked romantic angle, a hero vs. super-villian theme, an Army Indo-Pak war flashback, a social thread, a comic track, and 6 songs (including an item song, but no Nenu Saitam
), thus trying to be something for everyone.
Then, the first half-hour is poorly written and too preachy – it assumes the audiences stopped growing up in 1960. A hero doesn’t tell people to be good or bitch that they are not – he just sets personal example.
Mistakes abound - like when a handicapped (handless) girl who goes outside the gate of a college in Uppal to ask passersby for help to write a test, but is doing that at Nagarjuna Circle on Banjara Hills (yes, we all know it is 5 minutes’ walking distance), and is back in 10 minutes in the classroom at Uppal.
Or when this girl commits suicide just because she cannot get someone to write a test for her – when she can always take that test again in a few months. She's strong enough to live with a crippling handicap like that, but resorts to the supreme step for a much lesser reason like this.
Or where Stalin has a very old heart problem that will aggravate when he gets over-stressed, but which hurts only in the end, even if he has been in many similarly difficult situations all through the film.
This is a Chiranjeevi film, and they have access to all the money in the world – couldn’t they care for the small things?
The fights are much outside even movie standards – be they the one in a 6-floor mall where Stalin beats up some 20 armed goons by the time a lift reaches the top floor (normally 20 seconds), or the one at the end where he cripples (repeat) 200 people. Stalin is just Superman, and doesn’t show any intelligent handling when confronted with difficult situations – he will just beat up as many people as you can send.
Trisha has a cumulative of 10 minutes in the film outside of the songs. She’s talented, and a coffee shop scene is quite well-enacted, but whosever brilliant idea it was to pair Trisha with Chiranjeevi should be given a special Nandi this year for creative casting.
There is no other performance that gets much scope – this is a Chiranjeevi film. So Sunil, Khushboo, Sarada are all dwarved. The songs are just average. There are some dialogues that really kick you, but they are few and far between.
What works for Stalin is the ending - where a crowd of a couple of lakhs turns up at the hospital to pray for him. It moves you, and might make you forget all the flaws and speak positively.
Chiranjeevi is an exceptionally talented actor who increasingly puts himself in the hands of exceptionally inept scriptwriters and directors who can spell the word "formula", and nothing much else. Their brief seems to be, he has an image, write scripts to suit that. What formula films do Rajnikanth, Mamooty, Kamal Hasan, Aamir Khan or SRK do? They’re all 40+.
Chiranjeevi hasn’t had a single standard mass movie that’s been a hit since Indra – Tagore and Shankardada, the only hits, were unconventional scripts. The lesson is clear – mass films aren’t working, and younger directors and avant garde scripts deserve a chance with him.
On the whole, Stalin might have been a landmark film with more focus, thought, and care for small things. It still has the potential to impact several people, simply because of Chiranjeevi’s reach and appeal.
And what's with the names, by the way? Stalin had some 14 million people killed. And Hitler, 6 million people. Let's hope Chiru's next film is called Mandela.