Krish Jagarlamudi’s Gautamiputra Satakarni (2017) Movie Review
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Star Cast: Nandamuri Balakrishna, Shriya Saran, Hema Malini, Shiva Rajkumar, Kabir Bedi and Vinod
Written by Sai Madhav Burra
Direction-Screenplay by Krish
Music Composed by Chirantan Bhatt
Cinematography by Gnana Shekar V S
Edited by Suraj Jagta & Rama Krishna
Censor Certificate: UA & Runtime: 135 Minutes
The Satavahana’s rise to prominence was led by Simuka (221 BC), who declared his independence from Mauryan rule post ‘The Greatest Mauryan Emperor’ Ashoka leaving the kingdom, to become a saint. The Satavahanas taken over most of the territories in South India and Kalinga. (According to Fragment of the 6th Pillar Edicts of Ashoka, Bhrami Sandstone in Telugu). Earlier Satavahanas were under the control of Emperor Ashoka, who claims they were in his domain and introduced Buddism among them. But third king, Satakarni (I) patronized Brahmins and started performing Vedic Sacrifices, Ashvamedha and Rajasuya. After the 56 year strong rule of Satakarni (II), his successors failed to continue the legacy and even were defeated by Nahapana’s and troubled by Greeks – Sakas.
At this troubled times, Satavahana power was revived by 23rd King Gautamiputra Satakarni (first king to be named after his mother’s name), who uproots Nahapana family and unites half of the India in his 34 years of rule. This visual tale by Krish Jagarlamudi showcases revivification of Satavahana Empire under the rule of ‘King of Kings’ Gautamiputra Satakarni and how he pushed back the Greeks and Scythians from his region. (BTW! he was the first king to introduce coins with Royal images in India.)
The first and foremost we have to appreciate the efforts of VFX artists, Sound department, the Art Department and Camera people. These departments have created one of the memorable marvels of Telugu cinema history with least amount of budget, when you compare it to Thandra Paparuyudu (1986) starring Krishnam Raju, Vishwanadha Nayakudu (1987) starring Krishna, two films directed by Dasari Narayana Rao, the last historical period films that tried to portray history on screen effectively. In terms of ambition and execution Baahubali (2015) has become the gold standard for Telugu cinema in recent years. For matching toe-to-toe at least in war sequences (especially opening war), we have to appreciate the efforts of GPSK team too. Back Ground score was far better than songs, thankfully. That’s for the positives.
Coming to performances, Nandamuri Balakrishna is very regular. Even though it was delightfully exciting to watch him roar on screen, it would have been better, had he been Satakarni rather than his regular self. We cannot fault his effort regarding his age. But he looked completely out of shape and at places his makeup looked really odd. According to Sashanas by Gautami Balasri, her son was very handsome, charismatic, tall, ideal and intelligent too. Balakrishna’s portrayal of the said character was a bit more on emotion, like his Legend (2014), than a King. Shriya Saran and Hema Malini were fine in their given spaces. Rest of the cast including Kabir Bedi, Tanikella Bharini, Subhalekha Sudhakar, Vinod were delightful at times.
Now while the visible part of the movie was well executed for the budget they claim to have spent on the movie. The invisible part like a good compelling script reduces the effort of the team. When I say script is invisible let me give you an example of a well-made war periodic movie (Wait a second! I’m not talking about Hollywood films here), Bobbili Yuddham (1964) directed by C Seetaram, that movie was made purely to entertain audience while showing the history. The battle of Bobbili happened in 1757 and the film tries to bring in the humanity part of the battle by ending the movie with the future generation of two battling kings going holding hands walking into a silhouette. Such was the impact of the performances and the script of the movie. There were many big stars like Sr. NTR, SVR, Jamunna and most importantly Bhanumathi, who contributed their best of the efforts in bringing Sitaram’s ambition to life. But here the ambition was there but the script looked like a Doordharshan movie made to showcase some war sequences, like Tippu Sultan. Well, the screenplay lacks any kind of depth to sustain the momentum with which it started off.
The opening shots with long tilts and pans, we see the art capabilities of GPSK period and we hear the conversation of young Satakarni with her mother Gautami Balasri. Well one thinks that from here you will get at least some sort of connection with plight of his earlier rulers and how Satakarni tried to combat each and every obstacle before fighting his two big battles. But we started off with him fighting his biggest battle and prepping up for his next toughest one and all this was showcased for 75 minutes of the movie. So in a biopic if you give two wars such time what would you execute in another 60 minutes, another war may be? Then what about how well did he survive his father’s absence and became the warrior that he was, by the time we see him on screen. All that was said by a burrakatha specialist, and even his queen couldn’t know what the artist knew. So my point is what kind of script are we dealing with? Are we making a biopic or a war film. Well the director seems to be similarly confused like me.
In a well-made biopic in recent times, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag the story writers and director understood what made Milkha, “MILKHA”. But here Krish seems to be carried away by unifying a country like India, with all its diversity intact but didn’t understand what was behind the ambition. Any ambition cannot be a five year old boy’s dream it needs a lot more nursing and nourishing and carefully built emotion that transpires into an ambition. The man who made better films than many in recent times. I wonder what made him loose his point. The movie mostly looks like an inspiration from Troy, 300: The Rise of Empire, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings and Bajirao Mastani. Krish, who worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali seems to have taken his ideology and visual sense in his own way to make GPSK. If he had only, taken his script sense as well.
Alas, all said and done the VFX and the logic’s are highly at bay here. While the story is happening in Nahapana’s kingdom, we unnecessarily spend more time on watching the same shot that we have seen two minutes ago. Even though the shots are good, a quick resolution that Satakarni came up with after a long time, makes him looks like a person without Vyuham, rather than improvising. While he tries to sound like one at least. Throughout the battle it looks like a director wanted to show what he thinks about Satakarni, but not what truth could be. History should not be open to interpretation. However un-articulated and based on imagination it might be. I understand the lack of knowledge in this particular case, but when a person claims to have done his research and says it a semi-biopic you won’t expect such war film. For example, To say how bad the things were let me tell you two examples 1. At night Nahapana keeps on attacking Satakarni’s army with fireballs, but none of them even seem to scratch them and 2. When you have such a huge army like Greeks fighting against you, what kind of a king would say let’s go blind into the battle. Both these make him very careless warrior and a bad script from the directors point of view. Even the Greek king has seems to have gone blind into the battle like Krish, to get defeated.
Within words Krish tried to sum up the greatness of Satakarni, but the sequences like giving highest order to his mother/all mothers and announcing a New Year celebration (Ugadi), which is still a popular tradition among different states of India. Like, greatness of a mother need not be explained but the connection between them when a King in those times decided to give himself the name as Gautamiputra Satakarni, then he must have been so touched and moved by her love and affection. That aspect was left to our imagination with few lines of wisdom. Basically, all this would have been covered, had Krish spent time on thinking about expanding the script to understand Satakarni – Unsung hero, even better. The film gives an impression that he just cared about war but not for people in his entire life. For a “King of Kings” an Emperor Par excellence, who should be regarded on the pedestal like Chandragupta Mourya, Ashoka and Purushottama doesn’t his legacy needs more indepth analysis than three war sequences? Thought process of a director like Krish for me, should have been about who Satakarni is and why legacy should be celebrated. Rather it looks like a person who tried to achieve his dream of expansion and unification. A King who tried to unify all provinces to build peace? Well, if that was the case then why did he believe peace restoration is possible by war when Asoka himself thought it was impossible? These sort of questions are still unanswered and may be never will be answered too. A script touching such an aspect of Satakarni’s reign could have been delight to watch on screen with Krish’s ability.