Rajanna is doubtless a brave experiment. We do not intend to convey by the word 'experiment', that it is devoid of commercial elements. In fact, Rajanna is one of the most avant garde films released in Telugu. It will stand out for its unique format and emotions. Vijayendra Prasad here tells a hair-raising story with a brilliant honesty which is both nuanced and compelling.
When Malllamma (Baby Annie) finds the hall, where she has come to participate in a singing competition to impress upon Nehru, empty (the event is over), Rajanna's (Nagarjuna) spirit inspires her to nevertheless croon in the honour of the motherland by revealing to her that the hall is full of the noble souls of countless martyrs. This is the spirit of Rajanna. Our heroes - be it Bhagath Singh or Suddala Hanumanthu - may be dead and gone, but they are very much present in the atmosphere to reinvigorate us to fight all kinds of oppression. If you can appreciate this ideology, you will find Rajanna a rare and valuable story.
The Mallamma story
The film is set in the Nelakondapalli village of the late 1950s. The feudal society is under the vice-like grip of an aristocratic family and its head, a Dorasani (Swetha Menon). Mallamma is the darling of the village, which is living in perpetual humiliation. They seek solace in her songs. Brought up by Sambayya, an old man, she develops a mysterious attachment to a basil tree which is regarded as holy by the entire village.
She happens to sing a song in the Dorasani's house which enrages her. Since nobody can have a skill which her daughter has not been able to acquire, she decrees that Mallamma cannot sing if she wants to be alive. However, singing is in her very marrow. After all, she is the daughter of Rajanna, who had inspired hundreds of villagers to revolt against the evil lords through his revolutionary songs.
When the Dorasani finds Mallamma singing for another time, she decides to hound her and kill. The grandpa wants to take her away, but Mallamma refuses to oblige. It is then when she tells him that she cannot abandon the village where she Rajanna meets her everyday. The Dorasani, who overhears Sambayya telling her that she is Rajanna's progeny, kills him. A heroine that she is, Mallamma stages an escape with the help of the music teacher (Nasser) and sets off to Delhi to meet Nehru.
The Rajanna story
After killing over a hundred British officers, Rajanna is a proud son of a free India. Much to his dismay, he finds the villagers of Nelakondavalli still in servitude and radicalises them to massacre the oppressors. The revolution spreads to hundreds of villages and the nawabs are shaken. Unable to repress the warfare on their own, the local lords seek the help of the evil Razakars.
Ever at the forefront to save the village, Rajanna leads a guerrilla warfare with his four comrades (a Muslim, a Tamil Brahmin, a Punjabi and a Maharashtrian) and achieves martrydom after fighting hundreds of Razakar desperadoes to the finish.
Rajanna lives on in the memories of the people of Nelakondavalli. His spirit arouses Mallamma to put up a never-say-die spirit and rid the village of the beastly doras.
What makes Rajanna a must-watch
The film is a combination of artistic and technical brilliance. Well-written and equally well-executed, Rajanna is ingenuous and candid. From characterization to the intense performances (of Nag and Annie) to the very many situational songs and measured dialogues, Rajanna is an intellectual treat. It is difficult to say what keeps us glued to the screens: is it the patriotic thrum and the sheer humanism of the film or the refreshing feel of the film?
The episodic treatment is interesting. You could say that Rajanna is a story told in songs. Its songs present a whole range of emotions. If Raa Ree Ro Rela is breezy, Vey Vey is mind-blowing. The emotions the songs evoke are ennobling. The theme itself is humanizing.
Vijayendra Prasad leaves his mark. In telling the journey of Mallamma and the life of Rajanna, he follows a typical format. He gives prominence to human emotions and skillfully explores the mindsets of a myriad characters. In the process, he delineates how revolutions are orchestrated by noble souls. Be it in capturing the poignancy or the paranoia of the frightened villagers, he shows deftness. He proves a dab hand in building the right tempo. The songs come at the right time and even before you regret that the song is over, the story sucks you in.
Nag and Annie, between themselves, deliver the most watchable performances. While Nag is outstanding as a lion-hearted sage of revolution, oozing heroic rage and compassion, Annie is extraordinary as a girl with a mission.
Nagarjuna shows a rare maturity in portraying his role. Watch him sing Vey Vey as the entire village eliminates the bad men. Watch him spout dialogues just before fighting the Razakars. His looks, his mien, his demenor - everything is bona fide.
Annie is the best discovery in Tollywood's recent history. No exaggeration this. One cannot help but exclaim at her maturity. Watch her expressing shock at knowing that she is Rajanna's daughter, she is like a seasoned actress. Her diction, her expression, her moves - everything about Annie is awesome.
The grandpa proves a good choice. Sneha as Lacchamma does justice to her role. Swetha Menon perfectly fits the bill as the ruthless dorasani.
On the technical front, Keeravani outshines himself. This film will be remembered as one of the best outputs of his in decades. The background score is elevating.
Camera work (Shyam K Naidu and Anil Bhandari) is nifty. Editing by K Venkateswara Rao is just right.
Rajanna is not without its share of flaws. Thankfully, these are negligible. The first half could have been chopped a bit. Nag and band's fight before the interval bang was not well shot.
It would be incomplete if one doesn't mention the vivid mark of SS Rajamouli, who leaves his imprint on the action part. At least two fights - the Vey Vey song-fight and the pre-climax fight - bear testimony to the genius of Rajamouli. Go for it, for Rajanna is a rich movie-watching experience.