Rudhramadevi (2015)


If Rudhramadevi had been made in 1956 I’d have loved it, no question. But Gunasekhar struggles to realise his grand vision and the ripping story drags at times. The main cast give their all, but they can’t compensate for some poor directorial decisions and sloppy execution.

The first thing that hit me was the VFX. I thought it was maybe a deliberate stylistic choice as there are animated montages that look like a childs picture book. But it is just shonky quality, used too liberally, and with poor judgement. At least it distracted me from wondering what Marco Polo’s stuck on beard was made of. And why Marco Polo was in the film.

The story is so interesting this should have almost written itself. A girl is raised as a boy and keeps up the pretence to protect her kingdom for as long as she can. But Gunasekhar spends far too much time with the various enemies and uses loads of clunky “As you know Bob” exposition. I felt that there were some holes in the film and Gunasekhar was trying to paper over those gaps with other techniques including a Mega voiceover and a peasant who announced every new character with bio as well as voicing the people’s dissatisfaction with their rulers.

Anushka owns every frame she is in. She adjusts her posture and facial muscles so there is a clear distinction between Rudradeva and Rudhramadevi and is convincingly commanding. She has some weird darkening makeup on as a boy, but it does allow her to look stunningly radiant when she girls up.

Her closest female friends are Nithya Menen as her wife Muktamba and Catherine Tresa as The Other One Who doesn’t Wear Much, and there is a lightness and ease in the way Anushka moves as she drops the pretence and heavy armour undershirt to dance in the “Yay! I’m a girl” numbers. She did her damnedest in the tandav but while her expressions told a powerful story, her dancing was not as compelling. Rudhramadevi used Veerabhadra’s feelings for her to get him back on task, but she evinced far more concern about Muktamba’s reaction and wellbeing. That ruthlessness and emotional intelligence wasn’t really explored and I felt the film needed to reveal how she ruled, not just show a sequence of events.


I put that clip in just for some shirtless Rana. He looks so chuffed when he is prancing almost in time.

Rudramadevi-Rana Anushka

I knew a “Zorro” moment was nigh when Rudradeva wore a blue tunic done up with pink princess ribbons, and the gender reveal is a bit ho-hum. Veerabhadra took the whole “Dude, you’re not a dude” revelation quite well, all things considered. There is little sexual chemistry between Rudhramadevi and Veerabhadra, but the actors have a nice rapport, like childhood friends. I enjoyed moments like when Rana playfully tweaked Anushka’s nose as he said goodbye. While the writing skimmed the surface of characters emotional lives, the actors added their own flavour.

Gona Ganna Reddy (Bunny) and his horse seem to have ridden in from a different film; something more gothic perhaps or even a KPop music video (Jaejoong’s stylist may be moonlighting as a Telugu horse costume designer).  Bunny plays his character as unrelentingly dour and with one facial expression, but his one liners got the audience cheering. And he rarely blinks. It’s intense and unsettling after a while.

Rudrama Devi Posters

The support cast is huge. Hari Hara Devudu (Suman) and Murari Devudu (Aditya) are the Statler and Waldorf of villains. They sit back and critique everyone else but rarely do anything themselves, unless you count letting their allies die horrible deaths. Their brother Naga Devudu (Baba Sehgal) shows commendable willingness to really go for the snake theme. Nithya Menen is underutilized as Muktamba. I enjoyed her scenes with Anushka and thought her decision to respect the sacrifice and say nothing was interesting. This contrasted with the shouty peasants who just flat out refused to accept a woman, despite a rousing Prakash Raj girl power speech. Prakash Raj is in good form as Shiva Devaiah, the mastermind of the scheme that sees Rudhramadevi raised as the boy Rudradeva. Villain Mahadeva (Vikramjeet Virk) spends most of the film prancing atop a phallic tower made of polystyrene. Amusing, but you know a great hero or heroine deserves a genuinely scary bad guy and he is not the real deal no matter how many people he kills out of spite. Hamsa Nandini is slinky and duplicitous, the Bond girl of courtly spies.

