Zanjeer (2013)

ZanjeerThere is always a risk in remaking an older film, especially if that film is a classic and starred the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Pran, Om Prakash and Ajit Khan, to name but a few.  So bearing that in mind, there were a couple of approaches I thought the makers of Zanjeer might take.  However rather than keeping the same storyline and characters but updating the film to the present day, or using the original film as ‘inspiration’, Suresh Nair and Apoorva Lakhia seem to have gone instead for a middle of the road approach, keeping a few key scenes and characters but otherwise changing plot points rather randomly.  The confusion in the story is not helped by reducing both the heroine Mala (Priyanka Chopra) and the villain Teja (Prakash Raj) to comic relief, while as the hero, Charan ends up as much less of an angry young man, and more of a petulant and plain  bad-tempered one.  Even worse, director Apoorva Lakhia doesn’t let Charan dance – except for a few basic steps with Sanjay Dutt – until the song over the end credits. Even then the choreography is particularly uninspiring.  However, despite the dog’s breakfast of a story and enough plot holes to swallow the entire cast of thousands, there are a few reasons to watch this film, although I’d recommend waiting for the DVD and the FF button.

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The film starts with a particularly sleazy and unattractive opening song where a scantily clad but heavily begrimed female dancer twists and turns her way through numerous hanging chains in a very S & M inspired look.  Thankfully that’s probably the absolute low point of the film, and there’s really no other option than for it to improve from here – it couldn’t possibly get any worse.  The visuals then switch to a shirtless Charan twisting in bed in the throes of a nightmare, followed by some blatant muscle flexing and posturing, and it’s immediately apparent that subtlety is not a word in Apoorva Lakhia’s vocabulary.  Not that I’m complaining about some blatant over-exposure, but it’s a bit too obvious and cheap for someone who is already an established star with a couple of hit films under their belt.  As if that wasn’t enough, Charan’s opening action scene as ACP Vijay Khanna takes place under the protective gaze of his father Chiranjeevi, and his uncle Pawan Kaylan, as they beam down from posters in the background.  As I said, subtlety is definitely not on the agenda for Zanjeer.

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After his latest contretemps, ACP Vijay Khanna (Charan) is transferred for the umpteenth time for his enthusiasm in subduing the local riff-raff, but this time is moved all the way from Hyderabad to Mumbai, presumably in his superior’s hope that he won’t be able to find his way back.  Meanwhile, Mala, a ditzy and dumb NRI is visiting her FB friend to attend her wedding, this clumsy piece of scriptwriting thus ensuring that Mala knows nothing about India, or Mumbai and in addition knows no-one in the area once her friend heads off on her honeymoon.  By careful and contrived manipulation of events, Mala witnesses a murder, and does at least report it, but from there her character is increasingly less convincing as a modern woman, as she tries to avoid any further involvement with the police or the case.  Sadly, rather than the feisty knife-wielding Mala of the original, this Mala is an overly chirpy drama queen who seems quite oblivious to the cultural differences between Mumbai and New York.  Priyanka is giggly and immature but still looks older than her co-star even though there isn’t much difference in their respective ages.  This may be down to Charan’s youthful good looks, but is more likely due to some heavy make-up for Priyanka.

ZanjeerZanjeer ZanjeerZanjeer 2There is also zero chemistry between the two, and their romance doesn’t so much develop as suddenly materialise in the space of a few glances and a song.  The storyline seems to have called for a romance between the two which had to start by a certain point in the film, and so it did.  No build-up, no justification, just  ‘let there be a relationship between Mala and Vijay’, and boom there it was!

The murder witnessed by Mala leads to exposure of the illegal petrol trade, helped by the revelations of one of the new characters, journalist Jaydev (Atul Kulkarni).  Atul Kulkarni puts in a good performance as the investigative journalist, and revels in a more sensibly drawn character with a defined storyline – something of a rarity here.

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Sanjay Dutt as Sher Khan keeps to the original character as played by Pran, and his world-weary look actually suits the part.  However his every appearance is heralded by incredibly loud and intrusive background music which completely overshadows his performance.  Keeping the character of Sher Khan similar to the original also backfires since the simple ‘crook with a heart of gold’ just doesn’t fit with the other modernised characters, although the scenes between Sher Khan and ACP Vijay are still some of the best in the film.  Or would have been if they’d just stopped with all the loud background music!

