The director extracts fantastic performances from his lead cast and makes no bones about portraying reality as is
Panja Abhiram, son of a deputy collector Dasharath, is a talented youngster with a conscience. Earning an admission at MIT, he makes plans to leave for the US shortly. An incident of rigging in a polling booth, where he's about to cast his vote, has him rethink his career plans. It further prompts him to prepare for UPSC exams, be a part of the system and hopefully turn a changemaker. A committed Abhiram accomplishes his goal and is appointed as the collector of West Godavari district. His stint as a collector is far from being a bed of roses; he fights a lonely battle with a manipulative politician Visakha Vani and strives to empower the farmers in the Telleru region to fight for their rights.
In an industry where it's an easy option to set escapist stories in a fantasy world with happily-ever-after endings, Deva Katta's Republic is a bitter-sweet pill that reminds us of the larger purpose of cinema as a storytelling medium. This is a film where the sugar-coating remains minimal and provides a holistic, critical picture of the many anomalies that plague the system. It spares none while doing so - the common man who conveniently alters his stance as per his need, the shrewd politicians and the legislature, judiciary that has become a puppet in their hands.
The story unfolds from the perspective of a newly appointed collector Abhiram, who dreams of an idealistic society, a transparent system free from red-tapism, corruption and one that genuinely guards the interests of the citizens. However, all his dreams go down crashing as he comes to terms with the harsh realities of the world. Abhiram's battle starts right at home with his father being a corrupt government servant himself. Where does his fight begin and how is it meant to end?
There are no convenient, immediate answers here and director Deva Katta provides a ringside view of the system from various ends - the idealist, the realist and the pessimist. Republic, though sincere in intent, gets preachy at times. The film talks of human rights, democracy, legislature and it's easy to mistake some parts of the film as political science lectures. The problem is that it goes overboard in presenting uncomfortable facts, metrics and issues too complex to be addressed in a single film.
Deva Katta debates the use of phrases like 'urban naxal', 'anti-national' and other tags attached to whoever raises their voice in protest against the system or those in power. The drama is solid because of the father-son conflict at work and home. The emotional heft in the story comes through the subplot with Abhiram's love interest, Myra Henson, an NRI who returns to India to search for her missing brother Varun. It's the sparkling dialogue and complex characterisation that helps the film become more than a collector's battle against the system.
One of the film's juiciest moments is the first meeting between Abhiram and Visakha Vani where they discuss evolution, politics, ideologies and philosophers. The tension in the scene where Visakha pits Telleru's people against a collector who only means good for them is a dramatic delight. While Visakha Vani's character is shrewd, greedy and manipulative, she is no caricaturish villain and there's an impressive backstory to justify her behaviour. The same goes for Abhiram's father, an honest officer eventually tamed by his superiors in the system.
The research behind the fishery scam in the film is meticulous and it's heartening to see the attention to detail. The pre-climax courtroom sequence is the lifeline of the film - it encompasses everything that Deva Katta wishes to talk about the system and boasts of a few fantastic monologues. There are only a couple of songs in the entire film (Mani Sharma's back in form and how!) and the writer, director refuses to take cinematic liberties on most occasions. The use of the 'Nammaku Nammaku Ee Reyini' number is incredibly effective in the climax.
Sai Dharam Tej as Abhiram delivers his career-best performance - there are no two things about it. He's never looked as intense, focused and sharp in any of his other films. Ramya Krishna sinks her teeth into a well-etched, tailormade role of a powerful politician who thrives out of the ignorance of the masses. It's a relief to see Jagapathi Babu move beyond his staple negative roles. Aishwarya Rajesh is a picture of confidence and composure in an impactful role, while actors like Srikanth Iyengar, Manoj Nandam, CVL Narasimha Rao, Rahul Ramakrishna and Ravi Varma impress. Aamani and Surekha Vani are passable but don't have much to do.
Republic is a gripping, thought-provoking political drama. It leaves a lump in your throat, presents uneasy truths of the system and the society at large. The film features excellent performances by Sai Dharam Tej, Ramya Krishna and Jagapathi Babu. Deva Katta's nuanced understanding of politics, history and his ability to portray reality in all its brutality makes this a must-watch.