Son of Satyamurthy

Son of Satyamurthy

After their previous success with Julayi, Allu Arjun and Trivikram are back together again with Son of Satyamurthy. The film features appearances from Ali, Brahmi and most of the Telugu film industry stalwarts, but despite the plethora of comedy uncles, it strives for a more serious tone and is a more traditional family drama. Bunny puts in a restrained performance compared to his earlier films, and it appears that Trivikram has concentrated on character development rather than glitzy glamour and full-on action of most Telugu cinema. The storyline has plenty of potential and I loved the inclusion of villains who are not wholly evil but have the capacity for reformation, but there are a few misses. The film is undermined by the inclusion of a few unnecessary characters that reduce the overall impact and at times the sheer number of protagonists threatens to drown the main storyline. However the central theme of a young man determined to stick to his father’s principles stands strong and Bunny does a fantastic job in a more serious role than usual.

S/o Satyamurthy

Prakash Raj is Satyamurthy; a rich man who is happy to lend money to all and sundry without judgement or seemingly any expectation of repayment. He has strong principles and his values have been absorbed by his family even if they don’t always agree with his open-handed policies. And perhaps they had a point, since Satyamurthy’s sudden death reveals a large amount of debt. The family lose their affluent lifestyle and downsize their house, possessions and expectations when Satyamurthy’s son, Viraj Anand (Allu Arjun), refuses to default on the loans and insists on doing the right thing – as his father would have wanted.

In an odd addition, Vennela Kishore plays Viraj’s older brother who is incapacitated by his father’s death, but as his character is played mainly for laughs (which are never very funny and don’t add anything to the story), there doesn’t seem to be any real need for his inclusion. Similarly, Ali appears as Parandhamayya, some sort of assistant to Viraj in his new job, who is another character who could have been omitted without losing too much from the story. I rarely find Ali’s brand of comedy funny but here he is less slapstick than usual and generally rather muted, so while I can’t see much point to his character at least he is tolerable and occasionally amusing.

Although businessman Sambasiva Rao (Rajendra Prasad) blackballs Viraj, a friend helps by giving Viraj a job as a wedding event manager. Viraj is dumped by his own fiancée when loss of his fortune makes him less desirable as a husband, and naturally his first event is the marriage of his ex, Pallavi (Adah Sharma). This makes Viraj deal with his loss of wealth and prestige fairly early on in the film and also reinforces the contrast between his own morals and those of Pallavi’s rich but dishonest father (Rao Ramesh). In classic filmi style, Viraj manages to reconcile the various family members and in the course of events falls in love with one of the wedding guests. M.S. Narayana appears in his final film appearance here, and it is bitter-sweet to see him in one of his classic drunken uncle roles, especially when his role fits well into the storyline.

Bunny’s Viraj is a sensible and responsible young man and he does a great job of making his character principled without becoming preachy or overly moralistic. The only misstep is his tendency to invoke stories of Hindu Gods that sounds a little odd coming from someone who hadn’t previously demonstrated any evidence of a virtuous attitude. It would have made more sense to me if he’d quoted his father instead, but perhaps that is due to my lack of Telugu and reliance on the subtitles which may not have been too accurate – going by the atrocious spelling as a general guide to overall quality!

Subbalakshmi, aka Sameera (Samantha) is the wedding guest that Viraj takes a fancy to, and to her credit she immediately realises that Viraj is a keeper. In a move away from standard filmi heroines, Sameera is introduced holding a drink and a cigarette, and for some reason she is also a diabetic, although there didn’t seem to be any particular point to this other than as a brief comedy scene. I generally like Trivikram’s approach to his heroines, but he seems to lose interest once he moves on to the action and sadly Samantha disappears for much of the second half. However she is excellent in her role and has great onscreen chemistry with Arjun.  The couple look good together in the songs too, which pepper the first half and allow Bunny to demonstrate why he truly is the ‘stylish star’. There is some annoying hair discontinuity, but since the worst bouffy hair only appears in the songs it’s actually no bad thing that Bunny’s hair length is shorter for the rest of the film.

