Verdict: (Her)story, as it should be.
Not enough movies are made on South Indian dynasties, and surely, not enough movies are made on famous female rulers. Gunasekhar did both these rare genres justice with his brand new epic, Rudhramadevi.
The Kakatiyas were one of the most inspiring rulers of the Telangana-Andhra region; their capital was based at modern-day Warangal. It is said that they were solely responsible for uniting the Telugu-speaking populations of the Indian subcontinent. Rudrama Devi, on whom this film is based, ruled as the queen of the Kakatiyas from 1261 to 1289 AD.
The film stays true to historical accounts, beginning with a narrative by Marco Polo. The famed Venetian traveler visited the Kakatiya kingdom during Rudrama Devi’s rule and described it in very flattering terms. The film opens with Marco Polo retelling his account of the famed Indian queen at the court of the ruler of Venice.
The story then follows history for most parts, adding a few characters along the way to thicken the plot. Krishnam Raju plays Ganapati Devudu, Rudrama’s father and the ruler of the Kakatiyas. Prakash Raj essays the role of Shiva Devaiah (historically Shivadesikulu), a high-ranking minister who urges the king to bring his daughter up as a son. The Kakatiyas feared feudal rebellion and hence, a male heir apparent would help maintain stability.
Gunasekhar now turns into a master storyteller and introduces the characters- Veerbhadra (Rana Daggubati), the heir apparent of the Chalukyas of Vengi and Gona Ganna (Allu Arjun), the son of a powerful Reddy feudal lord. The two characters are shown as childhood friends of the young Rudhramadeva- the young boy Rudhramadevi (Anushka Shetty) has been brought up as. Both these characters are based on actual historical figures, with Gunasekhar taking directorial liberties in building their essayed characters.
Rudhramadevi grows up believing she is a boy till she begins menstruating and then the secret is revealed to her. She chooses to continue playing the role of a man, only to ensure the Kakatiya line continues and the interests of the Telugu-speaking people are safeguarded. Gunasekhar then adds a brand new character in Muktamba, Rudhramadeva’s bride-to-be. This role, portrayed beautifully by Nithya Menen, is fictitious but adds depth to an already captivating narrative.
We won’t tell you what happens next. We’d rather you brush up on history or watch the story unfurl inside a theatre. What we will tell you is that Rudhramadevi does find love, she does get married and she does manage to protect her kingdom. She ushers in a golden age that earns her a place in history, and that tale is beautifully presented in this film.
If we had to single out a good performance… Surprisingly, as good as Anushka is in her role, Prakash Raj walks away with all the accolades. He plays the witty minister to the dot and his oratorical skills in classical Telugu have to be applauded. A particular speech on why a female ruler should be accepted left this reviewer in tears. Anushka delivers yet again, becoming the undisputed queen of this genre. Nithya Menen is adorable and leaves quite the impression, even after such limited screen time. Allu Arjun indulges you with his Robin Hood antics and speaks the common dialect with incomparable swag. Rana Daggubati is the eye-candy this time, and all we’ll say is he leaves no one complaining.
The music, though quite typically Ilaiyaraaja, is quite a disappointment. An epic movie of this proportion deserved music that celebrated bravery, feminism, grandeur and royalty. The soundtrack (OST/BG) miserably fails to do so. What also disappoints is the mediocre graphics and 3D experience. At no point is anything convincing. The VFX-created sets are jarring and look straight out of a lower-end video game. The action sequences are worse. Far from convincing, the choreography for the action is actually uncoordinated, and there’s too much awkward flying around. Some of the battle sequences seem to have been imagined by a 5-year-old.
What really disappoints, however, is the unnecessary objectification of the female. This movie, unlike Baahubali, is a celebration of a powerful woman and yet in many instances, you’re left disgusted. We wonder who the intended audience was.
The beauty of the story and the idea behind the film, however, outweigh its flaws and so we’d suggest you watch the film. It is a wholesome entertainer that also teaches you a lot about the history of the Telugu country and its people.
Why You Should Watch This Movie:
For a much-required lesson in history and for every single time India has assumed its women are weaker. History proves us wrong, and how!
By L Romal M Singh