The recently released Telugu movie Rangasthalam, set in the 1980s in a fictitious village on the banks of the Godavari river, is aptly named. In Sukumar’s drama, which has reportedly given lead actor Ram Charan his biggest box office opening yet, a narrator announces that the village has seen the same drama play itself out for 30 years. This play has had no hero but the same villain. He is called President (Jagapati Babu), and he has usurped land in the region for years. This time, however, rumour has it that a hero will finally make his appearance.

Among the elements that Sukumar uses to give Rangasthalam the feel of a period theatre production is the soundtrack. Hit-maker Devi Sri Prasad has collaborated for the seventh time with Sukumar for six songs (including the unreleased Ee Chethi Thone). All the songs attempt to evoke the movie’s rustic theme and the high-octane sentiments of the characters. Prasad’s compositions channel folk tunes that could have easily found a place on the stage.

Rangasthalam (2018).

The track Ranga Ranga Rangasthalana is one such example. Chandrabose’s lyrics celebrates theatre and its connection with the outside world: “This life is a stage and we are all artists without any embellishments. Once the play starts, it cannot be stopped.”

Structured like a folk song, the track gives Rahul Sipligunj’s vocals the support of a chorus. For the uncomplicated composition, Prasad has bolstered the role of the percussion instruments and the trumpet to create an impact for its role on the big screen.

The mouth organ and harmonium herald the track Rangamma Mangamma, sung by M Manasi. Her rustic voice works well for the heroine’s song and calls out quite literally to the goddess of theatre to ask why the hero is the way he is – close to her but still strangely distant.

Rangamma Mangamma, Rangasthalam (2018).

Prasad injects Aa Gattununtaava with local flavour by getting Telangana folk singer Shiva Nagulu to sing the track. The composition is similar in structure to Ranga Ranga Rangasthalana, but works better because of Nagulu’s rendition. Wittily worded as a call for support for the uprising against President, the song also functions as a political folk tune.

Two other folk singers, Rela Kumar and Ganta Venkata Lakshmi, sing Jigelu Rani, but the song struggles to stand apart from the tunes. A lot of Jigelu Rani seems to borrow from Ranga Ranga Rangasthalana and Aa Gattununtaava both in terms of melody and structure.

The best song is the one sung by Devi Sri Prasad: Yentha Sakkagunnaave. Sung from the perspective of Chitti Babu, who cannot seem to find words to describe the beauty of Lacchimi (Samantha Akkineni), the song beautifully marries folk and urban moods. A guitar helps the breezy and wayward tune gain a soothing edge. It stands out from the rest of the tunes, and in terms of its composition, mirrors Sukumar’s effort to bridge the gap between the stage and the screen.

Rangasthalam jukebox.