Stalin (2006)

Stalin-Stalin Title

When people complain that Telugu film directors lack creativity and too many movies are remakes, I’d like them to consider Stalin. It takes a certain amount of vision to translate a film like Pay It Forward into mass Telugu style, and to cast Chiranjeevi in a role originally played by Haley Joel Osment. Nice one AR Murugadoss!

Stalin-Stalin arrives

Stalin (named by his Communist dad) is an ex-Army major, living with his Ma (Sharada) and passing time by doing good deeds and protecting the defenceless. It’s a typical altruistic hero role, with Stalin using his strength to look after the people. After a string of events that undermine his faith in humanity, he devises a scheme.

Stalin-Pay It ForwardStalin-the plan

Instead of accepting thanks he will ask anyone he helps to help another three people and tell them to pay it forward. In this way, the whole country will be incited to activism. It doesn’t seem to take off and Stalin is bitterly disappointed that people simply don’t do anything but make excuses. However, in the background the movement slowly gains momentum.

That is all the good message-y stuff but I said this was mass. Stalin also battles a corrupt politician (Pradeep Rawat) and his crazy father-in-law (Prakash Raj) and their assorted lackeys. He is pursued by Chitra (Trisha) and nagged about marriage by his mother while trying to patch up the relationship between his Ma and estranged sister Jhansi (Khushboo) who married a Punjabi dude against said mother’s wishes. Add in assassinations, explosions, amputations and ‘only in films’ medicine. Phew!

Stalin-Helping at collegeStalin-at college

The message is heavy handed yet I can’t argue with most of the sentiments. The catalyst for Stalin’s formal implementation of good deeds is the suicide of a young girl who had lost both arms in an accident. Due to a series of mishaps she had no one to write an exam for her, something Stalin would have done but he was helping a blind student at a chemistry prac. She asked so many people for help and none would, so in despair she jumped off the roof. It was a bit out of character for a girl who fought so hard to get her education, but it made a point. People are often not deliberately bad, just lazy and thoughtless. Initially despondent, Stalin is inspired by a group of disabled kids who stop a race to allow a boy to get back up and then all finish together.

Stalin-School raceStalin-who is disadvantaged

Stalin ponders why people who have so much give so little. I don’t subscribe to the idea of the ‘inspirationally disadvantaged’ as I think people are people and having a physical disability doesn’t necessarily make for a particular personality type or behaviour, nor is it guaranteed to turn everyone around that person into saints. But I couldn’t help responding to the big delighted smiles of the little boys and the performances by the two college girls. I think English language mainstream films tend to either glamourize or overlook people who are different and I liked seeing real people, not actresses pretending to be blind and so on.

One thing that irritates me is the filmi convention that insists ordinary people need a hero to lead them on all points. Stalin is offered a chance to go back into the Army only to have Gopi (Sunil) insist that ‘the people’ need him to inspire them to do good deeds. Why demand someone else be your role model when you already know what you should do? That laziness in films that sees entire rural communities under the thumb of a handful of drunk and not very bright rowdies, and entire neighbourhoods stand by and watch someone be maltreated is so frustrating, especially when its only purpose is to make the hero a HERO. And even more so in a film about people power.

Stalin-fight 2Stalin-Chiranjeevi

It’s an uncomfortable blend at times but Chiranjeevi’s apparent sincerity in the cheesy scenes and unswerving self-belief in the big chest-beating moments holds it all together. The fight scenes rely mostly on editing and effects as Stalin allows his enemies to come to him for a beating so suit the slightly more mature Megastar.

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For a do-gooder he uses threats liberally. But he did once singlehandedly overcome an enemy army emplacement so it would pay to listen.

I was initially a bit uncomfortable with Chiru and Trisha as a couple. Stalin’s backstory makes it clear he is a fair bit older than her. The songs are mostly Chitra’s fantasy point of view so it worked better than expected as the cavorting was not his idea. Anyway, it’s Chiru! Mani Sharma’s songs are fun and so are the picturisations, especially the traditional hero arrival number which also incorporates a call to donate organs, blood and eyes for the betterment of society.

And apart from anything else the songs give the costume department an outlet for their experimental urges.

