Chanakya Sapatham (1986)

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One of a half dozen films K Raghavendra Rao churned out in 1986 (including the awesome Kondaveeti Donga), Chanakya Sapatham again pairs Chiranjeevi with Vijayashanti in a ripping yarn of smugglers, flight attendants and the Indian Customs department. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Chanakya Sapatham a neglected masala masterpiece but I do think it deserves some love.

Shashi or Sasirekha (Vijayashanti) is a flight attendant, unwittingly caught up in a smuggling operation by BOB CHRISTO! Bob, with his trademark poor judgement, hides a pouch of diamonds in her blouse (no, I don’t know how she didn’t notice) and when he  tries to get it back, Shashi puts up a decent fight and Chanakya (Chiranjeevi) leaps to the rescue. It’s like the finale of Doodh Ka Karz only with flying Chiru instead of snakes.

Naturally Shashi is swept off her feet by the dashing customs officer in his very snug uniform. They fall in love through a Kodak moment and product placement. Oh the visual metaphors.

Rana (Rao Gopal Rao) is the main villain. Bless the Paruchuri brothers for going to the trouble of trying to think of vaguely sane reasons for him to do some things, and then make him explain himself. It was unnecessary but greatly appreciated.  Rana’s chief henchman Ranga is a flamboyantly unpleasant creature and Rana’s son is a nasty piece of work. The son (Sudhakar) works for the airline, or at least owns a uniform, and was in on the smuggling but hasn’t quite got the wattage to do much off his own bat. They have little depth of character, so I was pleased to see they have that nice tricolour chandelier in their house, and I think I also recognise the stuffed tiger and the mysterious beep boop machine from previous outings.

Rana runs a Natural Health Remedy Centre. I liked the apparent lift and shift substitution of ‘karate school’ for ‘yoga school’ as a background for some of the fight scenes.

Chanakya is hot on Rana’s trail, but frustrated at every turn by the sleazy businessman’s connections and ability to weasel out of any trap. But how do they not see Chiru in surveillance mode? His pants are so blindingly white.

Both Shashi and Chanakya are close to their families.

Shashi’s sister Savitri was married but due to dowry issues (Shashi was robbed on the way home from the bank), the in-laws turned her out. Financial pressures are causing strife at home, and Shashi is the only one who seems to have a chance of fixing things. The baddies have their eye on her as a way to get to Chanakya, and offer her a smuggling job that would pay for Savitri’s dowry and put the family back on an even keel. She traps the smugglers and gets a reward which she intends to use to pay the outstanding dowry and get her sister settled.

Chanakya’s family are close and affectionate, and I liked their domestic scenes. There are so few times when an older married couple get to show an affectionate or playful  side, and I really liked those moments between Kaikala Satyanarayana and Annapurna. Chanakya is the only child and, of course, the centre of his parents universe. When Rana sets Nagarjuna up to be arrested as a smuggler Chanakya is bent on revenge and justice, which may actually be more or less the same thing in this instance.

Chanakya and Sasirekha are united by their mutual attraction and also the mission to shut Rana down. I liked that they were both smart, both tried to take care of things themselves, but could accept or even ask for help when they had to. Chanakya understood her reservations and made an effort to address her concerns quite plainly to avoid further tension.

The relationship development  was all quite sensible (for a film) as well as providing fuel for some excellent  concepts for Chakravarthy’s songs.  Apart from the usual hillside prancing, the songs take place around a giant camera, a plane made of flowers with dancers dressed as airplanes, and in and out of a tray of photo developing chemicals, or even just surrounded by neon tube lights.

Yes, this is a movie that embraces the technology of 1986. And Shashi generally looks fine (for 80s filmi fashion), even in the more imaginative sequences. Vijayashanti demonstrates she has nailed the saree run with hair toss. My biggest disappointment was Chiru’s footwear which was less than spectacular and relied heavily on the monotone ankle boot. But I rarely enjoy product placement as much as I did in this film – well done Luma Lamps people, well done.

Vijayashanti is always a pleasure to watch, and I like her rapport with Chiru. They’re well matched in the choreography, and neither of them lacks energy or commitment to the role. Shashi is smart and while she wants to sort things out herself, she appreciates Chanakya’s sincerity in wanting to help her and considers his offer rationally. I liked that he had to put his cards on the table before she would accept his gift and they didn’t play silly games. Also, this is a remarkably non-rapey film for 80s mass. The villains stay on task and when they threaten Shashi it is because they need her to do something for them, not run around screaming.