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Prakash Raj’s Teja is a bumbling buffoon in an ever more outrageous array of colourful suits and patterned cravats.  In fact one of the high points of the film is waiting to see just how garish and inappropriate his next outfit will be. But turning the unscrupulous and immoral Teja into comic relief just doesn’t work, and Mona Darling’s (Mahie Gill) best efforts with Viagra and other seductive devices fall flat too.  Prakash Raj is, at least initially, suitably oily and effusive, but the dialogue (going by the subtitles) is clichéd and too ridiculous to hold any menace or threat.

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However it’s not all completely terrible.  What does work well in the film are the action sequences, and there are plenty of them.  Charan is effortlessly effective in the fight scenes and his energy lifts the film, particularly since he tends to keep a glum and glowering expression in most of the scenes with dialogue.  There are plenty of the required explosions, chase sequences (through Ganesh Chaturthi imersion celebrations of course) and mass fight scenes.  Charan also did well with the angry glare and volcanic temper of Vijay, but the reasons for his rage are never very well explained despite that being the whole point of the original film.  Worth a DVD watch for Charan and Atul Kulkarni, and to play your own version of ‘spot the worst Prakash Raj outfit’!

Naayak

Naayak Poster

Naayak is an updated masala potboiler, action packed with colourful dance numbers and an improbable but entertaining enough story. The audience last night was mostly young couples and families. I did wonder yet again at the ability of children to sleep through anything. At the end of the film the dads left with a kid slung over one shoulder, dead to the world.

To summarise the story, with mild spoilers:

Naayak opens with four men being pursued through the streets and lanes of Kolkata, and eventually tied to a pillar in the forecourt of an ornate manor. Surrounded by approximately 4962 taxis with their headlights on, the men look doomed. But a mysterious figures glides through the darkness, and rescues them in a bloody fight involving lots of pointy objects and ornate axes. Who was he and why were they in trouble? That comes later. Charan is Charan AKA Cherry, a Hyderabadi IT dude. Through some Brahmi induced comedy complications, he meets the gangster Babji (Rahul Dev) and his pretty sister Madhu (Kajal). In the background, Cherry appears to be on a killing spree from Kolkata to Hyderabad. Babji sees Cherry shoot a senior police officer and starts asking questions about who Cherry really is. At the same time the police, led by Ashish Vidyarthi, are closing in. A trip to Haridwar and a chance encounter with a lookalike prompts a long flashback introducing Siddharth (Charan). Siddharth is on a mission of revenge following Pradeep Rawat’s criminal (and insane) treatment of workers in his chemical factory (and others). Siddharth has his own love interest in Amala Paul, and a tragic back story. To quote nearly every Telugu film reviewer ever, ‘how the hero triumphs over the villain forms the rest of the story’.

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Charan has matured as an actor and his dialogue delivery has more authority. Perhaps that is because he seems really comfortable in the mass entertainer roles, and he certainly gets the style. Naayak is an updated version of the kind of films Chiranjeevi is known for. Action, dancing, flamboyant costumes, a dash of romance and a social message all add up to a good showcase for the young star. The fights are very stylised and rely on not always seamless wirework and effects. Sometimes the clunky visuals took away from the drama. Charan seems comfortable with the physicality of the fight scenes so he doesn’t let his characterisation lapse and that does help. There were few differences apparent between Cherry and Siddharth – Siddharth’s hair was a bit higher and his necklines a tad lower. But as the story turns on their similarity, that all worked nicely.

Charan’s dancing was such a highlight, especially in the very Chiru-ish Laaila O Laaila which I wanted to be replayed again right away, and Naayak which is just so pretty and colourful.

Naayak Kajal in gold pants

Kajal was very likeable. Madhu is more ‘girl next door in glamourous dress-ups’ than total glamour doll, and she often had a cheeky glint in her eye. The costume designers were reasonably kind to her, with only a brief foray into shiny metallic pants. She cannot dance to save her life, so the choreographers wisely decided to go for stunning locations plus giving Charan all the actual steps and telling Kajal to either shake her butt or heave her chest.

Naayak Charan and Kajal dance

I tell a lie – in one song she had to point one hand skywards and walk, which must have been challenging.

Naayak Kajal and Charan dance

But she looks like she has fun, and she and Charan goofed around flirting rather than worrying so much about the steps.

Amala Paul made little impression apart from looking very pretty. Her role is small but she does get a couple of visually spectacular songs. Unfortunately the costume designers never really considered the implications of dancing with your hair down and wearing a chiffon sari on undulating terrain in Iceland in a stiff breeze so she didn’t always looks graceful.

Charan and Amala dance

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Particularly not as she wore brown Ugg boots  with a green sari and black shoes with bright blue laces with her diaphanous black sari during one song. Kajal wore leggings under her short shorts but apart from being greyish and a bit baggy around the knees, they weren’t as peculiar. I’m all for actresses dressing appropriately for the climate, and for workplace safety, but it was odd.

