Race Gurram (2014)

Race Gurram

Race Gurram was very nearly a non-starter in Melbourne, but at the 11th hour the distributors managed to find a venue and the race was on!  Better still, there were English subtitles – even for the songs – a first for Telugu cinema here in Melbourne, but hopefully not the last.  So, with a small but luxurious cinema, subtitles and the promise of Allu Arjun for just over 2 ½ hours, was the experience worth all the effort to get the film onscreen? Definitely!  Race Gurram is a mass entertainer that doesn’t break away from standard masala fare, but still manages to leave you laughing at the end.  That’s thanks mainly to strong performances from Bunny and Brahmi, while the usual suspects who make up the rest of the cast are a bit more hit and miss.

Apart from Allu Arjun’s introduction with a herd of horses and a few brief dialogues between our hero and the main villain, I’m not entirely sure why the film is called Race Gurram.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the race track, and instead is a tale of acrimony between two brothers, Ram (Shaam) and Lakshman (Allu Arjun).

Race GurramRace Gurram

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ram is the elder and more sensible brother. He’s an ACP and is the standard morally upright policeman that Telugu films like to use as a sacrificial lamb.  Lakshman prefers to be called Lucky, because apparently it sounds ‘cooler’, which is probably enough of a clue to his feckless and irresponsible character.  The interactions between the two brothers are one of the strengths of the film and Shaam and Bunny make their exchanges seem natural and realistic.  Their arguments are just petty and immature enough to ring true, and when the situation escalates after a few more personal jibes, Lucky’s response is also in keeping with his personality. The way their relationship develops later in the film is also well handled, even if Lucky’s revelations before the interval do seem a little forced.   The tables are turned when Lucky finds out that someone else is targeting his brother and while it’s OK for Lucky to humiliate and fight with his brother, it’s not on if someone else tries to do the same.  It’s typical boy logic, but at least it gets Lucky on to the right side in the war against goon turned politician Shiva Reddy (Ravi Kishan).

Race Gurram

Shruti Haasan appears as Spandana, Lucky’s love interest, and at first seems to have an interesting role as a devotee of yoga who only shows her emotions on the inside.  But once she hooks up with Lucky, her usefulness to the plot seems to evaporate as her ability to emote increases, and she’s relegated to mainly appearing in the songs.  At least Shruti gets to actually dance rather than just pose and gyrate like Debi Dutta in the unimpressive opening number, and she does look great even if she doesn’t get to say much in the second half.

Another disappointment is Shiva Reddy and the whole plot against Ram and Lucky.  Although there are some good moments, overall Shiva Reddy is too much of a caricature villain to be properly offensive, and his machinations to become a minister are laughably inept. Ravi Krishnan never seems to get his teeth into the role, and mostly plays it for laughs with plenty of grimacing and sneering rather than any real maliciousness.  The knock-on effect is that the fight sequences don’t work as well as they should against such an ineffectual hoodlum and even throwing Mukesh Rishi in as Shiva Reddy’s somewhat nastier father doesn’t improve the situation. However, the usual suspects including Kota Srinivasa Rao, Posani Krishna Murali, Sayaji Shinde and even Prakash Raj as Spandana’s father all add enough to the mix to keep the action moving along well.

The second half introduces Brahmi as Kill-Bill Pandey, a name which does infer the usual dire slap-stick that Brahmi often relies on for comedy.  But such is not the case – Kill-Bill Pandey has great lines and an actual proper role in the story. And he’s really funny!  Seriously! Bunny and Brahmi work well together too, as Lucky comes to realise just what he has done by releasing Kill-Bill Pandey as head of a special police force on the unsuspecting Hyderabad public.  It makes for a much better ending than expected and has to be one of the best performances I’ve seen from Brahmi in recent times.

