He is an upright army officer, Ajay Krishna, who is based in Kashmir, and has an impeccable sense of humour. This dichotomy in the lead protagonist’s characterisation hooks our attention. Every now and then, Ravipudi comes up with unusual scenarios to drive home the point.
A case in point: When Ajay is told he has to help a bomb squad to diffuse a time-bomb, he arrives at the location and requests his colleague, Prasad (Rajendra Prasad), to brew tea for him. The latter is stunned but Ajay tells him that in case both of them die if the mission fails, he does not want his soul to regret that he did not have tea just before his death. The humour works as much as the intensity of the proceedings after this conversation.
This blend of heroism and comedy, which Mahesh pulls off with elan, is the USP of Sarileru Neekevvaru. The film is all about Mahesh cutting loose, and living it up in a style that one has not seen since the days of Khaleja and Dookudu.
The film follows the journey of Ajay Krishna (Mahesh), who must go to Kurnool in order to convey the news of his fellow regiment officer’s fate to the latter’s family. However, when Ajay lands in Kurnool, he realises the regiment officer’s family is in deep trouble because of a politician. The rest of the story is about how Ajay sets things right, and teaches the politician a lesson in his own way.
Right from its setting to a few key scenes, the film plays homage to some of Mahesh, and his father Krishna’s popular films. While the centre of most of the action is Kondareddy Buruju, a landmark in Kurnool, a direct reference to Mahesh-starrer Okkadu, there is a running thread of Krishna’s machismo in Alluri Seetharamaraju.
However, Ravipudi, the writer and director of the film, does not lose sight of who Ajay Krishna is, and what he stands for. He is an army officer, who keeps telling the goons he will not harm them because it is his duty to protect them. And at the same time, Ajay wants to remind them about their duties as a citizen of the country, which he loves more than anything in his life. Every scenario in the film, where Ajay refers to these two aspects, is a joy to watch, and they constitute some of the best written elements in the story. His bravado scares the goons but Ajay is someone who can diffuse bombs as effortlessly as he can diffuse the tension in the scene with his sense of humour. It’s a melange of two distinct entities but it works and how! And that is the biggest surprise in the film. You never know when Mahesh is going to land a punch, whether it is physical or verbal.
In a film like Sarileru Neekevvaru, which depends a lot on its hero’s charisma and comic timing, it feels like everything is designed, keeping the star in the mind. And this attitude percolates into every pore of the script. Like the ebb and flow of the tide, the film hits all the right notes when it focuses on Mahesh. When it does not, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The weakest link is how Anil treats some of the supporting characters and subplots, including the much-hyped train sequence. Yes, there are a lot of witty lines and over-the-top mannerisms, which have become a mainstay in Ravipudi’s filmography. But in Sarileru Neekevvaru, some of them overstay their welcome. Sometimes, you just want the joke to end sooner because you are eager to see what happens after that. In a way, the film truly finds its rhythm when Mahesh finally meets Vijayashanti, and confronts Prakash Raj. Till then, it is a bit of a drag.
The humour written for Rashmika, Sangeetha, and Rao Ramesh grows tepid as time goes by. Then, there is another mediocre subplot involving Subbaraju and Vennela Kishore.
Thankfully, Vijayashanti’s role is treated with a lot of respect. The actress aces it in her own style. Her confrontation sequences with Raj, and her conversations with Mahesh in the latter part of the film, are well-conceived. They help the narrative hold its strength. Raj breezes through his role with ease.
The climax is another surprise. As ironic as it might seem, given how the narrative builds up till then, the climax fits into the lead protagonist’s vision of life, considering that he is an army officer. The film demands a fair amount of suspension of disbelief, and it is never more evident than in its climax.
The core issue addressed in Sarileru Neekevvaru could have pulled the narrative in a different direction. However, that is clearly not what Ravipudi was, perhaps, aiming for. The film is about Mahesh playing an action-packed role, after a long time, and his comic timing, which will leave you in splits. It is also about him dancing, after a long time, to a ‘mass song’ like ‘Mind Block.’
To its credit, the film packages oodles of humour and action in right measures for Mahesh to hit the ball out of the park. Everything else is just a bonus or a distraction.