Jwala (1985)

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Jwala hails from deepest darkest 1985, and is the first collaboration between Ravi Raja Pinisetty and Chiranjeevi. It’s a typical mass effort with the added delight of Chiru in dual roles. I watched this on a terrible quality print and with no subtitles so I was quite confused until I realised there were two Chirus!

The story opens with a Chiru being washed and dressed by his Ma. He is an adult, but buttoning up his shirt seems to not be in his skillset. As it turns out, that trait runs in the family.

Jwala-the kittens know

The Chakravarthis (Annapoorna and Satyanarayana Kaikala) fight about their sons under the watchful eyes of kitten art. There’s floppy haired Yuvaraj who cannot dress himself but is respectable, and Raju who favours an up-do and also cannot dress himself, but is possibly working as a mechanic and maybe has slightly rowdy-ish tendencies.

Bhanupriya has a troubled relationship with cars. She nearly runs Yuvaraj into a ditch, he runs her off the road, she retaliates against his parked bike and flees the scene leaving a cocky note and a blank cheque. Bhanupriya’s dad is less than happy when the cheque is presented with a generous amount filled in but hardly surprised.

She flounces off to a nightclub and sees Chiru , but he doesn’t seem to care or recognise her. She goes off in a huff, casting aspersions on his ability to shake what his mama gave him, which can Only Mean One Thing. A quick change later and Chiru hits the stage that has been used in so many films I cannot name off the top of my head.

I love that he is frozen in mid-air to give people ample time to applaud. Bhanupriya is furious that his outfit is better than hers and goes home in an even bigger huff. Her house has a photo mural and a cuckoo clock so she knows Style. Her dad lectures her about huffiness. I think maybe the money was either returned or used for a good cause, but he seems to be quite OK with motorbike dude. And that was about it for her – a couple of songs and a simper, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile Janaki (Radhika) is sold out to cover a debt. Raju (Chiru) sees this go down and rescues her from the sleazy baddies.  But Raju can’t save Janaki from all harm. People are calling her second hand and men see her as an easy mark. Raju realises he can’t bash everyone up – especially the really old ladies – so he marries Janaki. They do have a conversation about something before he ties the knot but I am not sure what it was about and whether she was actually consulted. However, neither of them looks unhappy, and when they go to his house to pay respects Raju reassures her while his dad goes nuts. At least his mum welcomes her daughter in law and there is time for a group hug. Radhika is a versatile actress and she manages to build a sense of Janaki and her feelings for Raju in small unspoken ways. Despite seeming to start purely through obligation, their relationship has many moments of warmth and sweetness.

 

In a room with another photo mural, the brains trust of the gang meets before adjourning to the tastefully appointed lair; skeletons, eclectic art collection, taxidermy, comfortable chairs… bedazzled gloves. The flamboyant Boss (Kannada Prabhakar) has a son who has been in the US so you know he is bound to be a creep. The Son begs to be allowed to run smuggling as he thinks it will be a thrill. There is so little common sense in this family it truly is a miracle they have managed to be so successful. The Son clashes with SP Chakravarthi on the beach when smuggled goods land. It’s too dark to see what’s going on but he is killed in a gunfight and now there is Revenge to be had.

The fight choreographer seems to be obsessed with Chiru’s thighs. The action requires he crush many an evildoer betwixt them as he hangs from a beam or does an impressive handstand to snare his opponent. Van Damme’s got NOTHING on Chiru! And all that rowdy lifting kept him in good form for duets.

My copy had this ad just after one of the fight scenes. Annoying, but appropriate product placement.

Raju is framed for murder and sentenced to jail. I don’t know what happened with the film but this section is mostly shown in stills. The Boss calls Chakravarthi and tells him why he has targeted his son. This causes 1) a tearful reconciliation and b) death.

Raju breaks out of jail. Yuvaraj flies home for the funeral and is met at the airport with news his big brother is now an escaped felon. While Yuvaraj rues that the rites won’t be completed by the eldest son, Raju turns up to light the pyre. After a justice versus vengeance bro-ment, the only thing that can happen next is an abrupt jump to the gang’s tastefully appointed courtyard for an item, complete with Silk Smitha humping all the props.

