Rudhramadevi (2015)

Rudramadevi-Posters-2

If Rudhramadevi had been made in 1956 I’d have loved it, no question. But Gunasekhar struggles to realise his grand vision and the ripping story drags at times. The main cast give their all, but they can’t compensate for some poor directorial decisions and sloppy execution.

The first thing that hit me was the VFX. I thought it was maybe a deliberate stylistic choice as there are animated montages that look like a childs picture book. But it is just shonky quality, used too liberally, and with poor judgement. At least it distracted me from wondering what Marco Polo’s stuck on beard was made of. And why Marco Polo was in the film.

The story is so interesting this should have almost written itself. A girl is raised as a boy and keeps up the pretence to protect her kingdom for as long as she can. But Gunasekhar spends far too much time with the various enemies and uses loads of clunky “As you know Bob” exposition. I felt that there were some holes in the film and Gunasekhar was trying to paper over those gaps with other techniques including a Mega voiceover and a peasant who announced every new character with bio as well as voicing the people’s dissatisfaction with their rulers.

Anushka owns every frame she is in. She adjusts her posture and facial muscles so there is a clear distinction between Rudradeva and Rudhramadevi and is convincingly commanding. She has some weird darkening makeup on as a boy, but it does allow her to look stunningly radiant when she girls up.

Her closest female friends are Nithya Menen as her wife Muktamba and Catherine Tresa as The Other One Who doesn’t Wear Much, and there is a lightness and ease in the way Anushka moves as she drops the pretence and heavy armour undershirt to dance in the “Yay! I’m a girl” numbers. She did her damnedest in the tandav but while her expressions told a powerful story, her dancing was not as compelling. Rudhramadevi used Veerabhadra’s feelings for her to get him back on task, but she evinced far more concern about Muktamba’s reaction and wellbeing. That ruthlessness and emotional intelligence wasn’t really explored and I felt the film needed to reveal how she ruled, not just show a sequence of events.

 

I put that clip in just for some shirtless Rana. He looks so chuffed when he is prancing almost in time.

Rudramadevi-Rana Anushka

I knew a “Zorro” moment was nigh when Rudradeva wore a blue tunic done up with pink princess ribbons, and the gender reveal is a bit ho-hum. Veerabhadra took the whole “Dude, you’re not a dude” revelation quite well, all things considered. There is little sexual chemistry between Rudhramadevi and Veerabhadra, but the actors have a nice rapport, like childhood friends. I enjoyed moments like when Rana playfully tweaked Anushka’s nose as he said goodbye. While the writing skimmed the surface of characters emotional lives, the actors added their own flavour.

Gona Ganna Reddy (Bunny) and his horse seem to have ridden in from a different film; something more gothic perhaps or even a KPop music video (Jaejoong’s stylist may be moonlighting as a Telugu horse costume designer).  Bunny plays his character as unrelentingly dour and with one facial expression, but his one liners got the audience cheering. And he rarely blinks. It’s intense and unsettling after a while.

Rudrama Devi Posters

The support cast is huge. Hari Hara Devudu (Suman) and Murari Devudu (Aditya) are the Statler and Waldorf of villains. They sit back and critique everyone else but rarely do anything themselves, unless you count letting their allies die horrible deaths. Their brother Naga Devudu (Baba Sehgal) shows commendable willingness to really go for the snake theme. Nithya Menen is underutilized as Muktamba. I enjoyed her scenes with Anushka and thought her decision to respect the sacrifice and say nothing was interesting. This contrasted with the shouty peasants who just flat out refused to accept a woman, despite a rousing Prakash Raj girl power speech. Prakash Raj is in good form as Shiva Devaiah, the mastermind of the scheme that sees Rudhramadevi raised as the boy Rudradeva. Villain Mahadeva (Vikramjeet Virk) spends most of the film prancing atop a phallic tower made of polystyrene. Amusing, but you know a great hero or heroine deserves a genuinely scary bad guy and he is not the real deal no matter how many people he kills out of spite. Hamsa Nandini is slinky and duplicitous, the Bond girl of courtly spies.

Gunasekhar’s massed set pieces lack richness. If you arrange a formation of extras with one or two carefully out of position people for randomness, but then use that same formation scores of times over it ends up looking ridiculous with the pattern repetition of those supposedly random bodies. A critical battle scene started with a cool idea – one army emerging in a serpent formation as their opponents attacked in an eagle formation. But it went on forever and looked far too fake. I was reminded of the similar but excellent lotus and arrow scene in Magadheera.

One of the few actors I could imagine would happily rappel down a structure (possibly without even checking there was a rope), Bunny was plagued with dodgy wire work. Anushka was also caught so that her feet didn’t quite hit the ground or was frozen in awkward and unconvincing poses in midair. Maybe it was supposed to look good in 3D but I can’t imagine it would. And too many fight scenes and chases were sped up to slapstick comedy pace.