Stalin-Chitra and StalinStalin-Chitra and Jhansi

Trisha is adequate but Chitra could have been played by almost anyone. Perhaps it would have been better to cast someone who could swim as Chitra was allegedly a swimming champion. I think she won a trophy for most ridiculous dive off the blocks and 10 metre dogpaddle with gratuitous appearance in a swimsuit. She is silly and self-centred, another of those mysterious film heroines who only have children as friends and don’t seem to do anything other than be the heroine. Chitra is friends with Stalin’s sister. Jhansi is a pleasant and capable woman who has a good career and a loving family. Once Supreet and his rowdies start targeting people close to Stalin, personal strength goes out the window as all the ladies need him to set things to rights.

Stalin-SharadaStalin-wedding planning

Sharada is great as the widowed mother who seems to have raised the kids alone. She is fiercely proud of Stalin and equally strong in her rejection of Jhansi who married an outsider. Some of her scenes are broad comedy, as she schemes with the dodgy priest (Brahmi) to marry Stalin off to a beautiful girl, any beautiful girl. I’d often wondered about the thinking behind ‘I Wanna Spiderman’ and it turns out a comedy uncle is to blame. This is Brahmi’s fantasy which perhaps explains the costumes. Or not.

Stalin-Prakash Raj

Prakash Raj is excellent as Muddu Krishnayya, a self-described Jekyll and Hyde. Even when Muddu Krishnayya starts to really lose his marbles he stays on task, although he does over-explain his plans which diminishes the likelihood of success.

Stalin-SupreetStalin-totally understandable

The support cast is familiar in faces and functions. Subbaraju makes a fleeting appearance as a creepy rapey guy, literally flying across screen following a heroic punch never to be seen again. Supreet does the villainous heavy lifting, earning an excellent comeuppance at Stalin’s hands. Mukesh Rishi and Brahmaji are Stalin’s Army comrades who come to help save the day when Stalin is under siege. Harsha Vardhan and Sunil are Stalin’s main comedy sidekicks. Everyone does their thing and does it pretty well.

This is not exactly a family friendly film due to the violence, but it is not as empty as many mass films are since all the biffo and mayhem is for the good of Society. The story ends on a high note but getting there took some doing. It’s worth a watch for late career Chiru still in full possession of his famed charisma, and for the curiosity value of the loose remake. 3 stars!

Stalin-words

Athidhi

I liked this film the first time I saw it, but rewatching for this review it didn’t make quite the same impact.  However I still enjoyed the Mahesh/Amrita Rao combination and both actors do what they can in what’s essentially an over-blown and excessively dramatic story.  There isn’t too much comedy which makes it a little more appealing, and although it’s fairly dark and quite violent in parts, it’s all much too over the top to take seriously.  There is good chemistry between the lead pair and a suitably maniacal villain who refers to himself in the third person but be prepared for a lot of fake blood (even some that’s CGI), plenty of gunfights and a number of plots points that require major suspension of disbelief.

The film starts with some cute child actors who play the young Mahesh and Amrita.  Chhotu is an orphan who gets the fairly standard ‘Indian filmi orphan abuse’ from all and sundry while still managing to have ideals and a reasonable wardrobe.  One day while selling balloons, he gives one to a young girl leaving school even though she hasn’t got any money but promises to pay him the next day. Later, she gives him an umbrella which makes a big impression since it seems no-one has ever given Chhotu anything before.  After he stops their car and warns the young Amrita’s parents about a wash-out in the road ahead, they decide to take him home and begin to adopt him into their family.

They give the young boy the name Athidhi as he is their ‘guest’, but when the parents are gunned down by a psychotic thief one night, it’s Athidhi who gets the blame for the double murder.  Because of course that makes sense!

Athidhi is sentenced to 13 years in jail, and after his release devotes his time to finding the real killer. He’s also determined to find Amrita and make sure she’s happy but is hampered in both his endeavours by a major lack of information about both the identity of the murderer and the location of Amrita.  On the plus side he does have a picture of the killer since the thief left a wallet containing his photograph behind at the scene of the crime, but there are no other clues.  In between popping in and out of jail for his hooligan-like tendencies, beating up various thugs and trying to track down a killer, Athidhi manages to find time to run a coffee shop near the Red Fort, although he doesn’t seem to actually spend much time there.

Mahesh has a different look here with long floppy hair and seems to be permanently standing in the path of a wind machine dialled up to max.  Unless he’s in the rain that is, which does vastly improve the hair.  The overall effect is to make him even more baby-faced than usual and there are even a few dialogues which make reference to his innocent appearance.  But we know better.

