Jebu Donga (1987)

Jebu-Donga-Title

While Jebu Donga may not be the most deep and meaningful film of 1987 (or indeed any other year), it does have a slightly different approach to the Mass Hero as well as sufficient quantity and variety of dances and explosions to keep me amused.

Chiranjeevi is Chitti the pickpocket, happily fleecing the rich, helping some of the deserving poor and indulging his love of disguises. Bhanupriya is his rival in petty thieving, and has an equally strong commitment to the dress-ups and convoluted schemes. Satyanarayana Kaikala and Maruthirao Gollapudi are the not as bumbling as they seem CBI officers who need to get a spy into Raghuvaran’s gang. And Radha is a woman of mystery. The police decide to use the unwitting Chiru as a distraction, feeding the crooks a fake top secret file that names him as Special Agent Chakrapani. While he goes about his daily crimes, the crooks are after him and the cops are watching the shenanigans. But eventually things come to a proper masala conclusion, albeit one with a couple of surprises.

While Telugu mass films are all about the hero, one of the things I enjoy most about Jebu Donga is that Chiru’s character is not as much in control as he thinks he is. He reacts to the confusing succession of attacks and rescues but has no idea why some things are happening. He tries to beat Bhanupriya’s character to a heist but ends up losing his trousers – don’t panic, it is all quite family friendly. Radha appears as a woman from Chakrapani’s past and Chitti is unable to say no to her. And the police manipulate him so easily. He does have to do his bit to save everyone at the end of the film, but he is not the usual know-it-all lone hero.

Chiranjeevi makes the most of his role, adding a dash of levity to the fight scenes as well as flirting up a storm. I looked over my notes from watching the film and at one point I have just written “Jeep! Whips! Leaping!”  Chitti is a good person apart from being a thief, and he helps out where he can. One of his robberies even helped a reluctant bride escape an unwanted marriage. He has what might be a sister and younger brother (Shanmukha Srinivas) as well as his mother to provide for, and pretends to them that he is a labourer doing honest work. The songs are a real highlight, and not always just for the outfits. I love Rajaloo Rajalakshmi where Chiru steals Bhanupriya’s clothes while she is bathing.

His dancing is uninhibited and cheeky (even including a bit of snake style), and once she finds something to wear she dishes it up in equal measure.

I’m not so sure about his wardrobe choices. The double denim and highpants are a symptom of the late 80s but I really do not get the sleeveless skivvy.

Bhanupriya’s character is a bit ditzy although she exhibits competence in her chosen field of cons and theft.  While Chiru is relatively plainly dressed, she wears some outrageous outfits and more than holds her own in the dances. I’m not sure how she is related to Chitti but when she falls for him it feels more as though they have been meant for each other for a while but are only now admitting there is an attraction. And where many a filmi heroine has to be rescued, she does her share of saving him too. She knows she is smart and sees no reason to let the slightly dim but charming Chitti overrule her.

Radha’s character is the real secret agent. I think she tells Chitti that he is a perfect lookalike for the deceased Chakrapani and he cannot resist her helpless female act. He should have been alerted when her dream sequence song turned up looking like this! She is smart, runs her own operation although her dad is one of the CBI officers using Chiru, and she has firm views on what needs to be done. Like Bhanupriya, she will accept help but she doesn’t always wait around for it to materialise.

All good heroes need a bad villain. Raghuavaran is the sleazy Peter, the main man who runs operations  for the completely insane Kannada Prabhakar. I always like a bit of megalomaniacal set design and sadly that is where Jebu Donga fails me. Peter lives in a respectably glossy mansion decorated with portraits of himself and masses of horrible modern sculptures while the bad guy HQ is a simple rustic camp. Not quite up to the Mogambo gold standard despite the impressive commitment to training shown by the minions. Most of the thugs wear that pale blue or mauve, but there are special colour coded sets as well as some plain clothes goons. Satyanarayana and Gollapudi are actually lots of fun as the police masterminds. They amble around, two portly middle aged gents who giggle like school girls as they watch the drama ebb and flow around their hapless helper. They also have some odd little flashbacks to what I think are Gollapudi’s terrible ideas for going undercover.

Chakravarthy’s soundtrack  borrows from Mr India, Michael Jackson and who knows what else. It’s all great fun, largely due to the enthusiasm of Chiranjeevi and Bhanupriya. And for once, the ladies get the sequins and lycra while Chiru dresses relatively conservatively.