Rajendra Prasad and Upendra are the other standout performers and they both help bring the film to life. Much of the comedy is between Rajendra and Bunny, and is much funnier than the specific comedy threads with Brahmi and Ali. The two bounce lines off each other to good effect and are really much better than any of the assorted comedy uncles who fall flat in comparison. Upendra appears as the villain of the piece, and is as vicious and violent as required (per Telugu standard bad guy guidelines) but shows a different side when dealing with his wife and sister. He’s an interesting character and Upendra is excellent in the role, switching from demonic goggle-eyed evil one moment to concerned husband the next, but with so much else going on his role isn’t developed as much as I would like. Sneha is also very good as his sweet and serene wife, but Nithya Menen seems a little wasted in her role as a rival for Viraj’s affections. That’s a shame too as her character starts off well with an interesting plan of attack but it’s lost in the hodge-podge of action and Brahmi comedy that makes up the rest of the film.

There is a lot going on in Son of Satyamurthy and it does evoke films of yesteryear with the convoluted storyline, sheer number of characters and focus on honour, values and moral principles. The songs from Devi Sri Prasad aren’t too memorable, but they are well choreographed and smoothly flow into the storyline. Bunny dances better than ever and also looks amazing with Peter Hein’s fight choreography. Interestingly the fights aren’t as brutal and violent as usual (there is a hose as a weapon for instance), but the wirework and acrobatics are outstanding and very effective. I really enjoyed Son of Satyamurthy and although it would have benefitted from fewer characters and less formulaic comedy it’s an entertaining story with some excellent performances. Well worth seeing on the big screen to really appreciate Bunny’s dancing if you can.

Singapore (1960)

Singapore

Singapore may not be one of Shakti Samanta’s best films, given the gaping plot holes and rather slow start, but his first film with Shammi Kapoor still entertains with plenty of good songs and a competent support cast. Like many of Samanta’s early films, Singapore is a mystery thriller with the usual assortment of criminals willing to kidnap and murder to get away with their loot. Where it falls down is in trying to spin together too many threads with the underlying story rather lost beneath the extra flourishes. The additions also defuse much of the tension, which isn’t helped by a distinct lack of chemistry between Shammi and his co-star, with the result that the film initially feels rather flat. However Shammi’s uncharacteristic restraint doesn’t last for too long and there is plenty of his trademark craziness to liven up the final scenes.  Add in a dash of Helen, Shashikala and Padmini, the gorgeous Maria Menada and the exotic locale, and Singapore is worth at least a one-time watch.

The film opens with Ramesh (Gautam Mukherjee) and his girlfriend Shoba (Shashikala) meeting in a club in Singapore. As Shoba happily learns that Ramesh plans to stay in Singapore, their conversation is being closely followed by local gangsters Chang (Madan Puri) and Kapoor (Rajan Kapoor) at a nearby table. Also listening in, by way of a hidden microphone in the lamp is Shoba’s uncle Shivadas (K.N. Singh), but despite all this effort the only information Ramesh gives out is that he has found a treasure map and as a result won’t go ahead with the sale of his boss’s rubber plantation. That boss is Shyam (Shammi Kapoor) and later that night Ramesh finally manages to contact him by phone. However his conversation is interrupted by two shady characters that kidnap Ramesh, although they don’t manage to get their hands on the treasure map. Left to wonder what has happened to his friend, Shyam boards the next plane to Singapore, and the hunt is on!

Samanta does seem to delight in giving his characters rather ridiculous names, and Shyam is met at the airport by his company secretary Cha Choo (Agha) and in the office by the typist Chin Chin Choo (Lilian), which at least does invoke memories of Howrah Bridge. Shyam also meets Lata (Padmini) and initially confuses her with Shoba since he has been told that Ramesh’s girlfriend dances at the New India Club and naturally assumes that the dancer she sees is Shoba.  I’m not sure what the point of the confusion is, other than as an introduction to the family and as a way to ensure Padmini gets to dance. However it’s worth the convoluted storyline as Padmini does look absolutely gorgeous here and really shines when she is dancing.

While in Singapore, Shyam is also pursued by the beautiful Maria (Maria Menada) who met him on the flight from India. Maria seems overly interested in Shyam’s affairs, and since it’s revealed almost from the start that she is involved in the plot to steal the treasure I expected a little more from their relationship. However mostly this is just another complicating plot thread that has a lot of potential that is never fully realised, although Maria Menada is excellent as a villainess.

