Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy movie review: Chiranjeevi stuns in Surender Reddy's rousing period drama
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy tells a fascinating story about a rebellion that’s never been explored in Telugu cinema.
castChiranjeevi, Nayanthara, Amitabh Bachchan, Sudeep, Jagapathi Babu, Tamannaah
The first war for Indian Independence, which happened in 1857, was a defining moment in India’s history. It sowed the seeds for a long freedom struggle and right from the rulers to the countrymen, everyone knew who they were fighting against. But then, it wasn’t the first rebellion against the British empire, and Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy tells the story of one such uprising which happened in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. Directed by Surender Reddy, the film explores the circumstances which led to the rebellion and how one Polygar, Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy, united everyone around him to fight for a common cause. The film delivers what it promises, but more than anything, it’s the sight of Chiranjeevi riding a horse into the battlefield to fight against the tyranny of the British empire that stays with you long after watching the film.
Before Surender Reddy dives into the life of Narasimha Reddy, he spends ample time to set the context in which the story unfolds. We are told that the Rayalaseema region, also known as Dutta mandalalu were ruled by Polygars; however, they were stripped off their power by the British East India Company. The lack of unity among the Polygars also meant that no one would raise their voice against the draconian tax laws that were being issued by the British empire. Under these circumstances, Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy (Chiranjeevi) takes a stand against the British government and sparks a rebellion with the support of thousands of people from the region. Although he’s the only Polygar to revolt against the British in the beginning, gradually other Polygars including Avuku Raju (Sudeep) and Veera Reddy (Jagapathi Babu) join hands with him. This angers the British empire and the rest of the story is about the numerous attempts made to crush the rebellion.
Among several other things, what the film gets right is how well the context is established quite early in the story. The heartbreaking visuals of people struggling to pay tax due to famine, and how the British government fleeces them down to the last penny is well captured. In another emotional sequence, Narasimha Reddy is moved to tears when a young boy steals rice because he couldn’t bear the sight of his mother staying hungry to feed them. This is a build-up to one of the best sequences in the film where Narasimha Reddy questions a small group of British soldiers about why they have to pay tax. The film’s true blue epic moment comes in the form of an action sequence where Narasimha Reddy avenges the death of a few innocent villagers who are humiliated by the British soldiers.
There are quite a few epic moments in Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, right from the drama between the characters and scores of battles which Chiranjeevi fights throughout the film. More than anything else, the film stands as testimony to Chiranjeevi’s dedication to cinema. He’s stunning in his role and the way he channelises his emotion into the character throughout the film is inspiring. He treads a fine line in the film because he isn’t a one-man army for most part of the story, and at every stage, he remains a leader who inspires people to follow his footsteps. Surender Reddy too focuses quite a lot on building the characterisation of other prominent characters in the film, especially those played by Amitabh Bachchan, Sudeep, and Jagapathi Babu. This is also a reason why several segments in the second half are so effective. Nayanthara looks regal in her avatar throughout the film, and Tamannaah springs a surprise in an emotional role.
On the contrary, the rhythm of the scenes feels a little off in the beginning, and it takes a while before the narrative reaches a tipping point. The film begins with the premise that Narasimha Reddy has been waiting for a chance to fight against the British empire, but when you think about the bigger picture, the story is about a man who undergoes a change before he inspires others. Except for one scene where he’s told that the Polygars have no more power, we don’t get enough moments where the character’s transformation is palpable. It almost makes the character seem like he already knew what he needs to do, and so, all he has to do is wear an armour. The film doesn’t dig deep enough into the emotional upheavals of anyone except for Chiranjeevi and Tamannaah to an extent. A major issue with the film is how it makes everything too convenient for Narasimha Reddy. The numerous battle sequences get redundant after a point. Yes, we are told that Narasimha Reddy’s life is in danger, but the danger is rarely dangerous enough. Hordes of British soldiers die on the battlefield, but Narasimha Reddy never suffers a major setback, which would want to make you root for him even more.
The film owes a lot to Rathnavelu’s spectacular cinematography and Julius Packiam’s background score. The title track composed by Amit Trivedi is a major highlight in the film, and so are the stunt sequences. Rajeevan’s production design, along with the costumes designed by Sushmita and Anju Modi, recreate a bygone era quite well, and Uthara Menon makes a mark with the styling for the supporting cast. Surender Reddy, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, finds himself on a tricky ground where the emotional undercurrent in the film could have gone unnoticed, but he springs a surprise every now and then in terms of how he portrays the characters in key moments.
At a runtime of nearly 170 minutes, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy tells a fascinating story about a rebellion that’s never been explored in Telugu cinema. Despite the familiarity of the genre, the film relies quite a lot on Chiranjeevi’s screen presence. And he packs a punch and how.
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