Raamanna Youth Movie Review: A bittersweet coming-of-age tale meets an engaging drama
Abhai Naveen’s directorial debut stands on solid ground, before getting short circuited by a lack of ambition
Raamanna Youth raises the larger question of human nature within its story, especially one that is more relevant to our times than ever. Where do we derive our identity from? Does our identity stem internally, through introspection, or do we source it externally, through the way our personality reflects off the surfaces of people around us? I walked into the theatre under the assumption that the Raamanna in the title refers to the protagonist, played by Abhai Naveen but Raamanna (Srikanth Iyengar) is the MLA Raju “gaadu” and his friends idolise. My initial assumption, though inaccurate, tells something about the film itself. Sometimes, a telltale sign of who we are comes from how we look upto certain people, which informs us of how we want others to look upto us. The hierarchy matters as much as the ever-sifting nature of perceptions here.
Cast - Abhai Naveen, Vishnu Oi, Bunny Abhiran, Thagubothu Ramesh, Srikanth Iyengar
Director - Abhai Naveen
Raju, throughout the film, wants to be Raamanna. That is how the film starts off. Whether he should want to be Raamanna or not shapes the rest of it. This is an interesting takeaway with utility in our own lives as well, in addition to obvious advantage it presents us towards understanding the film better. The desire to be much bigger than who you already are, the outright denial of how good one’s life already is in the pursuit of being somewhere else — they shape the film so much that by the time you finish watching Raamanna Youth, you understand why the film is not titled Raju Youth. A good chunk of this stream of consciousness masquerading as a narrative also leads to some messaging on how youth should and should not be, despite the irony involved in aiming a message towards the “youth” — the only demographic that does not receive messaging in cinema kindly.
A large part of Raamanna Youth itself plays out through the prism of perceptions and reflections. There is a large flexi hoarding set up by the film’s characters that cracks the film wide open. There is another person trying to be an influencer. A set of rivals threatening each other through semi-cryptic whatsapp statuses. A politician trying to handle his image on the grassroots level by bumping the reputation of a select few. In one of Ramanna Youth’s more comical twists, a bunch of “politicians” are just random people with the heads of Telugu film celebrities attached atop them, like Ram Gopal Varma and Vennela Kishore. In a great intro credits sequence, the director gets into documentary mode, displaying the village of Ankshapur (near Siddipet, Telangana) in all its hyperlocal glory, slowing certain frames to heighten their importance. Ramanna Youth also heightens drama in some scenes by using arc shots, which are rather rare in today’s cinema. This especially works out because the scenes on paper, which are otherwise very simple and straightforward, acquire a different kind of depth and meaning with an unusual shot composition. For some, this may seem like the most obvious thing to state but it bears repetition in the context of how most filmmakers treat camera as an inevitable accessory to the medium of cinema, as opposed to using it as an invaluable accessory to the storytelling that lies at the core of cinema.
The film in parallel plays off as a farce on the excesses of a smartphone, with the Hyderabad Police busting in at some point to even penalise Raju & Co for using them at an inopportune moment. The boys in the film exist at different points on the spectrum of responsibility, or lack thereof. Raju is narcissistic. Chandu (Bunny Abiran) is unbothered to the point of coming off as shameless. Ramesh (Jagan Yogiraj) is helpless, hoping to change but not having enough courage to defy his friends. Balu (Anil Geela) is afraid of his father. We eventually do get a post-credits epilogue of how all these men realise the errors of their ways and go back to being better men, it is a shame that the ending happens so abruptly, that the pay-off is not as strongly embedded as the film’s subtext. This is where the film folds up to the limitations of its budget and scale, despite every reason not to. The writing and the performances stack up neatly but the film definitely could have used more runtime (it is about two hours long) to land its conflicts better. I, for one, kept hoping for Raju to take revenge on Raamanna or become a politician himself. But this remains a reflection of mine on the film, as it goes on to be its own being, the exact way it urges more of its young brethren to be like.