Darling

Darling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lakshyam

Lakshyam is a highly entertaining mishmash of romance, comedy, action, politics and family drama. It succeeds largely because of the casting – Jagapathi Babu, Gopichand and Anushka in particular do a fine job – and some skilful writing and direction that balance all the elements.

The film opens with a girl running away from her own wedding. She looks so pretty and pristine as she scoots off across town, eventually making a rendezvous with a bloody and battered man. I was intrigued by the look of happy pride on her face when he efficiently blew up a car, shot a policeman and then hopped on the back of her moped. I wondered how they got to this point, and what was going to happen next. With a bit of time travel, we get to the chronological start of the story. The film is very well constructed, and the flashback and current day sequences flow well. There are some pleasingly playful references to filmi clichés and the cast seem to enjoy the improbable shenanigans.

Anushka is Indu, a modern uppity type of college girl. She has a very specific list of demands for a prospective husband and seems to think it is perfectly reasonable to share this with a young child on the train. Pinky immediately decides to set Indu up with her uncle, Chandu. He has his own, very different, list of required qualities and even the kid knows it’s not likely to work.

Anushka is one of my favourite current day actresses (yes, actress not ‘heroine’), and she is quite good in this role. Her character has some silly and selfish moments, but underneath it she is a likeable young woman. At the very least she knows when to apologise for her mistakes, so she is not too bratty. Indu is a Telugu heroine so of course if anything goes wrong she is reliant on any and every man within 20 metres of her for help and a solution. But the helpless female act is balanced with Indu cheekily pretending to be a gangleader’s sister and using his name to get her own way. This leads her into conflict with the cool dude on campus, Chandu. So she calls her little train friend’s uncle to sort him out. Yes – Chandu again. So there is a romantic comedy of errors as Chandu takes on Chandu and tries to bluff his way through. The silliness is increased with Brahmi and Venu Madhav battling each other for control of the student canteen.

My reason for picking this film a while ago was that I hadn’t seen Gopichand in a lead role and I was curious. He does well and seems to be a good generalist in terms of Hero Skills. He can act a bit, dance a bit, fight a bit, and has an engaging onscreen presence. His introduction scene is vintage hero stuff – he is chained and dangling upside down in a police lockup. But with a single bound he frees himself and escapes to wreak havoc. The college romance scenes don’t work quite so well as the later more energetic action sequences but he and Anushka do have chemistry and he gets right into hamming it up. And let me applaud a song with a backup dancing Spiderman. There is not enough of it around.

Chandu and Indu eventually fall in love and actually tell each other so they then just have to deal with all the usual obstacles – telling his family, her disapproving dad, and of course a crazed psychopath who happens to be a mad inventor. Chandu also gets caught in the fallout of his brother’s activities. He is a man of action, and takes a direct approach to solving problems. Although I did like that he sometimes cowed his opponent just with a graphic description of what he would do, so had no need of the actual biffo. You can have your cake and eat it too – a non-violent solution that incorporates a violent fantasy sequence. Gopichand is well able to match the changing tone of the film from the fluffy  romance to the revenge driven action and drama.

Chandu’s brother is Inspector Bose – Jagapathi Babu. He is an honest, crusading policeman and of course is wildly unpopular with the underworld. Newly transferred to Hyderabad, Bose takes on Section Shankar, Indu’s ‘brother’, a thug protected by senior police. I like Jagapathi Babu and this role is a good fit for him. Bose is a cop but also a family man and has a competitive relationship with his brother and his journalist father (Kota Srinivasa Rao) so there is lots of scope for his offbeat style.

The brothers have different approaches but are not forced into a separation or battle for whose philosophy should win, and I really liked seeing that more natural sibling rivalry. They were great mates as well as brothers, and the family scenes were fun. Bose and his wife (Kalyani) have a very affectionate relationship, and it is a nice domestic environment. But Bose also has a kickarse side and Jagapathi Babu gets his own action sequences, including some excellent use of coconuts as both defense and offense. He is also the victim of one of the most elaborate assassination attempts I can recall seeing. I was muttering “What? He’s not dead – yet? What!” as the drama kept unfurling.