Rahul Dev is Babji, and he plays a more sympathetic gangster than his usual psycho villain. Indeed, there is quite a sweet bromance developing between him and Cherry until things start to get crazy. Raghu Babu and Jayaprakash Reddy are on comedy duty in his gang and, judging by the audience reaction, knocked it out of the park. MS Narayana is a drunk lip reading expert and his timing and droll expressions are really quite amusing. (As was the misspelled ‘Drinking is injurious to your HEATLH’ warning.) Brahmi has an actual character to play. When he can be dissuaded from just repeating his usual shtick he is so much more bearable. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of his scenes when normally I would be sighing so either I’ve had a head injury or he was good. Dev Gill made an appearance as a psycho baddie with impressive (that’s not the right word but they are very in your face) moobs.

Naayak Charan and Amala

SS Thaman’s music is OK but sounds like every other film. You know, there’s the upbeat hero song, the item (featuring Charmme), the duet, the other duet, the remake of a better song. Nothing wrong with it, but I sit here now and I can picture the sets and the fancy costumes, but can’t recall the music as clearly. One thing I loved in Charmme’s item was Siddharth imaging joining in. His cheesy expressions and Chiru-esque mannerisms were really amusing. That was all his own character’s vision so I liked that glimpse of his inner life.

Despite this being an adventure without subtitles the only thing I feel I really missed was the comedy dialogue. People around me were weeping with laughter and a couple of guys said it is one of the funniest films they’d seen in ages. I’ll be buying the DVD regardless, and am interested to see how well that laugh riot translates. I liked spotting the Pawan Kalyan and Chiranjeevi references in the visuals and dialogues and was pleased to see Shah Rukh smirking from the back of a Significant Magazine.

See it if you like films with clearly defined heroes and villains, action, drama, colour and movement. You’ll need some tolerance for dismemberments, gore and a lot of comedy uncles but it pays off with an explosive climax.

Rachcha

Rey! 3am and we were still discussing Charan’s amazing hair, his dedication to bringing the cape back and the total masala fun of Rachcha.  Another adventure without subtitles, we saw it with an appreciative audience notable for the number of women attending. Usually we hear a high pitched squeal of fandom and look around to see a dude in a suit. But Charan seems to bring the ladies out, and we can see why. There’s plenty of action, excellent choreography and at least for Charan, some superb costumes. Charan channels Chiru in his own inimitable style and with a nod to the camera that says he knows what we’re thinking, while Tamanna holds her own in both the dancing and drama stakes.

The film starts with the opening banner of Mega Supergood Films and, since any reference at all to the word ‘mega’ had the audience screaming, ensured that we were deafened right away. After a flashback involving young Raj, a significant necklace and the extremely dramatic death of his parents, we learn that present day Raj (Ram Charan) is being brought up by comedy stalwart M.S. Narayana and his wife (Sudha). ‘Betting’ Raj spends his days, well, betting and when his adopted father needs a liver transplant it’s the ‘logical’ way for him to raise money. He accepts a wager with James (Ajmal Ameer) to make the daughter of a rich businessman fall in love with him. Raj and James have a history involving a train, 2 cars and a game of chicken, so Raj is not without some reservations, but his situation is desperate.

Chaitra (Tamanna) is that rich girl. Chaitra never seems to go anywhere without her escort of 2 motorbike outriders, 4 SUVs and various bodyguards, so it’s a real challenge for Raj to approach her at all. Luckily he has accomplices (a flock of comedy uncles) so Raj is able to attend to the serious business of flirtation. In one of the many fun tributes to Chiranjeevi sprinkled through the film Raj infiltrates her medical college to the strains of Shankar Dada MBBS and all the collar popping and swagger that goes with it. Naturally it doesn’t take long for Chaitra to appreciate the well styled hair and many charms of Raj. Or does she? Tamanna is a very capable actress, and she does get a bit more to do in Rachcha than we expected. Unfortunately she does get a few scenes where she seems more like an escaped mental patient as she marvels at waterfalls, flowers, a fence painted yellow etc.

As we knew from Badrinath, Tamanna has a great imagination for song costumes and accessories. Raj appears in a couple of full length capes and with a number of scarves. At one stage we thought perhaps she had been expecting a hero more famous for his multiple layers of singlets, shirts, jackets and scarves, but Charan wore it all with aplomb. The curse of the blind stylist only seems to strike at Tamanna but does strike hard and often. The constant mini skirt and short shorts outfits were not particularly flattering, and the choreography and camera angles didn’t help.