I always have reasonable expectations of a Chiranjeevi/A Kodandarami Reddy film. There will be heroics, fights, dances, romance, eyeball melting colour and movement and almost no traces of logic. Jebu Donga delivers and shows Chiru in a more comedic, blundering hero role. Chitti may be a bit thick but Chiru knows exactly what he is doing and how to wring maximum entertainment from his material. The movie is available on YouTube. If you’re wondering, I deliberately chose the upload with the most offensive watermarks. Dear Reader, if you know anyone at that poxy company, please gently slap some sense, or at least some shame at defacing a film, into them.  Well worth seeing for the excellent cast and the frothy material. 3 ½ stars!

I will leave you with a Megabirthday Masala Multiple Choice Quiz. Please examine the following image.

Jebu-Donga-Quiz

Which of the following happens next?

  1. Evil Overlord makes crippled dance-obsessed Shanmukha Srinivas dance (a bit like Basanti in Sholay)
  2. Chiru, tied up and dangling in mid-air, escapes by breaking the trees from which he is dangling
  3. A Ma is terrorised by being given an unwanted haircut
  4. Radha kicks the bejesus out of about 47 bad guys
  5. Someone is so determined to detonate a bomb that he sets himself on fire and rolls across a clearing to ignite the fuse
  6. What do you mean which of the following? That’s a rookie question. All of the above, of course!

Autonagar Surya

Autonagar Surya

Deva Katta’s Autonagar Surya doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be and as a result ends up as a disappointing muddle.  There are elements of a message film with the ‘one man against the system’ storyline, but at the same time the film attempts a broader social commentary while following a standard mass entertainer formula – including the obligatory romance and fight scenes.   There is little of the subtlety Deva Katta brought to Prasthanam and the additions of Brahmi and Venu Madhav with a woeful comedy track certainly don’t help.  After watching the more recent Manam, where Chaitanya displayed improved acting maturity, it’s disappointing to watch his uneven performance here, particularly since the film focuses heavily on his character. In fact the best performances come from the support cast, including Surya’s group of friends and the assorted thugs and villains, but despite their best efforts they’re not enough to make Autonagar Surya more than a one time watch.

Autonagar Surya

The film starts off well enough – if a little on the violent side.  After an initial parade and explosion, where Chaitanya’s Surya is blasted into the sky like a cheap rocket, there is a flashback to explain who he is and how he got to be a human firework.  The young Surya is orphaned when an obnoxious thug detrains his parents when they try to intervene in a rape.  Surya ends up being brought up by his uncle (Sai Kumar) who has little time for the orphan as he thoroughly disapproved of his parent’s marriage, and Surya moves in with the auto mechanic opposite.  Cut to a few years later where Surya has grown up to develop an interest in all things mechanical and demonstrates an accompanying bad fashion sense.  Although to be fair, so do his friends too.  So far so good then, until he gets on the wrong side of the local union boss and ends up in jail for murder.

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This turns out to have been a blessing in disguise, since while in jail Surya manages to study for a degree in engineering.  On his release, after a seemingly short time (5 years for murder?), he pressures his friends into helping him build a battery powered car.  However the union is still in power and worse still, his uncle is now the elected president and still has no time for his nephew (not his niece as suggested by the subtitles!).  However Surya has the hope of the downtrodden and a powerful vocabulary on his side.  With the help of his friends he decides to tackle the union thugs, but despite all his speechifying and rhetoric he basically employs their dubious tactics of fighting, kidnap and intimidation to achieve his aims.

Autonagar SuryaAutonagar Surya

 

Sticking to the formula, there is a romance between Surya and his uncle’s daughter Siri (Samantha).  Samantha looks beautiful and has a couple of good scenes where she gets to explore her comedic side, but mostly she has frustratingly little to do. The love story is really only an excuse for a couple of forgettable songs with dull choreography and is dealt the death knell by a distinct lack of chemistry between Chaitanya and Samantha.  They seem to be more like best mates rather than lovers, and that probably would have made a more believable storyline too.

