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.

Race GurramRace Gurram

 

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

 

 

 

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum

Krishnam-vande-jagadgurum-poster

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum is complex, controlled, visually beautiful and highly entertaining. Taking themes ranging from corruption, environmental vandalism and the disenfranchisement of the poor to Telugu film standards of revenge and justice, director Krish keeps it all in hand, gathering momentum to the dramatic showdown.

B Tech Babu (Rana) is an actor in his grandfather’s traditional Surabhi theatre troupe, performing devotional plays as well as ones based on old films and stories. (I was delighted to recognise bits of Patala Bhairavi)  He is planning to leave the theatre and go work in the US. But Subramanyam (Kota Srinivasa Rao) dies and Babu feels compelled to ensure his final play is staged at a fair in Bellary. Devika (Nayantara) is in the region filming an expose of land grabs and illegal mining practices. She interviews workers and tracks down rural folks displaced from their lands. Boy meets girl, he is smitten, she is annoyed, but they both keep on with their work and their romantic relationship is a minor facet of the story. Their connection grows as they are thrown together under an external threat. Redappa (Milind Gunaji) is the villain of the piece. His goons threaten the theatre company and he is out to prevent any interference in his mining business so has his sights on Devika. He has a deeper tie to Babu than is initially apparent and his relationship to all the various players is gradually revealed.

It is a little complicated but I felt I followed most of the plot despite this being another Adventure Without Subtitles. I had to really concentrate on who was who, and was completely taken in by one of the plot twists until the truth was revealed. I saw this with two friends – one who dislikes seeing unsubtitled films and the other had only seen one other Telugu film – and they both found it hard going. The audience were whistling, cheering and laughing at a lot of the dialogue, real belly laughs at that, so I am looking forward to seeing this with subtitles. Hopefully the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.

KVJ backstage Babu

I think this is easily Rana’s best performance to date. When Babu’s grandfather died, there was no weeping and chest beating but a definite sadness and quiet loss. There are lighter moments and some glimpses of vulnerability as well as the heroics. Rana’s dialogue delivery and the costumes for the plays within the movie were lots of fun.

KVJ Babu takes a break

He switched between young lad about town and theatrical mode with ease. I got a sense of the character’s struggle with tradition and his fundamental sense of fair play. The fight scenes were excellent and Krish knew how to use his hero to best effect. All Rana did in one sequence was stand suddenly and the audience cheered madly as the bad guy’s knee and hip joints popped and crunched. Plus Rana has Toes of Death.

Despite his ability to carry off a choreographed fight Rana cannot do the same for the other kind of choreography. He can execute dance steps but has no timing at all. The editing was very kind, and it largely worked in Ranga Marthanda, but his shortcomings were all too evident. I wonder if now Charan and Bunny are married, they don’t have time to coach their mate. Poor Rana. But he has an excellent heroic run and he is very tall. My rowing coach used to say to me whenever I had had a disastrous training session ‘you can learn technique but you can’t learn height’.

KVJ Devika at work

Nayantara is glammed up with false lashes and shiny perfect hair, but Devika is primarily focussed on her film and the cause she hopes to help. She has some contact with the CBI and I am not sure whether they were using her to get evidence or she was informing to them. There is a tough side to her and she doesn’t just sit back and wait for the men to sort things out.

Nayantara and Rana

There is no chemistry between Babu and Devika at first as the interest is on his side and he got her offside by acting like an idiot, but it does develop. Devika described Babu to her mother on the phone but that was based on him just being in front of her and looking good so I think she was giving her mum a wishlist rather than declaring an interest. Regardless, the romance is not necessary to make the story development make sense as the characters have other motives for their actions. Nayantara conveyed a sense of purpose and resilience often lacking in filmi heroines.

KVJ Venkatesh Sameera and Rana

The music sounded too familiar at times so I wondered if Mani Sharma had recycled some of his other work. The songs pop up all over the place but they provide a timeout from the action or explain important theories like ‘media is a circus’. If you have ever wondered what Rana would look like as a dwarf, on stilts, or wearing a lilac sequinned cowboy hat ‘Spicy Spicy Girl’ will provide answers. And they solved his dancing issues by getting him to flex to the beat. Venkatesh made a guest appearance in a fun item number with Sameera Reddy and the audience went nuts. The second item was not strictly necessary (are they ever?) but Hazel Keech was just dire. Oh for the love of Helen –  hire a girl who can dance!

KVJ Theatre Company

This is such a beautiful production. Backstage glimpses of the theatre company are dominated by jewel tones, gilding and rich fabrics in honeyed light while the town scenes are sun bleached with harsh shadows. The fairground lights and shapes were used effectively without being overwhelming. The contrast between the forest and the mines could not be more pointed.  People were dressed appropriate to their characters and apart from the songs, the costume team only got away with one lurid shirt – Redappa’s main enforcer wore a fetching mauve satin with shiny spots. A special shout out to whoever designed the theatre costumes for Rana – his Narasimha look was quite something.

