Bhairava Dweepam

Bhairava Dweepam DVD

Released in 1994, Bhairava Dweepam is a lavish lolly coloured Telugu folk tale. Writer/director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao picked up a couple of awards and the film was both a commercial and critical success. Although I found it quite entertaining, there are a few things I couldn’t help but compare unfavourably with other similar films.

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The story is easy to follow, which was handy as I haven’t been able to find subtitles. Vasundhara (K.R Vijaya) had a baby, probably out of wedlock but certainly not to the liking of the royal family. When she takes her son to the prince, the father in question, she is turfed out into the stormy night. She has an accident in her small unstable boat and mother and child are separated. Vasundhara is taken in by a kindly hermit who also creates a magical (poorly trimmed fabric) flower that will thrive as long as her son is also alive.

The boy is adopted by a village leader and grows up to be Vijay (Balakrishna). The people rejoiced – except that baby in yellow. Vijay and his sidekick or adopted brother, (Mohan Babu), are out and about doing what boys in folktales do when they spy Padma (Roja). Vijay is instantly smitten and sets about finding his way into the palace to spend more time with her. Unbeknownst to Padma, an evil magician also has his sights set on her. Padma is rendered seriously ill by a spell and Vijay searches for a cure. Along the way he meets his mother but they don’t yet realise their connection. She gives him a protective amulet which comes in very handy. He discovers the nefarious plot and after much travail, confronts Bhairava to set things to rights.

The story is very similar to the gorgeous 1951 film, Patala Bhairavi. And that is where the comparisons start. Where Patala Bhairavi was stunning and NTR was effortlessly charismatic, Bhairava Dweepam is a bit less magical and Balakrishna is more workmanlike in constructing his performance. The special effects in 1994 have not moved on all that much from 1951. I did wonder what my 1994 self would have thought, but in 1994 I had already seen films like Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985). While there were some things about Legend I don’t care for (Tom Cruise for starters), it did look like a magical fairytale and the unicorns are beautiful. Compare and contrast these approaches to prosthetic horse makeup.

While I appreciate the spirit of making do, even if it does result in a grumpy looking horse with feathers stuck on, I was left a little underwhelmed. It was a mixed bag and often more amusing than enchanting.

There are other sequences involving a two headed rubber chicken dragon attacking the flying bed used to whisk Padma to the villain’s cave, some tiny miniature people who help Vijay obtain a magical necklace, a mirror monster in a peekaboo green rubber suit and so much more. It is kind of great but not really good. Ajooba-esque, perhaps. And there are some horse stunts that look horrible. One scene involved Vijay using a stick to trip horses, and not all of them looked like they were going to get up. I deducted Hero points from Vijay on seeing that tactic.

Balakrishna works harder than anyone else in the cast. Vijay is in almost every scene and usually throwing himself into a duel or bounding about rescuing the princess so this is a physically demanding role. If Balakrishna had been paid per leap he would have cleaned up. Vijay helps or liberates a number of magical beings along the way, and they give him valuable assistance in his quest. Balakrishna certainly has the confident swagger down pat even if his dancing is less than impressive. But making a film that is so similar to one of NTR’s acclaimed roles and trying to replicate his style is a big ask. I thought the same when I watched Sri Rama Rajyam. There is nothing wrong with his performance, but he doesn’t have the same expressive quality or panache and so comes off as less engaging. Tarak (NTR Jr) seems to take a slightly different tack by paying a tribute to his grandfather in his films but not trying to mimic him as closely. That allows for more individuality and he has developed a kind of everyman hero persona (with phenomenal dancing skills). Balakrishna is more closely tied to the legacy and so I find it hard to appreciate him as an individual actor, at least based on the handful of his films I’ve seen. Plus he will always be This Guy to me.