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Yuvaraj wants Raju to turn himself in but Raju is on a mission, with firm views on appropriate forms of execution. Proving that apart from the shirt button thing, the brothers also share excellent groove genes, he undertakes a gladiator mini-skirt clad dance of death.

I almost said no one saw the flaming spear coming, but…

Yuvaraj tries to arrest Allu Ramalingaiah but protection from on high thwarts his plan. Raju seems to know his brother is only going to get into trouble trying to do things legally so he stays on task. He even impersonates Yuvaraj to get close to his next victim.

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The uniform was a good disguise, but once the hat comes off and the up-do is unleashed all is clear. I think the unbuttoned shirt was also a good indicator.

While Janaki sings to her fugitive Raju over the phone (oh, sorry I must have some dust in my eye), The Boss attacks her. She puts up a hell of a resistance until finally she runs out of room to fight. Raju finds her in a pool of blood. She asks him to kiss her, either for the first or last time, and she dies in his embrace. Raju is a killer and not to be lauded, but his life seems to be tidied away so neatly and with so little left that it’s a bit sad. He loses his parents, his wife, and his kid brother is on a different path.

The final showdown is brutal and silly and epic and even a little bit moving. I wasn’t really expecting one Chiru to take on the other Chiru, but then who else could stand up to a Megastar?

This is probably one for the Chiranjeevi  completists, but it’s not completely without merit for the non-fan. Bhanupriya is wasted in her small role, but Radhika stands her ground and carves out space for Janaki in a man’s story. The plot gallops along, the action is energetic, and there is just enough light relief through the songs. Bonus points for no extra comedy track. 3 stars!

Raja Vikramarka

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Chiranjeevi stars as Raja Vikramarka in this modern day mass flavoured fairytale. Written by Satyanand, the story borrows a few scenes from Coming to America, but Ravi Raja Pinisetty makes it his own with lashing of Telugu film staples (family drama, revenge, convoluted assassination plots etc). There are fabulous costumes and great songs too. Another Adventure Without Subtitles, this is a fun celebration of the Megastar mass hero in a film designed to entertain and not tax the thinking bit of your brain too much.

Raja Vikramarka wakes up in his palace. His feet are guided into his bedazzled fluffy slippers. Gorgeous handmaidens brush his teeth and generously hop into the 12 person bubble bath to scrub his back. His thoughtful servant shows him deep fried snacks but only lets him eat cucumber and carrots.

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His parents (Jayanthi and Satyanarayana Kaikala) arrange a betrothal to a pretty princess with no brain. But he wants more, dammit! Raja runs away from home with his trusty friend and sidekick (Brahmanandam).

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I cannot express how much I love that he runs away by public bus, and in that outfit.

Once in the big city, Raja and Brahmi settle in with the common people. Raja finds lodgings in a guesthouse and swishes around majestically in his silky robes. He attracts the attention of thief Maya (Radhika) who soon parts him from his briefcase full of cash. Forced to toil as a mechanic, Raja meets the elegant Rekha (Amala Akkineni) and becomes her bodyguard. He also becomes her would be assassin as he accepts the job of hitman in order to send the attempts awry and protect her. Hijinks ensue as Chiru turns the tables and nearly kills the bad guys with multiple attempts gone wrong. But what of his kingdom? And with 2 women in determined pursuit, who gets the guy?

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This is the kind of role Chiranjeevi could do in his sleep, but he gives a funny and energised performance despite the thin material. I was a bit sad when his princely outfits made way for 90s denim, but there was an improvement in the hair so I guess that was something. Raja is a dancer, a fighter, a lover and a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drinking.

His antics gave Chiranjeevi lots of opportunity for playful comedic shtick and more intense action. I can’t say Raja struck me as a particularly interesting character but if you want a Megastar sampler, this role has a bit of everything. He had good chemistry with both his leading ladies.

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Amala Akkineni is a striking looking woman, and has an air of maturity that suits independent and educated Rekha. Her character is attracted to Raja and she spends rather a lot of time fantasising about him, whether he is pouncing on her as she rests or infiltrating her dreams as a snake.

