Big Boss (1995)

Big Boss_title

I felt the need to end 2012 watching something with a quick and decisive approach to justice and guaranteed consequences for the baddies. Vijaya Bapineedu’s Big Boss delivers, albeit in a fairly slapdash manner, and is boosted by the presence of Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha in key roles. If you’re not a huge Chiru fan you could just watch the songs. Actually the opening titles almost tell the whole story. If you can tolerate plot holes, enjoy colourful dance numbers, or just like bad wigs and interior designs, this could be quite rewarding.

Big Boss_who are youBig Boss_Basu

Bavaraju Surendra, AKA Basu (Chiranjeevi), is an educated man who chooses revenge over a career. His father was murdered and his brother crippled in an incident many years ago, and Basu has not forgotten. Basu moves to the city to pursue his revenge. He ends up getting caught between opposing crime lords and is vigorously pursued by Roja who has set her cap at him.

Basu rents a room from a local widow (Madhavi) who is related to Roja (I never remember her character’s name). Living in this household allows Basu to see the injustices inflicted on residents of the area. He is the kind of guy who stands up for the defenceless and then berates them for letting one goon intimidate dozens of them. He has difficult relationships with his mother Thulasi (Sujatha) and sister Sumathi, and they don’t automatically accept he is right just because he is a bloke.

Chiru is mostly in action hero mode but the role does give him some sentimental moments with his ma, some silly mugging and slapstick with Roja and a bit of speechifying and social consciousness raising. It’s a tailor made package, right down to a running gag with Johnny (Ali) who believes Chiranjeevi is really Chiranjeevi.

Big Boss_Sujatha

Thulasi reminds Basu of her dreams for the family, and won’t accept his decision to turn vigilante. When he takes her back to the old mansion she thanks him for returning her to the Hell she had escaped. Sujatha has little dialogue but a strong presence and her reactions and expressions are really effective. I wasn’t expecting a subtle filmi Ma but she is really lovely.

Big Boss_RojaBig Boss_Roja 2

Roja has the most peculiar wardrobe. I think the outfits are meant to be ‘modern’ and also represent her mental age of 9. She is constantly reprimanded by her grandmother (Nirmalamma) for not being able to tell the difference between flower and leaf and she does indeed seem a bit dim. She is all over Basu like white on rice and he just finds her irritating if not insane. Who can blame him?

Big Boss_Nattily dressedBig Boss_Roja minus fruit

Rarely do I agree with the filmi advice to pop on a sari and you’ll snag a husband, but it really was a relief to see the end of the fruit hat.

Despite the horrors of the costume designs, Roja is at her best in the songs when she escapes her character’s childish habit of squealing. I know this is a remake but it is lots of fun.

Big Boss_Kota Srinivasa RaoBig Boss_bad wig 2

Varadarajulu is a slimy nasty villain, played to the hilt by Kota Srinivasa Rao. With his effete mannerisms and terrible wig he should be comedic, but he has a sadistic streak and a psycho wife in coloured contacts. He is bad news. He killed his father and brother (Basu’s father) with the help of his wife. Ankineedu (Narra Venkateswara Rao) is more sympathetic as crooks go, but his adherence to the mafia code means he is not long for this world.

Big Boss_injustice

The action scenes are many and bloody. The fights are heavily choreographed and while that makes them look less realistic, they are violent. Death takes many forms. If you’re on the wrong side it is Chiru and his trusty matches as he douses the baddies with petrol. The police are corrupt and so are the lawyers. If you can’t get your own justice, forget it.

In a recent discussion with Beth and Sujoy we agreed that none of us understand why people say there is no sex in Indian films. Sex and relationships are clearly a part of this story. Consensual sex between people who like each other is not treated harshly at all. In many films, Roja would have been marked as the bad girl based on her dress, her forwardness, her dream of climbing into bed with Basu (and then telling her grandmother all about it). Grandma seems to have been a bit wild in her youth too. When Madhavi’s blouse is deliberately torn, Ankineedu is furious at his son’s behaviour while Madhavi holds her head high. Varadarajulu’s wife uses sex to lure men into helping her, Sumathi chooses a marriage as a way of escaping what she sees as a useless family. Women behave in a range of different ways and with varying degrees of ‘niceness’, but they have clear goals and feel free to go for them. Only one of those women dies – and as a mini spoiler, it had more to do with being downright evil than expressing desire. Telugu films are hero-centric, but if you watch what is happening on the periphery, sometimes there are interesting things going on.

