1 Nenokkadine

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I love Sukumar’s Arya 2, I think Mahesh is a very good actor, the story had been talked up and the budget was huge with lots of big sets and fancy locations. Unfortunately 1 Nenokkadine is more like two films thrown together than a cohesive whole  – one a complex psychological thriller and one a mass shoot ‘em up blow ‘em up. I can’t avoid one big spoiler although I don’t want to discuss the plot in much detail. But ultimately Sukumar fails to fully capitalise on either the big idea or the big star.

Note: I didn’t get to see this in a cinema as the screen caught fire at the first show and that was that! (No one was hurt.) Since I tried to see this legally but was prevented by an act of god, I wasn’t conflicted about using more dubious means available until the DVD releases.

Anyway. What to believe when the hero is an unreliable narrator? This should have been an interesting conundrum but unfortunately 1 Nenokkadine is full of holes and the direction is clunky.

Gautam (Mahesh) is a rockstar. He is prone to nightmares and constantly on guard against the men who killed his parents and want to finish him off. When Gautam sees one of the men in the audience of his show, he takes off initially in fear but then in pursuit and kills the guy. Gautam turns himself in to the police, clearly disturbed but aware he has done something wrong. He was chased by Sameera, apparently some kind of production staff on the show who is also a journalist and squealy fangirl. She films the fatal encounter and reveals the truth about Gautam – he was hallucinating the whole thing. There was no other man, no fight and no stabbing.  Gautam’s backstory finally emerges when he ingeniously tracks down Nasser who says he was a cab driver 20 years ago…And that sends them off to London and the high adrenalin second half of the film. And yet once again, nothing is as it seems.

Mahesh is very good and his dramatic scenes really do have urgency, conveying  Gautam’s pain and frustration. The scenes where Gautam is hanging on by a thread, fighting his inner demons, are so well acted but often undermined by the direction. Mahesh can do a lot with silence and minimal histrionics but Sukumar lays on tricky visuals where he could have just let the performance breathe. There is zero chemistry with Kriti Sanon, and their romance was of the desultory insta-love variety, an obligatory element. A hero with integration disorder opens up a lot of possibilities for turning mass film tropes inside out. But there is little logic, and so much bad filmi medicine, that the mental illness almost becomes irrelevant. Gautam is a man who cannot trust anyone and is out for personal revenge. Now he learns he cannot trust himself. How had he functioned for the last 20 odd years if he was prone to such vivid and realistic delusions? Why had no one around him noticed anything odd given he had ‘killed’ before? There was no reason for him to be a rockstar other than as a change of image for Mahesh, so why not have more fun with the new career? And it takes everyone far too long to unravel the screamingly obvious Significant Clue.

Kriti Sanon’s Sameera takes about half the film to find her feet, partly because she is a fairly ordinary actress and partly due to the patchy writing. Sameera lies, confuses Gautam, and finally says she is doing it all to cure him because she loves him. Yeah, whatever.  And the idea that if you love someone you have to believe them takes no account of mental illness which by definition means a person may struggle to have awareness or control of their thoughts and resulting actions. I would normally complain about drugging the heroine but I was as ready as Gautam to have a break from her.  Luckily one day Sameera recalls she is a journalist and so should be capable of thinking and research. Maybe she found her brain when she swapped handbags. She starts to put together the attacks on her, the men following Gautam, things, and links it back to the underworld don (Kelly Dorjee).

Comedy rears its ugly head as Gulab Singh (Posani Krishna Murali as a London based Sikh taxi driver) is tasked with facilitating Gautam’s revenge logistics. Pradeep Rawat, Kelly Dorjee and Nasser are the main supporting actors and deliver their usual reliable standard of performances.

The songs are an interruption and do nothing for the plot. Kriti Sanon prances about in micro shorts all the time so Aww Tuzo Mogh Kortha wasn’t an excuse for a skinshow, although she did also get some guitar fondling into her repertoire. The English lyrics are horribly cheesy, especially for You’re My Love, and nobody seems to be having fun. But don’t take my word for it.

Mahesh has very similar choreo for every song so that was a bit lacklustre too.

