Gautamiputra Satakarni is based on the life of the eponymous Satavahana ruler. The only glitch is that we know nothing of his life except whatever little is stated in an inscription called the Nashik Prasasthi. The inscription lists out the lands under his rule and calls him the king of kings. While that is all very pleasant to hear, one has to acknowledge that the inscription provides no incidents about the family or the personality of the invasions of the said gentleman.
Notwithstanding this lack of data, the director Krish tries to concoct a story about the zeal of Satakarni (an earnest Balakrishna) for uniting the sub-continent, his love for his queen (an even more earnest Shriya Saran), and his respect for the queen mother (an uninterested Hema Malini). Throw in plot devices like conniving vassals, abducted princes, wailing wives and venomous vamps, and you'll still be frantically groping around to find a thread that'll make this a cohesive plot.
Which leads us to the lesson - as far as films go, history isn't the same thing as a story.
But then, we have seen enough non-stories which became memorable films. So you are still within your right to hope, like we did, that something good is going to come out of the film. Satakarni was after all the most successful expansionist ruler among the Satavahanas, and that's a matter of pride for the Telugu people. We could still have our hearts filled with pride by watching a rousing narrative of the king's exploits. This was, indeed, the rationale behind Krish's attempt.
Except, it leads us to our next, and rather bitter, lesson - pride isn't the same thing as competence.
Regardless of how much pride we are ready to fill our hearts with, we still need a rousing narrative to supply that emotion. If that weren't the case, you could open a new tab, go to the Wikipedia page on Satakarni, study his achievements at leisure, and beam like a model in the after shots of a Fair & Lovely ad.
But instead of a rousing narrative, you get one that makes you drowsy. The visuals are bright but they don't make for good story-telling instruments. The music employs every trick in the book to make itself sound grand but you don't remember a single tune from the whole film. There are war sequences but you know it's just poor CGI and hordes of junior artistes trying not to run into each other. The editor desperately tries to stitch shots together to make it all look exciting, but you really can't blame sour juice on the juicemaker when the fruit itself is rotten.
Balakrishna goes through the motions as ritualistically as he does in his other films. However, we can slightly relax on discussing Gautamiputra Satakarni as a Balakrishna film because it eschews most of the Balayya tropes that usually make his blockbusters work. He may have written some spectacular lines (which also get flawlessly delivered by the protagonist), but Krish hasn't got a clue on how star vehicles work or how fans think. It is a whole different issue that Balayya fans will perhaps still lap it up but that just demonstrates the kind of star the man is. It says nothing about the kind of film Gautamiputra Satakarni is.
The man you really need to worry yourself about is the director Krish. Gamyam
seemed to be ushering in a splendid career, but his next two films showcase a man who's more preoccupied with talk rather than show. Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum
talked about illegal mining and dying theatre, but that doesn't automatically make a film a Maa Bhoomi or a Sankarabharanam. And Kanche
spoke out against caste and the Nazis, but that doesn't make a film another Erra Mandaram or Schindler's List. You feel sorry for those flimsy movies breaking under the weight of their director's ambition.
Likewise, Krish wanted Gautamiputra Satakarni to be grand. He wanted it to be historical. He wanted it to rouse Telugu pride. In this single-minded pursuit of grandiosity, he forgot to make a good film. Which gives us our last learning for this piece - ambition isn't the same thing as vision.