Rangasthalam movie review: Ram Charan, Samantha and ensemble cast shine in Sukumar's gritty film
Rangasthalam mirrors the brutal truth about politics in a village, and goes far beyond the cliches of lush green landscapes and happy lives that has come to define village-based dramas.
Towards the end of Rangasthalam, when Ram Charan accomplishes his mission, the titles roll in a jiffy leaving you glued to your seats as you try to process the explosive finale. Few minutes later, when you walk out of the theatre, your mind goes on an overdrive to find the right words to express your feelings: it’s been a while since we've seen such a raw and gritty film in Telugu cinema. Adjectives don’t do enough justice to what Rangasthalam manages to achieve in the end.
It made me wonder — 1) what makes a film great? 2) do you really know that a film is great while watching it? Perhaps, the answer lies in the details.
It would be a crime to brush aside Rangasthalam’s story as old wine in a new bottle. The trajectory of its characters might seem familiar, but this is a canvas where every character is real and emotional. While desperation and fear dictates the lives of most people, others are driven by greed and a thirst for power. Rangasthalam mirrors the brutal truth about politics in a village, and goes far beyond the cliches of lush green landscapes and happy lives that has come to define village-based dramas.
The story unfolds in the 1980s in a village, Rangasthalam, which is on the banks of Godavari. Among the many colourful characters who live here, the most interesting of them all is Chitti Babu (played by Ram Charan), whose hearing impairment earns him a nickname - ‘Sound Engineer’. He falls in love with Ramalakshmi (Samantha), who reciprocates his feelings. Chitti Babu’s elder brother Kumar Babu (Aadhi) is a well-educated young man who wants to something good for his village, which is under its president’s (Jagapathi Babu) control for almost 30 years.
Then, there’s Rangammatta (Anasuya), Chitti Babu’s aunt, who is awaiting her husband’s return from Dubai. Beyond the veneer of a normal village life, there’s tension simmering between the oppressed and rulers. And soon, it reaches a boiling point, which changes everything.
Sukumar takes plenty of time to familiarise us with all the characters in the film. Although it feels languid at times, it’s also a deliberate move to take us deep into the lives of the characters. When Chitti Babu first makes his entry into the story, he comes across as a simpleton who’s happy in his own world. But the more you get to know him, you begin to see how layered his personality is. His temperament, devil-may-care attitude, defines him as the story unfolds. And he becomes the epitome of rebelliousness that is used as a constant undercurrent throughout the story.
The same goes for Ramalakshmi, who’s playful and innocent at first, but her real strength becomes evident when she becomes aware of Chitti Babu’s true personality. In Kumar Babu, Rangasthalam finds its emotional anchor because he’s positioned as a voice of reason. In Rangammatta, we begin to see the dark secrets that people refuse to address until they have an emotional outburst. And even more terrifying is Jagapathi Babu, whose portrayal of the village president is spot on. His power is absolute and he knows that no one will ever dare to question him.
The film wouldn’t be what it is without its performances from the ensemble cast. Sukumar is known for his ability to redefine an actor’s image, but what he does with Ram Charan has to be seen to be believed. For the first time in a long long time, Ram Charan has shed his stardom to truly embody the spirit of the role he’s playing, and in doing so, he has not just outdone himself but also proved that there’s a lot of untapped potential in him that's waiting to be discovered. That it took almost a decade to find his voice is a surprise, but there couldn’t have been a better film to make a solid case that he’s an actor who’s full of surprises.
For Samantha, Rangasthalam turns into an playground where she brims with joy and verve that goes beyond the usual cliches. Along with Ram Charan, Samantha gets some of the best lines in the film and if you had any doubts about the sizzling chemistry between the two, watch out for that scene where both of them propose to each other. Aadhi is terrific in his role as a do-gooder, and Anasuya is a surprise addition to this terrific ensemble. She slips into her role quite effortlessly and makes quite a solid impression. After Nannaku Prematho, Jagapathi Babu finds himself in yet another role in a Sukumar’s film where his mere presence is enough to terrify others.
Apart from Sukumar’s writing, it’s impossible to ignore the technical brilliance of cinematographer Ratnavelu, whose paints Rangasthalam in earthy colours and wide angles while capturing the life in a village, which feels too small in the midst of its politics. Devi Sri Prasad’s music and Chandrabose’s lyrics deserve a special mention in terms of how well they capture the emotions.
Over the years, there’s been a fair share of criticism about Sukumar’s work — that it has become inaccessible to certain sections of the audience. While he has always focused on how twisted the lives of people are, he comes across as a different, perhaps a more refined, storyteller in Rangasthalam. To narrate a political drama is one thing, but to create such an universe within the parameters of a revenge drama is sheer brilliance. The more you dig into Rangasthalam, the more rewarding it is.
So, what makes a film great? Perhaps, it’s the after taste of the experience. The film is nearly three hours long, but there’s something about it that’s both visceral and sublime. It made me want to relive the experience all over again. Some would say that there has been a chasm between what Sukumar & Ram Charan have been wanting to do over the years and how it was received by the audience. Now, after all these years, Rangasthalam bridges the gap. In Ram Charan we find a brand new actor, and in Sukumar we find a master storyteller who is relentless in his approach to push himself.
Go watch Rangasthalam. It might take a while to warm up to it, but once you do, it’ll take your breath away.
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