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 and 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!

Lakshyam

Lakshyam is a highly entertaining mishmash of romance, comedy, action, politics and family drama. It succeeds largely because of the casting – Jagapathi Babu, Gopichand and Anushka in particular do a fine job – and some skilful writing and direction that balance all the elements.

The film opens with a girl running away from her own wedding. She looks so pretty and pristine as she scoots off across town, eventually making a rendezvous with a bloody and battered man. I was intrigued by the look of happy pride on her face when he efficiently blew up a car, shot a policeman and then hopped on the back of her moped. I wondered how they got to this point, and what was going to happen next. With a bit of time travel, we get to the chronological start of the story. The film is very well constructed, and the flashback and current day sequences flow well. There are some pleasingly playful references to filmi clichés and the cast seem to enjoy the improbable shenanigans.

Anushka is Indu, a modern uppity type of college girl. She has a very specific list of demands for a prospective husband and seems to think it is perfectly reasonable to share this with a young child on the train. Pinky immediately decides to set Indu up with her uncle, Chandu. He has his own, very different, list of required qualities and even the kid knows it’s not likely to work.

Anushka is one of my favourite current day actresses (yes, actress not ‘heroine’), and she is quite good in this role. Her character has some silly and selfish moments, but underneath it she is a likeable young woman. At the very least she knows when to apologise for her mistakes, so she is not too bratty. Indu is a Telugu heroine so of course if anything goes wrong she is reliant on any and every man within 20 metres of her for help and a solution. But the helpless female act is balanced with Indu cheekily pretending to be a gangleader’s sister and using his name to get her own way. This leads her into conflict with the cool dude on campus, Chandu. So she calls her little train friend’s uncle to sort him out. Yes – Chandu again. So there is a romantic comedy of errors as Chandu takes on Chandu and tries to bluff his way through. The silliness is increased with Brahmi and Venu Madhav battling each other for control of the student canteen.

My reason for picking this film a while ago was that I hadn’t seen Gopichand in a lead role and I was curious. He does well and seems to be a good generalist in terms of Hero Skills. He can act a bit, dance a bit, fight a bit, and has an engaging onscreen presence. His introduction scene is vintage hero stuff – he is chained and dangling upside down in a police lockup. But with a single bound he frees himself and escapes to wreak havoc. The college romance scenes don’t work quite so well as the later more energetic action sequences but he and Anushka do have chemistry and he gets right into hamming it up. And let me applaud a song with a backup dancing Spiderman. There is not enough of it around.

Chandu and Indu eventually fall in love and actually tell each other so they then just have to deal with all the usual obstacles – telling his family, her disapproving dad, and of course a crazed psychopath who happens to be a mad inventor. Chandu also gets caught in the fallout of his brother’s activities. He is a man of action, and takes a direct approach to solving problems. Although I did like that he sometimes cowed his opponent just with a graphic description of what he would do, so had no need of the actual biffo. You can have your cake and eat it too – a non-violent solution that incorporates a violent fantasy sequence. Gopichand is well able to match the changing tone of the film from the fluffy  romance to the revenge driven action and drama.

Chandu’s brother is Inspector Bose – Jagapathi Babu. He is an honest, crusading policeman and of course is wildly unpopular with the underworld. Newly transferred to Hyderabad, Bose takes on Section Shankar, Indu’s ‘brother’, a thug protected by senior police. I like Jagapathi Babu and this role is a good fit for him. Bose is a cop but also a family man and has a competitive relationship with his brother and his journalist father (Kota Srinivasa Rao) so there is lots of scope for his offbeat style.

The brothers have different approaches but are not forced into a separation or battle for whose philosophy should win, and I really liked seeing that more natural sibling rivalry. They were great mates as well as brothers, and the family scenes were fun. Bose and his wife (Kalyani) have a very affectionate relationship, and it is a nice domestic environment. But Bose also has a kickarse side and Jagapathi Babu gets his own action sequences, including some excellent use of coconuts as both defense and offense. He is also the victim of one of the most elaborate assassination attempts I can recall seeing. I was muttering “What? He’s not dead – yet? What!” as the drama kept unfurling.

It’s interesting that once again the law is shown as helpless in the face of crime and they rely on people like Chandu to get things done. Dharmavarapu Subramanyam is cast as an honest cop, and his comedic skills are used to help the story as a bumbling but good guy. Even Ashish Vidyarthi as the DIG makes it clear that the police need to rely on subterfuge to even compete let alone succeed, so there is an oddly defeatist note to the brother’s battle with Section Shankar and his corrupt cop associate (Devaraj).

