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.

Sahasam

Sahasam-Telugu-Movie-Poster

Who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt and adventure? Chandrasekhar Yeleti and the team who made Sahasam, that’s who! Well, at least they certainly haven’t made such a film so I have to wonder. Loosely drawing inspiration from Hollywood blockbusters like the Indiana Jones franchise and Telugu forebears such as Mosagallaku Mosagadu, this had the potential to be a highly entertaining tale. I expected better from the director of one of my favourites, Anukokunda Oka Roju.

The story centres on a simple and superstitious man who dreams of great wealth. When he finds his grandfather’s old papers he realises there may be a hidden family treasure. Unfortunately for Goutham (Gopichand) the treasure is stashed near his ancestral home in what is now Pakistan (shown in a flashback with Suman as the grandfather). And Pakistan, according to this film, is populated exclusively by terrorists. Even good characters think nothing of abducting people at gunpoint. Goutham crosses paths with Sreenidhi (Taapsee), a religious girl who is organising a pilgrimage to – guess where. He inveigles his way on to the trip and off they go. The second half of the film is the treasure hunt as Goutham tries to find the diamonds before Sultan (an, er, unbridled Shakti Kapoor) and his sidekick Dilawar (Raj Singh Arora) can get their hands on the loot.

Sahasam-the book

Gopichand has the requisite skillset for a Telugu film hero, but the material here is thin at best. The first hour or so is spent proving that Goutham is a bit dim and quite unlucky. You would only need so long to understand that if you were dumber than Goutham. The fight scenes are very athletic (the fake blood budget was fully utilised in many, many dismemberments) and Gopichand was clearly in his element in the thick of the action. Post interval Goutham becomes something of a puzzle solving killing machine with photographic recall which was moderately more entertaining. Goutham’s catchphrase is that he won’t take anything that isn’t his, but if it is his he will never give it up. And that sums him up as a dogged, dour hero rather than a swashbuckling one.

As Goutham wasn’t motivated by the usual romantic notions, Taapsee had even less to do than might be expected from the heroine. I find her appeal inexplicable so that was an excellent result. She does use both her facial expressions (grimacing and simpering) so I suppose that is something of an achievement. To be fair, her big moment was as a goat substitute in a game of buzkashi so there wasn’t a lot of nuance for her to convey. Zara, an ally in Pakistan, was much more effective as a character and her performance was more appealing.

Ali’s character was supposed to be an Indian security expert living in Pakistan but he gave his usual shtick and Qayamat Raju was just an annoyance. Shakti Kapoor is insanely over the top and while I enjoy a properly nasty villain as much as the next person, he spiralled from cunning and ruthless to stupidly petulant and cowardly and finally outright buffoonery. I would not have bet on seeing a worse actor than Abhimanyu Singh in my lifetime but a new contender has emerged in Raj Singh Arora. His idea of intensity is pursed lips and bug eyed staring which has an unfortunately comedic effect when his glued on beard is taken into account. A villain can be crazy but they have to be a credible threat and imbue the dynamic with some menace. Otherwise they are just a jumped up comedy uncle.

If I may name drop, earlier this week I attended a masterclass by the amazing Suhasini. Among other things, she spoke about the difficulty of capturing the expression and spontaneity of the live scene when dubbing dialogues. The sound team in Sahasam decided to get around this by ignoring such details. At one point the dubbing is so bad that the screaming goes on long after Gopichand has shut his mouth, and minutes later vigorous fight noises are dubbed over characters who are doing nothing.

The production design is often excellent, but some clunky CGI does detract from the drama. I liked the scenes set in Goutham’s home as it looked eccentric and colourful but still lived in and real. Ladakh played the role of Pakistan and cinematographer Shyam Dutt used the stunning scenery and harsh light to good effect. Unfortunately Shakti Kapoor and his convoy of thugs are often blocking the view. The ‘olden days’ sequences are blighted by some cheap looking visual effects and inconsistent approach to things like light sources in underground chambers. I found myself being distracted by the similarity of all the spiderwebs in all the caves and wondered if they were bought in bulk.  And apparently the ‘terrorists’ use special bullets that can kill a man but not penetrate a car windscreen. Then there are the other special bullets that can destroy masonry but not harm Gopichand. Sigh.

