Jebu Donga (1987)

Jebu-Donga-Title

While Jebu Donga may not be the most deep and meaningful film of 1987 (or indeed any other year), it does have a slightly different approach to the Mass Hero as well as sufficient quantity and variety of dances and explosions to keep me amused.

Chiranjeevi is Chitti the pickpocket, happily fleecing the rich, helping some of the deserving poor and indulging his love of disguises. Bhanupriya is his rival in petty thieving, and has an equally strong commitment to the dress-ups and convoluted schemes. Satyanarayana Kaikala and Maruthirao Gollapudi are the not as bumbling as they seem CBI officers who need to get a spy into Raghuvaran’s gang. And Radha is a woman of mystery. The police decide to use the unwitting Chiru as a distraction, feeding the crooks a fake top secret file that names him as Special Agent Chakrapani. While he goes about his daily crimes, the crooks are after him and the cops are watching the shenanigans. But eventually things come to a proper masala conclusion, albeit one with a couple of surprises.

While Telugu mass films are all about the hero, one of the things I enjoy most about Jebu Donga is that Chiru’s character is not as much in control as he thinks he is. He reacts to the confusing succession of attacks and rescues but has no idea why some things are happening. He tries to beat Bhanupriya’s character to a heist but ends up losing his trousers – don’t panic, it is all quite family friendly. Radha appears as a woman from Chakrapani’s past and Chitti is unable to say no to her. And the police manipulate him so easily. He does have to do his bit to save everyone at the end of the film, but he is not the usual know-it-all lone hero.

Chiranjeevi makes the most of his role, adding a dash of levity to the fight scenes as well as flirting up a storm. I looked over my notes from watching the film and at one point I have just written “Jeep! Whips! Leaping!”  Chitti is a good person apart from being a thief, and he helps out where he can. One of his robberies even helped a reluctant bride escape an unwanted marriage. He has what might be a sister and younger brother (Shanmukha Srinivas) as well as his mother to provide for, and pretends to them that he is a labourer doing honest work. The songs are a real highlight, and not always just for the outfits. I love Rajaloo Rajalakshmi where Chiru steals Bhanupriya’s clothes while she is bathing.

His dancing is uninhibited and cheeky (even including a bit of snake style), and once she finds something to wear she dishes it up in equal measure.

I’m not so sure about his wardrobe choices. The double denim and highpants are a symptom of the late 80s but I really do not get the sleeveless skivvy.

Bhanupriya’s character is a bit ditzy although she exhibits competence in her chosen field of cons and theft.  While Chiru is relatively plainly dressed, she wears some outrageous outfits and more than holds her own in the dances. I’m not sure how she is related to Chitti but when she falls for him it feels more as though they have been meant for each other for a while but are only now admitting there is an attraction. And where many a filmi heroine has to be rescued, she does her share of saving him too. She knows she is smart and sees no reason to let the slightly dim but charming Chitti overrule her.

Radha’s character is the real secret agent. I think she tells Chitti that he is a perfect lookalike for the deceased Chakrapani and he cannot resist her helpless female act. He should have been alerted when her dream sequence song turned up looking like this! She is smart, runs her own operation although her dad is one of the CBI officers using Chiru, and she has firm views on what needs to be done. Like Bhanupriya, she will accept help but she doesn’t always wait around for it to materialise.

All good heroes need a bad villain. Raghuavaran is the sleazy Peter, the main man who runs operations  for the completely insane Kannada Prabhakar. I always like a bit of megalomaniacal set design and sadly that is where Jebu Donga fails me. Peter lives in a respectably glossy mansion decorated with portraits of himself and masses of horrible modern sculptures while the bad guy HQ is a simple rustic camp. Not quite up to the Mogambo gold standard despite the impressive commitment to training shown by the minions. Most of the thugs wear that pale blue or mauve, but there are special colour coded sets as well as some plain clothes goons. Satyanarayana and Gollapudi are actually lots of fun as the police masterminds. They amble around, two portly middle aged gents who giggle like school girls as they watch the drama ebb and flow around their hapless helper. They also have some odd little flashbacks to what I think are Gollapudi’s terrible ideas for going undercover.

