There is something enormously endearing about a superstar trying to shed his image to get into the skin of his character the way, say, Uttam Kumar did in Satyajit Ray's "Nayak" or Rajesh Khanna in Basu Bhattacharya's "Aavishkar".
In "Rangasthalam", Ram Charan Teja transforms in front of our eyes. It is almost like watching a magic show where the entire appearance of the actor undergoes a sea change as we gawk in open-mouthed amazement. Except that here Ram Charan is not ostentatious in his mutation. He changes his personality, yes. But in doing so he makes sure he merges into the rustic rugged violent milieu of injustice and inequality where one man plays an evil God.
Jagapati Babu, filled with sound, fury and a flurry, as the underhand God is so larger-than-life you fear the frames will crack open under the spell of this self-appointed God's heavy ego. Ram Charan Teja suffers no such anxieties. As the partially disabled docile, shy and goodhearted Chitti Babu he is a hero unlike any other: vulnerable and sensitive, prone to defeat if push comes to shove but not embarrassed to be pushed against the wall, willing to take the punch on the chin.
Most of the dramatic conflict is generated in tandem, with Ram Charan sharing screen space unconditionally with his screen brother, played by Adhi Panisetty. When Ram Charan is with his brother he is tender. When he is with his beloved, he is super-tender. Emotions are not concealed in a false sense of machismo that screen heroes often suffer from.
There is no effort to take over the show, to emerge as unvanquished conqueror. Ram Charan remains almost flawlessly in character: diffident and disarmingly disingenuous, valiant but not fearless. This underplayed heroic dimension to large-screen heroism is the film's greatest strength.
For the rest, this lengthy yet tightly-edited melodrama plays itself out with a karmic velocity giving the main characters a chance to grow without revelling in their dazzle.The rural landscape with its toasted-brown virility is sturdily captured by cinematographer Rathnavelu who treats the landscape with lensed casualness.
And yes, there is the pretty Samantha Akkineni as the doughty female protagonist. She tries hard to blend into the rural fabric of this pitch-perfect morality tale. Charming, yes. But Samantha doesn't quite blend into the bucolic with the ease of Ram Charan.
The film keeps back some surprises right to the end. Though "Rangasthalam" has nothing startlingly new to offer in its content, it is a warm sincere effort to give its leading man a new image.
This is a film from the heart. It delivers its punches with sincerity and without flourish.
(Ratings: 3/5 Stars)