The story of the legendary queen of the Kakatiya dynasty is reworked and embellished sufficiently to suit a commercial Telugu film format in Gunasekhar's latest offering. But who we are introduced to is not Rudhramadevi. Instead, it's Rudhradeva, a girl who is convinced since childhood that she is a boy and groomed to be the heir to the Kakatiya throne, by her parents and their loyal minister. The kingdom is under crisis and everyone is desperately hoping for the queen to deliver an heir who will grow up to be the saviour of the people. Instead a girl is born. And so is a well-guarded secret. Since how can a girl possibly be a hero? But she turns into a superhero, instead, played with much aplomb by Anushka Shetty.
A stereotype is broken. Silently. She still needs to wear men's clothes and modulate her voice to strip it of any feminine element. She's a fearless warrior and able administrator with a heart of gold that reaches out to her people. She is celebrated for all of this and more with the appropriate amount of jealousy directed from other males in the family eyeing the throne. But despite being on par or outperforming several men, the public chooses to disapprove of her once the secret is revealed. She is suddenly a liar and the king and queen have deceived the people by presenting their daughter as a son. And we are back in typecast land. The same society that sang praises of Rudhradeva for everything that "he" did for them are now ready to have Rudhramadevi sent into exile instantaneously. The film really is as much about fighting the enemy attacking the fortress and about battling an utterly fortified patriarchal mindset - boy is strong and powerful and girl is gentle and beautiful. When the scales tilt farther than approved levels, an outcry ensues. Clearly driven from fear? This is a story set in the 11th century, but perhaps only the extent to which the scales can tilt changes century over century.
We wonder what the opposing society in this film was really upset about? In the guise of being cheated, were they actually scared of women in their own families taking to the sword instead of cooking and baby-making? Were the women also afraid of unleashing their inner Rudhramadevis that were thus far carefully suppressed into dormancy in their DNAs over generations?
Trouble brews mid-film too when questions are raised about the crown prince's marriage. She is so dedicated to her kingdom that she even "marries" a girl just to hush the people. It's the ultimate sacrifice that two women make in their own ways. How we love sacrificial women too.
|Anushka Shetty as Rudhramadevi and Rana Daggubati as Chalukya Veerabhadra. (Courtesy: Idlebrain.com)
Extending this dedication further, she chooses to use her femininity as a weapon too. Chalukya Veerabhadra (Rana Daggubati) is completely smitten, having seen her during one of her secret sojourns by the river in girly clothes and a few kilograms of gold. She decides to make a second appearance as his mystical woman and agrees to meet him again only if he will focus his priorities back to more pressing issues of the kingdom. He is promptly back to being himself and is at the side of Rudhradeva the next morning, completely unaware that he was wooed just a few hours ago by him/her. The Jekyll and Hyde game she plays all through the film, switching from man to woman and back with the ease of having done so for a lifetime, is what drives the narrative forward. We know that the secret will be revealed at some point, but enjoy too the pretence while it lasts. When the inevitable happens and the curtain is lifted, we need to ask ourselves what gender we'd prefer our superheroes in.