‘Disco Raja’ movie review: Begins with promise, but an overdose of retro is the dampener

The movie places Ravi Teja in an outlandish retro set-up with scope for a lot of madcap fun, but ends up as an indulgent bore

A mainstream masala film celebrates the hero, tries to make us suspend our disbelief and give in to that larger-than-life world where things don’t necessarily play by logic. A well thought-out masala film that offers something new can be good fun. In that sense, Disco Raja begins with promise.

Director Vi Anand does the opposite of a rousing hero introduction scene. Somewhere in Ladakh (this portion was shot in Iceland though), men on bikes drag away someone who’s been brutally beaten up and leave him to die. We don’t see his face but the background score gives away who he could be. In a regular film, we’d expect this man to stir, fight back and beat these guys to a pulp. But no, it doesn’t happen here.

We see him later in a futuristic ‘Relive’ bio lab where doctors/scientists are experimenting to see if they can revive a dead man.

Meanwhile, we are shown a middle-class family in Delhi waiting for the return of their breadwinner, Vasu (Ravi Teja).Disco Raja

  • Cast: Ravi Teja, Bobby Simha, Payal Rajput, Nabha Natesh
  • Direction: Vi Anand
  • Music: S S Thaman

Back in the science lab, the dead man is revived but has no memory of his identity. The chief scientist wants him to be just an experimental lab rat and warns his team — Parineeti (Tanya Hope) and Phalguni (Vennela Kishore) — to not trigger his memory. But we know how science fiction movies go; the ‘subject’ won’t remain in the lab for long.

All that unfolds in these initial portions aren’t entirely new; there are both resemblances and hat tips to Les Mayfield’s Encino Man, and Captain America.

The family that’s waiting for Vasu, and his lady love Nabha (Nabha Natesh) trying to keep them happy is all familiar territory, and quite boring too.

The real story begins when the resurrected man breaks free and wears his headphones, a vestige of his past. The memories come rushing, one by one.

Vi Anand imagines Ravi Teja, with his ability for mad cap fun, as a gangster who’s also a huge disco fan and runs a retro bar in Madras in the early 1980s. This character isn’t called Vasu but Disco Raja. Sounds like fun, isn’t it?

Men and women strut around sporting sideburns, long hair and winged eyeliners.

There’s gang rivalry as well. Early on in the film when Seshu (Bobby Simha) is first shown as an aged gangster, the 80s Rajinikanth Tamil song ‘Aasai nooru vagai’ from Adutha Varisu plays in the background. It’s a hint that we’ll see more of that retro world from Madras where the gangsters speak a mix of Tamil and Telugu, as the story progresses.

It’s an interesting premise and ideally, should pack in fun. There’s fun, definitely. For instance, the episode where Disco Raja cooks biryani as his opponents are being dealt with simultaneously. There are plenty of references to pop culture of the times — Mithun Chakraborty’s Disco Dancer, Kamal Haasan starrer Sathya, Rajinikanth films, Chiranjeevi’s Khaidi, and even the transition in Bollywood from Rajesh Khanna to Amitabh Bachchan.

Payal Rajput as Helen plays the retro heroine to the hilt. Thaman has a blast with the background score and cinematographer Karthik Ghattamaneni amplifies the the retro setting beautifully.

The entire retro portion is dished out in a deliberately outlandish manner, with a lot of swagger. But these portions also get indulgently long. By the time the timeline shifts and more scores are settled in the present scenario, it feels like a lot has happened. The end is both rushed and staid.

Disco Raja’s best moments are when it taps into Ravi Teja’s potential to deliver effortless fun. He dances to retro beats with sheer joy and beats his enemies to a pulp. Nabha’s is a brief role with not much scope. Sunil pulls off a surprise but that episode where he reveals his real self is a patience-testing one.

For all the menacing aura with which Bobby Simha is introduced, his character is poorly fleshed out too. The impact of the clash between him and Disco Raja is drowned in the overdose of the retro styling. The biggest grouse, however, is with the characterisation of Vasu. When you get two Ravi Tejas instead of one, why reduce one to a prop?

Generous trimming and some more attention to a few characters could have made this a different film.

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