Megastar, mini toga

Megastar-MiniToga-Adavi Donga

Happy 60th Chiranjeevi! And many happy returns!

Considering the spate of historical epics across the Indian film industries of late, I think it is time to consider Chiru’s visual contribution to the ‘sword and sandal’ oeuvre. Who knows? Maybe we will see toga redux in his 150th film.

Chiranjeevi was never averse to giving the audience some skinshow. As good friend Beth recently commented, “Chiru wears and not-wears with equal aplomb.” He was fearless when it came to wardrobe choices and the question “Why Chiru?” has sparked many a late night philosophical debate with The Mahesh Fan.

Broadly speaking, his toga oriented costumes fall into three categories.

The historically accurate toga or princely miniskirt

Because it is all about the historical accuracy.

The mini toga as outdoor wear

This would have presented challenges both for the wearer and the observer. Horse riding. Ouch!

The gladiatorial political statement

AKA ‘Your Comeuppance Has Arrived’.

Megastar-MiniToga-Jwala

 

I’m sure there are more examples. I did exclude songs involving hitched up lunghis or dancing in underwear or bathers as that is outside of the scope of most (but I suppose not all) historical fantasy epics. Here is a playlist so you can see the glory of these costumes in motion – Let me know of any additions!

 

Pasivadi Pranam

Pasivadi Pranam

I watched Pasivadi Pranam with high expectations since Kodandarami Reddy directed many of Chiranjeevi’s best films including my favourites Challenge and Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu, while story writer Fazil was also responsible for the excellent Manichitrathazhu. The film is a remake of Poovinnu Puthiya Poonthennal with Mamootty but as I haven’t been able to track down a copy of the original Malayalam film, it seems quite reasonable to settle in with Chiranjeevi and Vijayashanti instead.  And well worth it too – with Raghuvaran as the villain and with plenty of good songs including a breakdance (below!) Pasivadi Pranam is a great way to celebrate Megabirthday 2015.

The story starts with a rather horrific murder, witnessed by the victim’s wife and young child as Sundaran (Prasad Babu) is stabbed by Ranjit (Babu Antony) under the direction of his boss Chakravarty (Raghuvaran). Intriguingly Ranjit is dressed entirely in white – surely not the best colour to wear when preparing to stab someone, and then rather randomly he pulls on a red hat before carefully removing it a few moments later when he attacks Sundaran. One of those delightfully random moments that I wish had some deeper meaning – but doesn’t!

Despite murdering Sundaran almost right outside his front door, Ranjit and Chakravarthy are shocked and appalled to realise their crime has been seen and Charavarty sends Ranjit to get rid of the two witnesses; Sundaran’s wife Lakshmi (Rajyalakshmi) and their son (Baby Sujitha). Although Ranjit manages to kill Lakshmi, her son has a better developed survival sense and manages to escape. Initially he does quite well, hopping on a bus and heading far away from the chase, but eventually he falls asleep at the side of the road. And that’s where drunken bar owner Madhu (Chiranjeevi) finds him later.

Madhu apparently has a death wish – illustrated by a fight in the bar he owns and perhaps rather more riskily by gate-crashing an exercise class and joining in with the ladies in leotards. Despite his attempts to commit suicide by aerobicise, Madhu has a kind heart and he stops his car when he sees the small boy asleep at the side of the road. After a half-hearted attempt to locate the boy’s parents fails, Madhu decides to take the child home with him and call him Raja. The next day however he discovers that Raja has been born deaf and consequently is also dumb; reasons which the consulting doctor suggests may have been the reason for Raja’s abandonment by the side of the road. Madhu isn’t convinced though since Raja seems to be trying to tell him something, although he can’t quite work out the message.

Madhu has a sad past which is explained later in the film but initially there are just cryptic references to November 18th and a psychedelic green and red image of a spinning woman that appears onscreen.

