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The word feisty wouldn't be enough to describe "mahanati" Savitri. She was childlike in embracing the wonderful moments life presented her with, unafraid to live life on her terms, was generous and also reckless, drowning in a quagmire from which there was no way out. The real story of Savitri, as reporter Madhuravani (Samantha) and photojournalist Antony (Vijay Deverakonda) discover, was a momentous one. It is this story of her humble beginnings, meteoric rise, tumultuous and heady romance, and the impending doom that director Nag Ashwin brings to life effectively, with the help of an impeccable team.

To narrate Savitri amma story, intertwining it with the journey of a young woman journalist trying to rise above her limitations, is a masterstroke. Madhuravani and Antony are the underdogs in the newsroom. It looks like a no-go when they begin trailing the story of Savitri who is in coma. This is the early 80s, shot intentionally grainy, keeping with the technicolor cinema of the time. As the stuttering reporter, Samantha makes you root for her. Her sincere, serious outlook to work and life is contrasted by the effervescent Vijay Deverakonda. The camaraderie between these two characters is a delight.

The actual story takes off when we are ushered into the rustic Vijayawada of the 1940s and 50, when childhood friends Savitri (a brilliant Keerthy Suresh) and Susheela (Shalini Pandey, in an impressive role after Arjun Reddy), are having a great time acting in theatre productions.

It takes a little getting used to as the story moves to Madras as Savitri, backed by her calculative uncle K V Chowdhury (Rajendra Prasad), tries her luck in the movies. A lot has gone into the setting up of Madras and its studios of the 1960s and the effort shows. The eyes linger on frames filled with props, clothes, cameras, trams and cars of that era before being drawn into the story.

There are several cameos Krish as KV Reddy, Tharun Bhascker as Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, Srinivas Avasarala as LV Prasad, Prakash Raj as Chakrapani and Naga Chaitanya as ANR the sequence that shows young Savitri amma unabashed admiration of ANR is a lot of fun. And that segment about Savitri shedding precisely two drops of tears from one eye, without glycerine is that true? Mahanati is packed with anecdotes that trigger curiosity.

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