Commercial Telugu Cinema needed a new language. Not content: several new writers and directors have been trying out new and previously unseen content, with mediocre results. What it needed, was a new narrative voice. One that can push Cinema, if not the boundaries, at least the way it prevails and it's existential details. S.S. Rajamouli contributed heavily to this, yet his Cinema is mostly about the grandeur of an idea and not the richness of the world around it.
With "Rangasthalam", Sukumar brings along a movie that takes the template of popular cinema and does very interesting things with it. There's three beautiful parts to this: the content, the detail, and the visual narrative. Firstly, the content subverts so many tropes of Telugu Cinema that have become, to say the least, routine and uninspiring. It is hard to dwell deep on this without spoiling the film, but it may be adequate to say this: the film completely ignores the predictability of structures in the story, the constituent power dynamics, and good - evil tradeoffs that plague most other films. Sukumar is gutsy to have tried this.
Secondly, there is the detail. Often, the most prominent sign of a well written script is the detail in it. Not in terms of character depth, there's a decent amount of it, but in terms of the dialogue. I grew up in the general region that the film is supposed to be based around, and seldom have films set there captured the verbal nuance the way the script here has. Words like "Geera" (an alternative term used for Pogaru meaning arrogance) or "Coita" (A native way of pronouncing "Kuwait") had me chuckling out loud through the film's runtime.
Finally, the visual narrative: even if the film doesn't break any boundaries in terms of film narrative, there's a tactile sense to the way the camera frames its subjects and moves in conjunction to the narrative. Crafted by DOP Rathnavelu, the visuals subtly walk along with the director, or sit and stare from a distance, going with whatever the narrative demands. This is another trait seldom seen in Telugu Cinema, where the camera work is usually deployed in the service of style and sensation.
The cast of the film is capable and proves quite adequate. The music by Devi Sri Prasad, is 'fine' at best, heavy on enjoyable percussions but light on desirable melody. But it is the three aforementioned aspects that push this film beyond the mediocre in Telugu Cinema. Sukumar has been trying this for a while, but with "Rangasthalam", he manages to bring a new language to mainstream Telugu Cinema that is hopefully here to stay.
"Rangasthalam" is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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