Mankatha

Mankatha

I missed Mankantha when I was in Chennai due to limited time and sold-out shows in my usual cinemas – which I guess was a good indication that the film would be worth seeing.  Venkat Prabhu’s fourth film does feature his usual crowd of young actors, but also stars Ajith Kumar in his fiftieth film – it’s all about the numbers!  Mankatha is an action thriller based around the theft of illegal gambling money and features so many twists and turns that at times it’s hard to keep up with just who’s double-crossing who.  Although there are a few leaps of faith required to fully engage with the plot, overall the pace of the action and an excellent performance from Ajith in a negative role make the film well worth a watch.

The story starts with Ajith as Police Officer Vinayak Mahadevan, landing onto the screen in a typical Tamil Hero entrance style (i.e. unlikely appearance from out of nowhere) to prevent what appears to be a corrupt police execution of smuggler Faizal (Aravind Akash).  The lines are blurred right from the start – is Vinayak a hero, fighting corruption and gambling despite being suspended from duty for saving Faizal, or does his drunkenness and casual infidelity  point to even bigger character flaws and a tendency to flout the rules for his own benefit?  Each subsequent scene makes the conundrum more difficult to solve, and this ambiguity runs throughout the action in the first half.  It’s not until much later in the film that Vinayak’s true character becomes apparent (or does it?) and his real motives are revealed.

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Then there is ‘Action King’ Arjun, who appears as Prithviraj, the head of a special task force entrusted with stamping out illegal gambling on cricket matches after the head of the anti-corruption squad Kamal Ekambaram (Subbu Panchu) commits suicide due to his own gambling debt.  However Kamal isn’t dead, but instead reappears as one of the investigative team, a detail which I kept expecting to have some relevance, but it never actually does.  Arjun is very OTT in his action scenes, made even funnier by his terrible floppy hair, but otherwise delivers  a generally straitlaced and relatively heroic portrayal of a senior police officer intent on stamping out gambling.

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Vinayak, one night stands aside, is in a relationship with Sanjana (Trisha), the daughter of Arumuha Chettiyar (Jayaprakash).  Chettiyar runs the illegal gambling network in Mumbai along with various other illegal activities, and he also just happens to be the man who employs Faizal.  Was this good planning by Vinayak, or just a coincidence?

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Since Vinayak apparently turns a blind eye to Chettiyar’s illegal activities the question then follows, is this all part of an undercover plan to infiltrate the gang and bring down Chettiyar or does Vinayak really not care about his potential father-in-law breaking the law beyond the opportunity to pocket a few bribes?  It’s hard to tell, as Ajith makes the most of his devastatingly cheeky grin and ever more crazy persona to keep everyone guessing his true motives.

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Meanwhile, Chettiyar’s henchman Sumanth (Vaibhav) is in cahoots with local Sub-Inspector Ganesh (Ashwin Kakumanu) and bar-owner Mahat (Mahat Raghavendra) to steal the gambling take from the IPL final.  Mahat ropes in his friend from home Prem (Premji Amaren) who just happens to be an IT expert as well as a terminal idiot.  A little of Premji’s humour here goes a long way and less really would have been better, but cleverly developed group dynamics and good performances from the rest of the gang help keep the story on track.  In due course, Vinayak finds out about the plot which just happens to coincide with his own plans to loot the money, and the conspirators end up joining together to steal $5 billion in US dollars.  While some of the heist details require a major suspension of disbelief, the rest of the story deviously pits everyone against each other with  betrayals, plot twists and unexpected revelations, which mean it’s necessary to concentrate and pay attention to work out just who is allied with who at any given time.

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While the guys get all of the action and pretty much all of the storyline, there is very little for Trisha and the other female characters to do.  Anjali has perhaps the next most realised role as Sumanth’s wife, but her only value is as a bargaining tool later in the story.  Andrea as Prithviraj’s wife and Lakshmi Rai have even less of a role, and almost all of the female roles could have been eliminated without making any real ripple in the story.  The songs are also mainly superfluous although the soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja does have a few memorable tracks.  This is probably the best choreographed, although the visual effects for Vaada Bin Laada are worth a look too (watch out for the plane on the wall that takes flight).

Ajith is definitely the star of the show in a negative role that must have been a hoot to play.  He spits venomous lines with great joie de vivre, throws in plenty of bleeped out profanity and his crazed megalomania is wonderful to behold.  He has great chemistry with Arjun and the two take control of every scene they are in.  However Vaibhav is also notable and the other cast members all provide solid performances.  While the focus is on the action there is also some nifty camera work from Sakthi Saravanan, including a great shot of some boys playing cricket in the slums while Vinayak chases down Sumanth.

