Rudraveena

Rudraveena is a quiet contemplative film, written and directed by K Balachander, about the responsibility of the individual in matters of caste and society. Chiranjeevi must have felt strongly about making this film as he produced it. I only wish someone would release a decent quality DVD with subtitles as it is just beautiful, and I know I must have missed a lot by not understanding the dialogues. Having said that, the things I don’t fully understand are more the cultural and social aspects, and that is usually not spelt out anyway. I am torn between wanting to write about every little detail and not saying anything about the story so you can discover it for yourself. I really do love Rudraveena and think it is one of Chiranjeevi’s best performances in an engaging and intelligent story.

A man throws a banana towards a blind woman begging, and she accidentally knocks it away. A young Brahmin boy watches her struggle to find the fruit, but does nothing as he cannot touch her or the food that she has touched. He is troubled by her situation, but doesn’t act. Eventually someone does come to her aid, and he also gives the boy a lecture on the futility of mouthing a mantra if you do not act in accordance with the values contained in the prayers. This incident infuses the story, told in an extended flashback as Suryam (Chiranjeevi) shows a visiting minister around the apparently perfect village.

Suryam is that boy all grown up – the son of famed musician Bilahari Sastry (Gemini Ganesan). Suryam is a gregarious fellow, interested in what people do and how they live. He loves music and expresses his feelings through song, seeing it as a way of sharing and giving happiness.

Music in the Sastry home is ceremonial, devotional and not for fun or for the people. The father is very traditional and conservative, living in strict adherence to caste rules. Bilahari Sastry raises his voice in song to drown out the pleas of someone needing help, and would rather be on time for a concert than help a dying commoner. And he pulls this face a lot:

He is a difficult man, but not a total monster. It’s obvious he has done the best he could after his wife died, and he misses her guidance or support.  There is already tension in the family purely because of the different personality types and this is heightened when Suryam meets Lalita (Shobana).

He sees her dancing on a hillside opposite a temple, ogled by men from their sacred vantage point. I think Lalita makes a point about men worshipping goddesses when women are excluded, and whatever she said it makes an impression. Suryam has a statue placed on the hilltop and is surprised to see the villagers lined up for pooja within shouting distance of a temple that didn’t include them.

Shobana has good chemistry with Chiranjeevi and although I know there is an age difference, it isn’t obvious and they look great.  Lalita isn’t a pushover to be impressed by the Brahmin boy and he doesn’t act entitled. Having the lower castes represented by the beautiful Lalita could have easily fallen more into the fairytale romance but thanks to some good writing and the excellent performance by Shobhana, Lalita is strong and individual.

Their shared love of music is another form of communication and bonding that helps this seem like a potential life partnership rather than a fluffy instant romance. Illaiyaraja’s songs are set into the narrative so they are part of the story, and the minimal dancing is in character for Lalita and Suryam so it all flows beautifully. The music is a real highlight of Rudraveena.

Their flirtation is fun as Lalita keeps Suryam guessing, which he kind of  enjoys,  and they do all those little things that are only really funny for people in the giddy stage of love. She’s not all cool and calm though, as she changes her sari five times before he arrives to visit. Lalita refuses to be cowed by Sastry’s disapproval and is clearly confident in her relationship with Suryam.

Lalita’s family are the opposite of the Sastrys. When Suryam arrives he is greeted with hugs and an extemporaneous welcome song introducing each family member and what they were doing. It’s an attractive environment for a boy who feels stifled at home.

Not that home life is all grim. Suryam confides a little in his sister-in-law about his love and she mocks him gently even as she is pleased to think he might soon marry. Prasad Babu gives an appealing performance as Suryam’s mute brother.

He is an observer of the tension in the house, and he uses music to force communication or at least momentary harmony. He is also a kind of moral compass, miming to his father that donning the trappings of religion doesn’t make you close to god if you don’t also do the right thing.

Bilahari will not tolerate what he sees as Suryam’s rebelliousness. As punishment, he takes on another student and promotes him to favoured disciple status. This guy is a fraud who pretends to be pious and dedicated but really he just wants to marry daughter Sandhya (the beautiful Devilalita). That relationship is quite nice, but the character is there more to be a contrast with Suryam who is outwardly not the ideal son but is a good and honourable man. Of course, Bilahari learns of his error eventually but he is a proud man and the damage has been done.