KVJ Rana as Narasimha

A lot of the violence was directed at mouths – people had their tongues cut out, their lips pulled at, were forced to swallow boiling water. It was disturbing at times but seemed to be a literal representation of power silencing the poor and unrepresented. The action scenes use a lot of wire work and different film techniques to heighten the drama. The climax fight merges the symbolism of Narasimha with the film hero style in extravagant and memorable fashion.

The support cast includes Brahmi in a pointless gig as a rival actor, Satyam Rajesh and Raghu Babu as members of Subramanyam’s troupe, Murali Krishna Posani as a comedy taxi driver, Adithya as Babu’s murdered father, Murli Sharma in a pivotal role and many others. I liked seeing Krish’s attention to detail in the background scenes. The Surabhi company members were often seen repairing costumes or organising props and makeup and it felt like a working theatre group.

I found Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum immensely satisfying and never dull. Krish balances dialogue driven and action scenes, and draws out the themes to make a cohesive and substantial narrative. Rana excels as the modern hero with traditional inspirations and Nayantara was appealing as a heroine with a brain. This is one of my favourite films in 2012.  I’m crossing my fingers the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.

Ek Niranjan

We did say it is silly season here and what could be sillier than Sonu Sood’s wardrobe in this film? Exactly.

Ek Niranjan is a typical good guys versus bad guys effort from Prabhas and Puri Jagannadh who teamed up previously in the almost equally silly Bujjigadu. Kangana Ranaut supports in a surprisingly conventional heroine role, and Sonu Sood makes a splash in his familiar quirky villainous avatar. The story is simple enough in a convoluted way. But really, the power behind this film was firmly in the hands of the departments of dress and dance.  We suspect they wrote the screenplay too.

Prabhas is Chotu, stolen from his parents as a baby by a local wild-haired Fagin like figure, Chidambaram (played by Makrand Deshpande who is familiar to us from Swades). Chotu spends his whole life trying to find his family, and keeps in touch with Chidambaram, who is now in jail.

Chidambaram, dodgy mentor and dubious father figure, often says God plays kabadi or chess with people’s lives but he seems to have a fair go at playing kabadi with Chotu’s life himself. Chotu makes a living as a bounty hunter. He is a thug on the side of the law, and probably more morally upright than many of those in uniform. His rowdy bashing brings him into contact with local thug Jani.

Kangana is the local guitar teacher, whose brother is in the gang headed by Jani Bhai. Her neighbours happen to be Prabhas’ long lost parents and also the parents of Kailash, a killer in Jani‘s gang (yes, that does make him Chotu’s brother so you can see where this might be heading).  She is a standard film heroine – not much to do but run after the hero and away from the bad guys once she sorts out who is who. We kept waiting for her more usual persona with the drugs and tortured psyche to turn up, but the most tortured thing about her were the hotpants.  Kangana’s character started off quite promisingly, if unbelievably, as a guitar teacher but was quickly relegated to the sidelines.

Budget conscious directors please note the sensible use of hotel bathrobes for backing dancers, and the minimal fabric required for the girls:

Sonu Sood is Jani Bhai, the local crimelord and fixer for crooked politicians. He seems to think he is a misunderstood hero, although it is clear he is a petulant psychopath with possible colour blindness.  Let’s just take a moment and appreciate Jani’s style. He seems to subscribe to the Shahid Kapoor school of shirt buttoning:

 

 

 

 

 

It’s obvious (to us) why Jani feels he doesn’t get the respect he is due.

 

 

 

 

 

Rather than come out and say ‘man, it’s about the scarves!’ his gang pretend they don’t notice. Sonu does struggle to keep a straight face in some scenes, which is understandable given the outfits and dialogue, but still detracts from his supposed villainy

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Brahmanandam and Ali take care of the separate comedy side plot, and it’s not their finest work. Brahmi is a guru married to a young and lovely woman and Ali is his Captain Jack Sparrow inspired rival. There is a small comedy track with Venu Madhav as the loser enamoured of Sameera who gets beaten up by a horde of angry ladies wielding snake beans . And another unnecessary comedy track involving Sunil and the ladies of Bangkok.  None of these scenes make any sense and don’t add anything to the story, having the opposite effect of distracting us instead.

There is all the usual confusion and heavy-handed signalling of things to come. Prabhas and his parents cross paths over and over. They talk, they share food, and they know each other as neighbours. This was probably supposed to be tantalising in the ‘will they or won’t they recognise each other’ arc, but really didn’t create any sense of urgency or tension. Veeraiah (Tanikella Bharani) and his wife (Sangeeta) are really just there as something for Chotu to miss and allow Prabhas more excuses to perfect his sad puppy look.