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Mankatha is not the most convincing heist film, and it would definitely benefit from trimming some of the excess in the form of unnecessary songs and peripheral characters, but it succeeds in entertaining which after all is the main purpose of cinema.  I loved the twists and turns and appreciated Ajith’s excellent demonstration of just how to keep everyone guessing while Arjun tries his best to convince everyone that he is the hero.  It’s amusing and doesn’t take itself too seriously which makes for an enjoyable watch. 3 ½ stars.

Stalin (2006)

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Bheema

Bheema centres on the key players in a gang and their interactions with rivals and police in Chennai. It’s quite a sanitised version of the criminal underworld, and little detail  is revealed about the nature of how these guys make a living. But it has two fantastic actors at the forefront, a delightful bromance, and a focus on characters that makes the who and why of the story more interesting than the what.

Chinna (Prakash Raj) is the local hard man. He started small in a small town and has risen to become one of the biggest crimelords in Chennai. His business dealings are never overtly discussed but he is presented as a ‘good’ gangster. He looks after the defenceless, his guys don’t attack women and children, and he plays by ‘the code’. Prakash Raj is perfectly cast. He makes Chinna likeable, roguish, aggressive and menacing by turns. Chinna is under threat from an old associate (Raghuvaran) and has an uneasy and crumbling detente with the local police. Things are getting tougher, but he is not one to back down. There is a lot more to the character than just being a figurehead, and I liked the glimpses into Chinna’s past, his conversations with old advisors, his wife, even the police, that showed different facets. He thought through the consequences, he reacted emotionally to some situations and I could understand the loyalty Chinna inspired because he seemed real yet powerful. I always enjoy seeing Prakash Raj in a more substantial role, and this is one of my favourites.

Sekar (Vikram) is an enigmatic figure, shadowing Chinna and despatching his enemies before Chinna can. The reason for his obsession eventually emerges via flashback, and it reinforces the notion that justice is not delivered by the law, and what makes a man is the ability to beat the living daylights out of another man. Sekar believes in instant justice, delivered as he sees fit. Even the police in Bheema argue that they can’t operate with the constraints of bureaucracy and low budgets, and have to break the rules to achieve what they see as justice. Sekar is given the name Bheema by the police in recognition of his strength and his role in Chinna’s life.

Sekar’s sole ambition was to one day join Chinna, his role model for strength and justice and a more satisfying father figure than his ineffectual policeman dad. I’ve often wondered why characters stick with their gangleader and don’t just leg it when things get crazy. Writer Sujatha provides a backstory and motivation that gives more to these guys than just being the good baddies. Vikram switches effortlessly from the full throttle action sequences to gazing mistily at Chinna or quarrelling with Shalu, and his physicality suits the invincible Sekar. Vikram’s rapport with Prakash Raj is one of my favourite things about the film and they play off each other very well.

It’s a man’s world, and sometimes in unexpected ways. Vikram steals the focus from the item girl in this song, and Prakash Raj is the one to be almost upskirted.

What sets Bheema apart from other grim gangster fairytales is characters having a life, or at least ideas, outside of the job. Chinna was in love with Padma but they drifted apart. Sekar, ever the loyal lieutenant, reunites them.

Prakash Raj does some delightfully girly fidgeting and stammering, and can’t hide either his happiness or trepidation at marrying his old flame.

Padma (Lakshmi Gopalaswamy) is gorgeous and her scenes with Chinna have a warmth and maturity that suits the slightly older lovebirds. They talk about the risks of her being part of his life, and she is firm in her assertion that she has no illusions. I found the dialogue rather flowery but the emotions came through and they seemed to have a deep mutual affection. He talks to Padma about Sekar, since Sekar is like family and Padma is in charge of the household. She and Chinna make fun of Sekar when they find out he is turning into a gooey romantic wittering about flowers, and their playful banter is another glimpse into the relationship.

Sekar loses his focus on being a thug when he starts to think of love and  Shalini (Trisha). He knows that his priorities have shifted and he can’t rely on himself to be as focussed, fearless and impulsive as he once was.  Chinna lets Sekar go, in a scene more like a breakup than an exit interview.

