Autonagar Surya

Autonagar Surya

Deva Katta’s Autonagar Surya doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be and as a result ends up as a disappointing muddle.  There are elements of a message film with the ‘one man against the system’ storyline, but at the same time the film attempts a broader social commentary while following a standard mass entertainer formula – including the obligatory romance and fight scenes.   There is little of the subtlety Deva Katta brought to Prasthanam and the additions of Brahmi and Venu Madhav with a woeful comedy track certainly don’t help.  After watching the more recent Manam, where Chaitanya displayed improved acting maturity, it’s disappointing to watch his uneven performance here, particularly since the film focuses heavily on his character. In fact the best performances come from the support cast, including Surya’s group of friends and the assorted thugs and villains, but despite their best efforts they’re not enough to make Autonagar Surya more than a one time watch.

Autonagar Surya

The film starts off well enough – if a little on the violent side.  After an initial parade and explosion, where Chaitanya’s Surya is blasted into the sky like a cheap rocket, there is a flashback to explain who he is and how he got to be a human firework.  The young Surya is orphaned when an obnoxious thug detrains his parents when they try to intervene in a rape.  Surya ends up being brought up by his uncle (Sai Kumar) who has little time for the orphan as he thoroughly disapproved of his parent’s marriage, and Surya moves in with the auto mechanic opposite.  Cut to a few years later where Surya has grown up to develop an interest in all things mechanical and demonstrates an accompanying bad fashion sense.  Although to be fair, so do his friends too.  So far so good then, until he gets on the wrong side of the local union boss and ends up in jail for murder.

Autonagar SuryaAutonagar SuryaAutonagar Surya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This turns out to have been a blessing in disguise, since while in jail Surya manages to study for a degree in engineering.  On his release, after a seemingly short time (5 years for murder?), he pressures his friends into helping him build a battery powered car.  However the union is still in power and worse still, his uncle is now the elected president and still has no time for his nephew (not his niece as suggested by the subtitles!).  However Surya has the hope of the downtrodden and a powerful vocabulary on his side.  With the help of his friends he decides to tackle the union thugs, but despite all his speechifying and rhetoric he basically employs their dubious tactics of fighting, kidnap and intimidation to achieve his aims.

Autonagar SuryaAutonagar Surya

 

Sticking to the formula, there is a romance between Surya and his uncle’s daughter Siri (Samantha).  Samantha looks beautiful and has a couple of good scenes where she gets to explore her comedic side, but mostly she has frustratingly little to do. The love story is really only an excuse for a couple of forgettable songs with dull choreography and is dealt the death knell by a distinct lack of chemistry between Chaitanya and Samantha.  They seem to be more like best mates rather than lovers, and that probably would have made a more believable storyline too.

Autonagar SuryaAutonagar Surya

There are many fight scenes, particularly in the second half, which tend to be on the grisly side with plenty of spouting blood and the odd limb or two flying around.  The graphic fights seem to be at odds with Surya’s more intellectual dialogue relating to the human condition and it just doesn’t add up that such a technical and generally rational genius should also be a competent and vicious fighter. Chaitanya also doesn’t quite look the part, as he seems too young, and just not angry enough to be the classic ‘angry young man’ that I think Deva Katta wants to portray. Generally there is an overall lack of passion which makes Surya’s revolutionary speeches and rabble rousing dialogues fall somewhat flat.  It’s so frustrating when Naga Chaitanya has demonstrated that he can be much better than this.  At least the union thugs all know exactly what they are doing and why, so the various atrocities carried out by the gang fit more easily into the mass formula.  Ajay is particularly effective as one of the main villains, and it’s good to see him in a more protracted role.  Jayaprakash Reddy is a little too subdued, but is otherwise fine and Madhu impresses as an exceptionally evil mayor.

