The stage that has been ravaged by time and fire has witnessed better times; an ageing actor who stands amid the ruins on that stage has also witnessed better times. His story serves as a foil to discussing the purpose of art and the fragility of fame. Director Krishna Vamsi’s Telugu film Rangamarthanda, which arrives in theatres nearly six years after his last film Nakshatram, is an adaptation of the acclaimed 2016 Marathi film Natsamrat, headlined by Nana Patekar and directed by Mahesh Manjrekar. Krishna Vamsi’s film is led by Prakash Raj and Brahmanandam, and supported by Ramya Krishna, Shivathmika Rajashekhar and others. The cast infuses life into a drama that discusses several facets of an actor’s life but eventually gets weighed down by a cliched treatment of old tropes.
Raghava Rao (Prakash Raj) bids adieu to his stage career soon after he is conferred the title of ‘Rangamarthanda’, in recognition of his mastery as a stage actor. The throw of his voice is no longer what it used to be; he understands the withering that comes with age and calls it a day when he is still revered. He hopes to lead the rest of his life in peace. But he does something that is not pragmatic — gives away his house and savings to his son Ranga Rao (Aadarsh Balakrishna) and his daughter Sridevi (Shivathmika). His ever-supporting wife whom he calls Raju ‘garu’ (Ramya Krishna), cautions him. Whether his faith in his children will hold good is anyone’s guess.
The conflicts between the elders and their son and daughter-in-law Geetha (Anasuya Bharadwaj) follow a staid path that we’ve seen in several older Indian films. The battle lines gradually come to the fore and the differences between the generations play out in a predictable manner. Krishna Vamsi takes an old-school approach to drive home the point about the relevance of native language, literature, arts and food systems. Aspiring actor Siddharth (Ali Reza), who wants to be ‘a pan-India superstar’, rubbishes the art of acting for the stage; the health-conscious Geetha frowns at the staple traditional diet. And, an international school asserts that speaking in ‘Telgu’ (the spelling in this review is intentional, to reflect the scene in the film) is punishable. Though well intended, all these issues are hammered in a preachy manner.
Cast: Prakash Raj, Brahmanandam, Ramya Krishna
Direction: Krishna Vamsi
The film contrasts the story of Raghava Rao and his children with that of his friend Chakrapani (Brahmanandam) who has no wards. As their lives go through a downward spiral, the friends have only memories of their art to hold on to. The film rests on the shoulders of Prakash Raj and Brahmanandam. Prakash Raj steps it up when he has to depict the exuberance of a theatre actor and plays it down in the scenes where he quietly takes the barbs from his children. Brahmanandam, cast in a part that hardly lets him smile, leave alone crack a joke, leaves us moist-eyed as he delivers a monologue in the later portions of the film. Unlike her famous authoritative characters such as Sivagami or Neelambari, Ramya Krishna slips into the part of a wife who displays quiet strength and can see through the plans of her children.
A surprise in the cast comes in the form of singer Rahul Sipligunj as a Telangana folk-inspired fusion musician; he puts up a restrained act and offsets the exuberance of Shivathmika’s character. Aadarsh and Anasuya’s characterisations, most of the time, appear to be one-note. He is meek, while she is the stereotypical bad daughter-in-law. They try to put their best foot forward within the limitations of their characters. Shivathmika is cast as a child-woman wears her heart on her sleeve and delivers what is expected of her.
Rangamarthanda tries to go where most mainstream Telugu films do not. The opening lyrical rendition of ‘Nenoka natudni’ (I am an actor), in which Chiranjeevi lends voice to Lakshmi Bhoopal’s lyrics that discuss the life of an actor, and Ilaiyaraaja’s music, establish right at the beginning that Krishna Vamsi wants to veer away from the oft-treaded path. There are several references to both Telugu and English plays through the narrative that complement the philosophical discourses concerning artists and life.
If only the family ties had been explored using incidents and tropes that do not seem like they are plucked from a two or three-decade-old movie or television series, this film would have been worthwhile.