Her dance style is odd. She is very strong and flexible but not particularly musical so doesn’t always look quite right. I love the fight scene where Rekha is part prop, part weapon and part accomplice in Raja’s hands as he sees off some hired rowdies.

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She exudes confidence and is utterly not interested in, or fazed by, medium grade villain Kiriti (Sudhakar) although will happily use him when it suits. Rekha often does the sensible thing when she is in trouble and I liked that she could be the hot chick without being the dumb chick.

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Radhika is such a good actress. She is wasted in Maya’s caricature of a thief, but she rises above the worst efforts of the wig and wardrobe double team.

Why did they hate her so? While most of her scenes are broad comedy as she picks pockets and cons people, like Chiranjeevi she adds a little more quality than the film demands. She’s not much of a dancer but she performs her songs with heaps of energy and expression. Maya is a bad girl but when it counts she does the right thing. Radhika was fierce when her character confronted the really bad guys and made a fairly ridiculous scene moving and dramatic.

It is a quite amusing film, but the highlight for me was the Raj Koti soundtrack and the picturisations which are lots of fun. The costume department must have been on overtime as they had to provide glitzy royalty, modern stylish Raja and a bit of filmi song fantasy attire.

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This style is what I like to call Mughal-e-WTF.

There is some playfulness in the action too. Maya’s accomplice dances to Chiranjeevi hits as she picks pockets in the crowd, Raja has a fight with a rather sturdily built man in a ninja suit and stops to adjust his beret before taking on the next masked assailant, Rekha and Raja play Frisbee before a romantic duet, and there is a classic Masala Death Trap in the finale.

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Plus an evil henchman who will not die and another one who spontaneously combusts. This film is never dull.

Unfortunately it does contain the old “marry a woman off to the man who assaulted her and everyone’s honour will be preserved” chestnut but luckily Laxmi seems to make Kiriti behave better so hopefully her life was more than being a victim of his idiocy. I know it’s only a silly old film but that gets my goat every time.

The supporting cast is full of familiar faces – Rao Gopal Rao, Allu Ramalingaiah, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Gollapudi Maruthi Rao and Narayana Rao make up the numbers.

See this for a good timepass with enjoyable songs and lots of dancing. Or just see it for Chiranjeevi in all his mass hero glory. Either way you get a bonus snake dance! 3 ½ stars, just for the sheer entertainment.

The film is available on Youtube with no subtitles if you’re keen.

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Big Boss (1995)

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I felt the need to end 2012 watching something with a quick and decisive approach to justice and guaranteed consequences for the baddies. Vijaya Bapineedu’s Big Boss delivers, albeit in a fairly slapdash manner, and is boosted by the presence of Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha in key roles. If you’re not a huge Chiru fan you could just watch the songs. Actually the opening titles almost tell the whole story. If you can tolerate plot holes, enjoy colourful dance numbers, or just like bad wigs and interior designs, this could be quite rewarding.

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Bavaraju Surendra, AKA Basu (Chiranjeevi), is an educated man who chooses revenge over a career. His father was murdered and his brother crippled in an incident many years ago, and Basu has not forgotten. Basu moves to the city to pursue his revenge. He ends up getting caught between opposing crime lords and is vigorously pursued by Roja who has set her cap at him.

Basu rents a room from a local widow (Madhavi) who is related to Roja (I never remember her character’s name). Living in this household allows Basu to see the injustices inflicted on residents of the area. He is the kind of guy who stands up for the defenceless and then berates them for letting one goon intimidate dozens of them. He has difficult relationships with his mother Thulasi (Sujatha) and sister Sumathi, and they don’t automatically accept he is right just because he is a bloke.

Chiru is mostly in action hero mode but the role does give him some sentimental moments with his ma, some silly mugging and slapstick with Roja and a bit of speechifying and social consciousness raising. It’s a tailor made package, right down to a running gag with Johnny (Ali) who believes Chiranjeevi is really Chiranjeevi.

