The Naxalite movement is sidelined in a love story that has a rebel without a cause at its centre.

Sai Pallavi and Rana Daggubati in Virata Parvam
Flix Review Friday, June 17, 2022 - 16:15
Worth a watch

Venu Udugula’s Virata Parvam borrows its title from the fourth book of the Indian epic Mahabharata which covers the exile of the Pandavas. In the film, set in the early ‘90s, the Naxalites form the righteous band of warriors living in exile in the forest. Their leader is Ravanna (a rugged Rana Daggubati), a poet whose fiery books espousing the Naxalite ideology are banned by the government. But his words find Vennela (Sai Pallavi), a naive young woman, who is entranced by his books and decides to find him. Mani Ratnam’s Ravanan (2010), a subversion of the Ramayana, was also a love story set in the backdrop of the Naxalite movement, with Sita eventually empathising with Ravanan’s fight for justice. Virata Parvam, though, is a fairly straightforward story. That of a rebel without a cause.

Vennela is born in the middle of crossfire between the police and a Naxalite group. A woman Naxalite assists her mother (Easwari Rao) in labour, names her after the moon, and is immediately shot dead. One would think that Vennela’s dramatic arrival would have made her curious to learn more about the movement as she grew up. But it’s only by chance that Vennela discovers one of Ravanna’s book and becomes an avid reader of his work.

Sai Pallavi plays Vennela with a judicious mix of innocence and assertiveness that makes us like the character despite how confused she seems to be. When she’s a young girl, her mother throws her Krishna doll into the well in a fit of anger, and the adamant child jumps into the water to retrieve it. She almost loses her life, too. This snippet is meant to make us understand Vennela’s stubborn streak. It’s the frame story for why she does what she does, finding an echo in the film’s conclusion too. But it would seem that the reckless little child never quite grew up, and remains just as impulsive.

Vennela idolises Ravanna, but we never really understand the attraction because the script does not sufficiently build up his commitment to the cause. Ravanna could be any righteous hero from mainstream cinema, one who questions injustice, fights for the “honour” of women and so on. Vennela is repeatedly asked by other characters in the film why she loves Ravanna to an extent that she’s willing to risk her own family and future. But the only answer she has is, “Do you need a reason to love someone?” I’m going to say ‘yes’, especially when the plot of the film hinges entirely on this love that is compared to Meerabai’s love for Lord Krishna.

Venu Udugula draws a few feeble parallels between Meerabai’s life and Vennela’s; Meerabai was married but sought out Krishna, whom she’d never met, with single-minded devotion. Vennela is on the verge of getting married to her cousin (Rahul Ramakrishna) when she decides to leave home and seek out Ravanna, a man she’s known mainly through his poetry. Both women face the ire of society for walking away from a conventional marriage.

But for these parallels to be convincing, the viewer needs more than a voiceover reading out Ravanna’s poetry. What makes him worthy of such devotion? The Naxalite movement is sidelined and explained away in a few lines here and there, and you are none the wiser why so many people chose to die over the years fighting the state. The sparse information that’s strewn across the script doesn’t make you feel for the movement. Cinema is a powerful visual medium, and it’s puzzling why Venu pulled back the punches. Thus, despite the well-staged encounters between the police and the Naxalite group, you are left unmoved by the outcome of these battles. It is certainly a way better effort than the lacklustre Acharya in which the Naxalite movement began and ended with a tokenistic ‘Lal Salaam’, but that isn’t saying much.

Vennela herself remains distant from the ideology; in one absurd, heavily romanticised episode, she asks Ravanna if he loves her even as they’re surrounded by the police and their lives are in danger. Her love only strikes you as an unnecessary distraction.

To her credit, Sai Pallavi pulls off the infatuated Vennela with a charm that only she can exercise. Though you feel like taking the young woman aside and driving some sense into her head, when a tear slides down her eye, you almost buy into her craze for Ravanna. The actor has given the film her all, and in the scenes when Vennela stands up for herself, you can feel the defiance coursing through her. Rana’s Ravanna suffers from sketchy writing, and the role demanded more energy and dynamism in its interpretation. Zarina Wahab, playing his mother, is wasted as the stereotypical mother.

Priyamani and Nandita Das play Bharathakka and Shakuntala teacher, two women who are part of the Naxalite movement. Both the seasoned performers are reliably good, and the film would have benefitted had their story arcs been fleshed out more.

Virata Paravam is supposedly based on a real life story, and it might have made for a moving experience had the writing pulled us into empathising with Vennela’s intense love. As it stands, it’s a middling love story that’s buoyed by Sai Pallavi’s performance.

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.

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