Cast: Ram Charan, Samantha Akkineni, Jagapathi Babu, Prakash Raj and Aadi Pinisetty
Sukumar’s Rangasthalam ends Telugu cinema’s long wait for a truly authentic rural story, which is powered by an emotional core. It takes a predictable story of revenge (salvaged by a thoroughly entertaining twist) and gives it a well justified rural touch, never making things appear artificial in the process. Finally, we have a film that does full justice to the title and it’s a gutsy attempt from Sukumar to take the rural backdrop to narrate a story of politics and deceit, without taking away the essence of the milieu.
Set in a fictional place called Rangasthalam (which translates to stage) on the banks of picturesque Godavari, the film revolves around Chitti Babu, played by Ram Charan, and his efforts to save his village from the clutches of its ruthless president, played by Jagapathi Babu. After being tired of being robbed off their hard work and taken for granted, Chitti Babu’s brother (Aadi Pinisetty) decides to contest against the president in the local elections. Here’s where things take an ugly detour and what follows forms the crux of the story.
The film dives straight into the story with an accident in its opening scene. Ram Charan witnesses the accident of Prakash Raj and we’re quickly introduced to the back-story. The village is called Rangasthalam because everybody is merely puppets with colours smeared on their faces and their strings are pulled by the puppeteers. It’s on this premise the entire film is built on and we don’t quite appreciate Sukumar’s intent until we reach the end. For long, as viewers we’re deceived into believing who is pulling the strings and the twist, which is certainly the film’s biggest saving grace from going down a very predictable road, is a masterstroke from Sukumar, who makes us root for his characters in this slightly lengthy but heartwarming rural drama.
In Rangasthalam, Sukumar captures the rural lifestyle in the most authentic form, giving us a feeling of viewing everything through a magnifying glass. Be it the costumes or the Godavari accent, we haven’t witnessed rural flavour as genuinely as Sukumar has recreated on screen. It’s also worth mentioning how Sukumar uses politics very fittingly as a sub-plot, without every shining the spotlight on it but merely using it to elevate the story.
Ram Charan as the hearing-impaired small-time mechanic is a treat to watch, and he transforms into something else in the last twenty minutes. We haven’t seen such earnest and intense performance from any mainstream Telugu hero in a long time. While the proceedings do get violent towards the end of the film, it was quite expected, and it does get slightly uncomfortable. In the end, what really matters is the mood and the atmosphere of the film and Sukumar doesn’t disappoint.