Unfortunately, Shalini (Trisha) is stupid and irritating for almost all her time in the story. I’m not sure why Indian film heroines characterise innocence by appearing to be dim-witted but Shalu is dumb as a box of rocks and about as interesting. Sekar falls through the roof into her courtyard one night, landing on her. Because of this, she decides he is the one, manufacturing reasons to be near him and imagining they share likes and dislikes based on absolutely no evidence. I did find her stalking Sekar mildly amusing just because it is a bit of turning the tables, but that was all I could see in her favour until quite late in the piece.

Once Sekar succumbs, Vikram and Trisha generate some chemistry and that made their relationship seem vaguely plausible. I liked that they had playful but still intimate scenes together as things developed, and it helped make up for the brain-dead start.

Chinna is a surprisingly sentimental old school don and sometimes that works against him, as he plays by rules others are starting to disregard. Sekar idolises Chinna and can’t abandon his old boss but feels compelled to take Shalini away. Once the other players sense weakness in Chinna, they start closing in. How will it all work out?

There are indicators. Shafi is in the support cast in Chinna’s gang. And Shafi does tend to play characters that bite the hand that feeds them. Also, I have developed a theory. In the imaginary Tamil Film Writing School in my mind, the compulsory class on ‘Ways to End a Film – Traditional (aka Everyone Dies (Rape Optional)’ is well attended. The final elective class ‘Ways to End a Film – Creative Writing (aka ‘No Rape, No Murder – stop being so lazy and think of something else’) falls the day after the big end of year dinner and people are either too hungover or they’ve already got enough credits to graduate, so most students don’t go. Thus there is generally one ending for a Tamil film, regardless.

I quite like the songs by Harris Jayaraj, but the picturisations of the romantic duets seem to exist mostly as a safe channel for the wardrobe department to vent their creativity.

The support cast includes so many reliable character players but the focus isn’t on them and I barely paid any heed to Ashish Vidyarthi, Tanikella Bharani, Shafi, or Raghuvaran among others. Chinna and Sekar dominate the story and Prakash Raj and Vikram likewise dominate the performances.

Linguswamy has directed an action packed film that doesn’t feel hurried or slapdash, and it is very satisfying to a point. The ending was a disappointment and yet almost exactly what I expected. The action scenes are typically excellent as is standard for this genre. There were some nice little extras – when Sekar belted a group of guys with a metal pipe, they chimed like bells as they dropped. The editing is good and the quick cuts and occasional use of effects enhance the sense of urgency or disorientation. It’s a very competent film and a pleasure to watch.

If you’re lukewarm on the South Indian gangster genre, this could be well worth a look. It has better than usual characterisations, some excellent performances and good production values. And one of the best filmi bromances. 3 ½ stars!

Heather says: I’m a fan of Tamil gangster films and usually enjoy anything by N. Linguswamy, but Bheema was rather disappointing all round. Instead of the usual well-developed storyline and strong characterisation I expect from such an accomplished director, Bheema staggers from fight scene to overdone fight scene without any real justification for the characters acting in the way they do. Rahguvaran is ineffectual as the ‘evil’ don Periyavar and his feud with ‘gangster with a concious’ Chinna seems clichéd and unimaginative. The second part of the film which concentrates on the new Police Commissioner and his vendetta against the gangs is more convincing but still seems formulaic and just not that interesting. The relationship between Chinna’s new lieutenant Sekar and the rest of the gang could have been made into something more exciting but instead it’s thrown in towards the end to try and spice up the climax. Something which only works to a limited extent. However, it’s good to see that Shafi continues his quest to always play the smarmy, self-satisfied sycophant and he does his usual thing here as one of Chinna’s men to good effect.

Despite the issues I have with the story, Bheema is saved to some extent by the excellent performances from Prakash Raj and Vikram who both breathe life into the film. I agree with Temple that their camaraderie feels very genuine and the interactions between the two do much to make up for the dreariness of the plot. Vikram’s character is very much the strong silent type and he does a good job with the rather dour Sekar, but Prakash Raj steals the show as the gangster with a heart. His romance is perfectly played and he brings out a human side to Chinna making him much more than just another world-weary gangster. Despite his good performance, Vikram looks rather over muscled here and I confess that I prefer him in more character driven roles such as in Pithamagan and Kasi where he has more range to work with. The one-man indestructible army of Sekar was just a little bit too much to take, especially with the distracting musical sound effects and overly loud soundtrack during the fight scenes.   The implausible relationship between Shalini and Sekar was another disappointment and the two never felt comfortable together –  odd, considering the considerable chemistry the two actors shared in Saamy. In fact there is much more sparkle between Chinna and Sekar!