Race Gurram

 

I was expecting great things from the songs despite the fact that the soundtrack didn’t sound too special on first listen, and overall I wasn’t disappointed.  Apart from the first number which appeared out of nowhere without any particular point and had very little actual dancing by Bunny, the dancing was excellent.  Placement was generally odd and mostly there was no effort to place the songs within the storyline, but who really cares when it’s Bunny dancing? The stylish star looked, well, stylish, and as always his dancing was superb, particularly with Shruti Hassan in the larger group routines. Bunny always looks to be having such a good time when he’s dancing and his energy is incredibly infectious, so no matter how ridiculous the sudden appearance of Spandana and Lucky in the snow-covered fjords of Norway seemed, it was impossible not to enjoy the show.

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Race Gurram does suffer from a rather rambling screenplay, and at times the film gets bogged down with irrelevant odds and ends that taper off into nothing.  Apart from the feuding brothers, the family moments are a tad cloying and overdone, and a heavier hand with the editing wouldn’t have gone amiss.  However, Bunny and Brahmi together make for a surprisingly entertaining finale that was certainly well appreciated by the Melbourne crowd.   Well worth a watch for their combined antics

Race Gurram

 

 

 

Ramayya Vastavayya (2013)

Ramayya Vasthavayya

It seems like a very long time since the last NTR Jr. film and since I read some speculation about Tarak’s ‘new look’ I was interested to see exactly what Harish Shankar had come up with.  However the ‘new look’ is really just the old look, except for the odd moment on horseback which I admit was pretty cool.  And there were some groovy new shades.  But otherwise Ramayya Vastavayya sticks to the same old formula with the usual faces reprising roles they have played a million times before. Ultimately not even the actors seem to be able to rustle up much enthusiasm and although Tarak and Samantha both work hard and deliver good performances, the film is still let down by the clichéd storyline and stereotypical characters.

Ramayya VasthavayyaRamayya VasthavayyaRamayya Vasthavayya

                                                                             

The first half of the film is generally entertaining since it focuses on the developing romance between Nandu (NTR Jr) and Akshara (Samantha).  The romance aspect was perhaps enhanced by the fans behind throwing rose petals along with the usual strips of paper, but at least it made for a pleasingly more fragrant trip back to the old Chinatown cinemas in Melbourne.  As I’ve come to expect (yawn), Nanu sees Akshara one day while hanging out with his buddies at a coffee shop and falls instantly in love.  Akshara is not quite so sure and the ensuing comedy as Nandu tries to win her heart with a variety of schemes is amusing enough to overcome the usual discomfort of the’ stalking = true love’ theme.  

 Ramayya VasthavayyaRamayya Vasthavayya

Rohini Hattangadi pops up as an aunt of some sort to Akshara and her older sister and although her role is small and fairly gratuitous she still steals the limelight every time she appears.Presumably to appeal to a wider audience, there are numerous references back to classic films, the most blatant being Tarak’s entry scene.  Most of these are fairly obvious and seem contrived to ‘fit’ into the storyline, and I’m sure there are more that I missed (hopefully more subtle) by not understanding the dialogue.  

Samantha looks gorgeous and there is only one attempt by the notorious Telugu shoe designer to make her look ridiculous so I’m presuming she must be a favourite with wardrobe.  However, Akshara is a standard Telugu heroine, whose only purpose is to make the hero look good and is otherwise completely one dimensional, which seems a complete waste of Samantha’s talents. Still, she does get to dance and there is good chemsitry between Samantha and NTR Jr. which makes their interactions more enjoyable to watch.

Tarak’s Nandu seems a fairly typical hero – there are the requisite commanding dialogues laced with a modicum of modesty and comedy, excellent dancing skills and the ability to defeat numerous opponents by the mere flexing of a muscle or two accompanied by a snarling grimace.  As always, Tarak delivers exactly what is expected of him with plenty of animation and charisma, but since he’s playing the same character he has played in his last few films it feels stale and completely predictable.  The only really up side are the songs which feature better than usual choreography and excellent dancing from both Tarak and the backing dancers.  I loved the addition of spectacles as part of the costumes for one of the songs and the music by S. Thaman was generally catchy and effective, and at least better than the recent crop of new releases.

