While promoting Vishwaroopam 2, Kamal Hassan said that the directors of his youth (K Balachander, K Vishwanath, Singeetam Srinivas Rao etc) had never attempted to make an out and out espionage/action film simply because they felt that they didn't understand the nuances of the medium well enough. Indian cinema did not have a history with genre films at the time, and the possibility of making a bad movie scared those maverick storytellers more than the loss of money it might entail.
Time has shown us that this fear was not baseless, as for every Gudachari 116 we have had a Jawaan
, for every Baby
we've gotten a Tiger Zinda Hai
, and for every Agent 999 film we've been cursed with a Bang Bang
Adivi Sesh, however, seems to have put his stock in learning from both the mistakes of his local predecessors and the successes of films the world over. An average Indian filmgoer wants songs, fights, romance and patriotism in his/her films whereas a more "discerning" cinema lover looks for complex characters, technique, themes and ambition. A story about a son trying to emulate his legendary father's success as a spy while being questioned about his actual motivations for doing so by his lady love and also being hunted down for a rogue agent might just be a story that pleases audiences on both sides of the aisle.
Goodachari borrows its title, and its lead character's name and his code number from a 1966 Telugu film of the same name. It borrows its entire training sequence from a certain Hollywood spy satire directed by Matthew Vaughn. And it sprinkles in some melodrama and jingoism from other films it passed on the street while covertly carrying out its mission. But all these aspects contribute to the movie's biggest triumph, which is its mastery of misdirection.
The film presents an infallible portrait of its hero, but cuts him down to size (as much as a Telugu film will allow itself to do). The film wants you to think that Vennela Kishore was cast to speak English in his trademark "funny" way, but soon subverts your expectations by illustrating his competency as an Intelligence Agent. The film lacks subtlety, nuance, good acting and strong production values at its commencement, but like its lead character who is run through the gamut of spy training, the film's cast and crew too seem to have undergone rigorous training in the art of filmmaking through the course of making their movie. The character design gets richer, the conflicts get murkier, and the production itself gets an upgrade by the time the closing credits roll.
Goodachari takes a cue from Prasthanam
and leaves the audience with the lasting memory of a well-told story by exorcizing the demons of masala cinema in the first half. While it borrows Ravi Prakash to incite its narrative, the narrative itself isn't as compelling as it needs to be. This can be partly attributed to Adivi Sesh's lack of finesse as a leading man. He is tall and dark and almost resembles a debonair spy when looked at through some rose-tinted glasses, but he is not a commanding enough presence on-screen. His relationship with the gorgeous Shobita Dhulipala's Sameera is forced at best, and undermines his organization's effectiveness at worst.
Not every one of the movie's many conflicts is carried by actors of Prakash Raj's calibre, and that becomes wholly palpable as green actors mumble through strong lines with either inhumanly stoic or overtly cheerful expressions on their face. Then again, the film picks its final battle wisely, and for that, we give a half tip of our hats.
The other half is reserved for when Goodachari stages its final battle in a more convincing manner. What begins with a truly whistle-worthy twist, followed by an excellently choreographed one-take fight scene, ends with the villain escaping the clutches of the Indian Army even though he is fully surrounded. Moments like this one take away from the movie's overall presentation as it stages its scenes to reach moments on the page rather than pay attention to continuity and logic. This sequence is just one in many, and if it weren't for a slick story and an oft pulse-pounding score, we would be paying more attention to sore thumbs rather than putting medical attention aside for the time being.
Goodachari doesn't have a plethora of Indian spy movies to draw from to be a convincing satire, it doesn't have the big budget to be a blockbuster hopping from country to country, it doesn't have a Wally Pfister or a Roger Deakins behind the camera to fill its frames with symbolic imagery while making it look like a million bucks, and it doesn't have a Ken Adam to give it an iconic set design (or a set design in general). What it does have, however, is its adherence to the basics of storytelling.
The result is a cinematic representation of shooting for the stars and landing on the moon, but we'd say landing on the moon is better than face-planting on the earth on any given day.
P. S. Even in super-secret spy organizations, nepotism always rocks.