Bheema does have a good soundtrack and there are moments where the film starts to grab your attention, but sadly they’re just not sustained. Worth watching once for Vikram and Prakash Raj but that’s all. 2 ½ stars.

Dhammu

I’d been warned to pick up my ticket early for Dhammu and although I wasn’t expecting a big crowd given the response to NTR Jr’s last few ventures, I did dutifully turn up before the suggested start time. And the guys on the door were right. By the time the film was ready to roll, the cinema was totally packed, which meant a very loud and enthusiastic response to Tarak’s explosive entrance on screen. Despite a few issues with the sound and difficulties getting the second reel of the movie to play, the audience maintained their enthusiasm which helped turn a run-of-the-mill mass masala film into an entertaining Friday night ‘adventure without subtitles’.

Dhammu starts with a flashback, setting up the story and explaining the rivalry between two families in a rural village. Within the first few moments there is a decapitation followed by various scenes of death and dismemberment so it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t going to be a fluffy romance despite the promise of two heroines on the poster. The two families seem determined to use the Kilkenny cat principle of conquest and it’s not long before the remnants of Suman’s family are reduced to living under the yoke of Nasser’s sadistic thugs. Once the scene is set, the film jumps to the present day and Tarak enters via a suitably ridiculous leap from a window onto a black 4WD. This is the first of many such black 4WD’s that gave their lives during the making of this film, so be prepared for crashes, inexplicable explosions and general vehicular destruction often for no apparent reason other than the director seemed to feel that it was time for another car (or 3) to meet an untimely end.

Tarak plays Ramachandra, an orphan who is against violence although that’s not entirely obvious since he’s beating up bad guys single-handedly from his first appearance on screen. OK, so he does fight with his hands behind his back and shows a reluctance to actually kill anyone, but at first I took that to be a novel trick fighting technique just because it looks good.

Ramachandra meets and instantly falls in love with Satya (Trisha) and after some initial very mild reluctance she seems to reciprocate. But it looks as if the romance, brief as it is, seems doomed to failure since Satya’s father (Subhalekha Sudhakar) wants her to marry a rich guy. Trisha looks lovely in some beautiful traditional outfits, but apart from looking pretty and the odd dance routine she has very little to do. The appearance of Karthika as the second heroine seems totally redundant as she gets even less screen time than Trisha and the attempt to create some rivalry falls flat.  Karthika also has so much collagen pumped into her lips that it looks as if they might burst at any moment while she’s speaking and this is incredibly distracting, particularly since I think she looked much better and prettier in Ko.

Both Trisha and Karthika look very stiff in the Neelo Undi Dhammu song and their awkwardness seems to increase in direct proportion to the shortness of their skirts. They both do much better in the songs where they are wearing more traditional outfits and the choreography seems to suit them better too. Tarak is on excellent form in all of the dance routines and although the songs by M.M. Keeravani aren’t particularly memorable the choreography is less fixed on trick moves and more on coordinated steps which look very slick. The only exception is the song Ruler which has little dancing and lots of CGI which looks rather out of place compared to the rest of the film.

By some means Ramachandra’s friend (Ali) learns of a rich family looking for a son to adopt and Ramachandra promptly applies to become a member of the Vasireddy family, adopting the name Vijayadwaja Sri Simha. However it’s not long before he discovers the drawbacks, namely being expected to resolve the feud between the two warring families once and for all as well as dealing with his entire extended family.

The fight scenes are the best part of Dhammu which is fortunate because there are quite a few. Tarak is often shown in slow-motion leaping and pouncing like his adopted family mascot of a lion and it works well. Mostly the fight sequences are totally over the top and unrealistic but they are expertly choreographed by Ram-Lakshman and look fantastic. People ricochet off cars, buildings and other people if they don’t happen to hit anything else in the way, or bounce off the ground in totally gravity defying ways which most of the audience seemed to find as entertaining as I did. There are lots of declarative speeches in between the various bouts of mayhem which generally went down well too, although there were a few scenes where they slow the pace considerably and it takes a while to pick up again.

The supporting cast are all well known actors and generally do justice to their roles. Kota Srinivasa Rao is familiar as the aging patriarch, while Tanikella Bharani, Suman and Sampath Raj all appear in small roles. Nasser is good as the slightly psychotic head of the opposing family and he also sports a wild and strange moustache which looks incredibly impractical. Ali is fairly inoffensive as Vijay’s friend and he got plenty of laughs from the audience, although his comedy did seem rather muted. Brahmi pops up for a few scenes but I couldn’t work out exactly what his role was in the Vasireddy family and he had very little impact. Venu Thottempudi also makes an appearance as a member of the Vasireddy family and was good in a brief but important appearance.

