Ramarao on Duty Movie Review: Intriguing as an idea, underwhelming as a film
Sarath Mandava's film has a storyline filled with suspense and thrills but fails to create the same impact on the screen
The cold open of Ramarao On Duty —which transpires on a dark, raining night in a hilly forest—leaves a chilling impression. An old man notices a hand protrude from a freshly dug grave. He informs his wife that he needs to fix it and leaves with a hatchet. When he reaches the spot, we get a close-up of the hand, the old man taking a deep breath and… chuck! The nonchalance of this old couple and the mystery surrounding the act lends an ominous quality to this scene. When a title card that follows goes on to reveal that the story is based on many true incidents from past and present, it becomes all the way more thrilling. Mystery—both as a central plot point and as an attribute—binds the narrative of Ramarao on Duty, set predominantly in the hilly topography of Chithoor, together through the quick highs, steep lows, unnecessary detours and foreseeable turns. We equate the face of the aforementioned old man with a mystery and every time he appears on the screen—although it happens rarely—it piques our intrigue. Although it is a fair argument that this angle is relegated to a sub-plot towards the end, despite being the missing part of the puzzle that bolsters in forming a complete picture, the backstory and the closure of this specific arc are nicely thought out. This facet also left me wanting more of such creepy elements that add a different dimension to this investigative thriller, which is otherwise a one-man show, in true-blue Telugu commercial film style.
Director: Sarath Mandava
Cast: Ravi Teja, Divyansha Kaushik, Rajisha Vijayan, Venu Thottempudi
There’s a constant attempt in Ramarao On Duty to stand apart from the quintessential masala fare one expects from a Ravi Teja-starrer. The actor plays Ramarao as a larger-than-life character, sans his trademark comic timing, but he does get his share of low-angle, slow-motion shots early on. He plays a Mandal Revenue Officer, and he gets an opening song dedicated to documenting his good deeds. This buildup substantiates the devotion the camera and people have towards him. But once he starts investigating the disappearance of the husband of his estranged lover, Malini, (Rajisha Vijayan, in a thankless role), heroism takes a backseat. The mainstream compulsions do come up in a couple of sequences that nobody asked for: the first is a dance number named ‘Naa Peru Seesa’ which sees our righteous hero shaking a leg in a carnival; the second is a flashback that traces the love story of Ramarao and Malini. Neither part adds any value to the story or the character. Describing the dullness of the sequence in contemporary terms, this part triggered the audience to check their phones.
Ramarao on Duty is most engaging when the protagonist is clueless about his pursuit. The unravelling of the mystery is so uninspiring that we barely register a win when he gets a breakthrough in his investigation. And it is hard to point out why, because the central mystery—the disappearance of nearly two dozen people—itself is pretty serious. The story has its share of twists and keeps trying to pique our curiosity from time to time about these happenings and prospective criminals. The writing also chooses to expose us to information that the protagonist isn't privy to, and this, indirectly, takes away the surprise when he eventually digs the information himself. For instance, we know that Murali (Venu Thottempudi in a role that leaves you confused whether you have to hate or laugh at), a corrupt police officer, is searching for ‘maal’ even before Ramarao does. By the time Ramarao finally cracks the case, there is no surprise left.
I like that most of these action sequences in this investigative thriller don’t come across as distractions or mere attempts to please the crowd. The first one, features Ramarao controlling a group of protesting farmers, thereby establishing his virtue. A couple of other action sequences lead to major reveals. While there might have been smarter ways to introduce these twists, it is still a win that the action sequences serve a purpose. The final showdown, however, reduces the whole investigation to one fight sequence and feels dismissible since it doesn’t do justice to the rest of the film. The idea to end the film on a cliffhanger causes more annoyance than hyping us up for a potential sequel. However, Sam CS’ background score is one lifeline that relentlessly keeps trying to keep us invested in the story.
To round it off, Ramarao On Duty misses a great opportunity to blend the masala we love in Telugu films with a genre, and ends up underwhelming us on both fronts.