Setting a grand sepia stage

The beauty of a 1980s’ village juxtaposed with situational music brings the focus back to a strong storyline that set the cash registers ringing

By Author  |  Published: 15th Apr 2018  12:45 amUpdated: 14th Apr 2018  5:11 pm
Ilustration by Guru G

Telugu cinema likes it loud and clear. The louder it gets, the bigger the laugh to the bank. Often, it is also shown as a commitment to blue blood. In a world where this is more a business and less of an art, it is all about how you market your product. Sometimes, films are a hit here even before the first show is out at the theatres.

So, what makes Rangasthalam a hit? Arguably, it is the star value of Ram Charan as Chitti Babu. There is also a huge rural connect that makes Telugu industry weave success stories. At a time when cinema across the country is showing signs of experiment and willingness to experiment, in Telugu industry, success is guaranteed to the one who sticks to the formula. Ensure that heady mix of song, dance, fight and heroics.

It is often said that success is a voyeuristic function and the audience loves to watch what it wants to but cannot do in real life. The huge feudal connect and the defiance thereof, thus, have an interesting social connect. Our heroes are not made of clay feet – they hit the dust, raise their lungis, make politically incorrect statements… all of which can be storehouse of clichés but as long as he carries his fans with him, it is all that matters.

The story is in a feudal setup in a fictional village. Here, it is all boisterous. The clash between the feudal landlord (Jagapati Babu, with his eternal frown) and the hearing-impaired local lad who everyone loves to love, Chitti Babu (Ram Charan). Chitti gets his brother to square up against the long-lasting village chief. The linear story can be reduced to a storyline. The rest is gloss.

In contradiction to some other lead players, Ram Charan has a diminutive persona. He, however, does not hold on to it as a shortcoming. The man has, not long before, played the angry young man in the remake of Zanjeer, remember? This film could well go down as his best career outing so far.

Filmmaker Sukumar spares no effort to ensure that the star is in every shot of the film and is out to please his fans. Everything else is secondary. That singularly explains the success. Like most films, the cause of the celebrations must necessarily be at the doorstep of the filmmaker who believed in all this and had the gumption to carry it off. And, of course, the star: Ram charan. The film is arguably the best stage to reiterate the value of the star.

Success has its own justifications. Nice now to stick to them.

— L Ravichander

Old world charm wins hearts

It’s not for nothing that even after a fortnight, audiences are still looking for Rangasthalam tickets. Part of the reason is the beautiful lyrics penned by Chandrabose that set the mood for the film. “Every song took 30 minutes to write after I had decided the lyrics for all of them,” recalls lyricist Chandrabose.

The songs were the result of intense discussions between the director Sukumar, composer Devi Sri Prasad and Chandrabose while they were in Puducherry.  For instance, the song, Entha sakkagunnave was formulated on one of their walks, the smash hit Rangamma mangamma was born during a swim, while Aa gattununtaavaa was the product of a casual discussion between the trio while they were lounging in their rooms. However, the emotion-packed song, Orayyo written over a year before the film went on floors, was tougher to write.

“One has to undergo a lot of pain in their life to produce those types of lyrics. Conveying the impact of losing an important person in life is not easy, I had to literally do Parakaya Pravesham (transmission of one’s soul into another body) and write that song,” shares Chandrabose, smiling.

A perfectionist attitude and plethora of idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, director Sukumar’s vision of the film is also markedly different from his previous works. “After Naannaku Prematho, Ram Charan and I thought of making a film with a village backdrop. I thought of a story and discussed it with Charan, who accepted it immediately,” says Sukumar. What worked in their favour was the sensitive handling of the subject that revolves around a hero with a disability. It’s rare to get everything down pat from the way a scene is approached to the casting, but Rangasthalam managed to do that.

“We spent a lot of time on casting, which continued till the last day of the shoot which was vexing. Some 10 to 20 actors were considered for each character keeping the combinations in mind,” explains Sukumar. Recreating the look and vibe of the ’80s era was not difficult, but it did come with its fair bit of challenge.

“Nearly 1,000 artistes had to be transported to the location for shooting the title song of Ranga Ranga. The boats had to carry all of them and the props. We got ready at 4 am for the 9:30 am shoot,” adds the director who chopped off lighter moments from the final cut to keep the emotional factor consistent. “Originally, there were two comedy episodes in the second half, but we chopped them despite opposition. I think the gamble worked,” feels Sukumar.

— Madhuri Dasagrandhi

Sam feels fortunate

Samantha as Ramalakshmi stole millions of hearts. It has been two weeks since the release of the movie and her performance hasn’t faded yet from audiences’ minds. Samantha calls herself fortunate, although many other actors who were approached for the role of Ramalakshmi.

On the day when Sukumar narrated what Ramalakshmi is going to be like, Samantha was not at all apprehensive. The gorgeous actor was sure that the audience would love to her watch as a rural girl. Until she went on the sets, she didn’t know much about the plot and other characters.  Remember those scenes where she carries a pot, rides a men’s bicycle and blows a stove? Samantha had tough time learning and doing those things in scorching summer.

In fact, she calls only Chitti Babu as the lead character and that the other roles, including hers as just participants in the story. For her, a story will always have a hero and the rest of the people around him are his supporters.

Contrary to what she was taught by Gautham Vasudev Menon to not raise eyebrows or keep lip movements to minimum while delivering a dialogue, in Rangasthalam, she had to do something different. Samantha even says that she never knew that she could make so many movements with her face. Apparently, Sukumar always asked her “to do her ugliest” as her character demanded it.

— Bhawana Tanmayi

An exception or exceptional?

We all love our comfort zones. Our movie stars are no exceptions. The objective here is not to decipher why the hero chose the role but to appreciate the fact that it takes immense courage to break one’s own self-created image. There are times in the movie business when something unexpected happens and you begin to feel is this the beginning of a change.  To me, Rangasthalam is the defining moment.

The movie appealed to me in multiple ways: the craftiness of the director, the multilayered characterisation, the depth of the poetry (especially the title song) and, of course, the acting prowess of the protagonist and his nemesis.

Having the same Math and Physics background as director Sukumar, I could find a strong similarity between the multiple hidden layers of a neural network that help us unravel the non-linearity of relationships within a defined space.

The highlight of the film is when the hero, in darkness at night, is desperately attempting to locate his brother who has been brutally attacked. He struggles to hear his brother scream in pain as the hero is deaf. As I watched this intense scene play out, I wondered if a hearing disability (not a physical one!) is an integral part of all our lives, as we often selectively listen or, at times, fail to listen at all. Is this the truth that the director is alluding to?

The narrative is logical, natural for someone who deals with mathematical formulae. Luckily, the director has not indulged in clichéd tropes of a commercial movie.

The lyrics in the movie too are very creatively written. It’s not only the intelligent use of words but the simplicity of the words. This is the first layer. The depth of the feelings expressed in simple words and the metaphors used are the deeper layers. Looks like the song writer did not have any writer’s block.

We all know the actor’s lineage and comparisons are an integral part of his journey. The effort the hero put in to get into the character is easy to understand. He makes you feel for him. To be able to shed the image and look rustic is a big risk, but then there is no return without risk.

Rangasthalam for me is an exception for the reasons I mentioned, and exceptional because it pushes the defined space and makes us look beyond the hypothesis that Telugu movie stars are captive to their image.

— Ramakrishna Prasad