Dasara Movie Review (2023)

Srikanth Odela

Srikanth Odela's 'Dasara' is a solid, subdued star vehicle that favours emotions over "mass" moments

Dasara Movie Review

Dasara Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Sri Lakshmi Venkateswara Cinemas
Director : Srikanth Odela
Music Director : Santhosh Narayanan

"Everyone drinks the same alcohol, but our caste determines whether we drink inside the bar or outside." This is something we get to know early on about the situation in the village Srikanth Odela's film is set in. Most men (and even some women) begin their day with drinks and are content to remain alcoholics. Even Nani's hero-introduction shot (he plays Dharani) includes a bottle of booze. And this bar, with an image of Silk Smitha and named after her, is the centre of local politics: it's a sort of prize. The person who wins the elections takes control of the bar, and gets to nominate who becomes the treasurer. That post makes someone a big shot in the village. For a while, Dasara just wants to immerse us in these local politics, these local colours, these local flavours. We get character-establishing scenes, of course – but we also get world-establishing scenes, magnificently shot by Sathyan Sooryan. A coal mine is the centre of economy, and every frame seems dusted with soot. 

Why do these people drink? When a young Dharani asks his grandmother, she says alcohol gives her courage. Cut to a few years later, when Dharani is an adult, he may give the same answer. By numbing his senses, he gets the courage to deal with his dead-end existence and also the fact that the girl he loves (Vennela, played by Keerthi Suresh) is in love with his best friend Soori (Dheekshith Shetty). All three actors are in top form, though Nani gets the meatiest role and bites into it with every fibre of his being, giving a performance that is as much physical as emotional. The film does something interesting with Vennela. She becomes the fulcrum of not just a love triangle but also an unexpected lust angle, courtesy the villain named Nambi (Shine Tom Chacko, in one of the rare times he feels out of sorts). When – in a super-effective scene – Nambi kills Soori, we think it's because of the caste wars. But the real reason is that Soori has married Vennela, who Nambi lusts after.

This is a superb twist, because it paints Nambi (and the screenplay) in more than one shade, and it takes the second half in an unexpected direction. Nambi is not just someone who does not want the oppressed to get ahead, he's also a womaniser whose lust is painted in fetishistic terms. So the film's first half tackles the alcohol and caste angle, and the second half goes into Vennala's plight and how responsibility makes Dharani a better man (i.e., how he turns from zero to hero). He knows that he can no longer numb his senses with alcohol. He needs to be alert, alive. He needs to complete the transformation from loser to saviour. The depiction of the villain as Ravana (see the film's title) is an age-old screenwriting cliche, but here, there's a "Sita" in the form of Vennela. The metaphor works. The plot point of a love triangle that involves two best friends is another cliche, but it's written and handled well – with minimal melodrama. This is assured writing, assured filmmaking.

A plot point most famously used in Swathi Muthyam is used brilliantly here – and Santhosh Narayanan does beautiful work, subverting a lot of background-score cliches. For instance, during a chase sequence, we just get a few minimalistic cello lines, while most of the background is filled with thunder and lightning and the cries and the panting of the attackers and the people being attacked. Dasara is not groundbreaking cinema, but it has a certain integrity to it. It takes time to build scenes, to set up the reveals. There may not be many "mass" highs, but there's a sense of steadiness in the emotional graphs and in the narrative. Anyone who has seen a masala movie knows that the hero will kill the villain, but Dasara makes the hero earn this machismo. Dharani undergoes a lot of mental trauma, and he has to shake this off before becoming the inevitable superhero. This is one of the most subdued star vehicles I have seen.

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.