Review: After Legend and Simha, director Boyapati Srinu and actor Balakrishna team up for their third film – a mass masala entertainer that relies solely on the lead’s star power. A good story-line is watered down due to a miscalculated screenplay and everyone takes a backseat for NBK (including one of his characters). The end result might make the star’s fans scream ‘Jai Balayya’ almost endlessly but one can’t deny that Boyapati fails to pull off what he promises.
Murali Krishna (Balakrishna) is a people’s man in the faction-ridden Anantapur. He is a farmer who uses his income to build hospitals, throw a punch when needed but also reform factionists to care for nature and give up violence. His character is almost a nod to the new direction Balakrishna is willing to take with his roles. District Collector Saranya (Pragya Jaiswal) is unafraid to hold corrupt police officers accountable and dig deep into misdoings in her district with the help of Principal Secretary of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, Padmavati (Poorna). And while enough time is spent on how Saranya falls for Murali and they both build a life together (after some weird flirting that takes place over 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 an aghora/baba) who is taken away from his family by a Baba (Jagapathi Babu) because he has a destiny to fulfil. It is believed he is born to right the wrongs of Gajendra Sahu (Niitin Mehta), a ruthless man who takes over an ashram and pretends he’s a saint to cover up his crimes. Also in this tale is Varada Rajulu (Srikanth), another ruthless man who takes up illegal uranium mining in Nallamala under the guise of copper mining. When people whose lives Murali vowed to protect are lost and Saranya has to fight to save what’s left of her family, Akhanda heads on a war-path 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 only he can, he soon loses the plot (literally) and gets carried away with giving Akhanda and Murali mass moments that are sure to elicit whistles but don’t do anything for the story. He also takes a detour to wax eloquent on 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 lost on no one when the film indulges in double entrendre dialogues, introduction scenes that involve vonis flying and women/girls being used as collaterals of war. None of this adds to the story either. From the minute Akhanda enters the frame, everything and everyone takes a backseat, including Murali. Saranya and Padmavati are turned into damsels-in-distress, Murali is lost in his own guilt and grief, and even the supposedly powerful Gajendra and Varada hold no footing now because Akhanda has the hand of Shiva himself protecting him. Nay, he is even believed to be God himself.
Balakrishna gets the chance to shine because he fills almost every frame of the film either as Murali or Akhanda. He gets to dance and indulge 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’s initially enough to give you a rush, it soon gets exhausting as the film progresses. Pragya might get an introduction (almost) on par with the hero but she’s lost to the proceedings, despite her giving the character her all. Poorna, Srikanth, Niitin, Jagapathi Babu, Kalakeya Prabhakar, Subbaraju and others have one-tone characters that they breeze through.
Apart from the mass moments and fights (by Ram-Laxman) that 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 proceedings interesting when it’s clear Boyapati is filling runtime with nothing much to say. At the end of it all, the length of the film (2-hours-47-minutes) doesn’t seem justified for the story he wants to tell. You are also left with the feeling that despite Balakrishna’s aghora character Akhanda taking up so much time, Boyapati misses potential there to do more with it.
Akhanda is the kind of entertainer that’ll work strictly for Balakrishna’s fans because anyone looking to just kill time over a tub of popcorn might leave exhausted. Seeing as how it has been long since a star entertainer has hit the screens, time will tell if this is the film that drives back people to the theatres.