'Chadarangam' review: Zee5 series is yet another misfire inspired by NTR's life

Didn’t the creator-and-director Raj Anantha get the memo that Krish’s two-part biopic arrived and disappeared like flashes last year?
'Chadarangam' review: Zee5 series is yet another misfire inspired by NTR's life
'Chadarangam' review: Zee5 series is yet another misfire inspired by NTR's life
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If you’ve been following Telugu cinema for a while, you’ve already been introduced to the rise and fall of NTR’s political career – no, not the Young Tiger NTR – through numerous films, books, and articles. And if you’ve grown up on a steady diet of the same, then you’re also acutely aware of the ever-changing political weather in the two Telugu states in the south. Why then would you need an entirely new series to describe how idealistic and autocratic he was?

Zee5’s Chadarangam is a hapless exercise that tries to deify an actor-turned-politician. Didn’t the creator-and-director Raj Anantha get the memo that Krish’s two-part biopic arrived and disappeared like flashes last year? While Deva Katta painted his story of Prassthanam on the canvas of the back-stabbing nature of politicians, Sekhar Kammula made Leader to show that there can be Chief Ministers to whom you can look up. Later, Koratala Siva fine-tuned his game via Bharat Ane Nenu, in which the CM of undivided Andhra Pradesh (played by Mahesh Babu) weeds out the evils from the society.

I’m not going to rush into the individual merits of these films for this piece. I’m bringing these up only to remind you of how writers of Telugu films haven’t shied away from telling the tales of different kinds of politicians. Chadarangam precisely wants to occupy this space, but the alternative history that the show tries to create and the black-and-white characters it presents don't work.

For one, Superstar Gangadhar (Srikanth), who’s modeled on NTR, wants the country to get rid of INP (fictionalized version of INC – Indian National Congress), as he says that they’re looting India since Independence. You must remember that INP, here, is a party that has been ruling the nation without a strong opposing force for 70 straight years. The similarities don’t just end there. When NTR was the CM of AP in the '80s (his first term), Indira Gandhi was the PM. And in Chadarangam, there are characters who are not only fashioned after her, the similarity extends to Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, the man who grabbed the Chief Minister’s chair from under the nose of NTR, Chandrababu Naidu, the chief architect who made sure that NTR got his due in politics before Lakshmi Parvathi came into the picture, and Rajiv Gandhi, from whom NTR kept stealing the thunder in the late '80s and '90s.

This checkerboard of characters may have worked to an extent if Raj Anantha had looked elsewhere for inspiration. Since 2014, the BJP has been in power at the Centre and has been criticised for its communal agenda and politics. However, eliminating this party and its kind of politics in a contemporary setting is unfathomable. In Chadarangam’s world, there’s just one state for the Telugu people and it’s called Andhra Pradesh; however the goal seems to be to highlight the popularity of a film actor who picks up the microphone to deliver lengthy and powerful speeches.

If you have a penchant for hard-hitting lines in political thrillers, then that would be a disappointment here as well, because the dialogues are plain vanilla in the name of blaming-and-shaming. People belonging to the INP blame Gangadhar and his party, TKS (Telugu Kranti Sangham, a stand-in for the TDP – Telugu Desam Party), at every stage throughout the nine-episode season. And Gangadhar, in return, fires against INP’s operations that favour dynastic politics more than anything else. The entirety of Gangadhar’s acting career is shrunk to the size of just one episode where there are a bunch of scenes that inform you about the pinnacle of stardom he has reached. The reason for using the word “inform” in the previous sentence is to give you the actual impact of those 40-odd minutes. Raj Anantha squashes the difference between showing and telling so much that all the scenes end up looking poorer than short films made by amateurs and released on YouTube.

But, thankfully, it’s only the pilot that appears solidly foolish. The following episodes are somewhat bearable. Also, the creator doesn’t utilise the long list of actors – Nagineedu, Ravi Prakash, Sunaina, Kausalya, Chalapathi Rao, Ramya Pasupuleti, etc. – well. Some of them get independent storylines in the beginning that are later merged into the thread written exclusively for Gangadhar. But there’s something amiss always. And you get a sense that it’s not the fault of the actors.

When Bapineedu (Ravi Prakash, who focuses on getting his Chandrababu Naidu act right) takes matters into his own hands and tells his uncle (not the father-in-law here, as he plays Gangadhar’s nephew) to not worry about the horse-trading of the MLAs during the former’s stay in a foreign nation, there’s a stroke of genius – Bapineedu is a problem-solver and he does it by hook or by crook. Yet, his ideas keep getting butchered by Gangadhar every now and then. It’s as though there’s nobody nobler than the man who got his ears pierced for a scene in a mythological drama in his heydays as an actor.

These random bits of buildup are shoddily added into the narrative to say that he’s a larger-than-life hero who got into politics to serve the Telugu people. There are no ulterior motives for such characters in such shows, certainly, ahem-ahem. Nonetheless, if Raj Anantha had simply told us to watch the two Balakrishna starrers directed by Krish, he’d have still made his point. And you’d have been spared from reading this review!

PS: Will films and series ever be made on the political lives of Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Power Star Pawan Kalyan?

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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