And it doesn’t take long – the first fight scene comes after straight after Athidhi is released from jail again, and has Ganni (Subbaraju) and his gang as the recipients of some fairly typical Mahesh mayhem.  That leads straight into the first song, which seems to have been heavily inspired by Mad Max and features some fight style choreography which didn’t appeal at first but it’s grown on me.

Meanwhile the young Amrita has grown up to be Amrita Rao, studying art at college in Delhi and generally seems fairly content.  She’s polite and well-mannered on the outside, but inside her own mind is much feistier and has moments of fantasy where she imagines herself as a Matrix-style super-woman.  However her inner hero gets her into trouble when she takes on a gang of drug dealers who chase her into the path of an oncoming vehicle.  In the aftermath Athidhi performs some lifesaving mouth to mouth, although not quite in the approved St John’s Ambulance style, and as an afterthought he also beats up the drug dealers.  Amrita is pretty happy about the whole experience despite her near death and stalks Athidhi since after all we know that’s the way to show true love – right?

There’s a long and fairly pointless sequence with the dreadfully styled and characterised Danny Bhai (Ashish Vidyarthi) and eventually Athidhi finds out that Amrita is the girl he knew as a child.  But she’s already left for Hyderabad where she lives with the home minister (Nasser) and his family who are her aunt and uncle.  So the action moves to Hyderabad where Athidhi foils various plots to kill Amrita and her cousin Aishwarya (Baby Anni), including one by Danny Bhai that leads to Athidhi discovering the identity of the man who killed Amrita’s parents.  And as chance would have it, Hyderabad is being terrorised by this same killer, who now goes by the name of Khaizer and is running a child kidnapping ring.  To add more murk to the mix, Special Officer Ajit Shastri (Murli Sharma) has been brought in from Delhi to catch the gang and making sure he doesn’t succeed, Kota Srinivasa Rao does his usual corrupt politician thing.

So, will Amrita discover who Athdhi really is, will Athdhi discover who Khaizer really is, and will somebody finally cut Athidhi’s increasingly bouffy layered hair?!  It takes another couple of hours and quite a few twists and turns until we finally realise that no-one is ever going to successfully wield scissors anywhere near Mahesh. Oh, and there is finally resolution  to the rest of the plot too.

The story does have some good points but each is strung out for so long that the whole film drags.  It could easily have been cut by at least half an hour which would have made it a tighter and more thrilling movie.  The plot twists are good, although derivative, but again take far too long to reveal, and the final climax is marred by some bad CGI effects.  Although there is plenty of action it’s mostly gun fights which are less satisfying to watch.  The fight scenes, while often well-choreographed by Stun Shiva, are interrupted by too much slo-mo which really just reveals that no-one actually ever does hit anyone.  The lighting is really variable as sometimes it was excellent, for example at a number of scenes at the Red Fort, and yet at other times everyone appeared to have lizard skin and jaundice.  I’m sure the effect was meant to be very stylish but instead it just looked like the levels were completely wrong.  Brahmi, Sunil and Venu Madhav appear for some short comedy scenes but otherwise it’s fairly relentless death and destruction.

The music by Mani Sharma is catchy and I really like the soundtrack, but the picturisations don’t work very well and the songs appear oddly inserted into the narrative.  Malaika Arora pops up in a typically sleazy item song and the choreography generally seems under par for a Mahesh film – especially with someone like Amrita Rao who can dance. This song features an even more multilayered than usual Mahesh (plus the hair – which by this stage even features in the choreography), while someone in the costume department obviously had a grudge against Amrita.  It’s a good song though, and I enjoy watching the reactions of people in the background as they stop and stare.

While I think there is more here than just a film for Mahesh fans it’s probably best to watch with the remote to FF past some of the interminably long expositions by the villain. Generally performances are good but the film is let down by the mish-mash of a story and lack of editing.  I still give it 3 stars though, mainly for Mahesh and Amrita and for the bonus presence of both Subbaraju and Ajay  which always boosts any film for me!

Oy!

I’m a sucker for movies with romance storylines in Telugu films and as a result I’ve watched, and generally enjoyed, most of Siddharth’s films. He’s always good as a romantic hero although he has a tendency to be rather too chirpy at times, and I would really like to see him in some more serious roles. Although I don’t think that ‘Oy!’ is Siddharth’s best film, it’s one where I think he gives a more restrained performance than usual and as a result his character appears more appealing and likeable.