A flashback sequence explains that Madhu’s wife Lakshmi (Sumalatha) was killed on their wedding day, and after that tragic event Madhu has turned to drinking himself into oblivion most nights. He tells himself not to get too close to Raja, but seems to immediately forget this instruction and starts treating the boy as if he was his own son. Sujitha is very cute as Raja and is also great at remembering the character isn’t supposed to be able to talk. It’s an impressive performance from the young actor and she has an excellent rapport with Chiranjeevi throughout the film.

While out buying toys for Raja, Madhu meets Geeta (Vijayashanti), and after the initial altercation when Raja breaks a model Taj Mahal, Geeta seems quite taken with the pair. She starts stalking Madhu, turning up at his house and inviting him round to visit. Much of the comedy is based on Geeta’s pursuit of Madhu and his rather ineffectual attempts to rebut her advances until he rather dramatically announces that he is a ‘married bachelor’.

At the same time as the romance is going on, Ranjit is still trying to follow Chakravarthy’s commands and get rid of Raja. However he misses numerous opportunities and is eventually soundly beaten by Madhu once Raja wakes him from his drunken stupor. This turns out to be the last straw and Madhu renounces the demon drink so that he can take proper care of Raja. The attempts on Raja’s life clue Madhu in that there is more going on than just an abandoned child and he starts trying to piece together Raja’s past. At the same time, Geeta’s father decides to reconcile with his estranged daughter (you guessed it) Lakshmi and finds her mysteriously missing. This in turn gets the police involved and after various mix-ups and tense moments, finally Madhu discovers the truth.

Although Pasivadi Pranam is a fairly straight forward story, there is a good mix of drama, suspense and comedy which all add up to a cracking good tale. Fazil knows how to keep an audience glued to the screen and even the interjection of songs and some comedy with Vijayashanti’s character doesn’t derail the tension. The songs are fun with the occasional odd fashion choice (gloves and a sari?) but I do appreciate the sensible footwear for snowy conditions. I love the backing dancers outfits in this song too – they turn from dull and drab to a glorious blue so simply and the effect is marvellous.

Chiranjeevi is excellent as a lonely man, ridden by guilt who wants nothing more than to be left alone to wallow in his misery. His gradual transformation at the hands of a small boy is beautifully done and the addition of a love interest in Geetha helps add some light hearted fun and stops the story from being too dark. Vijayashanti has plenty of infectious energy and I get the feeling she enjoyed turning the tables on Chiru, being the stalker rather than the stalkee for a change. The two have wonderful chemistry together and their comedy scenes also work well, although Raja steals the show when he does an impersonation of Geeta which is simply perfect!  The villains of the piece are also better realised than usual and are suitably creepy rather than all out vicious thugs, while Babu Antony is genuinely sinister as he skulks along in the shadows.

Pasivadi Pranam illustrates just how good a film can be when it starts off with a proper (and good) storyline.  Add excellent performances, appropriate dialogue and generally well placed songs and it all adds up to an entertaining film that’s well worth a watch. 4 stars.

 

Andarivaadu

Andarivaadu Poster

Andarivaadu is another of Chiranjeevi’s dual role ventures, although this time he plays father and son who share a house so that adds a degree of difficulty for director Sreenu Vaitla.

But right from the bombastic opening credits it is clear that this is a Megastar film and all other people and events will be quite incidental. And I’m generally OK with that.

Siddharth (Chiru the Younger) decides that his widower dad Govindarajulu (Chiru the Elder) needs to be pulled into line and someone has to take on the task of looking after him. Govind must be the luckiest man alive as Siddhu forces him to marry Shanti (the stunning Tabu). Siddhu also has to settle down some day, and he becomes engaged to his wealthy girlfriend-by-insistence, Swetha (Rimi Sen). Of course things can’t run that smoothly in a Telugu film with such a big ticket star. Swetha’s dad Veerendra (Prakash Raj) has history with Govind he would rather forget, and Siddhu upsets a local crime lord. There is drama, dancing, action and moralising galore before anyone can call it a day.