There is abundant weird CGI, possibly a workaround for the 3D version, although I should have remembered the effects in Okkadu. For example, when a drawbridge is being lowered they faked the cogs and ropes too which you’d think would be doable and cheaper for real. The climax scene as Rudhramadevi and elephant bring doom upon her enemies should be thrilling but it is just opportunity to crank up the bad CGI. The use of CGI elephants seemed unnecessarily frequent especially when in many scenes there was no obvious risk of physical harm to an animal – why not use a real one? And there seemed to be a bit of tusk whitening done in post production that was distractingly odd.

A big shoutout to the helmet and armour department. No design was too silly or impractical for them to try. I really wish I could find a picture of Bunny’s Glomesh helmet from the final battle, but you will just have to make do with Rana’s special dressing up armour.

Despite the negatives I really appreciate seeing Anushka as the lead with so much screen time in an awesome story. Bunny and Rana bring more interest to their characters than the screenplay demands. I would have liked to see more relationship development generally, and especially between the ladies given the story is of a woman pretending to be a man. I really wish the film had been better executed as I can see what it might have been, and the gap between what was delivered and that potential is frustrating.

 

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11 thoughts on “Rudhramadevi (2015)

  1. For me the best scenes were those involving gender identity issues, especially those of little Rudhramadevi’s-that scene was very risque but done sensibly. Rest is amateurish. Guna should have made a film dealing only with identity issues for 1/10th of the cost- it would have been an award magnet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s definitely a great story under everything else. Hopefully Anushka gets some recognition when awards come around. I was actually annoyed by the menstruation scene as I could not fathom why no one, not even her mother, seemed to have considered that she would hit puberty. And the identity issue and what it meant to keep such a secret from close friends and family was overlooked too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m kind of confused, does the wife (Nithya Menon) know she’s marrying a woman? She has to know right? I haven’t seen the film obviously but this gender identity part of the story sounds super interesting.

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    • Hi Jess. She doesn’t say anything until long after the wedding. But said she always knew. Nithya’s character had the hots for Prince Rudradeva for ages, so it was one of many interesting character interactions that were largely glossed over..

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  3. Hey Guys,

    Have y’all not been able to watch Bruce Lee The Fighter yet? The movie got pretty bad reviews on the usually Telugu websites but I wanted to see what y’all had to say. I haven’t seen it yet either but I don’t think I’ll be able to watch soon. Anyway, I’ll talk to y’all if I do watch it though.

    Thanks,
    TJ 🙂

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    • Hi TJ,
      I saw Bruce Lee The Fighter at the weekend but I’m not planning to write it up until I can watch it again on DVD. I found the film a bit patchy although Chiranjeevi was excellent and I loved seeing him on the big screen again. The audience went totally wild as well! I think it’s worth watching in the cinema for that alone – just make sure there are a crowd of Chiru fans in the audience 🙂
      Cheers, Heather

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  4. Hi Heather,

    I read your review before watching Rudhramadevi in Cinema. My friends thought it would be a better idea to watch the movie in 3D so that the VFx would make more sense. I just tagged along with them to see if its better in 3D, but no. Its no better in 3D as well. It was one of the most shoddy VFx I have ever seen. Its not about the shoddy VFx because every other film has it, even Baahubali had some cartoonish sequences. The difference Rudhramadevi has too much of it its throughout the film. They used VFx throughout where it was completely unnecessary.
    It was an unpleasant experience. And I couldn’t make sense if many of the scenes as well. Like for example how Prakash Raj miraculously appears in the climax in the middle if the war where arrows are raining horizontally in straight line going over the enemy’s head and still kills them.
    My friends saw the trailer and hoped for a great film. But it was below average even though Anushka gave it her all, one of the most impressive performances in recent times.
    It was funny to crack up some jokes with friends about the VFx in the climax especially.

    Cheers,
    Dinesh V

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    • Hi Dinesh,
      I haven’t seen Rudhramadevi yet – I was OS and it’s no longer playing here. Temple saw the film and wrote the review for this one. Sorry to hear it wasn’t very good as I was looking forward to seeing this one 😦
      Cheers, Heather

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      • Oops Sorry Temple.
        The story based on true Historical events is good. But the film fails miserably with the screenplay dragging the second half and the shoddy VFx which is a major drawback. The film would have been better off with minimal VFx and more content.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I have seen “Rudramadevi’ maximum times, still watching also. It’s based on real historical story. But I just think budget of “Rudramadevi’ was low…..it’s could be most beautiful… leave it… salutes Anushka Sweety mam dedication towards this movie, no one couldn’t do this role except Anushka Sweety mam… perfect choice of Guna shekhar Sir… Loves to team of “Rudramadevi’…

    Liked by 1 person

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