Autonagar SuryaAutonagar Surya

There are many fight scenes, particularly in the second half, which tend to be on the grisly side with plenty of spouting blood and the odd limb or two flying around.  The graphic fights seem to be at odds with Surya’s more intellectual dialogue relating to the human condition and it just doesn’t add up that such a technical and generally rational genius should also be a competent and vicious fighter. Chaitanya also doesn’t quite look the part, as he seems too young, and just not angry enough to be the classic ‘angry young man’ that I think Deva Katta wants to portray. Generally there is an overall lack of passion which makes Surya’s revolutionary speeches and rabble rousing dialogues fall somewhat flat.  It’s so frustrating when Naga Chaitanya has demonstrated that he can be much better than this.  At least the union thugs all know exactly what they are doing and why, so the various atrocities carried out by the gang fit more easily into the mass formula.  Ajay is particularly effective as one of the main villains, and it’s good to see him in a more protracted role.  Jayaprakash Reddy is a little too subdued, but is otherwise fine and Madhu impresses as an exceptionally evil mayor.

Autonagar Surya

While the first half shows some interesting potential, the second half drags and shows Surya to be just as vindictive and violent as the thugs he is trying to replace.  The good ideas introduced at the beginning seem to be submerged beneath repetitive fights, numerous references to RGV’s Shiva, and oddly placed songs.  Maybe I expected too much from Deva Katta after Prasthanam, but Autonagar Surya doesn’t come close to his previous film, despite the good ideas at the start.  Overall Autonagar Surya is disappointing on many levels, although does warrant a look for the excellent support cast and some impressive sets.

Malliswari (1951)

Malliswari-MalliswariB.N Reddi’s Malliswari is a film that almost every Telugu film fan praises as a masterpiece and a must see. It is so disappointing to see (and hear) the appalling state of the available copies, and also vexing that it is nigh impossible to buy on DVD. I would have loved subtitles. From the little I could pick out with my miniscule vocabulary, the dialogues seemed sensible and not overly filmi and the songs all seemed to fit in beautifully as an extension of the narrative.

Malliswari and Nagaraju grow up together in their peaceful rustic village. She calls him a monkey and he calls her a cat, but all the casual insults don’t mask their deep affection for each other. As Malliswari matures, her materialistic mother decides to nip the relationship with poorer Nagaraju in the bud. A chance encounter brings Malli to the Maharaja’s notice. In return for considerable payment, her mother hands Malliswari over to the palace as a Rani Vasam.Rani Vasam are forbidden to see or speak to men, and there was a lot of rigmarole for Malli even to see her mother and uncle. Nagaraju loses the plot, Malli mopes, but true love will not be torn asunder. When the king discovers Nagaraju and Malli have broken his rules, the penalty is death.

The female cast is superb and they all play off each other so well. Apart from Bhanumathi in the lead role, there is Kumari as the Maharani, Surabhi Kamalabai as Nagaraju’s mother, Rushyendramani as Malli’s mother and T.G Kamala Devi as Malliswari’s attendant Jalaja.

Based on the (rather thin) plot summary I found, I was expecting the men in the film to drive more of the action. I’m happy to be wrong about that. I wouldn’t describe this as feminist or ahead of its time, but the women are interesting and pursue their own goals and dreams. Malli is recruited into the palace against her will, but she is there because of her art as well as her beauty and is shown respect. Malli’s mother isn’t an evil shrew – just a materialistic woman who may even be motivated by wanting her girl to have an easier life. Jalaja isn’t a brainless servant, and while she and Malli become close she still cautions her against following her heart. And the enigmatic Maharani with a passion for art seems to be the real power inside the palace.

This is Bhanumathi’s film from the moment she steps into view. She gives Malliswari warmth and vivacity and is equally convincing when Malli feels sad and isolated. Her rapport with NTR is evident and I liked that Malli and Nagaraju seemed like friends as well as childhood sweethearts. In addition to her fine acting Bhanumathi also sang for herself (as did T.G Kamala Devi).

Her voice is beautifully expressive, and having the same voice for both dialogue and songs was wonderful as the songs are an integral part of the story and needed that same strong characterisation. When Malli is separated from her loved ones she yearns for happier times and for her bava, and her grief is as immediate and heartfelt as her joy had been. What I really liked was that even when Malliswari felt at her lowest ebb, she never completely gave up. There was always a spark of the vibrant and feisty girl we first met.