Autonagar Surya

While the first half shows some interesting potential, the second half drags and shows Surya to be just as vindictive and violent as the thugs he is trying to replace.  The good ideas introduced at the beginning seem to be submerged beneath repetitive fights, numerous references to RGV’s Shiva, and oddly placed songs.  Maybe I expected too much from Deva Katta after Prasthanam, but Autonagar Surya doesn’t come close to his previous film, despite the good ideas at the start.  Overall Autonagar Surya is disappointing on many levels, although does warrant a look for the excellent support cast and some impressive sets.

Manam (2014)

Manam

Manam is a beautiful film and a breath of fresh air in an industry usually dominated by beat-‘em-up heroes and the same old innuendo masquerading as comedy.  Featuring three generations of the Akkineni family and Nageswara Rao’s final screen appearance, it could very easily have tipped into trite sentimentality, but Vikram Kumar’s screenplay keeps the film on track with an novel storyline, sweet romances and genuinely funny comedy.  I have to admit that I almost didn’t buy a ticket when I read that Manam was being advertised as a comedy, since without subtitles most of the humour tends to pass me by (even with subtitles in some cases!) but Manam would have been a watchable and entertaining film even without subs.  As it was, being able to understand the jokes and laugh at the same time as the rest of the audience was excellent.  Long may this trend for subtitled Telugu films continue in Melbourne!

Manam Manam

The film starts in the 1980’s with the unhappy marriage of Radha (Naga Chaitanya) and Krishna (Samantha) who bicker and fight even on the occasion of their son’s sixth birthday.  The very next day they are both killed in a car accident, leaving the young Bittu an orphan and his wish to see them happy together unfulfilled.  This doesn’t seem to have held Bittu back however, as the film moves to the present day, and the now grownup Nageshwar Rao (Nagarjuna) is in Mumbai to receive the Businessman of the Year award.  However, on the flight back to Hyderabad, Nageshwar is seated beside a young man who is the image of his late father, and this begins his crusade to bring his ‘parents’ back together again.  Nagarjuna is absolutely perfect here and his child-like wonder at discovering ‘his father’ is brilliantly portrayed.  The scene is well written too, with the just the right amount of comedy to keep it from cloying sentimentality and Vikram Kumar even manages to make the suggestion of such an occurrence seem perfectly plausible.

Samantha and ChaitanyaManamNageshwar reasons that if his father has been reborn, then his mother must be around somewhere too, and to this end he scours the streets of Hyderabad until he tracks down Priya (Samantha) who is the image of his mother and, luckily for Nageshwar and his plans, she immediately feels a connection.  Again Nagarjuna’s determined search is neatly summarised in just a few shots and the obvious unlikely coincidences feel much less contrived than expected.  It help that both Nageshwar and Priya are very likeable characters and Nagarjuna and Samantha ensure their interactions are full of genuine warmth and respect.

ManamNagarjuna

Having found his re-incarnated father and mother, Nageshwar has to find a way to re-ignite their romance.  In the midst of his attempts to bring about true love, Nageshwar finds love himself when Anjali (Shriya) commandeers his car to carry a sick man to hospital.  As it turns out, the older man is Chaitanya (Akkineni Nageswara Rao) who has seen his parents Seetharamudu and Ramalakshmi  reborn as Nageshwar and Anjali.  It’s then his turn to explain the past and try to reunite the lost lovers.

Manam

ANR is the absolute star of the show, and seems to take great delight in playing the octogenarian matchmaker.  He is mesmerising every time he appears, and his facial expressions and reactions to every other character are superb.  For his part, Nagarjuna is quietly competent as Nageshwar Rao with a subtle but effective performance, and his romance with Ramalakshmi in the second half is an absolute delight to watch.  There seems to be something in Temple’s theory that Shriya Saran’s irritation factor is related to the length of her hair, as here she has long hair and is actually pretty good.  Shriya looks beautiful and displays an engaging personality as a 1920’s traditional villager, and she is just as stunning as the cool and efficient Dr Anjali.  I vote Shriya always has long hair in her movies!