Roja is the love interest, Padma Devi. Padma is your standard damsel in occasional distress. She does nothing other than look sparkly, frolic with her handmaidens and wait to be rescued from Certain Death. Roja is pretty and lively, and she handles the numerous songs and dances easily. But I think she would have spent more time in hair and makeup than having to learn her few lines. I did wonder why, since Bhairava required a virgin for his spell, no one thought about how Padma could disqualify herself.

The supporting cast are all good without being outstanding. Rambha has one of the big musical numbers as Yakshini, the owner of both magical necklace and green mirror monster. Giri Babu and Subhalekha  Sudhakar play scheming brothers (and Vijay’s relatives) who not only depose their own father but have their eye on Padma’s kingdom as well.

K.R Vijaya is good as Vasundhara and she does get a couple of quite dramatic scenes, including a classic Nahiin Face Off with Balakrishna.

The design department certainly went for it. Their philosophy could be summed up as ‘all the colours, all the time’. Vijay has an extensive wardrobe of gaudy leggings and tunics, nicely accessorised with an array of ornate boots and matching wristbands. I was particularly impressed with the outfit that had canary boots to match the yellow terry-towelling trim and headband. Perfect for the active hero! Roja is very glittery, as are her attendants. Bhairava’s island cave lair is more impressive from the outside but he does have more than the usual number of talking statues so that was something. There are comedy demons that help Vijay, and they look like something straight out of the kindergarten dress up box.

Bhairava Dweepam is entertaining enough, but having seen it twice now I don’t think I’d invest the time on watching it again. See it for a relatively recent take on the folkloric blockbuster and for the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the cast. 3 stars! (But if you’re a diehard fan of Ajooba, add an extra star!)

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Also – I love this production house emblem.

Big Boss (1995)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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)

Muta Mestri

Muta Mestri is a masala film with a message, featuring Chiru with director A Kodandarami Reddy, and dialogues by the Paruchuri brothers. Overall the blend of ideas and drama and action is balanced. The action is full throttle, the dancing energetic, the ladies outfits are frequently hideous and the message is generally one I can get on board with. What works, works well but there are some heavy handed moments and a few assumptions around values that left me cold.

Chiranjeevi is the very patriotic Subhash Chandra Bose, the ‘Labour Contractor’ at a local market. He gets an excellent introduction when Sukkamma bets Brahmi a nudie run that the porters can’t unload waiting trucks in less than 10 minutes.

Whenever Bose arrives by bike, he just lets the bike careen off into the distance. It oozes confidence and a dash of silliness which is perfect for this role. Oh and she loses the bet.

The market is a harmonious community of men, women, Hindus and Muslims all working together. There are some statements to the effect of unity equalling strength.

Allu Ramalingaiah plays a teacher who educates the children about Independence, Gandhian principles and the like and regulars Brahmi and Ali lurk in the support cast too. It’s the India that should be, according to the vision of this film. Kasim is one of the more prominent support characters and he and his son are well liked. They celebrate their Hindu friends’ festivals and the Hindus respect and understand Muslim religious practice. Indeed, knowledge of prayer times sparks a crucial plot development towards the end of the film. Diversity is shown as beneficial, not just something to be tolerated.

Atma (Sharat Saxena) is the villain of the piece. He is more of an ascetic style of villain, believing he has a relationship with god that allows him room to negotiate indulgence for bad deeds. He wants to use the land the market is on for a new development. The market folks turn to Bose for help and he stages a non-violent protest outside Atma’s house.

Bose allies with MLA Sundaraiah and the CM (Gummadi) and eventually moves into politics – a position that Atma wanted for his son Dilip. Dilip is the kind of baddie who pulls up outside a school and plays loud crappy music to drown out the pure sweet sound of innocent school children singing the national anthem. And adding insult to injury, he then dances badly in the street. Obviously Bose wil deal with him severely.