More could have been made of the contrast between the two brothers, one who grew up with loving parents but turned to a life of crime, and the other who grew up in a gang of beggars and thieves but ended up fighting crime. There is lots of predictable action: running, fighting and crying (Prabhas), running, crying and squealing (Kangana), and drinking, whinging and rampaging (Sonu). There are multiple double-crosses and switches of allegiance in the course of the story but throughout it all, Chotu is the hero and always does what is more or less right, a bit of slapping excepted. His enemies are all bad guys – they deserve what’s coming to them!

The climax of the film is set in Bangkok, as all the characters are beset by coincidence and end up there for no apparent reason. It includes a really peculiar tribute to Michael Jackson, starring Erina (that item girl from Arya 2). It’s refreshing to see people missing MJ for the great artist he was rather than focussing on all the weirdness, despite the somewhat odd placement of the song and its lack of connection to anything else in the film. Finally, Jani gets his comeuppance, thanks partly to long suffering Brahmaji (Brahmaji) and everyone goes home to continue the great divine kabadi match.

The supporting performers, and there are possibly too many of them, do what they have done so many times over. Tanikella Bharani is wasted in his role as he is at best a background presence. Posani Krishna Murali is an uninhibited and unhinged politician with a murderous intent and an equally strong fear of being caught, and outdoes Sonu Sood in scenery chewing. Makrand Deshpande manages to make Chidambaram memorable and imbues the drunken conman with a level of pathos and complexity this film didn’t really deserve.

Prabhas wasn’t granted any immunity from crimes of fashion, switching from jeans & solid colour shirts to the more exotic in the blink of an eye.

The Mani Sharma soundtrack isn’t particularly memorable, and does borrow heavily from western songs. Choreography by Pradeep Anthony seems to be designed to show Prahbas in the best possible light, so is rather hilarious on occasion, possibly intentionally. Maybe not. We are particularly delighted by how lame this one looks – is there any cliché from the 80s that they missed?

A suitably silly offering for the festive season.

Temple says: This is just daft from beginning to end. Entertaining, but really daft. The story is improbable, which is not unusual, and the costumes are ridiculous which is also par for the course, but they go all out in their chosen direction which I find pleasing. What does set it apart from a mediocre pot-boiler are the performances which are pretty good. Prabhas is gawky and always seems slightly startled to find himself dancing away like a mad thing. I really like Kangana in this and I thought she handled the light heroine role with ease. It was nice to see her not play a character with overwhelming problems (apart from the overwhelmingly silly plot). Sonu Sood pretty much reprised this role in Dabangg and I think he enjoys being a villain, although I would like a bit more serious darkness from his performances from time to time. The support cast were good but there were too many of them cluttering up the story and not really going anywhere. The plethora of comedy sidekicks was just annoying and for the most, lacking in comedy.

The soundtrack is average and really, without the spectacular visuals the songs don’t hold up so well. The movie is dominated by Prabhas and Sonu Sood – I think they have a long and promising hero-bad guy future ahead of them. They’re on the same eye-level so it must make those dramatic glaring scenes a lot easier to film too as they both fit in the same frame!  And please give a round of applause to the wardrobe team who made it possible for me to watch this film again and still be thoroughly entertained. I didn’t even use ALL the scarfy screencaps in the post. Imagine what you’ll discover when you watch it for yourself! This gets 3 stars from me.

Heather says:  This really is a very silly film! Just when you think they can’t possibly get anything more ridiculous for Jani Bhai to wear – they do! And every song just has more and more amazing moments and totally over the top choreography – I love it! There is something very endearing about Prabhas, maybe because he is just that little bit tall and looks slightly awkward. He is always entertaining to watch as he throws absolutely everything into his role, and Ek Niranjan is no exception. While Sonu Sood does go a little overboard in his villainy, Prabhas manages to keep the story in sight and delivers a credible performance. The interplay between the various gang members, the various twists and double crosses and the posturing and menace between Jani Bhai and Chotu really lifts this a bit above the usual good guys bad guys movie.  I would have liked a little more focus on the hunt by Chotu for his parents and there could have been a nice contrast between the two brothers.  But the performance by Makrand Deshpande as Chidambaram made up for that lack as he really is excellent in his role.

Some not so good points. The comedy with Brahmi and Ali is irritating at best, and Sunil is also wasted in his weak comedy role.  Venu Madhav’s comedy track at least has some relevance even if it isn’t particularly funny.  The other disappointment is Kangana, who looks out of place and uncomfortable for much of the film. She really doesn’t seem to fit the guitar teacher role at all, and has very little rapport with the kids.  However as the film progresses and there is more interaction with Prabhas, she did loosens up and is a little more convincing.  An unsatisfactory performance when I know she is capable of much better than this.  However these are small quibbles when looked at against the truly amazing endeavours of the wardrobe department. Overall an amusing film and although I won’t watch the entire film often, the songs are definitely worth a number of viewings. 4 stars