Aditya 369

Aditya 369-Poster

When I heard Singeetham Srinivasa Rao’s Aditya 369 described as ‘historical science fiction’ I was immediately curious.  It is less about science or history and more about the outfits and derring-do, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The film is on Youtube without subtitles and there is a diverting but not very helpful plot summary on Wiki should you wish to swot before taking the journey. But no one in the film prepares, so please do not feel obliged.

Aditya 369-time machine

The plot goes something like this. Professor Ramdas (Tinnu Anand) is an eccentric inventor, but apparently does well enough for himself that he can support a large house and workshop and keep his daughter Hema (Mohini) in stylish polyester outfits. His life’s work is a time machine called Aditya 369. The professor takes a low key approach to security and intellectual property, allowing just about anyone to come and have a look at the machine.

Aditya 369-Amrish Puri

Raja Verma (Amrish Puri) is a crook with a particular interest in historical regalia and diamonds. He arranges to steal a golfball sized diamond from the local museum and replace it with a fake. Now, if you call one guard with obsessive rule observance a diligent approach to security, then this museum was world class. Young Kishore (Master Tarun) is accidentally locked in,  witnesses the theft and has to be rescued when he tries to outrun the thieves.

Aditya 369-Balakrishna and Master Tarun

He confides in his saviour Krishna Kumar (Balakrishna) who decides to investigate.  Kishore decides to take his fellow plucky orphans on a spin in the time machine, is rescued by Krishna,  and Krishna and Hema are sent back to the past where they rescue Silk Smitha and meet Sri Krishna Deva Rayalu (also Balakrishna) and learn about the Golfball Diamond.

You know how in lots of time travel fiction the first rule is don’t change anything and don’t use modern stuff and cause ruptures in the fabric of time? When I saw the two emergency suitcases stashed in the time machine I assumed historically appropriate costumes. Well, at least the inhabitants of 1526 got an eyeful of fine 80s fashions. And listened to a boombox.

I disliked Krishna once he had landed back in time. In the presence of poets and scholars he had only ever read about, he couldn’t help but stick his oar in and go for a bit of one-upmanship. It was really tiresome and just made no sense. The dialogue seemed to go along the lines of “As you know Jim, I have an electric shaver” “Wow! Please, unknown man who says he is from another time but based on those clothes may be a nutter, tell us what to do”.

Following that sojourn in the glorious past, the crew is catapulted into the future where they nearly die from radiation before being given their own shiny space suits. To be fair to Krishna and his lax approach to historical contamination, the future people didn’t seem to have any qualms about revealing significant details that characters would not yet have experienced. But while I could understand the future people knowing their history,  I expected a bit more curiosity from the people in that past. The final scenes bring hero, villain, professor and know-all child into conflict as things almost literally spin out of control as Krishna has to rescue his friends and save the world.

Balakrishna offers his usual high energy performance. He could never be accused of slacking off, except maybe in the dances where he often relies on a slow disco strut interspersed with vigorous flailing. Krishna doesn’t have any hidden depths so what you see is what you get. The character tried my patience and I found myself looking at the sets and backgrounds rather than caring about what was happening to the people. There were a couple of sickening stunts involving horses so that further tarnished the heroics.

Aditya 369-Mohini

Mohini is adequate as Hema given that for most of the film she is just part of Krishna’s baggage.

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Amrish Puri does his usual villain thing with flair. Raja Verma is a bit obsessed with things that are original and authentic which may explain his Faux-gyptian style robe.  The diamond was supposed to link all the times together but that part of the plot seemed like an afterthought.

There are comedy uncles but no one else gets much of a look in with Balakrishna in a double role so that is another positive for the film. Suthivelu plays a hapless policeman who gets dragged along on the time travels, and Brahmi makes a small appearance as a scientist.

