Director: Nag Ashwin
Cast: Keerthy Suresh, Dulquer Salmaan, Samantha Akkineni, Vijay Deverakonda, Rajendra Prasad, Shalini Pandey, Mohan Babu and Naga Chaitanya
Nag Ashwin’s Mahanati is made with a purpose which is to celebrate the highs and lows in the life of legendary actress Savitri, who was a star in her own right. While it’s debatable why the film paints a very positive picture of the veteran, whose life was filled with controversies, it’s still laudable that the film succeeds in evoking a sense of pride in watching the story of a legend unfold on screen in the most inspiring and hard-hitting fashion. And by the end of the film, we’re convinced that no other filmmaker could have done justice to Savitri’s life as much as Ashwin.
The film opens with the news of Savitri slipping into coma in Bangalore. She’s rushed to the hospital and as the news spreads, hordes of people surround the building, cheering and praying for her. We read quick glances of newspaper headlines and one headline – PM pays ailing Savitri a visit in hospital – is sure to catch one’s attention. It’s just five minutes into the film and such a headline is sure to pique one’s curiosity. As a viewer, we immediately wonder how big a star was Savitri that a country’s Prime Minister was interested in her well-being.
A young journalist, assigned to write a piece on Savitri, gets to know her through various sources and the story is narrated through her eyes. The first time we see Savitri is in a film set. Filmmaker KV Reddy is getting ready for a shot and the scene requires Savitri to cry. Seconds before the shot, it is learnt that they’ve run out of glycerine. Cut to a furious Reddy, who wants to pack up for the day. He’s intervened by Savitri and she convinces him that she can cry naturally. She says she can exactly cry two drops and she leaves everybody in awe with the scene. Savitri doesn’t like to be told she can’t do something. In the very first scene, we’re given a clear picture about her strong-willed personality.
In brief scenes, we learn about Savitri in her childhood. She’s raised by her mother and her uncle. The flashback portion is fun, but slightly tedious at times as it’s quite lengthy. She falls in love with Gemini Ganesan, who happens to be the first person to believe in her when she comes to Madras with the dreams of being a movie star. The portion between them is heart-warming, at times naïve and equally gut-wrenching, especially in the latter half of the film.
Mahanati crushes several pre-conceived notions about Savitri. The world has known her as an alcoholic, but the film in detail shows why she got addicted to alcohol. The world didn’t know Savitri, after losing most of her wealth, saved up to start a rehabilitation centre to help people suffering from alcohol addiction. The world has only known her as a star, who later became an alcoholic, but thanks to Nag Ashwin for shedding light on that part of her story which needed to be told.
Keerthy Suresh as Savitri is terrific and she shines in a career-best, award-worthy performance. She’s well complemented by Dulquer Salman as the multi-shaded Gemini Ganesan. Scenes between them is a delight to watch as both shine together on screen.