Chakravarthy’s soundtrack  borrows from Mr India, Michael Jackson and who knows what else. It’s all great fun, largely due to the enthusiasm of Chiranjeevi and Bhanupriya. And for once, the ladies get the sequins and lycra while Chiru dresses relatively conservatively.

I always have reasonable expectations of a Chiranjeevi/A Kodandarami Reddy film. There will be heroics, fights, dances, romance, eyeball melting colour and movement and almost no traces of logic. Jebu Donga delivers and shows Chiru in a more comedic, blundering hero role. Chitti may be a bit thick but Chiru knows exactly what he is doing and how to wring maximum entertainment from his material. The movie is available on YouTube. If you’re wondering, I deliberately chose the upload with the most offensive watermarks. Dear Reader, if you know anyone at that poxy company, please gently slap some sense, or at least some shame at defacing a film, into them.  Well worth seeing for the excellent cast and the frothy material. 3 ½ stars!

I will leave you with a Megabirthday Masala Multiple Choice Quiz. Please examine the following image.

Jebu-Donga-Quiz

Which of the following happens next?

  1. Evil Overlord makes crippled dance-obsessed Shanmukha Srinivas dance (a bit like Basanti in Sholay)
  2. Chiru, tied up and dangling in mid-air, escapes by breaking the trees from which he is dangling
  3. A Ma is terrorised by being given an unwanted haircut
  4. Radha kicks the bejesus out of about 47 bad guys
  5. Someone is so determined to detonate a bomb that he sets himself on fire and rolls across a clearing to ignite the fuse
  6. What do you mean which of the following? That’s a rookie question. All of the above, of course!

Megabirthday 2014

 

Megabirthday2014

Another year, another Megabirthday just around the corner! We’ll be celebrating things Chiru related during August and of course you’re invited.

Pop over to the Facebook page *points at link on righthand side of page* and vote for one of the topics I’ll be writing about, or leave your ideas in the comments. Current suggestions (courtesy of Liz and Katherine) are:

  • Chiranjeevi’s cowboy years
  • The many hues of Chiru – a study in colour (but how to pick just one colour?)
  • Chiranjeevi the Serious Actor

Join in by posting on your own blog, let me know, and I’ll collate and publish the links. Or just watch for the #megabirthday2014 hashtag on Twitter and have a chat about all things Chiru. Like this.

If your eyes still work after the 2m 44s mark, check out those boots! And those moves.

Kodama Simham

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Chiru as a cowboy! Hidden treasure! Radha as a jungle warrior princess!

While I love a lot about Kodama Simham I am going to begin with a caveat. There are some horse stunts that turned my stomach.  If that would worry you, have the fast forward button at the ready. In a couple of scenes it did look like the horse that went down got up and ran past the camera so maybe I am overestimating the likely damage. But it is something that makes me wary of this genre, no matter what industry made the film. And it seems a bit rough when it is a horse that saves the hero at a critical point.

Kodama-Simham-Bharath wants justice

Bharath (Chiru) is a gunslinger – the good kind – picking up the bounty on criminal types. Bharath manages to upset the local purveyors of iniquity. His parents are killed, but not before his dad tells Bharath he was adopted and to go look for his biological parents. His father Dharmadev (Satyanarayana Kaikala) hid some treasure to keep it safe, but was forced to go into hiding while Bharath’s Ma was jailed. Bharath must retrieve the treasure, clear his parent’s name, and give the bad guys their comeuppance. Simples!

I’m not sure what time period this film is meant to be set in. There are few reliable fashion indicators.

Horses are the only form of transport although there does seem to be a lit-up fish tank and a jukebox in the saloon.  There are what look to be Native American styled natives, as well as a forest dwelling tribe of non-specific plumage. Plus the (possibly) cannibal cat-people guarding the hidden treasure.

There are hangings and shootings galore, and justice seems to be an individual pursuit. Well, Brahmi is the local police so I can’t blame anyone for deciding to go DYI. Bharath disrupts an auction where young ladies are being sold to men or brothels, sets the captives free with a cheery “All the best” and that seemed to be the end of that. Swapna is chased for the umpteenth time by men of bad intent and runs into the jungle, leaving her girlfriends for dead. Nice. She meets Dharmadev who tells his boys off for their lack of manners and again, that seems to be the end of that. There is a pleasing finality to some of these issues: “You’ve been told, now bugger off and don’t do it again”. “OK”. If only that worked in real life.

