Jwala (1985)

jwala

Jwala hails from deepest darkest 1985, and is the first collaboration between Ravi Raja Pinisetty and Chiranjeevi. It’s a typical mass effort with the added delight of Chiru in dual roles. I watched this on a terrible quality print and with no subtitles so I was quite confused until I realised there were two Chirus!

The story opens with a Chiru being washed and dressed by his Ma. He is an adult, but buttoning up his shirt seems to not be in his skillset. As it turns out, that trait runs in the family.

Jwala-the kittens know

The Chakravarthis (Annapoorna and Satyanarayana Kaikala) fight about their sons under the watchful eyes of kitten art. There’s floppy haired Yuvaraj who cannot dress himself but is respectable, and Raju who favours an up-do and also cannot dress himself, but is possibly working as a mechanic and maybe has slightly rowdy-ish tendencies.

Bhanupriya has a troubled relationship with cars. She nearly runs Yuvaraj into a ditch, he runs her off the road, she retaliates against his parked bike and flees the scene leaving a cocky note and a blank cheque. Bhanupriya’s dad is less than happy when the cheque is presented with a generous amount filled in but hardly surprised.

She flounces off to a nightclub and sees Chiru , but he doesn’t seem to care or recognise her. She goes off in a huff, casting aspersions on his ability to shake what his mama gave him, which can Only Mean One Thing. A quick change later and Chiru hits the stage that has been used in so many films I cannot name off the top of my head.

I love that he is frozen in mid-air to give people ample time to applaud. Bhanupriya is furious that his outfit is better than hers and goes home in an even bigger huff. Her house has a photo mural and a cuckoo clock so she knows Style. Her dad lectures her about huffiness. I think maybe the money was either returned or used for a good cause, but he seems to be quite OK with motorbike dude. And that was about it for her – a couple of songs and a simper, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile Janaki (Radhika) is sold out to cover a debt. Raju (Chiru) sees this go down and rescues her from the sleazy baddies.  But Raju can’t save Janaki from all harm. People are calling her second hand and men see her as an easy mark. Raju realises he can’t bash everyone up – especially the really old ladies – so he marries Janaki. They do have a conversation about something before he ties the knot but I am not sure what it was about and whether she was actually consulted. However, neither of them looks unhappy, and when they go to his house to pay respects Raju reassures her while his dad goes nuts. At least his mum welcomes her daughter in law and there is time for a group hug. Radhika is a versatile actress and she manages to build a sense of Janaki and her feelings for Raju in small unspoken ways. Despite seeming to start purely through obligation, their relationship has many moments of warmth and sweetness.

 

In a room with another photo mural, the brains trust of the gang meets before adjourning to the tastefully appointed lair; skeletons, eclectic art collection, taxidermy, comfortable chairs… bedazzled gloves. The flamboyant Boss (Kannada Prabhakar) has a son who has been in the US so you know he is bound to be a creep. The Son begs to be allowed to run smuggling as he thinks it will be a thrill. There is so little common sense in this family it truly is a miracle they have managed to be so successful. The Son clashes with SP Chakravarthi on the beach when smuggled goods land. It’s too dark to see what’s going on but he is killed in a gunfight and now there is Revenge to be had.

The fight choreographer seems to be obsessed with Chiru’s thighs. The action requires he crush many an evildoer betwixt them as he hangs from a beam or does an impressive handstand to snare his opponent. Van Damme’s got NOTHING on Chiru! And all that rowdy lifting kept him in good form for duets.

My copy had this ad just after one of the fight scenes. Annoying, but appropriate product placement.

Raju is framed for murder and sentenced to jail. I don’t know what happened with the film but this section is mostly shown in stills. The Boss calls Chakravarthi and tells him why he has targeted his son. This causes 1) a tearful reconciliation and b) death.

Raju breaks out of jail. Yuvaraj flies home for the funeral and is met at the airport with news his big brother is now an escaped felon. While Yuvaraj rues that the rites won’t be completed by the eldest son, Raju turns up to light the pyre. After a justice versus vengeance bro-ment, the only thing that can happen next is an abrupt jump to the gang’s tastefully appointed courtyard for an item, complete with Silk Smitha humping all the props.

