Varudu (2010)

Varudu

It seems to be an appropriate time to celebrate all things Allu Arjun – recent wedding anniversary, 10 years in the movie business and his upcoming birthday – so I thought I’d take a look back at Varudu. Not one of his more successful films in terms of the box office, but still one of my favourites since it not only stars Bunny, but Arya (another favourite) turns up in one of the most ridiculously over dramatic roles that I’ve seen outside of eighties Bollywood. And yet, this is a good thing! The film is overly romantic and slow to get going with a ridiculous story and dreadfully pretentious dialogue, but despite all these obvious flaws there is still a lot to enjoy in Varudu.

The opening scenes have nothing much to do with the rest of the film with Nisha (Sneha Ullal) attempting a dreadful Dhoom2-style Aishwarya Rai impression while Bunny demonstrates his skills on a motorbike and then on the basketball court. At least the rain makes Bunny’s hair look great, but otherwise it’s a clichéd hero introduction that leads into a rather disappointing song.  This is after all a Bunny film, so my expectations for excellent choreography and great dance moves are high but the first song doesn’t make it in terms of either the music or the dancing.  Thankfully though, both pick up considerably later.

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VaruduVaruduThe first half of the film describes how Sandeep (Allu Arjun) wants a traditional arranged marriage even though the initial scenes show him happily helping out an elopement by his friends and complimenting his parents on their successful love marriage.  The dialogue wants us to believe that he has just never found the right woman, although women are flinging themselves at him all the time, but these first scenes make him appear as if he’s just having too good a time to settle down and commit to one person.  However moving overseas to start work is apparently the best time to decide to get married, so Sandy happily acquiesces to his family’s suggestion that he tie the knot before he goes.

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Not content with foisting the whole decision making process onto his parents, he then insists that he wants a full traditional 5 day wedding just like his grandparents, and has no desire to even see the girl is he is to marry. In fact he reminds me more of a sixteen year old girl with his declarations about love and excitement about a five day wedding rather than a mature and sensible man about to head off to start work in the US.  However this is the least ridiculous part of the story (really!) and the build up to the wedding is actually rather sweet.  Sandeep has a good relationship with his mother (Suhasini) and father (Ashish Vidyarthi) and their scenes together, and those with the rest of the family feel comfortable and generally realistic.  There is a brief appearance by Brahmi as Dilip Raja, a marriage broker, but otherwise Varudu is fairly comedy uncle free with only a brief appearance by Ali later during the wedding song.

The various wedding ceremonies, including the wonderfully colourful parade of the groom to the bride’s family, are pictured during a song.  It’s rather long, but definitely well worth a watch for an insight into the wedding preparations and rituals. Besides which there is possibly the best form of wedding transport and some great costumes in the crowd as everything gears up for the big day.

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The costumes and jewellery for the wedding scene are superb even though the scenery relies heavily on CGI.  We get to see the bride at the same time as Sandeep and although Deepthi (Bhanu Sri Mehra) doesn’t get very much screen-time (and even less dialogue), she does get some amazingly beautiful costumes. Although she is perhaps still just a little upstaged by Bunny in this song.

After all the romance and slow development of the first hour culminating in the the dream wedding, there is a sudden change of pace in the second half.   There is a disaster at the ceremony just before Sandeep ties the sacred thread and in the ensuing confusion the bride goes missing.  Within the space of 3 minutes there is classic hero-style running, a bike chase (kudos to the wardrobe department as Bunny never loses his wedding turban) and an exploding petrol truck.  It only gets more insane from here.

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Sandeep goes in search of Deepthi aided by the police force, but even with the top brass Comissioner Ahmed Khan (Nasser), Inspector Umesh Gupta (Brahmaji) and the Home Minister (Sayaji Shinde) involved they don’t appear to be making any headway.  Sandeep has more luck chasing random black cars and dodging truck drivers who seem to be on a mission to drive him off the hunt.  Finally his persistence pays off and there is a brief flashback to explain who has Deepthi and why.  Not that it makes any sense, particularly when this is the villain’s introduction.

