Gaddhalakonda Ganesh Movie Review : Varun Tej shines in Harish Shankar's unabashed ode to cinema
Varun Tej’s makeover as a fierce gangster is Gaddhalakonda Ganesh's biggest USP and Harish Shankar taps into the actor’s energy to add zing into this film
Like most things in life, the world of cinema too is full of surprises. Like, a film which was titled Valmiki right from its inception, was baptised as Gaddhalakonda Ganesh at the 11th hour because the former title raked in plenty of controversy. Incidentally, in the film, directed by Harish Shankar, there’s a scene where the protagonist, Abhilash (Atharva Murali) and a projector operator (Thanikella Bharani) argue over why one needs to adjust, but not compromise to make a film. Gaddhalakonda Ganesh, the title, is precisely this sort of adjustment to appease everyone, but then, it doesn’t really make a difference, because when it comes to the actual film and its story, Harish Shankar doesn’t compromise anywhere to narrate what he wants to. If this film wasn’t a remake of Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda, then one could even assume that Abhilash, the aspiring director in the story, might be Harish Shankar’s alter-ego, considering how much both of them vouch for the power of cinema.
Right from the beginning, Harish Shankar makes it evident that Gaddhalakonda Ganesh is an ode to cinema and its effect on people. Brahmanandam makes a cameo just to recite a poem to underline the many facets of cinema and why it’s so intoxicating. The film, however, tells us how cinema changes the life of a rugged gangster and makes him human, once again. And as we get to know the characters and the world that the story is set in better, it also takes a different shape where we question how villains are portrayed and how smartly the story, written by Karthik Subbaraj, subverts the tried and tested tropes about the lives of gangsters. The film follows the journey of an aspiring director, Abhilash (Atharva) who gets fascinated with the life of a gangster, Gaddhalakonda Ganesh (Varun Tej), and he ends
up making a film with Ganesh playing the lead role.
In this film, the villain is the hero, and so, Harish Shankar ensures that everything that Varun Tej does looks heroic. There’s no trace of evilness in Ganesh’s approach to killing people. He even says that he won’t kill anyone if he thinks it’s wrong, but being the short-tempered gangster that he is, he knocks people off without thinking too much. He doesn’t like to be reminded about his past and he certainly hates it when people disrespect him or his opinions. This approach alters the way we perceive the deeds of Gaddhalakonda Ganesh. His moral compass tilts towards doing the right thing, and even in his most fierce state, he’s still an emotional person because of his mother and Sridevi (Pooja Hegde). On the other hand, Abhilash wants to get to know Ganesh better by hook or crook, and he pushes the limits further to get close to Ganesh. This often puts him in jeopardy, but also it leads to hilarious situations where his friend (Satya) is always at the receiving end. Abhilash also meets Bujjamma (Mrinalini Ravi), who becomes a pawn in his endeavour, although both of them fall in love with each other. The interplay between these characters is engaging, but all said and done, the focus is almost always on Ganesh and the lead actor, Varun Tej.
There are films where you know that an actor has had absolute freedom to tap into a different dimension of what he can offer. In Gaddhalakonda Ganesh, Varun Tej has clearly relished playing the character. Be it his ferocity or the dialect, Varun Tej aces the role and it’s a treat watching him transform effortlessly into a gangster. One of the best scenes in the film has him breakdown into tears when his mother hugs him. It’s a moment that stays with you, because that single shot captures how a man, who thinks he has a stone heart, melts into a blob of humaneness.
Atharva Murali is a huge asset to the film and he brings a lot of believability to his role. His conversation with Thanikella Bharani is among the best written and directed segments in the entire story, and Atharva makes you root for him instantly. Newcomer Mrinalini Ravi is gorgeous on screen and lights up the frame every time she’s around. Pooja Hegde, who has played a key role, fits into her character quite well, and her chemistry with Varun Tej works quite well.
For all the solid masala moments that the film delivers at regular intervals, there are chunks in the narrative which seem a little off. At times, the take off doesn’t quite work and in other instances, it feels way too convenient for the story to unfold in a certain fashion. This is especially obvious in the initial portions when Atharva lands in Gaddhalakonda; however, as the story unfolds, the life and eccentricities of Ganesh take centrestage. At a run time of close to three hours, the film also feels a tad too long and some sequences overstaying their welcome.
Gaddhalakonda Ganesh isn’t consistently good, but when it hits the right note, it’s tough to take your eyes off the screen. Thankfully, there are plenty of such solid moments where you forget about everything else and believe in the magic of storytelling. It’s not just Ganesh who changes by the end, perhaps, we, the people, too warm up to the film which finds its right rhythm as it reaches its crescendo. That in itself is a surprise, like the art of cinema.
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