Peter Hein puts all the right elements into the action scenes but repetition and sluggish editing sap the energy. How could a chase involving jet skis, boats, a parasail and hydro jet packs be tedious? There are also some things that are glossed over (e.g escaping from an underwater car) where they either lacked budget or an idea of how to extricate the hero from his impending doom. Sukumar is trying for a psychological edge but replaying a shot of Kelly Dorjee throwing a can into a bin multiple times to show Gautam thinking of using the rubbish as physical evidence is just painful.

The locations are used well, and the film looks beautiful. There are some really nice touches that add style and even humour. Mahesh’s son Gautham appears as young Gautam (those ears! Instantly recognisable).The threat of Indian fans forming a mob is enough to get the police to rethink keeping Gautam in jail, but then everything else functions as though the Belfast police are identical to the Andhra police so what is the point of that cultural in-joke? It’s all very disjointed and seems to have been written by committee. Oh but Nasser’s flashback wig is a doozy. I think it is the poorer cousin of The Wig from Shakti. And for the hardcore  Mahesh fans, yes he does a shower scene so you will see naked upper back. The glimpses of princely elbow are now old hat so no need to mention there are approximately 437 of those throughout the film. I think our friend The Mahesh Fan would approve of the brainy specs. Oh you want proof?

In a good psychological thriller once the twist is revealed the story should be enriched, and the viewer should be able to re-interpret scenes with their new knowledge. I think films like The Prestige and even Sixth Sense did that extremely well. Sukumar couldn’t make his own mind up about the film he was making so ended up with an overly long muddle that wouldn’t completely satisfy either full-on Mahesh fans or the psycho-drama audience.

A schizophrenic film about schizophrenia. 3 stars (mostly for Mahesh).

Heather says:

I enjoyed this film despite a few fairly obvious plot holes and a relative lack of logic at times. Most exciting for me were the scenes shot in Northern Ireland since this is where I grew up and, Game of Thrones aside, it’s rare that I get to see my home country on screen. There was something slightly surreal about watching Mahesh Babu run across Carrick-a-rede bridge, past Scrabo tower and wander through the streets of Whitehead, particularly when you know just how far apart those places are in reality! That aside, there is much to enjoy in Nenokkadine. Mahesh is in ultra-brooding mode with his fierce intensity somehow out of place for a supposed rock star. That’s probably my main question – why make him a rock star? Where are his security people and minions to run and pander to his every whim – if he’s as famous as implied here then he does seem to travel very light. His performance however is excellent and as the story unfolds it becomes ever more believable that he has a mental illness with his intense and chilly stare.

Apart from the scenes in Northern Ireland (which I have now forced my entire family to watch) I love when a frog hops away from the fight and the action sequence in the bathroom is fantastic.  Peter Hein comes through again! Thankfully there is no annoying separate comedy track to detract from the thriller nature of the story and although the romance wasn’t particularly well realised at least it did give a respite from all the brooding. Nenokkadine is a good attempt at a rather more psychological thriller and while parts of the story are familiar at times, overall I do like the way Sukumar thinks. I love his tendency to make his heroes somewhat damaged and their flaws make them more interesting (Arya 2 is still my all time favourite Telugu film) but at least for this film I would have liked him to branch out a little more from Telugu formula and ditch the songs. I know that’s odd coming from me, since I usually want more songs, but dance numbers just don’t work particularly well in a thriller, and here the tension falters every time the action is disrupted by a song. However, I still did enjoy Nenokkadine and I’d recommend it as a rather more sophisticated thriller from Sukumar and for the excellent performance from Mahesh. 4 stars.

Okkadu

Okkadu-Poster

Gunasekhar’s 2003 film Okkadu is a beautifully balanced masala film, full of action and drama with a splash of romance and a dash of humour. Set mostly in Hyderabad’s old city, there is a strong sense of place and community and some lovely visuals. Despite being almost 3 hours long, the pace is just right and the story canters along with barely a pause. The first 20 minutes or so is almost perfection, introducing the hero and establishing his character before the real story even starts and with minimal dialogue.

Ajay (Mahesh Babu) is an academic underachiever but excels at kabbadi. He hangs out with his friends and team mates, and has a strong sense of justice if not a strong regard for rules and laws. Seeing a damsel in distress (Bhumika Chawla as Swapna), Ajay must help. And so he draws the ire of crazy baddie Obul Reddy (Prakash Raj) who intends to marry Swapna. Fleeing back to Hyderabad, Ajay tries to help Swapna leave India and also win his tournament.

