'Mahanati' Movie Review: Dulquer Salmaan and Keerthy Suresh's Film is a Fitting Tribute to a Legend

'Mahanati' Movie Review: Dulquer Salmaan and Keerthy Suresh's Film is a Fitting Tribute to a Legend

The big Tollywood release 'Mahanati' based on the life and times of the legendary actress Savitri is a great depiction of her life, says our reviewer
'Mahanati' Movie Review: Dulquer Salmaan and Keerthy Suresh's Film is a Fitting Tribute to a Legend
A still from Mahanati

Starring: Keerthy Suresh, Dulquer Salmaan,Samantha Akkineni,Vijay Devarakonda
Directed by Nag Ashwin
Rating: ****(4 stars)

Truth, they say, is often stranger than fiction. Many episodes from the legendary Telugu-Tamil actress Savitri’s life  may  appear  bizarrely  improbable. Yet — herein lies the truth —what we see in this sprawling,flamboyant, swaggering spectacular bio-pic is what really happened   in the  legendary actress’  life.

Give  or take the flourishes of fantasy that  run sharply through this tell-all tale  told with flair and  feeling.  In a  stroke of sheer ingenuity the scriptwriter has woven a fantasy-romance between two journalists (Samantha Akkineni and Vijay Devarakonda) unraveling  the  story  of  the iconic actress who gave Tamil and Telugu cinema their first female superstar.

She had it all, and then she lost it. Savitri’s saga  is  a familiar  riches-to-rags one, here brought to  life with a  vividness and  vivacity that never fight shy of extravagance. It’s all  here, packed  together in a  series of  deftly-written anecdotal sequences which jump into one another in an uneasy and furtive embrace  of fact  and fiction. Though the film is almost three  hours  long,  our interest-level never flags. How  can it, when the  subject is  such a mercurial creature of caprice?

Siddharth Sivaswamy’s  screenplay screams  for  attention in every frame. Yet there is nothing aggressively inflated  about the narrative. The larger-than-life-ness  of  the  plot has to do with subject . Savitri, as  played with endearing impunity by Keerthy Suresh, is a  childlike creature  of  whimsy: demonstrative,emotional, mischievous , self-destructive,   all heart  and generous to a  fault. These qualities  stood Savitri in good stead on camera  but betrayed  her in real  life.

Bravely  the  film doesn’t gloss over  the unpleasant aspects  of Savitri’s life. The marriage to the much-married Tamil matinee  idol Gemini Ganesan (played with  an endearing  vigour by Dulquer Salman) and the  subsequent clash of egos, her lapse into alcoholism and her eventual  plunge into penury are all  dealt with  a certain beguiling blend of  melodrama and poignancy.The mix can be infuriatingly overblown for the uninitiated but highly satisfying for those who are  familiar with the drama of deceit, depression and  descent that  governs many success stories of the entertainment world.

Director Nag Ashwin demonstrates a surprising  level of maturity in apportioning  flamboyance  to the  real-life  tale. The film is shot with a dash of adrenaline which constantly pumps  up the drama without distorting  the  credibility  of  the proceedings.

The performances are constantly  compelling . Samantha Akkineni and  Vijay Devarakonda (the latter in a very limited but appealing presence)  bring to their investigative reporters’ role from  the  1980s a touch of the wispy and wacky without forfeiting  a claim to being genuinely  interested  in the legendary actress Savitri’s life story. However Samanth’s  outburst at the finale where she kind of reads out a homage to Savitri straight  to the  audience,  doesn’t work.

Keerthy Suresh’s  Savitri is an imp, a coquette,  a child and a giver. The actress replicates the original’s  physicality and  sensitivities  without  allowing  her performance to get excessively imitative. Dulquer Salmaan’s Gemini Ganesan is a masterly portrayal of the male  ego  swathed in superficial compassion . Again, like Keerthy, Dulquer steers  the performance away from being imitative.

There are memorable cameos from many including Nag Chaitanya playing his grandfather Nageshwara Rao. Director  Nag Ashwin makes telling use of  the references  and props  from the  1950s, 60s, 70s and  80s to  not only recreate the  flavour of those times  but also to reflect on why those times are so distant and  faded from memory. The songs and  footage from  Savitri’s heydays are  mercifully moderately used.

There is an intrinsic hollowness and hypocrisy  in the way a  successful woman professional was treated  by  those whom she  trusted. Savitri  never failed. Those around her  did. Mahanati celebrates a life that  finally failed because  of its generosity.

A  shout-out to the technicians, the cinematographer Dani Sanchez-Lopez, art director Kolla Avinash  and production designer Shivum Rao for bathing  every era and each frame  with the elixir of life without  letting us forget the sheer cinematics  involved in making a life as  tumultuous  and  inspiring  as Savitri's flicker on the screen  with  a pulsating imminence.
And thank you  to all the  brilliant actors, big and never small, who come together  to tell a story that had  to be told.

We owe you one.

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