Raja Vikramarka

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Chiranjeevi stars as Raja Vikramarka in this modern day mass flavoured fairytale. Written by Satyanand, the story borrows a few scenes from Coming to America, but Ravi Raja Pinisetty makes it his own with lashing of Telugu film staples (family drama, revenge, convoluted assassination plots etc). There are fabulous costumes and great songs too. Another Adventure Without Subtitles, this is a fun celebration of the Megastar mass hero in a film designed to entertain and not tax the thinking bit of your brain too much.

Raja Vikramarka wakes up in his palace. His feet are guided into his bedazzled fluffy slippers. Gorgeous handmaidens brush his teeth and generously hop into the 12 person bubble bath to scrub his back. His thoughtful servant shows him deep fried snacks but only lets him eat cucumber and carrots.

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His parents (Jayanthi and Satyanarayana Kaikala) arrange a betrothal to a pretty princess with no brain. But he wants more, dammit! Raja runs away from home with his trusty friend and sidekick (Brahmanandam).

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I cannot express how much I love that he runs away by public bus, and in that outfit.

Once in the big city, Raja and Brahmi settle in with the common people. Raja finds lodgings in a guesthouse and swishes around majestically in his silky robes. He attracts the attention of thief Maya (Radhika) who soon parts him from his briefcase full of cash. Forced to toil as a mechanic, Raja meets the elegant Rekha (Amala Akkineni) and becomes her bodyguard. He also becomes her would be assassin as he accepts the job of hitman in order to send the attempts awry and protect her. Hijinks ensue as Chiru turns the tables and nearly kills the bad guys with multiple attempts gone wrong. But what of his kingdom? And with 2 women in determined pursuit, who gets the guy?

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This is the kind of role Chiranjeevi could do in his sleep, but he gives a funny and energised performance despite the thin material. I was a bit sad when his princely outfits made way for 90s denim, but there was an improvement in the hair so I guess that was something. Raja is a dancer, a fighter, a lover and a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drinking.

His antics gave Chiranjeevi lots of opportunity for playful comedic shtick and more intense action. I can’t say Raja struck me as a particularly interesting character but if you want a Megastar sampler, this role has a bit of everything. He had good chemistry with both his leading ladies.

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Amala Akkineni is a striking looking woman, and has an air of maturity that suits independent and educated Rekha. Her character is attracted to Raja and she spends rather a lot of time fantasising about him, whether he is pouncing on her as she rests or infiltrating her dreams as a snake.

Her dance style is odd. She is very strong and flexible but not particularly musical so doesn’t always look quite right. I love the fight scene where Rekha is part prop, part weapon and part accomplice in Raja’s hands as he sees off some hired rowdies.

Raja-Vikramarka-Rekha is not impressed

She exudes confidence and is utterly not interested in, or fazed by, medium grade villain Kiriti (Sudhakar) although will happily use him when it suits. Rekha often does the sensible thing when she is in trouble and I liked that she could be the hot chick without being the dumb chick.

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Radhika is such a good actress. She is wasted in Maya’s caricature of a thief, but she rises above the worst efforts of the wig and wardrobe double team.

Why did they hate her so? While most of her scenes are broad comedy as she picks pockets and cons people, like Chiranjeevi she adds a little more quality than the film demands. She’s not much of a dancer but she performs her songs with heaps of energy and expression. Maya is a bad girl but when it counts she does the right thing. Radhika was fierce when her character confronted the really bad guys and made a fairly ridiculous scene moving and dramatic.

It is a quite amusing film, but the highlight for me was the Raj Koti soundtrack and the picturisations which are lots of fun. The costume department must have been on overtime as they had to provide glitzy royalty, modern stylish Raja and a bit of filmi song fantasy attire.

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This style is what I like to call Mughal-e-WTF.

There is some playfulness in the action too. Maya’s accomplice dances to Chiranjeevi hits as she picks pockets in the crowd, Raja has a fight with a rather sturdily built man in a ninja suit and stops to adjust his beret before taking on the next masked assailant, Rekha and Raja play Frisbee before a romantic duet, and there is a classic Masala Death Trap in the finale.

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Plus an evil henchman who will not die and another one who spontaneously combusts. This film is never dull.

Unfortunately it does contain the old “marry a woman off to the man who assaulted her and everyone’s honour will be preserved” chestnut but luckily Laxmi seems to make Kiriti behave better so hopefully her life was more than being a victim of his idiocy. I know it’s only a silly old film but that gets my goat every time.