Ramayya Vasthavayya

After the interval, Nandu moves on from bouncing people off wall, floors and sundry items of furniture to hacking people apart with increasingly bloodier and even more poorly choreographed fight scenes.  I’m not sure who is responsible for the action for Ramayya Vastavayya, but they seem to have taken inspiration from episodes of Tom and Jerry rather than anything that remotely resembles a feasible fight scenario.  The gore content rises but it’s so ridiculous that even the various severing of limbs has little impact, particularly since the fights are so obviously staged and formulaic to begin with.

Ramayya Vasthavayya

The second half also moves the action to the countryside for Akshara’s sister’s wedding and attempts to explain the antipathy between Akshara’s father Nagabhushanam (Mukesh Rishi) and two assassins (Ajay – yay!) who tried to kill him at the beginning of the film.  This involves a lengthy flashback with Shruti Haasan as Nandu’s previous fiancée Amullu, but it’s dull, overlong and Shruti and NTR Jr. have absolutely zero chemistry together.  To make matters worse, P. Ravi Shankar appears as a stereotypical evil and lecherous politician with mannerisms straight out of the ‘Villains for Dummies’ handbook and, inevitably, Kota Srinivasa Rao appears as his equally evil father. Doesn’t he ever get tired of playing the same role?  Adding to the stereotypes, Tanikella Bharani appears as Amullu’s father, Saranya Ponvannan as her mother and M.S. Narayan briefly appears in a throwaway role which adds absolutely nothing to the plot.  Harish Shankar tries to evoke American crime shows by tying together moments from the first half with explanations later in the film, but it looks clumsy and is generally ineffective.

Ramayya VasthavayyaRamayya Vasthavayya

Ramayya Vastavayya disappointingly doesn’t cover any new ground and Harish Shankar sticks to a very well-worn formula without adding anything novel.  With such a tired screenplay and an abrupt change of pace in the second half, it’s really only the songs that appeal despite generally good performances from the actors.  NTR Jr. is as good as ever, but even with his energy and the appeal of two heroines Ramayya Vasthavayya is really a film solely for the fans.  Still, it’s worth watching at least once for the dancing, which is excellent and much better than the film deserves.

Singham II (2013)

Singham IIDespite the promise of subtitles, Singham II turned out to be another ‘adventure without subtitles’ in Melbourne.  Possibly not such a bad thing as there was so much happening on-screen, I’m not sure that I would have had time to read them anyway.  However, director Hari keeps the basic plot the same with a dedicated cop determined to clean up Tamil Nadu and a number of characters from the original Singham reprise their roles.  The addition of Santhanam, Hansika and Mukesh Rishi among many others to the cast mainly adds more mayhem into an already packed storyline but although there is an apparently limitless cast of characters, it’s still Suriya’s movie all the way.  Singham II is relentless, overlong and frequently over dramatic but there are some excellent fight scenes and Durai Singham’s determination and energy help keep the film from dragging.

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There is a quick run through the significant moments of the first film, reminding us that Durai Singham (Suriya) had resigned his position and under the aegis of the Home Minister (Vijayakumar) was heading off undercover to Tutricorn charged with investigating arms smugglers in the area.  So after a run-of-the-mill item song with Anjali, the film starts with Durai Singham working as some sort of an instructor in a local school.  I’m not exactly sure what his role was but it seemed to involve students and a lot of marching but not much else, which at least gives Singham time to pursue his undercover mission.  He also indulges in a little investigation when one of the students breaks in to look at exam papers early.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a contact lens used as forensic evidence in a film and I really hope I see it again as I never realised you could learn so much from a discarded lens!

Meanwhile at night, Singham is scouring the shore looking for smugglers.  But since the local police seem to be in cahoots with the gangs he doesn’t have much success.  I was happy to see one of my favourite bad guys Rajendran pop up, especially since he spends most of his time manically unloading illegal goods from a ship and then hurriedly reloading it all again when he’s tipped off about the possible police presence.  He’s funny and yet still menacing, and employs a fighting style which seems to be all elbows and knees but is still surprisingly effective.