Mani Sharma’s songs aren’t brilliant musically speaking, but the picturisations are awesomely entertaining and the choreography is excellent. The costume teams go all out (poor Tamanna) and the dancing is infectiously energetic and engaging. Charan just gets better and better. He has a good musicality and a sense of the overall appearance of a song. He doesn’t fall into the trap of substituting too many tricks and gymnastics for dancing. It’s a pleasure to watch him, and his facial expressions in the songs are highly entertaining. Tamanna is his match in energy and expression.

The two actually dance together rather than just using the heroine purely for her glamour quotient and it feels like a real partnership. There isn’t any sizzling chemistry but more of a camaraderie which works well enough to make their romance acceptable, especially considering the rather dubious origins in a bet.

Chaitra’s father Bellary (Mukesh Rishi) is not impressed by Raj and when the pair escape he sends for the big guns in the form of Dev Gill in manic villain mode. You can tell he is insane because he wears a coat inspired by Noddy and Big Ears or a high school production of Pirates of Penzance. He had a pathological attachment to this coat and he never appeared without it. This diluted his menace considerably as we giggled uncontrollably every time we saw him.

The second half explains the real reason for the  bet, and sets up the climax. The flashback episode is too long but it leads up to an excellent fight. The action scenes are brilliantly choreographed, using Charan’s physical skills to great effect. Raj was a resourceful and efficient fighter, usually going for the classic ‘kick em in the nuts’ approach rather than anything too impractical. Although he used a flaming wheel and even threw a motorbike at his atttackers in one scene so he was never dull. Sampath Nandi toyed with the audience when he put Charan, Dev Gill and a helicopter in one scene, teasing with the possibility of a Magadheera replay. Rather sensibly the director chose to leave Charan on the ground and let him deal with his problems the old-fashioned way – with a very impressive axe.

There is a pointless appearance by Ali. Brahmi, Venu Madhav and Srinivasa Reddy were moderately amusing in their roles and at least the story did have a flimsy reason for their presence. Srinivasa Rao Kota, Nasser, Raghu Babu and various others turn up and do their usual thing. Satya Krishnan makes a small appearance in a fun women vs men backyard cricket match, and there are some really enjoyable little moments with minor characters. We have to give a big shout-out to the backing dancers and the rather listless ‘dance students’ for their efforts. The comedy and subplots were all more or less tied to the main story which helped keep things moving along. The audience dissolved into hysterics when a man at a roadside restaurant knocked back his drink and then picked up a chicken and sniffed it. Granted that alone was pretty funny, but we did wonder if perhaps there was a reference there that we didn’t spot?

There were plenty of references throughout the film to Chiranjeevi movies and Charan wears a number of outfits that are pure Chiru style. White trousers, black socks and white loafers made a come back, as did loud shirts and colour blocking. He has his father’s mannerisms down pat and it added another dimension to the film to see how many of these tributes we could pick up. And we think it is a smart way for him to deal with the pressure of expectation – he is always compared to his father, so why not own those references and play them with his own style. We were a little disappointed that the significant necklace (which Chaitra could only discover late in the story) meant that Charan kept to a rather modest look, but Vaana Vaana with the dancing in the rain was some compensation.

We have now seen both the original Vaana Vaana from Gang Leader and this remix on the big screen, and the Mega Men certainly know their way around a rain song!

Rachcha is Charan’s vehicle and he delivers a full mass performance that is exciting and very watchable. Tamanna got plenty of cheers from our audience for her dancing and at her speech just before the climax. The songs and fights are so well executed that they had us cheering along too. It’s a visually pleasing film, and has a sense of fun in amongst the action and drama. The story is a familiar one, very much inspired by the type of films Chiru made back in the day, but who says that’s a bad thing? Despite a plethora of comedy uncles, Sampath Nandi delivers a fun and entertaining film that we both want to watch again.

Orange

We had a vested interest in seeing Orange, having spent a lot of quality time loitering around the shoot as it took place in Melbourne. The lure of seeing Ram Charan on the big screen, along with the ever entertaining Genelia and our hometown was just too strong to ignore.  We avoid reading previews of new release films before we see them, as there is too much PR hype and politics to get much useful information, but the arrival of Charan on Twitter certainly got our attention! The cinema was full, and with a higher number of families and kids than we usually see at the South Indian films here.

