‘Bhagavanth Kesari’ movie review: Anil Ravipudi, Balakrishna outing is mediocre at its best

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Sreeleela and Balakrishna in director Anil Ravipudi’s Telugu movie ‘Bhagavanth Kesari’

Sreeleela and Balakrishna in director Anil Ravipudi’s Telugu movie ‘Bhagavanth Kesari’

Anil Ravipudi, who has written and directed Bhagavanth Kesari, had stated in a few pre-release interviews that, in his first collaboration with Nandamuri Balakrishna, he has tried to make a film that will not limit itself to appealing to the star’s fanbase. Sure, there is an attempt not to tread a path similar to Balakrisna’s recent films. Anil Ravipudi gives Balakrishna something new to play with by making him an adavi bidda (son of the forest) speaking the Telangana Telugu dialect, with a smattering of Hindi. In his typical style Balakrishna reiterates, ‘I don’t care’ (the film’s tagline) and delivers more punchlines than one can keep track of. At the same time, there is a heavy dose of women empowerment message hammered through the character played by Sreeleela. Thankfully the 22 year old isn’t cast as Balakrishna’s romantic interest and gets a substantial part. Anil also does away with duets between Balakrishna and Kajal Aggarwal. But, is all this enough?

Bhagavanth Kesari (Telugu)

Cast: Balakrishna, Kajal Aggarwal, Sreeleela, Arjun Rampal

Direction: Anil Ravipudi

Music: S Thaman

Storyline: Bhagavanth Kesari has unfinished business with an old foe and is also tasked with raising a young girl and making her strong enough to join the Indian Army.

In the film that runs for 164 minutes, Anil spends substantial time setting up the world of Bhagavanth Kesari. The story follows a predictable trajectory. We know from the moment he is introduced in prison that he has a past and an unfinished business. The moment we see Sarath Kumar as a police officer and his young daughter, we know what to expect. After a turn of events, the onus of protecting the girl as a father figure falls on Nelakonda Bhagavanth Kesari aka NBK aka Nandamuri Balakrishna. Acutely aware of the star he is dealing with, Anil Ravipudi reminds us time and again that NBK is no ordinary name. 

The bond between Kesari and Vijayalakshmi (who grows up to be Sreeleela), who considers him a superman, becomes the crux of the drama. The girl has anxiety issues and Kesari, or chicha as she calls him, tries to instil courage in her to become steely enough to join the Indian Army. 

Several one-note characters are peppered throughout the narrative. We hear at least three men in different age groups asserting that women should stick to marriage, home and children and not take up physically challenging tasks. A voice of reason is the psychologist Katyayani (Kajal Aggarwal) whose character is poorly sketched, and it is tough to take her seriously. Much of the pop psychology she doles out wouldn’t cut it in real life. 

As though to make up for the lack of comic segments, the narrative weaves in inane jokes around how Katyayani finds Kesari’s salt and pepper persona interesting and tries to woo him. At one point, he refers to her as ‘aunty’ since she is 30 plus. This is supposedly a joke and many in the cinema hall cheered, unmindful of the irony. Another segment that unfolds in a police station is also packed with vile humour and sets the stage for the male saviour to flex his muscles.

In times like these, I wondered what’s the point of all that women empowerment message when the film couldn’t avoid such writing. 

Parallel to the father-daughter story is the track involving business tycoon Rahul Sanghvi (Arjun Rampal) who talks about the law of nature aka Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. As expected, the father-daughter story and that of Kesari-Rahul merge to revive an old tale of revenge. Rampal’s is not too different from the cardboardish villain characters for which Telugu cinema casts popular names from Hindi cinema. Rampal having dubbed in Telugu makes it slightly better. 

The long-drawn action drama packs in a handful of action sequences in which Balakrishna remains invincible and unleashes more punch dialogues. Sometimes he just needs a steel bucket to take on a gang of goondas. At other times he might drive a lorry into a harbour or a bus into a palatial mansion. Anything is possible. But it also gets tiresome. There is a sliver of fun in reference to a heavy gun, like the one used in a few recent Tamil blockbusters, and Balakrishna stating that his audience would want more ‘sound’ and goes blazing all guns.

Towards the fag end, the film decides that it’s time to deviate from the male saviour complex for a few minutes. Sreeleela, who gets the most substantial part in the film next to Balakrishna, makes the best of it.

Bhagavanth Kesari places Balakrishna in a less noisy setting than his recent films and gives him the space to explore the emotional father-daughter bond. It also shows that he is self-aware when he sings a few lines of a song, as a reference to a viral Instagram meme, and declares that he doesn’t care. For those who think these small deviations are enough, the film is a win. For the rest, there are other choices.

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