Overall Dhammu has nothing new to offer and relies heavily on NTR Jr to make the most of an overused storyline with standard masala ingredients. There are plenty of good moments and NTR Jr puts in an impressive performance but there isn’t anything to make this film stand out from other similar action movies in his filmography. It’s not brilliant but it works well enough as a mass entertainer, especially with an appreciative audience and I’d recommend watching at least once for Tarak, his dancing and some excellent fight scenes!

Varsham

I do really like Prabhas. He always seems to be a little surprised to be the hero of any film and with his height and general gangliness he has a ‘St Bernard puppy’ type of cuteness that is very endearing. Even though his films seem to follow a similar pattern, he brings enough personality to each character that I’m usually happy to watch no matter how many plot holes or illogical scenes there seem to be and this film does have a few of those.

Varsham is a typical Prabhas action/romance movie. The story involves two guys fighting over the heroine like dogs over a bone, with each one growling ‘she’s mine’ at appropriate intervals. But when one of those two is Prabhas and the other is Gopichand it’s suddenly a lot more fun. Add in Prakash Raj as ‘Prakash Bad Dad’ and it’s much more entertaining than it first sounds.

Trisha plays Sailaja, the girl who both Venkat (Prabhas) and Bhadranna (Gopichand) lay claim to. Sailaja is a fun-loving girl who adores the rain, and I fully understand and endorse her compulsion to dance in it at every possible opportunity. Venkat and Bhadranna first both see her at a train station where their train has been delayed. Once the rain starts Sailaja leaps out onto the platform to dance with total child-like abandon. She follows the ‘dance as if no-one is watching’ creed, despite the fact that everyone is actually watching her and this is a very fun song with plenty of dorky moves by Trisha. There’s a great pigeon move in here too and I’m very impressed by Trisha’s grasp of the bird-impression genre of dance step.

Venkat and Sailaja are separated as the train moves off, but find each other the next time precipitation hits their local market in Warangal. Since the rain seems to bring them together they make a pact to meet again when it next pours. However, just as the rain clouds form again there is the small problem of Bhadranna who has come to Sailja’s house to arrange marriage with her.

Sailaja’s father Ranga Rao (Prakash Raj) is a drunken gambler who wants to make the best use possible of his daughter to fund his chosen life style. But while Bhadranna has schemed to put Rango Rao in his debt, trying to use his weakness for gambling to force Sailaja into marriage, Rango Rao is one step ahead.  Luckily, a film producer has seen Sailaja and is desperate for her to act as his latest heroine. This will naturally pay extremely well, plus hopefully be a source of revenue for years to come, so Ranga Rao is in no hurry to marry his daughter off. And despite appearances, Ranga Rao is wilier than Bhadranna gives him credit for.

He plays Venkat and Bhandranna off against each other, reasoning that he can use Venkat to get rid of Bhandranna and therefore his debt, and then separate Sailaja and Venkat. This is exactly the path he follows and even when his daughter is later kidnapped by Bhadranna he’s still tries to make the situation turn out to his advantage. Luckily for Sailaja she has the support of her feisty and opinionated grandmother who has a very low opinion of her son-in-law. It’s also a pretty accurate one. Sailaja’s mother is a bit of a wet blanket and unable to take a stand against her scheming husband, whereas her grandmother actively supports her relationship with Venkat and obstructs  Bhandranna as much as she can.

Bhandranna doesn’t stand a chance though – he has entirely the wrong opinion about the rain. Unlike Venkat who has a much better appreciation of the things that matter to Sailaja.

Although the story itself is nothing new, the appeal here lies in the performances of Prabhas and Trisha who really do bring their romance to life. They have great chemistry, especially in the songs and the love story comes across as natural and unforced. After all as Sailaja puts it, Venkat is tall and handsome – what more does a girl need? Their first meetings in the rain are beautifully captured and make good use of the hazy lighting. In the later scenes Prabhas is all action, which he does so well, especially with the great fight scenes choreographed by Peter Hein. But Sailaja fights back too and isn’t at all a typical sobbing heroine. I really like her characters attitude even if she is a little too gullible when it came to her father and too ready to believe the worst of Venkat. I also appreciate the references to the Ramayana throughout the story. The kidnap theme is a straight take from the Aranya Kanda, but there are plenty of other references. These range from Bhandranna trying to change the outcome of the story in a re-enactment at his mansion, to the final showdown involving a large Ravana cutout, which all add yet more layers to the story. I love the songs by Devi Sri Prasad and they are generally well placed in the movie. The best are those with Venkat and Sailaja in the rain, although I do like the multi coloured chicks in this song, and both Prabhas and Trisha look to be having fun.