Charan plays Ram, a wildlife photographer and graffiti artist with a truly excellent selection of t-shirts. He lives with his sister and brother-in-law in a fancy apartment and drives a flash car. He has strong views on love and honesty and won’t back away from his values. After an earlier relationship with Rooba (Shazahn Padamsee), shown in flashback, we see that he learned a lot about himself and what he wants from life. He doesn’t believe that simply saying ‘I love you’ makes for a relationship, and doesn’t believe it is honest or realistic to promise a lifelong love. He is affectionate, caring, demonstrative, but he is not going to commit to a lifetime, and he will not sacrifice just to keep his loved one happy. He doesn’t want his girlfriend to sacrifice anything for him either – he has been through this unhappiness and is genuinely trying to find an honest and respectful balance.

Genelia as Janu makes a ridiculously chirpy entrance to the film, cheering as she watches a marriage proposal and being as excited for the lovers as if it was her own relationship. She does believe in the idea of soulmates and lifelong love connection and wants that from her partner. She is in love with love, and looking for Mister Right. Several potential Mister Rights form part of the comic sideplot.

So of course, these lovely looking youngsters with completely opposing views fall for each other. The film is then about Ram and Janu getting to understand each other, and the choices they make.

With Puppy (Brahmi!) aiding and abetting Janu, the relationship develops in fits and starts. Ram is persistent and Janu is interested but wary of this charismatic suitor. We knew long before Brahmi mimed Krishna playing his flute that Ram was a ladies man! When he happily admits to having had NINE girlfriends, in relationships spanning from 1 to 387 days in length, Janu decides he is just too much to handle and tries to back off but cannot deny her feelings.

Although for the most part the film is a fluffy romance, there is a serious conflict at the core. While the audience can empathise with both sides, it is clear that something major would have to change for there to be a traditional boy gets girl happy ending.  We could maintain sympathy for both the romantic Janu and the more challenging Ram so found the conclusion to be reasonably satisfying and in keeping with the characters. However we suspect that if you can’t connect with Ram’s character, the film will not hold your interest.

Charan’s performance was great. He was charming, funny, energetic, emotionally engaging and totally looked the part. He was convincing as the school leaver Ram, and especially as the urbane young man about town and his body language really suited the different confidence levels of these stages of his life. The fight scenes were typically dramatic and physical, and Charan’s dancing is, of course, brilliant . The choreography was lots of fun and Charan seemed to have a great time sending up some cheesy romantic moves. Seeing these films without subtitles and having only a minimal understanding of language, we rely on the tone and expressions of actors. Charan made us see him as Ram and we understood his character’s views and feelings so we have to say it was a successful performance.

Genelia was her usual bubbly self, perhaps too bubbly, to start with but really showed some depth to Janu over the course of the film. She conveyed the struggle between having feelings for someone and knowing that it wasn’t going to work. We could see her grow from a carefree girl to a more independent young lady as she confronted her own beliefs and tested them for herself to see what she wanted.

Nagendra Babu had a small but pivotal role as Ram’s neighbour who was living in a stormy domestic situation.  Brahmi and Prakash Raj are always a familiar delight to behold. Brahmi got more to do in Orange , and his comedy was a bit more varied and often very funny. He also had a fine collection of t-shirts, and a habit of reading Mills & Boon before bed. Prakash Raj was the Telugu cop who gave Ram the reason to narrate his life story. He had little to do, and really it need not have been a Prakash Raj role although we are always pleased to see him. We did watch some of the scenes with him and Charan being shot so we certainly enjoyed that. The rest of the support cast were fine but as we have to concentrate on the main story, we didn’t really give them enough attention to be able to comment much.

We love the soundtrack and the songs looked amazing on screen. We are somewhat disappointed that Melbourne scenes are inter-cut with Sydney to give the impression of one Australian city, as the Melbourne -Sydney rivalry is HUGE, but we will forgive it as we got the opportunity to watch this film being made. Bhaskar managed to skirt the problem of geographic displacement by blending the locations well. The places Ram and Janu were seen were appropriate for their student lifestyle and helped the film’s credibility. We are always a bit judgmental about the skankily dressed white chicks in songs but Orange is family friendly for the most.

Some special notes: We greatly enjoyed Anand Ranga’s updates via Twitter, and shared his anxiety about the weather. When he casually mentioned filming with a lion, we expected maybe a fleeting appearance in a song. Not a full blown encounter with the King of the Jungle who apparently frequents the NSW forests. We cheered a lot! But the audience went wild when the Glen Iris tram was on screen – who knew the number 6 tram was that much of a star? We also enjoyed seeing a return of the pink panda t-shirt first spotted on Charan in  Magadheera, this time being worn by one of Ram’s friends. There was plenty for the alert viewer in Orange!