Oh boy, Spoiler section! For everyone else who’s already seen the movie like me and has Thoughts!
Whole Plot in One Paragraph:
Our Hero Allu Arjun is a laborer, who gets hired on as a day laborer cutting down red sandelwood trees to be smuggled out. He slowly climbs his way up the ladder by being unafraid of the cops, and keeping his mouth shut, and not backing down when the bosses try to make him take less. He agrees to handle smuggling and transport of the wood in return for a 4% cut of the profits. He starts to suspect the middle-man is cheating them and goes straight to the port to talk to the exporter who confirms and offers a better deal. He brings this back to the brothers he is partner with, and the middle-man, and the politician who overseas everything, and the politician makes him chief of everything because he has proven his intelligence. At the same time as this rise, he falls for a village girl and beats up one of his own partners to save her from rape. At the very end of the film, a new cop arrives, Fahad Faazil. He is not like the other cops, casually shoots smugglers and then lies about it, and threatens to arrest Allu Arjun and make him miss his wedding unless he raises his bribe. Right before the wedding, Allu Arjun finally snaps and gets the cop at gunpoint and humiliates him. Set up for Part 2, he has a partner still looking for revenge for being beat up, a cop who hates him, and a new marriage.
I completely lost track of the allies and enemies and so on and so forth about 20 minutes into this movie. Good news is, that doesn’t matter! All you need to keep your eye on is who the hero is and what the things he does and the things that happen to him reveal about who he is.
This is a movie with a message of radical capitalism. Social reform capitalism. Not about rich getting richer, but about how money and the pure acquisition of money can rebalance social injustices. Our hero is aggressively low caste/class. He wears tired dirty clothes, his hair and beard are out of control, and his skin tone leans dark. He has all the visual signs of a character who would usually be a nameless member of a crowd of laborers. But because he is smart and focuses on money, he gains power and independence and eventually rises above his social “betters”.
I’m really interested to see where this lesson goes. The film is set in the 90s, and it is a Part 1. In the 90s, there was a rise of new powers as the financial regulations in India loosened and suddenly the old family money groups had to welcome some new money. But then of course the world adjusted and now there is a new group of entrenched powers, internationally connected money people who use money to stay in power and keep others out. At least, that’s the big strokes I see from watching the movies and seeing how the storylines and who the heroes are shifted over time.
So possibly this is the story of 90s open market and deregulation bringing in this lower caste fellow. And the sequel will be the story of the state balancing the powers again and trying to bring him down. I’m REALLY hoping for a corporate evil too.
That’s the big thing I am getting from the whole red sandalwood smuggling plot. It’s about laborers finding an opportunity that is still open to them. Forests which they know better than the wealthy. Hardwork, which they also know better. No need to learn English, navigate urban spaces, get a degree, any of that. Our hero is aggressively part of this world, villages and dirt and beards and so on.
The romance follows those ideas as well. Yes, sure, it’s a village romance. But the way it is handled, he straight up pays her for a kiss!!!! This is not a perfect ideal romance. This is grungy and yucky. Not bad, not non-consensual, just not romanticized at all, like everything else in the film.
In a strange way, it’s very much a mood feeling of a movie. You embrace the vibe of the amoral universe and this hero who is aggressively unromantic, and just enjoy a series of things happening. Which is also why I am sort of out of things to say? Love that our hero is aggressively unpleasant, love that the romance is aggressively unromanticized without being rapey or yucky, and love that the whole message is “woot, laboring classes! Organize and rise!”