Review: After Legend and Simha, director Boyapati Srinu and actor Balakrishna are teaming up for their third film – a mass masala artist who relies solely on the star power of the lead role. A good storyline is watered down due to a miscalculated storyline, and everyone takes a backseat for NBK (including one of its characters). The end result might make fans of the “Jai Balayya” star scream almost endlessly, but there’s no denying that Boyapati is breaking his promises.
Murali Krishna (Balakrishna) is a commoner in the Anantapur faction. He’s a farmer who uses his income to build hospitals, punch when needed, but also reform factions to take care of nature and abandon violence. His character is almost a nod to the new direction Balakrishna is set to take with his roles. District Collector Saranya (Pragya Jaiswal) is unafraid to hold corrupt police officers to account and dig deep into the misdeeds of her district with the help of Senior Secretary of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Padmavati (Poorna). And while enough time is spent on how Saranya falls in love with Murali and they both build a life together (after a weird flirtation that takes place over the seat belts, taati kallu and telugu tanam), this is not their story.
This is the story of Murali’s long lost twin, Akhanda (Balakrishna as aghora / baba) who is taken from his family by a Baba (Jagapathi Babu) because he has a destiny to fulfill. He is believed to be born to right the wrongs of Gajendra Sahu (Niitin Mehta), a ruthless man who takes over an ashram and claims he is a saint to cover up his crimes. Also in this story is Varada Rajulu (Srikanth), another ruthless man who embarks on illegal uranium mining in Nallamala under the guise of copper mining. When people whose lives Murali is committed to protecting are lost and Saranya must fight to save what remains of her family, Akhanda sets out on the path of war to save the day.
While the basic premise of Akhanda is interesting, especially the way Boyapati sets it up by weaving a mythical story with mass moments in a way that only he can, he soon loses the plot (literally) and gets carried away giving Akhanda and Murali moments of mass that are sure to spark whistles but do nothing for the story. He also takes a detour to be articulate about everything from nature to the importance of God and temples to how women (like nature) are meant to be protected, not ravaged. The irony is not lost on anyone when the film engages in double-hear dialogue, introductory scenes that involve flying vonis and women / girls being used as guarantees of war. None of it adds to the story either. From the minute Akhanda steps into the frame, everything and everyone takes a back seat, including Murali. Saranya and Padmavati are turned into damsels in distress, Murali is lost in his own guilt and grief, and even the so-called mighty Gajendra and Varada have no footing now because Akhanda has the hand of Shiva himself. that protects him. No, we even think that he is God himself.
Balakrishna is fortunate enough to shine as he fills almost every frame in the film, whether in Murali or Akhanda. He can dance and engage in dialogue-baazi when he’s not showing off his cool new avatar in slow-motion shots that focus on his fake tattoos and piercing eyes. And while that is enough to get you started at first, it quickly becomes exhausting as the movie progresses. Pragya might have an introduction (almost) on par with the hero, but she’s lost in the process, despite giving the character everything she’s got. Poorna, Srikanth, Niitin, Jagapathi Babu, Kalakeya Prabhakar, Subbaraju, and others have one-tone characters that they go through.
Aside from the mass moments and (Ram-Laxman’s) fights which are fun (but there are too many of them), what works for the film is Thaman’s BGM. His score and Ram Prasad’s cinematography set the tone for the film, even making the debates interesting when it’s clear Boyapati is filling the runtime with little to say. In the end, the length of the film (2h-47-minutes) does not seem justified for the story it wants to tell. You also get a feeling that despite Balakrishna’s aghora character Akhanda taking so long, Boyapati lacks the potential to do more.
Akhanda is the kind of artist that will work strictly for Balakrishna fans, as anyone looking to kill time around a pot of popcorn might come out of it exhausted. Since it’s been a long time since a star artist hit screens, time will tell if it’s the movie that brings people back to the movies.