Gunasekhar’s massed set pieces lack richness. If you arrange a formation of extras with one or two carefully out of position people for randomness, but then use that same formation scores of times over it ends up looking ridiculous with the pattern repetition of those supposedly random bodies. A critical battle scene started with a cool idea – one army emerging in a serpent formation as their opponents attacked in an eagle formation. But it went on forever and looked far too fake. I was reminded of the similar but excellent lotus and arrow scene in Magadheera.

One of the few actors I could imagine would happily rappel down a structure (possibly without even checking there was a rope), Bunny was plagued with dodgy wire work. Anushka was also caught so that her feet didn’t quite hit the ground or was frozen in awkward and unconvincing poses in midair. Maybe it was supposed to look good in 3D but I can’t imagine it would. And too many fight scenes and chases were sped up to slapstick comedy pace.

There is abundant weird CGI, possibly a workaround for the 3D version, although I should have remembered the effects in Okkadu. For example, when a drawbridge is being lowered they faked the cogs and ropes too which you’d think would be doable and cheaper for real. The climax scene as Rudhramadevi and elephant bring doom upon her enemies should be thrilling but it is just opportunity to crank up the bad CGI. The use of CGI elephants seemed unnecessarily frequent especially when in many scenes there was no obvious risk of physical harm to an animal – why not use a real one? And there seemed to be a bit of tusk whitening done in post production that was distractingly odd.

A big shoutout to the helmet and armour department. No design was too silly or impractical for them to try. I really wish I could find a picture of Bunny’s Glomesh helmet from the final battle, but you will just have to make do with Rana’s special dressing up armour.

Despite the negatives I really appreciate seeing Anushka as the lead with so much screen time in an awesome story. Bunny and Rana bring more interest to their characters than the screenplay demands. I would have liked to see more relationship development generally, and especially between the ladies given the story is of a woman pretending to be a man. I really wish the film had been better executed as I can see what it might have been, and the gap between what was delivered and that potential is frustrating.


James Bond 777 (1971)

James Bond 777 DVD cover

K.S.R Doss, Superstar Krishna, Jyoti Laxmi in a double role – James Bond 777 is enormously entertaining from the funky opening music (James Bond, Triple Seven! Seven! Seven! Seveeeeen!) to the triumphant finale. And did I mention the gang of dogs who are highly skilled and organised jewel thieves?

My DVD only had the strength to share its secrets once before expiring with a load of histrionics and a strange grinding noise. The movie, missing a few songs, is online in several versions of varying quality and length (Note I screencapped from YouTube – if anyone knows who put that revolting logo on the print, please feel free to go slap them into the middle of next week for me).

Young Kishore is left orphaned after the man who will become The Boss (Satyanarayana Kaikala) breaks into the family home and kills his parents. Kishore takes off after the baddie armed with righteousness and a handy carving knife, but is wounded and thrown from the speeding car.

One alarmingly abrupt edit later, a shirtless cowboy (Shirtless, Mahesh. Your dad was SHIRTLESS) with a scar is Superstar Krishna and the theme music suggests he is James Bond Triple 7! James Bond appears to be a catchall term for a spy or intelligence officer and there is no character answering to the name, although there is some familiar music at times…Hmmmm. Krishna flings himself around with as much verve as a laid back leading man can muster, easily evading the gang who can’t shoot straight and who then wait politely for him to shoot them all in turn. It turns out that was a training exercise and Kishore has passed with flying colours. He will now go in search of The Boss to both get revenge and make the world a safer place.

Kishore disports himself with a bevy of styled up lovelies but sadly no matter what they shake or how vigorously they shake it, they can’t make his dancing actually look like dancing. Although, Krishna’s fight style is a little dancey as it seems to mostly go punch-twirl-punch-twirl so maybe the fight and dance choreographers just needed to collaborate more. I expect it is quite hard to look suavely heroic on a swing but he does his best.

Sopa (Vijayalalitha) is introduced when she sneaks up on her dad and threatens to shoot him, all in jest of course. Her dad makes a trip to Chennai and is next seen dead, in a box in the police office. In a Get Smart golden moment Kishore finds a bug planted in his mouth. And in a classic almost every Telugu film ever moment, Sopa vows to get justice.

