White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

Telugu Movie Review: Extra Ordinary Man dares to be so utterly absurd, it’s kind of irresistible

A still from the Telugu comedy "Extra Ordinary Man," written and directed by Vakkantham Vamsi and starring Nithiin and Sreeleela.

There have been a good number of aggressively, almost mind-bogglingly silly Telugu comedies this year, with Kushi and Rules Ranjann serving as prime examples. Many critics and regular moviegoers alike have commented that Extra Ordinary Man is perhaps the most relentlessly stupid and outdated of them all, and I have no real rebuttal. At times, even applying the loosest standards for comedy, the movie is so ridiculous that it’s downright hard to believe somebody actually financed it and gave it a worldwide release.  But something about the film’s manic energy and notable lack of a hard pivot to phony pathos in the third act – which was Kushi’s big undoing – endeared me to it in a major way. Imagine if Ace Ventura and Bowfinger had a Telugu-speaking baby, and you can begin to understand the complete madness that Extra Ordinary Man is dishing out. Sometimes, one just has to admire the sheer audacity of a film’s existence.

It’s hard to capture the frantic comedic spirit of Extra Ordinary Man in writing, but a straight-ahead plot summary is a good place to start. Abhinav (played by Nithiin) is a background actor who’s always in search of a big-break, leading-man role that’s never coming. But he somehow still stumbles into the prospect of unimaginable wealth when he uses his acting skills to help a more-than-tipsy businesswoman named Likitha (Sreeleela) out of a sticky situation at a drunk driving checkpoint (yes, really). Abhinav’s invaluable (read: clueless) assistance soon leads Likitha to make him both the CEO of her company and her boyfriend (again, yes, really). The only problem is: shortly thereafter, he’s asked to take the hero role in an old filmmaker friend’s new detective-versus-gangster movie, requiring him to bail on his burgeoning corporate career. Tragically, Abhinav accepts the role only to be dumped before shooting begins, leaving him once again both jobless and womanless, with nothing to show for himself. The fun is only just getting started, however, as a drunken and dejected Abhinav wanders into a new village only to realize that his life has literally become that of the film role he was just removed from.

Did you get all of that? If that setup seems preposterous and even morally questionable in more ways than one, then just wait until you hear what Extra Ordinary Man has in store for the audience next. Abhinav realizes that he can literally embody his never-to-be-filmed character arc – as if by magic – when he learns that the village he wanders into is lorded over by the very same gangster, Nero (Sudhev Nair), a truly heinous fellow who does stuff like burn dozens of villagers alive in a pit. And, like all actors with delusions of grandeur who take their work too seriously, Abhinav knows in this moment that his mission must be to reclaim his role as hero by taking down the real Nero. The only problem is: he’s committed to acting out his part in the same unchronological order originally planned for the film shoot, which is immensely confusing for the actual Nero and his men. For example, Abhinav warns Nero about his operation producing and distributing drugs, before the real-life Nero even gets the idea for said operation, which of course then prompts him to pursue it. It makes sense as you’re watching it… kind of.

If this all sounds incredibly asinine to you, that’s because it is. But sometimes deliberately asinine comedies can work when they press the right buttons. For my money, Extra Ordinary Man does exactly this. It rides such an unrelenting high-wire of ridiculousness that I had to simply submit to its warped reality and marvel at its repeated descents into silly madness.

Much of my ability to give myself over to the movie stems from the way that Nithin, in the lead role, and writer/director Vakkantham Vamsi work perfectly in tandem to deliver a singularly ludicrous vision. They go for absolute broke together. While there’s certainly a bit of a “lovable loser” in Abhinay, I especially appreciated that they didn’t overplay the sentimental notion of a man relegated to the background finally claiming his agency in the world. The recent Hollywood film Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds as a videogame “NPC” already did that about as effectively as an action-comedy can. Instead, Nithin and Vamsi play more into the delusional aspect of Abhinay’s acting aspirations here: when fantasy becomes reality, life heightens to the meet the same level of utter madness that exists within Abhinay’s head. The premise of the film effectively becomes: What if the most delusional, narcissistic actor’s pipe dream replaced ordinary life? In this scenario, enacted with hilarious literalism by Nithin and Vamsi, there’s not only outrageous physical comedy to be mined, but also some truly biting satire of the global film industry (and fame-hungry actors in particular).

The other members of the cast largely paint within the lines. Some will fault leading lady Sreeleela for playing such an airheaded character who is clearly only in the movie to provide a hearty handful of “eye candy,” but she’s so likable and magnetic in the thankless role that I’ll cut her some slack for the representational faux pas. Sudhev Nair plays Nero as a personality-challenged buffoon, which may not exactly require much in the way of acting abilities, but the approach services the film’s comedic sensibility quite well. Rao Ramesh and Rohini play Abhinay’s father and mother, respectively, and give us exactly what we’ve come to expect from the parents of an adult son who’s on the strugglebus in a Telugu comedy in 2023. Rajasekhar shows up relatively late in the film as the Inspector General who would have hired Abhinay to the Sub-Inspector post he assumes in order to investigate Nero – by which point, the film has gone full-cheese, and the veteran actor is more than willing to play along.

The production values of the movie are adequate overall. The action sequences in the second half are just well-constructed enough that they can credibly parody the gangster films that Extra Ordinary Man serves as an extremely silly send-up of. There are four original songs composed by Harris Jayaraj – “Danger Pilla,” “Brush Vesko,” “Ole Ole Paapaayi,” and “”Sirraaku Thaandavam” – and the musical numbers are generally very engaging with fun choreography, cinematography, and costuming, even if they aren’t the most memorable per se. But this is a zany comedy through and through, and the ultimate measure of its success is not filmmaking virtuosity, but whether the viewer has their share of belly laughs. I certainly did, and if you can put aside any potential embarrassment from publicly chuckling at material this actively dumb, you should too.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

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