Manam

Nagarjuna and Shriya also share good chemistry together, which is sadly conspicuously absent in the romance between Samantha and Chaitanya, although to be fair the script really doesn’t ever let them develop much sparkage except in the way of confrontation.  Despite the lack of passion with Chaitanya, Samantha shines as Priya / Krishna.  She sparkles in her songs, and is full of bubbly enthusiasm as she meets Nageshwara, but her pain at her perceived husband’s betrayal is obvious as is her contempt of Chaitanya’s Nagarjuna.  Chaitanya is also better than usual, although that may be because his role mainly requires him to play a drunk and obnoxious college student which he seems to fit well.  The usual suspects pop up as various mothers, fathers, cousins etc, but do watch out for the brief cameo appearance of Amitabh Bachchan which garnered plenty of cheers from the audience.

Manam

It’s not all perfect though – the inclusion of Ali as a dance teacher is unnecessary and M.S. Narayana’s role is too obvious and crude to fit with the rest of the characterisation.  However Brahmi is good as Nagashwara’s assistant and without any misogynistic humour, he manages a restrained performance that proves he can act perfectly well when required.

Manam benefits from a sweet and  simple telling of a relatively convoluted story.  There are no exciting car chases, no big fight scenes and no cliff-hangers (even though the last few minutes attempt to raise the dramatic tension), but overall it’s an entertaining and watchable film.  All praise must go to Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Nagarjuna for their exemplary performances, but the younger generation hold their own, with even Chaitanya showing that he learnt something from the rest of his family while on set.  Definitely recommended viewing and a last performance to savour from one of the legends of Telugu cinema.

Ramayya Vastavayya (2013)

Ramayya Vasthavayya

It seems like a very long time since the last NTR Jr. film and since I read some speculation about Tarak’s ‘new look’ I was interested to see exactly what Harish Shankar had come up with.  However the ‘new look’ is really just the old look, except for the odd moment on horseback which I admit was pretty cool.  And there were some groovy new shades.  But otherwise Ramayya Vastavayya sticks to the same old formula with the usual faces reprising roles they have played a million times before. Ultimately not even the actors seem to be able to rustle up much enthusiasm and although Tarak and Samantha both work hard and deliver good performances, the film is still let down by the clichéd storyline and stereotypical characters.

Ramayya VasthavayyaRamayya VasthavayyaRamayya Vasthavayya

                                                                             

The first half of the film is generally entertaining since it focuses on the developing romance between Nandu (NTR Jr) and Akshara (Samantha).  The romance aspect was perhaps enhanced by the fans behind throwing rose petals along with the usual strips of paper, but at least it made for a pleasingly more fragrant trip back to the old Chinatown cinemas in Melbourne.  As I’ve come to expect (yawn), Nanu sees Akshara one day while hanging out with his buddies at a coffee shop and falls instantly in love.  Akshara is not quite so sure and the ensuing comedy as Nandu tries to win her heart with a variety of schemes is amusing enough to overcome the usual discomfort of the’ stalking = true love’ theme.  

 Ramayya VasthavayyaRamayya Vasthavayya

Rohini Hattangadi pops up as an aunt of some sort to Akshara and her older sister and although her role is small and fairly gratuitous she still steals the limelight every time she appears.Presumably to appeal to a wider audience, there are numerous references back to classic films, the most blatant being Tarak’s entry scene.  Most of these are fairly obvious and seem contrived to ‘fit’ into the storyline, and I’m sure there are more that I missed (hopefully more subtle) by not understanding the dialogue.  

Samantha looks gorgeous and there is only one attempt by the notorious Telugu shoe designer to make her look ridiculous so I’m presuming she must be a favourite with wardrobe.  However, Akshara is a standard Telugu heroine, whose only purpose is to make the hero look good and is otherwise completely one dimensional, which seems a complete waste of Samantha’s talents. Still, she does get to dance and there is good chemsitry between Samantha and NTR Jr. which makes their interactions more enjoyable to watch.