But despite my love of Prabhas, Prakash Raj is the scene stealer as the selfish and greedy father. He has a habit of running his tongue over his crooked canine tooth while he is scheming and it becomes quite mesmerising after a while, acting as a gauge of just how manipulative he is planning to be . Ranga Rao also has a collection of very loud shirts and the combination is enough to put him into the ‘bad dad’ faction even before he starts his fake suicide attempts and general bribery of his daughter. Jayaprakash Reddy as the producer aids and abets Ranga Rao’s plans in order to get his film made and the two have some of the funniest scenes in the film.

There is a small separate comedy track involving Sunil as Venkat’s friend Jagan and his quest for romance. Since Sunil is another favourite and the comedy is inoffensive and not too intrusive it doesn’t detract from the rest of the film for me. Ajay also turns up as one of Prabhas friends which is another point in this films favour although his character is of the blink and you’ll miss him variety.

Varsham is the first time I’ve seen Gopichand act, and I think he’s excellent as the villainous Bhadranna. He’s not overtly evil, but you just know he’s the sort of person who pulled wings off flies as a child. OK, killing his father was the first clue, but most of the time he’s rational and normal until you look at his eyes, or he suddenly snaps and casually kills someone. Bhadranna is the centre of his world and the sooner everyone around him realises that and falls into line, the easier it will be for them.  Shafi has a small but important role here as Bhandranna’s step-brother Kasi, and he’s sleazy  and fanatical enough to make his initially pitiful character quite obnoxious by the end. It seems to be his special talent.

Great songs, crazy fight scenes (Venkat has amazing bullets that manage to flip jeeps), Prakash-Raj-bad-dad and a very sweet romance make this one of my favourite Prabhas movies. It’s worth watching for the beautiful rain shots alone but Trisha and Prabhas are excellent together in this film.  4 stars.

Temple says:

The structure of the simple story was quite good, and I like the overt Ramayana references. Bhadranna demanding that the local actors change the script to allow Ravana to tie the nuptial thread around Sita’s neck was just one of many signals that he was the real deal when it came to insane villainy. But the heroic Prabhas was just as demanding. Venkat was the type of hero who expects to be worshipped and he had no tolerance for people questioning him. In many respects there isn’t that much difference between hero and villain as they are both self centred and moody. Prabhas has a very likeable presence when he isn’t sulking or killing people, while Gopichand has a harder edged energy. It was the actors who made that dynamic work as apart from flagging Venkat as ‘poor but honest’ and Bhadri as ‘eeeeevil but artistic’, there was little else in the script to develop the characters. The small scale of the drama and the characters’ dreams made the film a little more engaging and plausible. The character actors were pretty good and helped paper over some of the plot holes just by being believable in their supporting roles. Prakash Raj was good but not great. I found his characterisation fluctuated between extremes of buffoonery and cunning and it didn’t feel cohesive. If he had dialled it down a little in some scenes, the sly con artist and schemer aspects of Ranga Rao would have been more convincing. My first thoughts on seeing Trisha cavorting around in the rain went along the lines of  ‘Hello..an escaped mental patient.’ Why do Indian film directors seem to associate carefree innocence with behaviour that is borderline crazy? And that is pretty much the last thought I gave to Trisha. She was adequate but I think almost any actress could have delivered that performance. There is rather a lot of kissing (seen and implied) although there is minimal chemistry between the stars, even with Trisha licking melon pulp off Prabhas’ face.

The songs are colourful, and Prabhas and Trisha incurred the wrath of the wardrobe team in some of the picturisations which made them extra entertaining. Prabhas’ signature dance steps seem to be stomping or undulating and he often got to do both. Sometimes while wringing wet. There are some nice little details in the design, and I liked seeing Bhadranna still using a gramophone – so stylish and retro. The action scenes were good, and I appreciated Venkat’s dedication to leaving no car unturned in one encounter. Prabhas is very comfortable as an action man, and tackles the fight scenes with gusto.

This is a pretty run of the mill romantic drama and while it was a perfectly acceptable timepass, there is little to set Varsham apart. 3 stars.