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Candid review: Dasara — A committed Nani gives a volcanic performance

Not just in the final action set piece, Nani holds the entire movie together with his committed performance powered by his strong desire to redefine his onscreen image. 

Candid review: Dasara — A committed Nani gives a volcanic performance
Nani in Dasara.

Last Updated: 12.56 PM, Apr 05, 2023


There was a time in Telugu cinema when the Telangana dialect, which dominates Dasara, would have been used for comical relief in mainstream Telugu movies. Or that dialect would have been assigned to the villain to add some flair to an otherwise bland character. It is understandably why mainstream filmmakers steered clear of unique Telugu dialects. They wanted to make Telugu films accessible to people in other parts of the country. But, it's changing now and I can't put a finger on when this change began in the Telugu film industry. But, it's a welcome change as such dialects add a refreshing flavour to our movie-watching experience. If your ears are not accustomed to this dialect, then you would be better off picking a show with subtitles. 

Debutant director Srikanth Odela's Dasara revolves around three childhood friends, Dharani (Nani), Suri (Dheekshith Shetty) and Vennela (Keerthy Suresh) It's a part love triangle and part revenge drama. Srikanth has set this drama against the backdrop of a fictional town called Veerlapaali. Covered in coal dust, the village effortlessly assumes the attitude of a working-class society. Most of its inhabitants lack any ambition and to fulfil the void of the mundane of life, all men have developed a serious drinking habit. In Veerlapaali, the sun rises at the 'Silku Baru', the village's lone waterhole, which plays a central role in shaping its political landscape. 

Veerlapaali is a very regressive society and the way of life there is mostly dictated by a medieval thought process. Modern federal institutions such as the police station function not as per the law of the country but according to the will of the village head. The elections in the village are not decided by the free will of men with a clear mind and conscience. The men in the village, probably suffering from alcohol-associated cirrhosis, give away their democratic rights in a state of extreme intoxication. And that allows the power-hungry landlords to maintain a tight grip on the political system, allowing them to exploit and pillage the village and its residents with impunity. 


The women in Veerlapaali have no agency at all. Even the leading lady, Vennela cannot survive the anarchy of her village without the help of a man, who's willing to spill his blood like water to protect her. It may seem a little regressive for a movie to create such a helpless leading lady character. But, it would be a shallow reading of the movie that in a way studies a feudal system. The film is not set in a cosmopolitan city, but in a village where the entire culture is rigged against women. To become a widow in Veerlapaali means the end of life with dignity. With a village full of men with such chronic drinking problems, there are more widows than men with healthy livers. 

Vennela is just a few steps away from falling into the trap weaved by cruel landlord Chinna Nambi (played by Shine Tom Chacko). And Dharani upsets Nambi's plans. Dharani takes it upon himself to protect Vennela even without taking her consent. And when Vennela confronts Dharani about it, Dharani's thoughts reveal that he wasn't trying to protect the chastity of Vennela but her innocence. It's a small subversion but it's effective in a very obvious narrative such as this. 

You appreciate Dharani's actions when you understand more of the village's traditions. A woman can either thrive or perish in the village depending on the lifespan of her husband. And there's also a strong commentary on the evils of caste discrimination. And the way it has been portrayed is very mainstream and echoes director Sukumar's influences.

Even though the men in the village are united by their unconditional love for Silku Baru, they are deeply divided by the caste lines. And depending on one's caste, it's decided whether he can enter the bar or not. Even though Dharani shares a very close bond with everyone in the village, cutting across the caste barriers, he's not allowed to step into their houses. That's how seriously the village takes its caste and traditions. 

And the three main characters — Dharani, Suri and Vennela — try to find some warmth and sanity in this dark corner of human civilization. The shifting relationship dynamics among them also become the main source of drama. And that helps to take our mind off the uninspiring performance of Shine Tom Chacko. If you don't know, Shine is natural when it comes to playing negative roles. Even in the bad movies, Shine manages to shine with his performance pulsing with a certain kind of neurotic energy. But, Shine's talents are underused in this movie as he's made to deliver a performance in a restricted way. You could feel Shine biting his tongue when he's asked to reveal all his past evil deeds and future plans to Vennela which betrays the logic and sincerity of the narrative, In the third act, Shine's character completely falls apart without anything to offer except for his lecherous intentions. 

The visual and emotional style the movie has picked is that of a revolt of working-class men. The oppressed are erupting against the oppressor. And it's supposed to be cathartic. But, it doesn't feel that way maybe because of our knowledge that Dharani is raging against faceless and nameless men. We don't see the faces of the men who chase and kill Dharani's friends just before the interval sequence. Their faces are smudged with charcoal dust and they conceal themselves with sacks pulled over their heads. These men are following someone's order and the man who gave the orders dies a more painless death than these men. 

When Dharani rains hellfire down the Dasara celebration and avenges his friends, the big violence that Srikanth mounts in the movie work visually but, the emotional impact is perfunctory. And Nani goes all in with his performance as a man who has been possessed by the ghost of vengeance. Not just in the final action set piece, Nani holds the entire movie together with his committed performance powered by his strong desire to redefine his onscreen image. 

Dasara has a typical narrative structure and its narrative arc is predictable. But, it has a personality. There are moments when the movie really stands out and allows space for its talents to shine. The film's production design and rustic visual style add to our cinema experience. 

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