It’s interesting that once again the law is shown as helpless in the face of crime and they rely on people like Chandu to get things done. Dharmavarapu Subramanyam is cast as an honest cop, and his comedic skills are used to help the story as a bumbling but good guy. Even Ashish Vidyarthi as the DIG makes it clear that the police need to rely on subterfuge to even compete let alone succeed, so there is an oddly defeatist note to the brother’s battle with Section Shankar and his corrupt cop associate (Devaraj).

I was moderately alarmed when I read the long list of ‘comedy uncles’ in the cast, but Srivas and writers Gopimohan and M Rathnam do an excellent job of balancing the story elements and allowing a lot of the humour to emerge in a more natural style. Kota Srinivasa Rao is in good form as the newsman father who believes he might possibly be in charge of his household. Venu Madhav and Brahmi have a running battle which keeps them from bogging down the rest of the story, and when they do interact with the rest of the characters it is usually fun. And there are some amusing touches – a fixer for Section Shankar has gunfire as his ringtone, one rowdy knocks himself out in a fight, and there are lots of little reactions and one-liners that liven things up.

The song picturisations are nothing out of the ordinary and neither is Mani Sharma’s music, but they are executed and placed well. Anushka is not much of a dancer although she does give her dance performances some energy and excellent facial expressions. I would say Gopichand’s natural genre might be ‘uncle dance’ and he does it pretty well. He certainly looked like he had fun dancing, and it added another degree of contrast to his vengeful brother aspect. And he seemed quite unperturbed by some of the shirts bestowed upon him.

Lakshyam does strain the credibility muscles more than a few times, but it is such an entertaining and well paced effort that I just go with the flow. The cast are good and are given characters with a little bit more depth than I expected. There are convoluted schemes, a deathtrap, peculiar decision making – all the trappings of a good potboiler. The writing is clever and kept me smiling if not laughing out loud. And the baddies got their various comeuppances in suitable style. It was all quite satisfying.

Give it a go! 3 ½ stars.

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.

Business Man

It started with text messages late at night. Then waiting while someone had a muttered conversation with the boss. Then the secret password (my name!). Finally a minion delved into a concealed pocket, and handed over tickets for the sold out opening show of Business Man! Armed with a stash of paper strips we made our way into the packed cinema and sat in the third row among some diehard fans, ready for an up-close Big Mahesh film experience. We’d been told that US prints were subtitled and were hopeful we would also get subs – but it was not to be so we enjoyed another Adventure without Subtitles.

Business Man is a beautiful looking film directed with verve and confidence, and performed with commitment. The lighting and composition of each frame is superb. The editing, the effects the action sequences and the dialogues are zingy and zesty. The story is simple but it’s sustained and isn’t lost in the rich visuals. Mahesh Babu is a perfect fit for the pivotal role. He delivers a ruthless, brooding characterisation rounded out by some sharp humour and a bit of romance.

The basic story is easy to follow. Surya (Mahesh Babu) moves to Mumbai and proceeds to take over the criminal underworld. He is a logical and determined man who runs his gang as a business. They have defined tasks, get paid regularly and follow his orders. Surya is all about power not money, and lives quite simply. He is fair in his own way and wins grassroots support with some calculated acts designed to cement his place in the community. His motivation becomes clear as the action unfurls. And as for his methods – Guns don’t need agreements. Surya is an anti-hero in many respects, and a lot of what he does is reprehensible. He does offer some form of vigilante justice and fair treatment which contrasts with the corrupt politicians and ineffectual police.

Sayaji Shinde and Prakash Raj play politicians and power brokers with connections. Both are predictably competent without being exceptional. Sayaji Shinde is easily duped, but Prakash Raj has a history with Surya that sets up the climax of the film.

Once Mumbai is under control, Surya expands his business model nationally and is a serious threat in the political power struggle. Prakash Raj decides to nip this in the bud to assure his own position. This confrontation is just what Surya wanted, and so we rocket along to the gore splattered conclusion.