There has to be a love story of course, and Shyam and Lata fall for each other on their first meeting. There isn’t great chemistry between Padmini and Shammi, but they do have a couple of good songs together where there seems more empathy and at least they seem to be enjoying themselves. I love this one where they dance through a number of shops before Padmini pushes the dancers into the pool at the end, seeming totally delighted as each one drops into the water while Shammi prances along behind her. Oh My indeed!

Meanwhile, Shyam is still trying to find Ramesh and uses the tape recording of their last phone conversation to track down a musical cigarette case which may have the answer. This part of the plot is perfect – naturally Ramesh records all his phone calls, and why wouldn’t a cigarette case in the shape of a Vat 69 bottle also be musical – but once Shyam finds the map things start to get unnecessarily complicated. This slows down the action and the film starts to drag while various embellishments are added to the plot.

Shyam uses the map as bait to try to lure out the kidnappers, and in the ensuing chase has to hide out from some of the gang in a village. Obviously he has to escape their notice and what better way to remain inconspicuous than to dance and sing with Helen? Naturally this is the best way to escape detection!

Shoba is kidnapped too and there is a convoluted thread involving Shivadas who may or may not be dead, although it doesn’t really seem to matter in the end.  Eventually Shyam infiltrates the gang as an assassin from Kabul, which gives Shammi licence to unleash the crazy and the pace of the film finally picks up. I wish the energy in the last scenes could have been present for the whole film, but at least  the film ends on a suitably chaotic note with the inconsistencies in the plot swiftly swept aside to concentrate on the final action sequences.

The main reason to watch Singapore is of course Shammi, who looks fantastic throughout whether he’s romancing Lata, cavorting around the dance floor in disguise or fighting off numerous villains as required. His Shyam is suave and sophisticated, romancing the ladies while out and about in Singapore and easily charming Lata on one hand while elegantly turning down Maria on the other. At least until his disguise kicks in, when he becomes totally OTT Shammi and revels in his persona as a gun for hire. My favourite kind of Shammi!

The support cast are all solid, despite the erratic storyline and gaping plot holes, and Agha is impressively competent as Shyam’s sidekick.  I can’t remember noticing him much in other films of the era, but here he provides some gentle comedy without disrupting the flow or resorting to slapstick. Padmini looks gorgeous and at least has a couple of good dance numbers even though disappointingly her character has very little to do in the second half. Although Singapore isn’t a film I will watch over and over again like Chinatown, I do like the songs from Shankar-Jaikishan, particularly those included here along with Tum Lakh Chhoopana Chahoge, Tu Kahan Kho Gaya and Dhoka Khayegi Na Yaron Ki Nazar for some classic Shammi dance-floor magic. As I said at the start, not one of Samanta or Shammi’s best films, but there is still enough to enjoy to make Singapore worth a watch. 3 stars.

Funky Bollywood

Funky Bollywood_Cover art

Funky Bollywood – The wild world of 1970s Indian action cinema (A selective guide)

I was chuffed when Todd Stadtman kindly sent me a review copy of his book. Not just because the book is fabulous (What a relief! I don’t have to be polite – it is really well done!), but also because Todd is the reason I first watched Pistolwali. A debt of gratitude of such magnitude is nigh impossible to repay.

 

Stadtman intends Funky Bollywood to be ‘the “gateway drug” into the world of Indian action cinema’, which is one of my favourite worlds. If you don’t know where to start, Todd’s guide could help you decide how to first dip a toe into the waters. If you’ve been there done that, enjoy the quips and asides as you spend time with some familiar faces.

Saturated with colour and illustrations, dotted with random facts and wry observations, the book has one thing that a masala film can often lack. Logic and structure. Opening chapters give a brief overview of the who’s who of the era, and has an excellent additional feature I would like all DVD manufacturers to adopt post haste; symbols representing recurring themes found in each film.

Funky Bollywood_The Key

Imagine how simple it would make selecting a film if you could pick the one with Helen, a lair and some separated siblings? I know that around 60% of the time you could select ANY 70s Indian action film and get that combination but sometimes I don’t want to take a punt. Amusing and insightful reviews of select film make up the remaining chapters.

