Dasara Movie Review: Nani delivers a memorable performance in this slow burn

Story: Dharani (Nani), Suri (Deekshith Shetty) and Vennela (Keerthy Suresh) are friends since childhood. Their relatively calm lives are upended for reasons far beyond their control and things will never be the same.

Review: Debutant Srikanth Odela’s Dasara is a mixed bag and there’s no two ways about it. On one hand, the film is visually gripping, the characters seem like they’ve more to offer and the atmosphere feels like everything is about to come undone at any second. On the other, Srikanth sets up themes he never fully explores, or worse, wraps them up with hasty conclusions. Due to that, the sucker punches hit you hard and the rest…they just don’t.

The setting is Veerlapally. Drinking at the Silk Bar (an ode to the owner’s love for Silk Smitha) here isn’t an addiction, it’s tradition. Despite everyone pumping money into the bar, not everyone is allowed inside due to casteism running rampant. But the men don’t seem to mind, much to the chagrin of the women in the village. Everyone seems covered at all times in a layer of soot due to the coal mining in the village. Rajanna (Sai Kumar), Shivanna (Samuthirakani) and the latter’s son Chinna Nambi (Shine Tom Chacko) tussle for power, but the one in control of the liquor always wins.

Dharani (Nani) fears a lot of things since childhood. He’d rather not speak up in uncomfortable situations and as a child, he loses bladder control if he hears a cat shriek nearby. One day his grandma tells him that she drinks to keep fear at bay, to no one’s surprise, Dharani is always found with bottles hanging off his waist at any given time. Suri (Deekshith Shetty) is his best friend and Dharani will do anything for him. Even if it means ‘giving up’ his love for Vennela (Keerthy Suresh), who also has eyes for only Suri.

As much as Dharani and his tribe of underdogs want to steal coal off trains, drink themselves to an early death and be left alone in their tomfoolery, they’re dragged into something bigger. An issue snowballs, hidden agendas revealed, body count racked up till Dharani will have to learn to face his fears without the help of his trusty friends – alcohol and Suri.

Srikanth spends most of the first half of the film setting up the world of Veerlapally and the characters that reside in it. He spends ample time on the small moments. After something major upends everyone’s lives, you expect Srikanth to go full throttle in the second half. Instead, he lets his characters sit with their emotions. This doesn’t necessarily translate to scenes that keep you fully engaged. Some don’t hold your attention, some are too heavy, and the much-hyped song Chamkeela Angeelesi just comes out of nowhere. He also doesn’t dig deep enough into some of the topics he explores.

However, when Srikanth delivers, he does it with full assuredness. Few scenes in Dasara stay with you long after the film is done. The pre-interval is chilling, it’s not your usual ‘interval bang,’ you really don’t know where it’s going to go from here. The climax is cathartic and bloody, with the director going full throttle and refusing to hold back. The massy, elevation scenes work, so do the emotional ones for the most part. Women in this universe suffer due to the men’s choices, but they also sometimes get their say.

Nani gives his sweat, blood, and tears to playing Dharani. After Jersey, this is probably his heaviest film till date and he carries it on his shoulders. Keerthy Suresh excels in some scenes and not so much in others. She’s a delight to watch when she’s dancing at a baraat but you feel frustrated when she acts hammy in a key scene. Shine Tom Chacko gets the chance to be unhinged in a scene, but he feels wasted otherwise. The same holds true for Sai Kumar and Samuthirakani. Poorna and Deekshith play their parts well. Sathyan Sooryan’s cinematography is a major plus for the film, so is Santhosh Narayanan’s music.

Dasara is not the film that’s leave you with a smile at the end of it all, it also doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Could it have been better? Sure. But Srikanth Odela and Nani make this slow burn work. So, credit where credit is due.

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