Tarak’s Nandu seems a fairly typical hero – there are the requisite commanding dialogues laced with a modicum of modesty and comedy, excellent dancing skills and the ability to defeat numerous opponents by the mere flexing of a muscle or two accompanied by a snarling grimace.  As always, Tarak delivers exactly what is expected of him with plenty of animation and charisma, but since he’s playing the same character he has played in his last few films it feels stale and completely predictable.  The only really up side are the songs which feature better than usual choreography and excellent dancing from both Tarak and the backing dancers.  I loved the addition of spectacles as part of the costumes for one of the songs and the music by S. Thaman was generally catchy and effective, and at least better than the recent crop of new releases.

Ramayya Vasthavayya

After the interval, Nandu moves on from bouncing people off wall, floors and sundry items of furniture to hacking people apart with increasingly bloodier and even more poorly choreographed fight scenes.  I’m not sure who is responsible for the action for Ramayya Vastavayya, but they seem to have taken inspiration from episodes of Tom and Jerry rather than anything that remotely resembles a feasible fight scenario.  The gore content rises but it’s so ridiculous that even the various severing of limbs has little impact, particularly since the fights are so obviously staged and formulaic to begin with.

Ramayya Vasthavayya

The second half also moves the action to the countryside for Akshara’s sister’s wedding and attempts to explain the antipathy between Akshara’s father Nagabhushanam (Mukesh Rishi) and two assassins (Ajay – yay!) who tried to kill him at the beginning of the film.  This involves a lengthy flashback with Shruti Haasan as Nandu’s previous fiancée Amullu, but it’s dull, overlong and Shruti and NTR Jr. have absolutely zero chemistry together.  To make matters worse, P. Ravi Shankar appears as a stereotypical evil and lecherous politician with mannerisms straight out of the ‘Villains for Dummies’ handbook and, inevitably, Kota Srinivasa Rao appears as his equally evil father. Doesn’t he ever get tired of playing the same role?  Adding to the stereotypes, Tanikella Bharani appears as Amullu’s father, Saranya Ponvannan as her mother and M.S. Narayan briefly appears in a throwaway role which adds absolutely nothing to the plot.  Harish Shankar tries to evoke American crime shows by tying together moments from the first half with explanations later in the film, but it looks clumsy and is generally ineffective.

Ramayya VasthavayyaRamayya Vasthavayya

Ramayya Vastavayya disappointingly doesn’t cover any new ground and Harish Shankar sticks to a very well-worn formula without adding anything novel.  With such a tired screenplay and an abrupt change of pace in the second half, it’s really only the songs that appeal despite generally good performances from the actors.  NTR Jr. is as good as ever, but even with his energy and the appeal of two heroines Ramayya Vasthavayya is really a film solely for the fans.  Still, it’s worth watching at least once for the dancing, which is excellent and much better than the film deserves.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

I’m really not a Hansika fan and tend to avoid her in movies as much as possible, but with nothing else releasing here this weekend I decided to risk it and headed out to watch the latest Sundar C. romantic comedy Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru.  Rather surprisingly I enjoyed it! Haniska wasn’t too annoying mainly due to limited time onscreen, the film made me laugh even without subtitles and judging by the audience reaction it was even funnier if you did understand the dialogue.  Siddharth and Santhanam make a good comedy team and with the help of a good support cast, the film turned out to be well worth the drive out to the bijou cinema at Monash.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

The story is fairly straight-forward, easy to follow and doesn’t break any new ground.  Siddharth is Kumar, a bit of a nerd who works in an IT company where he’s essentially just another anonymous worker. At home he has a loving family who have a history of romantic marriages and seem to care for Kumar despite his generally apathetic attitude towards life. Although he works in an office full of women, Kumar doesn’t seem to have much interest in romance, but then the beautiful Sanjana (Hansika Motwani) starts working at the same company and suddenly Kumar falls in love.  Sanjana has to put up with the masses of frustrated IT workers falling at her feet, but seems to show a preference for office hero and all-round overachiever George (Ganesh Venkatraman). This could be the influence of a string ensemble and massive bouquet of flowers, but to be fair with his looks, success at work and dedication to romance, George really has a lot going for him.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum KumaruTheeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

Seeing that his affair is destined to fail unless he takes some kind of action, Kumar consults love guru Mokia (Santhanam) to try and help him win the girl of his dreams.  With Mokia’s help, Kumar learns how to ditch the glasses and nerdy attitude but also discovers that devious deception is the way to win a girl’s heart.  Having used Mokia’s often dodgy advice, Kumar gets the girl but discovers that using unscrupulous means doesn’t mean that he will be able to keep the girl, especially when Mokia discovers exactly who it is that Kumar has been chasing.