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Arya is Diwaker, one half of the ‘Kings from Hell’ brothers, and completely immersed in his life of drama as he lives out his psychotic fantasies cheerily calling out his catchphrase ‘Evil Power’ at random moments to emphasize his craziness.  From his introduction the film careers even more off the rails as Arya hams it up for all he is worth as Diwaker and Sandeep declares his undying love for a girl he has barely met in some incredibly corny dialogue.  There are a few good moments though.  Sandeep proclaims (he doesn’t do anything as mundane as just speak by this stage) that Deepthi is his wife no matter what has happened to her during her ordeal.  It’s a more modern touch that makes Sandeep’s character more appealing, although the shocked reactions of the family are rather less attractive.  There are also some great chase sequences including some wonderful filmi medical magic and a ‘prisoner exchange’ on a bridge which allows director Gunasekhar to throw in lots of split screen moments.  The final showdown is completely over the top and utterly nonsensical, but since it involves a shirtless Bunny and Arya fighting on top of giant cooling towers I’m not complaining!

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New heroine Bhanu Sri Mehra doesn’t really get much of a chance to make an impact.  Her role is largely non-speaking and even when she does have something to say it tends to be a repetition of something Sandeep has earlier declaimed.  I do like that she made an attempt to fight back when abducted, but quite frankly I’m disappointed that in all her time locked in a room she hadn’t made any attempt to barricade the door or fashion a better weapon.  But at least she doesn’t just sit and whine and the make-up team did a good job making her look haggard after her experiences. The rest of the cast are all capable and do well in their roles, but ultimately the film is all about Bunny, and to a lesser extent Arya, so no-one else really gets much of a look in.

The music by Mani Sharma does improve after the first song and overall I like the soundtrack.  This song is my favourite, partly due to good choreography but also, who can resist random bouncing?  Plus I admire Bunny’s dedication in dancing even when he is injured, seen here with his hand in a rather excellently bedazzled cast.

Varadu is self-indulgent, unashamedly melodramatic and has massive plot holes big enough to swallow a small planetoid.  But despite that it’s heaps of fun and let’s be honest, I’m shallow enough to admit that Bunny and Arya are the major reasons why I enjoy this film.  I’d love to watch some out-takes as I’m quite sure they struggled to keep their faces straight for most of their scenes together.  I give Varudu 2 stars for the story but a full 5 stars for ensuring both Bunny and Arya spent as much time as possible without their shirts!

Darling

Darling

My motivation for watching Darling was less in the expectation of experiencing an enthralling story (although I always live in hope) and much more based on being a Prabhas fan – which in hindsight was the right attitude to take.  Although the underlying themes of friendship and father-son relationships are reasonably well dealt with, the romance between the two leads follows a fairly dull and predictable path despite the attempt at a twist at the interval.  However Prabhas and Kajal are both entertaining to watch in spite of the inevitability of the storyline and for a romantic comedy, what it lacks in passion it more than makes up for in the humour.  Especially since for a change, the comedy is part and parcel of the story rather than a separate unfunny and irrelevant track.  Best of all, there is not even a sniff of Ali or Brahmi anywhere in the proceedings. There is plenty of Prabhas instead and really, that’s enough right there to make this a film worth watching!

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Prabhas is Prabha (why not just stick with Prabhas I wonder?), who is the devoted son of a loving father Hanumanthu (Prabhu).  The film opens with the last day of Hanumanthu’s time at college and the pledge of all the friends to meet up every 5 or 10 years to renew their friendship.  This opening section is all shot in black and white and the lack of colour ensures this section features some of the most conservative and tasteful outfits the men wear for the entire film, despite the fact that it’s set in the eighties.

