It's not easy for an actor to play three roles with one of the characters present in almost every frame of the film. It's even more difficult to establish before the audience which character he's playing beyond the markers of dress, hairstyle and dialogues. Tarak, however, excels in doing just this.
KS Ravindra's Jai Lava Kusa brings to the fore Telugu cinema's love for mythology. So though it has a contemporary setting, the narrative has dramatic twists and turns that may seem out of place, but works because of the actor's ability to push our emotions.
At the heart of the film is a little boy called Jai who is forced by the world around him to turn into Raavan if he's not to be destroyed. Born in a family that earns its bread through theatre, little Jai is sidelined because he has a stutter. The other two - Lava and Kusa - who make up the triplets, bag the plum roles, while Jai is given parts that don't require him to speak.
This is an interesting premise. Here is Raavan, presented to us in sympathetic light, though he's still projected as a demon. There's a nod to NTR's performance as Rama, which still holds a special place in the heart of Telugu film lovers (in one scene, little Jai acts out the part of Rama with NTR's voice mouthing the dialogues from a tape recorder). But the film is not about Good Vs Evil, it is about the evil that good people unleash without their knowledge.
The script ensures that each of Tarakās characters has a distinct personality. So there's Kusa, a glib tongued thief filled with avarice (the only lady I like is Lakshmi, he says). Thereās Lava, a sincere and humane banker. And then thereās the darkly brooding Jai, who has modeled himself on Raavan (he has a throne and a mace even).
The three characters come together and clash, their past unwilling to let go of them. How? Let's just say Narendra Modi has a role to play.
Raashi Khanna and Nivetha Thomas don't have much to do in the film other than romance the men. However, unlike most of mainstream cinema that relegates the heroine to arm candy, they do play an important role in bringing one of the protagonists to self-realisation. They don't have much of screen space and their characters are underdeveloped, but it's a nice touch nevertheless.
Undoing this mostly dignified representation of women characters is a completely cringe-worthy sequence involving Hamsa Nandini, named VA Rajani ('Virgini' as her colleagues call her). Why filmmakers think it's funny to have such an unrealistic portrayal of a lusty woman is beyond me. We've sent a space probe to Mars and still have the same 'Aaaanh!' sound every time a "vamp" appears - isn't it time we had an upgrade?
Following the trend of popular heroines performing "item" dances, Tamannaah makes an appearance for the catchy Swing Zara number, but it's really Tarak who charges up the audience with all his 'swinging'. The star owns the film and even though you have actors like Priyadharshi Pullikonda and Posani in comic roles, the actually funny bits come when the three Junior NTRs interact with each other. He has nailed the body language of each of the characters, and is especially likable as Kusa with his 'newly printed' 5k note.
Does everything in the film make sense? Well, no. Some parts defy logic, especially the reason given for the separation of the three brothers. You don't expect subtlety in these films - blood just doesn't squirt, it flies across the screen; the villains don't just kill, they overkill. You may have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit as the film comes to a dramatic end but hey, there are three Taraks in the film, and consequently, everything has to be extraaa.
Jai Lava Kusa is Junior NTR all the way and he lives up to the massive expectations, all right. Now excuse me while I swing zara.