Jwala-that outfit

Yuvaraj wants Raju to turn himself in but Raju is on a mission, with firm views on appropriate forms of execution. Proving that apart from the shirt button thing, the brothers also share excellent groove genes, he undertakes a gladiator mini-skirt clad dance of death.

I almost said no one saw the flaming spear coming, but…

Yuvaraj tries to arrest Allu Ramalingaiah but protection from on high thwarts his plan. Raju seems to know his brother is only going to get into trouble trying to do things legally so he stays on task. He even impersonates Yuvaraj to get close to his next victim.

Jwala-surprise

The uniform was a good disguise, but once the hat comes off and the up-do is unleashed all is clear. I think the unbuttoned shirt was also a good indicator.

While Janaki sings to her fugitive Raju over the phone (oh, sorry I must have some dust in my eye), The Boss attacks her. She puts up a hell of a resistance until finally she runs out of room to fight. Raju finds her in a pool of blood. She asks him to kiss her, either for the first or last time, and she dies in his embrace. Raju is a killer and not to be lauded, but his life seems to be tidied away so neatly and with so little left that it’s a bit sad. He loses his parents, his wife, and his kid brother is on a different path.

The final showdown is brutal and silly and epic and even a little bit moving. I wasn’t really expecting one Chiru to take on the other Chiru, but then who else could stand up to a Megastar?

This is probably one for the Chiranjeevi  completists, but it’s not completely without merit for the non-fan. Bhanupriya is wasted in her small role, but Radhika stands her ground and carves out space for Janaki in a man’s story. The plot gallops along, the action is energetic, and there is just enough light relief through the songs. Bonus points for no extra comedy track. 3 stars!

Simple Agi Ondh Love Story

Simple Agi Ondh Love Story

The story of Simple Agi Ondh Love Story is one familiar from a number of Hollywood romances, but it gets a new treatment here from director Suni. He’s stuck to a minimal cast and limited shooting locations but included riddle-like dialogues and snappy comebacks to add interest to the screenplay. The film describes a romance between Kushal (Rakshit Shetty) and Kushi (Shwetha Srivatsav) with the narrative taking place one wet monsoon day when the two first meet. It’s a slow-paced film which does drag somewhat in the middle, but is redeemed by a good beginning and an excellent ending. Not a film for everyone perhaps, but worth a look as an example of new, independent cinema in Karnataka that seems to be just a little bit quirky.

The film starts with an RJ Rachna (Rachana) telling her audience a story about her brother Kushal. He is off to Kodagu area in Coorg to meet Rachna’s fiancé’s sister Ithihasini. The hope is that a romance might blossom between the two since Rachna feels she cannot go ahead and get married while her brother is still unattached. I cannot imagine that her listeners would have been in any way interested in the story, particularly since she annoyingly starts each sentence with ‘Actually…’, but as a method of introducing the actors it works well. Kushal directs advertising films and is also a keen photographer, so his interest is drawn when he sees a girl out in the monsoon rain taking photographs. Naturally when he turns up at the house to meet Ithihasini, she turns out to be the girl he has seen in the rain, and just to keep the clichés going he immediately decides then and there that he has found the girl for him. However unusually then the two are left to their own devices for most of the rest of the film. Rachna has called Ithihasini to let her know that Kushal will be there, but the rest of the family have gone to visit a temple for the weekend, leaving Ithihasini to entertain Kushal by herself.

There is a lot of fast banter between the two as Ithihasini quizzes Kushal about his reasons for wanting to meet her and Kushal tries to get past Ithihasini’s evasions when asked about herself. The dialogues often seem in the form of brain-teasers, or maybe they appear as strange questions due to the subtitling, but Suni seems to mix old-fashioned similes and sayings with modern speech giving a rather more unusual dialogue. It sometimes makes the interactions between the two difficult to understand and I found I had to pause the film to re-read some of the subtitles to get a clearer sense of what the characters were trying to say.

