One of the basics of storytelling is that you hold your conflict dear. You create drama to heighten the emotion as you hurtle towards the conflict. Your characters have to be designed in a way that they flow towards the conflict and not impede the flow or contradict that emotion.
However, somehow, in an effort to make a slick, stylish movie (shirt fluttering in the wind, flat-tummy showing up, slow running, bullets flying and other miracles happening with crazy yet cliched, camera angles - such style, much wow!), Sriram Aditya turned Devadas into just another stylish comedy that pretends to have elements of an action-drama-thriller.
If you watch Devadas like a comedy skit, you will walk out of the hall smiling. It offers you plenty of laughs and why not – Nani’s comic timing, like his nickname in the movie, is ‘gold’. Add Nagarjuna’s charm and natural screen presence and you get a brilliant combination.
However, if you are a movie fanatic, who cares about the script and the character development and who often asks himself/herself in the middle of a song whether the choreography is going overboard and whether the opulence of the set was really necessary, Devadas will make you bleed. It throws the rulebook out of the window and turns up like a movie made by a filmmaker who is in awe of the protagonists, camera angles and colour palettes but has scant regard for characters and story. (Almost like an intern who gets to be the Vice-President for a day?)
Devadasis about Deva, a don, who makes you wonder ‘all that build-up for this?’ The don, despite the hype created in the movie, is reckless, thoughtless, careless and, most importantly, senseless. He is saved by a good Samaritan doctor Das (Nani) who believes in being good and doing good. The idea of the story is for the good guy to bring about a transformation in the bad guy. The hype about ‘a don no one has ever seen’ is weird considering all the plot-holes that accompany that backdrop.
The problem with this subtext is that you’ll stay invested in that transformation only if you really want to see the change. But if the ‘so-called’ bad guy is Nagarjuna, who is extraordinarily sweet right through the movie, only stylishly ‘killing’ those who murdered his mentor, enjoys African-Americans playing violins - especially when crazy candid-photography close-ups show them barely moving their fingers - you wonder, does he really need to change? Do I care? Does anyone need to care?
The movie’s run-time could easily have been reduced by 15 minutes if the director didn’t indulge his obsession for slow-mo’s. What’s the point of making love with Nagarjuna’s slow walk when you want that character to change himself? When you want your other lead to mouth inane dialogues comparing him to a beast? Probably, even logical thinking went for a slow-mo.
Rashmika Mandanna as Pooja, Das’ love interest in the movie, is force-fitted into a role that could’ve been interesting if it weren’t one of the usual tropes in a usual Telugu movie.
There is a good-looking antagonist David (played by Kunal Kapoor) who is baying for Deva’s blood. Why? For a business venture? To seize an empire? For revenge? Nobody knows.
There is Naveen Chandra, whose role in the movie is akin to demonstrating the symptoms of an engineering student who has no clue what to do in the exam after a night-out.
Naresh, as Das’ brother, who is there, well, because a good Samaritan needs to have a good family. The good Samaritan oscillates between trying to save lives and turning utterly oblivious to everyone when his love interest is around. This is a problem with moral preaching in Telugu movies. They just disappear whenever convenient.
Devadas should be treated like an expensive comedy movie, almost like a spoof of an action thriller, and it does a good job of that. Cops, gangs, gang wars, shoot-outs – all of those are funny (if not for the slow-mo’s really).
The unlikely friendship between good and bad does not go beyond sharing dosas and whisky. And when the guy still refuses to change – enter a 4-year old with leukaemia. Reminds you of the scene from Munnabhai MBBS (what’s the point of being me-the-god, when I can’t even save this kid?)
The love stories in the movie are bland – one’s doing her duty (or not) - we never get to judge that, and the other falls in love because she has to.
All this leaves you wishing that the director, for a brief moment, had realised the pot of gold he had at his disposal. It displays a certain brash level of amateurishness if your actual comedians in the movie, the sidekicks, almost get as much screen time as your protagonists. Food for thought!
So, if you want to watch a comedy featuring Nani, watch it. Don’t watch if you are hoping for an ‘action’ comedy.
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.