There will be blood
Stylized violence, pioneered by a few directors in the world, is one of the most effective celluloid gimmicks of the last century. When blood fountains gush in slow motion, in different hues of red, you can’t shut your eyes. It makes the squeamish bold for that moment and makes violence a thing of spectacular beauty. In his new film, Rakta Charitra (the first part of a two-part film), Ram Gopal Varma uses the same manipulative tool—and uses it effectively, to propel a revenge drama involving some one-dimensional, but dark and terrifying characters.
Varma’s film is set in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh. It’s a district known for its history of caste violence—from here, Paritala Ravi, a leader of Naxalite origins, became a cabinet minister in the government of NT Rama Rao. Ravi’s rise from a vengeful goon to a powerful mass leader and player in the state’s electoral politics, is the first part of Rakta Charitra. Pratap, the screen character, is played by Vivek Oberoi. The second part, which releases on 19 November, shifts attention to the man who will eventually challenge Ravi—Maddelacheruvu Suri, played by Southern superstar Surya.
Rakta Charitra is a linear and literal telling of Ravi’s story, concerning only the obvious external conflict of the revenge drama. Writer Prashant Pandey is uninterested in the right-wrong or winner-loser arguments. In the first hour of the film, the violence seems relentless, even pointless, seemingly intended to shock the audience. A loud background score hammering away, while an iron drill goes into a man’s forehead or hands get chopped in one swift swoop of a scythe, makes the drama seem forced. But from the beginning of the second half, quality and momentum soar. Overall, the film works effectively as a thrilling revenge drama.
Varma’s visual language is provocative. If he is neutral about the characters and their actions, his frames speak the unspoken.. The camera is the only really strong point of view in the film. One scene that stands out, for example, is the scene just before Pratap’s final rival, a menacingly evil, depraved and blood-thirsty man, is axed. He is looking out of his apartment at an advertisement hoarding of a smiling woman (he is a sexually violent and abusive man). While he is hacked, only that hoarding is in focus, the foreground hazy with his blood-drenched face. Varma’s stamp is unmistakable in scenes like these. The cinematography by Amol Rathod is eloquent. There’s nothing pathbreaking in the way it is shot—wide angles (as opposed to TV-style shots of talking heads in close-up one gets to see in so many movies these days), some sepia-saturated tones and slow motions stand out. But all these flourishes work because of what is happening in the frames. Varma crafts his frames carefully.
Performances are uniformly good. Vivek Oberoi does justice to a role after a long time. His transition from an angry and restless young man to a shrewd and assured game-changer is quite convincing. Shatrughan Sinha as Shivaji, the chief minister, is entertaining—he gets some great dialogues and makes a small role memorable. The unforgettable role is that of Bukka Redy, Pratap’s rival and the film’s darkest character. As human, he is irredeemable from the beginning. Actor Abhimanyu Singh projects him as a man who pushes the boundaries of depravity and violence—when he smiles even faintly, you know there will be blood.
The weakest aspect of Rakta Charitra is its literalness. There’s a narrator throughout the film; not a single link in the story is unexplained. It’s a film which is easy to consume if you can digest violence. But watch it for its visual audacity; to see one of the few Bollwood directors with an original stamp of his own, close to his best.
Rakta Charitra released in theatres on Friday.