More than Duniya Vijay, the three-hour duration is the major villain of this Gopichand Malineni directorial
Last Updated: 06.19 AM, Jan 15, 2023
Jai a.k.a Jai Simha Reddy (Balakrishna) is an automobile store owner in Istanbul, who’s a pillar of strength in his mother Meenakshi’s (Honey Rose) life. He meets a wannabe singer Isha (Shruti Haasan) at a pub and despite initial friction, love blossoms between the two. Just as Jai and Isha get ready to tie the knot, Meenakshi informs him about her past and the legacy of his father Veera Simha Reddy (Balakrishna), something she’s hidden from him all along. What prompts Jai’s return to India?
Director Gopichand Malineni, who teams up with Balakrishna for Veera Simha Reddy, has an ominous task at hand to make a compelling successor to the star’s previous film, a career-defining hit Akhanda. Amidst huge expectations and the pressure of sustaining the star’s momentum, the filmmaker chooses an emotional sibling drama to drive the proceedings. While the story, set within the five-songs, six-fights formula, is compelling, it takes its own sweet time to gain steam.
Gopichand doesn’t deviate from the tropes of most Balakrishna films in the recent past. The star gets a double role as a father and a son - he’s a responsible village messiah and a carefree son too. Both the women in their lives swear by him. The pre-intermission portions mostly lay a foundation for an old-fashioned ‘sentimental’ flashback. The son takes over from where his father leaves, vanquishes the baddies and safeguards his loved ones, only to be hailed as a beacon of hope for the village.
Thaman’s songs and the stylishly choreographed, well-staged action sequences are the mainstays of the first hour; the emotional foundation for the story appears fragile. The world of the younger Balakrishna lacks meat. Shruti is introduced as a wannable singer in a sequence with Brahmanandam that pays homage to his famous reality show judge-epsiode in King. While straddling between the lives of the father and the son, several sequences stretch beyond necessity and the plot ceases to progress.
It’s safe to say that Veera Simha Reddy suffers from the KGF syndrome before the interval while dealing with Veera Simha Reddy’s character. By this, we mean that every scene about him feels like an intro-sequence and a climax at the same time. The basis behind these sequences is singular - he’s the go-to man in the village who won’t tolerate any nuisance. As standalone sequences to establish his heroism, they work but the effect is nullified with the repetitive screenplay.
The action choreography in the film has variety and is one of its major highlights though it turns out to be an overdose beyond a point, lacking proper foundation. The absence of a good narrative flow hurts Veera Simha Reddy. Though the antagonist enters early into the film and several sequences focus on his thirst for revenge, Gopichand takes too long to establish the motive. At no point, the protagonist is threatened.
The best portions of Veera Simha Reddy are reserved for the second hour but you’re too tired to appreciate the drama by then. Gopichand uses the old-age step-siblings conflict effectively to drive a wedge between the pivotal characters and the well-written sub-plot about a sister-gone-rogue is intriguing. However, there are so many deaths and violent encounters that you become numb and remain unaffected by the proceedings beyond a point.
The film ends ideally, with a resurgent son taking his father’s legacy forward but as a viewer, you’re more tired than satisfied. Veera Simha Reddy never gives viewers a chance to breathe and violence is ironically portrayed as a tool to bring about peace. There’s a lot that the filmmaker could’ve done with the story and the exhaustive three-hour runtime plays the party pooper. It’s not a lazy effort; the problem is exactly the opposite. It’s overwrought and needed precision.
In terms of the dialogues, writer Sai Madhav Burra and Balakrishna’s collaboration is a match made in heaven. Both Sai Madhav and the director showcase a deep-rooted understanding of local politics that concerns Balakrishna’s family lineage and several scenes are smartly set up to draw parallels between his off-screen and off-screen persona and to take digs at the establishment. The one-liner about the history of Rayalaseema merits a theatrical viewing alone.
From the renaming of a popular university to the references surrounding unemployment, wages, systemic corruption and the arrogance of power, several scenes feel like a fictional spin lent to an AP news bulletin. They lend vigour to the otherwise formulaic plot, warrant your attention and there are no two things about it. When the narrative takes a cumbersome turn, the songs pump in enthusiasm – Suguna Sundari, Maa Bava Manobhavalu are good fun to watch.
Beyond the two Balakrishnas, a handful of others, like the Malayalam veteran Lal, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Naveen Chandra and Honey Rose, get impressive character arcs. Balakrishna moonwalks through the plot conveniently and his flamboyance in select portions ensures good cinematic highs. Varalaxmi Sarathkumar’s intimidating screen presence is an asset to her portrayal and there’s enough depth in the characterisation to prove her mettle.
Duniya Vijay, the Kannada star who makes his Telugu debut, is terribly underutilised and is perennially asked to be in ‘desperate-for-revenge’ mode. It’s unfortunate that even after 15 years of filmdom, Shruti Haasan is reduced to a dancing doll in a character that doesn’t strain her acting muscles at all. Honey Rose springs a surprise when she showcases restraint and the quiet, calmness in her persona blends with her sober part well.
While the cinematography is slick and stylish and the production design contributes to the film’s colourful ambience, what Veera Simha Reddy needed is more pruning. In mild terms, the background score could be termed an ‘ear-bleeding’ experience. Despite the escapism of a mainstream film, the lawlessness in the setup is baffling. It’s 2023 and there’s not a single cop in sight. Violence is portrayed as a solution to every issue.
Veera Simha Reddy, like most Gopichand Malineni films, is neither promising nor disappointing.
Veera Simha Reddy has a good story, a strong conflict, two Balakrishnas and one weak villain. It has all the ingredients of a mass-pleasing fare – from action to romance to emotions and well-written dialogues, but not in the right mix. Balakrishna and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar are the show-stealers. The three-hour runtime is the other villain here.