“Am I playing that role or am I living that role? Or am I living through it by pretending?”

‘Rangamarthanda’ Raghava Rao

Opening with an antiquated monologue about the nature of acting, Ranga Marthanda is a Telugu drama that explores the relationships and tragic downfall of a venerated theatre actor following his retirement. It is a remake of Natsamrat, a Marathi film that started out as a stage play heavily influenced by King Lear — against his wife’s advice, Raghava Rao decides to grant his children their inheritance, certain that they will continue to support their parents, only to find himself rejected from each household. It is also reminiscent of Tokyo Story, not only in the inattentive children but the in-law who proves to be the most caring, with a surprising performance from musician Rahul Sipligunj (now best known for singing the Oscar-winning ‘Naatu Naatu’ from last year’s RRR). The film rests on Prakash Raj’s ability to embody both the towering performer and the much reduced retiree who adopts a joyful demeanour in the face of mistreatment (“Life is a sad play to be lived happily”), though it is Brahmanandam who perhaps delivers a more moving performance as his friend and collaborator, also in decline but contrasted by his lack of children. The familial drama is effective but largely predictable (given its well-known Shakespearean inspiration), and Ranga Marthanda is arguably stronger in its defence of culture and language — Rao deplores modern movie stars who scorn the stage and chastises his granddaughter’s international school which punishes the use of Telugu, explaining that “language preserves culture”. Yet this is not mere resistance to change as Rao fully embraces his daughter’s fusion music. Ranga Marthanda may not be charting new ground in its content or its direction, but it delivers several fine dramatic performances within its dated presentation.