I was in the middle of writing a review for Rattha Charithiram(Raktha Charitra), when I heard the director’s tweet “By the time I finished Rakta Charitra the reality became a film for me and now this incident jolted me back into reality." He was referring to the death of the individual, whose life was the inspiration for one of the two central characters in this semi-bio-epic. It was touted to be one of the bloodiest films in history, based on real incidents revolving around the two characters. I had another 2 reasons why I wanted to watch it.
1) This was the maiden Hindi venture of Suriya, one of the finest Tamil actors of our times. And that with ‘the‘ Ram Gopal Varma who has carved a niche for himself in Indian cinema as an artfully controversial director.
2) I’ve always been intrigued by on-screen violence, blood and revenge fuelled plotlines with adrenaline pumping action. And when RGV openly stated this film is not for women, there was no way I was taking his advice.
As only the 2nd installment of the film was released in Tamil, I watched the first one, in Hindi (with no subtitles, but with the aid of the plot line on the wonderful Wikipedia!). Was it worth all the hassle? 100% Yes. If a romantic entertainer such as ‘Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya’ may be classed a beautiful ‘painting’ of love, Rattha Charithiram was RGV’s delicately crafted ‘sculpture’ of revenge painted in red.
The technical aspects of the film were simply Fine with a capital ‘F’. Be it the shots, edits, camera angles (particularly in the 2nd part) or the BGM in perfect sync with the theme, everything was top-notch. Even with tank loads of blood, certain visualizations and concepts were a thing of celluloid beauty. One such is the first shot, showing the bust of Gandhi as a voice narrates how villages were considered the athma (soul) of the nation, although in practicality, many are now home to blood baths (deaths). It strikes you instantly. There were some neat performances by the artistes. Vivek Oberai carries his role well and one could see the gradual transformation of the character whilst the character of ‘Bukka Reddy’ stands out as the epitome of evil.
Despite the thirst for revenge in the plot, it’s not portrayed effectively, neither in Vivek’s role, nor in the urgency of the script in the first installment, as it fails to completely emotionally engage with the viewer. Blood and gore appear to overshadow the deep urge for revenge. I wanted something different, something more and something spectacular came in the second installment, in the form of ‘Surya Narayana Reddy.’
It almost felt like a different film. The technical standards were raised; eerie prison shots and color balances; 360 degree camera turns; continuous slow-motion stunt sequences etc. The speed of the plot shifted up a few gears as the volume of bloodshed on-screen was reduced, paving way for the essence of the movie, the emotions, the prevails, the beauty and the ghastly faces of revenge to be laid bare, portrayed through the eyes of Suriya (literally!).
The two central characters were painted in grey, depicting how neither is right nor wrong but the result of fate and the burning desire for revenge. What the viewer did not ‘feel’ in the first movie, they feel completely in the second. The penultimate scenes depict the feelings of fulfillment yet uncertainty and of vengeance yet sadness, as we watch not the actor, but the character 'Surya'. Surely, one of his finest ever screen performance.
RGV stamps his mark in the final scenes where he reminds one it takes only a single step for saint to become sinner in the name of revenge, yet it’s not a black and white paradigm. It’s a shade of grey and once the paint is mixed, it can never truly return to its original vibrancy. The audiences are left to ponder at possible directions in which the saga will continue. As one has avenged; will another sought out for revenge on the avenger? The tale is left at a turn with speculations about a third film.
But reality has truck to give its own verdict. The original ‘Suri’ on whom Surya’s character was based on was murdered by a confidant (within 2 months of the film's release). The concept of ‘eye for an eye’ may appear all dramatic and exciting on screen, but in reality, it’s simply death and pain. The timing and nature of the death is what makes one think about the issues covered in the film, as if it were fate, that closure must be given to the tale.
Rattha Charithiram is a piece of bloody art; a grey-scaled celluloid depiction of revenge presented by gifted artists. Is it glorifying violence? That’s for one’s own judgment, but combine it with the incidents of reality and one will think twice before taking the blood-red route to revenge. Well, at least in reality, as revenge tales and cinema are simply inseparable and provide some of the best entertainment and concepts on screen to which Rattha Charithiram stands proof.