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Rathnam is a muddled, outdated mess where director Hari and Vishal make little effort to come out of their comfort zones, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur

Rathnam, director Hari’s third collaboration with Vishal (after Thamirabharani and Poojai), suffers from an identity crisis. It makes an action entertainer out of the real-estate mafia in the border regions between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, addresses a medical aspirant’s anger towards NEET, comments on the police administration and tries to leave you teary-eyed with ‘amma’ sentiment.

It wants to tick too many boxes, cover a lot of ground, only to lose its way eventually. The film has the same problem that has been plaguing most Hari directorials in the recent years. The director forcibly squeezes his ideas into his trademark loud, melodramatic template revolving around gangs, redemption, toppling sumos, dark pasts of families in a rural backdrop time and again.

Even if Rathnam ends up as a muddled mess, it begins with promise. It’s refreshing that the filmmaker makes no attempt to sophisticate his ambience. There’s a forthright quality in his outlook towards families, the politician-police-criminal nexus and how his characters go about their life and communicate with one another. Hari definitely has a way of comprehending a common man’s world.

Rathnam’s problem isn’t with its ideas, but how it connects the dots. The film begins with a chilling backstory about the protagonist’s past and the circumstances that drive him to be a goon. After Rathnam falls for a nurse, their relationship invites unexpected trouble into their lives, where his ‘past’ messes up with their present.

The story, at least in the first hour, aims to explore human greed, the extent to which a man goes to acquire land. The detailing is surprisingly authentic and rooted by Hari’s standards and the racy screenplay helps his cause. Yet, it makes a costly mistake in establishing the equation between Rathnam and Janani, tying it up with mother sentiment and not knowing what to do with it.

Initially, the film succeeds in drawing your curiosity, there are a wide range of subplots and it feels like an ideal foundation is being laid for an intense second hour. Rathnam only flatters to deceive. The melodramatic tone goes out of hand soon and the premise is further diluted by meaningless violence that leaves the director with little time to offer any closure to all parties involved.

While Rathnam advises Janani to resolve their land issue amicably, the latter’s family holds the property too close to their hearts to step back. Later, when Janani wants to end the drama and give up her land, Rathnam suggests otherwise. Ultimately, Janani has her way but the film suddenly takes a U turn and preaches the necessity of violence for survival. The film is just all over the place.

In its bid to cater to action enthusiasts, Rathnam loses its focus. There are too many flashbacks, unnecessary mini-conflicts that complicate the proceedings. Despite its problems, it is among Hari’s more tolerable films in the past decade and exploits Vishal’s strengths as an action hero. Vishal may have his limitations as an actor but handles melodrama with enough restraint to make it watchable.

Priya Bhavani Shankar is the quintessential commercial heroine who resorts to the male saviour for help, but this is at least a film that respects her presence to a certain extent more than her recent appearances. Yogi Babu’s comic punches land well in Telugu and the strong supporting cast – Samuthirakani, Murali Sharma, Jaya Prakash, Tulasi, Hareesh Peradi – ensure considerable damage control.

Devi Sri Prasad’s enthusiasm is more obvious with the background score than the insipid songs (too many unmemorable numbers to make a count). He has ample experience with action entertainers, though he can’t do much when the situations themselves are bereft of any emotional heft. The action sequences spring up some momentum occasionally but generally lack a concrete purpose.

It’s hard to point out where Rathnam goes wrong. More than the story, it needed a team that looked at it with a fresher pair of lens and altered the packaging considerably. Too many experienced hands – Vishal, Devi Sri Prasad, Hari – are in their comfort zone but there’s not much to inspire them to try anything new. Rathnam plays too safe, is too cluttered to make for a paisa vasool experience.

Rating: 2/5

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