Cast: Nani, Priyanka Mohan, Lakshmi, Saranya Ponvannan, Shriya Reddy, Praanya P. Rao, Kartikeya Gummakonda.
Director: Vikram K. Kumar
When I watched Manam a few years ago, I realised that Vikram Kumar was mainly interested in making his movies look fun and colorful.
He does a lot of homework, of course. In fact, there’s meticulousness in the way he covers his tracks. You may still find logical loopholes in each of his works, but the rides he takes you on will make you suspend those doubts wholesomely. Gang Leader is no different. At the outset, the movie seems like a comedy thriller, which it very much is, but if you look closely, it’s also about many other things.
Nani plays a novelist called Pencil Parthasarathy, who watches Hollywood classics and turns them into Telugu revenge novels (he’s written 28 such books). He follows every line and scene so carefully that he even adds an extra dot in the end in his draft, as that’s how it appears on the screen. He’s somehow tracked down by a gang of women (played by Lakshmi, Saranya Ponvannan, Priyanka Mohan, Shriya Reddy, and Praanya P. Rao) to help them take revenge against a murderer. The trailer, in this case, has mostly revealed the key points. You don’t have to wait till Pencil solves the case for the ladies. You can do the math yourself – meaning: you’re one step ahead of the characters.
It’s not a downer as such since the tomfoolery the gang indulges in is fun to witness. The film, which is right up Nani’s alley, utilises his comic-timing pretty decently. You’ve to remember that this is no Bhale Bhale Magadivoy, where the jokes tumbled out of the actor’s mouth one after another. He’s ably supported by the gang of five in Gang Leader. The scenes where Lakshmi (as Saraswathi) steals the thunder with just a word, or a gesture, are hilarious. They tell you what kind of an actor she is and how Telugu cinema hasn’t yet given her the stage she deserves. Two decades ago, she made the Amma (mom) character feel cool with Ninne Pelladutha, and, now, she’s done the same with the Bhaamma (grandmom) character.
The romantic track, which usually takes you away from the central plot in this genre, is brought to the center perfectly. Whenever Pencil flirts with Priya (Priyanka Mohan), all that the latter does is smile. It doesn’t mean she’s not that into him, though. There’s a reason for her unwillingness to reciprocate. And, thankfully, there aren’t songs where the hero tries to irritate the apple of his eye with gifts and one-side-lover philosophies. It stays in the background as another plot point and that’s the beauty of it.
And since the unmasking of the villain isn’t that big of a deal (the trailer shows you who the antagonist is) once the motive is outed, the suspense, then, lies in learning about the identity of the character that Pencil dedicates all of his novels to. But I wish that Vikram Kumar had roped in somebody else instead of Kartikeya Gummakonda (as Dev). Karthikeya doesn’t pour the necessary amount of fear and flamboyance into his body language. He makes his character come across as a stereotypical baddie and not the one with whom the Pandavas (the women) would want to wage a war against.
Vikram stretches the game for more than two hours and ends it meekly. Should the hero and villain go for a hand-to-hand combat in the climax? Are there no other options? The non-participation of the Revengers (as Pencil calls the women) in the grand scheme of things also unchecks a few boxes. Nevertheless, this is every bit a movie that Pencil and his gang can be proud of. And I hope, with his twenty-ninth novel, he becomes a rage amongst the Telugu readers.