 

I liked the very specific design and fit-out for some action scenes. I would never have thought to create a factory full of…exploding ice…but it came up a treat. I always enjoy a good fight in a factory full of stuff that is only there for the hell of it. More exploding ice! A statue! Things in barrels! A luge run! And a later fight on the beach uses swings. So fun! There is more than a nod to Jackie Chan and the Hong Kong school in some of the fight choreography and Chiru has the right attitude to carry it all off – he milks those bendy iron bars and flying kicks for all they’re worth, and then some.

The earlier action scenes are funny but still a bit exciting. The finale starts out with an unfortunate tendency to Comedy before the drama and action ramps up again.

I could have done without most of the last 30 minutes, well maybe except for the bit where Chanakya rocked up not only in disguise but in a lotus submarine. But then the movie redeemed itself with what may be the best use of a wheely board and improvised ski poles since Shashi Kapoor in Duniya Meri Jeb Mein.

Vijayashanti and Chiranjeevi are a delightful on screen pair, and while Chanakya Sapatham doesn’t break new ground it does what it does so very well. 4 stars!

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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

Kondaveeti Donga

One of the indicators of an excellent masala film is when I could pick holes in it but just don’t want to. Kondaveeti Donga sees Chiranjeevi teaming up again with director A Kodandarami Reddy in a story by Yandamoori Veerendranath and the result is glorious. It’s so good I want to share every little detail and yet give nothing away so you can enjoy it as it happens. The first 15 minutes is pure breathless insanity and then the film really takes off.

Raja (Chiranjeevi) is a graduate returning to his village home. That might explain why the subtitles say ‘coz. He’s so modern and citified. Raja is an orphan, adopted by village strongman Satyanarayana Kaikala. The local people funded his education, and he is back to repay them by working to make their lives better. He finds a mysterious tiger reservation has annexed the prime farming land, and the villagers are all in debt to bigwig Rao Gopal Rao and his creepy son Narasimham (Mohan Babu). Raja tries to fight for their rights in the courts but fails. He so disappoints the villagers that one of them drops dead in the court room, adding to the guilt trip. Raja decides he must deliver justice since the law won’t, even though the illiterate villagers were clearly swindled. Inspired by an old story his adoptive father used to tell, Raja becomes the Kondaveeti Donga!

Raja declaims some cracking dialogues and bowls the ladies and bad guys over at every turn. It is a brilliant role for Chiru as it needs his swagger and charisma to make the larger than life Kondaveeti Donga come to life and he makes the most of the less action driven scenes. He wears a nice sheer face mask which fails to disguise him at all, charging around the countryside on his white horse and accompanied by his trusty dog.

There are excellent fight scenes, one including tree dwelling ninjas, tigermen and a man with very long metal arms, and a great sequence on a speeding train.

There is romance, dancing and eccentric wardrobe as the ladies live out their fantasies in songs with the obliging Raja. He is a decent bloke who genuinely cares about his adoptive family and friends. Even as he surrendered to the police, he took time to give his dog and horse a little goodbye cuddle. Awwwww.  And they deserve a hug.

The dog is particularly useful as he not only disguises himself as the Kondaveeti Donga on horseback, he also saves his friend the horse from near certain death. There is only one horse stunt that made me cover my eyes so extra points for that too.

In case Chiru as Zorro isn’t enough to tempt you (what are you – nuts?!?) there is so much more.

Amrish Puri as an evil mystic with an excellent lair. The symbolism is quite eclectic. The beak on that peacock drawbridge must have been heavily reinforced as it hits the ground with a satisfying thunk. The lair is one of those that can only be reached by water, a long arduous trek or ride, or maybe a brisk walk from the office. There are some geographical inconsistencies that put me in mind of Howl’s Moving Castle. Gadra also has a crocodile pit AND cage full of bloodthirsty cheetahs, and still finds time for his day job.

Sharada as a vengeful woman with exacting standards in machete purchasing. I love Sharada’s intensity and she has an elegance that shines through.  Like Chiru, she can inject a bit of quality into the drama and shenanigans in even the silliest script. Sambhavi is strong, resourceful and driven by a thirst for revenge. She has an iron will that even Gadra cannot overcome and she does an excellent ‘death stare’ that is almost on par with Amrish Puri.

Vijayashanti plays an undercover policewoman who poses as a snake charmer to uncover illegal activities. Srilekha is tough, has tunnel vision when it comes to the law, and is not afraid of conflict. Vijayashanti is great in this kind of role, being pretty and feisty and often very funny. Srilekha doesn’t quite join the dots and see that she is out to arrest Raja, perhaps being too distracted by his charm and laid back dance moves. Srilekha changes, most noticeably when she swaps her snug police uniform for pretty sarees. Ah, the influence of True Love!

