Telugu filmmakers’ fascination with the fantasy genre dates back many decades. Films like Pathala Bhairavi (1951), Mayabazar (1957), Yamagola (1977), Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari (1990), Bhairava Dweepam, Yamaleela (1994), Ammoru (1995), Yamadonga (2007) and Arundhati (2009) among others mesmerised the audience with their storytelling, special effects, costumes, grand sets, soothing music and lots of adventure and drama. The genre has evolved so much that filmmakers are finding new ways to blend fantasy, folklore, and mythology in a contemporary milieu. And one such attempt is Kalyan Ram-starrer Bimbisara, which marks the debut of director Vassishta.
The film was released with a lot of promise and let’s see what worked for it. Bimbisara fits nicely within the impressive canon of Tollywood’s fantasy entertainers. After all, the legend of Bimbisara, a ruthless tyrant, whose quest for power and his resolve to conquer the kingdoms of the region, has all the melodrama, adventure, and action that have become the debutant’s mainstay.
Expectedly Vassishta delivers a film that is richly cinematic, but whose story —as it turns out — has little of the emotional complexity that powered the earlier films of this genre. Set in 500 BC in the Trigartha empire, Bimbisara tells the story of an invincible ruler, who threatens anyone who comes his way or at least, tries to cross paths with him. He slaughters anyone who opposes him in sight and is evil personified. What happens when this authoritarian king unexpectedly lands in the modern-day world?
Bimbisara is enhanced by uncompromising action, its striking camera work, and impressive visual effects, especially the ones set in the ancient period. In fact, Kalyan Ram’s entry into his kingdom reminds us of the iconic NTR as Duryodhana from Dana Veera Soora Karna (1977).
It’s refreshing to see Kalyan make his character his own — his sheer bulk adds to the overall evil of Bimbisara. His presence is freakishly powerful, shrewd, and stays with you.The film has spectacular action sequences, striking the right balance between grand scale and chilling confrontations.
In one sequence, a cloud of smoke fills up the screen when Bimbisara’s enemies kidnap a young girl, making it impossible to see what’s happening on the ground. The image that follows, of Bimbisara emerging from the cloud of smoke, is all you need to know about the severity and the intensity of the fight, and it quickly establishes the brutality that Bimbisara is capable of. In fact, it acts as a precursor to the climax.
There is opulence and ferocity in virtually every frame of the film and the director has made good use of the concept to present every scene on a grand scale. Kalyan Ram breathes life into the character of the barbaric, eccentric, menacing, power-hungry king, giving us a villain for the ages. Sporting a beard, unkempt long hair, kohl in the eyes, pierced ears, and the swagger of an evil man, he is both fascinating and intense at once. Bimbisara finds loyalty in Zubeida (Srinivas Reddy), who indulges in goofy and slap-stick humour. Some of their moments are thoroughly entertaining in the film.
In comparison, the romance between Bimbisara and the two leading ladies (Catherine Tresa and Samyuktha Menon) is lackluster and slackens the film’s pace. Both these ladies lack substance in the story and were relegated as mere caricatures. Samyuktha, who plays a cop, is zany! It is where Vassishta fails to weave magic and we are fortunate that these episodes were cut short.
Vivan Bhatena is passable as Subrahmanya Sastry, but a quirkier actor could have added more seriousness to the role. Ayyappa P Sharma as Ketu is at ease and gets a little more to work with. Of the supporting cast, Brahmaji, Chammak Chandra, and Vennela Kishore make efforts to generate silly laughs. Dialogues by Vasudeva Muneppagari are catchy.
The music of Chirranthan Bhat and the background score of MM Keeravani have their high points. The songs, especially, Eeswarude and the much-hyped special number featuring Warina Hussain stand out.
Overall, Bimbisara belongs to Kalyan Ram whose delicious performance is its biggest draw. The actor keeps you invested in the film even when it plods on for around 150 minutes.