Bad guys flying amid manufactured dust storms. Cars toppling. Bulls running. Sickle fights. Hammer combats. All in slow motion. Ear-deafening howls. Melodramatic dialogue-baazi. Multiple entry sequences by the same hero. Also in slow motion. That’s Akhanda in a nutshell. Ludicrous. Laboured. Languished. That’s also Akhanda in a nutshell.
Back in the ’80s and the ’90s, cinema witnessed a paradigm shift when angry young men became a prototype for the quintessential Indian hero. These alpha males were perpetually livid, broke into fights at the drop of a hat, lived with and reveled in savior complex, craved to battle the system and bring about positive socio-economic changes. The only respite they had was when they serenaded their lady loves. Decades have passed since then but our commercial cinema’s infatuation with alpha males remains constant. Akhanda is yet another addition to it.
Here, Telugu star Nandamuri Balakrishna’s Murali Krishna is no different. He is considered to be a tangible representation of divinity by the inhabitants of his hometown. In other words, he is a problem fixer. Every now and then, he holds a diwan-e-aam styled session with them at the yard of his palatial abode where he helps iron out the wrinkles in their lives. Such is his aura, power and credibility that even doctors scream out his name and call for him when they are unable to diagnose and treat their patients!
Balakrishna also plays Akhanda Rudra Sikandar Aghora, a disciple of Lord Shiva, who has psychic powers. No matter where he is, he instantaneously comes to the rescue of the repressed and the sick every time they suffer. Interestingly, he is a deft stuntman too. He beats up goons. He also brings an almost dead baby back to life. Time and again, he keeps reminding everyone that the divine will withstand no wrongdoings and delinquency.
The film opens with a gory gun-heavy combat sequence between the Indian army officials and Gajendra Sahu, who we are introduced to as a ‘high value target’ and ‘most wanted criminal’. He doesn’t bat his eyelid even as he goes around destroying nature and establishments. During the encounter, he is brutally injured and is rescued by a headman of a religious group. He ends up killing the chieftain and decides to never challenge the universe. This cuts to a scene in Karnataka’s Anantpur, where a woman gives birth to twins, out of whom one is stillborn. An aghora comes to her house and takes away the stillborn baby saying that he is a form of evil. He is taken to Kaasi where he comes to life when placed before a Shiva linga and is brought up by a group of aghoras there. Years later, the twins grow up, leading separate lives. The only thread of commonality between them is their fight against a common ruthless enemy, who only care about development even if it costs poor people’s lives. The interplay between avarice and divinity forms the rest of the story.
What the script is packed with is noise. What it lacks is logic. And that’s why we see Pragya Jaiswal’s Saranya Bachupally carrying her ailing child from Karnataka to Delhi for a medical treatment in a car. That’s also why families are seen begging Murali to help save their sick children and loved ones even though they are admitted in a hospital under the supervision of those who actually have the qualification to save lives – doctors. Director Boyapati Srinu tells this loud, chaotic and incoherent tale, rather unapologetically. His vision is clear – to entertain the audience without them having to exercise their grey matter. But entertainment and suspension of disbelief also require a certain quality of newness to bloom.
To reiterate, the film is made for the mass audience, who loves whistling, clapping and throwing nickels at the big screen to express their joy over escapism but Akhanda loses the plot very soon. Its popcorn quotient fizzles out and it turns into a damp squib. The screenplay is packed with so many events and episodes that you are left questioning your own mind.
The early 2000s gave us a slew of Hindi dubbed versions of South films that have made us quip on gloomy days and now, are an integral part of the meme culture, thanks to their dialogues and colourful, catchy and flamboyant one liners. That way, the Hindi version of Akhanda doesn’t disappoint. The dialogues, unintentionally, will make you laugh, every now and then. Murali might be hurling ‘Tu kya Nizam Sagar ka dam hai ya Mumbai ka sealink hai jo tere taaqat ko naapu? Kuye ka mendak hai tu’ to a local gangster with all his rage, but you end up cracking up. Some other dialogues that might tickle your funny bones are ‘Bechoge toh khush rahoge nahi toh national headlines mein rahoge’ and ‘Ek baar vinaash karne ko nikal padha toh bina brake ka bulldozer hoon main’. Murali’s showy monologues are memorable because he imparts moral lessons to the bad guys after fighting with them and crushing them to a pulp.
The film has no particular intention to rattle you, make you think or adhere to rationality. There’s no room for grey here – either you believe in the divine or you are a barbarian. The bad guys can best be described as hooligans, monsters, savages and brutes. While Kalakeya Prabhakar’s DSP Ranjan is not only a corrupt cop but also a rapist, Srikanth’s cruel and callous Antahpuram Varadarajulu doesn’t worry about beheading a worker and bringing his head as a gift to his family.
As for the women, they don’t get to do any the heavy lifting in a story told for and through heroes pumped with testosterone. There is Viji Chandrasekhar, who play Murali and Akhanda’s mother. There is a song sequence picturised on her as she cries for her first-born son, who is now an aghora. And when she isn’t crying, she doesn’t have anything else to do. Poorna’s Padmavathi, an IAS officer, is an undercooked character. At the outset, Saranya comes across as a woman written with a lot of gumption and edge. She is a fearless IAS officer, who cannot stand oppression. She nudges her lover to take her out on a date, she proposes marriage to him and she loves toddy. But soon, she is reduced to an inconsequential entity.
Yes, films need not bear the burden of morality and make a statement. Yes, films are supposed to tell all kinds of stories. But times are changing and so has the audience’s tastes, thanks to their increased exposure to global content. Experimentation has become a requisite now. Novelty is gold. Not all heroes need to be larger-than-life images and take down an entire village of rogues. Not all heroes need to wield power. Not all heroes need to be saviours. Not all heroes need to be a symbol of righteousness and virtue. Because flawed is cool and so is soft masculinity. Akhanda is a dated, blasé and jaded template. But if you want to blow off steam and indulge in a guilt-full pleasure after a mundane week, go for it because it is so random that it makes you travel to places and times far away from reason and 2023.
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