Radha  is lovely as her sister Srikanya. Now Srikanya is a gynaecologist according to the subtitles, but she seems to perform general bullet removal surgery as well as tracking down the reason for so many villagers dying of anaemia (hint – they were literally paying a debt with their own blood). In many respects she is the opposite of her sister; reserved, soft-hearted and girly. But Srikanya is intelligent and independent in her career, so she isn’t just a piece of fluff. She falls instantly and hard for the thief, seeing him as a saviour.

Thanks to a bindi with extra stickum, she works out Raja is the mysterious Kondaveeti Donga. She keeps his secret even from her family as she believes in his cause, and despite being the softer of the sisters she holds her ground under threat. When medical fakery is needed, Srikanya is cool in a crisis.

Despite being an unashamedly masala potboiler, there is some nice depth to the ‘good’ characters. Some key supporting characters find forgiveness and a kind of peace. There is a love triangle between Raja, Srilekha and Srikanya. Most of the romancing is confined to the songs which are usually a depiction of the girls’ fantasies.  The drama develops between the two ladies, with one oblivious and one heartbroken and all too aware, the romance adding another tension to their already opposing views.  Their close sibling bond and strong personalities informed their behaviour not just the love for an irresistible hero.

Nagendra Babu plays an enigmatic loner who wanders the wood in search of unseen justice (that’s what he says). Brahmanandam has a small role and Allu Ramalingaiah plays the crooked subordinate to the bad guys. Most of the humour comes from Chiru and Vijayashanti and the naff rapey jokes are left to Mohan Babu and the bad guys. There are lots of small details and symbols scattered through the film and I really enjoyed that extra dimension.

And there were some subtitles that kept me thinking. Often thinking WTF? but thinking nonetheless.

Ilayaraja’s soundtrack is excellent. There is a heroic ‘look out evil-doers’ anthem, some romantic duets and a couple of upbeat sparkly costumed numbers. Something for all occasions!

 

This film has everything I want in masala entertainment. The casting is perfect with Chiru at his mass best, the story rattles along, the action is crazy, and the songs are highly entertaining. 5 stars!

Sangarshana (1983)

I like a good socialist masala film. Sangarshana has surprisingly long interludes of sensible decision making and logical plot progression, plus loads of dancing and a very good cast. It’s highly entertaining and while the plot is fairly basic, it’s more rounded out than I expected. Lest that all sound a bit too straightforward, there are mysterious mute women, children separated at birth, a comic sideplot that hinges on romantic sabotage, family dramas, medical emergencies, flying somersaults, fight scenes and a bit of conflict resolution through disco.

Dilip (Chiranjeevi) returns from America to live with his wealthy industrialist dad (Satyanarayana Kaikala). He is a nice enough guy but used to the easy life, and can’t really understand the struggle of workers in his family factory. He believes his dad is a good guy and that the workers should trust him and remember their station in life. Eventually Dilip comes to realise that his father is more interested in money than in the means by which he obtains it. To make matters worse, the local site manager (Rao Gopal Rao) reneges on offers of compensation for injured employees and overacts wildly.

My post grad studies were in Industrial Relations and I can confidently state that I never encountered that reaction to a workplace accident in any of the cases I studied.

Dilip renews his relationship with his childhood friends Shivam (Sivakrishna) and Radha (Vijayashanti) and their father, the supervisor Mr Krishnamurthy (Gummadi).

When he isn’t prancing about reminiscing with Radha, lifelong snappy dresser Dilip is prancing about romancing Rekha (Nalini) the daughter of his dad’s local business manager. Life is all twirling around on hilltops and dancing around trees. But then other issues start to take over. Shivam starts a union and tries to get fairer conditions for the other workers. Some of his demands seemed a bit out there (workers compensations is fine, but three months bonus?), and fights the good fight. Unionisation is not ideal for the owners as regulation and systems may bring their smuggling sideline to light, and they certainly don’t want to reduce their profits.

Once Dilip realises the extent of the illegal activities and his father’s role in the shady doings, things start to get nasty. He is thrown out of home, his relationship with Rekha is threatened as her father coerces her to give up Dilip, and there is much drinking and crying.

When Dilip is framed for Shivam’s murder, Chiru dials up the heroics as he becomes a furious young man and makes his enemies sorry they ever crossed that line.

