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!

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?

Raja-Vikramarka-SmittenRaja-Vikramarka-Angry Raja

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.

Raja-Vikramarka-Masala Death Trap

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.

Raja-Vikramarka-Raja the bodyguard

Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu (1983)

Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu VCD cover

I really should stop buying unsubtitled dollar VCDs just because of the cover. But not yet. It’s hard to reconcile the masala excesses of Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu with Khaidi and Sangharshana which were made in the same year. Chiranjeevi is truly a versatile hero! A Kodandarami Reddy directs with his usual ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ flair.

The silly story reminded me of why I have such a soft spot for Telugu films. Their commitment to delivering a comeuppance is reassuring and reliable, and something the real world sadly lacks.  The VCD quality is poor. It was like watching a movie from the back row in an antiquated cinema while sitting next to someone snacking on cellophane wrapped treats. Among many visual delights, the costume department did their utmost to make an impression with their new discovery – the ruffle.

The film opens with Kongara Jaggaiah holding a baby and running from a gang of horsemen. He leaves the infant near a priest, who manages to carry on praying oblivious to the running man and pursuing horses. With the usual filmi total lack of surprise at finding an unattended child, the kindly man raised the baby as his own son. There were two babies in the original shot and the fate of the other child is revealed in due course. The baddies catch up with their prey and he is trampled severely by the horses and left for dead.

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The baby grows up to be Siva (Chiranjeevi). He is a simpleton, spending his days herding sheep, hanging out with his monkey and the village kids. Siva wears very snug fitting clothes – perhaps to show he is an overgrown child or perhaps a precursor to Chiru’s lycra era. He is easily bossed around and has little motivation to grow up or be more independent. Chiranjeevi and the monkey seem to get along well. I think Chiru permanently had a handful of snacks for his tiny co-star and the monkey noshes away happily in most of their scenes.

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Gauri (Radhika) seems to be the only other person of Siva’s age so they are clearly meant to be together. Gauri is bubbly, smart, opinionated and protective. She makes her feelings clear but Siva is a bit slow on the uptake. He eventually declares his intentions and Gauri thinks her life is set.

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The king (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) lives in luxury and adheres to traditional excess and appalling interior design. His manager, Rao Gopal Rao, is a nasty piece of work. He and his dodgy son extort money from the peasant workers. Gauri opposes him and tries to rally the people in an uprising. They eventually kill her along with half the village, and kidnap the survivors to work as slaves. The detention facility is one of those totally secret in plain sight kind of places and I doubt the design was all that functional. Anyway.

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When Siva sees the corpses and carnage he is traumatised. He goes to the king to appeal for justice. There he sees Malli (Radhika in a dual role), the king’s class conscious spoilt brat daughter.

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Mistaking her for Gauri, Siva allows Malli to bully and torment him before he realises that this stony hearted witch is not his lost love. It doesn’t happen on screen but I think she killed his monkey. How could you think it’s OK to kill a tiny monkey in a pink dress? Siva retaliates clumsily, and is on his way to the open air jail when he manages to fall hundreds of feet to a safe landing on some rocks.

He finds his way to a guru (Kongara Jaggaiah again) and his shrine to Shiva (with affiliated vengeful dude training facility). In a Sholay-ish touch, the guru’s arms dangle uselessly by his side and he is wrapped in a shawl to hide his crippled limbs. There is a flashback explaining his relationship with the overseer and what happened back in the day. He preaches the power of concentration, meditation and preparation as a means to overcome a foe. Presumably he is also of the school of ‘one swift kick’.

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After a training montage which includes a snippet of learning to dance, Siva graduates to wearing fringed pleather and heads off to seek revenge.

Once again I found myself appreciating how Chiru totally commits to his performances. He may be wearing fluoro bike shorts and not much else but he dances with energy and forcefulness as he prepares to go epic.

