Gangs of Godavari Movie Review: Much bravado about nothing

Gangs of Godavari Movie Review: Much bravado about nothing

Director Krishna Chaitanya packs in too many elements in this derivative crime-drama while struggling to capture the emotional depth of the premise
Gangs of Godavari (2 / 5)

As a film reviewer, I often find myself making multiple bullet points while watching a film. More often than not, I eventually struggle to incorporate most of these pointers into my review, even as I chase a deadline. So on one level, I could relate to Krishna Chaitanya, the director of the latest Vishwak Sen starrer Gangs of Godavari that hit theatres this weekend. It felt like the filmmaker, while weaving his crime drama that spans over many years, made way too many bullet points and is now having difficulty editing his own notes in a way that makes sense.

Director: Krishna Chaitanya

Cast: Vishwak Sen, Neha Sshetty, Anjali, Nasser, Gopraju Ramana, Ayesha Khan

Set in the 1990s and early 2010s, Gangs of Godavari revolves around a local ruffian named Rathna (Vishwak Sen) and his rise and fall in the world of local politics, even as he navigates the murky waters around his ambition. The film is relentless from the word go, almost overwhelming the audience with its information overload. There are barely any breathers in the narrative that’s riddled with developments and turning points. As if this overwhelming intersection of familiar tropes weren't enough, Krishna Chaitanya also works in an element of religious symbolism, giving a spiritual touch to Rathna during a moment of rising against all odds. It only feels desperate, rather than dazzling.

It’s not just the hasty storytelling that’s the culprit here. The character of the protagonist, Rathna, doesn’t hit an emotional pulse for the viewer. He is a flawed man, sure, one who makes too many mistakes and repents too little, and there’s nothing objectionable about his story being told. It’s the director’s deliberate efforts to lend him a sense of tragic victimhood that stick in one’s craw. The film even ends on such a note, where Rathna has to be told that he has won in life, while the audience is left scratching their heads, figuring out when and how the said victory occurred. Similarly, the love story between Rathna and Bujji (a passable Neha Sshetty), which is extremely integral to the proceedings in the second half, feels hollow. Even as we witness both Bujji and Rathna willing to make personal sacrifices in their present in hopes of a peaceful future, it’s hard to care for their relationship, considering how comically embarrassing its foundation is. 

This is when you realise Gangs of Godavari is flawed on a foundational level. There is clear ambition on display here: to weave a vast narrative about crimes and redemption that spans over many years, set against a backdrop with plenty of history to it, without laying any emphasis on the emotional journey of any of these characters. Even though the names of the Godavari River and the Lanka village it flows by are often mentioned, we barely get a sense of the geography. We are compelled to assume that the story unfolds in the early 90s, but then we suddenly see Rathna using a cellular phone while courting Bujji. The first overt mention of the time period arrives only near the one-hour mark. We never get a sense of years passing by, and hence the characters growing up in any manner.

Rathna is introduced to the viewer just as he is making huge leaps in the world of crime and power. Here, Chaitanya builds Rathna as a man with a clean slate who is writing his destiny. However, the sudden revelation of a backstory brought up in the second half feels disingenuous. That one brief sequence, providing context for Rathna’s childhood, belies everything we have learned about Rathna until then. Gangs of Godavari has many such over-reaching strides that derail the film. Usually, such films are saved by a strong central performance. However, Vishwak Sen, playing Lankala Rathna, never attempts to scratch beyond the surface. He excels in conventionally heroic moments but is far too content with providing a swaggy outline to Rathna. If there’s anything more existential about Rathna, we never get to know.

Such a hasty attempt to tell a big-scale story also leads to multiple missteps in the film’s tonality. The character of Doraswami (an impressive Goparaju Ramana) dwindles between appearing like a strong adversary and a comically dim-witted rival. Mala’s character, after a colourful intro, moves in and out of the narrative at the makers’ convenience, being called in to play whenever Rathna needs a helping hand. (Anjali, despite her sincere performance, is wasted in this miniscule role.)

In one of the more interesting stretches of the film, Rathna uses his cunning and shrewd thinking to outwit his adversaries. Considering the introduction sequence where Rathna is showcased as a macho, physically menacing man, these moments work in a pleasantly subversive manner, as Rathna revels in his own lack of moral compass. However, we soon return to the familiar visuals of a daredevil hero figure cutting limbs and slitting throats to protect his family. There are also a few stylistic touches sprinkled around to keep things interesting, like the visuals suddenly turning black-and-white when Rathna explains the workings of Doraswami to his subordinate.

Krishna Chaitanya does succeed partially in building the multiple action set pieces, lending them some adrenaline. Yet, there is little originality at play here, and the excessive slo-mo shots and deafening music do little to convince us otherwise. Even the dramatic scenes are bombarded with a heavy background score, often overpowering the events on screen. At one point in the second half, as Rathna waits at a hospital for a beloved to regain senses, a small board in the background reads, ‘Noise Annoys.’ I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony, while wishing that director Krishna Chaitanya also pondered that scenario as long as I did. Maybe then he would have realised the irony of it, and Gangs of Godavari would at least have been a slightly quieter film.

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