This is another of those songs that could have been shot by the Hyderabad Tourism Commission – it makes the city look so enticing and diverse. I always enjoy watching Mahesh attempt classical influenced choreography. There is an air of determination and faint panic, possibly the result of a dance teacher yelling ‘Shoulders down, elbows up, stop flopping those elbows around, now double time double time double time! Is it paining? Good, then you’re doing it right’. That clip also contains a bit of Maheshian freestyling. No matter how cool a film hero may look, he’s only ever a breath away from uncle dancing.

Okkadu-city viewOkkadu-uncle dancing

Ajay is a great role for Mahesh. He is heroic in that he does what he sees as right, but he doesn’t have the usual array of super skills. He is just a guy who happens to be handy in a fight. He is a well rounded character, and his family and friends were very much part of Ajay’s life. Announced as a Krishna like figure in his first song, Mahesh delivers a lighthearted and fun performance but switches on the intensity when Ajay is on the warpath. While Ajay has Swapna hidden (in his room at home), he does remember to feed her and give her access to a bathroom and he remembers her birthday. So he is thoughtful but he does throw his weight around as all filmi boys do, and there is a slap that sparked a bit of debate between me and The Mahesh Fan. She was not a fan of the slap. I say that anyone who had to put up with Swapna and her poor decision making for so long would not be human if they didn’t want to slap her.

Okkadu-birthday suitOkkadu-not even close

No. But for for those who pay attention to such things, there is a lot of elbow on display in Okkadu.

Prakash Raj makes Obul Reddy one of my favourite filmi villains. He is so creepy and wrong, but believes he can charm Swapna despite having killed her two brothers.

Okkadu-Flirting 1Okkadu-Flirting 2

His obsession with Swapna extends to Ajay, the man standing between him and his love. Prakash Raj plays the romantic lovey-dovey dialogue with a demented flirtatiousness and like Mahesh, can bring the dark side when needed. While his antics were laughable, there was a determination that kept him from seeming a laughing stock. His fighting style was needlessly flamboyant yet got results, much like the character.

Okkadu-the planOkkadu-Telangana Sakuntala

There are even moments of pity for the bad guy as his mother (the awesomely over the top Telangana Shakuntala) clearly doesn’t think he is always manly or bad enough.

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Almost everything Swapna (Bhumika Chawla) does is stupid. She finally seems to develop a bit of a brain towards the end of the film, her coolness unsettling Obul Reddy (and his rapey plans). But that confidence seemed more to be borrowed from Ajay than due to any of her own qualities. I find Bhumika an indifferent actress and both of her facial expressions irritate me. This isn’t a challenging role but I would have liked to see someone who could add a bit more nuance to their snivelling.

Swapna did get a very pretty introductory song, and I could ignore Bhumika and concentrate on the tiny birds fastened to the set (and her) and the lovely scenery.

Mani Sharma’s soundtrack and songs work so well in Okkadu. The songs are mostly nicely picturised and generally help the story or character development to emerge. And there is a lot of dancing so that is a plus in my book. Gunasekhar makes good use of the background score and ambient noise from the scenes, with the tempo of street sounds heightening the intensity of the action. Even Obul Reddy gets a theme that is memorable and perfectly daft. The fight scenes are energetic but not too gory and I find them very entertaining. There are some nice visual set pieces that mirror other events or highlight the difference in characters too.

The old chestnut of justice vs. what is legal was given a slightly different treatment here. The ever authoritarian Mukesh Rishi plays Ajay’s dad, a senior policeman. He is out to capture a kidnapper, while his son is out to save Swapna. The priorities and conflict are clearly shown but not in too heavy handed a manner. Political corruption and the lack of independence of the police force are also shown up but it almost happens in passing, with little tub thumping about causes or society.

Okkadu-the good sonOkkadu-Overacting

The ensemble scenes are particularly good. Ajay’s mum and sister (Geetha and Baby Niharika) are less than reverent towards the son of the household and I liked their teasing banter. Ajay had a large group of friends and team mates and at critical times they stepped in to help him and give him information he needed to carry out his plans. I even laughed at some of the comedy dialogues, more because of the excellent delivery than the lines, but it is unusual for me not to look for the remote when I spy a comedy uncle.