Mildly surprising for a family-ish film, it opens with an item including rain, pole dancing, and finger sucking. The poor girls must have really struggled wearing their big clompy boots in the water. There is a faint attempt to weave the skanking into the plot as the water tankers have been diverted away from the colony and residents are left for days with no drinking water. Of course, only one man can sort this out. Sparks and a hitched up lunghi signal the arrival of THE HERO!

Govind is a sentimental bloke with a strong sense of family and justice. He adores his son and couldn’t stand to see him hurt in any way, and can’t even harm a slightly evil genius mouse. Chiranjeevi hedges his bets by also playing suave Siddhu, educated and apparently irresistible to all women.

Siddhu gets to wear more knitwear and his dance sequences are a riot of colour. Chiru in some ways tests the waters of being an ageing hero by playing the father, complete with last minute hair dye as he decides he needs to look a bit younger. But since Govind is still a roguish and salt of the earth man who solves all crises and defends the defenseless, he isn’t exactly turning his back on heroic hijinks.

A great benefit of two Chiranjeevi roles is a double up on the dancing and once again he has Lawrence on board as a choreographer. Chiru’s moves are not as sharp as back in the day but he seems thoroughly delighted to get down with his bad self, and his energy is undeniable.

The action relies a little more on nifty camera work than on Chiru flinging himself about but he does a lot of wire work that adds both comedic underscoring and dramatic impact to those scenes. There are some days when the skinny double worked as there are obvious changes in physique in some scenes requiring both Chirus.

Siddhu meets Swetha when she suckers him into pretending to be her boyfriend so she can save face as she has told her friends they’re together. She is introduced through a series of closeups of her butt, her waist and her chest and that is about it for character development. Rimi Sen does little but pout and swish her hair around, although even that exceeds the minimum requirements for a Telugu film heroine. Swetha reflects her father’s belief that wealth is the same as worth. Veerendra tells Govind that he will allow the marriage only because Swetha loves Siddhu and only on condition that Govind not be part of his son’s life at all. Cue noble idiocy as Govind tries to do what he always does, sacrificing his own happiness for his son. And then even more idiocy as Swetha tries to make Govind and Siddhu pay for insulting her father.

Shanti is working as a Hindi teacher and has been running her family household. For some reason she says yes, perhaps because Govind is so honest about all his flaws in an attempt to put her off marrying him. She seems fond of him but does register that he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Tabu’s role is frustrating. Early on Shanti seems competent, a little bit judgemental as she listens to the sheer nonsense her husband is spewing out, but fond of him and his moustache.

I do love ‘the moustache song’, as I call it.

But later on she loses the scope for the fun expressions and signs of character that made Shanti so appealing. It is a waste of a good actress, but Tabu does what she can to give Shanti some more depth. I liked her rapport with Chiranjeevi and they look good in their dances. In some scenes Tabu looked like she was genuinely trying not to laugh and that actually helped me see Shanti as someone with firm views of her own, even if she didn’t always articulate them. And on a really shallow note, she wears some beautiful sarees.

I am perfectly fine with Govind and Satti Pahlwan (Pradeep Rawat) kicking the living suitcases out of each other, but casual domestic violence is harder to take as entertainment. Govind slaps Shanti (even though he knew she had done nothing wrong) and Shanti dissolves into tearful joy at his acknowledgement that he had slapped her for no reason at all. Grrrrrr! Swetha gets slapped around a bit towards the end of the film but she and Sunil (as an annoying comedy cousin) were just so horrible and scheming that I can almost empathise. Lots of people slap Brahmi but, to be completely honest, nowhere near enough for my liking. I’m a little conflicted.

The climax of the film is not really concerned with the emotional coming of age of two men. There is still the matter of revenge to be thwarted, wrongs to be righted, and the greatest love of all: Will Govind and Ganesh the rat, finally acknowledge their friendship?

