REVIEW: Yamadonga

This review contains general spoilers for the film Yamadonga, but tries not to reveal specific twists.

My introduction to Indian cinema came through the Glorantha community’s recommendation of the fantasy epic Baahubali. I fell in love with director S. S. Rajamouli’s vibrant duology almost immediately. In short, it feels like an Indian Lord of the Rings, though about Love and Hate rather than Good and Evil. A few weeks ago, some friends and I watched Rajamouli’s latest film RRR, which won the Oscar for its song “Naatu Naatu.” Both Baahubali and RRR are great films. They’re on Netflix, and worth watching.

Today, I want to talk about a less famous (in the West, anyway) Rajamouli film: Yamadonga.

Watching RRR sent me down a rabbit hole, wanting to learn more about Rajamouli’s films and see if any were available to me online. Much to my surprise, another fantasy film was, titled Yamadonga. As fantasy is kind of my thing, it was pretty much an instant watch.

I have assumed this upload of Yamadonga is available freely and legally due to its massive viewcount.

Since RRR has broken into the American mainstream, I thought it would be fun to write about Yamadonga instead because it’s not as well known. After all, a significant part of why I’ve started frequent posts up again on this site is that it gives me an outlet to babble enthusiastically about stuff I like!

Yamadonga is best described as a fantasy rom-com. Where Baahubali is about a great hero, Yamadonga is about a trickster. The thief and charlatan Raja becomes entangled in a plot to ransom the wealthy heiress Mahi (who, like Cinderella, is being abused by her relatives). Drunk and angry, he curses the King of the Underworld, Yama, and the god takes a bit of offense to that. Yama brings about Raja’s early death in the midst of the earthly drama, and the two struggle over the throne of Hell before Raja escapes back to Earth. There’s your classic reveals and dramatic irony before, of course, the happy ending.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie for the same reasons I enjoyed Rajamouli’s other films. The cinematography grabs my attention, the soundtrack does a good job controlling tension and relaxation, and, frankly, the acting and dialogue are just wacky and fun. The leading actor, Jr. NTR, is charismatic and roguish even with YouTube’s somewhat lackluster subtitles. The other actors do a good job—especially Mohan Babu as the arrogant King Yama—but Jr. NTR’s Raja does really drive the film.

Which is good, because the film’s long by American standards. It’s a full three hour piece! Even if I’m enjoying exploring “Tollywood” cinema—”Bollywood” specifically refers to northern Indian films, an acquaintance educated me—I have to admit it didn’t hold me riveted to the screen the way RRR and Baahubali did. Yet, I don’t know if I would have appreciated an abridged Yamadonga in the same way. The length lets the film really breathe and develop a complex “fairytale” plot. The ironies and reversals wouldn’t play out as comically if they were crammed into a two hour runtime. To be fair, I do tend to prefer long films. It’s not that Yamadonga dragged, so much as it almost feels like watching a TV mini-series. The film is structured such that you have about an hour on Earth setting up the story, an hour of Yama versus Raja in the Underworld, and then an hour as Raja tries to save Mahi, and has to confront Yama again.

There’s a lot to take in with a single viewing. The occasional scene will drag, but overall I’m quite impressed at how well Rajamouli composes the story. As I reflect on it (and try to talk about the film without going into excessive plot details), it really is more complexly structured than I first believed. The basic shape isn’t convoluted, but getting the different scenes to interleave so that the comedic ironies intersect correctly reminds me of one of Shakespeare’s comedies, like Twelfth Night. The more I contemplate it, the more impressed I am by Yamadonga‘s script.

If you liked either of Rajamouli’s more well-known films, I figure you’ll like Yamadonga as well. For my RuneQuest and Glorantha followers, Jr. NTR’s portayal of Raja is a great example of a trickster adventurer, and the film’s worth checking out as an example of a (accidental) heroquest into the Underworld. If you’ve got an evening to set aside for a fun rom-com romp, Yamadonga is a pretty good selection.

Until next time, then!

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