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Akhanda Review

T J Reddy / fullhyd.com
Can watch again
Good for kids
Good for dates
Wait to rent it
A month ago, to that day, I watched a film. This film starred Super Star Rajinikanth. It was titled Annatthe. Twenty minutes into the film, I caught myself asking the question, "Is this what an audience wants from their big named actors?" Did Rajini amass a fanbase that spans the globe by beating up 500 goons per film? Could it be a by-product of choosing well-crafted tales brimming with charisma and character? It is a toughie.

However, Annatthe and Akhanda are not the same. These two films have one key difference.

Akhanda, directed by Boyapati Srinu, stars Nandamuri Balakrishna in a dual role. He begins the movie as do-gooder Murali Krishna and re-enters it as Aghori, Akhanda Rudra Sikandar Aghora. If you feel like the latter's name isn't long, feel free to tack on Aquaman, Batman, Superman Aghora as well.

The plot dictates that the duo of Balayyas stop the evil Varadarajulu (Srikanth) and Gajendra Sahu (Niithin Mehta) from extracting uranium. The task seems doable enough for a man who once had a train retreat by a mere pointing of his finger. Alas, the film's script keeps getting in his way.

The script, also written by Boyapati Srinu, finds it hard to tell a story because it has more pressing issues to channel its time to. For one, every scene involving its male lead needs to come off as if it were an introduction scene. If a man begins the film by dispatching 50 goons without breaking a sweat, how is one supposed to feel a sense of tension at whatever the world throws at him? But don't you dare ask the filmmaker this question, though - he'll have a long-winded speech about the importance of "culture" to shut down any doubters. You may ask - wasn't this the same director who introduced the lead actress of his previous film by having the camera peep down her top? A deafening silence ensues, because "samaskaram" wasn't the flavour of the month last time around.

The writer has a flawed understanding of complex philosophy and theology. An illustration of that is the sweet zinger "there is a temple in front of every hospital". Never mind that people have to go into the hospital to get their ailments treated instead of praying the pain away with the idol at the front porch.

This shallow writing bleeds into the characterization of the villains. Srikanth's Varadarajulu is a terrifying man who rapes and murders at a whim. Not one person knows what motivates this man's actions (including the writer/director). The character does hang out at a uranium mine without any protective gear. Maybe therein lies the answer.

We also have a bigger bad in the form of a fake godman, Gajendra Sahu. He stole his seat of power, tricks his devotees, and mines for uranium while staying in touch with practitioners of the dark arts. A bad guy with bad habits should be a formidable foe to our hero, but little does he know that messing with a Balayya character is like trying to bet against a casino. The house always wins.

Balayya always wins means both the characters have no moments of learning and growing. They came perfect right out of the box like a GI Joe action figure. The toy has no character depth except for what one superimposes onto it. While this analogy works gangbusters for the Murali Krishna character, the lack of any sense of realism afforded to the role of the Aghori is shocking at best. The film deserves a round of applause for making an Aghori, one of a fascinating subset of people, a bore.

Balayya isn't the problem here. While he has been the darling of meme-makers everywhere, the characters written for him let him down tremendously. An Aghori doesn't need punchlines in English. A farmer doesn't need to "look cool" demolishing a hoard of nobodies before declaring that violence is wrong. And tasking a 60-year-old man with making a quasi-item song palatable should be a no at the planning stages. When choices like these come about, the fingers of every single jokester perk up.

The lesser said of the other actors the better off we'd be, as we'd be writing more about them than the writers of this movie. Lest we forget, Pragya Jaiswal completes the female quota in this film. She is a tough-on-corruption IAS officer who does tough-on-corruption things before doing the right thing by finding herself a man.

Finding oneself a big, strong, mustache-twirling man needs to come packaged with a mustache-twirling score. There is only one man you call for a task as impossible as this. That man is Thaman. On his best day and in the right direction, Thaman graces us with the album of Ala Vaikuntapuramlo. We get a generic cacophony of noise on most other days. This soundtrack and score are one of the latter.

Complimenting the noisy audio is the hyperactive visual grammar of the film. The movie inflates in scale and scope with a barrage of cuts, zooms, pans and closeups, and a series of stunts that skirt the line between realistic and ridiculous for a few moments before nestling into the well of ridiculousness forever.

