Aapathbandavudu

Aapathbandavudu is a melodrama by K Vishwanath that has a bit of action, a ‘will they won’t they’ romance, ‘medicine’ found only in films and some lovely MM Keeravani songs. The memorable performances by Chiranjeevi and Meenakshi Seshadri make their characters likeable and their predicaments seem meaningful. Even with the tear soaked dialogues, dubious plot devices and inexplicable decision making, it is very entertaining, sometimes funny, and often moving.  I admit my love of Chiru helped me get past the ‘oh no they didn’t!’ moments but there are interesting ideas and dialogues that help balance out the excesses.

Good hearted low caste Madhava (Chiranjeevi) is attached to school teacher/poet (Jandhyala, who also wrote the dialogues) and his family. Apart from cow herding, Madhava is also the preferred Lord Shiva in district theatricals. Do not try and usurp his role – or this could happen to you:

Sigh. Did I mention this is a visually pleasing film?

Camera angles reflect the sense of elevation Madhava feels when he is compared to Lord Shiva, and he glows with pride at embodying the deity. But he is a country boy at heart and when his cow Ganga goes into labour his first thought is to get her off the train and into some privacy so she won’t be stressed. It’s a dynamic role that gives Chiranjeevi ample scope to use his mass hero shtick as well as delivering a nuanced performance. Most of the laughs come from situations and dialogues as well as Chiru’s knockabout physical comedy.

But I didn’t really need Madhava hamming it up in bovine (or ursine) ‘speech’.

People exploit Madhava’s generosity to make him fix their problems, but as Hema (Meenakshi Seshadri) says, it is usually him who pays the consequences. Despite his simplicity, Madhava is not stupid. He can find a loophole in an instruction as well as any lawyer, such as promising not to lay a hand on someone and still managing to rough them up. He takes on a local bigwig and employs a fighting style possibly inspired by Hanuman as well as Shiva, complete with his own vengeful song. In turn, the politician resorts to elaborate and inefficient methods to try and get Madhava out of the picture – including an attack by an enraged bull (mostly a fibreglass prop), and a murder attempt in a rigged performance. Luckily Hema realises what is going on and takes the guise of Shakti to protect Shiva. I love his dancing from around 5 minutes onwards as Shiva’s rage is unleashed.

But seriously – what is it with the rabbits?

Madhava has always called Hema a goddess, and when they dance as Shiva and Parvati he sees her as his goddess. He is very aware of the barriers between them.

Meenakshi gives Hema a distinct character and intelligence, and her emotional development is well portrayed. She is becoming physically as well as emotionally drawn to Madhava, and is both disturbed and excited by these feelings.  Hema tells Madhava she wishes he had the sense to understand what is in people’s minds, but he doesn’t. There is yearning and dreaming on both sides.

The first section is mostly rural romance with a caste barrier and a few dishooming fights, and I really didn’t expect the twist to take the form it did. Have a happy song before things get dark.

Hema’s father dies suddenly in the middle of a ceremony to honour Madhava. Chiru is brilliant as he shows the overwhelming emotions surging through the grief stricken and furious Madhava. He crafts a clay lingam and berates Shiva for his neglect despite all the prayers and offerings.  A kindly priest points out that just as Madhava could destroy what he had made, man is god’s creation and god has a right over our lives too. That seems to comfort him, but Hema is just devastated.

While Madhava is away, Hema visits her sister Lalita (Geetha) and baby niece. She is assaulted by her lecherous brother-in-law and Lalita is killed when she tries to intervene. The police are paid off and that is that. The shock, her grief over her father and sister, fear of a repeat attack – all these things cause Hema to become unstable. She exhibits extreme aggression towards men and is committed to a psychiatric hospital as her family cannot cope. Apparently a punch-up and a food fight is all it takes to fake insanity, so Madhava is soon an inmate and watching over Hema. Most of the inmates act happy and childlike and mental illness is made to seem harmless.

Rape and mental illness should not be used as cheap entertainment fodder, and there are disturbing abuses of power by characters in the film. What I liked was that other characters found these incidents as reprehensible as I did, and tried to get some justice. The mental patients had a right to decent treatment. Hema wasn’t blamed for being attacked or having a breakdown, and her family never abandoned her. There was some empathy shown for the damaged people. Not everything was swept under the carpet, but the powerlessness of the average person in the story was so frustrating.