Chiranjeevi is very good as the showy Dilip who brings back expensive gifts and spouts some terrible English dialogues. He manages to be vain and likeable and the transition from easy confidence to anger and hurt betrayal is excellent. He is deliberately cheesy in some romantic scenes, adding a comic spark,  but brings genuine warmth and pathos when it is needed.

Oh those outfits make me weep, especially the poor backing dancers. But look at Chiru go! He dances up a storm and is handy in a fight. No wonder the ladies are lining up!

Sivakrishna has one expression for 80% of the film but since he plays an angry young man that works well enough. Allu Ramalingaiah is Varahamurthy, the comedy religious advisor who abets Rao Gopal Rao in his schemes. Varahamurthy has his own ideas about marrying his son Chalpai off to rich and lovely Rekha, while Chalpai has the hots for a voluptuous local girl. Those shenanigans constitute the comedy side plot and aren’t quite as painful as they might have been, although I did forward through most of it on a re-watch. Annapurna plays the mysterious mute woman who holds the key to a tangled family saga. Her revelations relieve Dilip of his sense of familial loyalty, and make him determined to bring his father and cohorts to justice.

Vijayashanti is beautiful as simple village girl Radha. She loves Dilip and has a fair number of song induced fantasies about their love. But she is a sensible and nice girl who doesn’t let romantic notions carry her away. Radha is committed to her family and to doing the right thing, and doesn’t hesitate to call Dilip on his weakness when he is wallowing in drunkenness. When she sees that rich Rekha is more Dilip’s type Radha has a talk to herself and decides she has to move on. See? Sensible.

Nalini gets less emotional range but more hideous fashionable outfits as Rekha. Rekha is pretty, a bit spoilt, but once she decides Dilip is The One, she doesn’t back away without putting up a fight. Literally – check her out in this clip.

Nalini is good but didn’t make as strong an impression as Vijayashanti despite the biffo.

K Chakravarthy provided a range of songs that suited the mood and the characters. Radha and Dilip have more traditional duets while Rekha gets a more Westernised treatment. The choreography is energetic and certainly suits Chiru who gives it his all.

I love watching that song. It comes at a high point in the story and what I really enjoy is the slightly ragged energy that makes it look like people were having fun dancing and not just thinking about it as a scene.   

The interior sets are quite fabulous. Someone on the team decided that more is more in some cases, and I enjoyed playing ‘name that knick knack’ or ‘spot the repo old master’. The dedication to clashing patterns is also quite noticeable.

The western costumes are very 80s while the rowdies dress like a blind costume designer’s hippie fantasy.

One of my few quibbles with the film is that, as a result of what I assume is slacking off by the footwear team, Dilip often wore a pair of quite drab brown ankle boots that just didn’t go with his outfits.

The plot is quite cohesive and the lead characters are engaging.  Occupational health and safety, security for families of workers, a fair go and collective bargaining are things I have an interest in, so while this is very filmi it does throw some ideas around. Issues are explored in conversations, but nothing too heavy. The actors deliver good performances with the right balance of craziness and heart. Director K Murali Mohana Rao keeps things moving along and the story plays to Chiranjeevi’s strengths. 4 stars!

Challenge (1984)

Although the title conjures images of martial arts films and to me sounds as if it should be about a physical fight, Challenge begins rather conventionally with a dying mother whose son is desperate to get her medicine. However it quickly evolves into a more social drama as Chiranjeevi’s ambitious young entrepreneur Gandhi bets rich industrialist Ram Mohan Rao that he will make 50 lakh in 5 years despite his unemployed status. With Rao Gopal Rao, Vijayashanti and Suhasini Maniratnam along for his journey from rags to riches the film touches on poverty and unemployment, workers’ rights and even industrial espionage as Gandhi rises to his Challenge.

The opening scenes introduce Gandhi as a smart but penniless man who isn’t the type to back down or give up easily.  After his mother dies, he uses his intelligence to wheedle money for her funeral from Ram Mohan Rao’s daughter; but for all of his brain power Gandhi isn’t very canny and is easily swindled out of his windfall by the hospital mortuary attendant (Sai Kumar).

Although this introduces Mohan Rao and his ‘money can buy anything’ approach to life as well as his beautiful and more compassionate daughter Harika (Vijayashanti), both the money and Gandhi’s speech to the attendant become important towards the end of the film. I haven’t been able to read Yandamoori Virendranath’s original story but the screenplay uses a number of such incidents where apparently trivial events are used to illustrate different facets of Gandhi’s character and their importance to the plot only becomes apparent later on. It’s all very cleverly done, and I did have to go back and re-watch some of these early scenes to pick up on all the details, although perhaps I was just a little distracted by Chiranjeevi’s dancing!