There are five writers credited (including Chandrasekhar Yeleti) and I wonder if that contributed to the lack of cohesion in the story. There are several tangents that fail to develop into anything substantial or credible and the mood sometimes changes abruptly. The pacing is never quite right and there is no tension leading up to the final scene despite all the ingredients being present.  I read an interview with the director and he mentioned that he felt obliged to change things a bit to suit Gopichand’s image. Perhaps the film would have benefited from some more consideration as to how to incorporate the action hero elements.

The songs by Sri are average and not very memorable. The hero introduction has some visual flair but the songs don’t contribute to the story and the picturisations are nothing special.

It was like watching two really bad movies rolled into one. Sometimes that results in a guilty pleasure that is So Bad It’s Good. Sahasam is only halfway there if you catch my drift… 2 stars!

Sahasam-fugitives

Desamuduru (2007)

Desamuduru

There are a number of reasons why I love this film, although they can be summed up easily as plenty of Allu Arjun and dancing! A lot of work has gone into showing off Bunny’s six-pack throughout the film, and I definitely approve.  In addition, there are some great fight scenes (where Bunny follows the Salman Khan principle of removing your shirt wherever possible), Cinema Chaat favourites Ajay and Subbaraju appear as villains, and it’s one of the very few films where Hansika doesn’t irritate me to the point of switching off.  And there is of course this:

Don’t be put off by the picture – there is nothing of Ali in this clip!

The appeal of Desamuduru definitely lies with the cast and their energetic performances rather than a good storyline or even well-written and believable characters – because it doesn’t have either of those.  Desamuduru was Puri Jannaadh’s follow-up to Pokiri, and perhaps after such an exceptional effort, he just ran out of new ideas.  The plot is paper thin and the story follows a well-used formula without anything novel in the execution.  Perhaps as compensation, the director ups the pace, meaning that the lack of a storyline tends to vanish in the constant confusion of fight scenes and action shots.  At least the high energy ensures that Desamuduru has mass appeal, even if it doesn’t rise to the dizzy heights of Pokiri.

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Bunny’s Bala Govind is an arrogant young TV reporter working for his father on the crime beat with Maa TV.  He has a basic idea of what is wrong and right – for instance, killing people is wrong.

Desamuduru

But beating them up within an inch of their lives is apparently perfectly OK.

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Some of the detail in these scenes is excellent – I love how the drunk pulls his bottle of booze out of harm’s way, and how Bunny’s shirt slowly rips as he flexes his muscles – classic!

Bala’s latest altercation ends up with Murugan (Subbaraju) in hospital and Bala under threat from Murugan’s father and local gang boss Tambi Durai (Pradeep Rawat).  Bala however escapes to film a travel program in Kulu Manali – a little bit of a change from crime reporting, but apparently travel is where Bala feels he has his calling. Anyway, swapping the mean streets of Hyderabad for the mountains of Himachal Pradesh seems perfectly reasonable, especially when there is a gang of Tamil thugs baying for blood as incentive.  Plus it means we get this song along with a backdrop of snow-clad hills and slightly bemused looking locals.

Bala has a traditional Telugu approach to love – see, instantly fall head over heels, stalk and wear the girl down until you can convince her to marry you.  Sigh.  This time the unwilling heroine is Vaishali (Hansika Motwani) who is a Sanyasin and appears completely uninterested in Bala despite his total belief in his own irresistibility. The rest of the word sees Vaishali as a demure and quiet Sanyasin, but this is how Bala see her, which seriously makes me question his fashion sense even in fantasy dance sequence land.

Hansika is surprisingly OK here in a role that doesn’t require her to do very much.  I didn’t particularly  like or dislike her the first time I saw this film, but compared to subsequent appearances I think this is one of her better performances.  She looks suitably demure at the beginning as a Sanyasin and manages to bop around reasonably convincingly in the songs.  Later on in the second half when the romance quotient is reduced to almost zero, she continues to hang in there, and acts appropriately wimpy in the subsequent fight scenes.