The supporting cast is full of familiar faces – Rao Gopal Rao, Allu Ramalingaiah, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Gollapudi Maruthi Rao and Narayana Rao make up the numbers.

See this for a good timepass with enjoyable songs and lots of dancing. Or just see it for Chiranjeevi in all his mass hero glory. Either way you get a bonus snake dance! 3 ½ stars, just for the sheer entertainment.

The film is available on Youtube with no subtitles if you’re keen.

Raja-Vikramarka-Raja the bodyguard

Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu (1983)

Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu VCD cover

I really should stop buying unsubtitled dollar VCDs just because of the cover. But not yet. It’s hard to reconcile the masala excesses of Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu with Khaidi and Sangharshana which were made in the same year. Chiranjeevi is truly a versatile hero! A Kodandarami Reddy directs with his usual ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ flair.

The silly story reminded me of why I have such a soft spot for Telugu films. Their commitment to delivering a comeuppance is reassuring and reliable, and something the real world sadly lacks.  The VCD quality is poor. It was like watching a movie from the back row in an antiquated cinema while sitting next to someone snacking on cellophane wrapped treats. Among many visual delights, the costume department did their utmost to make an impression with their new discovery – the ruffle.

The film opens with Kongara Jaggaiah holding a baby and running from a gang of horsemen. He leaves the infant near a priest, who manages to carry on praying oblivious to the running man and pursuing horses. With the usual filmi total lack of surprise at finding an unattended child, the kindly man raised the baby as his own son. There were two babies in the original shot and the fate of the other child is revealed in due course. The baddies catch up with their prey and he is trampled severely by the horses and left for dead.

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The baby grows up to be Siva (Chiranjeevi). He is a simpleton, spending his days herding sheep, hanging out with his monkey and the village kids. Siva wears very snug fitting clothes – perhaps to show he is an overgrown child or perhaps a precursor to Chiru’s lycra era. He is easily bossed around and has little motivation to grow up or be more independent. Chiranjeevi and the monkey seem to get along well. I think Chiru permanently had a handful of snacks for his tiny co-star and the monkey noshes away happily in most of their scenes.

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Gauri (Radhika) seems to be the only other person of Siva’s age so they are clearly meant to be together. Gauri is bubbly, smart, opinionated and protective. She makes her feelings clear but Siva is a bit slow on the uptake. He eventually declares his intentions and Gauri thinks her life is set.

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The king (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) lives in luxury and adheres to traditional excess and appalling interior design. His manager, Rao Gopal Rao, is a nasty piece of work. He and his dodgy son extort money from the peasant workers. Gauri opposes him and tries to rally the people in an uprising. They eventually kill her along with half the village, and kidnap the survivors to work as slaves. The detention facility is one of those totally secret in plain sight kind of places and I doubt the design was all that functional. Anyway.

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When Siva sees the corpses and carnage he is traumatised. He goes to the king to appeal for justice. There he sees Malli (Radhika in a dual role), the king’s class conscious spoilt brat daughter.

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Mistaking her for Gauri, Siva allows Malli to bully and torment him before he realises that this stony hearted witch is not his lost love. It doesn’t happen on screen but I think she killed his monkey. How could you think it’s OK to kill a tiny monkey in a pink dress? Siva retaliates clumsily, and is on his way to the open air jail when he manages to fall hundreds of feet to a safe landing on some rocks.

He finds his way to a guru (Kongara Jaggaiah again) and his shrine to Shiva (with affiliated vengeful dude training facility). In a Sholay-ish touch, the guru’s arms dangle uselessly by his side and he is wrapped in a shawl to hide his crippled limbs. There is a flashback explaining his relationship with the overseer and what happened back in the day. He preaches the power of concentration, meditation and preparation as a means to overcome a foe. Presumably he is also of the school of ‘one swift kick’.

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After a training montage which includes a snippet of learning to dance, Siva graduates to wearing fringed pleather and heads off to seek revenge.

Once again I found myself appreciating how Chiru totally commits to his performances. He may be wearing fluoro bike shorts and not much else but he dances with energy and forcefulness as he prepares to go epic.

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While out on a hunting trip, Malli is left to fend for herself when a tiger menaces the group. Chiru to the rescue! Calling himself Vijay, he joins Malli’s staff as a bodyguard (after a death match competency test) and the ruffled shirt department go into overdrive.