I was moderately alarmed when I read the long list of ‘comedy uncles’ in the cast, but Srivas and writers Gopimohan and M Rathnam do an excellent job of balancing the story elements and allowing a lot of the humour to emerge in a more natural style. Kota Srinivasa Rao is in good form as the newsman father who believes he might possibly be in charge of his household. Venu Madhav and Brahmi have a running battle which keeps them from bogging down the rest of the story, and when they do interact with the rest of the characters it is usually fun. And there are some amusing touches – a fixer for Section Shankar has gunfire as his ringtone, one rowdy knocks himself out in a fight, and there are lots of little reactions and one-liners that liven things up.

The song picturisations are nothing out of the ordinary and neither is Mani Sharma’s music, but they are executed and placed well. Anushka is not much of a dancer although she does give her dance performances some energy and excellent facial expressions. I would say Gopichand’s natural genre might be ‘uncle dance’ and he does it pretty well. He certainly looked like he had fun dancing, and it added another degree of contrast to his vengeful brother aspect. And he seemed quite unperturbed by some of the shirts bestowed upon him.

Lakshyam does strain the credibility muscles more than a few times, but it is such an entertaining and well paced effort that I just go with the flow. The cast are good and are given characters with a little bit more depth than I expected. There are convoluted schemes, a deathtrap, peculiar decision making – all the trappings of a good potboiler. The writing is clever and kept me smiling if not laughing out loud. And the baddies got their various comeuppances in suitable style. It was all quite satisfying.

Give it a go! 3 ½ stars.

Rachcha

Rey! 3am and we were still discussing Charan’s amazing hair, his dedication to bringing the cape back and the total masala fun of Rachcha.  Another adventure without subtitles, we saw it with an appreciative audience notable for the number of women attending. Usually we hear a high pitched squeal of fandom and look around to see a dude in a suit. But Charan seems to bring the ladies out, and we can see why. There’s plenty of action, excellent choreography and at least for Charan, some superb costumes. Charan channels Chiru in his own inimitable style and with a nod to the camera that says he knows what we’re thinking, while Tamanna holds her own in both the dancing and drama stakes.

The film starts with the opening banner of Mega Supergood Films and, since any reference at all to the word ‘mega’ had the audience screaming, ensured that we were deafened right away. After a flashback involving young Raj, a significant necklace and the extremely dramatic death of his parents, we learn that present day Raj (Ram Charan) is being brought up by comedy stalwart M.S. Narayana and his wife (Sudha). ‘Betting’ Raj spends his days, well, betting and when his adopted father needs a liver transplant it’s the ‘logical’ way for him to raise money. He accepts a wager with James (Ajmal Ameer) to make the daughter of a rich businessman fall in love with him. Raj and James have a history involving a train, 2 cars and a game of chicken, so Raj is not without some reservations, but his situation is desperate.

Chaitra (Tamanna) is that rich girl. Chaitra never seems to go anywhere without her escort of 2 motorbike outriders, 4 SUVs and various bodyguards, so it’s a real challenge for Raj to approach her at all. Luckily he has accomplices (a flock of comedy uncles) so Raj is able to attend to the serious business of flirtation. In one of the many fun tributes to Chiranjeevi sprinkled through the film Raj infiltrates her medical college to the strains of Shankar Dada MBBS and all the collar popping and swagger that goes with it. Naturally it doesn’t take long for Chaitra to appreciate the well styled hair and many charms of Raj. Or does she? Tamanna is a very capable actress, and she does get a bit more to do in Rachcha than we expected. Unfortunately she does get a few scenes where she seems more like an escaped mental patient as she marvels at waterfalls, flowers, a fence painted yellow etc.

As we knew from Badrinath, Tamanna has a great imagination for song costumes and accessories. Raj appears in a couple of full length capes and with a number of scarves. At one stage we thought perhaps she had been expecting a hero more famous for his multiple layers of singlets, shirts, jackets and scarves, but Charan wore it all with aplomb. The curse of the blind stylist only seems to strike at Tamanna but does strike hard and often. The constant mini skirt and short shorts outfits were not particularly flattering, and the choreography and camera angles didn’t help.