Director Anand Ranga mentions Eric Segals 1970 film Love Story as some of his inspiration during the opening credits, which gives us a clue that the romance is not going to end well. However Oy! is more upbeat than the original, and there is plenty of comedy between the two leads making it less of a tear-jerker.

The story starts by introducing the two main characters, showing them as very different people who lead very different lives. Uday (Siddharth) lives for the moment believing that life is short and must be enjoyed. Sandhya (Shamili) on the other hand thinks in the long-term and likes to plan well ahead. She doesn’t want to rush into anything and takes her time to make well-considered decisions. They also come from very different backgrounds as demonstrated by their modes of transportation.

To my delight, Uday’s introduction takes place via a song filmed in Melbourne, and eagle-eyed viewers will be able to spot a few locations which turned up in Orange more recently. I can’t believe I missed them filming this one though.

He does have it right about Melbourne!

Uday and Sandhya meet by chance in a club where Uday is celebrating his birthday which just happens to fall on New Year’s Day. He’s intrigued that Sandhya is sitting writing in her diary all alone in a bar but she really doesn’t want anything to do with him. To his initial conversation starters Sandhya points out that they don’t match as far as numerology goes, so it’s Happy New Year, Happy Birthday and Good-Bye. Alarm bells should immediately have started ringing at this point, but Uday is made of stronger stuff and immediately sets out to track her down with the aid of his friend Fatso (Krishnudo). Enquires around her neighbourhood also show Sandhya as a rather prickly character with no time for celebrations or religious festivals although she regularly fasts and is addicted to astrology, numerology and the like. So possibly not the best match for a party loving guy like Uday who enjoys the good things in life?

Uday’s father is a rich industrialist but as Sandhya hates rich people Uday doesn’t want to tell her about his background. Instead he pretends to need a place to stay just as Sandhya needs money to pay off a loan she has on her house and advertises for a lodger. From here the romance between the two blossoms as Uday sets out to charm Sandhya and convince her that she loves him too. This part of the film works well for me and I like the way the developing relationship between the two is portrayed.

However I do have a problem with the story from this point. Despite Uday proclaiming his love for Sandhya and asking her to accept him as her lifelong birthday gift, he still doesn’t come clean and tell her who he really is. This lack of honesty at a crucial point is a jarring note in the whole romance plot and isn’t helped as Uday continues to keep his real life secret. To add to this deception, Uday finds out that Sandhya has a life threatening illness and decides to keep it from her. Not just Uday, but also Sandhya’s doctors decide that she really doesn’t need to know that she is going to die in a few months. This does follow the plot of Love Story, but it was irritating then and just as nonsensical here. The idea of not telling someone they are going to die because you love them so much that you cannot bear to make their last moments unhappy is ridiculous. It is pure selfishness, a reluctance to deal with the reality of the situation and not love at all. Just as infuriating is that when Sandhya finds out she’s not even annoyed, but actually thanks Uday for making her last few months some of the happiest she has ever known! I wouldn’t have a problem at all with him taking her to places she wants to go, and making sure she gets to fulfil her wish-list if he’d only told her why he was doing it. This makes the whole second half of the film less enjoyable, although the trip to Kasi to immerse Sandhya’s parents and grandparents ashes in the Ganges could otherwise have been an interesting journey. There are still some excellent scenes in the second half though, and I love the crowd reaction when they go to see a Pawan Kalyan film on the first day, first show. As you can see it’s almost as good as the audience in Melbourne!

There is a separate comedy subplot which involves Sunil as an insurance salesman which ultimately forms the basis for why Uday and Sandhya discover she is ill. I usually like Sunil but apart from his initial scenes his comedy is rather laboured here. There is more unnecessary comedy on the boat involving Ali and Master Bharath which is best avoided. Really, the best comedy is in the romance between the two leads as Uday tries to conform to Sandhya’s list of the qualities she is looking for in a husband. Sandhya is a big fan of lists and seems to have one for every occasion.

What makes this film worth a watch for me are the performances from Siddharth and Shamili. The love story between the two is sweet and I like Uday’s happy approach to life in general. Siddharth manages to be cheerful without being manic and this more muted version of his typical happy-go-lucky persona is more realistic and easier to like. Shamili is good in her ‘girl next door’ role and the lack of glamour in her outfits is refreshing. Although she doesn’t have a lot of scope within her role, her change in personality isn’t too laboured and does seem fairly natural. Neither Siddharth or Shamili are brilliant dancers, but they are both fun to watch and the upbeat soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja is excellent.