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Is it any surprise that Malli finds him alluring and irresistible? Radhika and Chiranjeevi do have nice chemistry although this in no way approaches their performances in Aaradhana a few years later.

I like the faux flamenco prancing in that song although Chakravarty’s music and the choreography are uninspired. The bouffy mullet is not Chiru’s best hairstyle but it does set off the matching headbands nicely. And yes, dear reader, he is in stylish mega-boots.

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The overseer and his son favour shiny shirts, and Malli likes a frill or ten so there is something for everyone.

Siva/Vijay tells Malli’s servant that her husband is alive but to keep up the appearance of widowhood until the plan comes to fruition. The servant is also Malli’s real mother, something that eventually comes as a shock to the girl obsessed with her pure blueblood heritage.  Siva shows her paintings he made of his lost love Gauri, and his monkey, and Malli seems to understand his torment and apologises. I think. (Which is nice seeing as she is partly responsible for his loss.) While I am sure Siva and Malli are not siblings, I am not sure if Siva was the rightful heir to anything or was just a lost boy.

Love blooms, revenge ferments and eventually there is a showdown at the secret jail. And there the film really surprised me. I…words fail me.

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There might be some folkloric element to the basic story but I am not sure what inspired these guys.

But good will triumph and evil will be overthrown.

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And yet again, a surprise as Chiru ripped the intestines out of one villainous henchman using only his bare hands and the righteous power of Shiva. Ah filmi justice – extreme yet reassuringly final. And if you have faith, or maybe unshakable self-confidence, everything will come right in the end. Even if your arms are painted on.

This is far from being a good film but it was mightily entertaining. 2 ½ stars for quality, 4 for astonishing outfits!

 

 

Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu_those costumes again

Aaradhana (1987)

 

Film romances are often full of stupid people doing stupid things, trying my patience to the point that I hope one or all of them will hurry up and die so the movie can end. Thankfully this is not the case with Aaradhana which I found intelligent and lyrical. It is hard to avoid spoilers, although I have tried, so be warned…

The basic story is simple enough. Puliraju (Chiranjeevi) is a no-good drunk who falls for Jenny, (Suhasini) a Christian schoolteacher. Jenny’s family rely on her for financial support and her father Danial plans for her to marry wealthy cousin Lawrance (Dr Rajasekhar). Gangamma (Radhika) believes she has been engaged to Raju since childhood and is determined to marry him.

It could have been a farce but for excellent writing and beautiful performances, ably steered by writer-director Bharathi Raja and dialogue writer Jandhyala. There are consequences to every choice and these characters know what they want, see the obstacles and understand what the results will be, both for themselves and for others. This thoughtful writing adds a note of tragedy to balance the sweetness of the love story. The cast are uniformly good and make the most of the material, with Chiranjeevi, Suhasini and Radhika outstanding. I am a Chiru fan, but I really was seeing Raju on screen most of the time, not the Megastar. I will add, there is not a shred of lycra nor a metallic go-go boot in sight – his performance succeeds purely on acting ability. And those eyes.

The film opens with a slow pan around a seaside village before Puliraju chases a man through the market and lops his arm off as punishment for teasing a girl. He is a destructive force of misguided and alcohol-fuelled energy; childishly impulsive and self centred, full of aggression yet backs away from emotional confrontations. His name is a sign of the character’s dual nature – is he a beast or a prince? His mother and the villagers see only his worst side.

Jenny is worlds away from the likes of Raju. After a confrontation where she slaps him and he backs down, Jenny talks to Raju’s mother and reassures her that he has a good heart under the crude exterior.

Raju overhears this and is touched by Jenny’s faith in him which, along with his attraction to her, compels him to try to become a better man. Jenny isn’t afraid of Raju, and her values demand that she tries to see the best in him. She acquiesces to his plea for lessons and over the time spent together, an attraction and warmth develops. His childish streak is allowed to manifest as a sense of fun and silly stunts to impress Teacher Jenny, and his fearsome reputation diminishes.

I found it unusual to see a hero make himself so vulnerable to a woman, and to be in the position of mutely hoping she picks him. Raju knows he isn’t the right man for Jenny in so many ways, but he loves her and feels helpless. He changes his hairstyle (with varying degrees of success but a ruler straight side part always seems to indicate Good Boy), learns to read, swaps his colourful lungis for pants and generally cuts back on his drinking and hell-raising.

