Lakshmi's NTR movie review: RGV's political film fails to pack a punch despite its inherent drama
Lakshmi's NTR is touted to be a true version of the events that led to NTR’s political downfall in the early ‘90s, but in the end, you are more likely to remember it as a love story stained with gossip, hearsay, and political ambition.
Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) doesn’t make films. He just hurls cannonball-like ideas on to the audience. But there’s something distinct about his latest film, Lakshmi’s NTR, which he has co-directed along with Agasthya Majnu. Here, he turns it into a game of darts, where each idea or event is thrown at you with a sense of purpose, for a change. What’s different around this time is that, there are good guys and bad guys, and their morality isn’t blurred. This is about power grabbing, gossip, malice, legacy, but more than that, Lakshmi’s NTR is a love story about two people who know that their relationship will be questioned.
In a strange way, RGV pushes you to sympathise with the fate of NT Rama Rao, Telugu cinema icon and former Chief Minister, and the choices he makes when he’s lonely. While the filmmaker succeeds in his attempt to portray what led to the political downfall of NTR, the film itself feels underwhelming at times because of how the scenes are staged, despite its premise and explosive drama. But at the same time, full props to RGV and Agasthya for treating the characters as normal people. At no point does it seem like they overwhelmed with the story they are narrating. It could have easily gone wrong, but the film is engaging in parts and just when you think it’s going to hook you all the way, RGV loosens his grip and the darts don’t hit the target consistently.
The film begins with a voice-over where we are told that NTR (played by P Vijay Kumar), after losing the elections in 1989, is all alone in his home. His family has left him and his party members have lost all hope. It’s at this juncture of his life that Lakshmi Parvathi (Yagna Shetty) walks into his house and tells him that she’s eager to write his biography. Impressed with her relentless devotion towards him and his way of life, NTR gives her complete access to his life much to the dismay of his family and a section of the party. The rest of the story is about how their relationship breaks the family apart and creates a rift that’s too wide to bridge.
Like every other RGV’s film, Lakshmi’s NTR is also stripped to the bare essentials. There’s nothing exquisite about it, in terms of production design, because the directors want us to focus more on the characters and their motivations. The film doesn’t want or expect us to immerse ourselves into its world, and the transition from one set piece to another isn’t smooth. The film is broken down into chunks where each segment is the result of gossip and how it’s spun by the media. The consequences, as shown through the conversations between NTR and Lakshmi Parvathi, are devastating. No matter how much NTR tries to appease her, there’s no end to her fear and anguish. And slowly, their relationship becomes their biggest curse. On one hand, RGV does a fine job when it comes to establishing the motive of Babu (Sri Tej), son-in-law of NTR, to take control of the party, but at the same time, the filmmaker turns the NTR family saga into a joke. The actors, who bear resemblance to the real-life characters, make you chuckle first and no matter how serious the situation is, it still feels like a parody. There’s also another character, an actor named Mohan, who is treated in a similar fashion. Quite frankly, it’s frustrating to see RGV make such choices because his intent to make a serious drama might be honest but the execution is anything but that.
P Vijay Kumar and Yagna Shetty are good in their respective roles. Directors RGV and Agasthya invest ample time to build their relationship. It’s hard to say whether it’s authentic, but from the director’s point of view, the relationship between NTR and Lakshmi Parvathi looks believable. But the actor who truly steals the show is Sri Tej. As Babu, he breathes life into the role who plots the downfall of NTR, and he never looks out of character. The way he stares at NTR or Lakshmi Parvathi is enough to convey the emotional turmoil that he’s going through without saying a single word, and the power that he exudes through his followers is very well done. Apart from these three characters, the rest of the supporting cast are turned into caricatures.
The biggest asset of the film is the background score by Kalyani Malik, and some of the songs too fit well into the narrative. It’s amusing to re-imagine the political drama as a love story, and despite the lack of scale and cinematic heft, the film holds your attention to an extent. RGV’s biggest achievement in Lakshmi’s NTR is that he ends up portraying NTR as a normal person who couldn’t control the damage done to his power and reputation due to gossip and rumours, but as a film, Lakshmi’s NTR ends up being yet another drama from RGV’s factory which doesn’t pack a punch despite its inherent drama.
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