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While out on a hunting trip, Malli is left to fend for herself when a tiger menaces the group. Chiru to the rescue! Calling himself Vijay, he joins Malli’s staff as a bodyguard (after a death match competency test) and the ruffled shirt department go into overdrive.

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Is it any surprise that Malli finds him alluring and irresistible? Radhika and Chiranjeevi do have nice chemistry although this in no way approaches their performances in Aaradhana a few years later.

I like the faux flamenco prancing in that song although Chakravarty’s music and the choreography are uninspired. The bouffy mullet is not Chiru’s best hairstyle but it does set off the matching headbands nicely. And yes, dear reader, he is in stylish mega-boots.

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The overseer and his son favour shiny shirts, and Malli likes a frill or ten so there is something for everyone.

Siva/Vijay tells Malli’s servant that her husband is alive but to keep up the appearance of widowhood until the plan comes to fruition. The servant is also Malli’s real mother, something that eventually comes as a shock to the girl obsessed with her pure blueblood heritage.  Siva shows her paintings he made of his lost love Gauri, and his monkey, and Malli seems to understand his torment and apologises. I think. (Which is nice seeing as she is partly responsible for his loss.) While I am sure Siva and Malli are not siblings, I am not sure if Siva was the rightful heir to anything or was just a lost boy.

Love blooms, revenge ferments and eventually there is a showdown at the secret jail. And there the film really surprised me. I…words fail me.

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There might be some folkloric element to the basic story but I am not sure what inspired these guys.

But good will triumph and evil will be overthrown.

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And yet again, a surprise as Chiru ripped the intestines out of one villainous henchman using only his bare hands and the righteous power of Shiva. Ah filmi justice – extreme yet reassuringly final. And if you have faith, or maybe unshakable self-confidence, everything will come right in the end. Even if your arms are painted on.

This is far from being a good film but it was mightily entertaining. 2 ½ stars for quality, 4 for astonishing outfits!

 

 

Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu_those costumes again

Challenge (1984)

Although the title conjures images of martial arts films and to me sounds as if it should be about a physical fight, Challenge begins rather conventionally with a dying mother whose son is desperate to get her medicine. However it quickly evolves into a more social drama as Chiranjeevi’s ambitious young entrepreneur Gandhi bets rich industrialist Ram Mohan Rao that he will make 50 lakh in 5 years despite his unemployed status. With Rao Gopal Rao, Vijayashanti and Suhasini Maniratnam along for his journey from rags to riches the film touches on poverty and unemployment, workers’ rights and even industrial espionage as Gandhi rises to his Challenge.

The opening scenes introduce Gandhi as a smart but penniless man who isn’t the type to back down or give up easily.  After his mother dies, he uses his intelligence to wheedle money for her funeral from Ram Mohan Rao’s daughter; but for all of his brain power Gandhi isn’t very canny and is easily swindled out of his windfall by the hospital mortuary attendant (Sai Kumar).

Although this introduces Mohan Rao and his ‘money can buy anything’ approach to life as well as his beautiful and more compassionate daughter Harika (Vijayashanti), both the money and Gandhi’s speech to the attendant become important towards the end of the film. I haven’t been able to read Yandamoori Virendranath’s original story but the screenplay uses a number of such incidents where apparently trivial events are used to illustrate different facets of Gandhi’s character and their importance to the plot only becomes apparent later on. It’s all very cleverly done, and I did have to go back and re-watch some of these early scenes to pick up on all the details, although perhaps I was just a little distracted by Chiranjeevi’s dancing!

Gandhi is a graduate with a first class degree and somehow feels that this means the government owes him a job. In fact he’s quite belligerent about his lack of employment but is rather taken aback when Lakshmi (Suhasini Maniratnam), a girl he has rescued from the river, takes him to task about his attitude.  It turns out that Lakshmi is a graduate herself, but rather than complaining about the lack of opportunity is working in a number of different jobs to maintain her independence. Her basic belief is that it’s more important to earn a living than worry about the status of the job and since she has such a practical and pragmatic attitude also sees no problem with offering space in her house to Gandhi. Although Gandhi is initially shocked by the suggestion that he should move in with a single girl, Lakshmi solves the problem by telling him not to think like a woman which quickly stops his objections. This song is another daydream and I do like how Suhasini gets to dance on Chiru’s back!