As a way to get to know each other, the two share their previous love stories, which are shown in the form of flashback episodes. However the same actors play the roles of each other’s previous partners in these flashbacks which backfires to some extent as the film becomes monotone and flat as a result. There is little differentiation between the characters as they are themselves and their appearance as the ‘ex’. Although there is some attempt to make them at least appear different – Jarin for example has long hair (complete with manband) and a beard compared to Kushal’s short hair and shaven chin, the personalities appear identical and the dialogue retains the riddle pattern, adding to the similarity. The love stories themselves are also rather dull, although the dialogue is often quite funny and the few songs do help lift the mood. However, by the end of the flashback sequences Kushal seems a bit of a wimp and Ithihasini appears even more immature and irritating than before.

Ithihasini’s actions seem a little odd and her responses to Kushal’s questions all avoid direct answers so it’s not really a surprise when Kushal’s sister calls to tell him that the girl he has been spending time with is not Ithihasini at all. When confronted the fake Ithihasini comes up with a number of different stories, but Kushal finds her even more intriguing as a result and declares his love for her despite not knowing who she actually is, although he does finally discover her real name is Kushi.

The final part of the film is better, adding suspense with the mystery around Kushi and the reasons for her confusing actions. The end has a surprising twist and makes up for the dreary middle section, particularly as both actors finally begin to react more to each other in a more natural way. There is genuine emotion and the overly complicated dialogue is replaced by more spontaneous sounding exchange. The different approach gives the ending more impact and made me wish there had been more of this honesty and emotion earlier in the film.

For new actors, Rakshit Shetty and Shwetha Srivatsav do a good job with their roles, particularly given that the action focuses solely on just them for most of the film. Shwetha’s Kushi is particularly irritating at times, which I think is the whole point, and does provide a good contrast to Rakshit’s more sensible Kushal. Shwetha does however come into her own into the last scene and also has some great facial expressions throughout the film. Rakshit has a little more to work with earlier in the film and is also excellent in those moments where he has to show more emotion. Although most of the film is shot in the same house with the ever-present monsoon, cinematographer Manohar Joshi captures the different moods of the rain and the subtle changes in lighting well. There is also a good contrast in the romance between Kushi and Jarin which is set on the beach in the summer and is a pleasant change from all the rain.

What I like about Simple Agi Ondh Love Story is that’s an attempt at something a bit different. The decision to use minimal locations and only a few actors may possibly have been driven by budget considerations, but it does keep the story simple and focus attention on the dialogue. A little more editing in the flashback sequences would have helped but overall I enjoyed the romance and liked the characters. Simple Agi Ondh Love Story is an unusual style of film that is definitely worth a watch provided you are a fan of the romance genre and don’t mind a minimalist approach. 3 stars.

Maari (2015)

Maari

After watching the trailer for Maari I nearly give the film a miss, as apart from the obvious draw of Dhanush in a collection of garish shirts the film didn’t really look like my cup of tea. How wrong could I be! Maari may be a standard mass story at heart, but Balaji Mohan has thrown in a number of good ideas that, along with the star presence of Dhanush, deliver a film better than expected. There are a few misses, including a lacklustre heroine and a relatively uninspiring final fight scene but overall Maari is an easy and often very funny watch.

Maari

Maari (Dhanush) is a small time gangster who works for a local don based somewhere in Triplicane, Chennai. Along with his small gang of Sanikilamai (Robo Shankar) and Adithangi (Kalloori Vinoth), Maari extorts money from the shopkeepers in his area, forces people to dance for his entertainment and generally throws his rather insubstantial weight around. As a result everyone in the area hates Maari and his gang, so when a new sub-inspector (Vijay Yesudas) moves into the police station his attempts to arrest Maari seem to be the perfect solution for the area. There is a rumour that Maari was involved in the murder of another gangster some eight years previously and SI Arjun is determined to find a way to prove Maari’s guilt and lock him up for good.

But of course it’s not as simple as that, and once Maari is arrested the locals suddenly find out why they might have been better to stick with the devil they knew. It all ends up, as such things must, with much biffo and a few dodgy CGI effects, but thankfully Maari remains true to himself and is still the same unredeemed petty gangster at the end.

