NTR Kathanayakudu movie cast: Nandamuri Balakrishna, Vidya Balan
NTR Kathanayakudu movie director: Krish
NTR Kathanayakudu rating: 2.5 stars
The dramatized account of cultural and political icon Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao’s life in NTR: Kathanayakudu is deeply entrenched in his legend. In other words, the film tells the legend of NTR, rather than the rise of a common man to the stature of a demi-god. From the beginning of the film, director-writer Krish’s screenplay treats NTR as a messiah. The director reinforces the idea that NTR was a modern-day deity of the Telugu people over and over again in NTR Kathanayakudu.
In the first few minutes of the film, NTR, an angry young man, resigns from the coveted job of a sub-registrar at Madras Service Commission, protesting the culture of bribery in his department. He goes back to his home and tells his family that he is going to Madras (now Chennai) to meet director LV Prasad, who has offered him an acting job. NTR’s wife Basavatarakam (Vidya Balan), without making a lot of fuss over him quitting a lucrative job, helps him pack his bag. She also gives him her gold necklace to sell, should he run out of money.
When LV Prasad sees NTR fighting with the security guard, who refuses to let him inside the house, he himself comes out, walks down the stairs, and receives the aspiring actor. We should remember that NTR was a nobody, while LV Prasad was the biggest director at the time. NTR needed the director’s help to become a film actor. But, the scene is presented in a way that it suggests the other way round. Prasad personally takes him to an audition.
Director BA Subba Rao is having a bad day as he can’t find an actor for the hero’s role in his film titled Palletoori Pilla (1950). But, when NTR enters the audition room with Prasad, even without an audition, Subba Rao offers him the film. Rao sees something divine in him. Just like that NTR has a film in his kitty. Again, Krish reasserts that the Telugu film industry needed NTR and it is not vice versa.
After waiting for several weeks, when Palletoori Pilla did not take off, NTR writes a letter to Subba Rao informing him that he was rejecting his film offer as he can’t wait anymore. It is Subba Rao who begs NTR to not leave, promising him that he will start shooting the film immediately. It is never explained how come a novice like NTR, who was yet to make his mark, enjoyed such clout, reverence and acceptance among the leaders of Telugu cinema. There is a passing reference of the directors swooning over him because they saw his stage performances. But, still, the construction of such scenes only serves the myth of NTR, which began to take shape after he started playing Lord Krishna in films. Not once, Krish has tried to show NTR through the human prism.
That raises the questions like how much of what we see is true. The film draws heavily from the general familiarity of the character and doesn’t go beyond it. It hardly sheds light on the human moments of NT Rama Rao: his struggles, pain, heartbreaks, insecurities, self-doubts and challenges. The film does not show how he conquered his inner evils to become the god of the masses.
However, when you watch this film as a tribute to the legend of NTR, rather than his life’s story, it offers several moments that keep you interested in the narration. Especially, his contributions to cinema at a time, when advancement in filmmaking technology was decades away from reaching the shores of the country.
What makes this film really watchable is Balakrishna’s effortless portrayal of his father. In certain scenes, you forget that you are not watching a performance from NTR himself. Exactly, like when the audience forgot that NTR was a human and began worshipping him as a deity.
After playing Lord Krishan in Mayabazar, NTR essayed Krishna in 16 more films. The effect of his onscreen portrayal as Lord Venkateshwara in Shri Venkateshwara Mahatmyam on the real world was such that, pilgrimage to Tirupati was not complete for many without getting ‘NTR Darshanam’ at his house. He became the master of mythological stories, took many experimental risks, played multiple roles, he directed and acted at the same time. When he faced competition from young actors, he unbuttoned his shirts and danced with much younger heroines in rain to cater to the changing needs of the audience.
NTR: Kathanayakudu feels like a collection of episodes from NTR’s public life without a strong pivotal moment. In fact, NTR himself buys into his own legend in the film. In a scene, when his wife says: “In the film industry, everyone considers you as a deity. But, in politics, you will be a mere human.” He replies, “For the people, who turned me into a deity, I am ready to become a mortal again.”
Hopefully, Krish shows some real struggles of his subject in NTR: Mahanayakudu by steering away from his magic realism approach to a biopic.