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The Unwanted Child

Courtesy photo

Guntur Kaaram (2024)

At different times various henchmen approach the hero of “Guntur Kaaram” with machetes, sledgehammers or bamboo poles, but Ramana (Mahesh Babu) simply strides up to them and slaps them. That’s it. That’s all he does. He slaps them; and they fall so hard they are incapacitated for the rest of the slow-motion fight. Sometimes he takes one of their weapons and whops them around the head with it. Usually there’s a cigarette in his other hand for atmospheric puffing. There’s some wirework involved but for the most part the impact of Ramana’s fighting style is due to his arrogance. In one sequence he even lights a match for a cigarette off his opponent’s bald head. There’s a great deal of this entertaining old-school violence in a plot built around caste politics, controlling patriarchs and painful family legacy. But despite some wildly sexy dance numbers and an ego that’s off the charts, unfortunately “Guntur Kaaram” doesn’t hang together.

Ramana lives with his fearsome aunt Bujji (Easwari Rao) and works for the family spice business as an enforcer. His introductory dance number is to a song that uses mortars and pestles as a sexual metaphor; and the knowing faces of the raucous lady dancers are explicit in how well that’s working out for him. But things haven’t been easy: Ramana’s father, Satyam (Jayaram), spent a decade in prison, during which Ramana’s mother, Vasundhara (Ramya Krishnan), abandoned her son to return to her politician father, Vyra Venkata Swamy (Prakash Raj). Vasundhara made a more suitable second marriage within her own caste, had another son and began her own career in politics, but is unable to progress to Vyra’s liking without a clear successor. This plot point is fuzzy for Western audiences, but never mind.

The thing is that Vyra wants Ramana to sign some paperwork confirming he’s been disinherited, but unsurprisingly Ramana doesn’t want to. Various bagmen do their best, but Ramana responds with fairly clever violence until he catches sight of the daughter of one of them. This is Ammu (Sreeleela), who spends her time trying to be an influencer. They meet cute when Ramana parks himself on a bench in her garden and demands an umbrella to protect his complexion from the sun. His arrogance is so unbelievable it blows past rudeness and into great hotness, a risky technique but of course one a beloved movie star can pull off. Through various plot machinations Ammu and a chaperone, comic relief Balu (Vennela Kishore), end up in Ramana’s spice warehouse, where Ammu speeds things up by having a couple vodkas and performing a dance so acrobatic Ramana swallows his cigarette, ahem. But the main love story is the thwarted one between Ramana and his mother; they haven’t seen each other in decades and when they do Vasundhara slaps Ramana in the face, but everyone knows families are never as simple as that. Though we do of course suddenly appreciate where Ramana got his fighting technique from.

The fight sequences of the second half, while delightful showpieces for Mr. Babu and which get right a tricky tone of comic but serious violence, unfortunately just drag out the runtime. The dancing works better thanks to the smoking hot combination of Sreeleela’s intense physicality and Mr. Babu’s diamond-plated confidence in his own charms. Script asides which joke about his movie career were greeted with laughing whistles from the audience, and writer-director Trivikram Srinivas’s expertise in getting the best out of a big star pushes “Guntur Kaaram” as far as it can go. The trouble is resolution comes about through an unpleasant and forced plot twist; and the final shot is between Ramana and Bujji, which means the movie kind of misses its own point. Arrogance is only bearable if it can be backed up and unfortunately “Guntur Kaaram” doesn’t quite deliver on its many excellent promises. But it sure is refreshing to see how much mayhem one person can wreak using only his bare hands.


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