Meenakshi plays traumatised Hema as intensely angry and determined to fight any perceived threat, which includes all men. When the drugs kick in she becomes empty eyed and withdrawn. She can’t recognise Madhava as her friend but she does eventually recognise she can trust him. When a staff member tries to rape Hema, Madhava defends her and is given shock treatment as the doctors think he is psychotic.  He is further accused of being the rapist, and his suffering is palpable as is his desperation to help her.

Chiranjeevi adds an extra layer of pretence as he switches from Madhava to Madhava (over)acting crazy, and there is a marked deterioration in his appearance once he is an inpatient.  On that note, while the idea of Chiru dressing up and having himself delivered to me in a box has some appeal, this costume may have caused the more fragile patient to have a bit of a setback. But the dancing is great!

Madhava manages to spend some time with Hema and uses a very ugly doll to reignite her memories of home and loved ones, sparked by a favourite lullaby. Compared to some of the other goings on in the asylum that struck me as quite sensible and therapeutic, and indeed she is soon released.

Madhava is left beset by fear and sadness. He has given everything he can, including selling his herd to get money to help the family, and may have ruined his own life. He berates himself for his stupidity in a powerful speech to his reflection, but can’t see any way out of this mess, or the asylum.

The ending is so filmi incredible but I still found myself on the edge of my seat. Just how could it possibly work out? And why on earth were so many people overcome with bad luck and bad judgement all at once?

There are no comedy uncles as such. Brahmanandam is Madhava’s friend and provides some physical comedy but largely this is a straight character role for him and they share a nice rapport. Allu Ramalingaiah as the uncle resents Madhava’s position in the family and has a sharp tongue when voicing his disapproval. Like Brahmi, his role is dramatic, not the comedic turn I expect from him. Sarath Babu as Sripati wants to do what is right, and is the sympathetic ‘other guy’. There is something reassuring about Sarath Babu and having him as a friend does seem to make the good guys that much more resilient. Jandhyala is very fatherly, and suits his role as the unfashionable teacher and poet who refuses to cheapen his art.

The emphasis is more on characters than causes although the film does say something about caste, dowry and other facets of society. It is wildly melodramatic, but the writer and actors invest in the central characters and there is plenty to enjoy along the way.

My DVD cover says this is a ‘must see movie before you die’. I’m not sure about that, but I encourage you to at least look at the song clips. The village scenery is pretty and beautifully filmed, the music is lovely and the dancing is excellent. But really, this is all about the performances by Chiru and Meenakshi and they won me over from the start.

3 ½ stars!

Sorry Chiru.  4 stars?

4 stars!

PS – thanks tolly for the recommendation all those months ago – where are you tolly? It’s been ages!

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17 thoughts on “Aapathbandavudu

  1. This was one of my first Chiranjeevi movies…..i am a north-indian by the way, and do understand some Tamil and Telugu…..and this movie won me over for its performances. You are absolutely right Temple….this is a superb review. I too recommend this movie to all those who think that Chiranjeevi could do only mass-oriented roles. 4 stars from my side too….I myself have deducted 1 star because the ending was a bit OTT….although I loved it!

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      • Yeah….I have seen that movie….and I loved the on-screen chemistry between Chiranjeevi and Suhasini….its another Telugu favourite of mine too! This movie was a remake of a Tamil movie “Kadalora Kavithaigal” starring Sathyaraj and Rekha. Temple, I would like reviews of the Mani Ratnam classics “Agni Natchathiram” and “Geethanjali” posted on Cinema Chaat. The former is a Tamil movie with a good story and superb songs and the latter is the only Telugu movie of Mani Ratnam till date. Both these movies were National Award winners. I want to know your valuable opinion of these movies as well as of Heather. BTW, you both are great reviewers….I love reading your reviews!

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  2. oh dear..Aapathbandavudu! Kudos for handling the film and a great review. If one is prepared what to expect, it is like a social-awareness film. But for unsuspecting folks in the theatre, the second half is like, “wha…..?” There is a nagging feeling that while you are out during interval, you went into time wrap and came out to a different movie.
    Why ruin a good romance? Especially when Chiru and Meenakshi invested so much in the first half to build up so much romantic tension.

