From the get go Anaganaga O Dheerudu or Once Upon A Warrior is bound to grab your attention for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that it’s Disney’s first live action film in Telugu and add in that is jointly produced by the legendary K.Raghavendra Rao, it has a National Award winning director, Prakash Kovelamudi in his first full length feature, and a lead cast that consists of Siddharth, Shruti Haasan and Lakshmi Manchu and you have got a film that any film buff would want to check out. Then the soundtrack boasts of composers from the experienced to the upcoming including M.M.Keeravani [aka M.M.Kreem], Koti, Salim-Suleiman and Mickey J Meyer coming together on one fabulous OST. But with all this talent, the question remains do they succeed? Read on to find out.
Taking from the classic Good vs. Evil story-telling that is a Disney trademark, we begin with the story of Angarajyam, a tear drop shaped island that suffers under the cruel reign of Irendri [Lakshmi Manchu], an evil sorceress that possesses magic powers from a pact made with serpents [Sarpa Shakthi]. But no matter how powerful, even Achilles had a weakness and for Irendri, her powers rely on a mysterious figure that gives her a drop of blood every day. Even if she misses one day, she becomes very weak to the point of being powerless. The only way to rid herself of this dependency and to achieve her ultimate aim of immortality and power she must sacrifice a divine child by the name of Moksha [Harshitha]. With Moshka’s blood, Irendri will transform from her spirit in the human shell state into the most powerful being across the land and will be virtually unstoppable. She sends her men to find the child, but Moksha is also being sought by the people of a small village called Agartha. With the ability to heal, they hope she can heal their children that suffer from mysterious diseases implanted by Irendri. They send forth a villager named Druki [Ramji] to bring her back for help. Moksha, along with her guardian, a blind warrior named Yodha [Siddharth] who lives with a painful past, and Druki, travel from the Kazi monastery in Pushpagiri to Agartha. Of course, as it is in all good vs. evil stories they don’t know of the danger that lies ahead. Do they make it in time to save the children? Who is the mysterious figure Irendri relies on? Does Irendri succeed in her plan? And what happened in Yodha’s past that still haunts him? The answers to these questions form the crux of the story.
Now to the performances: Siddharth is an absolute delight to watch. The way he plays Yodha makes him both lovable and dignified. As a common villager with an extraordinary talent and an enormous responsibility, he adds a human touch with the mischievous streak yet maintains the sharp wit of a warrior. Incidentally, the actor has not done an action-based role like this before, but has shown he is quite capable without the OTT six-pack bare chested poses. Shruti Haasan may be playing the typical “damsel in distress”, but she is far from the ditsy “save me” type. Almost picture perfect for the role, she maintains a feisty nature, yet oozes sensuality and charm that is bound to appeal to all. Yet these two are almost gobbled up by the talented Lakshmi Manchu. Daughter of legendary actor Mohan Babu, she takes the role and transforms into a larger than life figure that will make some question if this is really her debut. A complete natural as Irendri, her voice modulation alone is bound to chill you to the bone especially as Sarpini, the serpent spirit residing in Irendri’s tresses. Young Harshitha is an integral part of the story and shows confidence beyond her age. Ravibabu, Subbraya Sharma and Ramji do justice to their roles while Brahmandam and Ali tickle the funny if only for a few scenes.
Fairy tales are a hard style to pull off on celluloid and in less capable hands; a film like this can fall flat miserably. However, Prakash Kovelamudi not only infuses the right amount of human emotion and values with fantasy but also, shows it in a way that’s unique and universally understandable. There will not be a moment that you will feel you have seen this somewhere else. Hats off to Prakash’s imagination. The presentation i.e. the cinematography [Sounder Rajan], production design [Raj Golay] and art [Bhupesh R Bhupathi] is amazing. The visual effects team at Firefly deserve a very special mention for their work, both obvious and hidden. The detail is evident and remarkable. All four music directors leave their trademark stamp on the soundtrack as Salim-Sulaiman do what they do best with the background score, charm and enchant.
With so many pluses, what about the minuses? To be honest yes, they are there. As mentioned Harshitha is a central character so while she has done her bit and there is an explanation for her existence, a bit more depth to the character would have helped to fill out her role. Also, the dialogues of the film are meant to be folklore styled but at times, the emotion could have been expressed much stronger for a deeper connection. With such a shrewd director at the helm, editor Shravana Kartikaneni’s job is made easy, but one does feel a jerk in the screenplay every now and then.
So does Disney and K.Raghavendra Rao’s magnum opus Anaganaga O Dheerudu work? Yes, definitely. As a whole package the film is sure to delight its audience with great visual, amazing performances and a simple yet appealing story. Who is this film directed at? Well, the answer to that lies in the age old phrase, you are only as old as you feel. The movie enchants, bewitches and mesmerizes just like a Disney classic would and theirs is an audience that has passed several generations and continues to do so. For me it gets 4 stars!