While the title cards said K Muralimohana Rao directed, at times I suspected the film was being ghost directed by the Hat Department. Telugu cowboy films always turn it on for the headgear, and this was a corker. Behold!

Chiru’s hero entrance starts, as it should, with his boots before the rest of him swaggers in to view.

Kodama-Simham-The bootsKodama-Simham-the treasure

Unfortunately it is hard to tell on a grainy VCD print, but in one scene if his boots aren’t bulletproof, they come close. He has a laconic style and an extensive collection of guns. But what makes him an unstoppable Hero is his self-belief and righteousness. There is a touch of Clint Eastwood in how Bharath is styled – he wears a poncho with panache (probably all that practice Chiru has twirling capes) but Chiranjeevi puts his own stamp on the role. Bharath is a dancer and a ladies man as well as a capable fighter and filial son. Directors must have count their lucky stars to get a hero who could dance and fling himself around in action scenes and do the horse riding scenes as well as being ladybait. The story builds up to an all-in confrontation, and Bharath does follow a fairly logical path to that conclusion, even if the steps along the way strain the elasticity of my disbelief suspenders.

Could one heroine suffice for such an exemplary hero? No.

Kodama-Simham-SonamKodama-Simham-Swapna and art

Swapna (Sonam ) is the mayor’s daughter. She has a penchant for making bad art and wearing terrible outfits.

Kodama-Simham-the tribeKodama-Simham-Chiru and Radha

Bijli (Radha) could probably be described as a tribal princess. She likes hunting, shooting and wearing bad outfits. There is some common ground for these ladies if only they could see it. It took me a while to place Sonam but then it hit me. The vacant stare, the pout, the head tilted on the side – She was in Ajooba! Maybe her career is worth investigating further…. Radha of course was an established heroine in South films at this time, and Bijli is the more substantial of the female roles. She looks like she had fun playing the kickarse leader and Bijli and Bharath were the main drivers of many of the revengey plans. Sadly for Bijli, Bharath seemed to be drawn to the girl who did enough stupid things that he would be kept fully occupied in saving her.

Kodama-Simham-Pran the villainKodama-Simham-Pran!

Pran is the dastardly Mayor. He is first seen reading a proclamation off a fancy silk scroll before ordering the hanging of an assortment of extras. I was so pleased when I recognised him but somewhat disappointed that he was in such a stereotypical role with little scope for him to really work his villainy. Still, Pran! Always fun to see worlds collide even if he did try and have Chiru’s eyes out with a red hot poker.

Kodama-Simham-MohanbabuKodama-Simham-Sudhakar

Mohanbabu is the pungent Suddigaali – everyone sniffs when he turns up and no one looks pleased with the result. He is a cartoonish villain but his spaced out reactions and bizarre logic made for some entertaining scenes. Sudhakar is the Mayor’s bumbling accomplice and does his usual shtick. Kannada  Prabhakar is a more flamboyant and sociopathic bad guy.

Kodama-Simham-I shall call him Jaws

There is also that guy, who looks like a) Jaws from the Bond films and b) he stole one of Chiru’s costumes. There is a villain for all seasons in this film.

This is one of the films where I wait eagerly for the songs. Every picturisation has its own kind of awesomeness, largely fabric based. Raj-Koti’s songs are fun and Chiranjeevi makes the most of the choreography.  I choose to believe his dancing on the ceiling was a tribute to Fred Astaire rather than Lionel Richie.

Sadly few of these songs are available on YouTube or the like due to the egregious copyright claim shenanigans. I cannot fathom why a company with no apparent interest in promoting or preserving the old films they allegedly own would object to short clips being shared online when they don’t have their own version uploaded. I’d get it if they were worried about loss of ad revenue, but often I am mystified. Unless they’re worried someone will try and buy a copy.