Chiranjeevi is showing his age but he also shows why his career has legs. See this for a silly and generally good-hearted action packed family romantic comedy. 3 ½ stars!

Andarivaadu-Ganesh

Roshagadu

roshagadu

Roshagadu – why did no one tell me about you?

KSR Doss takes Chiru, Madhavi and Silk Smitha on a wild jaunt, and I was positively delighted to tag along. Any film that includes speedboat chases, ninjas, karate, and a hot pink sequinned cowboy suit has a good chance at winning me over. Add some feisty women, amazing and hilarious action, Chiru in a double role, and I could not ask for more. Well, except for decent print quality and some subtitles.

Sikander (Chiranjeevi) is a smooth criminal with an aversion to shirts. He seems to be taking advantage of the silliness of the two local crimelords, playing Tyagu (Thyagaaraju) and Bhayankar (Kannada Prabhakar) off each other and emerging triumphant with the loot. In his spare time Sikander frolics on the beach with a bevy of lovely ladies in retro bathers and sensible hats.

I like the bit where he rolls one of them into the water so he can sunbathe in her spot. A charmer, but not a gentleman.  But did I mention he has a lair! Concealed in a temple and only accessible via a secret and overly complicated thingie! The lock mechanism appears to rely on angle of the sun or time of day, although I have no idea why and it does rather limit the usefulness of the construction. Sikander also has a secret red book hidden in a secret (but unlocked) cupboard.

Main villain Bhayankar is prone to over-elaboration and has an addiction to the double cross that is almost endearing.  Amongst his assets, he has a gang of bikers whose jackets helpfully spell out KILL. Sikander pops out of Bhayankar’s car boot mid-execution, says hi and then takes both the money and the box. He has such swag! And Bhayankar has nothing to counter him with.

Tyagu is more bumbling than Bhayankar, although his style is far more flamboyant. I became quite fond of Tyagu’s henchman in the stripey top as he looked faintly embarrassed at the ridiculous shenanigans around him, and his outfit helped me identify which gang I was looking at.

Meanwhile on a train, Miss Neelima (Silk Smitha), a club dancer gets caught up in a smuggling racket when the contraband is hidden in her makeup case. The police find the diamonds but Sikander finds the police AND the diamonds. Neelima knows he is a fake, so now she knows she once had the diamonds, she wants them, and she knows who has them. However she does show appalling judgement by doing a Faux-gyptian club number with a toga clad man who is not Chiranjeevi. Silk is funny and fiery as Neelima and I really enjoyed seeing her in a more substantial role. She tackles the action scenes with energy and grit, and while Neelima uses her charms she is not just in the story for her looks.

Sikander and all the baddies disguise themselves to attend a wedding so they can steal the jewels. The others don’t know that Sikander has formed an alliance with Neelima. She impersonates the bride and after all the double double crosses go down, she whips off her mask, wig, and saree, and the game is afoot! There is a fun sequence of keepings off with the case full of bridal bling before Sikander finally scarpers with the haul.

After a bit of mutual keyhole peeping, a skanky dance ensues (and apologies, I can only find the Hindi version of some songs online). I like that while her dress seemed vaguely improvised and towellish, she had matching suede wedges. Very organised. I couldn’t quite work out why Neelima tipped Bhayankar off about the secret book and let him in to the swanky apartment. Sikander escapes and hands off The Book to a bloke on the roadside. The respite is brief as he is shot and his car crashes, eventually plunging into the sea, rendering him Completely Dead.

Srikanth (Chiru with a different hairdo) looks just like Sikander but spends his time dancing cutesy duets with Madhavi. She is from a rich family while he and his little sister seem to be a lot less well off. Madhavi’s character doesn’t get much screen time but she is quite interesting. She seemed quite forthright with her father when he took exception to Srikanth, and she doesn’t waste a lot of time on crying or pouting. She is ready to do what needs to be done from supporting Srikanth in his goals to kicking a few of her own.

