By Ram Venkat Srikar (Pune)
‘Vruddhulaku dhesam ledhu’ is one of the 28 novels written by Pencil Parthasarathy, a world-famous revenge-themed novel writer. For non-Telugu readers- Vruddhulaku dhesam ledhu means ‘No country for old people’. Yes. That’s it. It’s not just the title that Pencil Parthasarathy has translated, but the complete films by Coen Brothers into a Telugu novel. While Tarantino conceived Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood as a novel and then adapted it to the film format, Pencil’s working style is quite the opposite. There are a couple more titles under his belt. And it is funny. It is smart that his pen name starts with Pencil. Even though his character isn’t flushed out, Nani being Nani does it in the Nani style with the Nani brand all over. Writer-Director Vikram Kumar doesn’t force you to look at the funny references he has in the movie. He just wants you to spot them and smile. That’s it. This is what I enjoyed the most about Gang Leader. Wait, Nani’s Gang Leader.
Gang Leader is an entirely aware revenge drama which hugely works because of the humour and the performances even though the screenplay struggles at some points. The film opens with 6 men robbing a bank where one ends up killing the remaining 5 before escaping with the stolen 300 crores. 14 months later, five women, each related to the deceased unit under the elderly guidance of Saraswathi (Lakshmi). When one of the women asks is the revenge necessary considering they are women, the granny responds with another question, would the men be sitting quite had the 6th guy killed these 5 women? Very valid point.
Their plan is simple. Kill the 6th guy. How are they going to accomplish it? Buy relying on the world-famous revenge writer. *Drum roll* Pencil Parthasarathy. Their very first meeting is pretty awkward to say the least and ends with Pencil chasing them out of his neatly designed typical poor-looking messy house that looks like one of the houses from Super Deluxe (in which every house either, has broken walls, needs a coat of paint, is on the verge of falling). After a change of heart by Priyadarshi, playing himself, I guess, the gang gets together, and the fun begins. The cooling glasses is their signature, Pencil insists on wearing them.
Though the film lacks logic and expects you to suspend your disbelief, it is not problematic for the most part. The main issue is the one-line characterization of all the characters. Every character has a single trait. For Saranya, it is pulihora (tamarind rice), for Lakshmi, it is, well, sentiment. For Swathi, it is messaging her dead brother. For Priya, the supposed heroine, it is- well, she is dumb in the first act.
The humour is on point. Almost all the jokes land. It is Nani though, who pulls this off and this is not something which he has not done so far. The writers Vikram Kumar, Mukund Pandey, Venkat D. Pati, manage to keep the film funny and engaging with witty dialogues. The most hilarious sequences are those with Pencil imagining various scenarios and their consequences. This is something I wanted to see more. But again, it might not have worked after a point. There is also a typical slow motion shot with the gang walking. But Nani is not in the centre. Catch my point?
Things slip out after the antagonist, Dev’s introduction. Dev is India’s number one car racer, we are told, precisely in those words. Even Pencil Parthasarathy proclaims himself a world-famous creative writer, but we know he isn’t. But Dev despite being the Numero Uno doesn’t feel like so. Factually, this didn’t work for me because we Indians, don’t take even soccer and hockey players seriously. Let alone car racers. While Dev’s socio-economic standard is used to create a barrier and make him look unreachable because of his social stature, that aspect doesn’t work for me because I don’t know a single racer from India. Instead, I know that Tamil actor Ajith Kumar was/is a car racer. See? Had Dev been a movie star, it would have been a more significant barrier. Also, when you have 300 crores, it is easy to become a movie star than a car racer. But the plot needs Dev to become a racer. Yet, the characters have no difficulty reaching him, and that is a different issue altogether. Also, a better actor could have brought fineness and texture to this person, who despite being celebrated by the masses, is a scared chicken on the inside. We don’t know this until he himself verbally confesses it. It neither visible on Karthikeya’a face nor in his voice.
Backed with strong BGM from Anirudh, there are some effective sequences throughout that grab your attention. Everything comes together in these sequences, the acting, staging, and directing. Especially a confrontation sequence between the Revengers and Dev which actually turns out to be an extended one. The interval shot is pretty neatly conceived with a car in the centre Dev on the left, Pencil and the gang to the right being overlapping with the car. The shot is great until an India flag comes out of nowhere!
Vikram Kumar’s previous film Hello, with a fantasy-like plot worked better because of the protagonist’s relationship with his parents and with the female lead was beautifully explored. This is not the case here. The relationship building is unconvincing. When Pencil breaks down into tears, in the end, saying how much each of the women means to him, it felt exaggerated because even though we have seen the bonding in a montage song, it looks scripted because we know it is ought to happen.
The performances are clean. The gang consisting of the veterans Lakshmi and Saranya Ponvannan, the noobs Priyanka Mohan, Shriya Reddy and Praanya P. Rao are neat. The veterans bring a little more depth to their characters than what was on the paper.
Logic has never been something Vikram Kumar minded. I don’t want to rhyme this, but his films are about magic, and there’s plenty of it here too. Every filmmaker has his/her signature, and Vikram’s too is evident. There is a well-placed connection that pays off very well in the end. It has Vikram Kumar written over it.
Gang Leader is not his best work. And it is not a bad thing to have their latest work to be their best work. It is not necessary to keep on increasing the graph. It’s about telling stories. Some work better than others. Gang Leader is a good film that could have been great had it tightened some loose ends like a little bit of more writing into the characters and maybe a little, *ugh* logic. Despite everything, he lets his mojo flow and churns out a light-hearted drama with generous doses of humour. Gang Leader will only leave you excited for more from the filmmaker.