Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu

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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!

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Swarnakamalam

Swarnakamalam has been highly recommended by several readers and other friends, and I saw Bhanupriya’s dances in the film on Minai’s excellent blog. I really like Venkatesh and Bhanupriya. They are appealing, both are good actors, and I always enjoy seeing them on screen. K. Vishwanath wrote and directed, and while this contains several themes in common with his earlier Sagara Sangamam, this is a far less satisfying film. There is some great dancing and a nice domestic setting that helps build the sense of who these people are. But I don’t wholeheartedly like the lead characters and I have issues with several points in the story. My DVD is mostly subtitled but occasionally I guess the subtitle team nipped out for a coffee or something and a few chapters were left untouched. Happily these were mostly scenes involving Tinku the annoying child sidekick, but perhaps there was something essential that I did miss.

Venkatesh is Chandrasekhar. He is introduced as an artist who paints cinema hoardings and billboards. He has a sidekick, annoying young Tinku, and seems to get by from day to day. He cons his way into renting a room from a pious couple, and initially his character seems to be a bit shady. But as time goes by he seems to have contacts all over town, knows everyone, and can facilitate pension and passport applications. Venkatesh is a really likeable actor. He always seems to be acting with his co-stars rather than acting for the camera, and I love watching him in ensemble scenes as he never seems to switch off when he is in the background. Although I did find myself thinking ‘Oh it’s a good thing his back-hair is distracting me from the too short shorts’. See if you agree!

It’s a shame Chandrasekhar is quite unappealing once the superficial charm is taken out of the equation. He is controlling and a bit of a bully. He always knows best, and pushes people to do what he wants.

He also seems to be quite obsessed with Meenakshi and paints multiple hoardings with her image, and has loads of photos of her strewn about his studio which is a bit creepy. From his rooftop terrace he can see into his neighbours compound.

Bhanupriya is Meenakshi, the girl next door. She is the daughter of a celebrated dance guru, and lives in genteel poverty. She doesn’t see the point of dance as it doesn’t put food on the table. Her sister Savitri (Devilalitha) works tirelessly making and selling snacks, and singing with their father. Meenakshi just wants to escape the artistic life and get a job that pays for life’s necessities and a few luxuries. Of course, everyone around her seems to know better. Even allowing for the pressure, Meenakshi is a brat, and seems like a very young teenaged girl. She is sly, sneaks off to the movies and other outings,  and tries to get out of dancing by staging various misfortunes but never speaks to her father about her reservations. Once her father passes away, Meenakshi gets a job and seems to be set to stand on her own feet and live the life she wants. She is strong enough to confront Chandrasekhar about his actions but not strong enough to stop him from interfering.

Bhanupriya is beautiful, and I loved the songs that featured her excellent dancing. But there was something about Meenakshi that I just couldn’t like as much as I wanted to and I blame that on the writing for her character. This is one of my favourite songs. I enjoy the way Bhanupriya is initially cranky about having to practice but seems to enjoy dancing more as the audience builds.

The supporting cast are mostly members of the household or compound. There is a pleasantly disorganised informality in the way characters wander in and past each other’s houses and share chores. I loved the set dressing that included little details like the knick knacks in the house.

Savitri and the landlord’s son have a nice romantic sideplot that made me happy as theirs seemed like a genuine partnership founded on mutual affection and respect and they were nice people. There is a comedy sideplot involving Sri Laxmi and her unfortunate husband, and it was tolerable if not hilarious. Tinku, the annoying child sidekick, does have some nice scenes where he is copying Meenakshi’s dance, and becomes very focussed and joyful. The uplifting power of music and dance permeates the film.

Director K Viswanath is known for his message films. But the message in Swarnakamalam seems to get a bit scrambled. Initially we are presented with the ideal of classical art, pure and beautiful. Bureaucrats are criticised for not paying pensions to senior artists and giving them their due respect. But then the message seems to be that art cannot be forced, it must come from the heart and be allowed to adapt lest it stagnate, so there is approval for Meenakshi’s rejection of her artistic heritage. Then Chandrasekhar decides that Meenakshi is born to be a classical dancer despite her own views and badgers her into performing, has her fired from a job she enjoys as it is supposedly beneath a great dancer and generally insists she be his perfect artist according to the ideals of culture and tradition.

