If you are a die-hard fan of NTR, 'Dammu' is the film you should watch at least twice. It is because NTR's intense performance in the second half raises the roof, he wins the war with his frown look intact, delivering a brilliant acting output throughout. It is sumptuous meal for Nandamuri fans out there.
All the same, Dammu is dyed with blood, it is milk and water, which means not only is the story anemic but also NTR's characterization is nonplussing. The story is revealed powerfully in the very beginning. Two blood thirsty royal families have been warring for 45 years now, consuming thousands of innocent lives in the process. A creative MP (Ranganath) makes them agree to orchestrate massacres for just two days in a year; rest of the year must be spent without anyone crossing the LOC. The intro establishes the never say die rivalry between the Suman Royalty and Nasser Royalty, and very soon, the latter defeats the former. Suman's family and 40 villages who which are by them continue to live in dread for 25 years. Somewhere in Hyderabad, an orphan (NTR) is waiting in the wings to enter the scene as Sri Sri Raja Vasi Reddy and take the violent plunge.
Dammu's writing is pedestrian; it is afflicted by the fact that its climax could have been achieved much earlier. What works for NTR is not the way Boyapati Srinu develops his character, which is dumb, but his macho look.
NTR gets it right in all the fighting scenes, although the intensity is affected by the ambivalence. He is introduced as someone who wouldn't care two hoots for his life if someone's life is in danger, but as the movie proceeds you are left to keep wondering why he takes painfully long time to convince himself that those who have killed hundreds don't deserve to be given a chance. In the first half, our hero bashes up policemen in khaki when they harm a citizen (stopping only when the Home Minister herself enters the scene), but in the second half he is surprisingly patient. So, when he has to kill, he says, "Vaddu vaddu anna katthi pattaniccharu kadara", almost crying holding a blood-soaked sword.
Since even the interval might have been the climax, the director spends an unwarranted amount of time in making the hero preach peace, letting him reiterate again and again that war must be the last resort. It takes a trembling IAS officer for him to understand that reversing a 70-year old feud, which doesn't care for humanity nor fear the law, is impossible. Yet, the film drags on for another 45 minutes. A good proportion of the film is about Nassar's cruelty and NTR's terrifying heroism. That's all.
The director saves a surprise element in the second half, which is made funny by a character coming out from his self-imposed isolation after 25 years, with his Rasputin-esque beard well-combed.
Dammu is punctuated with melodrama and racked by a raft of voyeuristic (read Karthika Nair, Maryam Zakaria) and funny characters (no, not Brahmi, but Nasser, who sports a moustache that looks like the body hair of an exotic squirrel). Nowadays our films are using vulgarity to puff up the hero's ego; the sooner this fetish is given up, the better. Talking of ego, the Ruler song serves no other purpose than picturing the Young Tiger in the robes of an emperor.
NTR should urgently get innovative with his comedy. Trisha is good, whereas Suman was the most convincing one in the pack of side actors. It is vintage Ali all the way, perfect in making lewd gestures once again.
If the function of a good dialogue-writer is to go beyond the obvious and cushion emotions and feelings in splendid language, M Ratnam fails the test. Nevertheless lines like these may be appealing to the mass audience. "Symbol ni kadu, system ni break cheyali". "Neeku chathanaithe, nee vallanu goda dooki paripokunda apuko, nee gunde agakunda apuko, na jhanda nee gummamlo patakunda apuko."
The last fight is terrific, with the hero pushing his arms back to let the villain gain confidence. Keeravani's BG lifts the intensity, while all action scenes were well executed.
As you come out of the hall, you will ask yourself, "Did the director not kill Nassar because he had to find a justification to carry the film for 150 minutes, that is to give the villain ample time to reform?"