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There isn’t a lot of chemistry between her and Bunny, but some of that is down to the plot, particularly since no sooner does Vaishali declare her love than the film switches back to action and fight scenes rather than playing up the romance.  At least that is until we get to the ultimate fan-girl song in Manusuley.  Even the song’s similarity to Dil Se helps bump up the heat factor and when you add in Allu Arjun drenched in litres of oil smouldering at the camera it definitely reaches sizzling hot! Except I tend to think: all that sand with all that oil – ouch!

Bunny at least seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself throughout.  He looks very happy to be surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls in the songs, and in a number of the scenes with Subbaraju and Ajay I’m convinced that they ended up ROFL most of the time.  It’s one of my favourite things about Bunny that he seems to be perpetually about to crack up, so I end up smiling every time – even if it’s totally inappropriate.

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There is a tedious comedy track involving Ali which starts out bad and just gets worse as it goes along, but thankfully that’s it for comedy uncles.  Much better is the comedy provided by the altercations between Subbaraju and Bunny, and the histrionics provided by Telangana Shakuntala as Murugan’s evil mother.  Jeeva also does his evil henchman sidekick while Ajay is excellent as a thug who cannot talk and adds both to the mayhem and the comedy in equal measure.  It all adds up to a lot of this – Reeey!!

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A number of the fight and chase sequences are excellent with some good choreography and wire work,  and it’s just a shame that they aren’t connected together by a better storyline.  There is of course the obligatory item number featuring Rambha which pops up at an odd time and doesn’t add anything at all to the film, but it’s a least one more opportunity to watch Bunny dance.

Desamuduru is a hodge-podge of a film which relies on a charismatic cast, fast action (and even faster dance moves), along with the appeal of beautiful scenery in Manali .  It’s a film I watch over and over again, just for the songs and Allu Arjun’s dancing.  Not just for those shirtless scenes – of course not! It’s not a film for everyone but if you can leave your brain at the door and just sit back for the ride there is plenty to entertain – although judicious use of the FF button makes it even more enjoyable.  Desamuduru gets 2½ stars for story and execution, but 5 stars for enjoyment and re-watch potential!

DesamuduruIt sure is!

Cameraman Gangatho Rambabu

CGRCameraman Gangatho Rambabu sees Puri Jagannadh teaming up again with Powerstar Pawan Kalyan for a tale about one man’s crusade against corrupt politicians with a little help from sidekick Cameraman Ganga.  I first saw CGR in the cinema without subtitles, but since the audience seemed to be appreciative of the dialogue I thought it might improve the film if I could understand what was being said.  And to some extent the DVD subtitles do help, although they also serve to highlight the silliness of the female lead character and a general condescension towards women throughout the story which is less enjoyable.  CGR is a straightforward good guy vs. bad guys story which relies on the Power Star’s presence to keep the action ticking along, but there are a few good fight scenes and some well written interactions between Pawan Kalyan and Prakash Raj in their respective roles which make it worth a watch.

CGRCGRCGRCGRRambabu (Pawan Kalyan) is a mechanic who has superhero tendencies to fight crime, a large mural of Che Guevara on his apartment wall and an idealistic view of a utopian world which he tries to make reality.  To that end he races off to beat wrongdoers into submission whenever he hears of injustice or petty crime on the news and provides assistance to widows, orphaned children and marginalised members of society whether they want it or not. Rambabu’s determination to break up a fight between two rival student groups leads him to feature on the news himself and brings him to the attention of cameraman Ganga (Tamannah).  After a brief meeting, Ganga decides that Rambabu would be perfect as a journalist and despite a conspicuous lack of any training, her station head agrees wholeheartedly giving Rambabu carte blanche to do whatever he wants as a reporter on the news channel.