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I really enjoyed Raja Verma’s gang of purple shirted thugs who carried guns in violin cases, and then played violins as background music in an interrogation scene. I think that is the first time I’ve heard the violence/violins pun in an Indian film. Tinnu Anand seems to have his own personal wind machine in all his scenes, maybe to stop him overheating from overacting.  Annapurna is Krishna’s mum although she doesn’t get to do much apart from marvel at his awesomeness.

Illayaraja’s background score is lovely. The theme over the opening credits is lush and a little eery. The songs are melodic although mostly a bit random. I did like the dance off between Silk Smitha and Mohini to settle the matter of Krishna’s honour. Well, I did until of course Krishna decided he could play all the instruments AND do the dancing.

The production design has a retro charm that sometimes made me nostalgic for TV series like Lost in Space. Terminator 2 was released in the same year and the difference in technical capability is enormous.

The “ye olden days” segment was what I would expect from any Telugu film, but the futuristic episode was more remarkable for the efforts of the wardrobe department to really feature antennas and silver lame.

Apart from that, as noted earlier, the costumes were mostly 80s mainstream fashion – lots of high-waisted denim, synthetic fabrics and big hair. And the women didn’t fare much better.

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy and Telugu films are a great place to find them. See this for the curiosity value of the Telugu mass hero formula applied to a different genre and for the low tech effects that have their own appeal. 3 stars!

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Gundello Godari

Gundello Godari

Gundello Godari is a step away from mass masala, going back to basics with a simple love story that evolves in quite a different way from the usual fare.  This is director Kumar Nagendra’s debut film and it’s loosely based on a novel by BVS Rama Rao, set around the real-life devastating floods in 1986.  Initially, newlyweds Malli and Chitra know nothing about each other, but as they battle through the Godavari floodwaters, they gradually learn about their respective troubled pasts.  The screenplay is a little patchy in places and the flood is frequently overly melodramatic, but good performances and beautiful music by Ilaiyaraaja make this a better than average watch.

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The story opens with the marriage of Malli (Aadhi) and Chitra (Lakshmi Manchu), although they barely acknowledge each other throughout the ceremony.  The first spark of interest occurs when the beautiful Sarala (Taapsee Pannu) gifts the groom with a golden ring, obviously with the intention of making his new bride jealous.  At that point, the sleazy Dhorababu (Ravi Babu) arrives and also has a present for the happy couple, this time a gold chain for the bride.  Lost in their thoughts, Chitra and Malli linger too long and get caught up in the flood waters as the rest of the village evacuates.  However, they end up cast adrift on a thatched roof together, just managing to stay afloat, and in the likelihood that they won’t survive, decide to discuss their past lives and exactly how Sarala and Dhorababu fit into the picture.

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The initial flood scenes are well integrated between the sets and some good CGI.  There are one or two moments of soggy model villages eroding with a trickle of water, but these are brief, and after all, who doesn’t like to see the traditional model village make an appearance.  The cinematography by M.R.Palanikumaar is excellent, with beautiful shots of the river, wildlife and surrounding countryside particularly during the flashback scenes.  These contrast with the fury of the river in full flood, and also highlight the difference between Malli and Chitra’s earlier lives and their current turmoil.  Predictable perhaps, but when the parallels are drawn this well with good imagery it’s hard to object.

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The first flashback deals with Malli and his undoing at the hands of his boss’s daughter.  Malli is a hard-working fisherman who has a good circle of friends, looks after his mother like all good boys should, and is saving up to buy his own boat.  He also tends to favour a string vest, but we shouldn’t hold that against him.

