After the searing Malayalam gangster film Kammati Paadam, I wanted something lighter to watch. Someone had recommended to me Athadu as their favorite Mahesh Babu film and it’s free on Youtube with subtitles. (Love you Telugu Cinema industry for doing that!). Athadu evidently means simply “He”.
It starts super violent. A young street kid murders someone, and then joins a gang. And then we see the now grown up Mahesh and there is more violence. I despaired at first as it was all this violence and blood — I’d had plenty of that with Kammati Paadam. Mahesh is Nandu, a killer – a stone cold hitman, and Sonu Sood is his getaway driver. He’s hired to stage an almost assassination of a politician, and is double crossed and chased for the murder. During his escape on a train, an innocent person is killed. And he takes on that victim’s identity, as the victim Pardhu was on his way to reunite with long lost family who hadn’t seen him in over a decade. Pardhu had been orphaned and his grandfather and family had been searching for him.
Mahesh arrives in the village, and is welcomed as the prodigal son returned. No one had seen Pardhu since he was a child, so they just say, “My you’ve grown tall!” and the like. Nasser plays the grandfather, and Trisha Krishnan is Poori, Pardhu’s cousin. Mahesh lays low and stays at the rural family compound for over a month. You can tell he’s never had a normal family life and that this is all new to him. And that’s when I realized, that this was going to totally be my catnip trope — killer disarmed by love and family!! With a heaping helping of taking on an identity and trying to blend into a family.
It’s like Witness crossed with The Professional crossed with Sommersby! (In a good way.)
Poori is infatuated with Pardhu/Mahesh. She is fairly immature and has obviously been very sheltered and pampered. She tells Mahesh that she is staying away from her sister meeting her potential bridegroom because she doesn’t want to overshadow her sister with her beauty. Mahesh tells her she is not beautiful — her family’s just been telling her she is.
Thus begins the teasing and mock fighting between the two which escalates to an accidental brushing of lips. (Swoon! — that’s both me AND the two characters swooning. Poori actually sinks to the floor in a heap from the emotional impact of it.)
Mahesh/Pradhu then fantasizes that he’s playfully nipping at Poori’s ear, and jolts back to reality in another favorite scene of mine. There’s some very nice song sequences as they each fall for each other.
Mahesh/Pradhu also comes to his grandfather’s aid in a land dispute with an evil neighbor. Cue the machete fight sequence! (It’s nearly a requirement in a Telugu film.) Mahesh finds out that the real Pradhu had played a mean trick as a kid, and gives money to the family anonymously so that their daughter can get an operation.
This film is filled with some of my favorite Telugu character actors. Nasser, as I mentioned, plays Pradhu’s grandfather. Prakash Raj, polyglot character actor of Hindi and many regional cinemas, plays the CBI officer on Nandu (Mahesh)’s trail. And Sunil, my favorite comedic Telugu character actor, plays the childhood friend of Pradhu. Mahesh confides in him that he’s not really Pradhu. The two comedy Uncles are in it, too, but not so annoying. Brahmanandam dares Mahesh to punch him in the stomach which he does so Brahmanandam actually made me laugh for once!
After one fight, Mahesh/Pradhu is fussed over by Pradhu’s aunt. She tends to his cuts on his hands, and then feeds him with her own hands as she’s afraid the spicy food will sting his cuts. This kindness affects Mahesh so much that he has to wipe the tears from his eyes. He’s been trying to quietly resist the family, because of course he’s not really Pradhu, their long lost nephew or grandson. He doesn’t think he’s worthy of any of their love and kindness. I was almost wiping the tears from my own eyes at this scene because you can see the loneliness of the life he had led up to this moment.
Poori was more than a little irritating in how immature her character was. She’s trying to be coquettish, but she really doesn’t know how. She pouts that Mahesh/Pradhu hasn’t told her she’s beautiful, and then came one of the best declarations of love I’ve seen in an Indian film. (I’ve posted the video starting at the scene below:)
He asks who said she wasn’t beautiful? “You did! You told me I wasn’t beautiful!”
Then he tells her that it was true. “Then I didn’t know you were so beautiful.”
“But I’m the same even now!”, she replies.
“I’m not. We see a moonbeam everyday. Only sometimes do we think it is beautiful. But it’s the same every day. The change is not there. It’s here!”, as he touches his heart. “I fought Buji…How else did you want me to express my love? I’m not like the others. I don’t know how to live. Only now I’m learning to live.”
I had to rewind and rewatch that scene a few times. So great.
One of Mahesh/Pradhu’s acts of generosity leads to Prakash Raj finding him, and his true identity being revealed. There is a fantastic scene that Mahesh has then with Nasser, the grandfather, that I won’t spoiler, but I really loved.
Then we’re back to action, as Mahesh goes back to the city to find out who the real killer was who framed him. There’s an amazing final fight scene, and great comeuppance for the villains. This is what Indian cinema does so well. Great action paired with emotional drama and romance. The plot is really nothing like Witness, but that is the film that I thought of immediately. Hardened man used to violence is forced to adapt to a rural family life. Total fish out of water, Nandu is not a cop — he’s who should be the villain, but we see through his actions that he has a marshmallow center.
This film goes right up there as one of my favorite Mahesh movies now. Really enjoyed it, and there were a few scenes that were truly magical.
Four stars out of five.