History has always fascinated me, recreating all the glorious tales of kings and queens is something that has always attracted me from my childhood. One can always debate about the cinematic representation in question being true to facts (unless it’s a fantasy or fictional tale), but all said and done despite the passage of time and with the change in audience’s tastes, historicals still work by and large. But that comes with a rider though, today we are all cursed with an attention span deficit, anything which doesn’t engage us beyond a few minutes and we get restless. Considering this and the rising budgets of period films, it is all the more difficult these days to make a historical film and keep it engaging all the way. Something like Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodha Akbar (2008) today is an exception, what with the film’s duration of 213 minutes not being a deterrent as well to the audience who lapped it up eagerly. Keeping this in mind it’s a little unusual today to find a filmmaker wanting to make a historical film, that too one with a female protagonist in it as well. There aren’t too many such examples in Indian Cinema, with films like Razia Sultan (1983) or Sushmita Sen’s aborted attempt to make Jhansi Ki Rani are exceptions which come to mind.
Hence Gunasekhar’s Rudhramadevi which is now in theatres (original Telugu version and dubbed Hindi and Malayalam versions have released, Tamil version to release on 16th October) on paper is definitely an interesting and brave film to make in today’s times. Writer-director Gunasekhar is mostly associated with and respected for his Telugu films like Choodalani Vundi (1998) and Okkadu (2003). While he has been making films regularly, somehow unfortunately he hasn’t been lucky with any of his recent films. Naturally people were taken by surprise when it was announced that he would be directing and producing Rudhramadevi, a historical film based on the life of Rudrama Devi, a noted ruler of the Kakatiya Dynasty. This was quite unlike what he is used to making so far, as Gunasekhar had never attempted any period/historical tales in the past. Being a true historical tale obviously a lot of people can relate to the subject and considering the time period involved, it naturally seemed to suggest a big budget affair. Despite all apprehensions Gunasekhar managed to get the right kind of actors and even technicians on board including Ilaiyaraaja (music), Ajayan Vincent (cinematography) and A.Sreekar Prasad (editing). Naturally this made the project interesting and one of the more keenly awaited Telugu films of the year, though coming close on the heels of S.S.Rajamouli’s Baahubali, immediate comparisons were always something that Gunasekhar had to prepare himself for. After subsequent delays which included work on getting the 3D version ready, Rudhramadevi finally has made it to theatres.
The film is set in the ancient Kakatiya Dynasty of Orugallu (current Warrangal), where we see that the kingdom is ruled by an aging King Raja Ganapati Devudu (Krishnam Raju) who does not have any son to succeed him to the throne. His wife eventually delivers a baby girl, Rudhramadevi but fearing that the enemy kingdom of Devagiri would attack Orugallu on knowing this, Ganapati Devudu as advised by his minister Shiva Devaiah (Prakash Raj) announces that the kingdom has a male successor, Rudhradeva. Hence Rudhramadevi is thus raised as a boy, trained as a warrior and is soon made crown prince. There are enemies not just outside but also well within the kingdom as well and they are all constantly looking for opportunities to take control over Orugallu, but act with caution, thanks to the fear of Rudhradeva. Eventually it isn’t long before Rudhramadevi’s (Anushka Shetty) real identity is known to one and all. What happens from thereon? Does Rudhramadevi assume control of her kingdom, does she go on create a place for herself in history, vanquishing her enemies is what the rest of the film is all about.
In terms of the first half Rudhramadevi is fairly interesting and the main characters are utilised quite well. Gunsekhar’s narration also suggests that irrespective of whether you know the actual historical story or not the proceedings are interesting enough in the first half. Sadly the same cannot be said of the second half as the film goes on to lose its steam considerably. Why does the tale hover around the point of Rudhramadevi’s gender identity for soo long, leaving very little screen time for her heroic act? Considering the kind of magnitude this film has, requiring a heavy emphasis on VFX, the output has been far from satisfactory. The first half isn’t perfect and despite below par VFX it still had enough meat in its screenplay, the second half does not benefit from Gunasekhar’s writing. Actually it looks like not enough care was taken to focus on the 2nd half and I can only guess this considering the kind of mess that the film goes on become post interval.
Despite impressive art direction by Thotta Tharani , there is no seamless merger between the sets and CGI, hence hampering the visuals. Oh! By the way the 3D work is another aspect which is far from satisfactory; perhaps a release in 2D version alone would have been a better idea. Ajayan Vincent’s cinematography is good, but nothing outstanding. Neeta Lulla’s costumes certainly look interesting and do justice to the period chosen for the tale. Ilaiyaraaja’s songs (lyrics by Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry) are passable, with numbers like ‘Avuna Neevena Ne Vedhukutunna’ (sung by Hariharan and Sadhna Sargam) and ‘Punnami Poovai Vikasisthuna’ (sung by Shreya Ghoshal) being the better of the lot, the placement of the songs though isn’t all that good but the BGM does work though. The film has quite a competent supporting cast out of which Hamsa Nandini and Baba Sehgal get noticed while Ajay does not have much to do. Nithya Menon, Catherine Tresa and even Aditi Chengappa do could have benefitted from more screen time, in particular Nithya Menon who does well here too. Krishnam Raju, Prakash Raj, Suman and Aditya Menon carry out their roles effectively.
Vikramjit Virk appears menacing indeed, but doesn’t have anything else to project despite being given a prominent role. Also what was with the Hindi dialogues in the background during a few scenes where the focus is on the Devagiri thinktank?Rana Daggubati as Chalukya Veerabhadra is efficient, providing good support to Rudhramadevi. For a change Allu Arjun isn’t playing the protagonist and hence the focus isn’t always on him but nevertheless he gets all the crowd friendly dialogues and leaves a strong impression as Gona Ganna Reddy, making sure you remember his character effectively. Anushka does great justice to the central role of Rudhramadevi and is able to bring out a lot of variation between Rudhramadevi and Rudhradeva quite well. Be it in the stunt sequences, delivering fiery dialogues or in the songs, she appears quite convincing and literally carries the film on her able shoulders. Eventually Rudhramadevi sees Gunasekhar getting it right in terms of the subject but when it comes eventually to the scale and execution, the same cannot be said. Rudhramadevi is not quite the epic saga it set out to be, unfortunately.
Note: Rudhramadevi is playing with English subtitles outside AP and Telangana and the subtitles by Rekhs is quite good. But its a little funny to see the subtitles floating of sorts thanks to the 3D and at a few places the words are not clear enough. But in all likelihood this is a problem of the 3D version and most likely shouldn’t be so in case of the regular 2D version.