What is a rut? The definition of the word is "a habit or a pattern of behaviour that becomes dull and unproductive but is hard to change". Writer/director Trivikram Srinivas is deeply entrenched in one such pattern of behaviour. He is a man chock full of novel concepts for films. But he is also a filmmaker who smothers his more innovative ideas with copious amounts of elements that made his earlier works quite palatable to the audiences but are misfits in his new projects.
With Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava, Trivikram attempts to rejuvenate himself and a terminally ill genre by breaking both his own and said genre's destructive habits. The story begins with Veera Raghava Reddy (NTR) returning to his hometown and almost immediately losing his father, Narappa Reddy (Naga Babu), to an act of violence. In a fit of rage and a display of NTR's freshly-acquired abs, Raghava slaughters all the men responsible for his father's death. This includes Basi Reddy (Jagapathi Babu), the primary antagonist.
Basi Reddy is a man who had severed another's head over a 5-rupee wager, which in turn kickstarted over 30 years of bloodshed. He revels in chaos, and breeds men in his town to hack, maim and kill men from Raghava Reddy's town. Basi Reddy's destructive nature is so all-encompassing that trace amounts of it make their way into every child born on the land. Raghava Reddy is no exception.
After bearing witness to his Raghava Reddy's spree, his distraught grandmother asks him work towards breaking the cycle of murders. To do that, Reddy steps away from his hometown yet again and attempts to learn about the origins of factionism, the downsides to a herd mentality and the methods to improve the living conditions of the warring towns, from anthropologist Aravinda (Pooja Hegde). These are clever subversions of a well-trodden plot, but the question remains - can present-day Trivikram subvert himself a la A Aa
or was that a one-off?
For all its flaws, A Aa put its director on a leash. Its story was based on an acclaimed novel (Meena), and the preset sandbox curbed some of the man's more self-destructive habits. Unfortunately, those newly acquired tenets of storytelling don't carry over to his latest project. Even though he employs cyclical narration to great effect, Trivikram rarely, if ever, respects his audience's intelligence enough to expect them to be able to gauge his story's lofty ambitions.
The movie is crammed to the brim with eloquent and solemn soliloquies from NTR and Jagapathi Babu, but these seem redundant when the storytelling employs both show and tell to get its message across. This message is made abundantly clear within the first 15 minutes of the film (even before the opening credits roll, I might add). But instead of exploring the aforementioned ideas to their fullest extent, the film rinses and repeats its overly simplified introduction ad nauseum until the final 15 minutes introduce some fresh perspectives. Is that too little too late in an over two-and-a-half-hour movie? The answer to that question might vary from viewer to viewer.
Carrying the scattershot storytelling squarely on his shoulders is NTR. His performance embodies the execution of the film itself. Using two very distinct voice modulations, NTR attempts to display the dichotomy and growth of Raghava Reddy. However, his body language, facial acting and histrionics rarely reflect his character's arc. He may spout emotional speeches, yet his journey into exorcising his demons isn't as emotionally satisfying as that of Cable Raju in Vedam
While NTR gets an arc and a role to sink his teeth into, none of his co-stars (except Jagapathi Babu) has scraps to feed off. They are solely present to push the hero in the path the script wants him to walk on while they themselves have no arcs or character traits of their own. Jagapathi Babu is woefully underutilized until the final 30 minutes (yes, he survives the first attack). He ignites the nature vs nurture debate with his actions and with his motivations for being who he is. The character work here is near exemplary.
However, this and many other intense moments are robbed of their full impact simply because the score accompanying them isn't rousing enough. It is copy-paste action movie music. For a film that aspires to be more, these notes just won't do. And the same goes for the movie's visual presentation. There is a tepidness to how the film looks and feels. Barring a few excellently framed shots, the deliberate lighting, camerawork and colour palette seem to never gel with the film they are a part of.
This isn't a bad or bad-looking film by any means, but one that sells itself short by never fully subscribing to its own ideas. Like many of their secondary characters, the filmmakers are averse to change, in both the approach and the mechanics of storytelling, for a myriad of reasons. Marianne Williamson once said, "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we powerful beyond measure." Trivikram, NTR and the team of Aravinda Sameta... needed someone to remind them of this quote. There is a film for the ages buried under the commercially satisfying, four-quadrant exercise that this project ultimately ends up becoming. The makers seem to have stuck to their guns and stayed the tried and tested course, instead of joining their characters in exploring a brave new world.