Kumar Nagendra captures the hopes and aspirations of a village fisherman perfectly and Aadhi is excellent in the role.  A boat race at a local fair epitomises Malli’s drive and determination to achieve what he wants, although the same fair brings him inadvertently to the attention of Sarala.  Despite her impending marriage, Sarala has no compunction in going after what she wants, and in this case what she wants is Malli!  Although she initially appears child-like as she threatens and cajoles Malli into taking her to the movies on her birthday, events become more sinister as Malli arrested by the local police on a spurious charge of brewing illicit alcohol.  Whether it’s Sarala or her father who is responsible, Malli ends up taking his frustration out on Sarala and gives her exactly what she wants in the process.  Sarala is an interesting and atypical character with her overt sexuality and brazen attempts to drag Malli into her bed.  Taapsee is good in the role, but her expression rarely varies, and although her knowing smirk is suitable a little more variation would have given her character more appeal.  Aadhi on the other hand does a fantastic job of capturing frustration, anger and even some lust in his dealings with Sarala and despite the nature of their relationship, there is plenty of emotion and sparkage between the two characters.

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After Malli’s story, Chitra’s explanation of past events is not as well written and her story tends to wander off track.  Chitra was adopted by Suri’s (Sundeep Kishan) parents as a child, but it’s not a happy family. Suri’s father Somaiah is a drunkard and his mother Rathamma works as a prostitute to keep the wolf from the door.  Chitra is in love with the adult Suri, but he’s a man more interested in his chickens, in particular fighting cocks, than in Chitra.  He also pays a little too much attention to the bangle seller Bangari (Suja Varunee) and all together there seems very little reason for Chitra to want to marry Suri.

It’s actually a little creepy since they were brought up together as brother and sister, but since there is minimal chemistry between the two actors this isn’t a major issue.  Sundeep Kishan is restrained but adequate in his role as Suri, and the character doesn’t have a lot of depth for Sundeep to work with.  The explanation for Dhorababu turning up at the wedding is also less convincing, but Lakshmi Manchu is good as the beleaguered Chitra, and her spirited defiance against the various calamities that befall her is heartening.

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While the flashback sequences provide some explanation of previous events, they do provoke more questions that are never answered.  There is no explanation of what happened to Malli after his interaction with Sarala, and more importantly no mention of whether or not he is working as a fisherman and able to support a wife given his previous dismissal by his erstwhile boss.  The arrangement of the wedding is never discussed and there is no reason given for these two strangers deciding to marry each other. Still, the developing relationship between the two is well handled, even though it is almost swamped at times by the drama of the flood, and both Aadhi and Laksmi Manchu are both very good in their respective roles.

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Ilaiyaraaja’s music is evocative of the time, although there are two rather oddly placed item numbers which don’t fit as well and don’t have any real place in the narrative.  Mumaith Khan features in one of these, while Suja Varunee does the honours in the second, but both feel as if they are just added in to try and appeal to a more mass audience and aren’t particularly well choreographed.  However, apart from the first song, these are the only two numbers which feature any dancing, since the rest are used to showcase the various relationships of the main characters.

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Gundello Godari is a brave attempt to take a different look at relationships and approach a love story in a more unusual way.  For the most part it works, although the second half could be tighter condensed to allow for a more detailed development of the relationship between the two main leads.  Worth watching for evocative imagery, good performances from Aadhi and Lakshmi Manchu and a bold characterisation from Taapsee.  3½ stars.

Gundello Godari

Bobbili Raja

bobbili raja dvd

Bobbili Raja had been enthusiastically recommended by so many Telugu film fans that while I wasn’t wildly enthused by the plot synopsis, I had to watch it. I think it might be a film best enjoyed with nostalgic fondness for your 10 year old self, but it was entertaining enough and certainly kept my attention. Another Adventure Without Subtitles, I probably made up most of the plot but it isn’t subtle and there is a lot going on so that wasn’t too much of a chore to keep up.