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Kavya (Anushka) is still chasing after Singham and trying to organise their wedding which seems to have stalled since he gave up his role as a police officer.  However apart from appearing in the songs she doesn’t have much to do and trying to fit her into the storyline makes the film even longer.  Another unnecessary addition is Hansika as Sathya, a school student who is in love with Duria Singham.  Sathya stalks Singham, which could have been an interesting role reversal, but there never seems to be any point to her unrequited love.  Even her connection with one of the villains of the story isn’t played on to any great extent until near the end, although that could just be because I didn’t understand the dialogue.  Although Hansika looks much too old to be a school student, she is much better than usual and plays her role with restraint, but her character just doesn’t add anything to the story.

As if two romances and all the action wasn’t enough, Hari also adds in a number of comedy tracks featuring Santhanam and Vivek.  I found Vivek annoying in the first Singham, but he is more restrained here and doesn’t have as much screen time which makes him slightly more bearable. He’s also more of a genuine character with most of the one-liners seemingly given over to Santhanam who at least is very funny (even without understanding the dialogue) as the school caretaker Sussa.

Singham II

One of the main problems with Singham II is the sheer number of villains that Hari throws at his hero.  Bhai (Mukesh Rishi) is a smuggler and drug dealer who has a gang of accomplices that Singham has to wade his way through before he can get to the top man.  Similarly Thangaraj (Rahman) is a more sophisticated smuggler who uses his shipping company as a front but also has his own gang of thugs who need to be dealt with.   And finally there is their supplier Danny (Danny Sapani), an international drug dealer who spends most of his time sailing around the Indian Ocean indulging in various forms of vice.  This included killing a police man who was supposedly Australian but the dubbed accent was so bad that I didn’t even realise the actor was supposed to be speaking English!

Singham IISingham II

The inclusion of so many antagonists means that there are seemingly endless fights against different groups of thugs and never-ending schemes and counter schemes to deal with the gang leaders.  While Bhia, Thangaraj or Danny by themselves would have been effective enough, with all three the threads become entangled and the plot starts to get both confusing and repetitive. The comedy and romance even comes as a bit of relief from all the action!  The fight scenes though are well choreographed by Anal Arasu, with the best being also the most nonsensical when Singham throws away his gun in order to fight unarmed in the rain outside his parents’ house. It’s pretty stupid, but great fun!

Singham II

There isn’t too much ‘angry Singham’ in the first half, but after he puts his uniform back on, Singham gets progressively more and more enraged as he systematically sets up and destroys each of the gang leaders and their various minions.  It’s not as effective as in the first film because there isn’t the mutually antagonistic relationship between Singham and Prakash Raj’s Mayil Vaaganam which made their vitriolic exchanges so fiery.  However Suriya is still convincing and carries the film despite the long and overburdened storyline.  He does have good chemistry with Anushka and both look great together in the songs.  Although the music (Devi Sri Prasad) isn’t memorable, the choreography seems better than in the last few Suriya films and his dancing is excellent.

'Angry Singham'

There is just so much of everything in this movie and it does get rather wearing   Fewer villains and a harsher hand with the editing would make it much better but it’s still worth watching for Suriya, better than usual choreography and plenty of excellent fight scenes.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

Baadshah (2013)

Baadshah

Time for another adventure without subtitles – this time the latest Jr NTR release Baadshah.  There was a surprising new innovation at the cinema too – the addition of a queuing system! No free-for-all crush to get in and grab a seat!  This meant less conversation outside, but more time for discussions inside as it took quite a while for the trickle of people to slowly fill up the cinema.  Needless to say there were still plenty of chants and cheers (and a lot of seat swapping) as the cinema was full for the first night show.

