Tollywood
Though the film has its share of fight sequences, it also surprisingly takes on toxic masculinity.

A Trivikram movie always comes with a promise. Sometimes, the promise is kept, and sometimes it isn’t. It will always be a watchable affair; it will have plenty of memorable, soul-stirring lines. It will have thought too, fighting the way a green sprout fights against the rains in a forest.

Dealing with the expectations of ‘the fan’ is not easy and Trivikram is not the guy who will go headfirst and burn himself. He is the practical guy who tries walking the tightrope between commercialism, heroism, and the lesson. The bigger the ego of the fan (for the heroes here are puppets in the hands of their fans), bigger is the battle.

Aravinda Sametha Veeraraghava made a promise with the title. The movie name usually describes the hero – that is the trend in Telugu movies. This movie uses the heroine’s name Aravinda (Pooja Hegde) to describe the hero. How progressive is that? True to its name, the movie sets about constructing its own metaphor. The context is simple, something most Telugu movie fans know by-heart - two factionists, two warring groups. Veeraraghava’s (NTR) dad has been murdered during a bloodbath that allows NTR fans to cheer for his toned physique. The enemy Basi Reddy (Jagapathi Babu) has been slain, seemingly so. But, that is the context not for a war but for establishing peace.

NTR speaks in two different tones in the movie – almost as if there are two of him inside the same body. He admits to not knowing how he will bring about change. He admits to not knowing what the right path is. But, he is confident. And when there is a need, his voice thunders, succinctly, but very crisply. The movie is progressive because it begins and ends with elevating not the hero but the womenfolk. Most fans should realise that this is a subtle elevation of the hero, too.

The movie does it well again and again – that your respect for a character doesn’t diminish because he bows to the woman, but is further enhanced. In a break for Telugu movies, NTR’s character is almost submissive from the scratch to the woman who takes his heart without any fanfare, even though she doesn’t realise it. But, he listens (when did we last see that?) to her, starting from when she exhorts him about the qualities of a true hero – the one who avoids war, not the one who wins it, reminding him of his grandma’s advice.

In a way, that is the bottom-line of the movie. It was hard to miss the metaphor in Aravinda Sametha Veeraraghava, a metaphor of the movie world, where toxic masculinity goes on and on, much like the thirst for revenge in the Rayalseema region. Even if someone tries to bring about a change, he or she is thrown by the wayside, sometimes rejected by the very audience they are trying to improve (much like the followers of faction leaders in the movie). And therefore, when NTR’s character makes a statement, it sounds like an aphorism – only someone who has the power to fight a war can pave way for peace.

That leaves us with the big question – will the makers keep the promise or will they break it to leave the audience satisfied - the wicked, mischievous audience that sometimes ruins high intensity scenes with needless jokes, adopting a casual approach to cinema that to them adds up to nothing more than an item song, hero-entry, two duets, three fights and four punch dialogues?

This movie too is vulnerable, but is ready to take the risk, and for that someone of NTR’s stature was apt; Trivikram should be appreciated. The fights are there, and so are the high-octane dialogues. However, the movie doesn’t highlight them, rather uses them as a trope to show how a change is needed. Probably that is why, most of the high-intensity dialogue-delivery/fights in the movie happen not in full public view (another symbolic megalomaniacal trope in our movies) but behind closed doors.

Right till the end, the movie talks about change, not masculinity; sample this – a politician asks what a homemaker would know about running elections and NTR replies how the man’s knowledge is nothing in front of the woman who has seen it all. The biggest highlight in the movie is how when NTR’s character apologises to his enemy’s son after being questioned about his family’s responsibility in the bloodshed. Shubhalekha Sudhakar then says, ‘I’ve never seen a factionist leader apologising in all these years.’

Elevating the hero is the DNA of our filmmakers, but part of me wants to laud Trivikram for elevating the hero, not by showing him slay a hundred aggressors, which he does with ease anyway, but by showing him apologise to his enemy, by showing him paying attention to the women in the house, by showing him willing to listen. Probably, this will be the beginning of the end of toxic masculinity in our cinema. The movie ends without adulterating the intention.

The romance between Pooja Hegde and NTR unfortunately suffers a little because of all the other conflicts the hero has to deal with and yet, Trivikram finds enough space (Aravinda repeatedly asking Veeraraghava for ‘space’ – physical space, but highly symbolical - what a wonderful metaphor that was) to talk about relationships. The heroine in the movie is not impressed in the least by Veeraraghava’s heroism, even when he sends shivers down the spines of goons who put her in danger. She is impressed when he shows her how to manage her time well.

I think that is this movie’s biggest gift to the journey of Telugu cinema. A progressive person would do well to encourage audiences to promote a movie of this nature, watch out for the layers beneath the usual uber-masculinity, fights, and titanic personality clashes. Like Mirchi and Srimanthudu, Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava risks alienating the audiences and fans at times, to deliver a decent narration of a story not too unfamiliar to us. Pooja Hegde leaves us wishing for a little more of her chirpiness, but some penwork might be needed to build heroines, just as in the case of Sunil, who comes back as a slightly understated sidekick. The music is brilliant - the songs and the background music, creating the stir a movie-goer needs in his/her mind, so the story can do its business. So, kudos!

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.