Biopics are becoming all the rage in the current wave of Indian cinema, with each industry producing and popularizing lesser-known aspects of beloved celebrities. Mahanati follows the life of the South Indian actress Savitri, from her childhood days to her final days. The film begins in the 1980s by introducing Madhuravani alias Vani (Samantha Akkineni), a journalist who has been assigned to cover the story of Savitri (Keerthy Suresh). She, along with her photographer Anthony (Vijay Deverakonda), embark on a journey to uncover bits and pieces of the actress’ life, including her entry into films, her love affair and marriage to Gemini Ganesan (Dulquer Salmaan), and other highs and lows of her career and personal life.
In any biopic, storytelling of a character’s life narrative is important and can make or break the film. Nag Ashwin’s direction is excellent and the interweaving of Savitri’s life (through flashback) with the lives of Vani and Anthony offers a comfortable balance of past and present. The characterization of Savitri provides viewers with a multifaceted view of who she is both as a superstar and a human being. From her magnanimous nature to her brilliance as an actress, Savitri is a fiercely dedicated and hardworking woman with a kind and compassionate heart. The blossoming of her love for Gemini Ganesan is shown so subtly and beautifully, alongside her upward climb towards success in the movie business.
As a period film set in the 50s/60s and 80s, Mahanati’s settings and recreation of these eras is a nostalgic walk down memory lane for folks who grew up idolizing Savitri during these times. Dani Sanchez-Lopez’s cinematography is fantastic, and certain scenes depicting Savitri’s relationship with alcohol and alcoholism uniquely capture the quandaries of her mind and substance addiction. The music and background score by Mickey J Meyer infuses Indian elements with string orchestration in melodies that appeal to the ears and suit the visual vibe of the movie. While certain scenes appear dramatic and over the top by current standards of filmmaking and storytelling, they are justified by the fact that the majority of this film is set in a time period of up to six decades ago.
Coming to the performances, Keerthy Suresh has done an incredible job as the superstar Savitri. From the young bubbly adolescent to the successful superstar to the helpless alcoholic mother, Keerthy excels in all facets of the dynamic actress Savitri. Dulquer Salmaan is charming as ever as Kadhal Mannan Gemini Ganesan, portraying the character’s love and admiration for Savitri as well as his insecurities and inner turmoil in their relationship. Samantha perfectly fits the role of the intelligent but shy journalist Vani, and her ending conversation with the Mahanati herself is heartfelt.
Final Verdict: Mahanati is an inspiring Telugu-Tamil biopic that highlights the life of one of yesteryear’s beloved starlets Savitri. Although it is relatively long (almost 3 hours), this film is a definite tear-jerker, even for folks who are less familiar with Savitri’s life and body of work.