Okkadu has it all without having too much of anything. Gunasekhar directs another excellent performance from Mahesh and the balance of serious and silly is bang on. Full on entertainment that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. 4 ½ stars! (deduction for Bhumika and her woeful expressions of woefulness and some dodgy CGI).

Nijam

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Nijam (Truth) is an odd film. It is far too long, contains some truly repellent characters and the story requires maximum elasticity from your Disbelief Suspenders. And yet I find it draws me in. Produced, written and directed by Teja, Nijam deals with truth, corruption and the eternal Telugu film question of justice. Nijam won several awards and there were a few good films released in 2003 so I guess this really resonated with the audiences.

Nijam_Rama

Mahesh Babu is Rama, a shy studious weakling with no visible heroic qualities (apart from being fair skinned and irresistible to women). He idolises his fireman father (Ranganath) but it is the women in his life who really mould Rama’s character. His mother (Rameshwari) is a strong willed and protective woman.  His neighbour Janaki (Rakshita) is also strong willed and is determined to get her hands on Rama. The first 90 minutes or is just preamble to the real crux of the story and could have been condensed considerably. Following a run in with local heavy Devudu (Gopichand), Venkateswarlu is framed for murder. He is innocent but the police, especially Brahmaji, are corrupt and the process does not favour the truth.  Rama has to pay bribes just to visit his father and is asked for payment by a witness who could clear his dad. Brahmaji lets Devudu in the cell to take his revenge on Venkateswarlu and things start to go crazy. Rama discovers his father has been injured and tries to get him out of jail. At every turn people ask for bribes to do what is right or, even worse, just to do their job. Rama runs from pillar to post trying to raise the money he needs in time to save his father. Brahmaji colludes in an elaborate scheme to ensure Venkateswarlu dies outside of the jail. Rama is devastated by his father’s death but his mother is enraged. She decides her son will take revenge on those who lied and starts him on a training montage to build his strength and skills. She helps him choose targets in the same way she used to help with his schoolwork. Rameshwari accompanies him on missions and is active in taking vengeance. Things come to a head when Rama and his ma come to the attention of CBI officer (Prakash Raj) and the unhinged and homicidal Devudu.

Nijam_Rama is helplessNijam_baby faced killer

Rama is a challenging character as he spends half the film being a nerdy nobody and then becomes an invincible hero. Mahesh shows the transition well although I struggle to believe he was as affronted by the sight of a female ankle as his gasping and shrieking was intended to convey. He was vulnerable and a bit pathetic as Rama, while there were glimpses of a more aggressive side under his peaceful exterior. He modified his body language and posture as well as his voice to project that less threatening image. Early scenes are often played for laughs, a strong contrast to what is to come. There is a steep trajectory from a scuffle at the police station to the final bloody conflict where he uses anything and everything at his disposal. Mahesh certainly has the intensity to make it seem that this transformation could happen. Rama is firmly a mummy’s boy and that relationship was sustained, adding another dimension to the hero-on-a-mission.

Nijam_breakfastNijam_Rameshwari gives the orders

Rameshwari is very good as the mother. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, but she had a softer side too. There were some really nice domestic moments in the first half of the film. As soon as her husband dies she starts to think of how she can continue to live in the world that has so betrayed her family. The answer is to change the world and she gets on task immediately. This is such an unhealthy parent child relationship but the film wants us to understand that they were forced to become serial killers because corrupt society and the law did not allow them to remain innocent. She never repents of her actions but is worried about how it might impact her beloved son. The film ends with her being congratulated for being a righteous woman and building the future of the nation. A future built on serial killer vigilantes? Oh well, as long as they only kill the bad people…

Nijam_Rakshita

Rakshita was not bad but she had a thankless and poorly written role. I’ve read several reviews that think Janakis’s harassment of Rama is some manifestation of a woman owning her sexuality and should be celebrated. Some of those reviewers would be the first to cry ‘creepy/rapey/stalker’ when a male character behaves in the same way so I am not sure why they think this is a good thing. The whole drawn out gag with her pressing her breasts against Rama and teasing him with her newspaper padding went on for far too long. She does get a few good lines and I liked that she was unafraid, but I’m not sure if that was bravery or lack of self awareness. This song is quite amusing though as Rama rebukes Janaki for behaving as though he is hers for the taking.

