Wading into controversy has never stopped Varma from making movies. The fact that Rakht is supposed to be based on the life of Andhra gangster-turned-politician Paritala Ravi—a huge disincentive for lesser known, or less powerful, names in Indian cinema—has been tackled by Varma without as much as blinking. The result is, literally, a gut-churning odyssey into the orgiastic, hyper-violent terrain of gang-warfare that often supplants regional politics in parts of India. Coincidentally, Rakht Charitra is also a fantastic big screen experience that ranks amongst Varma’s best works.
Prashant Pandey’s story brilliantly retrofits Oberoi into the real-life chronology of major events in Paritala Ravi’s life. The college-age Pratap (Oberoi) reluctantly takes up in his elders’ footsteps as the local agitator bent on revenge, after losing both his father and brother to gangland mayhem. Pratap’s rise from mediocrity to tangle with the diabolically lecherous local robber baron (Suriya) creates an enmity that drives Pratap to seek alignment—and social legitimacy—with the powerful state chief minister (Sinha, in a short, superb delivery that astoundingly reverberates the megastar N.T. Rama Rao, whose political party Ravi aligned with in real life).
Defty acted, especially by Oberoi’s underplayed, stoic anti-hero and Wahab as his widowed mother, whose grievances initially fuel Pratap’s anger, Rakht is memorably pieced together under Varma tight orchestration. Like Varma’s Satya, Sarkar, and Company, the crescendo of violence gets turned up—way, way up (count the number of ways a body can be beheaded)—and becomes an end unto itself. As the first of two installments in a two-part work, with Rakht Charitra 2 being released in late November, Varma’s gamble, so far, returns exponential dividends.