More significant, he learns about empathy and demonstrates his affectionate side. He hits a few bumps in the road, but he never fully relapses into the aggressive brute Puliraju. This change is more than superficial grooming to appeal to Jenny, and later scenes with Gangamma show the extent of his self-awareness. Chiranjeevi subtly alters his posture, facial expressions and diction to show the changes in Raju.

Gangamma is Raju’s cousin and fiancée since childhood. Raju initially rejects her just because he doesn’t want a wife, and later Jenny is the unwitting obstacle between them.

Gangamma tries to see off her rival but once she realises Raju will never return her love, she reassesses. Rather than force the marriage, she colludes with him to avoid the unwanted wedding. She would rather nothing than a one-sided marriage to him and asks for a place in his household, but not as his wife. Radhika was stunning. Gangamma was a cheeky and sly girl to start with and her expressions transformed completely by the end of the film to a saddened but spirited woman

Lawrance is nice, wealthy, likes Jenny and is ready to marry. Lawrance and Raju are often shot in mirror poses or facing opposite directions and as heavy handed as it may sound, it does add to the tension as Lawrance seems to have no idea he has a rival for Jenny’s love.

Religion doesn’t appear to be a strong division in this fishing village which possesses an unusually large church. Religious imagery abounds through the film and serves to illuminate the character’s qualities rather than promote any one practice or belief. When Raju gives his teacher a seashell, he proudly announces it is special, the same shell Lord Shiva touched. He calls Jenny a goddess; not just out of love but because he sees her as beautiful, educated and an inspiration.

The Christian iconography in Jenny’s home resonates with Raju and her explanations seem aimed straight at his heart. I wondered whether the poor lost goat was really necessary in so many scenes, but seeing Chiru in tears on the railway platform with that goat, I melted too.

Lawrance’s aunt (Anuradha Vasudev)  is the catalyst for some most interesting conversations. She challenges Jenny to make a decision about following her sense of duty or her heart and she is frank and explicit on this subject. This is not a film where women are completely passive. Jenny is expected to make a decision, tell the men what she has chosen, and live her life accordingly in full knowledge of the consequences.

Everyone seems to know what is going on (except maybe Lawrance) and there is no protective bubble of invisibility around the lovers. Jenny is assaulted by a villager who assumes he can have her as she spends so much time with Raju that she surely can’t be virtuous. I found that scene fascinating as it wasn’t a drunken leery groping type of assault but a calculated move by a man who thought he had the situation and the woman under control. It was very well written and felt horribly real. Gangamma also has to bear the brunt of village gossip as unsuccessful Romeos turn to slander and threats. They all know Raju isn’t the tough Puli anymore and some seek to take advantage of his rehabilitation.

When Jenny and family leave to stay with Lawrance, Raju sees them off.  After publicly exhorting Raju to come and visit, Danial privately and tearfully begs at Raju’s feet that he never come near them again lest it jeopardise his family’s prospects. The tragedy is not in witless people acting selfishly, but in likeable, practical people trying to do what they think is right and being aware of the pain they cause.

The opening titles introduce the ocean as a key player in the story, and the sound of the sea is a constant rhythm. The landscape and ocean are filmed with as much care as the actors. The music by Illayaraja is lovely, and the theme from ‘Are Emaindi’ is used to superb effect. The reprise at the end of the film is wonderful, and the changed lyrics help create the mood of anguish. I wish I could find clips with subtitles for the songs as they add so much meaning.

There are some flaws in the film but they didn’t really diminish the experience. I found some of the edits really clumsy and I wonder if maybe there were scenes missing from the DVD – it certainly felt like there was a lead up to a missing song in one section and a couple of scenes jumped quite suddenly. The climax is over the top; it relies on divine intervention, suffers from geographic inconsistencies as the village seems to change size, and Chiru is quite the ham in his cross village marathon. The actors had all given so much to make these characters come alive that I really cared what happened. And let’s be honest – I’ve seen much more unbelievable stuff than this (SRK in Kal Ho Naa Ho staggers to mind!). I didn’t need the voiceover at the end either; I’d already made up my version of ever after.

I admit to some tears, and Chiranjeevi’s Raju broke my heart. I give Aaradhana 4 and ½ stars (and three handkerchiefs).