White Guy Watches Bollywood

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

Telugu Movie Review: Mahesh earns his paycheck in the otherwise underwhelming Guntur Kaaram

Mahesh Babu stars in "Guntur Kaaram," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

Moviegoers who buy a ticket to Guntur Kaaram chiefly because they are fans of Mahesh Babu will get what they paid for, if not much more. The star is effortlessly charismatic in the lead role of Veera Venkata Ramana, the long-disowned son of a political dynasty whose childhood trauma turned him into a delightful smartass of an adult. The film chiefly focuses on Ramana’s (ex-)family’s attempt to get him to sign a contract formally disassociating from them, which is tied to shifty political maneuvering by his grandfather Venkata Swamy (Prakash Raj) as his mother Vasundhara (Ramya Krishnan), who walked out on Ramana as a child, is appointed as an MP. With a different lead actor, this story could have quickly descended into a cut-rate Shakespearean soap opera, but Mahesh approaches his character with such a light touch that his antics in resisting the contract are always fun and often very funny. Especially in the first half, it’s a pleasure to watch Ramana evade the signing process, even though it gets repetitive.

Not only is Mahesh charming and funny in the role, he’s also more than capable as both a dancer and an action hero, even though the film overall comes up a bit short in both departments. The fact that Guntur Kaaram marks Mahesh’s reunion with writer/director Trivikram Srinivas – their third collaboration together, coming 13 years after their last (Khaleja) – is certainly being hyped up by the press and the film’s publicity campaign. But it would be hard to argue that Trivikram provides his film nearly the same amount of juice that Mahesh does. Not only is the movie’s story itself something of a disappointment – we’ll get into that in just a moment – but the filmmaking feels pretty lazy. The action set-pieces are only memorable because of Mahesh’s swagger as the fun-but-still-menacing-enough Ramana, not because of any editing or staging choices, all of which feel very dated. The same goes for the musical numbers, which would be total snoozes if not for the raw energy of Mahesh and romantic co-star Sreeleela, who can seemingly thrust her hips faster than any other living human.

Speaking of Sreeleela, it definitely feels like this mediocre movie may put her burgeoning career into “panic mode,” the latest in a long string of bad choices. Don’t get me wrong, she delivers another charming performance here as Ammu, the influencer daughter of Pani (Murali Sharma), a lawyer tasked with procuring Ramana’s signature who’s willing to use his child as a pawn to secure it. Ramana falls head-over-heels for Ammu at first sight, comically tongue-tied from the moment she tries to endear him by calling him “Ramu.” Sreeleela’s banter with Mahesh adds fun vigor to the film, with Mahesh’s puppy-doggish attraction to her an amusing and relatable element. She’s also very watchable, as I mentioned, in the musical numbers; while her dance performances don’t vary a whole lot from movie-to-movie in my observation, her energy and her smile are infectious. But despite her strong screen presence, Sreeleela can’t seem to pick a really good film to star in. Last year, I was one of the only moviegoers defending Extra Ordinary Man, while Skanda was panned and Bhagavanth Kesari garnered mixed-at-best reviews.

Ho-hum musical numbers and action sequences notwithstanding, the area that Guntur Kaaram comes up short – the part of the equation that not even its talented stars can make up for – is its story/plot. The setup seems promising enough, with the movie opening on a transformative event in Ramana’s youth involving arson, which sends his mother back to her family and his father (wrongly) to prison for a decade. Because we’re given relatively limited explanation of what happened and why – just that Ramana’s parents’ inter-caste marriage created extreme friction – we assume that this incident will be the fulcrum for many juicy post-interval reveals. But in actuality, the film has only one significant twist up its sleeve, and it completely fizzles when the time comes for it. This makes the rather repetitive nature of the first half – Ramana’s maternal family trying to get him to sign – seem even more arduous after the fact. In the moment, I was living with what felt like sluggish pacing under the presumption that shocking, rewarding twists were to come. But they never did. The one big reveal towards the end chiefly tries to appeal to the viewers’ emotions, milking the universality of the mother-son bond, rather than standing on the merits of its own cleverness. There just isn’t enough narrative “meat on the bone” in Guntur Kaaram to justify a two-hour-and-39-minute running time.

Thus, if you’re not already a big fan of Mahesh, there’s no real reason to see Guntur Kaaram; it’s an average cinema offering at best. But if you love the actor and make a point of seeing everything stars in, there are certainly worse ways to spend an evening. He exudes chemistry in the way that only true stars can, and his pairing with Sreeleela here makes for a good onscreen dynamic. But at both the script level and the technical level, Guntur Kaaram is a total nothingburger; the cast’s best efforts are all that is there to carry the audience through.

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

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