A wise man once laid down a maxim that governs all forms of banking. It goes, "If you owe the bank ten thousand dollars, it is your problem. If you owe the bank ten million dollars, it is the bank's problem."
Throughout our lifetimes, we've been privy to many a fraudster. Hell, Thalapathy Vijay gave us an era-long speech about one such fraudster in the 2014 film Kaththi. That speech reminded many an audience member of soliloquies that cap off scenes in a Samuthirakani directorial. Superstar Mahesh Babu, ever the wrong-righter, goes one step ahead and does his climactic speech directly to Samuthirakani himself.
But what coaxes this speech out of Mahesh (who plays a character named Mahesh), and which mass of the viewing audience is he saving this time?
Mahesh, who plays Mahesh, employs himself as a financier. He acts as his own recovery agent, too. A man who will not let a loan go unpaid, he will travel to the ends of the earth to collect the smallest of amounts. It does not matter to him if the expenses associated with his travels are higher than the loan amounts themselves - the man will get his money back, damn it! He will however also punch a tea glass into a debt collector's throat in a few days and lecture that man about the error of his ways. The lives of Telugu movie protagonists are quite hypocritical and unpredictable like that.
One of Mahesh's debtors is Kalavathi (Keerthy Suresh). A compulsive gambler and a raging alcoholic, Kalavathi borrows $10,000 from our creditor extraordinaire and fails to pay it back. Mahesh leaves the US of A and travels to India to get his money back. DAMN IT!
"Why would a multi-millionaire's daughter need to borrow a paltry sum of $10,000," you ask? The plots of Telugu movies are nonsensical like that.
When in India, Mahesh not only recovers his debts but devises a plan to recover money from the nation's largest debtors. A noble cause, indeed. But before we work our way through this movie's many issues, we'd like to create our own maxim of film reviewing: "If you are critical of a small actor's movie, it is the actor's problem. If you are critical of a superstar's movie, you are the problem."
The problems in Sarkaru Vaari Paata range from the negligible to the comical, to the deeply problematic, to the downright insulting.
The negligible problems comprise ill-placed songs, ill-paced scenes, ill-conceived metaphors, and illness-inducing punchlines. The issues in the film crossing over into comical territory are the instances of people rallying behind our hero after one underwhelming speech. A scene with a truck that is as stupid as the one from Spyder
. A so-bad-its-good confrontation scene that fails at every technical level, including but not limited to the proper usage of green screen technology. We needn't write any jokes as the good jokes about the film are all on the big screen itself.
But no one cares about all that because we came to watch SSMB in action. Everything around him is just gravy.
While we want to concur with the sentiment, we find it hard to ignore the truly disturbing depiction of a "romantic relationship". While Mahesh Babu might have the comic chops to make cringe-worthy dialogues palatable, no man walking on God's green earth has the acting range to make this romance acceptable. I thought one of the advantages of having Mahesh Babu in your project was that he's a good-looking man, and a woman hitting on him wouldn't look out of place. Why, oh why, does he need to do creepy things to woo a woman? Is this the only romantic archetype that exists in mainstream cinema? Is this the version of Mahesh Babu we want to watch?
The filmmakers do have another version of Mahesh Babu to present at this juncture. This version has lived in America his whole life but is quite well-versed with the Indian financial system. This version of Mahesh Babu makes us think, "If solving our nation's financial problems was one speech from a tall and handsome man away, why hasn't it happened sooner?" I, for one, was ready to be inspired and sit my backside down and wait for a saviour. Soon, the realization hit me that this tall and handsome man said that "weekend farming" was the secret to saving agriculture in one of his previous films. His cheeky smile has tricked me a few times now. I won't have my intelligence insulted again.
One of the primary reasons for the success of most of Mahesh Babu's saviour-themed films is strong supporting characters who ground the story in some form of reality. Even if the star man is invincible, the people around him are not. Even if the star man is superhuman, the person around him helped us relate to the emotional stakes. A week ago, Keerthy Suresh delivered a performance that could be the best of her career in Saani Kaayidham. It was a performance that stood head and shoulders above a weak narrative. In Sarkaru Vaari Paata, she rises head and shoulders above the props littered around the filming sets. A prop that talks is quite valuable indeed.
Samuthirakani does his Samuthirakani thing, and Ajay and Subbaraju do their thing - they are character actors with no characters to act out. All of this is par for the course.
And so is Mahesh Babu finding himself in yet another forgettable outing. We've asked this before, and we'll ask it again, "Are we happy to see Mahesh Babu act in a movie, or are we happy to see him act in a good movie?" It is hard to accurately grade a performance like this one as there's nothing new the man is bringing to the table except a hairdo. Following suit, there's nothing new about Thaman's music either. A cacophony of loud noises can keep me awake, but it can't make me enjoy a film this lazily put together. Rarely do you see a star vehicle look this cheap and uninspired. The poor production design, the lack of innovative shot compositions, the comical VFX, and much more.
There are days I wish I could write reviews that read "Strictly for the fans", or "Enjoy it with your brains turned off" or "Paisa Vasool", or any other such platitudes. I can't use these phrases because this film doesn't even do justice to them. I hate having to try harder than the people in the film. The reviewers of Telugu cinema are paradoxes like that.