Santhanam and Siddharth

The real star of the film is Santhanam who keeps the laughs coming and makes an effective partnership with Siddharth.  This is a role that Siddharth has played before but he is less hyperactive than usual and his geeky Kumar is just realistic enough to garner some sympathy for his ineptness. Santhanam suits this type of comedy where his character doesn’t just rely on one-liners but rather uses some physical comedy and his facial expressions to good effect.  Although his love guru is strictly in it for the money he does still manage to make Kumar more presentable and increases his confidence levels despite his rather dubious methodology.  Quite an impressive effort given what he had to work with and his own style choices.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

The support cast also add to the comedy and include a number of faces from TV including RJ Balaji and Bosskey who are both effective in their roles.  I don’t know the names of the actresses who played Sanjana’s friends at her lodgings, but they are good value and make the scenes with Hansika less excruciating to watch as well as having some genuinely funny moments of their own.  Manobala pops up as a brothel owner rather appropriately attired in red silk while Samantha and Vishal Krishna also make brief guest appearances.

Hansika doesn’t have a lot to do except look pretty and she actually does look much better than her last few films.  I’m not sure if she dubbed for herself in this film but her voice is rather screechy and irritating, although at least she doesn’t get a lot of dialogue.  Sundar C. has kept her role to a minimum and she is fine as the love interest, although there is minimal chemistry between her and Siddharth.

What doesn’t work so well though are the songs – the one above is probably the best of the bunch. All are pictured on Siddharth and Hansika and between Siddarth’s dreadful clothes and Hansika’s woeful dancing they really drag despite some pleasant locations. Hansika really can’t dance and to make her try to move in high heeled shoes and boots is just cruel, but somehow also quite amusing. In the pictures below you can see the high heels that she tries to dance in which perhaps goes some way to explain why she looks so stiff and inhibited.  There are times where it’s obvious she’s concentrating really hard on the steps, but that doesn’t seem to help and she looks very restrained compared to Siddharth.  Overall the choreography isn’t impressive and the backing dancers in Japan are particularly odd which adds to the overall disappointment.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum KumaruTheeya Velai Seiyyanum KumaruTheeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

If the songs are disappointing, at least the comedy is of a much higher quality and the cast do an excellent job of keeping the film from dragging.  Of course I noticed that Siddharth gets to wear some trendy glasses (as do quite a few of the cast) and there is a brief contact lens interlude which I appreciated. The humour is genuinely funny throughout and both Santhanam and Siddharth are engaging and work well to compliment each other.  Although the rest of the cast add to the comedy it’s all reasonably subtle (for Tamil comedy!) and best of all there are no terrible comedy uncles.   Overall Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru is a non-taxing and amusing watch which may not tread any new ground but does manage to entertain successfully.  And after all, that’s a lot more than I was expecting.

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu

seethamma-vakitlo-sirimalle-chettu-poster

Set mostly in a beautiful rural location, and with Mahesh Babu and Venkatesh starring as brothers, this could have been a great feelgood movie. Writer/director Srikanth Addala has crafted a picturesque and sentimental family oriented film. Unfortunately he neglected to provide anything by way of drama and the brothers are unlikeable. It was very disappointing to see so much potential go to waste.

It’s a charming film to look at.  I loved the heroes’ introduction; everything from the composition of shots to the clever editing and the choreography that featured Venkatesh and some great random street dancing was so appealing. Unfortunately it was downhill from there as Venkatesh and Mahesh play entitled manchildren who exist at the centre of their own and all other universes.