Srikanth’s sister is set upon by sleazebags who decide rape is as good a way as any to while away a rainy afternoon. She puts up a very good fight and as her bro was out looking for her anyway, Srikanth is soon on the spot. He drives a tractor through the door and then repeatedly throws the rapists through each of the remaining walls. How did this building ever stand? Srikanth is seen by Tyagu’s men (bless that stripey man for gang identification). Bhayankar’s man saw him too so everyone thinks they have a chance at getting back at Sikander.

Neelima and Srikanth end up in Bhayankar’s lair. They put the pieces together – he is missing a significant mole so cannot be Sikander, and she is actually a police officer! Then they escape by pushing some cardboard boxes out of the way. I don’t think anyone in this film nailed the functional specs for their respective lairs. Bhayankar recaptures Srikanth easily enough and kidnaps his sister too. They tie Srikanth to the hood of a jeep and make him watch as they run over his sister. He escapes and swears vengeance.

He starts boot camp under Madhavi’s loving gaze and learns karate, perfects some Jedi mind trick to shoot things without looking at them, does motorcycle tricks, horse riding, stuff. Srikanth really embraced Sikander’s style. And sets his plan in motion by performing at the night club wearing a hot pink sparkly cowboy outfit.

And just when you think that might not work, a Ninja suited goon in the audience jumps up and runs away…But why no sign of Srikanth in pursuit?

Of course. He stopped to change into appropriate duelling attire.

Tyagu and Bhayankar join forces to get rid of pesky Srikanth. They kidnap Madhavi who had the secret red book. But Srikanth and Neelima are both in hot pursuit as the police largely stand back and let the vigilantes take care of justice. Silk is all kinds of awesome as Neelima goes to rescue Madhavi, and the ladies win their freedom. Doss throws EVERYTHING into the mix, starting with the duel and then adds a dollop of vehicular vengeance and a bit of “karate”.

The trove is revealed and baddies rejoice in their pick of the bling – but then a shot rings out. After an excellent fight with lots of polystyrene props being smashed, Bhayankar and Srikanth run off to the finale. They narrowly miss the ladies who have come to rescue Srikanth. They don’t seem too fussed and take the opportunity to beat everyone to a pulp. You go girls! But that’s not all. Let me just say the Karma Bus made an appearance. And it’s a good thing Srikanth was wearing sensible leather trousers.

This is a fun film that has little substance but a lot to enjoy. B movies often had the best heroines and I really liked Madhavi and Silk and their characters, with everything staying on the right side of improbable. Chiranjeevi is in his element as both the suave thief and the righteous hero. 3 ½ stars!

Roshagadu-Come get me ladies

Srimanthudu (2015)

Srimanthudu

Mahesh Babu’s latest is a commercial masala movie that manages to fit in some better than expected moments while still remaining true to its mass roots. Writer/director Koratala Siva has penned a good story and although the film could have done with some snappier editing and less one-sided fight scenes, overall Srimanthudu is an entertaining watch. Along with Mahesh Babu and Shruti Haasan, the film features a cast of thousands with almost every Telugu actor appearing at least briefly on-screen, but for a wonder there is only Ali as the mandatory comedy uncle and even he has a very truncated role. That alone makes it a step above the usual fare, and with Mahesh at his charismatic best and some great songs, Srimanthudu is well worth a trip to the cinema.

Mahesh plays Harsha, son of a millionaire businessman and the heir to both the company and his father’s fortune. However that’s not what Harsha wants and he refuses to conform and take over the business despite his father’s continual gentle pressure. The scenes between Harsha and his father Ravikanth (Jagapathi Babu) are a little clunky, but the sentiment hits at the right level with Harsha treating his father with respect despite disagreeing with him on almost every topic. Although Ravikanth is very much a family man, he is cold and distant with no interest in anything outside his millions, while Harsha is diametrically opposite, more interested in his father’s employees and their ambitions. Harsha isn’t totally adverse to those millions though and they do come in handy whenever he needs some cash for his various schemes.

