Rangabali Movie Review: More Shout than Show

Rangabali Movie Review: More Shout than Show

Rangabali is yet another example of a crackling premise led astray by uninspired filmmaking 
Rating:(2 / 5)

The love for one’s hometown is the wellspring from which Rangabali’s themes and core sentiments emerge. There is a beautiful line in the film where Shaurya alias Show (Naga Shaurya) talks about how one may not have their own house or their own piece of land but everyone does have their own hometown. A hometown can be claimed as easily and freely as one can claim ownership to air and the sky, except the ownership is specific and cultural in ways the aforementioned elements could never be. Shaurya is close to Rajavaram, a town he calls as the embodiment of his “balyam, balam, bhavishyathu” (childhood, strength, future). The only thing more specific than his love for Rajavaram is his relationship with the town’s square — the amusingly named Rangabali centre. The writers of the film themselves have fun with the title. There is wordplay with Rangu ball-u, Ranga Bhale and even a homage to the film titles Rangasthalam and Bahubali, which appear in literal juxtaposition at one point in the film. Shaurya is a slacker, as protagonists always start out to be before becoming better. His father Viswam (Goparaju Ramanna) runs a pharmacy, which Shaurya practically treats like his ATM (the scene where he sticks his own UPI code over the sticker of his pharmacy’s UPI is a hoot of a scam). There is also amusing wordplay between the two meanings of Mandhu, to represent where Shaurya and Viswam precisely stand on the spectrum of responsibility. 

Cast - Naga Shaurya, Yukti Thareja, Murali Sharma, Shine Tom Chacko, Satya, Goparaju Ramanna 

Director - Pawan Basamsetti 

The first half of the film is buoyant with comedy that is equal parts observational and randy (who knew a character can simply make a theatre erupt in laughter with his seemingly innocent, North Indian name). Satya, playing the role of Shaurya’s best friend, is particularly delightful to watch, heavylifting the film with innate jocularity and physical humour. Goparaju Ramanna is not too far behind either, though his rehash of the “dabbulu jagratha…” shtick from Middle Class Melodies, the actor’s breakout film, could use some originality at this point. Shaurya is also nicknamed Show because he is so comfortable in his hometown, he practically turns into a show-off. For reasons best known to this film's makers, Show is only able to fight people off when he wears a white shirt. The randomness of this detail is only topped off by the fight scenes whose editing really does not hide the protagonist's ineptitude towards action. There is also a scene where the actor "explains" how he is going to bash up a baddie, instead of actually bashing him up. Show, don't tell is a mistranslated memo here, for Show does choose to tell. 

Rangabali’s themes rise to its boiling point when Shaurya needs to ask his girlfriend’s father for her hand in marriage. This is where the film’s themes begin to make their presence felt. Think of how ooru rhymes with peru. In this case, both ooru and peru converge to represent honour, identity and later, righteousness. There is a tussle between MLA Parasuram (Shine Tom Chacko at his caricaturish worst) and Shaurya to change the name of Rangabali centre. It is at this point that the film loses its plot. The love story wasn't a very compelling one to begin with, sure, but it still hurt to have it derailed in favour of a seemingly bigger, apparently righteous cause. These two hollow motivations are about as painful to watch as the two useless songs in the second half. Pawan CH, who made a memorable debut as a composer in Love Story, returns to the movies with something infinitely paler in comparison. Same can be said of Divakar Mani, whose work is a far cry from the gorgeous visuals in Sita Ramam, Virata Parvam and Ninnila Ninnila he earlier created. Kodati Pavan Kalyan, who has edited films like Major and Writer Padmabhushan as well as seasoned lyricist Anantha Sriram appear in supporting roles in the film. Interesting choices that can only do so much to save this film, I guess. 

There is enough spoken about the battle between art and commerce and how the latter always wins, while throwing the former under the bus. Every industry displays its specialised symptoms but the diagnosis is pretty much the same. A story being throttled and subsequently flattened to appeal to the lowest common denominator — with the effortless spirit of risk aversion. Or maybe this is my naive assumption, maybe the film was mediocre even without interventions. Maybe what you see at the screening is the original version of the director’s vision. Who knows, really? But one thing is for sure. The ubiquitous malaise of films that are deemed to the average category of adjectives come with their disappointments razor side-up when the genesis of the film, which is omnipresent in the viewer’s naked eye, shows its potential. It is particularly hard to watch Rangabali when you can think of ten arguably better ways a film could manifest itself in — only to watch something unique, something with potential get splintered into shards of painful sameness. 

If the filmmaking is one shortcoming, Naga Shaurya's performance is another. The actor is a handsome specimen, a perfect 2000s Ashton Kutcher/Imran Khan-level fit in the world of Telugu romantic comedies. But in a commercial entertainer like Rangabali, where the hero's persona needs to fill the gaps the story creates for starmanship, he sticks out like a sore thumb. An actor, like say, Ravi Teja, for all the poorly written films he continuously appears in — the man's infectious energy does make up for it somehow. It is not saying much, and star power can never make up for writing but the shortcomings double down in Rangabali, in the absence of good acting, competent writing and direction. Rangabali is not a particularly bad film. It is watchable, passable. But the impact this film left me with, reminds of the way Warren Buffett once described Diet Cokes. He tells that one can drink many Diet Cokes in a day, because the drink's taste does not accumulate in its mouth, for it does not possess any taste memory. I don't know if I can watch more than one Rangabali a day, but I am sombrely aware that this film's taste never let itself accumulate in my memory.

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