The best thing about the totally differently re-cut Tamil version of the Paritala Ravi saga, Rattha Charithram is that at as a single film, it spares you two additional hours of a total assault of your senses that the collective two parts in Hindi - Rakht Charitra - I and 2 had made you endure. That said, it is pretty difficult to really review this Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) as a single film as one has seen the Hindi versions and the story even here really continues from Part I with spillover factors.
However, two factors make this better than the Hindi version albeit very slightly. Suriya's performance in Tamil is far more fluent than his Hindi one, which though the best performance in that version as well, you do feel his discomfort with Hindi at times. Second, the voice over given by director Gautham Vasudev Menon is far more normal sounding than the irritating Hindi one. The Tamil version reduces Part I to just 20 minutes and drastically shortens Pratap's father's killing and in that sense dilutes Vivek Oberoi's character considerably so Suriya can clearly be the hero and Vivek Oberoi appears more the antagonist rather than another hero. This actually takes the balance away from the film which should have been a dynamic one-to-one fight between Suriya and Vivek. Instead it is more Suriya's revenge story at the cost of the character who inspired RGV to make this film in the first place, Paritala Ravi, or as Vivek is named here, Pratap Ravi. In fact, one can't say this is Pratap's story or based on Paritala Ravi's tale. It is that of his nemesis, Maddelacheruvu Suryanarayana Reddy alias Suri or as he is called here, Surya.
The film is extremely shoddy which is something you don't associate with RGV but he is guilty as hell here. Barring the main Tamil actors, the other actors don't even seem to be mouthing Tamil at all times and these portions of the film make it look like a dubbed film, irritating one as the dialogue and lip movements just don't match. This after RGV harping all over in interviews to promote the film that each (dialogue) shot was taken in each language - Hindi, Tamil, Telugu. It's sad if he has taken the Tamil audience and their intelligence for granted.
The screenplay of the overall film but especially this re-cut version has its share of enough glitches. The biggest problem is that the film is unable to flesh out Vivek Oberoi's character due to the shortening of Part I. At the same time, Ramu has no doubt taken more care with Suriya's character thereby justifying his desire for revenge and Vivek's fall all the more. That is not to say, Suriya's revenge seeking character, admittedly the more interesting one between the two, is free of problems either. It is finally little more then a typical hero seeking revenge for the killing of his family though it has the USP of him masterminding the entire operation from jail. Unfortunately, this sounds only good on paper with the execution leaving a lot to be desired. Still, there are a couple of action sequences and emotional scenes - Suriya's breakdown for one, where the film does come to life but these are few and sporadic. Otherwise the LOUD pitching of the film and the overdose of violence numbs you totally and beyond a point, you don't care what happens in the film. What's worse, Ramu fails miserably as a storyteller with many scenes poorly conceived and what's more even more poorly shot on spite of being set in interesting locations. The second half, in particular, is plain dull, some of the dialogue sequences go on and on and what's more, the film continues on and on even after Vivek's death.
Suriya still gives the film its few watchable moments. In his more human moments - his anguish on looking at the aftermath of the horrific killing of his family members or his lighter romantic scene with Priyamani, he is spot on. He is far better with the emotions here with Tamil being his language (the emotion in his dialogue delivery and his voice modulation is superb) and shows why he is one of the finest actors in mainstream Tamil cinema, a key example being his one scene with Vivek which works so much better for him here as compared to the Hindi one. But come the action scenes and RGV makes him overplay them - to grimace, contort his face and be animal like as he uproots trees, hacks people and what not. Vivek is totally and unfairly defeated by the script , Priyamani as Suriya's supportive wife, Bhavani is not bad at all in the little she has to do.
The camerawork, editing, sound design and background scoring is all extremely, extremely attention grabbing again taking you out of the story rather than within. Badly composed wide-angled frames, jerky obvious edit cuts, extremely bad overuse of slow motion throughout, a deafeningly loud background score and sound design to hammer in the emotions all work to collectively hit you in the solar plexus to make you believe you have seen a hard-hitting film. On top of that, one wonders on the wisdom of shooting largely with the RED camera on which the film was shot, giving it a strange and washed out look when finally projected. And it's not as if the camera is at fault, one has seen the amazing results it has given in The Social Network. Of the action scenes, the first one where Suriya makes an attempt on Vivek's life works best. The less said about the one at the courtroom with Suriya avoiding the bullets (on grainy 16mm) the better.
One point here, merely having a raw and gritty look with loads of violence and bloodshed does not necessarily make a film realistic as is being touted with this film. And this is a phenomenon one has seen for a while in Tamil cinema. However, even 'realistic' films like Paruthiveeran (2007), Subramaniyapuram (2008), Renigunta (2009) and the recent Mynaa (2010), while being raw and gritty at the same time, are still undoubtedly commercial films with violence as a key commercial ingredient while using other conventional elements of Tamil mainstream cinema and its technicalities. Rattha Charithram is no different even if it cuts out typical use of songs from its narrative.
All in all, sadly, RGV has been at his innovative best here with his marketing skills and making maximum money out of his 'dream project' from its Telugu and Tamil (Hindi hasn't quite obliged him) versions, but not with his filmmaking expertise. Overall, Rattha Charithram is yet another downer adding to the long list of his more recent turkeys.