The 56-year-old effortlessly channels a ‘new’ side of his mass avatar and shines bright. The film, however, is a bit of a convoluted mess that bites way more than it can chew.
“When I hit a shot, it’s business. When I miss a shot, it’s purpose,” says Ravi Teja in the film Eagle, while in all his glory as the titular character. Eagle is one of the two (and possibly a few more) avatars that the 56-year-old actor dons and quite enterprisingly, also sheds his ‘mass maharaja’ image for.
In fact, cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Karthik Ghattamaneni’s film attempts to redefine not only Ravi Teja’s box-office star but also the entire idiom of action filmmaking in Telugu cinema. Yes, it is set in a world where everything — from the spoken word to the firing of a bullet — carries the loudest thump but what’s prominently different from other such endeavours is the director’s understated approach here.
And for that to come to life effectively, Karthik opts for a unique world that’s a blend of the Telugu heartland and the alienating Western setting. Ravi Teja, his leading man, comes to embody this cross-cultural specimen that Eagle is and we see him switching between a Lungi-clad cotton farmer (with a big heart, of course) to a snazzy, cold-blooded sharpshooter. It’s a game of identities and mystery and Karthik and his co-writer spend a lot of narrative time toggling between these two worlds, dispensing information in small doses to raise intrigue and fun.
The Scatter Here is Too Great
It all starts when ‘hard-hitting’ journalist Nalini (Anupama Parameswaran) finds her rather innocuous article about rare Indian wild cotton to have blown up beyond imagination. She learns that the Indian Intelligence Bureau has gotten involved because, apparently, the article contains national secrets. She learns that her write-up also discreetly alludes to an infamous mystery man named Sahadev Varma who may or may not be dead. She learns that she must volunteer to a labyrinth of first-hand research, involving politicians, tribals, spies, criminals, Naxals, terrorists and whatnot, to understand who exactly this man is.
So, as you can see, a lot about the protagonist is revealed in the third person. We see Nalini bouncing off one conspiracy theory/account after another and trying to make sense of things, unwittingly becoming our eyes and ears of the story. Sahadev Varma is a man of menace to some and a most-wanted criminal for others but in between lies the reality that she must put together — in other words, more than the facts, she must gather the essence of this man.
Karthik Gattamaneni and his co-writer Manibabu Karnam opt for a non-linear approach to tell us this tall tale and spin a web of small chapters that are recounted by a wide array of characters. It’s the same approach that one gets to see employed in modern blockbusters like the John Wick series, the KGF films and Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Vikram. Except that the writers of the Telugu intentionally (hopefully) convolute things and the result, interestingly, works only in parts.
Why so? Well, for starters, the problem is you don’t know what it is that you seek to unearth through this narrator. Is it about Sahadev Varma’s real identity? Does it concern why the R&AW wing and a combination of Naxals and terrorists are on the hunt for this guy? Is it about this Hitman named Eagle? Or is it something beyond all this?
Of course, the answer lies in bits and pieces in each of these queries and Karthik wants things to be scattered for a reason. But did he want us to be perplexed as well? What makes things even more difficult to comprehend, though, is the patchy writing which does not allow the film to hit the strides until really late into its runtime. If the first half of the film is riddled with unnecessary scenes that repeat information, the second half is left with the gruelling task of tackling way too much.
Falls Short of Soaring
Way too much, indeed, because it won’t be incorrect to say that the end credits perhaps contain more relevant information than the majority of the film. It is evident from this alone that the writers carried this strong urge to pack a lot into the film and the promise of building on this idea with another instalment only reinforces that.
But, while the makers’ ambition is admirable and to support their cause, they dish out some super slick, inventive action, the shortcomings in the writing still come down quite heavily on the film. As already pointed out, the main problem stems from the fact that the film doesn’t get going and the same desire to throw us off constantly proves to be costly for the film. Eagle, ultimately, feels like a film that is too ambitious for its own good.
But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing memorable about the film. Speaking of the understated approach, I loved how the small yet crucial romance almost entirely plays out in montages, without ever taking the focus away from the core. I loved how the meet-cute stuff happens not in person but through the scope of a sniper. I even loved the restraint that Ravi Teja carries and how he effortlessly slips into the demanding role — his portrayal of Sahadev Varma, especially, made me want to see him play a bona fide mafioso sometime. Here’s manifesting that movie now.
To his good aide come fellow cast members Navadeep, Srinivas Avasarala, Vinay Rai, Madhoo, Kavya Thapar, Ajay Ghosh and, of course, Anupama Parameswaran. While each of these characters could have used better agency and nuance, the actors in charge do a good job of rising beyond those limitations and leaving strong impressions on us.
Davzand’s music is impactful and suitably carries the energy of this film, while Karthik Gattamamenini gets to flex his muscles as a technician. Partaking in writing, direction, editing and cinematography, he raises the bar for other Telugu films as far as creative and technical standards are concerned. Had his film been written better too, Eagle boasted every chance of being the new benchmark in the subgenre it has chosen.