While NTR’s Nagaraju is important to Malli, he is often peripheral to the action so doesn’t dominate the screen as he has in other more hero-centric fare. His scenes with Bhanumathi are quite lovely and NTR’s doe-eyed charm is dialled up to the max. During a storm they take shelter in an old building, enjoying the adventure and singing to while away the time. It’s not a doom and gloom first love. When Nagaraju leaves home to make his fortune only to return and find Malli gone, he falls in a heap. Nagaraju ends up in a cave, sculpting Malliswari’s likeness and letting his hair get out of control as his clothes degrade to shreds. I found NTR’s portrayal of grief more theatrical than Bhanumathi’s and while I felt her pain I wanted to give him a bit of a slap and tell him to do something sensible instead of wallowing. I did a bit of eye-rolling in the final scenes where Nagaraju declared to the king that Malliswari was his life and he couldn’t give her up – I reckon the result had already been decided by the queen, and was based on her regard for Malli, not all the manly posturing. But this is a romance and since the chemistry and relationship building is so good, everything else diminishes.

The support cast is hard to identify due to the paucity of detail available but I did manage to put some names to faces. Surabhi Kamalabai is given a small but challenging role as Nagaraju’s mother. She is a servant to Malliswari’s family and so is often a silent observer of goings on and has little dialogue to express her feelings. When she fears Nagaraju is dead or lost to her she cracks up (so that seemed to be a family trait) and goes a bit over the top, but is set to rights when her boy comes home and they can have a good cry. I recognised T.G Kamala Devi from Patala Bhairavi. I looked up her filmography and was amazed and quite delighted to see she was a billiards player, and won the Indian Womens title twice – when she was in her 60s! Doraiswamy (another familiar face, this from Devadasu) is the inarticulate father who regrets sending Malliswari away but doesn’t stand up to his wife. Kumari looks the part as Maharani Tirumala Devi, exuding confidence and a subdued energy in her scenes. Plus she gets to wear some stunning bling. I should mention Baby Mallika and Master Venkata Ramana who played the young Malliswari and Nagaraju. Both were lively and playful, and matched the adult stars well in terms of looks and mannerisms. I also liked the gossipy village ladies who always seemed to be at the well, passing comment on everyone else.

The set design is very pretty but is quite generic. I felt the actors were the real focus and the sets provided an appropriate backdrop. I really liked the episode at the fair as it was attractively shot and showed more of Malli and Nagaraju’s personalities, especially in a scene with a fortune teller. There was even a man in a bear suit. The music is outstanding, as it should be in a film about a singer. There are over a dozen songs in the film and composer Saluri Rajeswara Rao employs a range of styles to fit the scene and emotional tone. The songs are placed well and are a logical extension of the drama so they reinforce the actors characterisations. Music is always present, whether as a childhood favourite, a soulful plea to the heavens, a performance given for royalty or a simple work song to speed the day along.

There are several uploads of the full movie on YouTube and other sites. The official running time is 194 minutes but I haven’t managed to find the full version – most are missing around 20 minutes but not always the same 20 minutes. The sound and picture quality on every copy I have found is subpar. But if you can persevere with the technical issues, this is a beautiful film and a firm favourite of mine. Bhanumathi is superb, NTR is a perfect foil for her, and B.N Reddi blends everything into a very charming story with love and music at its heart. 5 stars!

Megabirthday 2014

 

Megabirthday2014

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

Pop over to the Facebook page *points at link on righthand side of page* and vote for one of the topics I’ll be writing about, or leave your ideas in the comments. Current suggestions (courtesy of Liz and Katherine) are:

  • Chiranjeevi’s cowboy years
  • The many hues of Chiru – a study in colour (but how to pick just one colour?)
  • Chiranjeevi the Serious Actor

Join in by posting on your own blog, let me know, and I’ll collate and publish the links. Or just watch for the #megabirthday2014 hashtag on Twitter and have a chat about all things Chiru. Like this.

If your eyes still work after the 2m 44s mark, check out those boots! And those moves.

Manam (2014)

Manam

Manam is a beautiful film and a breath of fresh air in an industry usually dominated by beat-‘em-up heroes and the same old innuendo masquerading as comedy.  Featuring three generations of the Akkineni family and Nageswara Rao’s final screen appearance, it could very easily have tipped into trite sentimentality, but Vikram Kumar’s screenplay keeps the film on track with an novel storyline, sweet romances and genuinely funny comedy.  I have to admit that I almost didn’t buy a ticket when I read that Manam was being advertised as a comedy, since without subtitles most of the humour tends to pass me by (even with subtitles in some cases!) but Manam would have been a watchable and entertaining film even without subs.  As it was, being able to understand the jokes and laugh at the same time as the rest of the audience was excellent.  Long may this trend for subtitled Telugu films continue in Melbourne!