Todd’s glee at the best (and not at all the best) films of the era leaps off the page. It’s a little like watching a film with a friend who knows what’s going to happen next and can’t wait to see your reaction. I particularly enjoyed the section on spy films and westerns as they also included a few of my Telugu favourites. There is a persistent spelling error (Telegu for Telugu) that belies the detailed and well researched content, which made me a little sad. But this is clearly a labour of love and a lot of attention has gone into every page.

Funky Bollywood_insightful

Like a really good masala film, Funky Bollywood is wildly entertaining and you might even learn something along the way (probably nothing to do with medicine or science, but other stuff). My cunning plan is to leave it lying around at home and wait for the unwary visitor to pick it up. I’ll have Parvarish in the DVD player before they know what hit them!

If you’d like your own copy, it’s available on Amazon or via the publishers Fab Press. And do pop over to the official Facebook page and say hi to Todd!

99 (2009)

99-Poster I generally enjoy heist or caper type films, and 99 is a fairly good example of the things I like most about the genre. Raj and DK have a keen eye for the little moments of absurdity and joy that pepper our lives, and the characters in 99 have hopes and schemes that are real world sized. Their ambitions fit within their neighbourhood – a really good coffee shop, a fresh start, a comfortable life with no running from the cops. Empathising with their flaws and stupid choices comes a little more easily when the dreams are so relatable. 99-the plan Sachin (Kunal Khemu) and Zaramud (Cyrus Broacha) are small time crims, working a technology angle rather than being standover merchants. They see themselves as perpetrating a victimless crime in a situation where nobody really gets hurt and lots of people benefit. Things go awry, as they often do, and while running from the police they steal and crash a Merc belonging to AGM (Mahesh Manjrekar).

AGM is an old school boss, the kind of bookie that newspapers here would have called a colourful racing identity. Rahul (Boman Irani) is separated from his wife, probably because of his gambling addiction. He keeps bargaining with God to win another hand, win another bet, and thinks he can beat the house. He places a bet on the cricket while having his own away game on conference in Mumbai, and is referred to AGM as his bookie. He goes home to Delhi, skipping out on the debt.

AGM sends Sachin and Zaramud to Delhi to recover the losses from Rahul, part of their agreement to work off their debt. Another character says they looked like Laurel and Hardy, and they do have about the same degree of acuity. Sachin uses AGM’s credit card to put himself up at a fancy hotel and meets duty manager Pooja (Soha Ali Khan). In between waiting around and menacing Rahul, he romances Pooja and generally looks on the bright side.

Rahul wants to win one more big bet to settle all his debts and maybe even get his wife back. The boys won’t wait, and they steal the money he is ‘borrowing’ from a client to settle the outstanding. But in a classic Delhi taxi scam their bags, including The Bag, are stolen. Rahul and Laurel and Hardy team up to win back the cash in another bet on the cricket finals, targeting high-roller JC (Vinod Khanna) as the key to success. The game is afoot! The cricket theme permeates all aspects of the characters’ lives. They’re all stuck on 99, waiting for the opportunity to make their century and claim success. None of them wants world domination or is chasing the money just for the sake of it, except maybe Rahul, they just want to get ahead. The match fixing scandal of 1999-2000 is well known so that adds another dimension as honest crooks rely on a match controlled by bigger crooks.

Kunal Khemu has a boyish charm that works well for Sachin, who isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. He and Cyrus Broacha have an easy chemistry that makes their scenes seem fresh even though the plot direction may be predictable. I could be underestimating Sachin as the subtitle team were a law unto themselves and even I know enough Hindi to know some dialogue was a bit mystifying. The boys make it up as they go and I enjoyed their antics as they tried to stay one step ahead of all their pursuers.

Boman Irani is quite restrained in terms of comedy excesses, but doesn’t shy away from showing Rahul as a jerk who will lie and wheedle his way out of trouble. He’s kind of seedy but respectable at the same time, an average man with a secret addiction. He is plausible and can be charming but there is a glint in his eye whenever he sees a chance. Rahul never learned any lasting lesson, but continued to coast on his luck and maybe God coming through on a bet or two.

