With Ram Gopal Varma (RGV), in spite of his last few films being unmitigated disasters, one still felt that he had it in him to strike back with a good film as one cannot deny that in the past, he has shown to possess a fine sense of film craft, no doubt. And with the right content, to be fair to him, he has hit the bullseye. The Rakht Charitra Saga based on the life of Andhra slain naxal turned political leader Paritala Ravi has been a dream project for him, or so he has always claimed. And it plays with much of the elements that RGV has effectively used to create his best works. So, is part I of the story that Ramu has been ‘dying’ to tell on the big screen for years now, a welcome return to form? Well one would have to say, and emphatically so – NO! In fact, as you watch the film, you actually feel that he’s lost the plot totally.
The problem with the film, tracing the rise of Pratap Ravi (Vivek Oberoi) from a soft-spoken person to a rebel in the jungles to taking revenge on his father’s (Rajendra Gupta) and brother’s (Sushant Singh) deaths to becoming a minister in the State Cabinet of Cief Minister, Shivaji Rao (Shatrughan Sinha) and vowing to end goonda raj, is that it is more a severe assault on the senses rather than good, engrossing, simple, cinematic storytelling. Unfortunately for Ramu, for the two decades and more that he’s been making films, technique always come first and he still believes that overblown in-your-face technical treatment in each department – be it the shockingly shoddy cinematography (such an overdose of wide-angled, obviously bad dramatic framing and lighting and lousily conceived movements), so called flashy cutting (overcut), looooud sound design with a loooouder background score, and enough so called ‘realistic’ action – makes for a hard-hitting epic that socks you in the solar plexus. Honestly, you’d think by now he’d have realized that what you need is good, solid content scripted coherently and Paritala Ravi’s life certainly gave him the inherent drama and some great elements to play with. But, they are put together most unimaginatively as the non-existent uni-layered screenplay, which is nothing but a succession of killings joined by a voice over, plays out like a typical C-grade South Indian type revenge drama action film following the killing of the hero’s father. Somewhere RGV has never managed to find a good enough writer post Anurag Kashyap and it has begun to show more and more with each subsequent film of his.
To make things worse, the film is pitched just too, too loud. People uttering supposedly hard-hitting but archaic and corny dialogue (the one about elephant and the ant for one) that went out of fashion with the 1980s action films, them grotesquely contorting their faces and screaming, thinking they are being intense – subtlety is not a word RGV has heard of I’m sure. Or that in cinema, less is more. What’s worse is the horrific and gruesome violence the film seems to glorify. Blood flows like water, women are slapped about with alarming regularity and filling up the story with little more than grotesque killings and using violence as a commercial item like this is simply not on. Beyond a point thanks to its relentlessness, the violence not just numbs you into submission but also sees to it that thereafter you frankly don’t care what happens in the film. Just about the only thing that lifts the film a notch or two is the trailer at the end of the film increasing the intrigue factor of what might follow in part 2 with Suriya’s entry and suggestion that the film could be a dynamic one-to-one fight to the finish between him and Vivek Oberoi. But whether that remains reason enough to watch the sequel and subject oneself to a similar assault on the senses again for over two hours with more gruesome violence thrown in as one sees Suriya’s revenge story remains highly debatable. To be honest, one is not looking forward to part 2 at all.
Coming to the performances, not one performance works. But that’s also because of the practically non-existent fleshing out of the characters, especially Ravi himself, so we are never with him on his journey at any time. Vivek Oberoi sincerely grimaces, contorts, screams, cries, shifts his chopper from hand to hand, and kills but fails to make much of an impact. But to be fair to him, he is badly defeated by the script with what could have been his more dynamic moments (particularly once he enters politics) totally ruined by an absolutely constipated voice over taking over them. In fact, his character is just not explored well at all and you fail to see – at least in this film – what was so interesting about Ravi and his life that Ramu was ‘inspired’ to make a film on him. That is the film’s biggest failure. And talking of the voice over, this is the worst and most literal use of a voice over I have seen in a film in a long, long time. Shatrughan Sinha sits in bad villainous don poses as if sprouting poetry instead of appearing the charismatic political leader he ought to have been while none of the rest of the cast are worth a mention. They all too go through the grimacing, contorting and screaming bits and think they are acting though it is possible that Abhimanyu Singh is likely to win some favourable reviews for his bit.
The technicalities, as mentioned, are way overblown and extremely attention grabbing in every department thereby failing to bring you into the story. But what shocks you the most is how tacky the film is. The shot taking is weird to say the least turning upside down and that too twice when a character merely enters a house (for what???) to extremely senseless use of slow-motion. The editing is jerky but defeated at times by the awful way the scenes are shot (the early scene with Narasimha Reddy and Nagmani Reddy for one or Ravi’s first meeting with Minister Shivaji Rao), the sound mix with sound jumps in several places too leaves much to be desired as if the sound mixer was given absolutely no time on the mix. In the early part of the film, even the dubbing appeared to be out sync. The music is noise with the one song adding nothing to the film. The much touted realistic, raw and violent action too is nothing compared to the grittiness of what one has already seen down south in films like Paruthiveeran, Subramaniyapuram or Renigunta. And to say the background score, without any moments of silence, is deafeningly loud is, like the film, stating the obvious. What’s with those chants???
One point here. The decision to totally re-cut the film as a single film in Tamil just to cash in on Suriya’s popularity in Tamil Nadu and not release it as parts I and II there because Suriya is practically not there in this part makes one question just how dear the film really is to RGV if he is so happy to make multiple versions according to market dictates and not have a single, strong vision himself. As it is, the casting of Suriya led to a Tamil version being added on to its Hindi and Telugu counterparts and what’s more, MAJOR money recovery to the producers on Suriya’s name from Tamil alone. So in that sense the producers are laughing all the way to the bank, the quality of the film be damned.
All in all, on the basis of Rakht Charitra – 1, you have to ask for he has been forgiven long enough now – Is RGV a spent force? But this being a two part film, one still wants to be fair, and make proper judgement only after having watched the second instalment and thus consider the film in its entirety. But on the basis of the evidence of this film – the answer seems to be a big and qualified YES. Still, on to November 19 (as of now) and Part 2… Sigh…
Hindi, Action, Drama, Color