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Thulasi reminds Basu of her dreams for the family, and won’t accept his decision to turn vigilante. When he takes her back to the old mansion she thanks him for returning her to the Hell she had escaped. Sujatha has little dialogue but a strong presence and her reactions and expressions are really effective. I wasn’t expecting a subtle filmi Ma but she is really lovely.

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Roja has the most peculiar wardrobe. I think the outfits are meant to be ‘modern’ and also represent her mental age of 9. She is constantly reprimanded by her grandmother (Nirmalamma) for not being able to tell the difference between flower and leaf and she does indeed seem a bit dim. She is all over Basu like white on rice and he just finds her irritating if not insane. Who can blame him?

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Rarely do I agree with the filmi advice to pop on a sari and you’ll snag a husband, but it really was a relief to see the end of the fruit hat.

Despite the horrors of the costume designs, Roja is at her best in the songs when she escapes her character’s childish habit of squealing. I know this is a remake but it is lots of fun.

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Varadarajulu is a slimy nasty villain, played to the hilt by Kota Srinivasa Rao. With his effete mannerisms and terrible wig he should be comedic, but he has a sadistic streak and a psycho wife in coloured contacts. He is bad news. He killed his father and brother (Basu’s father) with the help of his wife. Ankineedu (Narra Venkateswara Rao) is more sympathetic as crooks go, but his adherence to the mafia code means he is not long for this world.

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The action scenes are many and bloody. The fights are heavily choreographed and while that makes them look less realistic, they are violent. Death takes many forms. If you’re on the wrong side it is Chiru and his trusty matches as he douses the baddies with petrol. The police are corrupt and so are the lawyers. If you can’t get your own justice, forget it.

In a recent discussion with Beth and Sujoy we agreed that none of us understand why people say there is no sex in Indian films. Sex and relationships are clearly a part of this story. Consensual sex between people who like each other is not treated harshly at all. In many films, Roja would have been marked as the bad girl based on her dress, her forwardness, her dream of climbing into bed with Basu (and then telling her grandmother all about it). Grandma seems to have been a bit wild in her youth too. When Madhavi’s blouse is deliberately torn, Ankineedu is furious at his son’s behaviour while Madhavi holds her head high. Varadarajulu’s wife uses sex to lure men into helping her, Sumathi chooses a marriage as a way of escaping what she sees as a useless family. Women behave in a range of different ways and with varying degrees of ‘niceness’, but they have clear goals and feel free to go for them. Only one of those women dies – and as a mini spoiler, it had more to do with being downright evil than expressing desire. Telugu films are hero-centric, but if you watch what is happening on the periphery, sometimes there are interesting things going on.

Mind you, I cannot be certain that generosity is deliberate. Basu’s youngest brother appears to regrow a lost leg late in the film.

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And at the time the father was killed, there were two kids and I don’t think Thulasi was pregnant so I have no explanation for Sumathi. Maybe they just forgot to kill off the bad girls. Details, boring details!

The songs are a viewing highlight, and Bappi Lahiri is quite restrained. The introductory song is Chiru as seen by his fans, and I think it was filmed at an actual Mega Birthday event. Nearly all the picturisations are from Roja’s point of view, and are her fantasies. Roja escaped a bizarre assault in which creepy cop Tanikella Bharani threw a bucket of water over her before tearing her ugly skirt off to reveal an even more hideous dress underneath. Her grandmother had to explain the significance of a rain song. So Roja launched into one of my favourite rain songs, and kindly imagined Chiru tearing his own shirt off. In her dream of crawling into Basu’s bed she tears her blouse.

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After a few double entendres, this song actually makes sense (except the chicken references). I can’t explain the little people or their outfits.

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This isn’t a film that rests on nuanced performances but apart from Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha, I have to say Ali was good. He played a character rather than doing comedy, and when I saw him tied up with a time bomb stuck to his chest, I was sorry. But he IS a comedy uncle so my tears were held at bay. Allu Ramalingaiah has a small role as a deaf yet singing policeman. Tanikella Bharani overacts like his life depends on it. Despite being cartoonish there is a nasty edge to his character although he does redeem himself a little at the end. The assorted That Guys all do their thing and succeeded in being so vile I cheered as each was dispatched.