Gandhi is a graduate with a first class degree and somehow feels that this means the government owes him a job. In fact he’s quite belligerent about his lack of employment but is rather taken aback when Lakshmi (Suhasini Maniratnam), a girl he has rescued from the river, takes him to task about his attitude.  It turns out that Lakshmi is a graduate herself, but rather than complaining about the lack of opportunity is working in a number of different jobs to maintain her independence. Her basic belief is that it’s more important to earn a living than worry about the status of the job and since she has such a practical and pragmatic attitude also sees no problem with offering space in her house to Gandhi. Although Gandhi is initially shocked by the suggestion that he should move in with a single girl, Lakshmi solves the problem by telling him not to think like a woman which quickly stops his objections. This song is another daydream and I do like how Suhasini gets to dance on Chiru’s back!

Gandhi ends up applying for a job with Ram Mohan Rao but at the interview is humiliated by the company owner, who is furious that Gandhi sent in his application without a stamp. However Gandhi is just as angry about the trickery used in the job advert and goads Ram Mohan Rao to such an extent that he challenges Gandhi to prove that money is not important. Gandhi vows that he will earn 50 lakh in 5 years and such is his belief that Gandhi will lose, Ram Mohan Rao promises the hand of his daughter Harika in marriage if Gandhi succeeds.

Game on then!

Gandhi makes the important distinction that he will make the money legally, although not necessarily honestly and with a coin he has been given by a beggar woman, he begins his rise to riches. However, as he becomes wealthier his attitude changes and he becomes more and more fixated on the money until nothing else, including his relationship with Lakshmi, seems to matter. Indeed it’s not even the money, but rather beating Ram Mohan Rao which becomes the driving force behind Gandhi’s various plans. This then is the real challenge –can Gandhi stay true to the ideas and principles he had as a poor man or will the power of wealth corrupt his values?

Lakshmi isn’t the only woman having some issues with Gandhi’s wager. Harika is initially appalled at her father’s pronouncement but as she meets with Gandhi, she gradually falls in love with him (who can blame her!) and she actively starts to help his cause. Since Ram Mohan Rao’s first action was to rip up the contract and set his goons after Gandhi, Harika has plenty of work to do in foiling her father’s plans to ruin Gandhi’s various business ventures. While Gandhi seems determined to win the bet and therefore marry Harika, he is still living with Lakshmi – although the two seem to have a strictly platonic relationship. To add more confusion, Lakshmi’s brother Hanumantha Rao (Gollapudi) and his wife Priyamvada (Silk Smitha) move in with Gandhi and Lakshmi. Hanumantha is secretly working for Ram Mohan Rao, while Priyamvada has designs of her own on Gandhi which seem to involve a rather short red toga and a rendezvous in the desert!

Chiranjeevi is riveting as Gandhi and his portrayal of the drive and determination with which Gandhi meets his various challenges feels authentic. Chiru made me believe in every aspect of Gandhi’s moral and physical struggle and I think this is one of his best performances.  A. Kodandarami Reddy has done a great job of developing such a complex story and has put a lot of detail into the characters of Gandhi and Laxshmi to make me feel every moment of their struggles. It’s a good story too and although there are a few points that require a little suspension of disbelief, the basic theme echoes stories of personal achievement that do occur in real life. The other lead actors are all excellent.  Suhasini is perfect as the strong-minded Lakshmi and she makes the most of her well written dialogues. Rao Gopal Rao is suitably villainous as Ram Mohan Rao and although Gollapudi is fairly irritating when he tries to be funny, he doesn’t appear often enough to make it a problem. I surprised myself and recognised a young  Rajendra Prasad, who has a small but important role as one of the graduates Gandhi employs as he builds his empire. Vijayashanti looks incredibly beautiful but her character is more than just the glamour element and she too has a strong role to play.

The songs by Ilayaraja are another highpoint. Generally they represent fantasies by the various women in Gandhi’s life and the upbeat music and dancing make a good contrast with the more grim reality of the story. Vijayashanti gets the best costumes and also probably the best line in the film – Mind it! Again it’s a shame that the film isn’t in better condition but at least Challenge is available with subtitles even if they appear at times to be rather literal.

I loved this film and it’s a great way to celebrate Megabirthday! Watch for what really is an outstanding performance from Chiranjeevi and his co-stars in a cracking good story. 4 ½ stars.