Bobbili Raja-The confrontation

The film is loosely divided into three sections. The first bit sets up conflict between power and money hungry Rajeshwari Devi (Vanisri), Minister for Forestry, and rival politician Gummadi and his sister. Rajeshwari plays dirty and when a lackey overhears that the sister Soundarya (?) is pregnant, she tries to shame the family publicly. It emerges that Soundarya is secretly married to Rajeshwari’s brother-in-law (?) and that just makes matters worse. When he comes home, he is somewhat accidentally killed. Then Soundarya  is almost raped and bayonets the corrupt policeman assaulting her.  She and her brother escape to the jungle where they live in secrecy. The baby Raja (Venkatesh) is born and raised in that distant jungle which can be reached easily by foot unless you prefer to use a helicopter, jeep or bike. Working as a jungle guide, if he works at all, Raja is hired to take the minister’s daughter Rani (Divya Bharti) on a hunting trip. They get separated from her group of squealing girlfriends and following encounters with wildlife, Ooga Booga Central Casting “Natives” and other perils, they fall in love.

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Rani’s eyes certainly lit up at the sight of Raja handling an enormous snake. But her mother has other notions and separates the lovebirds. So Raja moves to town and sets about getting revenge for his family and getting his girl back.

The jungle adventure is heavily influenced by films like Romancing The Stone (think the mudslide with faceplant into the heroine’s crotch. Classy) along with Indiana Jones style adventures (I loved those films when I was young) and a dash of The Gods Must Be Crazy (a franchise I loathed then and now). The humour is hit and miss, sometimes offensive and racist, but Venkatesh is effortlessly likeable despite the material. Raja’s catchphrase is a cheery ‘Aiyo Aiyo Aiyiyooooo’ so there is opportunity for audience participation or perhaps a drinking game.

Bobbili Raja-Kangaroo

Raja deals with runaway cars (why does his jeep have a kangaroo painted on the door?), silly women and other forms of recalcitrant fauna and bad guys with aplomb.

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Venkatesh has a leisurely way of moving, as though he knows the camera will have to wait for him so there is no need to look flustered. This works reasonably well in his fight scenes as they are not particularly realistic and often played for laughs.

Bobbili Raja-Raja in action

He does minimal dancing, partly due to the limited choreography, and generally relies on his characterisation rather than say, his burlesque chair dancing skills.

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Rani is not my favourite filmi heroine but I do think Divya Bharti did quite well with what is often a shrill, silly character. Rani did rise to the occasion when she had to, although I was dismayed when I found myself almost cheering her suicide attempt as at least she did SOMETHING for herself that didn’t just involve shrieking “do you know who I am?” (She had  some help from an enthusiastic red paint wielding assistant.) Her outfits were what I have come to expect from 90s Telugu films. But seriously ladies, when your mum asked what teenaged you and your boyfriend/self-declared husband got up to last night would any of you answer like this?

Maybe the mini Europe set provided some distraction from difficult questions. But so much of writhing and moaning. Tsk tsk tsk. The mood gets darker once Raja announces himself as Rani’s husband, escalating the conflict with Rajeshwari and co, and Divya does show a different side of her character to match that. She was so very young when she made this. Her performance was quite impressive when you look at the calibre of the rest of the cast and realise she wasn’t overshadowed.

Vanisri’s role is the most prominent of the supporting cast, and she is the true villain of the piece. She devises needlessly elaborate schemes and has the men in the family scared witless. I am not sure about the thinking behind her eyeliner technique.

Her husband (Kaikala Satyanarayana) is a kindly man, but never directly confronts her so his goodness is moot. He seems to be waiting for Raja to deliver the comeuppance. Kota Srinivasa Rao plays her brother and well, apple…tree… Brahmanandam plays a comedy policeman and Babu Mohan is another comedy bad guy. So much ‘comedy’.

The song picturisations must have had a decent budget, and as with all good mass films there is something for everyone whether your tastes run to Filmi Tribal or random European street dancing. Illayaraja’s music matches well with the cartoonish style of action and adds to the lightheartedness. On the subject of cartoons:

There are many things that amused me. I almost look forward to seeing some familiar “faces” in the array of taxidermy but the duck was a surprise. There are lots of scenes with animals, including some comedy elephants. I was concerned about the big cats as they seemed stressed but watching the end credits I was reassured a little that they were still quite feisty. Apart from the animals, the jungle is also inhabited by one or more people obsessed with digging pits and trenches.