Mind you, I cannot be certain that generosity is deliberate. Basu’s youngest brother appears to regrow a lost leg late in the film.

Big Boss_no legBig Boss_two legs

And at the time the father was killed, there were two kids and I don’t think Thulasi was pregnant so I have no explanation for Sumathi. Maybe they just forgot to kill off the bad girls. Details, boring details!

The songs are a viewing highlight, and Bappi Lahiri is quite restrained. The introductory song is Chiru as seen by his fans, and I think it was filmed at an actual Mega Birthday event. Nearly all the picturisations are from Roja’s point of view, and are her fantasies. Roja escaped a bizarre assault in which creepy cop Tanikella Bharani threw a bucket of water over her before tearing her ugly skirt off to reveal an even more hideous dress underneath. Her grandmother had to explain the significance of a rain song. So Roja launched into one of my favourite rain songs, and kindly imagined Chiru tearing his own shirt off. In her dream of crawling into Basu’s bed she tears her blouse.

Big Boss_Innuendo 1Big Boss_innuendo 2

After a few double entendres, this song actually makes sense (except the chicken references). I can’t explain the little people or their outfits.

Big Boss_Ali as JohnnyBig Boss_Tanikella Bharani

This isn’t a film that rests on nuanced performances but apart from Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha, I have to say Ali was good. He played a character rather than doing comedy, and when I saw him tied up with a time bomb stuck to his chest, I was sorry. But he IS a comedy uncle so my tears were held at bay. Allu Ramalingaiah has a small role as a deaf yet singing policeman. Tanikella Bharani overacts like his life depends on it. Despite being cartoonish there is a nasty edge to his character although he does redeem himself a little at the end. The assorted That Guys all do their thing and succeeded in being so vile I cheered as each was dispatched.

The design teams were unfettered by practical considerations or good taste. Is that a kangaroo statue I spy?

And the costume team shared the love.

The climax fight took place in a masala death trap (complete with giant gas cooker thingie) and a godown filled with rooms of things that look cool when they break. Divine intervention, Megastar powers – whatever the reason, the bad guys got their just deserts.

One for the Chiru fans. 3 ½  stars (extra for the dancing)

About these ads

Tholi Prema

Tholi Prema was strongly recommended by several hardcore Pawan Kalyan fans. If it gets the most enthusiastic film fans in the world hopping with excitement, I knew I had to watch it. It is not quite what I expected from a 90s romance, and mostly it’s a very nice film. Karunakaran let a couple of vaguely sensible ideas creep into all the filminess, and I really enjoyed the way some of the situations play out.

Pawan Kalyan stars as Balu, an underachiever who seems a bit adrift. He doesn’t live up to his parents’ high hopes and lacks motivation in his academic life. Balu and his father clash time and time again, and there is an unsettled and acrimonious atmosphere at his home. This forces him to spend more time with a group of friends that includes Ali and Venu Madhav. Balu has no trouble being assertive and a leader outside of his home, but he has no standing within his family. He is a decent guy, but just hasn’t quite got himself sorted and relies too much on his uncle (Nagesh) to sort things out for him.

Keerthi Reddy is Anu, the girl Balu falls instantly in love with. She is first seen hopping and clapping on the side of the road in the traditional filmi ‘escaped mental patient’ style. I liked her in Arjun and she is good here as the too perfect to be real rich girl but her role is mostly about looking fair and rather vapid. Anu has good intentions that manifest in ditzy ways. She believes ordinary people who do good should be celebrated so chases them around to get their autographs as though they were celebrities, and she also plays Santa for some homeless kids. Nice ideas but the execution makes her look flaky. Anu has big dreams for her career and study, and isn’t looking to marry any time soon. She wants to win a Nobel Prize!