Boss is a high tech criminal. He has a lair with all the accoutrements – Vat 69, girls looking at screens, machines that go ping, and a full array of audio-visual equipment linking him to his minions. Luckily Kishore is wise to the likes of the old exploding phone trick. Kishore does have a few tricky techie tricks of his own, and I particularly liked the watch-phone and the exploding onions. And both hero and villain are happy to go old school and use silly disguises, sleight of hand and even that filmi classic – “Snake in a Box”.

Jamila (Jyoti Laxmi) is one of Boss’s henchwoman, and she operates out of a Beauty Paraloure. A very industrial looking Paraloure, one with a branded truck. Maybe Paraloure doesn’t mean what I think they thought it meant. There is another evil henchlady, Cindy who works out of her own mini lair. She has anger management issues and a confused fashion sense, as well as excellent canine communication skillz.

Sopa and Kishore cross paths on a train, but are too busy arguing about the lights on/off etiquette of eating fruit at night to realise they have a common mission. Of course they are also staying at the same hotel, across the hall from each other. Sopa is under cover as the dancer Miss Kiss Miss, and Kishore is…Kishore. At least Sopa is well equipped for the random dance item which is an essential part of her cover.

When the dogs break into Sopa’s hotel room and menace her with their smiley faces and demands for pats and ear scratches she runs away, straight into an ambush. Luckily, Kishore is in pursuit and handily enough catches her when she jumps off a cliff pretending to have been fatally shot. Unluckily for him, she steals his motorbike and leaves him stranded. Luckily, Jamila comes by and picks him up.

Cut to Sopa pretending to be a man while talking to Boss on the walky talky while the increasingly unlucky Kishore spins around on a rapidly revolving round bed, swinging punches at assorted baddies. That Jamila, such a minx. When Sopa is chased on her motorbike, she tricks the henchmen and doubles back to steal their car. She doesn’t seem to need Kishore for much, if at all. Although she does hitch a lift with him at the end, off into the sunset, so maybe he had his uses when it came to logistics.

I could describe in detail all the brilliance of the dogs breaking into a heavily secured bank vault with naught but their briefcases, an exploding toy dog, and a whole lot of licking at complicated door mechanisms, but you really should just watch it. Go. Watch. It.


As seems common in B movies, the women are feisty and independent and don’t sit around waiting for some bloke to arrive. Kishore spends the whole film working within police channels, where Sopa is more DIY in her approach, and happily executes on her strategy regardless. Jamila and Cindy report to Boss but have some autonomy when it comes to how they carry out the big evil plan. Any woman who can dance in a sparkly outfit may do so, and men are excused from all but the most modest gyrations. After seeing her in Pistolwali, I am not really surprised that the only worthy adversary for Jyoti Laxmi is herself, and her catfight as twin sisters Rani and Jamila is a highlight (not just for the outfits, but that certainly doesn’t hurt).

James Bond 777-a cunning plan

There are lots of familiar-ish faces in the supporting cast, although I can’t put names to all of them and IMDB is not much help. Cindy’s role was relatively small and segregated from Jamila and the Kishore/Sopa plot. Kishore has a sidekick who has a propensity for comedy uncle shtick but also does useful things. And there are squads of ostentatiously kitted out bad guys and the usual light sprinkling of law enforcement personnel.

If there wasn’t enough to keep you on your toes in the plot, there are scenes combining rapid cuts, spinning camera work, extreme zoom, crazy angles, and some outfits and sets that made me very thankful this is a black and white film. And if you didn’t care to watch the film, it is really worth a listen. The soundtrack is funky and slightly grungy with surf guitars and brass overlayed with exuberant vocals.

I love this style of low budget high ambition spy caper, and with a likeable cast and fab soundtrack, this is pure gold. Plus did I mention the robber dogs? 4 stars!

Also – go read good friend Beth‘s review. This film deserves some love!

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’.



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 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!