Film: Maharshi; Starring Mahesh Babu, Allari Naresh, Prakash Raj; Directed by Vamsi Paidipally; Rating: ****(4 stars)
In one brilliantly conceived sequence of cultural conversion, Mahesh Babu playing the NRI tycoon Rishi Kumar follows a wizened farmer into the paddy fields to literally get his feet dirty in the fields.
It takes a whole universe of guts to shoulder one’s responsibilities as an empowered citizen of India, as Mahesh Babu has done in this film.
If you stay quiet you are accused of pacifism. If you speak up you’re an exhibitionist. Mahesh Babu who is a formidable icon in Telugu cinema, won’t remain quiet anymore. Breaking free of his innate political reservations he speaks out in favor of farmers of our impoverished country in a voice that never strains to be heard.
On the surface, Maharshi is yet another star-vehicle for Telugu cinema’s most revered contemporary superstar. To be sure, almost every frame of Maharshi is dedicated to eulogizing its leading man as he plunges into the role of a social crusader. The part sits easily on Mahesh Babu. He doesn’t shy away from comfortably occupying the moral high-ground that the narrative allows him.
Seldom does a cinematic hero looks so comfortable with his arrogance. Mahesh Babu A plays a man who thinks the world of himself. He scoffs at his father (Prakash Raj, in a moving cameo), taunts his best friend Ravi (Allari Naresh who can’t decide whether he wants to spare isolation) who hero-worships him and drives away his girlfriend (Pooja Hegde, inconsequential) because…well, she doesn’t fit into his ambitions.
The first-half with its quaint college is heartwarming without trying to be excessively cute. Director Vamsi Paidipally knows how to tap into Mahesh Babu’s youthful image. The early scenes in the IIT campus are well executed. But it’s in the second reformatory half that the protagonist Rishi Kumar, and his story come into their own. The village sequences create a sense of imminence and generosity for the cause of the farmers.
The restorative image of a film that wants to heal the wounded self-worth of farmers is never squandered for effect. Every time Mahesh Babu speaks on the issue of bankrupt farmers we see not the star but the star’s conscience spilling into the frames irrigating the driest corner with tears that long to be shed.
Indeed, Mahesh Babu’s transformative performance from arrogant conceit to a conscientious farmer is arguably his best to date. He waltzes across the arching plot not missing a single step as he negotiates his character’s offensive conceit. The only time he is persuaded to slow down his vehicle of social reform it is to break into a joyful jig and song with his romantic interest Pooja Hegde who looks like she walked into the wrong film.
There are some powerful veteran actors in the film. But they are purposely hazy in their appeal, the sole exception being Allari Naresh who loves his best friend Mahesh Babu to death.
That makes two of them.
Commandingly, Mahesh Babu never hides his character’s arrogance, Somewhere he knows that the sneer won’t last. Good karma will. Maharshi exudes a sense of comfort and happiness in the midst of the wreckage and targeting.