Five wronged women (well, four wronged women and one wronged little cherub) seeking revenge, enlist the services of a plagiaristic writer (Nani). This completely clueless motley group - um, gang - is to find the man responsible for their bereavement and kill him. As far as revenge plots go, this one is standard, but quirky, and begins enjoyably well. In fact, the first yawn sets in only after the two hour mark. Then the yawns start coming in like wedding invitations during Sravana maasam. Indeed, the last half hour had people stretching their limbs like they were warming up for a post-show yoga session with Baba Ramdev.
Now, we would be charitable to assume that it is a good thing if a film is engaging for over two hours of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. But bad endings are like bad landings. No matter how pleasant your flight was, no matter how edible the six-minute kichidi was, and quite independent of how much you appreciated the gorgeous and kind stewardess, when you walk out of the plane, the bad landing can make it difficult to even smile at the gorgeous and kind stewardess.
Gang Leader is a pleasant flight, all right. Anirudh's score and songs are as rousing as they usually are. Miroslaw Brozek (cinematography) uses dark tones that are unusual in Telugu films, and makes for some exciting visuals. Using them well is the pilot, director Vikram Kumar, with his cool-looking shots and stylishly staged sequences. It's all really pleasant, we assure you.
The story too is passable, even if quite devoid of any depth or detail. The women have evidently experienced great suffering to want to kill someone for revenge. But they, along with Nani, are all written like they have a single brain cell which they use on a time sharing basis. It's too serious to be a farce. Too farcical to be a drama. And, regrettably, too dramatic to be a thriller. This kichidi plotting is nothing unusual for Telugu films and, quite like the six-minute kichidi on a flight, is edible if not nutritious.
If you are still flying with our flying metaphor, we bring you the best of the lot. The gorgeous and kind stewardess. That one who makes the whole flight worthwhile. Attractive, immensely likeable, and makes everyone comfortable and joyous with an extremely genial performance. Yes, we are talking about Nani. We wonder if there's anyone in the theatre who is there for any reason other than Nani. The women blush at his very appearance. And his fans scream like they want his babies. If you think this objectification of a top-billed hero is uncalled for, we implore you to watch Gang Leader and delight in the incredibly hilarious scenes involving him and Vennela Kishore. That's easily the best thing in the film.
On the heels of it we should mention the second best thing of this movie. The villain, Karthikeya, is cracklingly good. He's got this intensity that captures the screen even when it's filled with multiple people. Quite like Nani does, he seems to make every scene worthwhile while he is in it.
That leaves us with the women. When we first saw the trailer for Gang Leader, we imagined it was going to be a smashing women-centric film where these ladies show a sense of agency and uncompromisingly go for what they want. Just recently, in the Tamil film Kolamavu Kokila (dubbed into Telugu as Coco Kokila), Saranya Ponvannan had shown just how phenomenal she can be in such roles. Yet, what Kolamavu Kokila achieves with Saranya alone, Gang Leader fails to achieve with the same Saranya, the effortless Lakshmi, and three other girls put together. They are mere props filling in the roles of gran, mum, lover, sister and daughter for the male lead. We aren't surprised. We just wished we'd be pleasantly surprised.
As you can see, there are a number of things that fly and number of things that don't fly in Nani's Gangleader. This is, of course, an entirely standard state of affairs in Telugu films. We can forgive the turbulence but we wish Vikram Kumar made that landing stick.
Let me get a trial, Siva. My case is as follows.
We don't enjoy movies because they are perfect. We enjoy them when some works out so well that we forget (or at least forgive) all that's off.
The reason that scene singularly stands out to me is because of the gender twist on the usual trope of the male gaze and the femme fatale utilising the male gaze. We don't even see that trope as an issue. But when a hero has to deal with the same objectification that is so usual and expected of the heroine, that's subversive gold.
And that's what I loved about the scene. That Nani had to undo his two buttons and he feels embarrassed about it. The entire scene is a hoot because he has to endure what he thought was very okay for the heroine to endure.
Among the things I am socially conscious about, gender equality ranks very high. Possibly because of the strong (even if flawed) women in my family. They are a class apart. As I go further, I worry about caste, education, political and economic justice, and such. Gay rights are quite low on my priority list.
Admittedly, mine is a low bar for representation of gays in cinema. Even so, I can still address your concerns with the scene.
Firstly, Vennela Kishore isn't necessarily being effeminate in the scene. He is merely horny. When he is not being horny he behaves very much like your regular bloke. This is in sharp contrast with Telugu cinema's usual conflation of gays and transgenders as the "Thedagaadu" in films such as Pilla Zamindar or Gundejaari Gallanthayyinde.
Moving on, the gay character isn't going after every man in his vicinity. He has a thing for the electrician, yes, but he doesn't begin to desire Nani right off the bat. That dynamic occurs only when Nani casually quips "kaani ammayilani evaru premistharu?". Upto that point, Vennela Kishore is the standard snarky bank security employee.
And I am not sure if my memory serves me right, but I believe he doesn't lech after Karthikeya, easily the most attractive person in the entire film. That was such low hanging fruit and letting go of a cheap joke there shows that Vikram Kumar wasn't trying to be cheap.
I mean, the film doesn't make fun of gay characters. It makes fun with a gay character.
Of course, I could be wrong. You be the judge.