Writer and director Vakkantham Vamsi’s Telugu film Extra Ordinary Man is one of the pleasant surprises this year. On the surface, it appears like a comedy that relies on gags. But there’s some smart writing that brings together gags, pop culture references and satire on the film industry to narrate how Abhi (Nithiin), a junior artist or an ‘extra’, becomes an extraordinary man.
If you have watched the promos, you would be aware of the Baahubali reference, which has now become meme material. The film’s protagonist, Abhi, is a junior artist who is the seventh person in the sixth row singing ‘Dandalayya’. Always asked to step back on film sets, at home he counters his father’s (Rao Ramesh) acerbic remarks with quick wit. Vamsi wastes no time in setting up the premise. We listen to Abhi’s story as he narrates it to another artist, Selvamani (Sampath Raj). Neither of their artistic talents have been tapped.
The film asserts that artists have no shame, or rather, should not have shame. So Abhi takes all the jibes in his stride. He is perpetually in the background, even in Srimanthudu, and no one has noticed him, except Likhita (Sreeleela), who remembers his face since her laptop hung when she was watching a film.
Extra Ordinary Man (Telugu)
Cast: Nithiin, Sreeleela, Rao Ramesh, Dr Rajashekhar
Direction: Vakkantham Vamsi
Music: Harris Jayaraj
Storyline: How a junior artist or an ‘extra’ becomes an extraordinary man.
If we expect Abhi, portrayed to have a sunny disposition at all time, to be brooding beneath the surface, the film side steps that weepy route. Vamsi also gets done with the pop culture references and the father-son tug of war in the initial portions since he wants to steer the narrative in a different direction.
For a while, the silliness is reminiscent of the recent Aadikeshava when the story shifts to a corporate set up. It almost looks like they have lost the plot, until Vamsi uses this set-up to show what can happen when an artist is lured back into the fickle industry where things can change at the bat of an eyelid.
When the real twist happens, I smiled at how minutes ago Abhi enacted a Kantara-like possessed situation. As Abhi calls it, the ‘Maisamma screenplay’ takes over thanks to divine intervention from the goddess he has been praying to.
Extra Ordinary Man sets itself up for a tough path and despite a few interesting points as to how it uses the fact that a film is never shot in chronology to push the story forward, it gets weary. At one point when Abhi asks if it is time for the climax, it is as though he can read the mind of the audience.
Several characters are introduced for the ‘Maisamma screenplay’. Neither do all of them make a mark nor do all the jokes land. The portions in the village, the police station and a villain called Nero (Sudev Nair) are overstretched. Thankfully the film redeems itself in the last act and makes way for some more fun.
Extra Ordinary Man relies heavily on Nithiin and to an extent, on Rao Ramesh, and the two are in good form. Rohini is apt as the doting mother whose characterisation is occasionally turned on its head. The only major gripe has to do with Sreeleela who finds herself in yet another decorative role with not enough to contribute.
Dr Rajashekhar appears in an extended cameo and his part changes the course of the narrative. There’s a fun use of a song from his Ankusam for a situation. The film has a few other fun ‘meta’ references to the industry, including one that involves Pavithra Lokesh.
The film does not take itself too seriously but does not relegate itself to delivering a mindless comedy. There are smart touches in how it utilises an actor’s preparation for what comes later and answers if it is that easy to hoodwink the police department.
Extra-Ordinary Man is sometimes smart, sometimes silly and overstretched, but packs in a lot of fun.