When driving his mother (Sukanya) and sister to the temple one morning, Harsha sees Charu (Shruti Haasan) outside her hostel and drives round the block a few times to get a better look. Luckily for Harsha, Charu also turns out to be cousin to his friend Apparao (Vennela Kishore) and she turns up at his birthday party. She’s beautiful and quirky but her biggest draw for Harsha is that she’s studying rural development at college – something that sounds just his cup of tea. Naturally Harsha enrolls in the same course and while Charu is initially rather disheartened to discover that Harsha is really there to study and not just stalking her, romance does blossom between the two.

As Harsha is falling in love and discovering his true calling, the film jumps to a small rural village where a school has collapsed and Narayana (Rajendra Prasad) is running around with a permanent expression of dismay as tragedy after tragedy occurs. Head villain Sasi (Sampath Raj) and his team of muscle men are slowly sucking the life from the village as their beer factory uses up all the water, and Narayana is doing his best to halt the decline as families leave the village and farmers commit suicide. Sasi is also in league with his brother, Minister Venkat Rathnam (Mukesh Rishi), whose son Radha (Harish Uthaman) is threatening Harsha’s father, so it’s inevitable that Harsha will get involved and use his new knowledge of rural development to save the day. Along with his excellent skills in dishoom of course!

Multi-layer Mahesh has shed his multi layers for Srimanthudu and he mainly appears in a single shirt or elbow baring T-shirt, although the biggest cheers went to his appearance in a knee-baring lungi. He is a one-man unstoppable army and the fight scenes are more comical than exciting as Harsha dispatches any and all comers with ease. There is one fight scene at a wedding function which is cleverly choreographed, but the rest are a montage of villains hitting the ground and bouncing wildly in all directions while Harsha has no difficulty lifting men twice his size over his head and flinging them into the dirt. No one manages to even lay a finger on him until it becomes necessary for the plot, and even then it’s during a shady ambush where Harsha still comes out on top. It’s mayhem, but it’s Mahesh mayhem and I loved every minute!

Shruti Haasan has a role with some substance and she’s generally good as Charu, even managing to hold her own against the star power of Mahesh. It’s good to have a heroine who doesn’t fade into obscurity as soon as the action ramps up, and Charu’s character does have enough depth to move beyond the romance track. The love story itself is well blended into the village make-over story line, while Mahesh and Shruti have good chemistry together adding a touch of plausibility. Shruti also has some lovely outfits, although she does fall foul of the costume designers in the Charuseela song. Seriously, no explanation is possible for the studded shoes, while the female choreography just adds insult to injury. The other songs are all much better with Poorna appearing in the first Rama Rama song, while Shruti gets to strut her stuff in the rest. The music by Sri Devi Prasad is catchy and the choreography generally very good – I loved a brief flash-mob style interlude in the bangle market during one of the songs while Dhimmathirigae bursts onto the screen in a riot of colour and is just as awesome as this teaser suggests.

The accomplished support cast is excellent although with so many good actors quite a few seem underused. I would have liked to see more of Subbaraju, who briefly appears as one of Harsha’s relatives with a spiritual disposition, while Rahul Ravindran has a potentially interesting role as a rival for Harsha that sadly isn’t expanded any further. However Jagapathi Babu and Rajendra Prasad have better developed characters that allow shades of grey while Mukesh Rishi and Sampath Raj are just as black and despicable as such villains need to be.

Srimanthudu may not be a perfect film, but it is a welcome return to form for Mahesh and infinitely better than last year’s Aagadu. The film is a tad overlong and somewhat slow to get going in the second half, but at least Koratala Siva avoids any suggestion of appearing preachy by keeping the attention focused on Mahesh rather than the development work he is doing in the village. Nothing to complain about there! Mahesh is excellent throughout and with a story different enough to maintain interest and great performances all round, Srimanthudu is one of the better films I’ve seen this year. Recommended for Mahesh, Shruti Haasan and those crazy fight scenes.