Despite the issues I have with the story there is still a lot I do like about Oy! The film is well shot by cinematographer Vijay K Chakravathy, flows well and looks good with some beautiful locations including Sandhya’s fantastic house by the sea. It’s also lovely to see a different location especially when it ends up looking as well as Vizag does here. I really enjoy the first half of Oy and just wish the story could have taken a different direction in the second half. As a result it ends up being a 3 ½ star movie when it could have been much more.

Temple says:

Despite finding Anand Ranga to be pleasant, thoughtful and interesting in his interactions with folks on Twitter and in interviews, I find much of this film unpleasant and shallow. It is technically very well made and looks great but I have too many issues with the story.

I have to disagree with Heather on some counts. There is nothing likeable or appealing about the character of Uday, and Siddharth seemed to be playing another variation on his ‘rich kid in love’ roles. He sees Sandhya and decides he has to have her. After all, she is the ultimate novelty – a woman who isn’t interested in him. The rot sets in with his decision to move into her house under false pretences. Compared to other stalker love stories like Anand where Anand knows he will one day have to face the consequences of his dishonesty, or even Arya 2 where Arya is a total nutter and his stalking is shown as part of the madness, Uday has no qualms. He does it because he wants to and we are supposed to find that romantic. My biggest issue is with the treatment of Sandhya’s terminal illness. I’ve had the sad experience of watching loved ones die after battling an illness for some time, so this pushed my buttons. While everyone has a bucket list of things they would like to do one day, that list is often very different when a person is told they don’t have so many days ahead of them. Having Uday and the ‘medical’ personnel decide that Sandhya would be happier not knowing was just disgusting. It is selfish and shows a lack of empathy and respect. Sandhya is a woman who planned for everything, thought through all her options – and they denied her that. Shamili gives a good performance in a role that starts off reasonably well but quickly devolves into a device for making the hero look more desirable. It’s a shame as I liked the way her back story was gradually revealed and Sandhya became more likeable and sympathetic. There were some really nice scenes that showed their developing friendship and the growing relationship. But as this romance was built on lies and manipulation I couldn’t find it charming.

I agree with Heather that the songs and the locations are really lovely. But that isn’t enough. I give this 1 ½ stars, just for the songs (especially ‘Seheri’ which was filmed near my old office)  and the technical and visual aspects of the film.

Indra

Indra is a really entertaining vehicle for Chiranjeevi, combining action, melodrama and music in a visual feast. I say entertaining despite a huge bodycount and an impressive gore budget. The violence is so over the top and cartoonishly bloody, the baddies are so one dimensionally bad, that I couldn’t take it seriously.I also had to laugh at this little moment in the opening credits. Really Paruchuri Brothers, you call yourselves ‘writters’?

This is a film of many incidents and little introspection so I won’t delve into the plot too much or there will be too many spoilers. The action kicks off in 1975 with scenes of murder and betrayal. Young Indrasena Reddy assumes the leadership of his clan after God knows how many of his male relatives are killed. The boy shows signs of some kind of power:

Then we land in Varanasi in 2002. Sankaranarayana (Chiranjeevi) is a taxi driver, classical vocalist, philanthropist and deliverer-of-justice. His family mean everything to him, and Sankar does all he can to support their education and happiness. When his niece Nandhini says she needs inspiration to sing, he comes up with this little beauty:

What a guy! Isn’t Varanasi beautiful too? And I loved him ‘singing’ in front of SPB in another scene. [Edited to note: It seems Eros only want us to see the Hindi dubbed versions of the songs and I can't find Telugu clips online anymore so apologies for that but the picturisations are really lovely.]

It’s clear there is a connection between the two episodes, but the first part of the film is all about the peaceful family man. Well–he is a man of peace, until he isn’t. Chiranjeevi is all hero and there is no doubt this is his film. The action scenes are action packed, the dancing is high energy and the speeches are compelling. This is not a film that demands subtlety but Chiru adds a bit more emotion and credibility than I expected. And he does it in plaid, in sequins or in a lunghi. So versatile! I don’t understand why people keep asking me why I love him – surely it’s obvious.

Sonali Bendre is the smitten Pallavi who pursues Sankar and schemes her way into his household (and incidentally, out of an unwanted marriage). Her machinations are highly amusing as is Sankar’s discomfort at her flirting and they have good comic chemistry. Sonali’s overacting is excellent, and her fake filmi gestures are spot on for this role. She also gets the full support of the wardrobe team, although I have my doubts about the footwear. Is she wearing yellow fluffy slippers?