Not understanding Telugu turned out to be not too much of a problem this time since Baadshah closely resembles director Srinu Vaitla’s last venture, Dookudu – even including a similar convoluted scam as the comedy track.  Despite the air of déjà vu, there was still plenty to enjoy with well-choreographed action scenes, awesome dancing from Tarak and (judging from the audience response anyway) some entertaining dialogue.

Baadshah

The film opens with a voice-over from Mahesh Babu, who is the first of a number of guest artists to appear in the film, although there is a large and impressive support cast too.   Tarak is Baadshah, the son of gangster Ranjan (Mukesh Rishi) who successfully runs a casino in Macau.  Ranjan works for international crime lord Sadhu Bhai (Kelly Dorji) and the first half sets up the inevitable struggle between young upstart Baadshah and the established boss.  Sadhu Bhai does have a rather swish Asian inspired lair, with a very shiny black table but otherwise Kelly Dorji’s villain is fairly routine.  I do wish he would cut his hair though – it’s too wispy to be effective as an evil crime lord look!  Sadhu Bhai has the assistance of Crazy Robert (Ashish Vidardhi) and Violent Victor (Pradeep Rawal) who both do their best to eliminate Baadshah and his father which keeps the body count relatively high in the first half.  There is also some painfully bad violin playing, which even Kajal attempts to my horror!

Baadshah

Baadshaah ends up in Milan in time for the first excellent dance number, and this gives him the opportunity to meet Janaki (Kajal Agarwal).  After the usual misunderstandings – she thinks he’s trying to commit suicide while he fails to mention any of his gangster affiliations – the two get together for a romantic song in the snow.  This would have been much better without the addition of some dreadful female backing dancers who looked out of place and uncomfortable wearing jeans under their saris and clomping around in Ugg boots while sliding around in the snow.  They did make Kajal look like a professional dancer in comparison though, so perhaps that was the whole point?

Baadshah

Janaki just happens to be the daughter of the Commissioner of Police Jai Krishna Simha (Nasser) and once back in Hyderabad is supposed to be getting married to another police officer Aadi (Navadeep).  I’m not sure if Navadeep was trying to portray angry and forceful for his character here, but he didn’t make it past mildly petulant and mainly just looked as if he had smelt something bad.  Siddharth on the other hand puts in a good performance in his brief guest appearance as Baadshah’s brother.  By the start of the second half, not only does Baadshah have to deal with the threat of Sadhu Bhai and his evil plans to blow up most of India, but he also has to get rid of Aadi and deal with the police if he wants to get the girl.

Baadshah

While the comedy in the first half comes from M. S. Narayana as a spoof film director, Brahmi appears in the second half and his character Padmanabha Simha takes over the comedy proceedings, and most of the action as well. Although the humour was mainly dialogue based there was plenty that made me laugh even as a non-Telugu speaker.  The audience loved it judging by the response, but the biggest cheer of the night went to a dance by Janaki’s female relatives at the Sangeet ceremony.

Baadshah

The film depends heavily on Tarak’s screen presence and thankfully he delivers on every scene, whether it’s action, comedy or in the dance sequences, although he is somewhat side-lined by Brahmi in the second half.  It was great to see some better choreography, without so much emphasis on ‘trick’ steps, although the item numbers weren’t up to the same level.

Kajal is good as Janaki, but she looks almost subdued in a number of sensible outfits and I thought her make-up made her look tired.  However she did seem to get some good dialogue, and at least she had a meatier role than usual for a ‘love interest’ character.  The support actors in general were reprising roles they have done many times in the past although most didn’t have a lot to do.  I was delighted to see Ajay back on screen as a gang member, even if only for a short time!

Baadshah

Baadshah follows a predictable path, but it’s entertaining with plenty of variety and it’s not quite as gore-soaked as Dhammu or Oosaravelli.  I loved the action sequences and Tarak’s dancing was an absolute stand-out in the first half, but for me the second half dragged due to the more dialogue driven comedy scenes.  The film could also have done without two item numbers, neither of which were particularly impressive. But overall this was a fun film to watch and I’m looking forward to the DVD where I can work out all those references to old NTR films.