Soha Ali Khan is adequate but for a film that works hard to build a little world, Pooja’s character is a bit lacking. I would have liked to see more of Pooja’s own decision making articulated. Initially she only agreed to help because Sachin whined at her, and while she did strike her own deal I didn’t really get why she would even consider getting involved to begin with. Simone Singh plays Jahnavi, Rahul’s wife. Like Pooja, although she is set up as a smart and down to earth woman there is little sense of anything about her other than her tension with Rahul. I didn’t have so many quibbles the first time I watched the film, but on a repeat viewing I felt that they existed to provide a foil for the relevant male character and not much else.

Vinod Khanna is perfectly cast as the smooth, slightly larger than life, JC. He is understated but faintly menacing under all the expensive charm. Amit Mistry and Pitobash round out the supporting cast with an entertaining blend of comedy, histrionics and sharp eyed opportunism. The soundtrack by Ashu is more bland than not, and quite formulaic – the whimsical acoustic song, the bhangra number, the sights of Delhi song, you know the drill. But they are integrated into the drama well and don’t derail the story at all. The song montages were often quite entertaining and let Raj and DK get a lot of slapstick out of their systems without dragging the main narrative down.

I hate to sound all hipster about Raj and DK but I do prefer their earlier stuff (I wasn’t blown away by Go Goa Gone) and 99 is lots of fun. While I am slightly disappointed with the female characters I genuinely like the good natured feel, the slightly dodgy characters, and the great use of locations. Even the opening titles incorporate the cast in the locations and foreshadow the twists and turns with some quirky angles and animation. The jokes take a swipe at everything from intercity rivalries to the film industry, and there are some zingy one liners courtesy of writers Raj and DK with Sita Menon. Of recent films in a similar genre I slightly prefer Ko Antey Koti and Delhi Belly, but I really have no complaints about spending a couple of hours in 1999 with these dudes. See it for a good modern robbers and more robbers caper with an appealing cast and a sense of humour about itself. 3 ½ stars!

Polladhavan (2007)

Polladhavan

Frustratingly the only copy I have ever been able to find of Vetrimaaran’s debut film is a relatively poor quality VCD  that doesn’t have English subtitles. It’s particularly annoying knowing how well written the dialogues were in Aadukalam (even via subtitles) and I’m sure there is much I have missed in Polladhavan as a result of not understanding the language. However the story is still clear and easy to follow, with plenty of scenes that suggest a similar attention to developing the flawed characters and their relationships as in Vetrimaaran’s subsequent film.  Although there is much that initially seems familiar about the story, as the film progresses it breaks away from the typical gangster film mould and becomes as much about family as the struggle between Prabhu (Dhanush) and the gangsters who have stolen his beloved motorbike. There is plenty of tension and suspense, and the path to the final bloody showdown is rather more convoluted than expected. It’s a good story, entertainingly told and really deserves to be more readily available to a wider audience.

Dhanush appears in his by now very familiar role as Prabhu, an unemployed layabout, content to spend his days playing carom and hanging out with his friends Kumar (Karunas) and Sathish (Santhanan) or annoying the local bike dealers by repeatedly viewing a Pulsar motorbike. He has no hope of ever being able to afford the object of his desire but continually attempts to get a cheaper price along with a long instalment plan for payment and seems convinced that he will one day be the proud owner of the latest model. Nothing wrong with having a dream!

Prabhu is at odds with his father (Murali) who wants him to get a job, but is supported by his mother (Bhanupriya) who slips him money behind her husband’s back. There are the usual family arguments about money and Prabhu’s failure to contribute to the household, but things change after Prabhu confronts his father following a drunken night out. Prabhu accuses his father of not supporting his attempts to find work compared to his friends whose fathers who have paid bribes or bought them a start in their chosen career. Although this seems a very strange argument to me, it strikes a nerve with Prabhu’s father and he cashes in the money set aside for his daughter’s wedding and gives it to Prabhu instead.

Naturally Prabhu immediately goes and buys the bike.