Dhanush plays Maari with plenty of swagger, bravado and a rather impressive moustache. In classic gangster ishtyle he mainly walks in slow-mo with his own personal wind machine for those moments when it’s essential to have a breeze wafting his perfectly styled hair around. Add to that those wonderfully loud shirts, a pristine white lungi, small round sunglasses and a truly terrible chain-smoking habit to make up the classic Tamil gangster package. Of course like every true gangster there has to be a chink in his armour somewhere and for Maari it’s pigeons – he’s a fanatical pigeon racer and the death of one of his pigeons is apparently the reason for his rumoured foray into murder a few years ago.

However there is more to Balaji Mohan’s gangster than first appears and he gives Maari a characterisation that is not particularly deep but does break away from the typical Tamil hero. The first indication occurs when Maari first sees Sridevi (Kajal Agarwal) who has just moved in to the area with her family to open a boutique. The action goes on around Maari as he stares at Sridevi while music swells in the background, and I fully expected there to be the usual ‘love at first sight’, bad guy reformed by good girl storyline. But instead the music stops and Maari threatens to slap Sridevi for her disrespect for him, moving into full extortion mode rather than anything even vaguely lover-like. There is none of the stalking as love aspect either – Maari is only interested in Sridevi as a source of income and even when she starts to help feed his pigeons in an effort to make him fall in love with her he is very reluctant to get involved. He even points out in an evening discussion with Sridevi that he is a safe guy to be around as “real men don’t rape”. It might be a blatant attempt to appeal to the female audience, but this scene got a round of applause from the packed house in Melbourne with even the fanboys in the front row adding their approval.

Sadly Sridevi is a more confused character. She hates Maari for his interference in her boutique but while her attempts at revenge are in character, her later change of heart is rather insipid. I’m not sure who dubbed for Kajal but the voice doesn’t match her appearance although that may be as I’m more used to seeing her in Telugu films. Kajal seems to almost sleep-walk through the part too and there is little energy in her performance with absolutely no chemistry between the lead pair. How is that even possible when Dhanush is at his charming best? Thankfully however the relationship between Maari and the members of his gang more than makes up for the lack of any romance. Robo Shankar is excellent as the wing-man for Dhanush and he mostly has the best comedy lines while Kalloori Vinoth makes an impression in a small role.  Kaali Venkat is good in his role as a police officer and the other actors playing Velu and ‘Bird’ Ravi are solid in these roles. Vijay Yesudas is an unusual choice of villain for a Tamil gangster film, but I found his portrayal of a corrupt and slimy personality quite appropriate and he did a good job in the role. It’s another one of those little departures away from more usual characterisations in commercial films and I appreciate Balaji Mohan’s attempt to do something a little different.

The film looks good with plenty of colour although there aren’t as many full-out dance numbers as I expected. A little disappointing since Dhanush is such a good dancer. Still Anirudh Ravichander’s songs fit well into the storyline, even if at times his background music is rather too loud and distracting.

Maari isn’t a perfect film by any means – the fight scenes aren’t particularly inspiring and the story wanders a little too much – but it’s still an entertaining blend of comedy and action that allows Dhanush full rein to express his ‘bad’ side. I fully enjoyed it and if you’re in the mood for mass masala that has the added benefit of fine performances from Dhanush and Robo Shankar, Maari is definitely well worth a watch.

Baahubali

Baahubali-Poster

Baahubali is reminiscent of classics like Patala Bhairavi and Gulebakavali Katha, with long lost princes, secluded kingdoms, stunning visuals and swashbuckling action. Rajamouli builds steadily to the cliffhanger climax with some fun, flirting, fighting and flashbacks along the way.

A baby is saved by the sacrifice of a majestic woman. He grows up happy and ignorant in a small village, but is always drawn to the high mountains. He tries to scale the massive waterfall to reach the peaks but always fails. Until one day a vision of a beautiful woman leads him to success and he stumbles into the kingdom of Mahishmati. Grown up and frequently shirtless Shivudu (Prabhas) meets his dream love Avanthika (Tamannaah). She is a warrior on a mission to rescue Devasena (Anushka Shetty), held captive for over 25 years by ruthless king Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati). Bhalla hates Devasena because she once chose his rival, the legendary Baahubali. And Shivudu is the very image of Baahubali. Hmmmm.