The design teams were unfettered by practical considerations or good taste. Is that a kangaroo statue I spy?

And the costume team shared the love.

The climax fight took place in a masala death trap (complete with giant gas cooker thingie) and a godown filled with rooms of things that look cool when they break. Divine intervention, Megastar powers – whatever the reason, the bad guys got their just deserts.

One for the Chiru fans. 3 ½  stars (extra for the dancing)

Muta Mestri

Muta Mestri is a masala film with a message, featuring Chiru with director A Kodandarami Reddy, and dialogues by the Paruchuri brothers. Overall the blend of ideas and drama and action is balanced. The action is full throttle, the dancing energetic, the ladies outfits are frequently hideous and the message is generally one I can get on board with. What works, works well but there are some heavy handed moments and a few assumptions around values that left me cold.

Chiranjeevi is the very patriotic Subhash Chandra Bose, the ‘Labour Contractor’ at a local market. He gets an excellent introduction when Sukkamma bets Brahmi a nudie run that the porters can’t unload waiting trucks in less than 10 minutes.

Whenever Bose arrives by bike, he just lets the bike careen off into the distance. It oozes confidence and a dash of silliness which is perfect for this role. Oh and she loses the bet.

The market is a harmonious community of men, women, Hindus and Muslims all working together. There are some statements to the effect of unity equalling strength.

Allu Ramalingaiah plays a teacher who educates the children about Independence, Gandhian principles and the like and regulars Brahmi and Ali lurk in the support cast too. It’s the India that should be, according to the vision of this film. Kasim is one of the more prominent support characters and he and his son are well liked. They celebrate their Hindu friends’ festivals and the Hindus respect and understand Muslim religious practice. Indeed, knowledge of prayer times sparks a crucial plot development towards the end of the film. Diversity is shown as beneficial, not just something to be tolerated.

Atma (Sharat Saxena) is the villain of the piece. He is more of an ascetic style of villain, believing he has a relationship with god that allows him room to negotiate indulgence for bad deeds. He wants to use the land the market is on for a new development. The market folks turn to Bose for help and he stages a non-violent protest outside Atma’s house.

Bose allies with MLA Sundaraiah and the CM (Gummadi) and eventually moves into politics – a position that Atma wanted for his son Dilip. Dilip is the kind of baddie who pulls up outside a school and plays loud crappy music to drown out the pure sweet sound of innocent school children singing the national anthem. And adding insult to injury, he then dances badly in the street. Obviously Bose wil deal with him severely.

Bose brings a direct and action oriented approach to politics. There is a great sequence of Bose being wheeled from one photo op to another with the emphasis on being seen to feed orphans or plant trees rather than actually doing it. Bose reprimands his advisors and starts making his own decisions based on what he sees as right. He upsets the applecart and the CM loves him for it, as do the people. This is a major theme in the story and there are recurring examples. The film also makes a point about the quality of people in politics, and the shift from people who wanted to change the world to those who just want to profit from it. People have a responsibility to try and fix things, not just leave them for someone else to clean up. For all the idealism Bose spouts, it’s a deeply cynical film.

Atma realises that the only way to hurt Bose is to attack his loved ones and discredit him. Bose realises that he can’t sort out Atma while he is part of the government. It is a similar idea to the cop/vigilante issue raised in other films. Justice is located outside of the legal system and good men can do illegal things as long as they are doing them for the ‘right’ reasons.

The action scenes are energetic and impressive, and Chiru is in excellent form. The fights are fast and athletic, and suit his character’s style. Actually, Bose has multiple fight styles and uses them to entertain people watching him belting the daylights out of the baddies. I liked Bose’s interactions with the other guys at the market and Chiru has a gleam in his eye when he gets into the rousing speeches. His dancing is excellent, and especially when he has the opportunity to go for it.  A lot of the comedy is Bose bumbling his way through the intricacies of political life, and the hassles of being a chick magnet so it isn’t too intrusive even if it is very silly. Chiranjeevi looks great in simple working attire, although he does veer into acid wash denim territory which is less pleasing. The song costumes are an outlet for the frustrated wardrobe team. I keep saying this, but Chiranjeevi is such an accomplished actor. He finds opportunities to give his character more depth and complexity than a mass film may require, making the overall result more engaging and credible.