I wish I could say the Comedy Side Plot was funny but it wears thin very quickly and Brahmi and gang overstay their welcome. Sunil does a more successful spot as a hapless brother-in-law and is on screen just enough.

The drama takes place on an intimate scale as well as in an epic feud saga.  Pradeep (Sankar’s nephew) is in love with Mumtaz, a Muslim, and their relationship is discovered. Later in the film Nandhini has her own troubles. I was perplexed by the suicidal tendencies of these young women but luckily they were not alone. Sankar never turns his back on his family and goes to bat for them, making a few message statements along the way.

He also impresses Mumtaz’s father, the rich and powerful Shaukat Ali Khan (Puneet Issar). This comes in very handy when Chiru finds himself in need of a helicopter.

Prakash Raj comes to destroy the man he believes has ruined his daughter Pallavi, only to recognise Sankaranarayana as Indrasena. If you like your Prakash Dad frothing at the mouth screaming ‘shoot them all’ then this is for you. If you like your Prakash Raj and his Gaze of Blossoming Bromance, this is for you.

Sankar makes Nandhini’s wedding a condition before he is free to marry Pallavi (when Prakash feels the love, he really feels the love and his decision making process is as rushed as when he is feeling the hate) so plans proceed quick smart.

The wedding draws all the players out into the open. As soon as Mukesh Rishi dipped his toes in the Ganges, I knew bad things would happen. Tanikella Bharani is loyal Valmiki, apparently mute and certainly devoted to Indrasena. When things get ugly, he is the means of laying out the shared history of the characters. We also get an excellent montage of Chiru and heavy machinery as he displays his instant engineering skills.

Snehalatha Reddy (Aarti Agarwal) is the other heroine, and she is not averse to throwing her weight around. While I found her unpleasantly abrasive in some scenes I enjoyed her performance immensely. She was filmed as many heroes are –the first shot a chunky shoe emerging from one of a convoy of cars, the framing of her walk, how she sits–and she has her own irritating and ominous theme music. Snehalatha has her own priorities and her interactions with the men are on the same level.

Snehalatha has set her sights on Indra. But given her family history of betrayal her motives are suspect. Or are they? Her character is more developed than Pallavi and she certainly makes the stronger impression despite arriving later in the story. The chronology of the film doesn’t hold up too well under scrutiny, but there is an excellent 90s style dance number. It’s perfectly vintage right down to the costumes and locations (I choose to believe the dated look is an intentional statement). Go have a look here.

A hero as upright, generous and moral as Indra requires a weak, nasty and unlikable baddie as an opposing force. Veer Shankar Reddy (Mukesh Rishi) is that man. His villainy is more about excessive violence, obsession with supposed family honour coupled with total disregard for his wife and child, and finger pointing with a lot of “Rrrrrrrrrrey!” Mukesh Rishi has an excellent range of furious and outraged expressions, as does Chiru, and their confrontations are memorable.

There is a big spoiler after this picture so scroll past the next paragraph quickly if you wish and rejoin me after the following set of pictures.

There is a nasty incident in which Veer Shankar Reddy murders his young son rather than be indebted to Indra. This is ridiculous rather than real violence against a child but it shows how low the writers felt they had to go to make him bad enough. He is a liar and cheat, and sees no need to keep his word. This does put him at some advantage against his honour bound adversary but the final result is never in any doubt. Even the land he claimed seems to be against him at the end.

Indra is kind of predictable but still kept me glued to the screen, so Chinni Krishna and B. Gopal should be congratulated on getting the basics right. All the ingredients work, and the visuals in Varanasi are beautiful. The songs by Mani Sharma are great and flow well in the story, and Lawrence and the other choreographers work to their stars’ strengths so the picturisations are just brilliant. There is an inconclusive ending with the two women vying for Indra, but we can all make up our own resolution to that. And I think Pallavi gave a pretty clear clue as to what she might propose.

Chiru is awesome as the great hero, and Indra really is for the people! Well, for my kind of people anyway. I give Indra 4 stars (points off for unfunny funnymen and poor spelling).