The majestic woman was Sivagami, the queen mother, played by the stunning and regal Ramya Krishnan in an extended flashback.

I was so excited to see her in the cast, and even more so that she has a substantial role. Sivagami is reasonable but ruthless, her eyes blaze with power, and her word is the law. She rules the kingdom and Ramya Krishnan commands every scene she is in. Sivagami has a nice dynamic with Kattappa (Sathyaraj), her enforcer and bodyguard. Sathyaraj doesn’t need a lot of dialogue to build a strong characterisation, and as the story unfolds Kattappa becomes more complex and ambiguous. This royal family has some baggage.

There is always a point where a Telugu film hero pushes all others aside so he can do the hero-ing. I quite liked that when Shivudu tells Avanthika that her dreams are now his so he will go free Devasena for her, he actually had no skin in the game and really was doing it to help her. Sure, he had had some run ins with the kingdom guards but he didn’t know who he was or that he might have a more personal interest in the outcome. Avanthika drugged him to give herself a head start and he didn’t reproach her for that either. It was more of a partnership, with Shivudu acknowledging that she wasn’t going to give up just because she had been distracted by his flexing.

Baahubali-Tamanna

I have high hopes that by the time the second movie starts Avanthika’s ankle is healed and she will resume arse-kicking, and will be motivated by having something to fight for rather than a cause to sacrifice herself for. I also liked that Avanthika’s nihilism was displaced somewhat by an appreciation of beauty and her acceptance of love even if it is a filmi cliche.

The subtitle team gave Shivudu an unexpectedly genteel aspect as he frequently said things like ‘oh my!’ and ‘oh my goodness!” which didn’t seem all that warrior like. Prabhas is so genial and his dialogue delivery sounds a bit too modern and mumbly for a genre piece, but he totally commits to the role and does the best dance-fight-makeover I have seen. While I objected to Avanthika being forcibly partially stripped (mostly due to the inclement weather), I did appreciate that Shivudu had a steady hand with the eyeliner. And that Rajamouli had Prabhas cavorting under a waterfall as much as Tamannaah did. Prabhas and Tamannaah make a nice looking couple but I am more interested in seeing how their story ends.

Rana was very impressive, both for his ye olden days shirtless physique and his performance. Rana gave Bhallaladeva enough smirking nastiness to be delightfully hateful but also showed he was a smart and fearless warrior who legitimately had reason to expect he could be king. Bhalla might not go out of his way to remove Baahubali, but he would take advantage of a situation if fate presented. His scenes with Devasena were imbued with the weight of years of brooding and venom and he declaimed the spiteful dialogue with fiery precision. Anushka gave as good as she got so I am looking forward to their backstory being developed in the next film and seeing a bit less of her dodgy weather-beaten makeup.

Baahubali-Kalakeya

The Kalakeya are Ooga Booga natives complete with dodgy “tribal’ accoutrements, falling somewhere on the Mad Max to Lord of the Rings tribal baddies spectrum. They presumably can’t speak Telugu because they are Orc-ish, and I guess choosing another regional language would have opened up various cans of worms so the faux Bushman-esque dialogue may be a smarter workaround than it seemed.

The action scenes are awesome and the final battle is truly spectacular. While there is a heavy reliance on war machines and fancy armaments (I loved Bhalla’s Lawn Mower of Death), the stakes are still very personal. Kalakeya tries to stop Baahubali by literally throwing more people at the problem. It’s a cheesy idea played totally straight and it just about took the roof off the theatre when Baahubali emerged from under the pile of bodies.

The production design is beautiful and this is well worth seeing in a cinema just for the gorgeous fairy tale design and for all the things. The waterfall! The CGI is sometimes clunky but it does create the right impression even if specific moments are not seamless. I am not sure what I think about the watermark that appeared on screen whenever a CGI animal was in the shot. I wasn’t fooled for a second by the bull that Rana wrestled but I admit I was paying more attention to his shoulders than the bovine opponent. A fight scene in the ice and snow is poetic and deadly like a masala-fied  Zhang Yimou, and the subsequent toboggan escape is pure Bond. There were about 20 shoemakers credited in the end titles. After some discussion Heather and I decided that it must be hard to make shoes that don’t look like shoes but that still do the trick. Bravo cobblers! Take a bow goldsmiths!

