Guntur Kaaram: Expired Spices
Star Cast: Mahesh Babu, Sreeleela, Prakash Raj, Jayaram, Jagapathi Babu, Ramya Krishna, and Vennela Kishore
Music Composed byThaman S
Cinematography by Manoj Paramahamsa
Edited by Naveen Nooli
Directed by Trivikram Srinivas
Any idea, any formula, any ingredient, even any ideology will have an expiry date. Religious beliefs also have such expiry dates but with a large population, the dangerous beliefs pass on to those with tender egos and unprincipled upbringing. A good upbringing and a bad upbringing will always play an important part in shaping anybody’s life. Trivikram Srinivas stated this in Ala Vaikuntapurramuloo  and he forgot to nourish his ideas and beliefs properly as a parent. Yes, he saw never before like success until that moment with Attarintiki Daredi . But among his previous films as a writer and then a director, people saw him trying something boldly different from others. Look at a film like Swayamvaram , it doesn’t try to state anything else but drama between characters. A simple one-line story that still leaves you with an experience to remember and re-visit. Chirunavvu Tho , Nuvvu Naaku Nacchav , Manmadhudu  – every film is a love story yet has a strong drama between characters.
He decided to become a director and made Nuvve Nuvve, Athadu, Jalsa, Khaleja, and Julayi. Tell me how similar are these films and how different. Well, since this is not an interactive one-on-one discussion, I will tell you my side and you can think about yours. Nuvve Nuvve  is a character-driven candyfloss romance, but Athadu  is a completely typical Telugu commercial story. It has strong characters everywhere. Jalsa  is a college romance mixed with a misdirected youth achieving his goal by being a simpleton and not an extremist or by using weapons. Khaleja  has again a simpleton working hard to understand the purpose bestowed upon him, rather forcefully. Julayi  – again a simpleton with big dreams decides to take easy ways to make money and falls into a crime pit that he needs to climb out of as a character solving zigzag puzzles.
What happened with Attarintiki Daredi? He thought he could take a star hero and re-tell a story that was more in sync with the 80’s formula but had a new screenplay. This formula worked like magic for him. And the adventurous Trivikram, who wanted to find flaws and heroes in simpletons, started to find heroes in big palaces. The problem with such a theme is that when your reputation is to connect with the middle class and then you make films that seem to happen in high-class societies, the connection threatens to slip away. Yes, in many of his films, he got “inspired”, copied, “re-wrote”, “re-used” and “re-cycled” but after Attarintiki Daredi, even actors wanted him to give them such a film again and again. He dared to bring something fresh to his line-up with Jr. NTR, in Aravinda Sametha . The result is that we could see fire and flare in his writing come out. So, when he retouched his Agnyathavaasi kind theme in the Attarintiki Daredi template, Ala Vaikuntapurramuloo  looked like a perfect fit.
Trivikram Srinivas is a writer who has a knack for capturing the core emotion and making us relate to it. However, he strayed from his forte in Guntur Kaaram and resorted to silly comedy to portray his hero in a new light. He has lost the ambition that kept him loyal to the story in his earlier days and succumbed to the temptation of pleasing his hero, his own inclination to see his actor-friend in certain roles, and the safe-bet for producers. He started this change in Khaleja, corrected it in Julayi, but struck a good balance in Attharintiki Daredi. Therefore, he is reluctant to abandon that formula. The actors who work with him also expect him to follow the same pattern. Consequently, Guntur Kaaram disappointed us in the theatre. Instead of concentrating on the emotional reunion of Ramana and his mother, we had to endure some pointless fights and comic scenes with forced dances that only served to showcase the actor’s performance. For example, the song Nakkilisu Golusu had no connection to the story and was merely a pretext to make Mahesh dance. The sequence after catching Hari Das was too long and superfluous, just because Mahesh had never done such a comic fight before. Jagapathi Babu’s character only existed to give Mahesh an opportunity to crack some Guntur slang jokes, because people had never seen him like that. By adding those “Theatrical Moments” for their own sake, Trivikram failed to capture the real struggle of Ramya Krishna or Vasundhara, who deserved to move us. This shows that Trivikram Srinivas has started finding challenges in presenting actors differently rather than finding different subjects to make films with these big stars. Even the big stars are asking the same from him and he is trying to deliver for them and for himself and his producer.
Hence, we see unnecessary comedy tracks that don’t fit the story like in Attarintiki Daredi, S/o Satyamurthy. But he tried to correct it with A…Aa , Agnyaathavaasi  as well. He tried to create situations and characters that have some purpose for the story to move forward. You can see how he did not suffocate in handling the ceasefire situation in Aravinda Sametha. His comedy scenes seemed low quality but the main drama, the core plot did not lose intensity. This is not to say that Guntur Kaaram would have been a better film with some other actor or that Trivikram Srinivas would not have been successful with AVPL, this is to say that his ambition needs a new challenge. Not a new star or actor but a new premise, new character and new set-up that lets him challenge himself and come up with a better script that asks him to find better scenes, better themes to get “inspired”, “copy” or “recreate”. This kind of relying on the star hero template has reached its expiry date, even for him.
Mahesh Babu gave his best and put in 200% effort because he wanted to do it, and Trivikram Srinivas did what was necessary by thinking about his star’s future collaborations. But what both of them failed to recognise is that Mahesh did not become Superstar Mahesh like his father Krishna. While Krishna experimented with different themes in his heydays, it was fine for him to try one new thing in 25 films and stick to that formula for the rest. Mahesh tried to break out of that mould until 1 Nenokkadine  and Spyder , but after facing losses and disasters, he decided to stick to safe bets. That is why each film with every director has more issues than the previous one, even though he is trying something fresh for himself. He is not looking at the bigger picture like he used to, and I hope he does after this. I think Sreeleela could be the new “Rambha”, who began her career well but did not achieve the success of Soundarya. Sai Pallavi is also a great dancer, but she is more famous for her acting. Dancing is a talent but that cannot just be “The USP”. Trivikram Srinivas will have to find new shores for sure, as all stars are looking at “Pan-India” hereafter. Even if he doesn’t join that bandwagon, he should understand that what he believed in early in his career is more suitable for him, and he should stick to it, rather than pleasing his stars and friends and trying to create what is different for them. Such a thought process expired during the COVID-19 times, at least for this generation of stars, if not for the “vintage seniors”. I hope that going forward, we won’t have to talk about his films in the past tense, but in the present tense.