Cast: Venkatesh Daggubati, Rana Daggubati And Surveen Chawla
Director: Karan Anshuman and Suparn Varma
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
Uncle-nephew duo Venkatesh Daggubati and Rana Daggubati lend star power and a great deal of heft to Netflix's Rana Naidu, an Indianised version of the American web series Ray Donovan, which had a seven-season, 82-episode run on Showtime between 2013 and 2020.
Does Rana Naidu possess the power to last that long? There is no reason to believe that it does not. The younger of the two actors plays an angry man of action who has a score to settle with a terrible dad who left the family in the lurch in more ways than one. The veteran is cast in the role of the father, an effusive, foul-mouthed convict serving a 20-year sentence in a Hyderabad jail.
Released after 15 years for good behaviour, the old man arrives in Mumbai with the intention of renewing his ties with his estranged family. His return is unsolicited and one of his sons makes his displeasure amply evident every time that their paths cross.
Rana Naidu, created for India by Karan Anshuman and directed by him and Suparn S. Verma, is a moody, heavy-on-atmospherics crime drama that pits two bunches of scheming men against each other. It plays out in a masculine world where the women have little room for manoeuvre and have indignities routinely heaped upon them.
Rana Naidu (Rana Daggubati) is a trouble-shooter for celebrities. Given the nature of his work, he flirts with danger on a daily basis. He is understandably both morose and belligerent. He thinks nothing of resorting to unethical means to get what he and his clients want.
His father, Naga Naidu, a reckless womaniser with a shady past, is keen to put the price that he has paid for his misdeeds behind him. But owing to the scars that he has left on the minds and bodies of his sons a second chance isn't easy for him to come by.
There is a great deal more to the 10-episode crime drama than the two principal actors. Apart from a host of other cast members who make an impact, the show is marked by sustained technical finesse. The drama is plotted densely enough for it to be able to draw the audience into an unsettling world of fraught relationships, simmering violence and dark secrets.
The hero of the show is an exceedingly enterprising man who celebrities cannot do without when they get into trouble. The unflappable Rana helps his famous clients find a way to ward off personal and professional crises. Where this is scandal, the go-to man is roped in to firefight. The means that he employs for the purpose are inevitably illegal.
Lies and subterfuge occupy the centre of Rana's dangerous world, which is one reason why his wife Naina (Surveen Chawla), a former Telugu movie star who gave up her career to move to Mumbai with her husband, feels she deserves a more serene life for herself and her two school-going children, Nitya (Afrah Sayed) and Anirudh.
The brooding protagonist detests his father. He, however, is on good terms with his brothers Tej (Sushant Singh) and Jaffa (Abhishek Banerjee). Tej, the eldest of the siblings and a one-time stuntman who now has to depend on physiotherapy because of the onset of Parkinson's, runs a film stunts agency. Jaffa is the youngest brother and a victim of child abuse still haunted by the trauma.
The misfortunes of the Naidu brothers are all connected to the wayward ways of their father, who now wants to make it up to his sons. “Family is everything,” Naga says expansively even though he admits to having been a very bad father. Rana is in no mood to let his dad off the hook. The differences between the two men lead to an all-out family feud that spirals completely out of control.
Rana's circle of clients and associates includes a movie actor, a smarmy, hallucinating politician, a right-hand man always at his beck and call, and a Hyderabad mafia don who has reason never to trust his one-time partner in crime Naga Naidu. The film star is Prince Reddy (Gaurav Chopra), the political leader is OB Mahajan (Rajesh Jais), the trusted aide is Srini (Adithya Menon) and the gang lord is Surya (Ashish Vidyarthi).
The politician reminds Rana that they cannot erase their past but can hide it for good. But since the incidents that drove a wedge between Rana and Naga casts a long shadow across two cities and two decades, it is impossible for the adversaries to shrug them off at will and keep up the pretence that everything can return to normal.
Rana's father pairs up with an upright CBI official Eijaz Shaikh (Mukul Chadda) to get to the bottom of the conspiracy that landed him in jail. The truth has been lying dormant under the carpet for years. Naga is determined to unearth it as a first concrete step towards his rehabilitation.
If not exactly dreary and heavy-handed, Rana Naidu often tilts towards the somewhat stodgy. As a series of ten episodes of an average of 50 minutes each, it had the potential for significant tonal variations. A lot of it remains unrealised because the show never quite breaks into a canter. Parts of Rana Naidu are monotonous. They rely on the actors for enlivenment.
The writing team (Karan Anshuman, Karmanya Ahuja, Ananya Mody and B.V.S. Ravi) opt for an unwavering focus on the dead-ends that confront the characters as they trundle through a storyline that is bereft of palpable shifts in mood and emphasis.
Rana Naidu tells the story of a family, but barring a handful of scenes it is unable to achieve emotional crescendo. The confrontations between Rana and Naga – which constitutes the heart of the show – are treated by and large in a matter-of-fact manner that tends to undermine their power.
However, the gradual unravelling of the acts of commission and omission that have brought father and son to a such sorry pass throw up more than their share of surprises and enables Rana Naidu to tide over its sedate patches.
Rana Daggubati delivers a performance that is consistent in its arc. But it could have done with more angularities. Venkatesh Daggubati makes the most of the mercurial, voluble nature of the man he is on screen.
Surveen Chawla, Sushant Singh, Abhishek Banerjee, Mukul Chadda, Rajesh Jais, Gaurav Chopra and Adithya Menon are among the others who stand out in a series that stands on firm ground even when it isn't crackling with the kind of energy that jumps out of the screen and catches the viewer unawares.