Before I go breathless with what could have been or should have been, let me get the disclaimer out. Gaddalakonda Ganesh is the Telugu remake of the Tamil film Jigarthanda, which doesn't cater to the sensibilities of a fan. If Jigarthanda is MS Subbulakshmi rendering Suprabhatam, this movie is Beyonce belting out something the former's fans wouldn't really relate to. The focus is different, and it would be a disservice to let the spectre of Jigarthanda hang over what should otherwise be an objective review of this Telugu movie.
Gaddalakonda Ganesh, henceforth referred to as GG, is a risky movie with an attempt to make the protagonist Varun Tej look scary. So the makers of GG gave him a crazy hairstyle, a bone-dry beard and a menacing scar to boot. (Questions our conditioning isn't it? We associate looks with character - beautiful people heroes, not so beautiful, antagonists, weird).
Varun Tej picks up a good local accent, adopts a cold body-language and starts killing people. He is the dreaded gangster in an average Telugu film. Rama (Atharvaa) is an aspiring filmmaker and is out to make a gangster movie to prove to an arrogant director that an assistant director has no fame, but a lot of talent.
After researching the life of Ganesh and gathering the material he needs for his film, Rama gets discovered. But, instead of killing him, Ganesh, who is driven by greed to have his biopic made, narrates to Rama his entire story, only to get all obstinate about featuring in the movie as well.
This carves a new challenge for Rama, but he comes out with flying colours. A series of events including Rama's movie showcasing love and adoration for Ganesh - who is only used to seeing fear in people - brings about a transformation in the criminal.
Overall, as a pure Telugu movie, GG is not stunning, not heart-wrenching and not thrilling either. Many good moments are lost in the rather loud background music, that consumes the silence, some of the narrative drama needs.
It was almost like the director Harish Shankar was desperately trying to make up with music, the menace he couldn't script for Ganesh's role, which was so effortlessly depicted in Jigarthanda. A big reason for that lies in Jigarthanda's storyline – which was about an evil person, who is transformed by art and turns into someone humane. The original didn't shirk away from depicting the villain's evilness. Thus, creating the drama of transformation.
Here, Varun Tej's GG did violent stuff but the background music and the rockstar treatment of the character wouldn't let you invest in the evilness even for a bit. Technically, Ganesh is not a character with grey shades. It is just a plain white character masquerading as a dark one, a makeup so superficial you wouldn't believe it, just like the physical attributes including a scar with a flashback.
Atharvaa, unlike Siddharth, is innocent. Where Siddharth in the original brings opportunism, Atharvaa brings honesty. It works out, but his character doesn't have space to breathe, because of Ganesh's boundaries overlapping with his. Satya has a meaty role, and while he is funny at times, he overdoes it at others, mostly because the reliance was not on scripted humour but on theatrics.
Other presences in the movie – Pooja Hegde, Mrinalini Ravi, Supriya Pathak, Brahmaji, are caricatures despite the potential they had. In a way you wonder if these creative liberties taken by Harish Shankar depict what the film fraternity thinks of the Telugu audience. Aare we really so dumb in their opinion that we cannot take a complex, layered story like Jigarthanda? Are we, the audience, according to the makers of this film, incapable of grasping such nuances? Or alternatively, was the brilliant storyline of the original altered to a less creative version presuming the Telugu version has to spring a surprise? Either way, it was not the most logical decision to pick this storyline over the original, since a lot of changes turned out to be riffraff.
GG is not a bad movie, as a standalone product. It has a decent storyline, some really good dialogues (and some unnecessarily heavy ones too – but a writer's flow doesn't care beyond a point), and brilliant camera work by Ayananka Bose. Varun Tej is turning out to be a fine actor and one really wishes the director had more belief in Varun Tej's acting talent. He could have pulled it off, the villainy I mean, without the background music, the stereotypical get-up or the overdone swag.
Varun Tej had it in him to do a grey role but of all the characters, Ganesh's didn't let him. Ganesh's watered-down character, was purely the screenplay writer's responsibility or was it a commercial decision, one wonders, because Karthik Subbaraju had created a character of a lifetime in the original. Rama was fine being second fiddle, when he could have been so much more.
Watch the movie if you didn't watch Jigarthanda, and you may like it. You can definitely skip it if you have watched the original.