There are some things I took issue with. Bose’s sister Jhansi gets home late from college and because he sees the neighbours watching, Bose slaps her. There is a tearful repentance that follows, and the upshot is that avoiding reputational damage is the responsibility of women. That scene will come back to haunt Bose in a major way but it left a bad taste in my mouth, especially when Jhansi basically apologised for making him feel the need to hit her. Grrrr. At the same time, Bujamma (Meena) is very forward in chasing Bose and there is no penalty for that. So his sister has to be perfect and virginal but he will marry who he chooses and think no less of her for trying to get her hands on him before the wedding. Sigh.

All of the females in the film are given short shrift. Bujamma is, as Bose repeatedly tells her, loud, crass and stinks of fried food from her snack stall. She keeps trying to transform herself to be more like what he wants but cannot change her nature. Some of it is quite funny, as in a challenge to stay silent for 24 hours, but some of the dialogues are just plain mean. Meena is pretty and lively enough as Bujamma although her performance is a bit grating. Kalpana (Roja) is Bose’s secretary, and as Bujamma sees her the main rival for Bose. Roja doesn’t get much to do apart from stand around and look decorative although she is afflicted with ‘comedy’. Brahmi decides to help Bujamma keep Bose and Kalpana apart by telling Kalpana that after six…she’d better watch out.

Despite that excellent piece of advice, it’s a stupid and unnecessary diversion as Kalpana keeps fantasising about Bose’s possible sexual advances and fainting all over the place.  Although it did lead to this song:

She seems to think that was a nightmare. Ahem. (Note – if you want the film on DVD, the Moser Baer DVD doesn’t include that song but the EVP one does.) Koti’s music is not particularly memorable but the picturisations and costumes made an impression. If that isn’t enough costume WTFery for you, please be my guest:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite an escape plan that uses a detailed model, Bose catches up and Atma and Dilip are dealt with in excellent and elaborate style.

If ‘cross-country arse-kicking’ was an Olympic event, Bose would have taken gold (and possibly also silver and bronze). Justice is done, at least for some.

It’s an entertaining enough film, but not quite enough to make me want to watch it too often. There is some substance lurking under the cheese, but I have issues with the treatment of Jhansi in a film that was otherwise very positive about equality and community. See it for Chiru’s dancing, the outfits and the come-uppances. 3 ½ stars.

Kondaveeti Donga

One of the indicators of an excellent masala film is when I could pick holes in it but just don’t want to. Kondaveeti Donga sees Chiranjeevi teaming up again with director A Kodandarami Reddy in a story by Yandamoori Veerendranath and the result is glorious. It’s so good I want to share every little detail and yet give nothing away so you can enjoy it as it happens. The first 15 minutes is pure breathless insanity and then the film really takes off.

Raja (Chiranjeevi) is a graduate returning to his village home. That might explain why the subtitles say ‘coz. He’s so modern and citified. Raja is an orphan, adopted by village strongman Satyanarayana Kaikala. The local people funded his education, and he is back to repay them by working to make their lives better. He finds a mysterious tiger reservation has annexed the prime farming land, and the villagers are all in debt to bigwig Rao Gopal Rao and his creepy son Narasimham (Mohan Babu). Raja tries to fight for their rights in the courts but fails. He so disappoints the villagers that one of them drops dead in the court room, adding to the guilt trip. Raja decides he must deliver justice since the law won’t, even though the illiterate villagers were clearly swindled. Inspired by an old story his adoptive father used to tell, Raja becomes the Kondaveeti Donga!

Raja declaims some cracking dialogues and bowls the ladies and bad guys over at every turn. It is a brilliant role for Chiru as it needs his swagger and charisma to make the larger than life Kondaveeti Donga come to life and he makes the most of the less action driven scenes. He wears a nice sheer face mask which fails to disguise him at all, charging around the countryside on his white horse and accompanied by his trusty dog.

There are excellent fight scenes, one including tree dwelling ninjas, tigermen and a man with very long metal arms, and a great sequence on a speeding train.

