Pokiri is my favourite Mahesh Babu film, along with Athadu. I’ve seen the Tamil remake Pokkiri, and endured Wanted in Hindi (for completeness) and neither of them holds a candle to the original. Puri Jagannadh combines a strong story with striking visuals to make a gory, suspenseful action masterpiece. The story is set in the murky world of cashed up property developers, corrupt cops and parasitic crooks (the ‘land mafia’). Justice seems to reside outside of the legal system, but it isn’t immediately clear where.
We first see Pandu (Mahesh Babu) when he lures a gang out of their own territory and beats them to a pulp after kindly offering to leave a door in the shed open so they could run away if they got scared. He celebrates with a dance in which he beats people up. He then hooks up with the gang who he has just beaten up, including Subbaraju, employed by off shore crimelord Ali Bhai. Jyothirana as Mona shows an interest in Pandu that is not purely professional, and I can see why she might have been disappointed in his answer.
Pandu has all the typical hero attributes – the vestigial mullet hairdo, he’s invincible, he just has to break into dance and everyone around him joins in, he never gets lost or stuck in traffic and he is never stuck for a one liner. Despite his refusal to injure women and children, he will kill without remorse and his intensity in explaining how bad he is seems to indicate perverse pride in his achievements. Pandu is an anti-hero and there is no pretence made that he is really a good guy although of course he has a back story that explains much once it is revealed. Mahesh’s performance is totally committed to the crushing action scenes, and he is expressive in the emotional moments. Pandu is a baby faced killer with few if any scruples, although he seems to have caring friends (including Ajay) and occasional flashes of levity.
But I really had to question if someone who solved all their problems with such brutality would be any easier to deal with if he was motivated by love rather than anger. Dead is dead after all. But it’s Mahesh, so Pandu was never going to be left painted as a complete villain for the whole film.
Pandu is attracted to Shruthi and knows they are all wrong for each other. Oh God, what to do?
Ileana is Shruthi; young, pretty and pouty. Her storyline justifies wearing midriff-baring lycra as she is an aerobics instructor, and the sole breadwinner in her family. She still has the very flexible working hours and extensive wardrobe a film heroine needs. Slimy S.I Pasupathi (Ashish Vidyarthi in a creepy performance) hits on her and her mother, and pays rowdies to stage a fake rape to ruin her and prevent her marrying.
When Pandu finds out he pursues the perpetrators and none of them walk away from the encounter. But Shruthi isn’t grateful or smitten as a result – she is more fearful of her own lack of judgement in pursuing Pandu.
She struggles with her attraction to Pandu and her revulsion at what he does, especially following a squelchingly bloody fight set at Golconda. Ileana is given dialogue that illustrates Shruthi’s strength of character and should show this inner conflict but almost everything emerges as either a simper (I love him!) or a teary whine (he’s so mean!) and she missed the mark. Perhaps it was a question of maturity – she played Shruthi as a girl rather than a young woman which I think this needed.
The songs by Mani Sharma are highly enjoyable and so are the picturisations, possibly not always for the intended reasons. Who needs a comedy sideplot when you have those lanky pale legs in a lunghi?
The romantic duets look less successful as I don’t think there is sufficient chemistry between the couple, or enough actual dancing in their songs together. But I love the backing guys in this.
Brahmi is the neighbour who dresses 30 years too young and keeps cracking on to Shruthi. Mercifully he is mostly quarantined in a sideplot with Ali and Venu Madhav so they torture each other and I ignore it. It’s not really that bad as comedy sideplots go, but I fast forward in their scenes. I would like to suggest that comedy uncle types from all film industries should held in a secure facility on a remote island. There should be a strict ‘one in, one out’ policy that would keep their screen presence manageable. Sunil would be free to roam as he pleases because I find him funny.
Prakash Raj is the shadowy don, Ali Bhai. He is menacing from a distance, but seems less calculating and more self obsessed when he joins the mainstream of the drama. He has some fancy shirts and nasty habits that sometimes tip Ali into caricature.
Ultimately it is Ali Bhai who drives the final showdown. He humiliates and kidnaps the daughter of the ACP to have a bargaining chip. Once again the police are shown as powerless – forced to lie about an arrest to prevent political interference – and working outside the law to deal with this criminal.
