Someone we know tells us that unless you have nerves of steel, euphoria is a tricky target. Because when you miss it, things look disproportionately gloomy. So when Telugu cinema's resident chocolate boy - surfacing after what seems like a decade - is caught in a film lesser than the sum of its parts, it feels like even more of a letdown.
This, despite the fact that Mahesh Khaleja is a masterfully crafted film by many standards. It's a Trivikram product, and contains some classy comedy, visual finesse, and laboriously conceptualized scenes. Plus, needless to say, being the come-back vehicle of a superstar takes its brand value to another level altogether.
Basically, the flick's strengths seem to wane in the face of its pacing. Trivikram's laboriousness and attention to detail may have led him away from the bigger picture - a movie that isn't crisp enough, and that is slow enough to be dangerously capable of pushing more crowds into Robot
Mahesh plays the sarcastic, wise-cracking Raju, a taxi-driver who happens to unwittingly get mixed up in a case of brutal murder of two people. Since his taxi is battered in the incident, he goes to Rajasthan to claim compensation from one of the victims' families. His adventures in the desert, with a TV reporter (Sunil) and an overspoilt ditzy heroine Subhashini (Anushka), manage to baby-sit you for the first half of the flick.
On the way back home, Raju runs into a village where people have been subjected to misery so intense that they are waiting for God to help them snap out of it. Somehow, they're convinced Raju is The One, and this is where an entire slimy story is uncovered from beneath the murders Raju had witnessed.
Now Khaleja isn't a completely botched-up film, and isn't the kind to fall apart like a pack of cards. All it does is throw in unnecessary emotions into a perfectly enjoyable party, and drag the proceedings till indifference takes over.
On one hand, there is Prakash Raj playing an evil, heinous, revolting, wicked villain. On the other is an entire pack of villagers living by blind faith that Raju is God. While the latter aspect of the story lends some exotica to the script, giving Trivikram plenty of opportunity to spout philosophy, the villain's sub-plot is pretty childishly vile.
In all, these two angles kind of topple the balance of the film - which, whenever left to Mahesh and his wry wit, is actually turning out to be enjoyable fare. In addition, the violence is quite graphic, even though it comes in spurts. And in some parts, the objectionable language used makes you concerned - Mahesh Babu is an icon worshipped by even kids, and should have stayed clear of bad language, at least.
What saves the day is the brilliant humour, led by Mahesh - and deftly supplemented by Dharmavarapu, Sunil, Ali and Brahmanandam, who appear in the movie in that order. Mahesh is probably more expressive than earlier, but the film is a little too unwieldy for him to be carrying on his shoulders alone. Anushka is about as useful as a mannequin, and isn't allowed to be beyond one. Prakash Raj is more repulsive than campy.
Manisarma's music is the kind that would have caught on if it was aggressively promoted, but it wasn't, so the downloads won't be very frantic. However, the cinematography is state-of-the-art and impressive, and is in tune with Trivikram's ambition in creativity.
Anyway, for those who believe that Mahesh Babu returning from dormancy is an end in itself, Khaleja won't hurt.