MM Keeravani’s soundtrack left minimal impression on me as I was caught up in the story and visuals. The item number Manohari was a stand-out; sensual, saucy, and a bit silly. The girls got handsy with Prabhas as as lots of drunk guys swayed past on ropes or acted as platforms for the ladies. He was more like a prop for the girls, and they used his lanky frame to excellent effect.

Rajamouli has a knack for casting. I’d never thought of Sunil as a leading man but Maryada Ramanna proved otherwise, and we all know the real star of Eega. Casting Ramya Krishnan as Sivagami is genius, and while I was slightly disappointed that Anushka had so little time on screen in this first film I am very VERY excited about seeing her character in the finale. The support cast are all pretty solid and the multitude of characters are distinct and memorable from Shivudu’s villager family to the minor royals and the forces out to liberate Devasena. Oh, and Rajamouli himself, finally venturing out of the end credits and into the main film.

SS Rajamouli has a great sense of how to translate narrative into visuals and how to build the world he needs to tell his story. Baahubali is truly grand and still totally masala, true to its Telugu roots. See it!

Heather says: Baahubali is an epic film in every sense of the word and I loved every minute! It really is sweeping fantasy adventure on a gigantic scale and I will need to watch it again (and again!) to fully appreciate all the amazing detail. From the sheer immenseness of the towering waterfall in the opening scenes and the lavish Kingdom of Mahishmati to the delicate design of the jewelry and everything in between, the film looks amazing – due no doubt to the cast of thousands mentioned in the end credits. But it’s not just a visual spectacle, as Rajamouli breathes life into a classic mix of mythology and folklore to provide an entertaining and captivating story, naturally along with a good dash of derring-do and plenty of flexing of muscles!

I’m a big fan of Prabhas and he really came into his own once he got a sword in his hand. I was quite impressed by his rock-climbing technique too, although he did seem to miss a few good cracklines that might have made his ascent somewhat easier. However it’s not all just about the muscle flexing, and Prabhas does have plenty of likeable charm throughout and adopts a suitably commanding presence on the battlefield. Rana was every bit as good and he seemed to relish the occasional ambiguity of his character even while embracing the dark side.As Temple mentions, Peter Hein’s action is excellent on every level, and the epic battle scene in the second half is simply superb. I prefer to think of Bhallaladeva’s device as the spinning scythes of doom, perhaps betraying my love of LOTR, but there is plenty of other weaponry to make my inner fantasy nerd happy.

Rajamouli is also to be congratulated for including four strong female characters who all have important roles to play in the story and who don’t fade into the background when the hero appears. Ramya Krishnan surely must have the best eyes in the business and her imperial mannerisms were perfectly delivered. I think I need to adopt her attitude for my lectures – my word is the law! Great also to see Tamannaah’s warrior role wasn’t just an excuse to let her run around in skimpy attire and wave a sword, inappropriate winter clothing aside. She did get to do some real fighting and looked appropriately fierce when required. Like Temple I was disappointed in Anushka’s make-up but I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about her character and Sathyaraj’s excellent Kattappa in the conclusion. With amazing production and excellent performances from all the cast, plus Rajamouli’s legendary story telling skills, Baahubali is not to be missed. Just make sure you see if in the cinema for the full effect. All I can add is roll on part 2!

Megabirthday 2015

inexplicable Chiru

Another year, another Megabirthday just around the corner! We’ll be celebrating things Chiru related during August and of course everyone is invited.

I’m still struggling to decide on a research topic for this year. So far I have the following under consideration:

  • Megastar, mini toga
  • Break dance, Shake dance, or Snake dance?
  • Chiru the Cowboy (aka Beth’s perennial request)

Thoughts? Suggestions?

Let me know if you post something Chiruesque and I’ll collate and publish the links. Or just watch for the #megabirthday2015 hashtag on Twitter and have a chat about all things Chiru. Like this. Ah, look at him go….and look at those ruffles.