Rape is a common threat against the women in Pokiri. It is treated as something serious, although in a very filmi way. But then Puri Jagannadh shows a rapist’s father demanding to know why his son’s reputation is being ruined. The fact that his son filmed himself raping the girl doesn’t seem to worry him as much as seeing the footage on the TV news. There is also criticism of the tabloid media who glorify and collude with criminals for the sake of sensation and ratings yet demand law and order. Mona sells the rape film to the press and Pandu asks if she is a woman to be able do that to another woman. No such question to the guys in the gang – maybe we aren’t meant to expect morals from them. And of course, that old Telugu film chestnut; if a good person kills a bad person, was it really a crime? Behind all the blood splatter and gunfire there were some interesting notions floating around but they were never going to get in the way of the action.
The climax is brilliant. A slight twist is revealed – when will senior policemen learn not to tell their kids about top secret operations? All the bad guys converge on Binny Mills and Pandu wreaks havoc. There are dismemberments, impalements and all manner of gore, in a beautifully choreographed and filmed sequence that takes full advantage of the location and film technologies. I think there’s a bit too much slo-mo glass smashing, but I can forgive the excited over-use of new technology toys. Vijayan created some iconic set pieces in the fights and they really are stunning.
The support cast are there largely to contribute to the body count although Sudha as Shruti’s mother and Master Bharath as her little brother have some key scenes. Ajay and Subbaraju make the most of their roles and both exude menace and a dark comedic edge. Nasser has a small but crucial part in the drama. I liked Sayaji Shinde, the ACP, in his more restrained scenes. Mumaith Khan turns up too for the obligatory item number.
I think this is Puri Jagannadh at his best. He has the strong visual sense and a knack for picking up interesting concepts, which in Pokiri is meshed with an engaging story and some good performances. If you don’t mind your action bloody and unapologetic, this is for you. 4 ½ stars – a small deduction for Ileana’s snivelling.
Heather says: This was my first Mahesh Babu film, and what an introduction! I think Pokiri has one of the best hero entrance scenes when, after plenty of running feet and leg shots, there is that wonderful moment when Mahesh finally bursts onto the screen surrounded by flying vegetables and chillies. Brilliant! It’s definitely one of Mahesh’s best films where his acting and the action element all come together perfectly to create the total package. I saw the Tamil version Pokkiri with Vijay first and although I think that’s also great, the original Telugu film is definitely much better.
I like the way Pandu transitions from the total action hero and baby faced killer (who is not a nice guy at all), to the devastated son later in the film. There seem to be more shades of grey in the character of Pandu than in some of Mahesh’s other roles and it makes him much more interesting – especially as the film progresses and we learn more of the back story. He does still have an astonishing ability to be able to defeat an average of 20 opponents all by himself which seems to be pretty much obligatory for any Mahesh character. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all! Pokiri does have some excellent action and fight scenes, and some of the methods used to dispose of various villains are very clever indeed. Full marks to Vijayan for some smart action segments and memorable fight choreography. It’s not just Mahesh who excels in Pokiri though. I’m a big fan of Ajay and his presence in any film always makes it just that little bit better. He’s great here as Pandu’s friend and as usual has some wonderful expressions, particularly as Pandu and Shruthi clash.
I like Ileana here too, as she is convincing as the girl who falls in love with the bad guy despite all her reservations. Her acting in the scenes where her family is threatened is good and although her reaction to the thugs who burst in on her is a little too weepy for me it does come across as right for her character. I enjoyed the interactions between Pandu and Shruthi although there wasn’t too much chemistry between the lead pair. I put this down to the fact that it would be hard to be very romantic with a guy who spends most of his time systematically slaughtering his way through the various gangs in Hyderabad and Shruthi’s revulsion for Pandu’s lifestyle tends to comes across more clearly than anything else. However they do look good together in the songs and the romance works well enough. The various villains are all excellent although Prakash Raj is perhaps a little too much of a caricature in his role as Ali Bhai. Ashish Vidyarthi deserves special mention for being particularly disturbing as the corrupt cop, and Sayaji Shinde was also good as the police commissioner.
The only downside to the film is the terrible comedy track, although it’s actually better here than in the Tamil version with Vadivelu. While I don’t mind Brahmi’s amorous landlord persona, the scenes with the beggars played by Ali and Venu Madhan are incredibly annoying and just slow down the action. Get rid of that and this would be as close to perfect as it gets. As it is it’s still a fantastic watch for all-out Mahesh action – 4 stars.