After yet another disagreement Suryam leaves the family home, but he doesn’t just marry Lalita and live happily ever after. Their wedding is interrupted by drunken louts out to cause him trouble, including an uncharacteristically nasty and dramatic Brahmi.

Suryam stops the ceremony rather than allow Lalita to be insulted further. He takes on a challenge to reform the village before he can marry and Lalita supports him despite her heartache. I think she is sympathetic partly because she wants to be certain that Suryam is sorted before they start a life together.

I liked that Lalita was active in the reforms, showing that a young low caste woman could be a leader too. Suryam sees that people don’t always have the motivation or resources they need, and he can help. It’s not as preachy as it sounds as he is a doer not just a talker, and is as likely to be driving a tractor as making a speech. It’s clear that he feels his position requires him to do something to raise people up rather than keeping them down. And I think there’s also a bit of wanting to show his father who was right.

Yes it is a little heavy handed at times but the romance and more fun elements provide the necessary balance.  The ending made me a little angry at Sastry jumping on the bandwagon, but you cannot get a clearer message than this:

Rudraveena says people can create change by doing something in their own community, and it doesn’t have to be on a grand scale to achieve a great result. I like that philosophy and it is as fresh and pertinent today as it was in 1988. All that thought provoking material, and a sweet love story to boot. And really, if you can resist Chiranjeevi in this role I just don’t know what’s wrong with you. 5 stars!

Marana Mrudangam

Marana Mrudangam is Chiranjeevi in his mass hero avatar – meting out justice, charming the ladies, fighting evil-doers and dancing up a storm. I never cease to be amazed by A Kodandarami Reddy’s imagination and Marana Mrudangam is full of crazy details, wild schemes, stunts and an array of dodgy looking props. Plus – Ranjeet!

Johny (Chiru) and Billu (Nagendra Babu, Chiranjeevi’s brother) run a small restaurant/bar.

One day Johny stops to help Utpala (Suhasini) and Anusha (Radha) when their car has broken down. Utpala is a nurse, and Radha is a high powered manager of a hotel that also seems to trade in import export.

Two girls, two guys – it’s a love triangle waiting to happen. Utpala falls for Johny who has fallen for Anusha while Billu seems to fancy Utpala a little.

I don’t mind rom-coms when Chiru is doing both rom and com, but I was hoping for a bit more masala inspired action. Imagine my delight when Billu cracked an egg to make an omelette and found it was full of COCAINE!

No I don’t know how Johny knew how to identify cocaine. But he also knew how to track the drug back to its origin and so the thrills and spills began!

Salim (Ranjeet) is a very bad man, and not just because he wears an excessive amount of very tight denim. He is a cold eyed killer and rapist and the enforcer in Vasantdada’s (Suresh Oberoi) gang.

He has no impulse control and his character could be summed up as ‘Rapey’. Ranjeet also has a thing for staking people out to die. It’s neither fast nor efficient but he does persist.

Salim impersonates a policeman and lures Anusha out of her home, intending to assault her, but Johny intervenes. Utpala needs help too. Her brother fell into the clutches of Vasantdada and before dying managed to write a letter that will bring the gang down. Johny and Billu rise to the occasion and decide to eliminate the gang and get revenge for Vasantdada’s past crimes. Vasantdada’s henchmen all wear matching outfits in different styles and colours each time they appear which was a nice detail (and helped me remember which fight was which).

Suhasini is one of my favourite actresses and while this is a fairly small role she made an impression as the good natured and straight forward Utpala. She suffers terrible loss but is determined to do the right thing. Utpala isn’t confident to act on her own and relies on Johny and Billu for advice and to do what is needed. She has a comedy scene or two, and Suhasini is not a woman I expect to see rolling drunk on screen.  But she still looked lovely.

Anusha is a haughty heroine who doesn’t lack self-confidence at all. She is independent and determined but still needs Johny to save her on numerous occasions when having a sharp tongue isn’t enough.