Balu is looking for her because of her beauty and she is looking for him because he saved a child (in a very stupid traffic incident) and she sees him as a hero. There are near misses, a very dramatic incident and far too much advice from the comedy gang. But once Anu and Balu meet, the characters got a bit more interesting.

Balu is the hero so he does his share of beating up wrongdoers and righteous speechifying. But he is also a little vulnerable and I found him quite likeable. He doesn’t throw his weight around all the time, and he is easily disconcerted by quick witted cousin Priya. Pawan Kalyan looks a tad too mature for the undergrad Balu, but he is very convincing in his swings between diffidence and a more energised and confident state. He can work up a good smoulder as well as a very impressive sad puppy face. He has the Mega family eyes after all! But it’s not simply a matter of the hero claiming his ‘reward’ and he does bring a bit more nuance to Balu than I was expecting. The story plays out in both full blown melodrama and some sweetly sensible dialogues.

Priya (Vasuki) tells Balu to get to know Anu before he proposes. Radical, I know! She also points out that stalking a girl is creepy and not a good tactic as it means the girl is unaware she is in a relationship. And the sensible advice and decisions don’t stop there. When Balu writes a message in blood, another favourite of filmi heroes, Anu is as mad as all get out. She can’t understand why anyone would do that, and tells him so. The boys all fluctuate between moping listlessly and having the vapours when they so much as see their intended, so in some respects they are more like the traditional romance heroine.

Having said that, the notion that a girl is obliged to accept a guy who declares love for her is firmly in place. There are several examples of female characters succumbing to the man’s ‘honesty’ or ‘love’ regardless of whether they had ever exchanged three words in person. The biggest disappointment was in the way Priya’s story was resolved. Having seen how disturbed Balu was by his unrequited love, she couldn’t bear to reject someone who would feel the same pain. So she, giver of sensible relationship advice, married a colleague out of pity. It didn’t fit with someone who was determined enough to live away from home to complete her medical studies in a more conducive atmosphere. And while Anu and Balu were a bit more sensible, Balu showed little sign of applying himself to any form of work, study or career plan. The male characters mostly assumed that they could be useless, as the women would look after them. I think the female characters were getting a raw deal in being lumbered with these manchild types, but True Love is supposed to make everything right, isn’t it?

Most of Balu’s songs are picturesque montages of him wandering lost and lovelorn or behaving foolishly under the influence of daydreams. And he does all that very well. His dream sequences are really something! The opening disco sequence was hilarious and very peculiar. And there is a colourful vintage tribute. Deva’s music is pleasant, if heavily derivative at times, and matches the mood of the scenes. I enjoyed the light hearted mood in this song, mostly because he looks as though he snuck into big brother Chiru’s dress-up box to put the outfits together. And also because of the Ricky Martin ‘influence’.

Ali and Venu Madhav seem to be less irritating in films with Pawan Kalyan. I don’t know whether that is because he takes on some of the comedy himself so they are more contained, or that they often play characters with a purpose. I could still do without them, but I didn’t have my usual allergic reaction. The comedy is often broad and relies on slide whistle, poking fun at stereotypes and cheesy visual tricks. Narra Venkateswara Rao is Balu’s dad and he is a very unsympathetic character for most of the film. But he and Balu share a really soppy moment that was quite sweet, and a little unexpected. Nagesh is fun as the uncle and Sangeetha as the patient but passive mother makes up the rest of the major support roles.

I think every single character cries for most of the last 20 minutes. Luckily the resolution was left to Balu and Anu and the ending was quite satisfying (despite my reservations about Balu ever growing up).

I liked Tholi Prema for the way it took a slightly different path through the romance clichés. There are nice scenes between family members and with Anu, Balu and Priya that added real humour and emotion. I like Pawan Kalyan but if you’re not familiar with his films, this might be a good place to start for people who don’t enjoy the action genre. 3 ½ stars!