Nani made his debut in Telugu cinema about a decade ago with the comedy-drama Ashta Chamma. And since then, comedy has become his forte. The actor has tried other genres and other emotions, but nothing as worked as the comedies. Some worked extraordinarily, like Bhale Bhale Magadivoy, and some, like Nenu Local and Middle Class Abbayi, were just mediocre. And somewhere in between is Krishnarjuna Yuddham.
This isn’t the first movie where he’s playing a double role. Gentleman, that released two years ago, had him romance two women in two roles.
In his latest movie, he stars as a rockstar, who’s loved by the women, and as a rural buffoon, who’s despised by the girls of his village. The connecting factor, you might think, is just women, which is true in a sense, but, Merlapaka Gandhi, the writer-director, wants to go a step ahead. So, he chooses to layer his offering with match cuts, thereby giving us an impression that the lives of the two central characters (Krishna and Arjun) are mirroring each other.
Say, Krishna eats a candy in a remote village in Chittoor, Arjun throws away the candy wrapper in Prague. This scene isn’t a part of the film but just an example to set the picture.
Perhaps, this is as far as novelty goes for Gandhi, with a star on board. There’s a social message as well, but the director forgets about it half way into the film. The interval-bang, as the Indian filmmakers like to call it, is where things fall into place. Until then, Gandhi makes space for Krishna and Arjun to woo their ladies – Riya (Rukshar Mir) and Subbu (Anupama Parameswaran) respectively.
The visual tricks Gandhi plays with his editing patterns and small-town humour (plus Brahmaji’s presence) work to an extent. The way Nani has built himself as an actor helps him rescue this project from falling through the cracks of a bridge.
Nani, in his decade-long career, has made simple lines sound humorous. He even makes you listen to the no-smoking announcement that comes seconds before the start of the film with his playful dialogue delivery. It’s not a mere “smoking causes cancer; smoking kills,” kind of announcement. There’s a sing-song rhythm that he employs to push the government order. Interestingly, the rhythm changes for every film with the mood it carries.
Similarly, he’s found a voice to exercise his emotional, and violent, monologues. You can notice the subtle variations he brings to his performance. But humour remains his major strength. Though, he fights like it’s his last day on Earth (after the large head of social message starts to kick in), there isn’t enough mirth in it.
For a movie that’s about women trafficking, Gandhi devotes very little time to it as he’s busy dropping Krishna and Riya in the middle of a flavourless song. Rukshar and Anupama, the women around whom the film should have revolved, are lost in this chaos. It takes two Nanis to bring them back from the villains.
Venkat Prabhu, the Tamil filmmaker who made Saroja in 2008, has a perfect recipe to make comedy and suspense work. His movie should be studied by writers who want to handle both the themes effectively.
If Merlapaka Gandhi is planning on educating the youth via his films, he should take tips from Prabhu.
Krishnarjuna Yuddham wants to be an entertainer and somehow, it wants to be a film that has a social conscience too. What’s the point of having a character who’s a womanizer/stalker (Arjun doesn’t think twice before making out with a bride-to-be, or a cop at the drop of a hat; and he stalks Subbu so much that she decides to fly back to India) in the lead then? Of course, he becomes a good boy and stops “seeing” other women to make Subbu believe that he’s finally stopped being a playboy. He’s the hero, after all.
Anything can happen in a Telugu masala movie.