And I haven’t mentioned the costumes. I think in this song the wardrobe guys were so horrified by this outfit

that they gave up on clothes for a while:

Chiru tends towards the high pants with the low belt, often doubling up on the fabric for both shirt and pants, and nicely accessorised with an eye catching array of gloves.

He opts for pleather for the big occasions, but as demonstrated in that song, costumes are not necessary for Johny to make a splash.

Chiru has better chemistry with Suhasini than with Radha, though perhaps that’s just my bias. It’s clear that the saucy Anusha is Johny’s type.

But really the focus of his performance is the heroics and that he does with his customary verve.

Nagendra Babu is sweet as Billu. Compared to Johny he is quiet and shy but he is handy in a fight. He favoured denim overalls and flowery shirts which added to the slightly comedic nice guy image. He is quite tall so the effect when he was flinging little bad guys around with abandon was very funny. It’s not surprising that he and Chiru have great rapport on screen and I liked seeing them bounce dialogue off each other in their scenes.

The story is based on a popular novel. The author Yandamoori Veerendranath adapted the screenplay himself and the pace and plotting is a strength of the film. There are obviously some scenes designed purely for maximum Mega presence, but Chiranjeevi manages to incorporate them all into the character of Johny so it flowed quite well.

The climax of the film is fantastic but I did have a horribly sick feeling in a couple of minutes of footage involving horse stunts. I am certain not all of the horses were unharmed and suspect a couple didn’t survive. If this worries you please don’t watch from around 2hrs 5 min to 2 hrs 8 min. Before that I was delighted by one of the most ridiculous fake aircraft I think I have ever seen and there were some nifty come-uppances for the baddies.

The Illaiyaraja soundtrack is nice enough but I struggle to recall the songs without the visuals. Chiranjeevi and Radha don’t have the greatest choreography to work with but give it all loads of energy and flair. Visually the film is very striking with lots of crazy camera angles, stylised compositions and reminds me a little of some vintage 60s spy shows, albeit with acid wash denim.

Marana Mrudangam is a pacey masala entertainment, and if you are prepared to perhaps skip the horse scene, this is very good fun. And really, it was worth seeing just for the surprise of the naked Chiru chicken dance. 4 stars!

Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu

This was the first Chiranjeevi film I watched and I still totally love it. It was a hit when it was released in 1989 and was subsequently remade as Mapillai in Tamil and Jamai Raja in Hindi, but I think the original is the best. It’s a fantastic introduction to Chiru as it has some great action scenes, good comedy and of course totally awesome dancing. The only downside is the rather poor quality of the DVD which means that the screencaps below are rather blurry – sorry!

Chiranjeevi plays Kalyan, a graduate who has come to the city to find a job. He ends up crossing paths with medical student Rekha when she points him out to the police as the man who has stolen a bride at a wedding. This opening sequence has some great action shots as Chiru fights on, around and over a motorbike. There is also some good comedy when a drunken Kalyan goes to Rekha’s hostel room to complain about her method of identifying him to the police, especially since he knows he is the good guy. The scene is so simple but Chiru is very funny and gets plenty of humour from just one  line – just brilliant!

As  Rekha’s eyes have been opened to  Kalyan’s good qualities, in true filmi style she instantly falls in love. And once again following filmi tradition she decides that the way to win his love is to stalk him until he realises that of course he loves her too. To this end she stakes out the apartment Kalyan shares with his friend Brahmam (an almost unrecognisable youthful Brahmi with a full head of hair) and finally achieves her aim of getting Kalyan to fall in love with her too despite her rather unfortunate preference for the colour pink. At which point we get this rather fabulous song which features some  excellent hat choreography too .

With his love life sorted, Kalyan then discovers that his sister Lakshmi has been brutally rejected as a wife for her son by the rich and arrogant Mrs Chamundeshwari. To give you an idea of just how rich she is, and exactly what her priorities are, this is how she is introduced. (The blurring in this case is intentional)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kalyan is furious at Mrs Chamundeshwari’s attitude and initially refuses to let his sister marry Prasad, but changes his mind when he learns that his sister is pregnant. Prasad confesses to fear of his mother but decides that with Kalyan’s support he will dare to defy her, just as long as it’s all kept very secret!

