Rangasthalam- ‘Oka Chittibabu aathma katha’4 min read


“What is sound design?” I asked a sound engineer in early 2000, He simply replied, “you cannot do it for the majority of Indian films, as the star dominates everything”. He went on to explain, taking an example of a Rajinikanth film or for that matter, any superstar film, the sound of his shoes should blast the speakers even if it were a mile away and captured in a long shot.  He continued, “Look at films like ‘The Matrix’, the sound was not an afterthought, but an integral part of the Wachowskis’ script. That’s where it all begins. Films like ‘Hey Ram’ and makers like Kamal Haasan understand it, but that’s a small group.”

Over the years, things have improved and we even have an Oscar winner in this department, but still, a majority of films do not use the sound to enhance a situation and simply turn on the decibels.

I remembered this for two reasons. In the movie ‘Rangasthalam’ the hero is a different kind of sound engineer (someone who cannot hear) and there is a loud explosion scene at the beginning of the film for which all the Dolby speakers are used to maximum effect. If it were a point of view of the hero, should the explosion sound a bit different, muffled perhaps? Or was he wearing his hearing aid? A case in point. Martin Scorcesse opens ‘The Casino’ with a car explosion, noise is loud alright, but he quickly merges into a background operatic music and a memorable title sequence by legendary Saul Bass. Maybe he or his sound designer were thinking if it were inappropriate to continue the explosion sound as the character in question, who is hurled into the air, is out of consciousness and cannot hear a bit?

Obviously ‘Rangasthalam’ cannot and should not be reviewed on sound alone. And to be fair, Director Sukumar does use the point of view, in several scenes including the ones between Ram Charan and Samantha (the one before the fight in village fair is nicely done). Yet he leaves out it in the most important scene of all, the one Megastar Chiranjeevi let out a spoiler alert about. (By the way, Ram Charan’s performance is out of the world, just as he said).

One cannot blame the director beyond a point and that too in a commercial film (was it realistic too?) about these technicalities. Instead, one should focus only one thing–sublime acting of Ram Charan.

Rangasthalam tagline should have been ‘oka chittibabu athma katha’. If you look at it from this angle, everything …literally everything in the film falls into place. And you cannot but appreciate the amount of work that has gone into showcasing the acting prowess of Ram Charan. It would only be fair to say there is not even a single scene in the film did he fail to deliver the goods. That in itself a rare feat and would not have been possible without the duo coming together in ‘Rangasthalam’.

You could argue about some aspects of storytelling like loner President villain with no family, repeated scenes of the villain’s  henchmen, the back and forth scenes in the lead pair romance resolution, the pre-climax violence, the sudden change in a few characters, absolutely no police around after Chittibabu smashes a dozen or more into a pulp (captured in crystal clear sound) and the epilogue with a twist.  But from a story point of a view of a simpleton set in 1980, and the fact that the movie duration is already 2hr 45minutes, you would ignore all this and savor the freshness served by Superstar Ram Charan (Yes, he is one now, as he carried the entire film on his shoulders and made us see the film his way!!!)

Few asides:

  1. When interviewed about how he worked on his story of ‘Swathi Muthyam’, Veteran Director K.Vishwanath said, he would take an interesting character and then explores various situations to see how reacts. And that’s how the scene of grandmother’s death came about, in which Kamal Haasan innocently enquires about his hunger for a meal.
  2. What are realism and commercialism? Do we confuse with more melodrama or the liberties we take with the character?  Can’t both of them merge seamlessly? In one of the most commercial films Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone is never seen boxing his way out, instead his acts of violence are what within his character reach and never becomes a Rambo. Same Robert De Niro undergoes a complete transformation to become a boxer in ‘Raging Bull’. Any reference to ‘Rangasthalam’ characterization and ‘realistic’ violence is purely coincidental.
  3. How would ‘Rangasthalam’ would have been without the violent and twist-filled epilogue? A kind of Trivikram subtle justice, with the lorry hitting the car itself ending the character?
  4. Movies to revisit– Peddamanushulu (1954), Manavuri Pandavulu (1978), Pranam Khareedu (1978), Krishnavataram (1982), Khaidi (1983), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992), Pithamagan (2003)

Related links:

The opening sequence of Casino (1995)

What is sound design

Sound, point of view

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