I eventually warmed a little to Janaki a little. She stops just being irritating and does some practical and smart things which was a relief. While I like seeing a heroine with more to do than look pretty this is not really a character I want to see more of.

Nijam_Gopichand

Gopichand is over the top yet effective as psycho Devudu who believes he is a god. He killed his boss Sidda Reddy (Jayaprakash Reddy) because Reddy took Devudu’s girl Malli (Raasi). He killed Venkateswarlu because Malli’s brother was accidentally killed in their confrontation. When he wasn’t getting all hands on with Malli he killed and killed and killed. Gopichand really goes for it boots and all, and Devudu creates some of the most striking visuals as his mania incorporates religious motifs.

Nijam_Malli

Malli is his equal in murderous intent and has no qualms about sticking a knife into Rama when the chance presents. She is another of the driving forces in Nijam – the women who decide who and what must be punished.

Nijam_The whiteboard

Prakash Raj is the honest and competent police officer set to track down the mystery serial killer. Nobody does authoritarian with heart of gold as well as Prakash Raj. His character is a voice of sanity and reason, but then makes a decision that is totally at odds with his stated goals of upholding the law. Justice seems to be about intent and not actions.

The design of Nijam is one of its strengths. The houses and local markets all look realistic enough and the big set pieces for songs and fights are well shot. Red is a significant colour and not always as a tide of blood washing across the screen.  Red can be the blessing of vermillion or the pain of chilli powder in a wound. It’s all quite intense.

Nijam_a metaphorical snake perhaps

The songs often seemed out of place, especially once the death toll started to rise. The flirty duets gave way to more emotionally loaded songs but they interrupt the flow and slow the film down even more. The songs are shared out among the cast so everyone gets a chance to strut their stuff.

The pace is so slow it often feels like the story is happening in real time. It’s not a film I rewatch often but I think this is one of Mahesh’s stronger performances and more unusual roles. Teja just needed a bit more discipline when it came to editing and trimming down his screenplay. As a plus,  it does have strong female characters – I just don’t like them very much. 3 stars!

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu

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Set mostly in a beautiful rural location, and with Mahesh Babu and Venkatesh starring as brothers, this could have been a great feelgood movie. Writer/director Srikanth Addala has crafted a picturesque and sentimental family oriented film. Unfortunately he neglected to provide anything by way of drama and the brothers are unlikeable. It was very disappointing to see so much potential go to waste.

It’s a charming film to look at.  I loved the heroes’ introduction; everything from the composition of shots to the clever editing and the choreography that featured Venkatesh and some great random street dancing was so appealing. Unfortunately it was downhill from there as Venkatesh and Mahesh play entitled manchildren who exist at the centre of their own and all other universes.

Manchild 1 (Venkatesh) is fired from his job by a surly Kota Srinivasa Rao. It seemed that M1 was sacked because he was late or lazy or just rude and off he went in a cloud of indignation. Manchild 2 (Mahesh) was irresistible to women (The Mahesh Fan agrees) and constantly told these poor girls why they were not good enough for the likes of him. M2 is sarcastic, cranky, often funny, but the humour is mean-spirited in tone. M2 does tell M1 he needs to improve his attitude but neither man really thinks the problem is with them, it is always someone else.

Prakash Raj is introduced wandering around the village smiling benignly upon all he sees. He is a kind of a ‘simple man is a holy man’, and is totally absent from, and oblivious to, his sons’ lives. Prakash Raj phones it in, and added nothing to the film. Again – what a waste!

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu Mahesh and Venkatesh

The family of mother, grandmother, sister and cousin devote themselves to running the household while M1 and M2 devote themselves to self-pity and lounging around until the next meal. Seeta (the cousin, played by Anjali) has her eye on M1 but he is oblivious because of course she should always be there to wait on him hand and foot. The boys’ sister Radha is married to a relative of M1’s former boss who looks down on Prakash Raj as a bit of a country bumpkin or something. There are tensions between the families, but a little compromise or swallowing of over-inflated pride by the boys could easily have de-escalated all that. There is a romance thread for M2 with Geeta (Samantha), also related to the ‘enemy’ family. Samantha got a really cute introduction song and dance and then all she had to do was make puppy eyes at M2 for the rest of the film. M1 and M2 fall out over Samantha as M1 is peeved at his little brother canoodling with the ‘enemy’. Much emo brooding ensues – a whole song montage worth – and neither considers compromise or conversation. They’d rather feel hard done by and betrayed.

