Cast: Mohan Babu, Vishnu Manchu, Shriya Saran, Nikhila Vimal
Director: Madan Ramigani; Rating: 2 and a half stars
Versatile actor Mohan Babu who has not been seen often on screen in recent times plays a dual role – a hero and a villain in Gayatri. The film directed by Madan Ramigani is a testament to how a high-voltage commercial entertainer stuffed with family emotions is all about in Telugu cinema. Madan knows his target audience well and delivers what they want. He depicts Mohan Babu as a stage artiste Dasari Shivaji, who runs an orphanage in memory of his wife – Sarada Sadanam’ and also serves a jail sentence as a stand-in to criminals or politicians for money.
He is also having a second dimension to his character which his close aides often blurt out – “This (stage artiste) is page 1 and let him stay on it. If he goes to his little-known page 2, his original character will come out and you will never know what will happen.” Surprisingly, the first hour doesn’t give Shivaji enough space to unleash his powerful ‘page 2’ and we get to see his original self only during the penultimate scenes.
A generous man he is, Shivaji is tormented inside for what destiny had offered him, with the choices he had made in his life and is on the quest to reunite with his missing daughter Gayatri (Nikhila Vimal). He gets trapped by a dreaded mafia lord Gayatri Patel (also essayed by Mohan Babu), who wants to frame Shivaji for a crime and eliminate his daughter, a witness in that case.
The rest may sound cliche as Shivaji steps forward and reveals that he is not Gayatri Patel, the real crime lord. So, the penultimate episodes show Shivaji facing up to the challenge and finding his way to come out unscathed.
At 67, Mohan Babu gets to show the world that he can make you cry, dance at ease and rough up the goons convincingly. It’s nostalgic to watch him when he’s in his elements – delivering trademark punch dialogues and some wisecracks. But, when the film takes a turn for the serious, you see a different dimension of his. In some instances, you get to see Mohan Babu riding an auto, feeding the hungry at his orphanage, going to prison and walking casually on the roads – something that we’ve seen him doing around two decades ago.
One minor complaint is that if the story was a little evenly distributed throughout the movie, it would have been much more engaging than it originally is. The film gets tiresome after a point and some aspects appear out of place. However, the narration benefits from fine acting from Shriya Saran and Vishnu Manchu (played younger Shivaji), who provide emotional vulnerability and add real meat to the story. The flashback involving them is engrossing and their chemistry is striking. Especially, the romantic number (Oka nuvvu, oka nenu) shot on them is beautiful to behold. The dissension shown at this point tugs at your heartstrings.
Nikhila Vimal is earnest in an enthusiastic role displaying consistency. Mohan Babu shows off his acting prowess in a role that was tailor-made for him. Anasuya as journalist Sreshta has a good body language and passes muster. Posani Krishna Murali does a cameo as a lawyer. Others including Ali, Brahmanandam, Kota Srinivasa Rao and Siva Prasad among others played their part well.
Dialogues by Diamond Ratna Babu gel with the narrative and reflect today’s political scene in the Telugu States. On the flip side, Ratna Babu should have done extensive research before penning a counter-factual dialogue like Badminton player PV Sindhu winning a gold medal in Olympics. (She settled for silver though). SS Thaman’s background score and songs are riveting. Overall, Gayatri is one of those films that’s emotional in parts with some stretches that appear cliched at times. Otherwise, the film packs a punch for the commendable performance of Mohan Babu and makes for a decent (weekend) watch.