Kalyan also learns that his love Rekha is Mrs Chamundeshwari’s daughter, which gives him a way to exact the perfect revenge. He marries Rekha and battle lines are drawn as Kalyan and Mrs Chamundeshwari fight for control of Rekha loyalties and ultimately the fate of the rest of the family. At the same time Mrs Chamundeshwari’s crooked brother Vinayaka Rao and his sidekick Kanala have turned up to try and con whatever they can from her. Recognising a rival in Kalyan they too attempt to discredit him in Rekha’s eyes with a number of crooked schemes that ultimately all fail. Kalyan enlists his friend Brahmam’s help and along the way finds another supporter in the form of Mrs Chamundeshwari’s estranged husband.

The reason I like this film so much is the excellent interaction between Kalyan and Mrs Chamundeshwari. Vanisree is fantastic as the haughty and overbearing factory owner who believes that her wealth gives her the right to make everyone do exactly as she wants. ApparentlyVanisree was a previously retired heroine who used this role as her comeback, and it certainly was a good choice. She has a lot more to do than the usual filmi mother and she exudes arrogance and distain at every step. Chiranjeevi is charismatic and charming in his role as Kalyan and gives his character plenty of compassion to contrast with the lack of feeling from Mrs Chamundeshwari. The clashes between the two are immensely enjoyable and there is a twinkle in Chiru’s eye which makes it seem as if he really enjoyed defying his mother in law at every opportunity. Of course, it could also be because he knows that he’s about to get into this outfit.

The high mortal stance from Kaylan ensures that he is the good guy throughout and director A. Kodandarami Reddy is at pains to ensure that we know he fell in love with Rekha before he met her mother. It’s not just a marriage of revenge, but a true love match. The scene depicting the first night between Kalyan and Rekha is very sweet and the story manages to mix both the conflict between Kalyan and his mother in law and the romance between Kalyan and Rekha very well. The screenplay is well written with some excellent dialogue to keep the film interesting throughout.  And there is of course a twist at the end which includes some more great action sequences. Although Vijayshanti as Rekha doesn’t have a large part to play in the film after she finally wins Kaylan’s love, her early scenes are fun. She is the dutiful sari-wearing daughter at home, but a typical young student when she goes back to the city. She changes into Western style clothes, starts smoking, and of course goes out to stalk Kalyan – all activities her mother would certainly not approve.

The set design is also fab. I have no idea what this is supposed to be, but it looks as if there is a large animal with claws as an ornament above this curtain. Sadly this is as much of it as we ever get to see since I think it looks awesome. At first I thought it was a light but on repeated viewings I’m quite sure it has claws, paws and a tail! I also love this light sculpture and there is an abundance of wonderful furniture throughout the house. Just look at the animal print stand in the bedroom for example.

While the songs by K. Chakravarthy aren’t particularly memorable, the costumes and dancing are and  Chiru and Vijayshanti look great together.I like this song as it focuses solely on Chiru with his backing dancers, although I do question the decision to make them wear these pants – they almost manage to distract me from Chiru. But only almost.

It’s a great film with a good story and well worth watching for a masala mix of romance, action, drama and comedy. The cast is excellent, the dancing fantastic and the house decor is a standout. A trip back into the eighties and worth every minute. 4 ½ stars.

Chantabbai

I was initially reluctant to watch a film billed as a comedy even with Chiru in the lead. But then I discovered Chantabbai was based on Blake Edward’s classic ‘A Shot In The Dark’ which I like, and not only does it star Chiru but also the lovely Suhasini. Then the ever helpful KB told me Chiru frocked up for a song and I was sold. And to top it all off, my favourite ebay seller BoomBox India found me a DVD with subtitles. So I would have been reasonably happy even if this was not brilliant, but guess what? It’s great fun!

It starts with cartoon titles:

Not all of them entirely suitable for children:

And more credits are painted on roads, buildings etc.  It’s a fun way to begin.

