Director-writer Deva Katta sets the tone for his 2010 political family-drama Prasthanam in the opening minutes. As the camera lingers in the dark, in the background, we hear a dialogue that establishes the idea of the film: “There are no villains and heroes in this drama. There are only characters that do immoral things for their needs.” There is an unmissable Shakespearean touch to Deva’s villains. He treats the antagonists not merely as threats to the protagonist. But he makes them the main force that drives the narration as he attempts to explore the deep truths of human existence.
At the centre of this morality tale is Ketti Lokanatham Naidu aka Loki (played by in-form Sai Kumar). On the surface, he appears to be a man of virtue in the den of unscrupulous criminals. And he seems ready to go great lengths to uphold the tenets of dharma (righteousness). But, will he?
Prasthanam is mainly a political drama set in the backdrop of a family crisis. Loki is a foot soldier of patriarch Galla Dasharatha Rama Naidu, a highly influential and powerful political leader. Following the death of his only son Keshava, the heir to his political and family legacy, Rama persuades Loki to take the place of his son. The offer is simply too attractive to refuse. Loki gets to take Keshava’s widow, along with his wealth and family legacy.
Overnight, Loki from a rural thug goes on to become a force to be reckoned with in the state political scene.
Given that Loki was offered access to such power and wealth on a golden platter, we may think that he is going to be one of those greedy and power-hungry villains with a sense of entitlement. He may even be swayed by a sense of superiority. But he turns out to be an adherent follower of righteousness. His moral compass so accurately functioning that he becomes a nightmare for those who exploit a corrupt political system for their personal gains. He appears to be the resistance in an immoral system. But is he?
Loki has fathered a son named Chinna (Sundeep Kishan) with Keshava’s widow. And his legitimate son grows up to be a ticking time bomb that threatens to blow up his carefully constructed empire. Chinna is constantly made to feel insecure and good for nothing, courtesy Loki’s proximity to Mitran (Sharwanand). Mitran is the son of Keshava and Loki is grooming him to be his political heir, which becomes the main source of friction between the stepbrothers.
Loki seems so grounded when he prefers his step-son over his trueborn son to take over the reins of his political dynasty. You believe the rationality of Loki’s decision, given that Chinna has a drug addiction problem and is emotionally unstable. But is there more to this than what meets the eye?
Deva has constructed this near-awesome amoral world rife with opposing personalities. For a cool-headed and compassionate Mitran, we get an unstable and selfish Chinna. Mitran is also understanding when his mother is made to marry Loki. He truly accepts Loki as his father and looks up to him as his hero. But Mitran’s sister is sharp-tongued and uncompromising as she refuses to look into her mother’s eyes for moving on so quickly after the death of her father.
Mitran is the only source of light in the world of darkness caused by greed and pride. But he is also the weakest link in the chain. His character comes across as a run-of-the-mill right guy on the wrong side in this morality tale. Maybe it is the casting, this character looks lightweight among the heavy-hitters. If effortless naivety is what Deva was looking in an actor to play Mitran, Sharwanand fits the bill. But in most places, Sharwanand fails to evince the mixture of menace and goodness.
Sundeep Kishan is a total surprise. In his screen debut, he delivers a very convincing performance, especially in the hospital scene, where he confronts his step-sister. He delivers the first shock when he hits rock-bottom emotionally and transforms into complete evil. He is flawless in this film.
And Sai Kumar is a case of pitch-perfect casting. He delivers an earnest performance as an insightful, level-headed and penitent gangster. He appears as a towering figure, who makes the right choices even in the most desperate situations. But, look closer, he is just a human with basic instincts.
Prasthanam, a film about the constant internal fight between good and evil, could have provided a much better experience without an out-of-place romantic track, a clueless comedian (Vennela Kishore) and a feel-good family celebratory song.
Hopefully, Deva has not carried over the original sins of Prasthanam into the Hindi remake. The Hindi remake titled Prassthanam stars Sanjay Dutt, Jackie Shroff, Manisha Koirala, Chunky Pandey and Ali Fazal among others.
Prassthanam will hit the screens on September 20.