See this, if you can find a copy, for the full tilt tongue-in-cheek mass style transplanted to Cowboy Country and the pleasing commitment to justice and hats. Chiru is in fine fettle and Radha is an excellent foil. The more is more approach means you’ll never have long to wait for the next song, dance, fight, demonstration of how to transport a treasure chest across a gorge or costume change. 4 stars!

Mega Socks – function and fashion

Mega Socks-14

This year I asked you, dear readers, for input into the theme of one Megabirthday post. You voted for Chiranjeevi’s socks. And you probably have the cheek to think I’m strange.

The Mega Sock is a vexing area of research. Being a fashion chameleon and trend setter, Chiru rarely settled for one standard approach. He changed his socks as often as he changed his moods. I have gathered some examples to illustrate the versatility of his sock choices, a style contribution often overshadowed by the flashier go-go-boot department.

The unified thematic sock

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White trousers, white socks, white loafers. A safe choice for the Telugu film hero.

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Or matching shirt and socks, also a filmi classic.

The artistic contrast

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Sometimes the contrasting sock was more than just a fashion statement. I am reminded of Audrey Hepburn’s refusal to wear white socks in a dance scene in Funny Face, claiming it would break the line of her leg and look inelegant. But she capitulated and in the end result, the white socks actually enhanced the dancing as they allowed viewers to see her footwork against the dark background of the set. I like to picture Chiranjeevi quoting that anecdote when directors tried to challenge his footwear choices.

The statement

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Sometimes a mere bedazzled outfit and flashy shoe is Just Not Enough. Why let the whole outfit down with boring ankles?

The comedic effect sock

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Well, I hope it was meant to be funny.

The invisible sock

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I have long marvelled at Chiranjeevi’s ability to carry off the rather challenging mini-toga and go-go boot combination. And while it may seem there is little left to the imagination, I mean, you’d have to have the right socks. Think about that. The sock could be utilitarian, or a secret splash of extra sparkle designed purely for Chiru’s amusement.

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And then there is the negative sock. Cross-gartered to the knee, Chiranjeevi proves that the absence of a sock can still make a statement. Especially when paired with silver pedalpushers and a corset.

Leg warmers and gaiters

Not a sock proper, nor a boot, the legwarmer makes occasional appearances through Chiru’s career.

Chiru combines an eye-popping fashion statement with sensible thermal layering.

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Is that a legwarmer he is wearing as a glove?

I like the bedazzled gaiter effect with matching gloves. In the absence of the more traditional bedazzled boot, Chiranjeevi still seems to find a way to embellish his foot region.

The Mega Sock Style

And finally, an example of Chiru mixing it up with a Tip Top Look combining several mega sock styles. See which ones you spot (if you aren’t blinded by the gold pants).

Happy Megabirthday!

Edited to add: Totally Filmi has hand dyed the perfect sock yarn to adorn a mega stylish ankle. Go see the results!

Chattaniki Kallu Levu

Chattaniki Kallu Levu poster

Chiranjeevi and Lakshmi star as siblings out for vengeance against the three men who killed their father and older sister and tortured the rest of the family. Durga (Lakshmi) grows up to be a police inspector, while Vijay (Chiru) takes a more DIY approach to justice. It’s not a ground-breaking story but I liked that director S.A. Chandrasekhar kept the focus on social justice and how different laws apply to different people.

Chattaniki Kallu Levu-gravesChattaniki Kallu Levu-oath

After making an entrance swearing vengeance by two graves, Chiranjeevi is quite low key for much of the film as he only has one job. Vijay is pretty much on task for the revenge all through the story, and even his romance with Rekha (Madhavi) ties into that main plot thread. He is extremely self confident and never seems to question whether his is the right path. He often undermines his sister’s career and that seems to be OK with his mother. Vijay has no discernable occupation other than being the hero so I was a bit impatient with his attitude to Durga, but they are both obsessed with getting their own idea of justice.

Chattaniki Kallu Levu-LakshmiChattaniki Kallu Levu-interior design

Lakshmi is Durga, a police inspector who demands that the legal system provide justice for her. She is an interesting character as she has a lot of the same traits as Vijay – the confidence, the belief that hers is the only righteous way, and putting her priority (the law) ahead of her sibling. Lakshmi mostly has to scowl and shout, occasionally breaking the routine with a bit of shock horror or a rare smile. It’s not a complex performance but I admired the strength of her character and liked that she didn’t resort to getting shrill or calling her brother for help. She took everyone on and believed she could win.

