NTR Kathanayakudu: A middling biopic of a demigod
If the director had focused half of the energy he put into elevating an already larger-than-life figure, into writing his life and the drama in it effectively, the film would have worked better
NTR Kathanayakudu often brings up the superstar’s intention of being close to the people and being one of them. However, the biopic itself ironically takes the people’s hero and puts him on a pedestal where a common man can only worship him, but never feel close to him. NTR cannot do or say anything wrong. He is above all. He is an unquestionable hero. As much as I admit that that emotion works perfectly for a star called NTR, it doesn’t for the person called NTR.
Cast: Balakrishna, Vidya Balan
Director: Krish Jagarlamudi
Narrated from the point of view of Basavatarakam (Vidya Balan), Rama Rao’s journey is long-winding and almost conflict-less. The initial struggle of young Rama Rao, his discipline in the work he sets out to do, is built up effectively, although it gets repetitive as the movie progresses. Everything you find out about the star is through a heavy ode by one of the supporting cast.
While the film is chronologically arranged, you lose track of the timeline as none of it is seamlessly integrated into the screenplay. It feels like the maker decided to recreate scenes and anecdotes from various movies in NTR's life and then just loosely stitch them together. Even the names of the movies, his costars and colleagues drop in and out of the movie as the names of his best works are taken without context.
However, it still is quite an experience to get to watch some classics play out on the big screen, whose glory we only heard from our grandmothers. To see what went into the making of the pathbreaking camera trick in Bhookailash, and to have the pleasure of watching the iconic dialogue from Daana Veera Soora Karna playing on the big screen, is wonderful. Some of the recreations though, aren’t as impeccable as one would hope. For instance, the song Chitram Bhalare Vichitram cannot hold a candle to the original.
There are certain sequences in the film that stay with you long after you leave the theatre though. Balakrishna is at his best in the emotional scenes. When NTR loses his eldest son to small pox, when the Diviseema floods take hundreds of lives, and when he shows his power to get his movies released during the Emergency, Balakrishna seems to have channeled his father in the true sense.
What makes the film disappointing is the poor storytelling. If the director had focused half of the energy he put into elevating an already larger-than-life figure, into writing his life and the drama in it effectively, the film would have worked far better. Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao is undeniably a stalwart, a demigod in Telugu cinema. But it would have been wonderful to watch the human in him rather than watch three hours of reiterating what we all already know and agree upon.
The first part of this biopic gives you a tiny taste of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao’s political temperament which is a lot more realistic than the rest of the film. And it has you invested. Do watch NTR Kathanayakudu because you are going to want to watch NTR Mahanayakudu.