I thought the first hour or so was just establishing the scene and people, and there would be some plot or character development. No. It is all ‘slice of life’ and watching these two sooky boys. In what is supposed to be the dramatic high point, things are eventually patched up but really – who cares? Two brats decide they’re on speaking terms again. Hurrah.

seethamma-vakitlo-sirimalle-chettu-not sulking

I really like both Mahesh and Venkatesh and they are very accomplished actors. I liked watching them together (especially when they weren’t sulking) and I enjoyed some of their scenes at home with the family. Mahesh fans will enjoy the occasional wardrobe malfunction that resulted when his modesty singlet rode up exposing the princely tummy.

Had there been a more engaging or credible story I might have been more sympathetic. The interview panel at GOOGLE asked M2 why he couldn’t smile from the heart – so he had a hissy fit and walked out. Who thinks that was a good idea? And who believes that is a legitimate interview question? M2 had a nice relationship with his grandmother, very playful and annoying, but loving. Why not set that conversation with his gran, not via product placement? M1 was very half-hearted in getting a new job. Why not show him as someone who lost their job through redundancy or something so we could empathise with his bitterness, rather than him just being a temperamental diva? Why not show him having to learn and grow like a real person? Why not show a threat to the family home or something that might compel the boys to get over themselves? Anything! In an action mass type film it doesn’t matter as much whether the hero is likeable because he exists to deliver victory and he does what it takes to win. In a character piece where there is no mitigating threat or transformative incident, there is nothing to dilute the boorishness.

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu AnjaliSeethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu Samantha

The supporting actresses (including Jayasudha as the long suffering Ma) were good, all of them creating distinct characters and often funny. I would have liked to see more of them.

I liked the songs (by Mickey J Meyer) but in a film with little plot, more spectacle could have stopped me checking my watch. They could have included more big set pieces instead of wasting a good cast on montage after montage. Venkatesh and Anjali got the better of the duets in terms of choreography while Mahesh and Samantha scored the fancy foreign location. I suppose that (and splitting the heroic rescue 50/50) is how you keep two big name heroes happy.

The audience lapped it all up. The ladies seemed to laugh more at the family scenes, while the boys clearly thought these guys were legends. Normally after such a dialogue heavy film I would be keen to get the DVD and see what I missed. But I don’t think there is anything to gain from the aggravation of knowing exactly how objectionable they were. Oh this could have been so much better. Watch the songs and enjoy the pretty, but avoid the tedious glorification of the manchild!

Takkari Donga

Made back in the day when Mahesh Babu was more baby-faced than baby-faced killer, Takkari Donga is a cowboy treasure quest featuring a map, a secret ‘diamond valley’, plus some bad acting and worse outfits courtesy of Bipasha Basu and Lisa Ray. Oh Mahesh. You’ve come a long way!

The Mahesh Fan prompted me to watch this film some time ago (“It’s Mahesh! In chaps!!”). As I often do, I ignored her. She sent me the link to watch it with subs on YouTube. Again, I somehow managed to ignore that (“It’s Mahesh! In chaps!! And there’s venom sucking!!!”). Finally she turned up at my house with a DVD made up of all those YouTube clips cobbled together. Resistance was futile. And she was right – it does feature Mahesh in chaps, and there is indeed venom sucking. I don’t think they are the most compelling reasons to watch a film, but I was quite amused by the sheer silliness that has diamonds harvested like fruit and a bit of skanked up boot-scooting. I watched it ages ago with Beth and Amrita and they found it tedious. But I say there is (fools) gold in them thar hills.

It’s a pastiche, maybe more along the lines of the Trinity series than a purported remake of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The music is a good match as Mani Sharma veers from Marlboro Country anthemic to cheesy songs. There is also a fair dollop of ‘sad trombone’, Addams Family finger snaps and samples from other Hollywood soundtracks. The camera work is often lovely and there is good use of aerial shots that help capture the grandeur of stunning scenery. It’s loaded with cowboy film standards – a saloon brawl, pratfalls, gun twirling and enigmatic galloping. There is a rickety bridge, TNT, smart horses and dumb humans. All the clichés, lovingly filmed for our enjoyment. Plus lions.