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These reunions give the various families a chance to get to know each other too, and a young Prabha is smitten by Vishwanath’s daughter, Nandini.  However before love gets a chance to bloom, Nandini and her family move to Switzerland while Prabha grows up to celebrate his own last day at college with a similarly dedicated group of friends.  Although rather than vowing to meet up every few years, Prabha’s friends seem to be permanently welded to his side since they all come along for Hanumanthu’s latest big college reunion.  They all also play in a band together and seem to share Prabha’s (lack of) fashion sense (the manband!), although perhaps there is a rule that states if you are performing in a band scarves are obligatory.  The first half involves a side trip to Switzerland where amazingly everyone seems to speak Telugu, although given Dharmavarapu Subramanyam’s pronouncements that may not be quite so surprising.

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Prabha is hopeful that a meeting with Nandini will be enough to restart their love story, but there is a minor complication in the form of Nisha (Shradha Das in a very brief cameo) who is in love with Prabha.  Her father (Mukesh Rishi) is a local don and he is determined to ensure that his daughter gets whatever she wants even if that means forcing Prabha at gunpoint to marry his daughter.  Despite his threatening persona, Mukesh Rishi mainly plays his character for laughs and it’s fun to see him in this type of role blending mayhem with merriment and revealing a surprisingly sensitive soul.

While the main feature of the film is the romance between Prabha and Nandini, the relationships between the various older men are actually more interesting and appear more genuine.  Sure they’re cheesy, over-simplified and even a little too dramatic at times, but these moments give the film some much needed warmth.

DarlingDarling Stalwarts including Aahuthi Prasad, Chandra Mohan, Dharmavarapu Subrahmanyam and M. S. Narayana all work together naturally, so that they really do all seem to be old friends catching up over a few glasses of whiskey and a cricket match.  The relationship between Prabha and his father is also nicely portrayed and both Prabhas and Prabhu bring a realistic camaraderie to their interactions.  In fact throughout Prabhas is effortlessly charming despite the succession of ridiculously baggy and shapeless t-shirts he wears.  Nothing seems to fit and he’s much too tall to look anything but scruffy in wide-necked and voluminous shirts – plus the dual layered hats, inexplicable scarves and worn-off-one-shoulder bespangled jacket.

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Prabhas seems to have been lumbered with a stylist that hates him, and in a complete reversal of normal, Kajal is the one who gets to wear much more reasonable outfits.  There are a few misses, after all this is Tollywood where apparently giving someone fairy wings means they are wearing a ‘holy dress’, but overall Kajal looks fantastic.  She also puts in a convincing performance although it would perhaps have made the story a little more interesting if there had been a difference in character between the dream Nadini of the first half, and the real Nandini in the second half.   Kajal throws herself into the dancing, and apart from one bizarre attempt at what I think was supposed to be Bharatanatyam (what were they thinking!!) the choreographer has stuck to her strengths and put her enthusiasm to good use.  There is plenty of hip shaking and arm waving but less actual dancing, so she looks more co-ordinated than usual.  The choreography is a little less successful for Prabhas, but then again I may just have been distracted by those hideous outfits.  This is a beautifully shot song that features the scenery of Switzerland morphing into Hyderabad and also some beautiful CGI scenes of snow, along with some of the better outfits worn by Prabhas.

Added in to the mix is an attempted suicide by Nisha which infuriated me (completely unnecessary), a side story involving Hanumanthu’s adopted father and brother and a rival for Nandini’s affections in the form of Appala Naidu’s son Rishi (Santosh).  There are a limited number of fight scenes but with Peter Hein choreographing, they all look good and generally fit into the flow of the film.  The music by G. V. Prakash is unremarkable but Andrew’s cinematography makes the most of the settings in Switzerland – if only the costumes had matched.

Overall Darling is a film that’s not too taxing to watch and is certainly less gory and more family friendly than the recent Rebel.  Director A. Karunakaran ensures good performances from all but a sharper story would have made for a better film.  Worth it for Prabhas, Kajal and the gang of older actors who looked to be having a great time. 3 stars.