Gandhi ends up applying for a job with Ram Mohan Rao but at the interview is humiliated by the company owner, who is furious that Gandhi sent in his application without a stamp. However Gandhi is just as angry about the trickery used in the job advert and goads Ram Mohan Rao to such an extent that he challenges Gandhi to prove that money is not important. Gandhi vows that he will earn 50 lakh in 5 years and such is his belief that Gandhi will lose, Ram Mohan Rao promises the hand of his daughter Harika in marriage if Gandhi succeeds.

Game on then!

Gandhi makes the important distinction that he will make the money legally, although not necessarily honestly and with a coin he has been given by a beggar woman, he begins his rise to riches. However, as he becomes wealthier his attitude changes and he becomes more and more fixated on the money until nothing else, including his relationship with Lakshmi, seems to matter. Indeed it’s not even the money, but rather beating Ram Mohan Rao which becomes the driving force behind Gandhi’s various plans. This then is the real challenge –can Gandhi stay true to the ideas and principles he had as a poor man or will the power of wealth corrupt his values?

Lakshmi isn’t the only woman having some issues with Gandhi’s wager. Harika is initially appalled at her father’s pronouncement but as she meets with Gandhi, she gradually falls in love with him (who can blame her!) and she actively starts to help his cause. Since Ram Mohan Rao’s first action was to rip up the contract and set his goons after Gandhi, Harika has plenty of work to do in foiling her father’s plans to ruin Gandhi’s various business ventures. While Gandhi seems determined to win the bet and therefore marry Harika, he is still living with Lakshmi – although the two seem to have a strictly platonic relationship. To add more confusion, Lakshmi’s brother Hanumantha Rao (Gollapudi) and his wife Priyamvada (Silk Smitha) move in with Gandhi and Lakshmi. Hanumantha is secretly working for Ram Mohan Rao, while Priyamvada has designs of her own on Gandhi which seem to involve a rather short red toga and a rendezvous in the desert!

Chiranjeevi is riveting as Gandhi and his portrayal of the drive and determination with which Gandhi meets his various challenges feels authentic. Chiru made me believe in every aspect of Gandhi’s moral and physical struggle and I think this is one of his best performances.  A. Kodandarami Reddy has done a great job of developing such a complex story and has put a lot of detail into the characters of Gandhi and Laxshmi to make me feel every moment of their struggles. It’s a good story too and although there are a few points that require a little suspension of disbelief, the basic theme echoes stories of personal achievement that do occur in real life. The other lead actors are all excellent.  Suhasini is perfect as the strong-minded Lakshmi and she makes the most of her well written dialogues. Rao Gopal Rao is suitably villainous as Ram Mohan Rao and although Gollapudi is fairly irritating when he tries to be funny, he doesn’t appear often enough to make it a problem. I surprised myself and recognised a young  Rajendra Prasad, who has a small but important role as one of the graduates Gandhi employs as he builds his empire. Vijayashanti looks incredibly beautiful but her character is more than just the glamour element and she too has a strong role to play.

The songs by Ilayaraja are another highpoint. Generally they represent fantasies by the various women in Gandhi’s life and the upbeat music and dancing make a good contrast with the more grim reality of the story. Vijayashanti gets the best costumes and also probably the best line in the film – Mind it! Again it’s a shame that the film isn’t in better condition but at least Challenge is available with subtitles even if they appear at times to be rather literal.

I loved this film and it’s a great way to celebrate Megabirthday! Watch for what really is an outstanding performance from Chiranjeevi and his co-stars in a cracking good story. 4 ½ stars.