Chennai, 13 May 2018 17:42 IST
Keerthy Suresh in the title role of the late Savitri produces what is arguably her best performance so far and simply carries the film.
Mahanati, by director Nag Ashwin, is based on the life of one of South India's finest, most loved actresses, Savitri. The film, dubbed in Tamil as Nadigayar Thilagam, pays rich tribute to the legend, who was not only known for her acting skills, but also for her kindness.
Producers Swapna Dutt, Priyanka Dutt and Aswini Dutt need to be congratulated simply for having chosen to make a film of this nature. Undertaking a task of this magnitude requires a certain courage and full marks to the team for having attempted this venture.
Making a biopic on a legend is no easy task and the team has done a fantastic job of not just researching the great actress's life, but also ensuring that it is properly reproduced on screen.
Keerthy Suresh as Savitri is brilliant, delivering arguably the finest performance of her career so far. She simply carries the film on her shoulders. Apart from getting a look that bears a striking resemblance to the late actress, Keerthy has also taken pains to study her mannerisms. Be it her walk, her talk, her frown, laughter or even, for that matter, her anger, she seems to know it all by heart.
The effort she must have put in is evident from the fact that she took four hours just to put on the makeup every day and then shot for anywhere from eight to ten hours after that.
And it is not just one phase of Savitri's life that has been reproduced on screen. From the time she was a child till the time she breathed her last, every stage of her life and the most important events in the respective periods have been beautifully captured and narrated. Keerthy deserves full credit for changing her appearance accordingly in each phase.
Simultaneously, Nag Ashwin deserves a big round of applause for researching Savitri's life so well and narrating beautifully the most significant incidents of her life in an engaging manner. While people, including fans, have known of Savitri's astounding performances on screen, not many knew of the pain she suffered through most of her life.
Savitri's initial years, when she longed to meet her father (whom she never could meet), her years as a drama artiste, her entry into films, her meeting with Gemini Ganesan, how she fell in love with him and ended up marrying him, the difficulties she faced as a result of that marriage, the ego problems that emerged as a result of her successful career, the difficulties she faced as a result of backstabbers and cheats looting her money, her trouble with alcoholism and, finally, her last days in hospital have all been recreated exceptionally well. More importantly, the bold manner in which Savitri faced the most difficult of times has been highlighted well.
For instance, the film recreates this incident in which a short-tempered veteran director learns just before shooting a scene that the glycerine bottle is broken and so the unit is out of glycerine, needed to make the heroine cry in the scene. Fuming, he lambastes the assistant director responsible for keeping the glycerine ready.
Savitri steps in to rescue the AD, and offers to do the scene without glycerine. However, this only results in the director turning his fire on her. He says he cannot keep shooting the scene 50 times. She responds by saying she will get it right on the first take.
Savitri's reply touches a raw nerve. "This is not a joke," he retorts. "I want you to express a feeling of love and sorrow at the same time. I want you to showcase love in one eye and sorrow in the other. You cannot do it in one take." Savitri calmly says she can.
The director looks to make life difficult for her. He says, "I want you to show love in one eye. I want you to shed tears in the other. Not in both eyes but in just one eye." Savitri is unperturbed. She says she will do it. She goes on to ask, "How many drops do you want me to shed?" Now, the director is truly furious. He says, 'Oh, so you think you are that good? I want two teardrops. Exactly two drops, not a drop more! If you can’t do it, you will have to fall in front of the camera in front of the whole crew and apologize!’ Savitri agrees.
Needless to say, she does exactly what she had promised, stunning not just the director but the entire crew which breaks into applause. Chastened, the director blesses her, saying her name will continue to prevail as long as Telugu cinema lives.
This is just one of the many incidents that have been showcased in the film, which has some scintillating music by Mickey J Meyer. The number 'Sada Nannu', which looks like it is set to raga Kambhoji, is particularly delightful. The background score is apt, accentuating some fantastic visuals from Spanish cinematographer Daniel Sanchez Lopez. Each shot in the film is a work of art and there is not one scene that is found wanting in terms of lighting.
A special word of appreciation is also due for the art direction team which must have gone through hell to reproduce the bygone era. They have done a fantastic job of recreating a period about which there is little information today.
The film, though, is not without its flaws. Apart from Keerthy Suresh and Naga Chaitanya, who plays his grandfather Akkineni Nageshwara Rao in the film, most other actors fail to impress. Dulquer Salmaan as Gemini Ganesan fails miserably. Gemini had a gentle voice and curly hair. Dulquer, in the film, is just the opposite. He does nothing to even mildly remind us of the late star. In fact, when he makes his first appearance in the film, addressing the media on getting to know of Savitri's condition in hospital, one is left wondering who this person is. It took this reviewer a good 10 minutes to realize that Dulquer was playing Gemini.
Two other artistes who fail miserably are Samantha Akkineni and Vijay Deverakonda, who play journalists. Samantha's character is supposed to have a stammer. But the manner in which she plays the role leaves a lot to be desired. Normally a reliable actress, she fails in her role on this occasion. Vijay Deverakonda, who plays a photographer, looks funny and weird. All these characters reduce the authenticity of the story to an extent.
But these are minor problems in an otherwise exceptional project. This film endears Savitri to those who may not even have known of her. As for those who knew of her, this film will make their hearts heavy, leaving them with the saddest of thoughts and sweetest of memories of a generous, benovelent, trusting and bold woman, who truly deserves to be called a legend.
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