One of the luxuries that writer-director Krish enjoyed while making NTR Kathanayakudu was the freedom to stretch it as much as possible, since the biopic has been split into two parts. It is a luxury that he enjoys and ensures that his audience enjoys as well, albeit only to a certain extent. While Mahanati, based on actress Savitri’s life, was a crisper take on her life journey, NTR Kathanayakudu is a more exhaustive revisiting to the life and times of Nandamuri Tarakarama Rao, popularly known as NTR.
The movie traces the journey of a young Rama Rao (played by Balakrishna), a newly appointed sub-registrar in Bezawada, married to Basavatarakam (played by Vidya Balan) and father to a baby boy. The portions before the interval traverses through his struggles in the industry and how he turns it into his stronghold. This is where a whole lot of actors make cameos as film personalities of the yesteryears. Much like Mahanati, his initial struggle and commitment towards his work is shown well. But unlike Mahanati, the drama is not subtle and tends to become melodramatic, like the monologue on Andhra being different from Madras or the sequence around a death in his family. Also, the actors reprising yesteryear’s filmstars neither resemble the stars much nor try emulating them, which reduces the novelty. These are still minor aberrations and can be overlooked.
It is post the interval, where the movie changes its gears and starts to add the flavors of public service and politics. It is evident that the makers have the upcoming elections on mind and hence, the benevolent and public friendly side of NTR is carefully highlighted. The legends and cults about NTR and his charisma are in full display, with special emphasis given to his illustrious mythological characters. Balakrishna has certainly worked hard to appear uncannily similar to his father and the prosthetics and VFX have also helped to a great extent. He also delivers powerful dialogues well, much like his father. But he lacks the expressive and handsome face that his father had in his youth. You cannot blame him much, since his age shows on the screen. While NTR’s iconic Lord Krishna character was mounted with equal grandeur, Balakrishna looked slightly old. The most uncomfortable reprisal was Balakrishna playing Bruhanalla from Nartansala – a transgender character immortalized beautifully by his father. Unlike Keerthy Suresh who transformed herself in the Maya Bazaar portions in Mahanati, Balakrishna falls short of being as expressive as his father was in Nartanasala.
The music by M.M Keeravani adds the right amount of grandeur to the aura of NTR. This is one of the most restrained and measured performances by Balakrishna, who seemed more believable as NTR in the second half during the later years of NTR’s life. Vidya Balan plays a warm and supportive wife but gets a smaller part in the scheme of things. The rest of the cast is also fine in their parts. I wish Jr. NTR had played NTR in the younger days, just as I wish Naga Chaitanya would have looked better as the younger ANR. Having said that, both Balakrishna and Sumanth looked their part in the second half, when the movie traces the life of NTR in his 60s. Another wish I had was for the length to be shorter. Many sequences, such as the one with Relangi (played by Brahmanandam) or the unnecessary sermon to Savitri (played by Nithya Menen), could have been done away with to reduce the length.
In the end, NTR Kathanayakudu left me content but not completely happy. It has its flaws and has an evident underlying agenda overshadowing other aspects of NTR’s life. Yet, it makes for an engaging watch. The political side in NTR Mahanayakudu and its counter-attack in the form of YSR biopic, Yatra, will clash next month and it will be interesting to see who comes out as the messiahs of the masses. Till then, NTR Kathanayakudu taking us through the acting career of NTR, certainly makes for a decent watch.
My Rating – 3/5