Mahesh Babu is Raja, the titular ‘Tricky Thief’. Raja has a tragic backstory that featured his family, a tiny white puppy and villain of the piece Shaka at his most sadistic. He’s an enigma. I mean, where does a man who is essentially homeless keep that extensive hat collection?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raja’s bullets pack an extra punch as several opponents are literally blown away with a single bullet, flying out of shot thanks to some enthusiastic wire work. But he also deals with an epic rope bridge confrontation simply scaring the bad guy silly by wobbling the bridge so it’s not all guns and blood spatter. I could empathise with the creepy Dega in that scene. A friend did that to me every single time we crossed a bridge in Nepal and he always found it amusing to see me ricocheting past yaks and backpackers as I fled into the distance.

Of course, the bridge HAS To break eventually but the villain is actually sent to his death by a fluffy white dog. Excellent! And then Mahesh rescues the dog so he is doubly heroic and the music agrees. I do like a good dog assisted comeuppance.

Panasa (Bipasha) makes her entrance pretending to be blind in order to rob Raja who had just robbed a train. Raja pursues her to get his booty (the money – I’m talking about the money). Despite Mahesh making loads of noise and lighting up a cigarette she persists in pretending she has no idea he is there which makes for a nicely gratuitous bath scene. She falls for Raja but to no avail, as he seems immune to her charms as amply signalled by her snug fitting leather pants.

Lisa Ray is Bhuvana, the girl destined to marry a man with exceptional qualities and a significant mole on his thigh. She sets off on a perilous journey to her uncle’s house with Raja as her paid guard, but really she is all about checking him for that mole. Lisa got a gratuitous bath scene as well as the venom sucking scene so I feel the film maker’s objectives were clear.

There is a vague love triangle as Panasa chases Raja who is sort of keen on Bhuvana who hates Raja but we know that won’t last. Panasa is a piece of work, conspiring with her sidekick (Tanikella Bharani with comedy moustache) to get Bhuvana kidnapped by the horrible Dega who likes his women to be unwilling and temporary guests.

The humour is very slapstick, uneven and only intermittently funny. Sometimes things do work well. I liked the way Raja would scoot into frame during the Chukkallo Chandrude song and shoot people to emphasise the beat. And if you ever wanted to see Mahesh weaponise a bra – wish granted.

Rahul Dev is the villain Shaka. He is obsessed with finding the map that Veeru (Ashok K Kumar) escaped with. 18 years of looking and time has not mellowed his disposition. I can’t help but think that if he had actually looked for the diamond valley rather than the man with the map he may have got there all by himself. Shaka has an unfortunate tendency to let his victims die before they speak so he is eternally frustrated. He is a sadistic psychopath and appears to own just one outfit. He has a significant scar but I think his nose is just so hypnotic it takes a while for Raja to notice the fateful mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the plot is not really worth discussing in detail. Either you’ll enjoy the story unfolding or you won’t care. It’s set in a non specific time and place using Western tropes including a Texas Rangers Sheriff badge alongside piles of chilli drying in the sun mixed with tacky plasticky photo frames and vile synthetic fabrics. The design team had some fun with the map and subsequent clues and the diamond mine is quite astonishing.

I was quite concerned when I realised there would be lots of horse scenes as frequently the stunts in films are horrifying and it is obvious that some animals would have been severely injured (at best). Takkari Donga relies mostly on the horse chase and equine acting so there was nothing that had me ready to cover my eyes. The fluffy white dog seems to have mysterious powers of teleportation. He generally trots along after the drama waiting for a chance to save Raja so that was also quite stress-free.

Jayant Paranji did go on to make the excellent Shankar Dada MBBS and Teen Maar, and we all know Mahesh’s star continues to rise so clearly this film was not the career ending move it might have been. The choreography is uninspired despite a credit for Saroj Khan (among others). Make sure you watch right to the end for a special appearance by Superstar Krishna and for the blooper reel. 3 stars just for the so bad it’s good-ness!