Nasser is a Police Commissioner and Kajal is his daughter Chitra. We debated whether Surya had engineered a meeting with Chitra so that their relationship started as a subterfuge but then developed into something genuine. Surya views the police as he does the politicians and the local goondas – they’re all just assets or liabilities in his business model. He seems to commit wholesale slaughter with remarkable ease. In fact the only ‘crime’ he commits that draws any police attention is fancying Chitra – that’s when the cops with guns turn out in force.

Brahmaji plays Surya’s sidekick but he merges back into the team as the story progresses. Subbaraju is wonderful as Prakash Raj’s enforcer. He is menacing and hilarious, and matches Mahesh’s intensity. There is a very funny scene where Subbaraju keeps trying to reload his gun as all hell breaks loose. It sounds like nothing much, but his fumbling shtick is hilarious and also contributes to the scene. The comedy emerges from characters and situations so it doesn’t slow the action. But WTF was going on with the dubbing for Ayesha (Chitra’s friend, played by Ayesha Shiva)? The voice, accent and dialogue delivery was terrible and too bad to even be funny. I don’t think her acting was much either, but the voice dominated her performance. Mahesh Babu is a really good comic actor and his reactions are priceless in some scenes, particularly with Dharmavarapu Subramanyam and with Kajal. We really wished for subtitles as the dialogue had the audience in stitches, athough the puns and wordplay never translate so well.

Kajal and Mahesh had good rapport and judging by the audience reaction some of his lines were quite naughty. A lot of the dialogue was bleeped so I missed an opportunity to learn some handy curses. I was perturbed by one romantic song which is set up when a driver (a cameo by Puri Jagannadh) chloroforms Chitra and delivers her to Surya. It was meant to be funny rather than a scary abduction, but so very wrong. Next thing she is unconscious on a huge bed and wearing a very sparkly saree. Kajal and Mahesh have some chemistry, especially in her few conscious intervals in that song. Many of their scenes together had a lively and spontaneous feel, and they made a nice looking couple. There is a fleeting kiss which elicited a deathly silent non-reaction from the audience. She had little to do but scream and cry, but I think this is one of her better efforts. And she didn’t get slapped around.

SS Thaman hasn’t done anything amazing with the soundtrack, but the brassy theme underscoring some of the action is great. The choreography was less delightful. The choreo in Sir Osthara was strange, mostly synchronised hand waving and a little bit of prancing so basic even Kajal could keep up.

Pilla Chao is fun, but reminiscent of the Ministry of Silly Walks with festive Santa backing dancers. The Mahesh Fan had a theory about the costumes. She thinks Puri Jagannadh said ‘If my wardrobe dude can have his way with you in the song picturisations, you can wear your own clothes and normal haircut for the rest of the film’. And I think she might be right.

Mahesh does look slightly taken aback by the ice cream colour themed outfits and blue suede shoes but he generally wears plain dark shirts and jeans. It’s an unfussy yet multi-layered look for a man who means business but doesn’t mind flaunting a bit of elbow and the merest hint of chest hair.

The censorship was really odd. Lots of dialogue was bleeped or muted, but I could easily substitute likely profanities. And the dancers – especially the skanky white chicks – were occasionally blurred out. In most scenes they were unobscured so the costumes and choreography were obvious and we couldn’t discern a substantial difference between the clear shots and those that had been censored.

Some angles were obviously a bit more ‘down the choli’ but most seemed to be similar. The Telugu film industry hires many female performers solely for their looks and physique, so it seems strangely prudish to censor some of the flesh some of the time. Who are they kidding?

Yes it defies logic, gravity and many other laws but Business Man never pretends to be a gritty realistic story. It’s a kickarse action film made with great style, a cracking pace and a star who can switch from baby faced killer to baby faced hero with a killer sense of humour. Highly recommended and a resounding 5 stars from me!