Meenakshi wants to dance when and as she feels like it, not as her whole life or for her living. She is railroaded into becoming a cultural performer in a fancy hotel and then Chandrasekhar sets her up with a wealthy American dancer and patron who wants Meenakshi to tour the US.  After a very emotional scene where she learns to value her father’s legacy and embraces the dance, admitting that dancing with love and commitment would make her happy and fulfilled, she is forced to choose between Chandrasekhar and success.

Chandrasekhar wrote Meenakshi a letter to read at the airport as she was about to set off on tour. He writes that no one else but him would ever tolerate Meenakshi’s lying and misbehaviour, no one else but him would force her to be a great dancer and every time her anklets chimed that was his voice, the voice of a man who loved her. I found it really manipulative in forcing a choice that didn’t have to be a choice. Why shouldn’t she have love and artistic success?

So the whole great art as its own reward idea seemed to go out the window, as did the independence of the artist. The message seems to be it’s OK to stalk someone, then bully them into a career they don’t want, until they realise they do want it, then you pull the rug out from under them. Venkatesh and Bhanupriya did have a lovely rapport on screen, but my liking for their performances is just for their acting,  and not the characters behaviours.

On a purely visual level, Swarnakamalam is gorgeous. The songs are delightful, and allow Bhanupriya to show off her skills and a range of beautiful classical dance costumes, and Venkatesh shows off his strolling and knitwear modelling in some beautiful locations.

The framing of the dance scenes is meticulous and Lok Singh made the most of the scenery and the beautiful lines of Bhanupriya’s dancing. The music by Illayaraja is perfect for the context and the subtitles for the songs did offer some additional insights as well as being lovely.

Watch it for excellent performances and beautiful dancing, sadly not matched by the story or characters. I just can’t warm to the film, but I love the songs. 3 stars.

Heather says: This is a beautifully pictured film which focuses on the art of Indian Classical dance and to a lesser extent Carnatic music. I love the two sisters, Meenakshi and Savitri, and their very genuine interaction. It makes it very natural that the only person Meenakshi conveys her discontent to is her sister. Savitri’s placid nature means that she is happier and more settled, but she accepts Meenakshi’s view and does her best to help her attain her dreams after their father dies. This relationship and that of the two girls with their father makes a very solid foundation to the film. Enter Venkatesh as Chandrasekar – the interfering neighbour. If I was Meenakshi, I don’t think I would have had as much patience with Chandrasekhar’s meddling in my life. Although it’s clear that he has her best interests at heart he is determined to make her conform to his view of her. The film tries to point out that you have to have passion and belief in order to truly excel, and I’m not sure that Meenakshi really does have what it takes. She enjoys dancing for herself but doesn’t enjoy performing so it does seem cruel that everyone keeps forcing her, when all she wants is a normal life. I also agree with Temple that it was very stalker-ish for Chandrasekhar to paint her picture everywhere. I found that really creepy, especially considering that he was essentially also watching her all the time.  Savitri’s relationship seems much more genuine and is more enjoyable to watch develop. Top marks as well for showing the landlord’s son playing the violin properly. It makes me cringe every time I see someone massacring a violin on screen and this is a lovely change. Even if he isn’t actually playing the notes that we heard!

Despite my quibbles with Chandrasekhar’s character, I thinkthatVenkatesh was excellent in this role. He was passionate and devoted and really looked the part. Due to dodgy subtitles I didn’t get a clear idea of his relationship to Tinku but it was effective to have the comedy mainly between Chandrasekhar and Tinku rather than the usual obtrusive and subsequently unfunny ‘comedy track’. The humour between the couple with the wife devoted to blessing everyone was also funny and well integrated into the movie.

