Monday, March 29, 2010

Leader: Being the Change

Leader is a powerful, inspiring movie, but more importantly, it tries to be an honest, brave movie. And this, its greatest strength, is also its downfall. What appealed to me the most about the movie is also what has stopped it from being accepted wholeheartedly – its brave but failed attempt to show that changing the system is not a cake-walk, and that to do it, one has to become part of the system and be willing to play the rules of the very game you are trying to change.

The movie struggles to find the right balance between being a fantasy about a single man changing the political landscape, and being an honest film which showcases how deeply corruption is embedded in the system, and how it is impossible for any one person to change it. Unfortunately, the movie is unable to fully embrace either line and go ahead with it, and ends up making compromises and becoming an in-between film, which, though it still makes for excellent cinema, leaves one with a vague sense of dissatisfaction.

For a movie about changing the system, the audience should be raging at the system as they walk out of the theatre, all pumped up to go and change it. If it was more in the style of realistic cinema, one would be coming out of the theatre with a sense of despair that things will never change. In Leader however, one is really unsure how to react.

I found the shades of grey in the protagonist Arjun (Rana Daggubati) quite fascinating. Here is a ‘hero’ who does not hesitate to bribe people to get what he wants, evoke his recently assassinated father’s memory to win people on his side, manipulate an innocent girl into falling in love with him for an ulterior motive. Of course, one is willing to forgive him for all of this because the ultimate goal is noble; but showing that Arjun was willing to play by the very rules he detests and wants to change is a very brave directorial decision in the land of the whitewashed hero of Telugu cinema.

The first half is gripping, and it’s always fun to watch the underdog emerge the winner, and in this case, its Arjun, who shows that he can out manipulate the best of the master manipulators, politicians. A lot of people complained that they didn’t enjoy the second half, and I think that’s because this shows Arjun struggling to hold on to his hard-won seat, having to make compromises, and floundering in the process. Personally, I loved that the movie shows Arjun’s vulnerability, his sense of frustration at his own limitations – but probably for a lot of the audience who was high on the gung-ho-ness (albeit a sober gung-ho-ness) of the first half, this was something of a dampener.

Leader’s rather lengthy digression into romance in the second half is also problematic. My problem is not with the romance per se, but the kind of romance shown here seems out of place in a movie like this. I’m rather surprised at how badly the romance bits were handled, given the Shekar Kammula is a director whose previous movies were all about relationships. However, I was told after watching the movie that the second half actually had a portion about Telengana partition; with the actual Telangana agitation just before the movie was due to release, this portion had to be chopped off, and was replaced with the romance. I don’t know how far if it is true, but it does seem to make sense, given how the romance seemed completely cut off from the rest of the movie, though ostensibly its very much a part of the narrative.

Rana Daggubati is, without any doubt, the best looking thing I have seen on screen in a long, long time. He inspires pure, unadulterated lust. He has an incredible screen presence, and delivers an earnest performance. No awkwardness of the first-timer here at all. Priya Anand is promising – and its such a refreshing change to see a Telugu actress do her own dubbing – I’m rooting for this girl! It’s sad that her role was chopped off so abruptly. Richa Gangopadhyay seems a little uncomfortable in some scenes, and does better in some other scenes, but she really doesn’t have much to do.

The senior actors like Suhasini and Kota give great performances, but that is to be expected. I’ve never cared for Mickey J Meyer (his songs have a sense of sameness) but I really liked the ‘Maa Telugu Talli’ remix – its sad that audiences on the other side can’t listen to it. It’s ridiculous really – what will the people of Telengana speak if not Telugu? Maybe they should replace it with a song about Vijayshanti! Gah!

Anyway, I digress. So all in all, I thought this was a great movie, a very brave effort and I was quite impressed by it.


Praveen Kandanala said...

referring to rana as thing is quite cheesy !.
I found him good looking but needs to improve a lot in acting arena, but still much better than other first timers

R said...

@Praveen: What! Why not ya! C'mon! Well, he has an incredible screen presence. And I thought he was pretty good, gave an earnest performance, seemed comfortable in his role, good dialogue delivery.

wamcee said...

Rana is good, But not sure if he will be able to manage the Roc n Roll dances of Tollywood in the coming future

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