Bobbili Raja-Snakes alive

There are loads of stunts and fights and dramatic incidents as Raja takes on his reluctant mother-in-law and her lackeys. The climax of the film takes place on a hijacked train. Exciting! But just in case that isn’t enough, director B Gopal added a lion! And if THAT isn’t enough, snakes! Snakes on a train! It was almost enough to overcome the rather weak (but family friendly) ending. And that approach probably sums up the whole film – throw enough stuff at the audience and they’re bound to like some of it.

See this for Venkatesh, the fun if silly songs and the full throttle approach to mass entertainment that just tips the low-gore scale.

3 1/2  stars!

Suresh Productions has kindly made the film available on YouTube if you’re interested.

Kondaveeti Donga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Aa Dinagalu

Aa Dinagalu (Those Days) was one of the films recommended to me by the very helpful Jay at Kannada store  and it was an excellent pick. The film is based on experiences from the life of former gangster turned writer ‘Agni’ Sridhar and is an interesting depiction of life in the Bangalore underworld of the eighties. The gangsters are not glamorised at all, but are shown as real people with plenty of faults and eccentricities which ultimately lead to their respective downfalls.It’s not all about the gangstesr though as Aa Dinagalu also tells the story of a romance between two young people and how they end up being drawn into the gangsters’ world. The film won numerous awards including best director for newcomer K. M. Chaithanya who does a great job with the simple story.

The film starts with Chetan (Chetan) and his girlfriend Mallika (Archana) discussing how best to approach the topic of their marriage with Chetan’s family. They come from very different backgrounds; Chetan works for his high caste, rich, industrialist father, while Mallika’s is from a farming background and works as a dance instructor. Chetan is so enamoured of Mallika he thinks that his father will only need to meet her to be won over, but he has reckoned without his father’s determination that his only son should make a good match and certainly not marry a girl who is of a lower caste, let alone a few months older – the horror!

Girish Naik (Girish Karnad) has no compunction about hiring local gangster and current head of the Bangalore underworld Kotwal Ramachandra (Sharath Lohithashwa) to scare Mallika off, but the plan backfires when Chetan turns up just as the rowdies start to threaten Mallika. Chetan has inherited his father’s determination and decides to find out exactly why his girlfriend has been targeted by the city’s biggest don.

At the same time Kotwal’s main rival Jairaj (Ashish Vidyarthi) has just been released from 10 years in jail. In the seventies, Jairaj became the first don in Bangalore with the help of the chief minister and the politicians of the time, but during his enforced absence from the underworld his position was filled by Kotwal. On his release, Jairaj determines to get back his empire and destroy the upstart Kotwal in the process. Added in to the mix is ‘Oil’ Kumar (Achyuthan) who has a rather unusual opinion of the gangsters, especially considering he is paying protection money to both gangs. Oil Kumar is also working with police inspector Shivraj to get rid of both dons, perhaps planning to take their place and certainly maximise his profits. It’s all very businesslike and chilling as the gangsters approach their various henchmen to organise hits and deliver warnings while the police stand by and wait for the eventual winner to emerge.

After confronting his father and realising that he won’t back down, Chetan decides to try and get rid of Kotwal himself and approaches Jairaj for help. He’s young, rich and foolish so the gangster doesn’t take him seriously and brushes him off. However Chetan has links to the underworld through his childhood friend Sirdar who works for Kotwal’s gang. Through Sirdar he meets Bachchan and his friend Sridhar (Atul Kulkarni) who, despite working for Kotwal, are happy to conspire against him. Chetan gets dragged deeper and deeper into the underworld and the film changes focus from the love story to the conspiracy to kill Kotwal as it reaches the climax.

It’s a compelling story and it’s told very realistically without glorifying the gangsters or the violence in any way. At the end everyone has to pay for their actions, although the police seem to get away with their brutal methods of interrogation without any censure. The gangsters are shown to be primarily motivated by greed and Kotwal freely admits to Chetan that he only took on his ‘love affair’ because of the money he was paid. It’s a sordid and very unromantic view of the underworld.

