I finally saw it! On Sunday, which is why my Sunday fanfics were so late this week. And also why my dog had a mini-freak out over being left alone so long and got into the trash and gave herself a stomach ache. But it was more or less worth it.
This is an interesting film to think about why it is a hit. Besides the obvious factors like decent action scenes, good songs, big star name, good promotion strategy. But beyond that, it hits into a certain desire on the part of the public, for the perfect unquestioned leader.
This is a desire that is both political and filmi. Indian films are built on stars, we want that big Star turn, the perfect hero striding across the screen as all the girls sigh. And the Indian public (not including myself in this, I’m not Indian public although I am Indian filmi audience) like most citizens that exist within the messiness of democracy sometimes desires that simple all powerful answer to all their problems instead of the confusion of taking personal responsibility.
(just look at the pretty face and don’t think about the importance of individual rights and determinations)
It’s funny, the whole message of this film from the political speeches is “take responsibility, follow the rules, society only prospers when each person does their best”. But if you look through that, the fantasy is a society where no one has to take responsibility. Mahesh Babu tells us how to think and what to think and all we have to do is obey his orders. There is no voting, there is no reasoning on our own behalf, there are no legitimate alternative arguments, nothing. You make one choice, to follow Mahesh, and then you give up all your other choices to him.
And I think maybe that is why this is Mahesh’s first big hit in ages. He isn’t a movie star that is inevitably egotistical in this way. Yes, his films tend to revolve around him being perfect, but in 1:Nenokkoddine and Spyder (of the Mahesh films I have seen) there was something to challenge that perfection, the plot was about more than just Mahesh saying and doing stuff. The audience had to question what was happening, reason things out for themselves a little. Mahesh-the-Star chose to take a back seat to the script and the plot, to let other factors shine and engage the audience.
(The songs were still about Mahesh being perfect, but at least that wasn’t the whole film)
Not in this film. I kept comparing it with even Srimanthadu, the last time Mahesh and Koratala Siva collaborated. In that one, there was some discussion of village improvements, the romance included a (minor) challenge to Mahesh to win over the woman he loved, and there was a lengthy flashback revolving around Mahesh’s father, not himself. All of those elements in this film were clearly present at one point, and then ruthlessly removed. The romance has no challenge to Mahesh’s perfection, he wins over the heroine easily. His father, after being established as “noble”, is never really given a chance to show why he was noble, what he did that was so great, in fact we get an impression of someone who made mistakes that Mahesh has to clean up. This movie is all Mahesh and nothing else.
And maybe that’s what the audience wants. Spyder challenged us to think about the nature of evil, where it comes from, how to defeat it, and how the modern world encourages it to grow. This movie challenges us not to think, to accept the perfection of our hero Mahesh without questioning it, both onscreen and off.
Because Mahesh is so much the center of this film, there isn’t much to discuss besides him. Prakash Raj is predictably wonderful, as is Ajay. I want to particularly call out Brahmaji as Mahesh’s personal assistant and sounding board, who takes what could have been a dull role and really makes it stand out.
All the female actors are superfluous. Not just Kiara Advani as the love interest (playing essentially the same character journey that she had in MS Dhoni from “average girl” to “media hounded one true love of famous man”), but also Aamani and Sithari as Mahesh’s mother and stepmother, and especially Kaumudi Nemani as his sister who, I swear, in one scene looked directly at the camera with a clear expression of “Do you think these idiots will ever give me a real line of dialogue or do will just stand here the entire movie offering tea without being acknowledged?” Our hero has a complex family background, but it is dealt with primarily in terms of his relationship with his father and his younger brother. The two women who could have answered most of his questions about, well, EVERYTHING are written out of the plot and left to stand there silently in the background.
But I guess this is what the audience wants. A fantasy of being the perfect hero who has everything work out perfectly for him and does everything just right. Nothing to break through that fantasy, no other characters to challenge him or true conflicts in the narrative, nothing. I’m glad Mahesh has a hit, he deserves it after taking a risk on Spyder and seeing it fail, but I hope this doesn’t stop him from taking risks. I want him to keep challenging his audience and his fans, making us take responsibility for our own interpretations of a film, our own characters we care about, our own plot points we find important, instead of simply spoonfeeding us the simple message and the simple answer.