Speaking of that well of ridiculousness, the one difference between Annatthe and Akhanda is that Annatthe had me laughing at the screen for the first time at a Rajini film. I'd always laughed with Rajini and never at him until the 4th of November 2021. However, with Balayya, I'd laughed at his more commercially-oriented films for as long as I can remember. Akhanda however was a film so steeped in the monotony that it took my little ball of joy away from me. I'm ashamed to tell you that the 4th of December 2021 was when I stopped laughing at a Balayya film. Not being able to laugh with or at a bad movie is a grim moment for any viewer.
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Akhanda (telugu) reviews
Rating is quick and easy - try it!
Kamesh on 26th Dec 2021, 6:13pm | Permalink
No Telugu movie deserves any review. Telugu movie makers are yet to know what filmmaking really is.....
TJ Reddy on 6th Dec 2021, 4:29pm | Permalink
Great to hear from our long-time readers, Vara and PMoW. Glad you guys enjoyed the review. Hope you're doing well.
Choni on 6th Dec 2021, 2:41pm | Permalink
Bro...movie is peaks..meant for big screen only...may be logic less but can;t ignore the performance of lead character...this is what his fans are waiting for..
Suppose to appreciate the punch liners and a tricky explanation of HINDUTVA in the movie..Surprise to see that none of the good(Lead actor performance, dialogue delivery, slow mo action sequences and not but not least the BGM by Thaman is like Goose Bumbs bro) about the movie is highlighted in the review...

Pros: Balayya as Akhanda, Action Sequences and BGV...UFF
Cons: Bit lag in second half, could have trimmed a little
TJ Reddy on 6th Dec 2021, 4:51pm | Permalink
Hello Choni

A review is one individual's experience and from my perspective, Akhanda is a film from a bygone era. Films of this ilk with this story structure and manufactured highs to elevate big-name actors from yesteryear are not the toast of the town anymore. I genuinely see no difference between the structure of Akhanda and Simha or better yet, Simha and the godfather of this story structure, Basha.

It is not a crime to stick with the tried and tested but it is a mistake to assume that a lack of nuance and stuffing of "action" sequences will suffice for an audience. Basha (for all its mass-y nature) might seem like a film with a lack of nuance on its surface, but, the fact that we are introduced to the main character as an auto driver and stay with him in that field of play is crucial to the film's success.

We see the world through that lens and the powerlessness that comes through it. No one begins the film by addressing Basha as God. In Akhanda, both the characters played by Balayya are introduced when a victim screams out for help from the almighty. This creates an association where the characters are equivalent to a divine being of your choosing. If he's a divine being, he has no learning or growing to do as a character and hence is uninteresting from a storytelling standpoint.

To further illustrate my example; during the Bombay flashback sequence, Basha meets his match in Mark Anthony. Even though their clashes end with him winning the first battle, it comes at a price. Basha is yet to perfect his strategy and his actions take a toll on the people he loves and these sequences are treated with the gravity they deserve. Basha needs to learn and grow as per the story. There is a journey to involve ourselves in because we know that Mark Anthony is a formidable enough foe that will maim Basha again if push comes to shove.

Akhanda rarely if ever spends time with its supporting cast and hence we don't develop a connection to any of them. We don't care about what happens to the characters in a story and hence only look for "elevation" scenes to provide us a sense of catharsis. Good storytelling provides catharsis as a part of the ebb and flow of a story and not as a byproduct of artificially created highs.

Loud BGMs are required for a film like this one because the music is doing the heavy lifting where the script is utterly failing it. You'll need to ask yourself, would you enjoy this film the same way if the music were turned off. I'd refer you to check out the Vetrimaaran segment of Paava Kadhaigal to further illustrate what I'm trying to convey. It is a short film with no background music of any sort. The craft on display is so strong that the directing, acting, writing, and staging carry the story forward while making it resonant. Akhanda has no such moments. The film doesn't trust itself enough to chill out and let the images on screen speak for themselves.

I could go on and on about every single flaw in filmmaking I found with this film but it would bore the living daylights out of any reader. The best way to conclude would be to paraphrase a dialogue Subbaraju says in Neninthe. This dialogue is a reflection of Puri Jagannadh's feelings about "commercial cinema." Filmmakers are handicapped by fan expectations and make films to show the fans what they want to see. But the fans are a subset of a subset of the whole audience. While the subset might enjoy the action on the screen, the audience as a whole has a forgettable experience because they aren't invested in the actor and his elevations. They want a good story with fun characters.
Shashank on 8th Dec 2021, 3:50am | Permalink
This is probably the best review (and reply) on this God awful movie. I recently saw a Baradwaj Rangan interview with Anil Ravipudi that sums up the status of mainstream telugu cinema -> "movie is not just art, it is business and the producer wants his money back (break even at the least)". You know what is better than break even? Not investing on movies at all (real estate?)! It is business at the end of the day, but what ever happened to storytelling and creativity? Stitching elevation scenes around a banal template with "novel" backdrops is not storytelling, it is in a way insulting. Telugu cinema has just become a vehicle to boost the egos of "star" heroes. The only novelty we expect from them is how uniquely they can picturize songs and fights (read Ala vaikuntapuram climax fight). I'd love to be proven wrong with upcoming movies like Puspha, RRR and Radheshyam, but I'd be willing to bet that these movies will be remembered for the star power and not the story.
Portuguese Man-of-War on 4th Dec 2021, 8:09pm | Permalink
Excellent review. And welcome back, TJ!
Vara on 4th Dec 2021, 1:02pm | Permalink
laughed with Rajini and never at him - what a line, super.

Thanks for restarting the reviews
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