'Krishna and his Leela' review: A familiar playboy saga saved by good writing

The film more or less follows the pattern of movies with philandering heroes but with some refreshing departures.
Krishna and His Leela
Krishna and His Leela
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Ravikanth Perepu's Krishna and his Leela had a surprise release on Netflix on Thursday. The title more than suggests what the film is going to be about -- Lord Krishna from mythology is known for his many romantic dalliances and "ability" to love several women at the same time. And it's not a particularly new theme when it comes to Indian cinema, where philandering men have been treated with sympathy and the situation exploited for comedy.

Krishna and his Leela more or less follows the same pattern but with some refreshing departures. Siddhu Jonnalagadda plays the charming Krishna, who is at first in a relationship with Satya (like Satyabhama from mythology), and then gets dumped by her. He moves on to another woman, Radha, but the situation becomes complicated because well, isn't that what leelas are all about?

The film would have decidedly been annoying if the women characters, played by Shraddha Srinath and Shalini Vadnikatti, had been written badly. However, both Satya and Radha come across as real people with self-respect and a mind of their own. The point of view is male and we're supposed to empathise with Krishna, but the script also allows the female characters to question his actions -- an update in the Krishna leela stories, certainly.

While Shraddha's Satya speaks her mind and follows her heart, Shalini's Radha has small dreams but is not a pushover either. The three actors in the triangle work up an admirable chemistry, making us invested in their changing feelings.

However, although the self-aware narrative asks the question -- what if Krishna had been a woman, would all this be kosher? -- the fact is that, we're yet to see a Telugu film where a woman has romantic relationships with more than one man at a time, is treated sympathetically and does not suffer a terrible fate for her "sin". Will we ever be treated to a film, for instance, where Ruksar (Seerat Kapoor) of Krishna and his Leela, is the central protagonist? I think it's safe to say that the answer is not anytime soon. When Krishna speaks with his estranged father (Sampath Raj) who'd cheated on his mother, it becomes a "man to man" conversation on women and romance -- it verges on "boys will be boys" although there's some self-flagellation involved. We're manipulated into buying Krishna's claim that he genuinely cares about the women in his life, but the background score towards the end rips off the disguise -- he's a playboy after all and we're meant to celebrate the fact.

What the film does best is to explore contemporary relationships, with independent partners who have ambitions of their own and things are more fluid and flexible than they were a generation ago. The music, styling, and the camera, focusing closely on the characters' subtle expressions and the unfolding drama, offer an urban experience on screen that's rarely witnessed.

While films like World Famous Lover glorified the hero's suffering due to break-ups, Krishna and his Leela offers a leading man who knows very much that he's behaving like a cad. The final sequence, with a question and answer between Krishna and an audience, I suspect, is the director's way of answering critics who may find his film problematic. Even if it didn't settle all of my quibbles, the balancing act is clever and pushes the film up a notch higher than the usual glorified takes on men who cheat.

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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