What is interesting is the way this argument and Prabhu’s subsequent purchase of the motorbike change the family dynamic.  While Prabhu’s mother accuses him of wasting the money, Prabhu’s father supports his son’s right to do whatever he chose, even if he doesn’t agree with that choice. The family arguments feel realistic and plausible and Prabhu’s conviction that his bike will help him get a job seems typical of any young man in similar circumstances. Body language is key and Vetrimaaran uses different angles and distance shots to convey the changing relationships. It helps give the film an authentic sense of a typical family which makes the subsequent scenes of violence a complete and striking contrast.

Amazingly Prabhu’s purchase has the desired result and he manages to get a job, further aiding his reconciliation with his father. The development of their relationship is shown in small moments such as when his father chases away the neighbourhood children playing on the bike, or by his father’s smile when he sees job adverts circled in the newspaper.  It’s effective and develops relationships while avoiding a big family make up scene that would only have interrupted the flow.

As well as dreaming about owning a motorbike, Prabhu has spent the last 2 years infatuated with a girl he sees at the local bus stop. The bike and his job give Prabhu the confidence to finally approach Hema (Divya Spandana) and after a shaky start the two begin a relationship. However, after a good beginning with plenty of humour and promising signs of a personality for Hema, once the action ramps up the romance is relegated to the background with Prabhu’s first love (his motorbike) taking precedence in the story.

As things are going well for Prabhu, in a semi-parallel storyline local gangster Selvam (Kishore) has problems with his younger brother Ravi (Daniel Balaji). Selvam deals in drugs and is involved in various other illegal activities as he runs his area with help from his best friend Out (Pawan). Ravi wants a bigger role in his brother’s endeavours despite his quick temper and apparent general unsuitability for any responsibility. Prabhu crosses paths with Ravi a few times in chance encounters, but most notably on a night when the gang is involved in a murder and Prabhu’s bike is stolen. The two events may, or may not be connected but Prabhu really doesn’t care – he just wants his bike back!

Some of the best scenes occur when Prabhu’s search takes him to different crime operations with a fascinating look at how bikes can be hidden and smuggled around the country. These brushes with the shady side of Chennai bring Prabhu into closer contact with Selvam and his brother Ravi, and the situation escalates as Prabhu discovers exactly what has happened to his bike.

Dhanush gets everything just right here in his portrayal of a young man gradually developing maturity and responsibility but easily distracted by events around him. His spiral into violence is clearly shown as a reaction to circumstance with the infatuation with his bike a convincing reason for the decisions he makes. I had friends who were just as obsessed with their bikes (and I have to confess to a certain amount of obsession with my own!) so it totally makes sense to me that Prabhu would go to such extremes to get his bike back. Ravi is a more typical Tamil film gangster, but his brother Selvam is an interesting character who seems to be a ‘gangster with a conscience’. The interplay between Ravi, Selvam and Out is well done, and once Prabhu is added in to the mix, the story evolves quickly with plenty of suspense thrown in for good measure.

 The final scenes revert to more typical gangster film fare with the inevitable final showdown, but Vetrimaaran keeps it interesting by giving his bad guys realistic personalities and reasons to act in the way they do. The fights are short, bloody and more convincing than usual which also avoids sensationalising the gangster element of the story. Although there are a few fights where Prabhu defeats 3 or 4 henchmen, at least it is only 4 rather than 20, and Ravi isn’t a big burly guy either so his fight sequences with Prabhu seem slightly more credible. Apart from the rather Salman Khanesque way Prabhu loses his shirt in the final fight, which is a little OTT but is also a lot of fun too!

While the fight scenes work well, the songs are less successful. Although the music by G.V. Prakash Kumar is catchy enough, the picturisation and choreography are generally mediocre and mostly the songs don’t fit well into the narrative. However the rest of the film looks good, at least from what I could see from my poor quality copy, and the strong cast all deliver good performances. Vetrimaaran’s strengths lie in developing characters with depth and attention to detail in building relationships, and both are used to maximum effect here.  The story may not always flow as well as it could but when it comes to the characterisations and the overall plot, everything works perfectly. The screenplay rarely lags and there are enough twists and surprises to keep the film engaging right to the very last frame. While Polladhavan may not be perfect it is a great first film for Vetrimaaran and well worth watching for a gangster film with a difference. 4 stars.