Race Gurram was very nearly a non-starter in Melbourne, but at the 11th hour the distributors managed to find a venue and the race was on! Better still, there were English subtitles – even for the songs – a first for Telugu cinema here in Melbourne, but hopefully not the last. So, with a small but luxurious cinema, subtitles and the promise of Allu Arjun for just over 2 ½ hours, was the experience worth all the effort to get the film onscreen? Definitely! Race Gurram is a mass entertainer that doesn’t break away from standard masala fare, but still manages to leave you laughing at the end. That’s thanks mainly to strong performances from Bunny and Brahmi, while the usual suspects who make up the rest of the cast are a bit more hit and miss.
Apart from Allu Arjun’s introduction with a herd of horses and a few brief dialogues between our hero and the main villain, I’m not entirely sure why the film is called Race Gurram. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the race track, and instead is a tale of acrimony between two brothers, Ram (Shaam) and Lakshman (Allu Arjun).
Ram is the elder and more sensible brother. He’s an ACP and is the standard morally upright policeman that Telugu films like to use as a sacrificial lamb. Lakshman prefers to be called Lucky, because apparently it sounds ‘cooler’, which is probably enough of a clue to his feckless and irresponsible character. The interactions between the two brothers are one of the strengths of the film and Shaam and Bunny make their exchanges seem natural and realistic. Their arguments are just petty and immature enough to ring true, and when the situation escalates after a few more personal jibes, Lucky’s response is also in keeping with his personality. The way their relationship develops later in the film is also well handled, even if Lucky’s revelations before the interval do seem a little forced. The tables are turned when Lucky finds out that someone else is targeting his brother and while it’s OK for Lucky to humiliate and fight with his brother, it’s not on if someone else tries to do the same. It’s typical boy logic, but at least it gets Lucky on to the right side in the war against goon turned politician Shiva Reddy (Ravi Kishan).
Shruti Haasan appears as Spandana, Lucky’s love interest, and at first seems to have an interesting role as a devotee of yoga who only shows her emotions on the inside. But once she hooks up with Lucky, her usefulness to the plot seems to evaporate as her ability to emote increases, and she’s relegated to mainly appearing in the songs. At least Shruti gets to actually dance rather than just pose and gyrate like Debi Dutta in the unimpressive opening number, and she does look great even if she doesn’t get to say much in the second half.
Another disappointment is Shiva Reddy and the whole plot against Ram and Lucky. Although there are some good moments, overall Shiva Reddy is too much of a caricature villain to be properly offensive, and his machinations to become a minister are laughably inept. Ravi Krishnan never seems to get his teeth into the role, and mostly plays it for laughs with plenty of grimacing and sneering rather than any real maliciousness. The knock-on effect is that the fight sequences don’t work as well as they should against such an ineffectual hoodlum and even throwing Mukesh Rishi in as Shiva Reddy’s somewhat nastier father doesn’t improve the situation. However, the usual suspects including Kota Srinivasa Rao, Posani Krishna Murali, Sayaji Shinde and even Prakash Raj as Spandana’s father all add enough to the mix to keep the action moving along well.
The second half introduces Brahmi as Kill-Bill Pandey, a name which does infer the usual dire slap-stick that Brahmi often relies on for comedy. But such is not the case – Kill-Bill Pandey has great lines and an actual proper role in the story. And he’s really funny! Seriously! Bunny and Brahmi work well together too, as Lucky comes to realise just what he has done by releasing Kill-Bill Pandey as head of a special police force on the unsuspecting Hyderabad public. It makes for a much better ending than expected and has to be one of the best performances I’ve seen from Brahmi in recent times.
I was expecting great things from the songs despite the fact that the soundtrack didn’t sound too special on first listen, and overall I wasn’t disappointed. Apart from the first number which appeared out of nowhere without any particular point and had very little actual dancing by Bunny, the choreography was excellent. Placement was generally odd and mostly there was no effort to place the songs within the storyline, but who really cares when it’s Bunny dancing? The stylish star looked, well, stylish, and as always his dancing was superb, particularly with Shruti Hassan in the larger group routines. Bunny always looks to be having such a good time when he’s dancing and his energy is incredibly infectious, so no matter how ridiculous the sudden appearance of Spandana and Lucky in the snow-covered fjords of Norway seemed, it was impossible not to enjoy the show.
Race Gurram does suffer from a rather rambling screenplay, and at times the film gets bogged down with irrelevant odds and ends that taper off into nothing. Apart from the feuding brothers, the family moments are a tad cloying and overdone, and a heavier hand with the editing wouldn’t have gone amiss. However, Bunny and Brahmi together make for a surprisingly entertaining finale that was certainly well appreciated by the Melbourne crowd. Well worth a watch for their combined antics