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Inevitably this brings him into conflict with politician Jawahar Naidu (Kota Srinivasa Rao) who is prepared to do anything to win back the role of Chief Minister from the incumbent Chandrasekhara Reddy (Nasser).  This looks promising, but since both politicians are one-dimensional caricatures of absolute black and white they end up as rather ineffective characters.  Jawahar Naidu is evil with no redeeming features, prepared to murder, lie and cheat his way back into power while Chandrasekhara Reddy is painted as the perfect CM who is kind, compassionate and honest although at one stage he does confess to an ambition to hang onto his top spot.  Added in to the mix is Jawahar’s equally amoral son Rana (Prakash Raj) who takes over his father’s manifesto when Jawahar suffers paralysis and has to withdraw from active campaigning.  The real battle is the one that develops between Rana and Rambabu and the scenes between these two are generally the best in the film.  Prakash Raj is excellent as he sneers and schemes his way to political success and Pawan Kaylan is zealous and righteous in appropriate amounts as he counters Rana’s various plots.

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Tanikella Bharani also puts in an impressive performance as Jawahar’s brother-in-law and right hand man. He is obsequious and just a little bit creepy as he fawns over Jawahar while making sure that self-preservation is still his number one policy. I also have to mention the excellent décor in Jawahar’s house which was beautiful and made a welcome contrast to his bombastic, over-emotional and over-acted speeches.

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What don’t work as well are the interactions between Rambabu and his various work colleagues including Cameraman Ganga.  Although Ganga has equal billing on the title, in reality the character is only peripherally involved with the action of the story, and her main role is in a rather clunky romance with Rambabu.  Ganga is bratty and immature and her hearty attempts to appear as a “woman in a male dominated career” are unimpressive and implausible.  Her reaction to her rival Smitha (Gabriela Bertante) is also rather too ingenuous although I like Ganga’s accusation that Smitha is a snake.  Smitha does show a number of snaky characteristics but sadly that’s as far as any possible naga connection goes.

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 Smitha is the owner of a rival TV station who snaps Rambabu up when Jawahar forces him out of the news channel. Although I liked the overall idea of Smitha’s character and was hoping for a sharp, slightly unethical businesswoman to add another layer to the plot, the execution failed miserably and Smitha’s character was wasted as basically another love interest.

Ali appears as the head of social interest at the TV channel and there are some inane attempts at comedy which fall very flat.  Later comedy scenes with Brahmi are better, although the placement of some of these seems odd as they break into the action and slow down the film momentum just when it begins to take off in the second half.   The music by Mani Sharma is also nothing special but isn’t helped by lacklustre choreography.  Scarlett Wilson appears in a forgettable item number while the other songs are mainly pictured on Tamannah and Pawan Kalyan.  However this one featuring Gabriela is a little more interesting, since she does get to wear a large hat which seems to fit rather well with the giant mushrooms in the background and I think does help reinforce the snake connection.

The opening titles over news reels of various marches, speeches and events suggests that CGR will be a political thriller, but instead it’s a standard mass movie which doesn’t manage to break out of the usual mould.  There are some good ideas in here but the film needed better editing as it’s too long with too many irrelevant side issues which detract from the main story.  The inability of corrupt politicians Jawahar and Rana to make effective comebacks when questioned by Rambabu feels very contrived since surely politicians should be excellent wordsmiths – or at the very least have PR people who can write their speeches and stop them from speaking out of turn, while Nasser’s Chandrasekhara Reddy is improbably perfect .  The characterisation of Ganga is also irritating and Tamannah is capable of much better than this overacted and disappointing performance from her.

Cameraman Gangatho Rambabu works as a mass masala film, not as a political message movie despite Rambabu socialistic tendencies,  and as such the performances by Pawan Kalyan and Prakash Raj ensure that it’s entertaining enough for a one-time watch. It just could have been so much better. 3 stars.

CGR

Iddarammayilatho

Iddarammayilatho

I haven’t been too impressed with the last few Puri Jagannadh films I’ve seen, but I was hopeful that this latest offering starring my favourite hero might offer something a little different.  But although the film is visually very pretty and both Bunny and Amala Paul do their best with their respective characters, the story has far too many plot holes and is frequently too unbelievable to make Iddarammayilathi anything other than disappointing.  While there is the expected excellent dancing from the stylish star, some good fight scenes and Bunny and Amala make a sweet couple, it’s just not enough to make up for the screechy, irritating Catherine Tresa and a dire comedy track which almost completely derails the film in the second half.