Chattaniki Kallu Levu-family

The long suffering Ma (Pandari Bai) is often caught between her bolshie children and just seems to want a quiet life after all the death and mayhem.

Chattaniki Kallu Levu-Vijay and DurgaChattaniki Kallu Levu-the kids room

Maybe she should have given them separate bedrooms. Or less seizure-inducing décor.

Chattaniki Kallu Levu-Rekha at workChattaniki Kallu Levu-Madhavi off duty

Madhavi is the nightclub dancer Rekha, and being an adventure without subtitles I think I missed the explanation about how she ended up at the cabaret. She lived with her father or maybe uncle, and seemed to have a clear delineation between work and home life.

She certainly didn’t tolerate anyone treating her as a whore and was quick to threaten any disrespect with a chappal. Madhavi and Chiru have nice rapport and I liked that Vijay seemed to accept Rekha without the need to tell her off about her situation or blame her for being a skanky item dancer. Durga doesn’t like Rekha and clearly thinks she is no better than she ought to be. The tension between the two women mostly originates in Durga’s judgemental nature. Rekha seems quite content with her lot, and is happy to abet Vijay as he realises the man who abducted and attacked her is the man with coke bottle glasses who helped kill his father.

Chattaniki Kallu Levu-the killers

There are a few surprises in the plot, mostly in Vijay’s elaborate execution set-ups. He recognises his intended victims by some very odd idiosyncrasies, and uses their weaknesses. I am not sure exactly why John (Hemasundar) the very short sighted guy had pigeons, a dog and – horror of horrors – a scrawny kitten let loose in his apartment before being sent into traffic minus his glasses. I suppose it made a change from generic biffo. Janardhan (Ceylon Manohar) had a revolting habit of flicking cigar ash into his glass and drinking it, so he deserved to die just for that. But Vijay got him so drunk he was easily dealt with. I also liked that his obliging corpse would shuffle around in the bathtub to make sure it was in shot as required. The third killer Javed (Kannada Prabhakar) was a serial rapist and murderous villain, so again no need to feel conflicted over his imminent demise. The thing I found most intriguing was the unresolved conflict between Vijay and Durga. She was unapologetic and disapproving to the end, with no sign of the usual capitulation to the man of the family.

Vijay and Durga get almost equal screen time, but he gets most of the songs. Not saying that is a good thing, but I do like a bit of sequinned revenge disco, especially with disguises. Even with the, er, décor at this classy (?!) establishment.

The title song is set over a montage of contrasts between the rich and poor. And a cat and (dead) rodent. I’m used to seeing lots of chickens or rabbits in Telugu films but this one is more cat centric.

Now can anyone tell me, was 1981 a big year for the zipper in Indian fashion? Madhavi is abducted by one of the baddies and he gleefully has at her multi-zippered playsuit. Chiru sports a very peculiar onesie with feature zippers that is not exactly flattering to the stockier gentleman.

And he wears many very disappointing beige outfits, often with extensive sweat marks that seem to indicate a bit too much synthetic fibre.

The fight scenes are numerous and very energetic. There is a vague martial arts flavour to some of the fight choreography and no prop survived unscathed.

The film also uses a lot of stills montages – particularly for the final courtroom scene. I guess they ran out of Chiru hours and just decided to wing it. It works well enough, and I did find the lawyers posturing highly amusing.

Probably a film for the Chiranjeevi completists, I still found a few things that were unusual or interesting enough that I’ve been thinking about the movie for a while. So many Telugu films locate justice outside of the legal system but the sibling dynamic was an interesting lens through which to view the different perspectives. Chiru, Lakshmi and Madhavi are accomplished and deliver strong characterisations and a range of emotions. It’s not a masterpiece but it’s a good example of Chiranjeevi’s vigilante style hero that became such a trademark. 3 ½ stars!

Chattaniki Kallu Levu-Chiru