Heather says: Indra is a film for the megastar made on a mega-scale with a mega storyline! There really is a lot happening in this film and it seems as if the writers were determined to embody every trait of the divine Indra in the character of Indrasena Reddy. The basic story of warring families is expanded to include a number of romances, star-crossed lovers, vengeful wives, the building of a reservoir ( the ‘bringing of water’ ), street cons in Varanasi and even some politics! I do like young Indra with his self-important declarations, and the fact that throughout the story many of the women are very strong and decisive characters. Everybody has at least one impressive declarative sentence in this film.  Initially I was concerned that Indrasena’s family are so very, very good while Veer Shankar Reddy’s family are so very, very bad, but then Indra starts hacking and slashing with the rest of them and it all becomes a bit too cartoon-like to be taken seriously. The whole side plot of Puneet Issar as Shaukhat Ali Khan, although I’m sure designed to show Indra’s compassion, courage and forgiveness, really seems to be just so that Chriu would have a helicopter to borrow – and that is absolutely fine with me!

Chiranjeevi is as fantastic as always and is the reason the film works so well. His dancing is amazing and Lawrence’s choreography is immediately recognisable. I was very impressed by Chiru’s moves as the dancing is very fast and physical and he pulls it off with nary a stumble.

I also really like Aarti Agarwal as Snehalatha Reddy, the sister who fell in love with the enemy. I think her portrayal is well done considering her limited screen time and she comes across as a very strong character. Sonali Bendre on the other hand, although adequate in her role, doesn’t impress me as much, although a lot of that could be that I don’t really believe in her character. I can understand that she would fall in love with Indra (after all – who wouldn’t!) but her subsequent actions seem out of place, and I would have thought that the daughter of a politician should be a little more aware of the consequences of her actions. Indra’s treatment of her is also a problem for me. On one hand he is very avuncular and treats her  appropriately as  his niece’s friend as he resists her advances, but then later on he involves her in his deception back in the village which I was  more uncomfortable with.

I missed a lot of the final fight scene between Chiru and the brothers as John and I were trying to decide which climbing area it was filmed at. We’re pretty sure it’s just south of Bengaluru (Bangalore) but perhaps someone could let me know exactly where? I did get a bit distracted by the lines on some of those great granite boulders!

Overall a very entertaining film as long as you don’t think too closely about some elements of the plot. I don’t think it would have worked at all without the star power of Chiru, but I still give it 4 stars – 3 ½ of those for Chiranjeevi and ½ for inspiring my husband to come back to India with me on my next trip to track down those climbing areas!

 

Pournami

I’ve become quite fond of Prabhas. Not in a ‘he’s so hot‘ fangirly way. But he is likeable on screen and his presence in a film does seem to promise a commitment to entertainment.  Pournami is colourful, visually pleasing, sentimental and rather silly. Just what I have come to expect from Prabhas in fact!

The film opens in 1953 and centres on a family with a long affiliation to a local temple. Many years back there had been a drought that threatened the livelihood of all in the surrounds. One woman had the strength and stamina to dance for Lord Shiva and was rewarded with rain. From that date, her family repeated this ritual every 12 years and her female descendants were trained to dance.

So it was a bit of a surprise to me that it all came as a surprise to the girls in the 1953 family that the eldest daughter, Pournami, was going to have to perform the ritual in 10 years time. Surely it might have rated a mention during dance lessons? Continuing the journey through time, we emerge in the 60s or thereabouts. Pournami has gone missing before the ritual must be performed. Her sister Chandrakala always wanted to dance but was overlooked. Chandrakala is now played by Charmme and she is reasonably convincing in the dance sequences. She is a Cinderella type figure – persecuted by her horrible stepmother, teased by local bullies and overlooked by many.

But where is the drama? Hello evil landlord! I do not in any way approve of evil landlords intent on deflowering young ladies who should be saving their strength to dance for Shiva. However, Rahul Dev has an excellent palace, a resident orchestra and generally believes himself to be a god or at least the equal of one. It is all highly entertaining. Pournami did a runner to avoid being kidnapped by Rahul Dev and he is now intent on claiming her sister.

But where’s the hero? Hello Prabhas in eye-catching plaid pants and rock n roll rebel attitude. Adding to the fun, we learn he is an ‘English Dance’ teacher, Sivakesava. Hmm…is that a Significant Name? Sivakesava rents room with Charmme’s family and opens his dance school.