I always liked the slightly mad glitter in Peter Sellers’ eye when he played Clouseau and while that edge is missing in Jandhyala’s film there is a likeable eccentricity about the characters. Chiru’s portrayal of K Panduranga Rao a.k.a Pond…James Pond is sweet rather than insane. The subtitle team seemed to miss the mark, but perhaps they were just trying to add their own comic contribution to the often convoluted dialogue. What Chiranjeevi says is “Call me Pond…James Pond”:

Pandu is quite endearing and where Clouseau was a loner, Pandu is more of a people person. He has associates, including the omnipresent photographer sidekick Ganpathi (Suthi Velu),  he likes a girl, and of course he has his loyal servant. I always loved the scenes where Burt Kwouk as Kato would attack Clouseau and I cannot believe someone persuaded Allu Aravind to take up that role (IMDB insist it is indeed him) – and he is fantastic! I always think of him as the serious looking producer, but clearly he inherited the family comedy gene.

Suhasini is Jwala, a telephone hygienist and the object of Pandu’s affections…if she would ever shut up long enough for him to tell her.

She lives with her father (Allu Ramalingaiah) and seems to like her life and have good friends. She’s a happy girl with a bright smile and wonderfully expressive face.

Jwala is implicated in a murder and diamond theft, and PI Pandu takes her case.  The solution is arrived at via many sophisticated methods.

Chiru and Suhasini make such a nice screen couple and I greatly enjoyed seeing them in this lively romp. And you know, it leads to this lovely song which features Chiru in a pair of shoes recently discussed on this blog:

Chiru is lots of fun as the clumsy and sweet natured Pandu , obsessed with James Bond and determined to be a success.  I like his office and home decorations.

People are driven mad by James Pond and his schemes and theories that all seem to work out somehow.  They still help when he needs them, and the police do what he asks which may be a reflection on them rather than on Pond now I think of it. Bheema Raju as the police inspector looks as though he can barely keep a straight face in some scenes, and it adds to the jolly feel of the comedy. Chiru has a really nice rapport with the kids in his scenes with them, and Pandu is clearly regarded with great affection. This lacks the slightly manic edge of an Inspector Clouseau film – it’s just so nice. I mean, this is his idea of a stinging retort when he is being stood up:

Which requires a comedy song with Chiru as Chaplin! More shoes! And a tongue in cheek tribute to some of his earlier films including Khaidi.

While solving the murder, Pandu is also hired to find Jwala’s friend Dr. Nischilla’s long lost brother from her father Kongara Jaggaiah’s first relationship. There is a nice Egyptian theme to the artwork in Nischilla’s home and many people claim to be the lost Chantabbai, possibly because of the decor.

You may already have guessed who that brother turns out to be.

The discovery allows for a serious scene by Chiru as Pandu reveals how traumatised he was by being orphaned at a young age. There is a clear message about the need for people to support and help those in need and while it suited the theme of the story, the energy was suddenly a lot heavier. I found this scene surprising for the anger he expressed (briefly) in what is otherwise an amusing and lightweight film. There is also a subplot about a failed relationship of Nischilla’s which was also quite serious in tone although depicted in a stylised way. So maybe this is intended as the grown-up component of the family entertainment.

Even in a comedy film, there is apparently room for a comedy sideplot or two.  Sri Laxmi is wonderful as a would be poet who forces the newspaper editor to publish her work and try out her bizarre cooking experiments.  There is also a comedy kidnapping which is memorable for the kidnappers excellent sense of occasion:

Underneath the comedy there’s actually a well structured story that kept my attention from start to finish. The cast do a great job and are very entertaining, especially Suhasini and Chiranjeevi. Everyone looks like they had fun playing out their antics and really got into the spirit of the film. K. Chakravarthy’s soundtrack is pleasant and the songs were well placed, although they were a bit light on for dancing. If you want a slightly offbeat slapstick comedy with loads of charm I think this is a good choice. 3 1/2 stars!

Chiranjeevi: the legend, the lycra

People often ask me why I frequently feel the need to comment on Chiru’s outfits. Are they blind? Was his costume designer blind? He had an astounding array of outfits (he needed them to go with the boots) and the style to carry them all off.

He can go from this standard issue hero tight white trousers

To this extremely snug lycra and leg warmers

To this…this….

To this more traditional look for the more mature hero

But in fact, he doesn’t need much of a costume

Or need a costume at all

But you know what I always remember most about Chiranjeevi? How incredibly joyful his dancing is. I love his energy and the way he always looks like he is having the time of his life. And I love the happiness I feel when I watch a Chiru dance number.