Tollywood
While the first movie didn’t succeed in recreating the NTR movie magic, the story of the second phase of his life is a different colossus that deserved a magnum opus.
Worth a watch

Great biopics aren’t politically correct; they are factually correct. Krish’s ambitious project, though, has its intentions quite clear – to steer away from everything controversial and only send out what would universally be acceptable. In doing so, it ends up like vegetable biryani.

The second edition of the two-part saga celebrating NTR’s life attempts to portray the great man’s political career, but ends at its very first pitstop. It is incredible how many highs one life can witness, each crest and trough worthy of a movie of its own when made well. While the first movie, NTR Kathanayakudu, didn’t exactly succeed in recreating the NTR movie magic, the story of the second phase of his life is a different colossus which deserved nothing less than a magnum opus. Nevertheless, in treading a tightrope very carefully, the movie navigates away from all the whirlpools that were needed to churn a movie-watcher’s heart.

Such was the nature of NTR’s charisma that he could question no one less than the Iron Lady of the country in her own backyard, at the peak of her powers. For the sheer drama in NTR’s first term as CM, NTR Mahanayakudu is worth a watch. It takes off with NTR’s political campaigns as he vows to usher in socio-economic changes that still ring a bell with his ardent fans.

However, a major chunk of the movie focuses on the tug of war between NTR and Bhaskar Rao, the man once instrumental for NTR’s meteoric political rise, and the man who orchestrates a major coup to usurp power in the state, with the help of the Congress, even as there was dissent in the party owing to NTR’s candid and straightforward way of dealing with things.

While the chapter related to the coup has been amply recorded in political diaries, the movie goes out of its way to dramatise the incidents, and still fails to enthral a cinema lover. The movie’s revolving predominantly around the one major upheaval, one of many in the great man’s life, would leave an expectant movie-watcher a tad disgruntled.

Sachin Khedekar as Bhaskar Rao and Rana as Chandrababu Naidu do justice to their meaty roles as important characters in the political drama. The movie covers Chandrababu’s role extensively in steering TDP through some troubled times, introducing his political nous and ability to do the right thing at the right time. But the fact that at one point he acknowledges that though he did a lot for his constituency (when he was a Congress party worker) yet lost to NTR’s charisma hints at propaganda, almost a subtle back-answer to the recently released Yatra.

Balakrishna, who didn’t exactly seem cut out for the role in Kathanayakudu as a younger NTR, is in his complete element playing the senior role, at times with uncanny resemblance. He manages to enact the great man’s trials and tribulations through testing times and deteriorating health with relative ease. Vidya Balan as NTR’s wife Tarakam (who was diagnosed with cancer around the same time) gets to show her acting prowess in some specially curated scenes, which don’t sync with the story arc of the movie though. In fact, the movie doesn’t end on a high with NTR making a comeback as the CM after vanquishing Bhaskar Rao’s ploys. It ends on the low of Tarakam breathing her last. That anti-climax seemed to be another surprising decision from the movie-makers, considering the fact that the rest of NTR’s life in itself can be a canvas enough for two movies. (RGV might be very happy as the stage is set for his version of the subsequent events.)

As a biopic, the two-part NTR saga offers fans a lot of what they know, and what they only would want to watch for an emotional roller-coaster ride. Neither of the two movies manage to recreate the raging emotional turmoil that is NTR’s life. ‘NTR ante emotion’, Rana’s Chandrababu mouths at one point, making you wonder why you don’t feel it, even as NTR silently bears the brunt of MLAs scheming to get him ousted from the assembly hall.

It is probably part scriptwriting and part dialogue delivery – there aren’t too many moments in the movie that make it feel less like a documentary and more like cinema, cinema that keeps great characters alive in the minds of a movie-lover. ANR and NTR’s brother, two important characters in the first movie, are reduced to just a couple of scenes in this movie, while Harikrishna (Kalyan Ram) continues to be an unquestioning, mute devotee of his father, driving the symbolic van, the Chaitanya Ratham, on which NTR had campaigned.

When you walk out of the movie hall, you know you’ve watched an interesting story – thanks largely to NTR’s political battles and his magnetic pull, that at one time united several major political leaders cutting through the lines of caste, region and religion. Notwithstanding that well-documented reverence, you can barely remember more than a few lines (none of which come from NTR’s lips – a thumbs down to the dialogue writing). No part of the OST stirs anything remotely emotional in you either. One wishes movie-makers understood the importance of a good soundtrack when it comes to evoking nostalgia in the audience.

Long story short, NTR Mahanayakudu is worth a watch as one of the better political dramas that have been made in Telugu. That said, the movie while focusing heavily on capturing some very specific events, falls flat when it comes to capturing the emotion behind the protagonist of these events. Good cinema thrives on specific, character-building (don’t read jingoistic/melodramatic) scenes and a narrative dotted with good lines, lines which aren’t just wholesome praise.

As a movie and a biopic of probably the most famous Telugu personality of all time, it leaves you wondering why someone who made a state and a region rise on its feet and brought a powerful central government to its knees isn’t giving you the high you had expected!

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.