The standout of the film though is the dancing, and Bhanupriya was fantastic in these scenes. It was interesting to have real life dance guru Sharon Loven in the film, although her character didn’t really make much sense in the context of the rest of the story. The whole trip to America idea felt tacked on as a reason for Chandrasekhar and Meenakshi to finally admit what they felt for each other. I have 2 copies of this film and since they both had patchy subtitles and wouldn’t play right to the end I was quite frustrated by the time Meenakshi left for the airport. I watched the climax online with no subtitles and would love to know what was written in that last letter since Meenakshi’s decision at the end might make more sense to me. I was hoping she would leave and make a life for herself in America where she would finally be able to choose to do what she wanted to do. Still, the film looks beautiful and both the dancing and the music are excellent. Worth watching for those alone. 3 ½ stars.

Kshana Kshanam

RGV’s Kshana Kshanam opens with an intense robbery and chase that takes place in the dark of night. There is no dialogue in this episode, the visuals and the very dramatic score tell the story. Finally one bad guy kills another bad guy and takes the money… So far so good as my DVD doesn’t have subtitles. From this point on, I am making things up.

Satya (Sri Devi) works in an office, struggles with over sleeping, has a nosy neighbour, and seems to have her life sorted. Satya unknowingly picks up the left-luggage receipt for the robbery loot. When things go wrong for her, Sri Devi is excellent at showing her fraying nerves and building fear as well as a gritty determination. There’s a bit of crying and whining, but Satya retains some dignity (despite the wardrobe in some songs) and is a likeable girl who is way out of her comfort zone and trying desperately to get back to her old life. Sri Devi’s expressions and timing are brilliant, often very funny, and she conveys so much with her simple gestures and reactions. I like her so much as a feisty heroine.

Paresh Rawal is the villain Nayar. It was his gang that did the break and enter, and his man who has double crossed them all and taken off with the loot. Nayar is on the traitor’s trail, and will stop at nothing even if he has to kill his entire gang one by one. He is a psychopath who can sweetly ask his victim to tell the truth even as he is snapping the guy’s fingers. It’s an over the top performance (he has a high pitched giggle, a love of filmi tunes and a mad eyed stare) but Nayar is genuinely scary when it counts.

Nayar and the gang pursue Satya, and RGV really does know how to ratchet up the tension in the pursuit. A rowdy follows Satya to her apartment and is injured when she defends herself. He is finished off by an unseen colleague and Satya believes she killed him. She decides to run.

And runs into Chandu (Venkatesh). He is a thief, an occasional police impersonator, but smart and fundamentally decent within his own moral code. Chandu uses Satya to escape the police he thinks have come for him, and they go on the lam. They team up since everyone else is chasing them, although it takes some time for them to work out why. I really loved the sight of Sri Devi in the midst of the motorcycle chase demurely sitting sidesaddle behind Venky as he sped through the traffic! Venkatesh is convincing as both the charming trickster and the gutsy hero. He has a boyish quality that suits the lighter scenes and he attacks the action scenes with conviction. His mullet seems to adopt more or less volume depending on his mood.

They escape into the jungle. Chandu shows his decency by not looking up Satya’s skirt and she shows her city girl ways by freaking out at absolutely everything. Chandu looks concerned then perplexed and finally amused as Satya calls on God, bemoans her fate and worries about being killed by tigers.

He doesn’t bully or belittle her, but he can laugh at the situation. Each allows the other actor to shine, and it makes the romance seem more natural as they have low key but convincing chemistry. I also liked seeing that as the film progressed Satya used her initiative in taking the next steps in the relationship. It’s a nice element to balance the darker suspense storyline.

Satya is overcome by the beauty of the landscape and trills a song, only to be asked to sing something more ‘mass’. Naturally this leads to:

A fabulous way to maintain a covert presence, I’m sure. I like Venky’s lawn bowls hat. And I love the male backing dancers who really make it their own.

After running into Nayar in the jungle, they realise that Satya has something besides her good looks to make all these men pursue her. And I have to say, no one made any effort to be stealthy so I was not surprised Nayar found them, only at how long it took.  Chandu beats up the baddies, Inspector Yadav (Rami Reddy) and his police stumble onto the path and in the mayhem Chandu and Satya escape by stealing Nayar’s car.