Bose brings a direct and action oriented approach to politics. There is a great sequence of Bose being wheeled from one photo op to another with the emphasis on being seen to feed orphans or plant trees rather than actually doing it. Bose reprimands his advisors and starts making his own decisions based on what he sees as right. He upsets the applecart and the CM loves him for it, as do the people. This is a major theme in the story and there are recurring examples. The film also makes a point about the quality of people in politics, and the shift from people who wanted to change the world to those who just want to profit from it. People have a responsibility to try and fix things, not just leave them for someone else to clean up. For all the idealism Bose spouts, it’s a deeply cynical film.

Atma realises that the only way to hurt Bose is to attack his loved ones and discredit him. Bose realises that he can’t sort out Atma while he is part of the government. It is a similar idea to the cop/vigilante issue raised in other films. Justice is located outside of the legal system and good men can do illegal things as long as they are doing them for the ‘right’ reasons.

The action scenes are energetic and impressive, and Chiru is in excellent form. The fights are fast and athletic, and suit his character’s style. Actually, Bose has multiple fight styles and uses them to entertain people watching him belting the daylights out of the baddies. I liked Bose’s interactions with the other guys at the market and Chiru has a gleam in his eye when he gets into the rousing speeches. His dancing is excellent, and especially when he has the opportunity to go for it.  A lot of the comedy is Bose bumbling his way through the intricacies of political life, and the hassles of being a chick magnet so it isn’t too intrusive even if it is very silly. Chiranjeevi looks great in simple working attire, although he does veer into acid wash denim territory which is less pleasing. The song costumes are an outlet for the frustrated wardrobe team. I keep saying this, but Chiranjeevi is such an accomplished actor. He finds opportunities to give his character more depth and complexity than a mass film may require, making the overall result more engaging and credible.

There are some things I took issue with. Bose’s sister Jhansi gets home late from college and because he sees the neighbours watching, Bose slaps her. There is a tearful repentance that follows, and the upshot is that avoiding reputational damage is the responsibility of women. That scene will come back to haunt Bose in a major way but it left a bad taste in my mouth, especially when Jhansi basically apologised for making him feel the need to hit her. Grrrr. At the same time, Bujamma (Meena) is very forward in chasing Bose and there is no penalty for that. So his sister has to be perfect and virginal but he will marry who he chooses and think no less of her for trying to get her hands on him before the wedding. Sigh.

All of the females in the film are given short shrift. Bujamma is, as Bose repeatedly tells her, loud, crass and stinks of fried food from her snack stall. She keeps trying to transform herself to be more like what he wants but cannot change her nature. Some of it is quite funny, as in a challenge to stay silent for 24 hours, but some of the dialogues are just plain mean. Meena is pretty and lively enough as Bujamma although her performance is a bit grating. Kalpana (Roja) is Bose’s secretary, and as Bujamma sees her the main rival for Bose. Roja doesn’t get much to do apart from stand around and look decorative although she is afflicted with ‘comedy’. Brahmi decides to help Bujamma keep Bose and Kalpana apart by telling Kalpana that after six…she’d better watch out.

Despite that excellent piece of advice, it’s a stupid and unnecessary diversion as Kalpana keeps fantasising about Bose’s possible sexual advances and fainting all over the place.  Although it did lead to this song:

She seems to think that was a nightmare. Ahem. (Note – if you want the film on DVD, the Moser Baer DVD doesn’t include that song but the EVP one does.) Koti’s music is not particularly memorable but the picturisations and costumes made an impression. If that isn’t enough costume WTFery for you, please be my guest:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite an escape plan that uses a detailed model, Bose catches up and Atma and Dilip are dealt with in excellent and elaborate style.

If ‘cross-country arse-kicking’ was an Olympic event, Bose would have taken gold (and possibly also silver and bronze). Justice is done, at least for some.

It’s an entertaining enough film, but not quite enough to make me want to watch it too often. There is some substance lurking under the cheese, but I have issues with the treatment of Jhansi in a film that was otherwise very positive about equality and community. See it for Chiru’s dancing, the outfits and the come-uppances. 3 ½ stars.