One day in the 12th century, after his successful business trip to Asia, Marco Polo goes home to Italy. There he meets an emperor, worried because he has no male heir. “Solve my problem, Marco,” he tells Polo. Marco then proceeds to tell him how one Indian kingdom solved this very problem.
“We didn’t make this stuff up,” a narrator in the background seems to suggest. He throws in historical evidence and quotes names of obscure books to make it clear that this really happened.
The scene is as poorly done on screen as it is uninteresting on paper; Marco looks like Tom Alter with a high-maintenance beard that needs constant touching, his boats are hideously animated, and his king seems unable to emote. And that will be the curse of Rudhramadevi. A filmmaker with some talent – Gunasekhar (Okkadu, Choodalani Vundi), who took an exciting premise, and ruined it with poor screenwriting and hamhanded execution.
Narrated by an overused voiceover – Chiranjeevi’s – Rudhramadevi is a dramatized biopic. The story of a Kakatiya princess who was brought up as a boy for much of her youth. When the Queen gives birth to a girl in a kingdom surrounded by hostile enemies, the King and his mantri (minister) decide to tell everyone that the baby was a boy, to ward off succession questions. They bring her up in isolation, hiding the truth. Even from herself.
Until one day, when things become, well bleedin’ obvious to her.
Rudhramadevi is representative of the promise Indian history holds for filmmakers. And also representative of what lazy screenwriting can do to a movie. Gunasekhar writes like a filmmaker stuck in the 12th century, preferring verbals over visuals; and throwing in a loud and needlessly large supporting cast. The common thread here is everyone’s determination to loudly declare whatever they are about to do: “I will poison the well that he drinks water from, then he will drink it, and fall dead on the sword that I have planted right next to the well, and then his sliced body will be eaten up by the lion that I have waiting from him right next to the sword!”
So we have Rana Daggubati, as the prince’s (wink, wink) childhood friend; Allu Arjun (in a crowd-pleasing appearance) as a Gona Ganna Reddy, the local Robin Hood; a nod to Troy and battlefield scenes that will draw inevitable – and unfavorable – comparisons with that other Telugu epic this year, Baahubali. Nithya Menen and Catherine Tresa play 12th century loose-ammayis, until Nithya partly redeems herself.
There are no backstories to justify any of the rivalries or the relationships. People rarely interact with each other in the movie, half of which seems to unfold in the cartoon court of the Kakatiya king. The other half is where the villains declare their plans loudly for everyone to hear.
There is just so much talking and narrating. Is it any wonder that the best line in the movie is “Will you shut up?”
The gorgeous Anushka Shetty gamely soldiers on as Rudramadevi, putting in a restrained performance as a prince who is occasionally allowed to be a princess. She barely gets to perform: her role is limited to exchanging either knowing or bemused looks with someone or the other while seated on the throne. She shines in the poorly conceived battlefield scenes, one of which has her launching a number of boulders onto a rival army. The boulders roll over the soldiers, and flatten them; like how the bulletin board flattened Stanley Lambchop. Unfortunately for Gunasekar, Flat Stanley is a children’s book, while this is a serious battlefield scene.
Rana Daggubati looks imposing with very little time on screen (just like that other movie); and Allu Arjun steals the thunder in a rousing cameo as Gona Ganna Reddy. Speaking Telangana slang with ease and sporting a bleached beard, Arjun tries his best to shut everyone up, yelling at people to “Gammunundava?” When they don’t listen, he kills them.
The rest of the experienced cast sleepwalk their way through their roles; Prakash Raj talks a lot, Krishnam Raju and Suman plot loudly, and frequently try to look menacing; the usual. And the villain? Guy called Vikramjeet Virk who runs the kingdom next door. Poor kingdom, I tell you. Having a cartoon for a king must have been hard.
Sreekar Prasad’s editing, perhaps limited by the writing, is a surprising let down. There is no cohesion to the script, and no logic to the transitions. It cannot have helped that Gunasekhar decided to use comic book style still images – pictures of canals drying up, and later filling up; plants withering and greening up again – to showcase key moments. Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestral background score is typically competent, but the songs seem out of place and mediocre. That the saccharine sweet but eminently forgettable Punnami Poovai is the best song in the soundtrack is indicative of Raaja’s poor work in the movie.
Then there are the familiar Gunashekar tropes. In an iconic scene from his Okkadu, the hero – Mahesh Babu – is surrounded by the bad guys. He grins insolently, as the camera pulls back. Which is when the bad guys realise that they in turn are surrounded by Mahesh’s men. The stunts in Rudhramadevi make generous use of this idea, making various concentric shapes of surroundment. The bird formation that surrounds a snake formation that surrounds a…(it goes on).
In the end though, this is a movie let down not by technicians or performances; not by poor CGI work or lack of money. This was a movie whose promise was ruined by poor screenwriting. And, lest someone tell you otherwise, you don’t need a big budget to write a good movie.
Note: This reviewer watched a 2D version of the movie.
The Rudhramadevi Review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.