Chennai, 09 Jan 2019 21:54 IST
At 171 minutes, the film is long and progresses slowly at times, and it's only in the second half that director Krish stirs up a cocktail of emotions.
If there is one thing that prevents NTR Kathanayakudu, first of the long-awaited two-part biopic of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, becoming a masterpiece, it is the film's refusal to humanize and celebrate a legend.
The film really feels like an exercise in sanitizing the image of the larger-than-life actor-turned-politician-turned chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh.
Yet, as a film about an icon of Telugu cinema, Kathanayakudu gets a lot of things right and makes for a riveting watch, though at times it is really slow.
The film, directed by Krish aka Radhakrishna Jagarlamudi, pays rich tribute to NTR and the golden era of Telugu cinema. It takes a little getting used to, to watch and accept Nandamuri Balakrishna as NTR, especially when we see the former playing his father in his younger days.
NTR's shoes are simply too large even for his son to fill. Despite Balakrishna’s earnestness, he is clearly a lot more comfortable in the later portions when he plays an older NTR.
With Mahanati (2018), the Savitri biopic, still fresh in the memory of audiences, it is tough to shake off its hangover in NTR Kathanayakudu, especially when the narrative takes us in and out of the film sets of the 1950s and 1960s.
But you have got to hand it to Balakrishna for his conviction in the project. There is a beautiful scene on the sets of Mayabazar (1957) where Krish as KV Reddy is confident that only NTR can pull off the part of Krishna. The scene that follows is among the significant sequences of the biopic.
We continue to see NTR play scores of popular mythological characters and most of the first half is nothing but a show reel of popular scenes and songs from NTR’s hits. It is in the second half that Krish really stirs up a cocktail of emotions, paving the way for some intense moments.
In her Telugu debut, Vidya Balan is a treat to watch, her calmness and eyes that speak a thousand words contrasting with NTR’s histrionics.
Sumanth fits the bill as ANR aka Akkineni Nageshwara Rao, with a restrained portrayal that nearly matches his grandfather’s body language. It is these portions that break the monotony and breathe some life into an otherwise well-planned effort to idolize NTR and his achievements.
As we delve deep into the personal lives of these actors, the story gets much needed emotional heft. There are also references to Savitri’s extravagant lifestyle at the peak of her career.
At 171 minutes, Kathanayakudu is tiresome at times and, as far as the drama in NTR’s life is concerned, it looks like we will have to wait for the second part, Mahanayakudu.
Nevertheless, some terrific performances by the ensemble cast make up for the film's languorous pace. Even in their limited screen space, Rana Daggubati as NTR's son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu, Nithya Menen as Savitri and Rakul Preet Singh as Sridevi make quite an impact.
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