'Bhola Shankar' movie review: An insufferable and dispirited star vehicle 

Bhola Shankar is a hollow and distasteful homage to the mass legacy of Chiranjeevi.
The depiction of failure is the foundation for a story’s eventual, inevitable highs. This bears repetition in the context of Bhola Shankar.
The depiction of failure is the foundation for a story’s eventual, inevitable highs. This bears repetition in the context of Bhola Shankar.

Neuroscience of all things popped up in my mind while watching Bhola Shankar. Dr Anna Lembke, in her book Dopamine Nation, mentions that while many people associate dopamine with pleasure, the release of this chemical in our brains is also closely associated with pain.

According to the book, pain and pleasure are connected to each other, and when one leans too much towards pain, the body will reward it with some pleasure and vice versa. While this phenomenon is better understood by gym enthusiasts and substance addicts, I believe the mass cinema audience can also have a rudimentary knowledge of the same. 

Masala entertainer is a genre committed to making one feel cheery and jubilant. Even though it might sound counterintuitive to some, what makes a hero’s win feel greater is us vicariously experiencing pain through the protagonist’s downfall first.

The depiction of failure is the foundation for a story’s eventual, inevitable highs. This bears repetition in the context of Bhola Shankar, where one rarely experiences pleasure, despite the film continuously elevating the star. We are first introduced to a set of vaguely North Indian-looking antagonists whom we can never take seriously throughout the film. We have the smaller supporting characters treat Bhola Shankar (Chiranjeevi) as a god (at a Durga Puja event, someone says “ammagaru annagaru okesaari ochesaru”).

But there is hardly any pleasure in seeing the antagonist throw backhand elevations at the protagonist, and to have him say he can only be defeated by a ‘gangster, monster, destroyer’ segueing to Chiranjeevi’s intro sequence. Even if I had to walk into the theatre with the de facto assumption that Chiranjeevi is no less than a god — the star is put in a film where both action and dance sequences involve him gliding into different degrees of all-too-obvious and scarcely inspiring convenience. 

There is no palpable tension ever in any scene, just the star walking in a straight line firing guns which never run out of bullets and seekh-kebabing armies of men. The film continues its rampage of simplistic, low-effort treatment, be it in the way Maha (Keerthy) first meets Bhola or the way the film’s second set of siblings, Srikar (Sushanth) and Lasya (Tamannah) are treated throughout. The classic conflict of 'rich vs poor' is conspicuous in its absence, when Srikar mansion-owning, upper-middle parents land up to Bhola’s Howrah bridge-facing, working-class whereabouts to ask for Maha’s hand in marriage.

A part of me felt relieved to see Bhola resisting hitting Lasya in a moment of rage and calling out Srikar for stalking Maha, but the tiny upgrade in the way we treat women in mass movies is quickly forgotten in the film’s portrayal of the trafficking industry, which just shows us that the saviour template either needs a massive upgrade or a massive rollback.

While I have not watched Siruthai Siva’s Vedalam, which inspired Bhola Shankar, a film preaching the values of brotherhood — the sister played by Keerthy Suresh, without any doubt, succeeds at being blander than the sister she played in Siva’s Annatthe. It is a shame that Keerthy, who has given such beautiful and affecting performances in recent releases like Vaashi, Saani Kaayidham and Maamannan, is not getting such airtight, author-backed roles in the Telugu industry anymore. 

There is some anger and disappointment amongst fans about Chiranjeevi opting to do remake after remake and that is interesting to watch at one level because one of his fan-favourite films of Chiranjeevi is Shankar Dada MBBS, which was not an original film. I was six years old when Shankar Dada came out, which makes me wonder, “Would Bhola Shankar work out for six-year-olds today?" "Did Shankar Dada work out for 25-year-olds in 2004, after they have been used to seeing Chiranjeevi a certain way in the 80s and 90s?"

"Would Bhola Shankar be a much more enjoyable experience for a middle-aged audience from North India watching the Hindi-dubbed version of the film on his phone?" Such endless questions keep popping up in my head. It is certainly admirable that Chiranjeevi wants to make at least two films a year. After staying away from the limelight for more than a decade, he has definitely taken the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ adage to heart.

But stronger scripts, to put it very kindly, are the need of the hour for Chiranjeevi’s late career innings, lest one chooses to risk earning the ‘out of your mind’ reputation in the pursuit of staying in the picture all the time. 

Movie: Bhola Shankar
Cast: Chiranjeevi, Keerthy Suresh, Sushanth, Tamannaah 
Director: Meher Ramesh
Rating: 2.5/5

This copy originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com

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