    So, I lost respect K.Vishwanadh for trying to be all too melodramatic and piling on unbelievable bad luck and all lower middle-class problems on one family, and in the end, taking easy way out of thinking carefully about the second-half.

    But, Chiru is at his best here. The songs are great, particularly “avura ammaku chella” is very very popular. Yeah, my main gripe is with the story.

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    • Hi Violet – I expected the social messages and tears as soon as I saw K Viswanath’s name :) But they really did run out of sensible ideas about how to end the film in that last 20 minutes or so didn’t they? Since the characters were well established and the performances are so likeable I felt committed to seeing it through. Chiru really is brilliant in this, and I don’t know that I would be so tolerant of the story if it was another actor in the role. I can only imagine the reaction of someone at FDFS who had no prior knowledge of the storyline after the intermission!

      I really like all the songs too so that helped keep my attention. Although I did get very distracted when Chiru turned up as Shiva surrounded by fluffy bunnies. I really am mystified by their proliferation in Telugu films from the 90s – I’ve seen several films that have random rabbits. It seems of late they have been replaced by chickens.

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      • AFAIK, bunnies made an appearance with “Jagadeka veerudu – athiloka sundari” in the Himalayas. They stayed on for other representations of Shiva since Shiva’s abode is Himalayas. That’s my guess.

        Chickens may have a more mundane explanation. They used to be kept at homes for eggs and meat and are commonly seen up to 10-15 year ago in lower middle class neighborhoods/ villages on roads. Now chickens at homes have grown rare – most of that is industrialized even in small towns. Also, native chickens are said to be more tasty than white hybrid ones.

        So, perhaps chickens represent that nostalgia /rural location / neighborhood-feel or just some art/productions managers are using film locations for their chicken side-business ;).
        May be time is ripe for you to write a thesis on “Background animals in Tollywood”.

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      • Backyard chickens are making a comeback where I live :) But rabbits are a huge environmental problem so I can’t look upon them kindly. I’ve been wondering what to do with the rest of my life and perhaps the filmi animals thesis is it. Or not :) Cheers, Temple

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  3. This sounds like a telugu version of an original kamala hasan movie – can’t remember the name though. Chiranjeevi and Suhasini were a hit jodi in telugu movies in the 80s. I didn’t know that Meenakshi Seshadri had acted in telugu movies too. Her debut film was in hindi and she acted in quite a few hindi films.

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  4. Thanks for remembering me and my recco.

    Good review. I have not seen many reviews on this movie. Thanks for doing this.

    Sorry… Now a days I am not spending much time on net ,hence less commenting. But I do look at all the blogs now and then.

    In the same lines there is another chiru movie “Swayam Krushi” if you have not seen it already .. but I have not seen any good dvd print of this movie so far.

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    • It’s good to know you’re still around :) Thanks for breaking your silence, and thanks again for recommending the film! I really enjoyed it, OTT drama and all. I have an unsubtitled DVD of Swayam Krushi and the picture quality isn’t great. I’m still keeping an eye out for a better one. Cheers, Temple

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  5. Awesome review! I’ve only seen the two dance songs from this film and had no idea what their context was, so it’s great to know that they are theater performances (I had, amusingly, started to think the film was some kind of mythological! :))! I absolutely love Chiru’s dancing in this film- he gives it his all! I mean, just look at him go, it’s exhausting! The sets and props and all make the whole thing look quite cheesy, but because Chiru is so into it I get into it along with him. :) Looks like there are a few more scenes where he does a bit of dancing? I need to get cracking and watch this film! Thanks for an entertaining review, cheers! ~Minai

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    • Hi Minai – I think Chiru is just brilliant in all the songs in this film :) He has the dramatic intensity and athleticism for the two Shiva dances, and the folky/village style dances are really nicely done. Meenakshi is good too, so there is lots to like in the songs (even the scary clown one!). The cheesy sets make more sense in context and instead I found myself marvelling at the impressive complexity of the Rakshasas cave system. Cheers, Temple

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