Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy movie Review : Chiranjeevi is fiery, the film not so much
While the highs in Sye Raa don’t really match up to its ambition, it will surely be a part of the highlight reel for Chiranjeevi, who is all passion and fire in the film
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy is an attempt to make something like Sivaji Ganesan’s Veerapaandiya Kattabomman (which Chiranjeevi has said he’s a big admirer of) with the scale of Baahubali. It’s hard not to think of Baahubali, in terms of what this film aspires to be. Take note of, for one, the expansive cast, which includes Amitabh Bachchan playing a village priest/advisor. There’s Tamannaah in this film too, who makes the sort of angry face we saw her do quite a few times in the Rajamouli film. She has a better role here though. There’s Nasser somewhere; there’s Sudeep, who again, has a better role in this film; there’s Anushka Shetty in a cameo. In fact, as she bellows to no one in particular and heralds the arrival of this film’s hero, Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy (Chiranjeevi), you could almost squint and see her doing the same when Baahubali storms into Mahishmathi. There are, of course, all the lavish battle sequences with liberal use of aerial shots in an attempt to flaunt the scale. There are a couple of love stories here too, and in perhaps the biggest similarity, an attempt to build a mythical hero from the first scene.
Director: Surender Reddy
Cast: Chiranjeevi, Tamannaah, Nayanthara, Jagapathi Babu, Sudeep, Vijay Sethupathi
He’s a god among men, as the film would have it. Anushka Shetty’s character refers to him as ‘Renaati sooryudu’ (the sun of Renadu), which explains those lingering silhouette shots of Chiranjeevi, as the scorching sun bears down on us from behind him. The term is also a reference to the 2015 book, Renati Surya Chandrulu, which I imagine helped the makers with a lot of research. The filmmakers have clearly taken a lot of liberty though, as indicated before the film with a disclaimer almost as long as the film. Narasimha Reddy is introduced to us as an almost mythical character who was born dead but is resurrected by the forces of nature—a thunder, to be specific. This is a film that labours quite evidently to try and be an epic. The hype around Narasimha is quite loud, quite early. However, the writing in this film never truly offers you the sort of satisfying payoffs that a Baahubali did so regularly. This isn’t Chiranjeevi’s fault at all; he puts in a serious shift. He’s all passion and fire especially when he’s delivering the sort of monologues I imagine people did when the audience could not be distracted by mobile phones.
The writing may not be particularly rewarding, but it’s surely not lazy. There’s a constant attempt to be utilitarian; no idea is introduced without purpose. There’s something about contaminated water in the first half that comes in for use in the second. The whole ‘Kaarthika deepam’ angle serves as a metaphor for something else towards the end of the film. The ability of Narasimha to hold his breath comes in handy later too. Even something as little as the passing advice that Narasimha Reddy gives a boy ends up creating a chain of dark events. Perhaps the idea I liked the best is how his advice to Lakshmi (Tamannaah, who I largely liked in the role) returns to benefit him.
Also, surely you notice that she’s Lakshmi because he’s… Narasimha. This isn’t done for the heck of it; there are serious parallels drawn between him and the Vishnu avatar, Narasimha. A murder Narasimha commits is likened to the despatching of asura Hiranyakashipu in Hindu mythology. However, Narasimha Reddy’s first wife is named Siddhamma (Nayanthara), perhaps because there are records to show this was her actual name. If there weren’t, I suspect the writers may have well gone for something metaphorical with her name too.
Fascinatingly, in this film with a protagonist named Narasimha—and with all the parallels drawn to Vishnu’s avatar—there are several ideas seemingly influenced by Christian mythology. The resurrection idea at the beginning. The parallels to crucifixion as Narasimha Reddy labours to the gallows under the burden of all the weight. The Judas-like betrayal is hard not to notice too.
Those familiar with Sivaji Ganesan’s Tamil film, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, will note a similar scene in Sye Raa… as Chiranjeevi delivers a rousing speech, rubbishing the need to pay ‘sistu’ (tax). It’s one of many fiery monologues the actor gets, and he’s fantastic in selling the intensity of these portions. I also liked the characterisation of the two women who are smitten by Narasimha Reddy: Lakshmi, and Siddhamma. At the beginning, I dreaded where it was likely heading given Lakshmi's intro scene has her bathing by a river before she falls for Narasimha. As the film grows though, you see that both Lakshmi and Siddhamma are so much more than just pretty women in love with the hero. Lakshmi’s strength is dancing, and how she’s able to channel sadness into artistic productivity. Siddhamma’s strength is of the more conventional, underrated variety. She sacrifices her life for familial pursuits, so someone like Narasimha Reddy can go, do his thing. I’m not arguing for or against her decision to do so—just pointing out that doing so requires strength too, that without her contribution, Narasimha may not have been able to strive for his lofty causes.
The dampener in Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy is how its highs don’t really match up to its ambition. The payoffs don’t quite blow your mind. In a film that’s almost three hours long, it is such moments that inject you with enthusiasm. I mean, sure, the action sequences are mounted on a grand scale. There are hundreds of weapons, warriors, a fort, expansive landscapes, cannons, artillery, swords… And yet, the war choreography doesn’t ever make you sit up. Someone fractures a knee, there’s something about burning straw… but this film needed so much more.
While on dampeners, the villains in this film—the Britishers—come off looking more comical than hateful. These demons who fling children into the fire, don’t ever truly seem menacing, despite often screwing their eyebrows in fury. Their acting and dialogue delivery makes it quite hard to take them seriously as real, menacing adversaries. Also, Vijay Sethupathi, who talks a comic mix of Tamil and Telugu, doesn’t quite work in the film too.
But I get why Chiranjeevi felt he needed to do this film. I get why he sees this as a dream project. It is, for him. He’s great in Sye Raa… and the film will contribute voluminously to his highlight reel. I’m not quite sure it will do the same for us though, when, in a couple of months, we take stock of films of this year.