Sharath Lohitashwa is outstanding as Kotwal and brings his idiosyncrasies and odd superstitions to life. Kotwal is a hunted man with barely controlled hair who lives in perpetual mistrust of everyone around him, apart from his chief lieutenant Shetty. He’s frightening in his detachment as he slashes the odd bystander just to increase his reputation and equally unnerving as he unburdens himself to Chetan and reveals just how dangerous he really is. Sharath Lohitashwa makes Kotwal a driven man with strange beliefs and he’s very scary indeed. I don’t think he ever smiles throughout the entire film and he just exudes menace in every frame!

Ashish Vidhyarthi is excellent as the more ‘typical’ gangster Jairaj; typical at least in the way that gangsters are often portrayed in films. He has the requisite seedy headquarters full of thugs extorting money and information from various unlucky individuals and corrupt officials bribing him for his support. Jairaj seems to be motivated by ego just as much as money, and he is ultra-confident, secure in his reputation and trusts the men around him. Quite a contrast to the more paranoid Kotwal, and Ashish Vidhyarthi gets Jairaj’s mix of arrogance and self-awareness just right.

It’s the dichotomy between the two men and the constant rivalry and suspicion between their gangs which keeps the film interesting. The various henchmen are all well cast and deliver convincing performances, especially Dinesh Mangalore in his role as Shetty. Unusually there are no big fight scenes in the film and the violence is generally implied rather than shown, serving to demonstrate the criminal activities of the gangsters rather than acting as mass entertainment. The threats of violence are however frightening in themselves and there is no doubt that the thugs are prepared to carry these threats through if necessary.

It’s noteworthy how the narrator Sridhar is portrayed as standing aloof from the others which I interpret as an inevitable consequence of writing your own story. However much Sridhar wants to keep to the truth it’s only natural to show himself in as good a light as possible, even if he doesn’t come away as totally squeaky clean either. Having watched this film I’ve been trying to track down a copy of his autobiography in English as the interviews I’ve managed to find are fascinating, and the rest of Sridhar’s story seems equally intriguing, but so far I haven’t managed to find it.

Sridhar is not a member of Kotwal’s gang and as we learn early on, hangs around with Bachchan to exact revenge on Kotwal for crippling his brother some years earlier. He’s shown as being much more intellectual, playing chess and reading books in English, and acts as the moral compass for the others. Sridhar, Chetan and Bachchan are generally depicted as more compassionate and likeable characters presumably to give their final actions more validity, but I do like that they still have to face the legal consequences of taking the law into their own hands and that there is no real winner in the end. Chetan’s youth makes him more impetuous and less afraid of the consequences of hanging around with gangsters and this is well shown by the young actor.

Archana gives a convincing portrayal of a young girl in love who is happy to support her lover until the situation gets too out of control. She really does look terrified and her decision to leave Chetan when she discovers his involvement with known gangsters rings true. While Chetan’s devotion is perhaps a little overdone at times, I think that Mallika’s character is well written and she acts true to her nature throughout.

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer H. C. Venu although I doubt that the conspirators did meet in such wonderfully photogenic places as the inside of wells and underneath statues.

Although the film starts with a fairly standard story of thwarted romance, it quickly evolves into something much more interesting and the slower pace suits the gradual build-up of menace. There are only two songs in the film and both are well placed to show the romance between the young lovers and not get in the way of the action. The music by Ilayaraja is beautiful and evocative and seems to suit the time period, although it’s the lack of mobile phones that I think places the film in the eighties.

Chaitanya has vividly brought Sridhar’s screenplay to life and I really loved the way the various characters all bring something quite individual to the mix. It’s an interesting story that’s realistically depicted and I recommend it as an intriguingly different and worthwhile watch.  4 ½ stars.