Manchild 1 (Venkatesh) is fired from his job by a surly Kota Srinivasa Rao. It seemed that M1 was sacked because he was late or lazy or just rude and off he went in a cloud of indignation. Manchild 2 (Mahesh) was irresistible to women (The Mahesh Fan agrees) and constantly told these poor girls why they were not good enough for the likes of him. M2 is sarcastic, cranky, often funny, but the humour is mean-spirited in tone. M2 does tell M1 he needs to improve his attitude but neither man really thinks the problem is with them, it is always someone else.

Prakash Raj is introduced wandering around the village smiling benignly upon all he sees. He is a kind of a ‘simple man is a holy man’, and is totally absent from, and oblivious to, his sons’ lives. Prakash Raj phones it in, and added nothing to the film. Again – what a waste!

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu Mahesh and Venkatesh

The family of mother, grandmother, sister and cousin devote themselves to running the household while M1 and M2 devote themselves to self-pity and lounging around until the next meal. Seeta (the cousin, played by Anjali) has her eye on M1 but he is oblivious because of course she should always be there to wait on him hand and foot. The boys’ sister Radha is married to a relative of M1’s former boss who looks down on Prakash Raj as a bit of a country bumpkin or something. There are tensions between the families, but a little compromise or swallowing of over-inflated pride by the boys could easily have de-escalated all that. There is a romance thread for M2 with Geeta (Samantha), also related to the ‘enemy’ family. Samantha got a really cute introduction song and dance and then all she had to do was make puppy eyes at M2 for the rest of the film. M1 and M2 fall out over Samantha as M1 is peeved at his little brother canoodling with the ‘enemy’. Much emo brooding ensues – a whole song montage worth – and neither considers compromise or conversation. They’d rather feel hard done by and betrayed.

I thought the first hour or so was just establishing the scene and people, and there would be some plot or character development. No. It is all ‘slice of life’ and watching these two sooky boys. In what is supposed to be the dramatic high point, things are eventually patched up but really – who cares? Two brats decide they’re on speaking terms again. Hurrah.

seethamma-vakitlo-sirimalle-chettu-not sulking

I really like both Mahesh and Venkatesh and they are very accomplished actors. I liked watching them together (especially when they weren’t sulking) and I enjoyed some of their scenes at home with the family. Mahesh fans will enjoy the occasional wardrobe malfunction that resulted when his modesty singlet rode up exposing the princely tummy.

Had there been a more engaging or credible story I might have been more sympathetic. The interview panel at GOOGLE asked M2 why he couldn’t smile from the heart – so he had a hissy fit and walked out. Who thinks that was a good idea? And who believes that is a legitimate interview question? M2 had a nice relationship with his grandmother, very playful and annoying, but loving. Why not set that conversation with his gran, not via product placement? M1 was very half-hearted in getting a new job. Why not show him as someone who lost their job through redundancy or something so we could empathise with his bitterness, rather than him just being a temperamental diva? Why not show him having to learn and grow like a real person? Why not show a threat to the family home or something that might compel the boys to get over themselves? Anything! In an action mass type film it doesn’t matter as much whether the hero is likeable because he exists to deliver victory and he does what it takes to win. In a character piece where there is no mitigating threat or transformative incident, there is nothing to dilute the boorishness.

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu AnjaliSeethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu Samantha

The supporting actresses (including Jayasudha as the long suffering Ma) were good, all of them creating distinct characters and often funny. I would have liked to see more of them.

I liked the songs (by Mickey J Meyer) but in a film with little plot, more spectacle could have stopped me checking my watch. They could have included more big set pieces instead of wasting a good cast on montage after montage. Venkatesh and Anjali got the better of the duets in terms of choreography while Mahesh and Samantha scored the fancy foreign location. I suppose that (and splitting the heroic rescue 50/50) is how you keep two big name heroes happy.

The audience lapped it all up. The ladies seemed to laugh more at the family scenes, while the boys clearly thought these guys were legends. Normally after such a dialogue heavy film I would be keen to get the DVD and see what I missed. But I don’t think there is anything to gain from the aggravation of knowing exactly how objectionable they were. Oh this could have been so much better. Watch the songs and enjoy the pretty, but avoid the tedious glorification of the manchild!