In between dance classes and dodging the local nymphomaniac, he encourages Charmme to dance, sometimes with quite amazing results. He seems to have mysterious powers over Chandrakala – little things like making her teeth glow in the dark and resisting her attack snake. But he uses his powers for good, and for fixing fuses, so we need not be alarmed on her behalf. I was amused by his gramophone – it’s just not rock n roll as I know it!

All the threads seem to be drawing together, but why? Who is Sivakesava and why is he intent on protecting the upcoming ritual? An extended flashback reveals that he met and fell in love with Pournami (played by Trisha) after she fled the village. She had joined a troupe of travelling performers, and her amazing dance talent, or perhaps her skimpy outfit, caught his eye. Pournami continues to practice her classical dance in her spare time. In a very pretty scene under the full moon, she gives ample evidence that the odds of pleasing Lord Shiva will be improved if she doesn’t dance for him.

It turns out that Sivakesava was from a family who had a blood feud with the other big family in the region. He was sworn to avenge his brother and then would no doubt be hunted down in turn. Pournami became a victim in this feud, sacrificing herself to save her husband on their wedding night. The wedding night scene may mean I never look at corn in quite the same way ever again. Yes, that was corn with a c.

His past life continues to pursue him, never giving him a clear path to his heart’s desire or letting him subside into anonymity.

Chandrakala is abducted by Rahul Dev and he shows why he needs that piano and keeps an orchestra on standby. There is nothing funny about kidnap and rape in reality, but when the villain is improvising a melody to the tempo of Charmme’s footsteps it is very entertaining and adds to the cartoonish effect, as does his balletic fighting style. Naturally Kesava comes to her rescue again, and his actions cement her feelings for him.

Thus the other crucial episode unfolds – Kesava feels compelled to tell Chandrakala about his past with Pournami and why people from his old life, particularly his fiancée Mallika (Sindhu Tolani with a terrible hairdo), are still pursuing him. Chandrakala takes up the challenge to dance at the festival, motivated by love of her sister, of her father and for Kesava.

The finale at the temple is visually stunning and yet daft in equal measures. Which really sums up the whole film so it is perfect.

Although Pournami’s name and presence infuse the film, Trisha is overshadowed by Charmme and Prabhas. This is mostly due to the structure of the film – her story is told in isolation from the present time drama and we aren’t so involved in her relationships with anyone other than Sivakesava. In a film about dancers, Prabhu Deva gave Trisha some beautiful picturisations but her dancing was not as strong as Charmme’s and that aspect didn’t convince me. She looked lovely and her acting was as convincing as the role allowed. When Pournami appears to take over during the final dance it is shown as a way for everyone, including her spirit, to find closure. Trisha uses her very expressive face to communicate her sorrow and joy at this final encounter with her loved ones.

Charmme irritated me in the first half of the film, but I think she was meant to be a troubled teenager who was a bit bratty so I suppose that was a win. Her portrayal of a growing love for Sivakesava was done well, and I could see her puzzlement and annoyance turning to appreciation of the man who supported and protected her. She was a little tougher than your average filmi heroine, and her demonstrated snake wrangling skills make her more than a match for the average thug. Although the hero had to step in and help her finish the ritual, his help would have been for nothing if she hadn’t had the fortitude to keep going and stay focussed. Finally, she saves Kesava’s life and through that act wins the right to his future as his past finally lets go. I felt a bit sad for Chandrakala at the end as once again she will be the understudy for her sister, only this time in life.

Despite the story being ostensibly about the girls, this is a Prabhas film. He is at the centre of all the action and subplots, and once he arrives in town he is on screen for most of the film. He is convincing as both the kick arse hero and the misty eyed lover, and seems to have fun in the retro dance sequences. His relationship with both the heroines was played well, and there is a marked difference in his interaction with each of them. It’s a typically fun Prabhas performance. And his costumes… They make a statement all on their own.

The supporting cast were fine, with Rahul Dev, Brahmaji and Mukesh Rushi the standouts. Sunil is sweetly funny as Pournami’s brotherly friend and Ajay is reliable as a local thug. The soundtrack by Devi Sri Prasad is enjoyable and suits the story. Of course the songs are a visual delight as I expect from a Prabhu Deva film. The sets, the costumes, the locations are all beautiful and add a fairytale quality.

The film has a happy ever after ending, with signs of the new generation ready to maintain this lovely tradition. With any luck they’ll have a new landlord before the next festival!

See Pournami if you like the stars, plaid pants, excellent set design, pretty song picturisations and a dollop of overacting. I give this 3 and ½ stars.