Once back in the city they encounter Brahmi and do a spot of comedy shopping. Then the plan is to break into Satya’s apartment to retrieve the receipt. The break in was both suspenseful and slapstick, with cops and rowdies running up and down stairs, and Satya and Chandu narrowly evading all parties. The adversity really brings out their song and dance side, as there are several musical interludes which are mostly fun. I do have an issue with Chandu – THIS is how he dresses in his wealth fantasy song.

Sri Devi sang on the track but I don’t recommend you seek it out. It’s an aural and visual assault.

Satya wants to turn the receipt over to the police, Chandu wants to keep it, but once again Nayar’s gang are too close for comfort. Finally Chandu goes to collect the loot but nothing is that simple. The ending is impressively action packed and people get what they deserve.

Kshana Kshanam is visually compelling. The fast edits and angles in dramatic scenes created a sense of urgency and menace. There are cameras mounted in and under cars and on motorbikes which added a feeling of speed and the panic of the chase. The background score throughout is very dramatic and while it often helps set the mood, sometimes it was distracting. Think heavy percussion and strings, occasional 80s power guitar and a dash of jaunty brass. Some scenes relied on ambient sounds from the background action, others had just the score, some had a blend of both and the transitions could be abrupt. The sound was a bit off at times – one rowdy ran across a floor and sounded like 4 people tap dancing, and everyone seemed to have the same soles on their shoes. It was odd in a film that was so accomplished on a visual level and had such a well crafted story. The MM Keeravani songs are hit and miss, but generally fun to watch although the dancing is suspect at times. There is a definite sense of time inside the story, and I wondered how much of it was shot in sequence (songs aside) as it felt as though the scenes were really unfolding one after another.

I’m not a diehard RGV fan as I find when he is good he is very very good, but you know, then there’s RGV ki Aag. See this for a great cast in a well told story with a deft balance of action, humour and suspense. It certainly lived up to the title, as every second counted. 4 stars!

Heather says: I really love this film. It combines suspense and action with just enough romance and has the benefit of two very attractive leads. RGV keeps it simple and as a result the story moves along well and despite the lack of subtitles it’s compelling viewing. This is probably because the romance is left to take a back seat through most of the film, and the focus is firmly on the action. Both Sridevi and Venkatesh are equally important in these action scenes and Sridevi is no useless hand-wringing heroine but is quite capable of making her own decisions, disastrous at times though they may be.

There are some great lighting contrasts in the film which also frequently add to the atmosphere of menace. The opening scenes heighten the expectation of what is to follow as the lighting is dim and no-one’s face is totally clear. When RGV finally moves to introduce Satya, the change to bright light and the intimacy of her bedroom completely alters the mood. This introduction also serves to accentuate the difference in circumstance later on when Satya ends up sleeping rough in the jungle. It really doesn’t take long before Satya’s initial confusion and fear change to a determination to fight back and I think this is a very natural reaction for her character and also suits Sridevi very well.

Sridevi is absolutely gorgeous here and perfect in her characterisation. She is excellent as the scared girl on the run and even better as she sets out to solve the puzzle of why everyone is after her. The romance with Chandu also grows very naturally throughout the course of their adventure and there is good chemistry between Sridevi and Venkatesh. While I think Venkatesh is very good in his portrayal of the happy go lucky thief who gets pulled along for the ride, I do think he is somewhat overshadowed by Sridevi in their scenes together. However he is excellent during the fights and action sequences and looks good in the songs too, although his mullet is a little distracting at times. At least I can put this and his rather variable wardrobe down to the fact that this was filmed in the early 90’s which does explain a lot. Paresh Rawal is great as the villain and is totally over the top in his psychotic shifts from raving bad guy to being scared of heights and pushing his henchmen into danger first. Plus he has a great moustache. The only downside to this film is the lack of subtitles. I’ve been told that the dialogue is very good as well, so it’s a real shame that I haven’t been able to track down a subtitled copy, although I may have to eventually succumb to the Hindi dubbed version. Thanksto KB for the recommendation. 4 ½ stars from me.