There is romance, dancing and eccentric wardrobe as the ladies live out their fantasies in songs with the obliging Raja. He is a decent bloke who genuinely cares about his adoptive family and friends. Even as he surrendered to the police, he took time to give his dog and horse a little goodbye cuddle. Awwwww.  And they deserve a hug.

The dog is particularly useful as he not only disguises himself as the Kondaveeti Donga on horseback, he also saves his friend the horse from near certain death. There is only one horse stunt that made me cover my eyes so extra points for that too.

In case Chiru as Zorro isn’t enough to tempt you (what are you – nuts?!?) there is so much more.

Amrish Puri as an evil mystic with an excellent lair. The symbolism is quite eclectic. The beak on that peacock drawbridge must have been heavily reinforced as it hits the ground with a satisfying thunk. The lair is one of those that can only be reached by water, a long arduous trek or ride, or maybe a brisk walk from the office. There are some geographical inconsistencies that put me in mind of Howl’s Moving Castle. Gadra also has a crocodile pit AND cage full of bloodthirsty cheetahs, and still finds time for his day job.

Sharada as a vengeful woman with exacting standards in machete purchasing. I love Sharada’s intensity and she has an elegance that shines through.  Like Chiru, she can inject a bit of quality into the drama and shenanigans in even the silliest script. Sambhavi is strong, resourceful and driven by a thirst for revenge. She has an iron will that even Gadra cannot overcome and she does an excellent ‘death stare’ that is almost on par with Amrish Puri.

Vijayashanti plays an undercover policewoman who poses as a snake charmer to uncover illegal activities. Srilekha is tough, has tunnel vision when it comes to the law, and is not afraid of conflict. Vijayashanti is great in this kind of role, being pretty and feisty and often very funny. Srilekha doesn’t quite join the dots and see that she is out to arrest Raja, perhaps being too distracted by his charm and laid back dance moves. Srilekha changes, most noticeably when she swaps her snug police uniform for pretty sarees. Ah, the influence of True Love!

Radha  is lovely as her sister Srikanya. Now Srikanya is a gynaecologist according to the subtitles, but she seems to perform general bullet removal surgery as well as tracking down the reason for so many villagers dying of anaemia (hint – they were literally paying a debt with their own blood). In many respects she is the opposite of her sister; reserved, soft-hearted and girly. But Srikanya is intelligent and independent in her career, so she isn’t just a piece of fluff. She falls instantly and hard for the thief, seeing him as a saviour.

Thanks to a bindi with extra stickum, she works out Raja is the mysterious Kondaveeti Donga. She keeps his secret even from her family as she believes in his cause, and despite being the softer of the sisters she holds her ground under threat. When medical fakery is needed, Srikanya is cool in a crisis.

Despite being an unashamedly masala potboiler, there is some nice depth to the ‘good’ characters. Some key supporting characters find forgiveness and a kind of peace. There is a love triangle between Raja, Srilekha and Srikanya. Most of the romancing is confined to the songs which are usually a depiction of the girls’ fantasies.  The drama develops between the two ladies, with one oblivious and one heartbroken and all too aware, the romance adding another tension to their already opposing views.  Their close sibling bond and strong personalities informed their behaviour not just the love for an irresistible hero.

Nagendra Babu plays an enigmatic loner who wanders the wood in search of unseen justice (that’s what he says). Brahmanandam has a small role and Allu Ramalingaiah plays the crooked subordinate to the bad guys. Most of the humour comes from Chiru and Vijayashanti and the naff rapey jokes are left to Mohan Babu and the bad guys. There are lots of small details and symbols scattered through the film and I really enjoyed that extra dimension.

And there were some subtitles that kept me thinking. Often thinking WTF? but thinking nonetheless.

Ilayaraja’s soundtrack is excellent. There is a heroic ‘look out evil-doers’ anthem, some romantic duets and a couple of upbeat sparkly costumed numbers. Something for all occasions!

 

This film has everything I want in masala entertainment. The casting is perfect with Chiru at his mass best, the story rattles along, the action is crazy, and the songs are highly entertaining. 5 stars!