Manam Manam

The film starts in the 1980’s with the unhappy marriage of Radha (Naga Chaitanya) and Krishna (Samantha) who bicker and fight even on the occasion of their son’s sixth birthday.  The very next day they are both killed in a car accident, leaving the young Bittu an orphan and his wish to see them happy together unfulfilled.  This doesn’t seem to have held Bittu back however, as the film moves to the present day, and the now grownup Nageshwar Rao (Nagarjuna) is in Mumbai to receive the Businessman of the Year award.  However, on the flight back to Hyderabad, Nageshwar is seated beside a young man who is the image of his late father, and this begins his crusade to bring his ‘parents’ back together again.  Nagarjuna is absolutely perfect here and his child-like wonder at discovering ‘his father’ is brilliantly portrayed.  The scene is well written too, with the just the right amount of comedy to keep it from cloying sentimentality and Vikram Kumar even manages to make the suggestion of such an occurrence seem perfectly plausible.

Samantha and ChaitanyaManamNageshwar reasons that if his father has been reborn, then his mother must be around somewhere too, and to this end he scours the streets of Hyderabad until he tracks down Priya (Samantha) who is the image of his mother and, luckily for Nageshwar and his plans, she immediately feels a connection.  Again Nagarjuna’s determined search is neatly summarised in just a few shots and the obvious unlikely coincidences feel much less contrived than expected.  It help that both Nageshwar and Priya are very likeable characters and Nagarjuna and Samantha ensure their interactions are full of genuine warmth and respect.

ManamNagarjuna

Having found his re-incarnated father and mother, Nageshwar has to find a way to re-ignite their romance.  In the midst of his attempts to bring about true love, Nageshwar finds love himself when Anjali (Shriya) commandeers his car to carry a sick man to hospital.  As it turns out, the older man is Chaitanya (Akkineni Nageswara Rao) who has seen his parents Seetharamudu and Ramalakshmi  reborn as Nageshwar and Anjali.  It’s then his turn to explain the past and try to reunite the lost lovers.

Manam

ANR is the absolute star of the show, and seems to take great delight in playing the octogenarian matchmaker.  He is mesmerising every time he appears, and his facial expressions and reactions to every other character are superb.  For his part, Nagarjuna is quietly competent as Nageshwar Rao with a subtle but effective performance, and his romance with Ramalakshmi in the second half is an absolute delight to watch.  There seems to be something in Temple’s theory that Shriya Saran’s irritation factor is related to the length of her hair, as here she has long hair and is actually pretty good.  Shriya looks beautiful and displays an engaging personality as a 1920’s traditional villager, and she is just as stunning as the cool and efficient Dr Anjali.  I vote Shriya always has long hair in her movies!

Manam

Nagarjuna and Shriya also share good chemistry together, which is sadly conspicuously absent in the romance between Samantha and Chaitanya, although to be fair the script really doesn’t ever let them develop much sparkage except in the way of confrontation.  Despite the lack of passion with Chaitanya, Samantha shines as Priya / Krishna.  She sparkles in her songs, and is full of bubbly enthusiasm as she meets Nageshwara, but her pain at her perceived husband’s betrayal is obvious as is her contempt of Chaitanya’s Nagarjuna.  Chaitanya is also better than usual, although that may be because his role mainly requires him to play a drunk and obnoxious college student which he seems to fit well.  The usual suspects pop up as various mothers, fathers, cousins etc, but do watch out for the brief cameo appearance of Amitabh Bachchan which garnered plenty of cheers from the audience.

Manam

It’s not all perfect though – the inclusion of Ali as a dance teacher is unnecessary and M.S. Narayana’s role is too obvious and crude to fit with the rest of the characterisation.  However Brahmi is good as Nagashwara’s assistant and without any misogynistic humour, he manages a restrained performance that proves he can act perfectly well when required.

Manam benefits from a sweet and  simple telling of a relatively convoluted story.  There are no exciting car chases, no big fight scenes and no cliff-hangers (even though the last few minutes attempt to raise the dramatic tension), but overall it’s an entertaining and watchable film.  All praise must go to Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Nagarjuna for their exemplary performances, but the younger generation hold their own, with even Chaitanya showing that he learnt something from the rest of his family while on set.  Definitely recommended viewing and a last performance to savour from one of the legends of Telugu cinema.