Heather says: Opening night of any Mahesh film is always worthwhile, no matter how good or bad the film, since the cinema is packed and there are plenty of enthusiastic and noisy fans – which includes The Mahesh Fan and us.  And to our delight, this turned out to be a very Mahesh-centric film. He was in almost every shot and the story very firmly revolved around Surya and his business model version of rowdyism. This had the slightly  unfortunate side effect that no-one else got very much to do, which was somewhat disappointing because the other actors were all so very good. Chitra’s friend the very glaring exception. Brahmaji as Surya’s friend started out well with some presumably funny lines, but was quickly sidelined and hardly appeared for the rest of the film. And although Nasser, Sayaji Shinde and Prakash Raj popped up now and again to provide more motivation for one of Surya’s awesome action scenes there didn’t seem to be much explanation of exactly why they acted the way they did. Although that could of course just be the lack of understanding the dialogues on my part. I totally agree with Temple that Subbaraju has some of the best moments in the entire film and I enjoyed many of the other support gangsters who had excellent expressions during some of the fight scenes.

Mahesh does do ‘angry’ very well, and he seemed to be alternating between simmering and boiling for most of the film which did get a little wearing towards the end.  There was quite a lot of comedy in there too judging by the audience reaction, but this was mostly in the dialogue so I missed most of it. However the interplay between Surya and Chitra did have some very funny moments which came through loud and clear. I really liked Kajol here and thought she was in her element when she was angry and snapped back at Surya – it felt very authentic! She was animated and likeable throughout although does lose points for having an incredibly irritating and annoying friend. I really couldn’t understand why Chitra stayed with Surya since she obviously abhorred his gangster life style and the chloroform incident was just plain creepy. But otherwise I enjoyed the romance aspect of the film and I think it will be even better when I can understand the dialogue.

The Businessman is a very slick and well made film which looked fabulous and played to Mahesh’s strengths. Less bizarre and quite frankly pointless censoring, better choreography and a little more of the support actors and it would have been totally perfect.

Sweta Naagu

Sweta Naagu was initially mentioned in a comment (thanks mm) and the idea of a film featuring a specially trained white snake was intriguing. Sadly though, it’s a fairly average snake movie that suffers from a surfeit of ideas which all muddle together to make a rather dull film. There are however a few good snakey moments and a rather memorable snake dance so it is worth adding in to the Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival.

The film starts with Madhumati (Soundarya) handing in her thesis on snakes to her professor. I have to say she wouldn’t get very far with her thesis at my university – where are the three bound copies with the title on the side – hm? At any rate Dr Parthasarathi seems very impressed by her work as she has investigated snakes as, well, snakes, rather than as mystical powerful beings.

Madhumati is very much the scientist, pouring scorn on her mother as she celebrates the Nagachaturthi festival and is dismissive of her mother’s ideals and beliefs. So naturally Madhumati is appalled when she sees a TV interview with Dr Parthasarathi, where he discusses his belief in the divinity of snakes. Shocked, she confronts him and demands an explanation. The best he can come up with though is a ‘personal versus professional opinion’ argument which is really rather weak. He does become more decisive later on, but the initial impression isn’t one of a confident and scholarly ophiologist. Instead he comes across as patronising and smug, and to add to his general ineptness, he can’t draw snakes!

Madhumati says that she will believe in the divinity of snakes only if she has hard evidence. So her professor tells her about the sacred texts called the Nagashastras which contain all the evidence she wants, although how he knows this is rather questionable since these Nagashastras are hidden somewhere in the Kollimalai forests and no-one who went looking has ever returned. Madhumati is on a quest though, and determines that she will be the one to find the Nagashastras and maybe get a better grade in her thesis as a result.

Once in the forest Madhumati is immediately and rather fortuitously captured by the tribe that have the Nagashastras in their keeping. They are snake worshippers and have a chief who believes in the power of animal print fabric.

The sacred texts are guarded by a snake which for some reason seems to approve of Madhumati despite her attempts to get her hands on the texts and her often stated belief that snakes are just reptiles. The guardian snake appears to Madhumati in human form to warn her that it is in her best interests to leave as soon as possible. We know from jenni’s excellent guide as soon as Madhumati opens the door that Vaasukhi is a snake since she has the required less clothing and oodles of eye make-up. However, just in case we were a bit slow to catch on (like Madhumati) the hair is a bit of a give away.

