Mahanati movie review: Keerthy Suresh breathes life into Savitri’s beautiful tragedy

Mahanati movie review: Savitri’s life is a tragedy and Keerthy Suresh has brought it to life on the silverscreen. If the beginning of Savitri and Ganesan’s relationship is light, how the actor met her end and how their relationship came to an end is dark.
Keerthy Suresh portrays the role of Savitri in the biopic, Mahanati.
Keerthy Suresh portrays the role of Savitri in the biopic, Mahanati.
Updated on Aug 01, 2019 12:09 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By, Chennai

Cast:Keerthy Suresh, Dulquer Salmaan, Samantha Akkineni, Vijay Deverakonda
Director:Nag Ashwin
Rating: 3.5
Mahanati is an ode to the veteran actor Savitri, who was once the queen of Tamil and Telugu cinema, with over 300 films to her name. Casting Keerthy Suresh in the lead role has worked wonders for the film as she is uncannily similar to the legendary actor. This comes across in a few shots, especially in a recreation of a shot in Devadas.

As Gemini Ganesan, Dulquer Salmaan has done his part wonderfully, whether it is a frustrated and rude Ganesan when Savitri succumbs to coma or his cheesy Romeo avatar wooing Savitri. It is not that his looks are similar, but the way Ganesan’s character traits are portrayed, Dulquer has nailed it.

What works mostly for the film is that the director has not hesitated in stating facts in this biopic without demeaning the characters in the film. For instance, the fact that Savitri’s uncle enrolled her in dance classes as a child as a means to livelihood is straight forward.

For a man to fall in love with a woman when he is already married is unacceptable. That Savitri decided to get married to Ganesan, who is married and has another mistress as well, needed to be dealt with sensitivity. Nag Ashwin has managed to capture this complexity beautifully.

Savitri is a fan of the romantic tragedy, Devadas, and feels strongly about giving up on love just because Parvathi gets married. This conversation between Savitri and Ganesan as the interlude before Ganesan reveals that he is married gives us a clue as to what leads Savitri to say yes to be his second wife.

This decision was not taken in an instant,in fact, it took her a lot of time. Her personal dilemma is said to have played a big part in the way she played Parvati in her film Devadas opposite A Nageswar Rao. After enacting a scene as Parvati, wherein Savitri gets too emotional to withdraw herself from the character, she gets hurt.

In a shot, she is getting treated and Ganesan indirectly encourages her through a conversation with her uncle, Chaudhary. This shot with the mirror and the way reflection has been used is impressive. Not just this, there is a scene of a carnival where Savitri rides the carousel while Ganesan is working the mechanics. The two becoming each other’s world is symbolised colorfully. There are many more such shots that speak visually as much as through words.

Savitri’s life is a tragedy and Keerthy Suresh has breathed life into it. If the beginning of Savitri and Ganesan’s relationship is light, how the actor met her end and how their relationship came to an end is dark.

The beginning of her alcohol addiction is a scene where she is destroyed by her husband’s betrayal and in turn destroys the things that reminds her of him. And just before, when Ganesan asks her why she married him despite knowing of his ‘weakness’ (his many affairs), she says that then she was Savitri and now she is Savitri Ganesan. She puts the emotion of jealousy and sense of betrayal as a wife in words strongly.

She began dancing because she was told that she couldn’t, she began acting because she was told that she couldn’t and it is the same stubborn nature that stops her from seeking help, ending her life when she was just 45 years old.

It is a huge responsibility to take up a film which deals with a star of Savitri’s stature and keep it true to the life that she had led. Director Nag Ashwin has managed to do so successfully in majority. The reiterating of Savitri as Savitri amma (mother Savitri) might look like it is exaggerated, but the actor did enjoy fan adulation unlike any other female actor.

By making Madhuravani (Samantha Akkineni), the woman narrator, tell the audience Savitri’s story, the actor’s character is not questioned, but accepted with all its flaws and virtues. Vijay Antony (Vijay Deverakonda) as the man who falls in love with Madhuravani is a contrast to the womaniser that Ganesan is.

There are some great performances by the other cast members, including Rajendra Prasad, who plays Savitri’s uncle in the film. Naga Chaitanya’s cameo is more of a novel idea for this film as it speaks more about Savitri’s personal life, away from the camera.

There are a few scenes that look scripted. The scene where the real footage of Nandamuri Taraka Rao is superimposed with a dupe who fights and catches hold of a snake, had me bursting out in laughter as the disconnect is jarring. This one scene signifies the kind of growth that cinema has seen in terms of technology.

If one were to watch Mahanati in Tamil, the dubbing might irk you, even though the lead actors have voiced for the film themselves.

In the grand scheme of things, Mahanati is a story that needed to be said and it found a beautiful voice through director Nag Ashwin and actor Keerthy Suresh.

The author tweets as @Priyanka_S_MCC

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