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The film follows Akanksha (Catherine Tresa), the daughter of a prominent politician in  India (Rao Ramesh) who moves to Barcelona to study psychology.  She has a fantastic room which just happens to contain a box belonging to the last tenant.  Inside is a diary which tells the story of a romance between Sanju (Bunny) and the room’s previous occupant, Komali (Amala Paul).  The romance is played out in flash-back as Akanksha talks endlessly to herself about the diary’s revelations and frankly seems far too interested in the details of a stranger’s love life.

Iddarammayilatho

Bunny looks great as Sanju Reddy, a singer/dancer who performs with his band in the streets of Barcelona and is surprisingly successful considering that the band seems to perform exclusively in Telugu in a Spanish/Catalan speaking city.  He’s also pretty nifty when it comes to the obligatory biffo although his prowess in this area is never really explained – but then neither is anything else so at least there is consistency in the lack of elucidation.  Sanju falls in love with Komali who is in Barcelona to learn classical music from Brahmi – again, completely nonsensical but there is even more absurdity to follow.  Amala does a good job as a demure and rather shy violinist apart from being completely unable to fake playing a violin.  She does look stunning though in some beautiful costumes and has good chemistry with Bunny so at least the romance part of the story is believable.

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For a change I really liked Bunny’s various outfits too, which aren’t as over the top as his last few films and do appear fashionable with a European touch.  Most of the songs by Devi Sri Prasad are fairly average, but the choreography is good if not exceptional and Bunny as always proves he really can dance. However a dance off between the classically influenced Brahmi and the more rock and roll Sanju would have been much better if the backing dancers had been able to keep up with the choreography.  There is a short tribute to Chiru’s Gangleader which got the biggest cheers from the Melbourne crowd, but this was my favourite:

The love story ends abruptly in the diary so Akanksha tracks down Sanju to find out what happened and learns of a tragedy that occurred when Sanju and Komali crossed paths with a gangster (Shawar Ali). Shawar Ali has to be the dullest and most incompetent villain ever and it’s surely only by chance that Komali is the only person who sees him execute one of his gang on an incredibly public beach in broad daylight.  Unbelievably, it takes all the might of his gang of assorted thugs, sword-wielding ninjas and Subbaraju in a rather dapper beanie to deal with one petite classical violinist and her guitar playing boyfriend!

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 While Akanksha shrilly indulges in flagrant scenery chewing and desperately tries to persuade Sanju to fall in love with her, Sanju has his own agenda for revenge which ends up with a surprisingly good and effective plot twist with a flashback to some of those awesome sword fighting techniques from Badrinath.  Overall, apart from the woeful comedy scenes with Brahmi and Ali, the second half moves faster and is a little better than the first, although that may just be that I stopped worrying about the lack of logic and settled back to enjoy Bunny’s dancing and the fact that he does look as if he can actually play a guitar.  The fight scenes by Kecha are also beautifully choreographed and appear more like dancing than fighting, an effect which is heightened by Sanju’s total lack of emotion as he calmly and efficiently despatches everything and everyone that is thrown at him.

Iddarammayilatho

Iddarammayilatho looks beautiful and cinematographer Amol Rathod makes the most of the location in Barcelona, showcasing some of the beautiful buildings in the city, but the film is let down by a complete lack of logic in the story and very little in the way of character development .  Although the cast in general put in good performances, most of the supporting mothers, fathers etc have very little to do and both Subbaraju and Srinivas Reddy are chronically underused.  Brahmi is fine in the first half but the comedy with Ali is totally pointless and almost as irritating as Catherine Tresa.  Perhaps understanding the dialogue might have made Akanksha a more appealing character, but somehow I doubt it.  I still enjoyed the film, but more for the location, action scenes and dance numbers which were all good.  Overall, Iddarammayilatho is worth a look for Allu Arjun fans and anyone who likes movies with pretty scenery and great architecture.

Iddarammayilatho