With this sign of favour from the local goddess, Madhumati is able to stay and continue her attempts to steal the Nagashastras. As a bit of a diversion, there is a strange tradition in the village that for any man to marry a woman he has to be able to beat her in a wrestling match. This gives us the only fight scenes in the film which are between local girl Chevandi and her suitors. Chief among these is Singam who finally does succumb to her kicks and body slams, recovering in time to be able to get married. This involves a ceremony at the Nagashetram where we first get to see the white snake as it blesses the happy couple.

After the party a swami shows up and determines to prove to Madhumati that her belief in practicality and facts is misplaced despite her total rejection of him. He brings the white snake to him with his powers and Madhumati is suitably impressed. However as she steps out of his sacred circle, the snake suddenly turns and spits blue venom at her, which sets a small tree on fire. This rather disturbs her, although it seems to be more the personal attack that she is shocked by rather than incendiary venom. We learn by flashback that in a previous life, Madhumati killed a snake and the white snake now wants revenge. The swami gives her a sacred thread to protect her from utter calamity, which sounds rather useful until, as events unfold, we realise that perhaps his idea of utter calamity isn’t quite the same as Madhumati’s.

After trying to set her on fire, the snake next tries to woo Madhumati and turns up in a dream sequence/snake dance ‘item number’ as a Freddie Mercury clone in tight white singlet and red track-pants before changing into gold lame and black pleather. We know he is the snake as he has blue contact lenses and iridescent clothing as, but he’s just not very snake-like otherwise. The backing dancers however show great dedication to the art of the snake dance and are actually pretty good if not totally co-ordinated.

Before the dream sequence can lead to anything untoward, Madhumati is called back to the city. Here, the snake starts to truly plot revenge, appearing to her in the guise of her fiancée and popping up in unlikely places around the house. Since this leads to Madhumati crying and yelling ‘snake!’ every few minutes her family eventually take her to see a psychiatrist. His useful diagnosis is that she will be fine if she gets married and has something else to think about. Can it get any more ridiculous? Yes – at this point the white snake gate crashes the engagement and ends up killing Madhumati’s pet dog, while Pravin’s family disown him for allying himself with a woman who doesn’t believe in the divinity of snakes. As a final stroke of genius, the professor organises a conference where Madhumati can tell the world about her experiences and reveal the true nature of snakes – as spelt out below.

Snake are however vindictive, vengeful and able to impersonate anyone, so the white snake is able to totally derail the conference. There is then no other option but for Madhumati and her family to head back to the forest and find the helpful swami to solve the problem once and for all.

There are just too many ideas in here and as a result the plot gets messy and confusing. Writer Lalla Devi seems to want to add in as many snake film clichés as possible and it just doesn’t work. If the film had stuck to either a single reason for snake revenge or a science vs. divinity plot it might have made more sense, but the combination just doesn’t have a clear path to follow.

Soundarya is the best thing about the film, and she really works hard to make her character as convincing as possible. Abbas plays the role of Soundarya’s fiancée Pravin and is good when he actually has something to do. But his character has only a very small role and he tends to be overshadowed by Soundarya when they are on screen together. Jaya Prakash is fine as the village chief and seems to enjoy his role while Sarath Babu does what he can with the rather stupid professor.

There are some good lines in the film about science and divinity but they get obscured by the muddle of a plot. Also annoying and totally unnecessary is a comedy track involving the family cook and a thief who stole the cook’s money. This does at least provide a reason for Madhumati to have an escort to the forest but otherwise is just distracting. There is also a comedy scene with Brahmi during the snake conference which again doesn’t add anything to the plot and could very easily have been skipped. The side story with the romance between Chevandi and Singam is one which does work relatively well, but gets cut short, again to accommodate yet more unfunny comedy. The romance between Madhumati and Pravin is also skipped over very quickly and more detail of their relationship would have helped to explain why he was willing to defy his family over her. If only they’d concentrated more on the human relationships of the main characters and less on the comedy side-kicks this would have been a much more engaging film.

The effects generally work and the final face off between the white snake and the village snake goddess is a reasonable conclusion, although it’s still just a bit dull. The white snake is unusual though and it’s a nice change to have a snake seeking revenge as a man. Sweta Naagu gets 2 ½ stars, mainly for Soundarya and the white cobra.