Time and again through recent developments in the Telugu states and several attempts being made to re-understand the political history of the region, we’re reminded of the different breed that Sr. NTR, the politician, belonged to. His positioning as a messiah of change through his films, the integrity and unconventionality of his political beliefs, his gifted off-screen and on-screen oratory were an uncanny blend that made him an enigma of a kind. Chadarangam, with a liberal dose of cinematic liberties attempts to decode that, while being a fictional take on his political journey (in a modern-day setting).
The gripping political drama is precisely what Krish’s NTR Mahanayakudu could have been. Raj Anantha’s effort rises above being a lip service to the actor-politician, given it focuses more on mind-games, the essential motives of the characters and political drama effectively. The series is set in 2016, where a legendary actor Gangadhar (Srikanth) decides to bid goodbye to films and enters politics, largely assisted by his nephew Bapineedu (Ravi Prakash in a role modelled on Chandrababu Naidu). His son Karthikeya, a budding violinist, nurses no political ambitions.
The editor of a newspaper Chaitanyam, his son Chaitanya and journalist-turned communication officer Kranthi (Sunainaa) are his key aides, as Gangadhar positions himself as a beacon of hope in a politically uncertain State. A rebel politician Ramakrishna (Nagineedu) belonging to the ruling INP party, shifts his loyalties towards Gangadhar and plays a crucial role in his subsequent victory in the legislative assembly elections. However, Gangadhar’s populist political and social stance doesn’t make his stint as a CM any easy.
In terms of the narrative, it’s a tad surprising that the makers chose to ignore the division of the Telugu states and have projected 2016 as a time of undivided Andhra Pradesh. By retelling NTR’s story in a modern-day setting, there’s an attempt to project that regional politics haven’t changed at all over three decades. However, once you brace past this shaky start, there’s a lot to savour. All the experience of Paruchuri Brothers in constructing riveting political dramas over the years benefits Chadarangam immensely.
The series impresses because it tells its leading man is notches above a political party and yet doesn’t make him a larger-than-life figure. It takes us through his side as a man who stood for his family and fans, who admits his inexperience of being an administrator and his ability to flourish when given a challenge. There are enough sequences to establish his integrity as a human that also gives the spectator a strong reason to root for him.
The reasons behind Ramakrishna’s political coup are presented with clarity too. Ramakrishna is only shown to be a shrewd politician and isn’t conveniently antagonised. The pro-people stance and the sensationalist decisions of Gangadhar are well-utilised opportunities to show the latter’s political inexperience – probably the reason why he clicked with people, however at the cost of irking his party members. The writers’ and the director’s nuanced understanding of politics reflect in the execution.
Chadarangam is unique on a fictional level too, because it tells us how would NTR have possibly managed to survive as a politician in the smartphone era. How would he have handled a sex scandal before an election? How would have CBN managed the party during the infamous Nadendla Bhaskar-episode? How can a tweet alter the fate of a CM? The homework done by writers on that front is certainly impressive. The subplot about a drug racket being busted, the love triangle around the communication officer, are reasonably well-written but could have been more organically integrated into the plot.
With seasoned actors like Srikanth, Kousalya, Chalapathi Rao, Ravi Prakash, Jeeva and Nagineedu at the helm, Chadarangam is bolstered by terrific performances. The series is a fascinating testimony to the range of Srikanth as an actor. The actor thankfully doesn’t mimic NTR by any means. Srikanth’s terrific composure, assured dialogue delivery and his restraint in the emotional sequences prove that the actor remains underutilised and deserves meatier roles.
Sunainaa, after an excellent performance in Sillu Karuppati, shines in the role of a journalist. Srinivasa Sarma as a composer makes good use of Indian instruments to elevate the intensity of the narrative in crucial junctures. The wordplay in the dialogues, the interesting mix of Telugu, Hindi and English that’s thrown in, adds up to its intrigue. Juicy political drama, compelling writing, superb performances – Chadarangam has it all to keep you hooked.