Mani Sharma’s songs aren’t brilliant musically speaking, but the picturisations are awesomely entertaining and the choreography is excellent. The costume teams go all out (poor Tamanna) and the dancing is infectiously energetic and engaging. Charan just gets better and better. He has a good musicality and a sense of the overall appearance of a song. He doesn’t fall into the trap of substituting too many tricks and gymnastics for dancing. It’s a pleasure to watch him, and his facial expressions in the songs are highly entertaining. Tamanna is his match in energy and expression.

The two actually dance together rather than just using the heroine purely for her glamour quotient and it feels like a real partnership. There isn’t any sizzling chemistry but more of a camaraderie which works well enough to make their romance acceptable, especially considering the rather dubious origins in a bet.

Chaitra’s father Bellary (Mukesh Rishi) is not impressed by Raj and when the pair escape he sends for the big guns in the form of Dev Gill in manic villain mode. You can tell he is insane because he wears a coat inspired by Noddy and Big Ears or a high school production of Pirates of Penzance. He had a pathological attachment to this coat and he never appeared without it. This diluted his menace considerably as we giggled uncontrollably every time we saw him.

The second half explains the real reason for the  bet, and sets up the climax. The flashback episode is too long but it leads up to an excellent fight. The action scenes are brilliantly choreographed, using Charan’s physical skills to great effect. Raj was a resourceful and efficient fighter, usually going for the classic ‘kick em in the nuts’ approach rather than anything too impractical. Although he used a flaming wheel and even threw a motorbike at his atttackers in one scene so he was never dull. Sampath Nandi toyed with the audience when he put Charan, Dev Gill and a helicopter in one scene, teasing with the possibility of a Magadheera replay. Rather sensibly the director chose to leave Charan on the ground and let him deal with his problems the old-fashioned way – with a very impressive axe.

There is a pointless appearance by Ali. Brahmi, Venu Madhav and Srinivasa Reddy were moderately amusing in their roles and at least the story did have a flimsy reason for their presence. Srinivasa Rao Kota, Nasser, Raghu Babu and various others turn up and do their usual thing. Satya Krishnan makes a small appearance in a fun women vs men backyard cricket match, and there are some really enjoyable little moments with minor characters. We have to give a big shout-out to the backing dancers and the rather listless ‘dance students’ for their efforts. The comedy and subplots were all more or less tied to the main story which helped keep things moving along. The audience dissolved into hysterics when a man at a roadside restaurant knocked back his drink and then picked up a chicken and sniffed it. Granted that alone was pretty funny, but we did wonder if perhaps there was a reference there that we didn’t spot?

There were plenty of references throughout the film to Chiranjeevi movies and Charan wears a number of outfits that are pure Chiru style. White trousers, black socks and white loafers made a come back, as did loud shirts and colour blocking. He has his father’s mannerisms down pat and it added another dimension to the film to see how many of these tributes we could pick up. And we think it is a smart way for him to deal with the pressure of expectation – he is always compared to his father, so why not own those references and play them with his own style. We were a little disappointed that the significant necklace (which Chaitra could only discover late in the story) meant that Charan kept to a rather modest look, but Vaana Vaana with the dancing in the rain was some compensation.

We have now seen both the original Vaana Vaana from Gang Leader and this remix on the big screen, and the Mega Men certainly know their way around a rain song!

Rachcha is Charan’s vehicle and he delivers a full mass performance that is exciting and very watchable. Tamanna got plenty of cheers from our audience for her dancing and at her speech just before the climax. The songs and fights are so well executed that they had us cheering along too. It’s a visually pleasing film, and has a sense of fun in amongst the action and drama. The story is a familiar one, very much inspired by the type of films Chiru made back in the day, but who says that’s a bad thing? Despite a plethora of comedy uncles, Sampath Nandi delivers a fun and entertaining film that we both want to watch again.

Neninthe

Neninthe is an enjoyable mass entertainer with a dollop of romance and a splash of action, all set in the Telugu movie making world. There are plenty of references to popular Telugu film personalities starting right from the opening titles, and lots of opportunities to guess who various characters are based on. The humour is funny and cynical, and I really like most of the performances. But despite pointing out the blurred line between reality and film fantasy almost all of the conflicts and questions are resolved in ‘only in movies’ style, and not always in tongue in cheek fashion. I don’t think it’s meant to be a realistic expose of the film industry, and that isn’t how I viewed it, but the story would have benefited from a more careful eye on how these elements were blended.

Ravi (Ravi Teja) is an aspiring director. He lives with his ailing ma (Rama Prabha), and is a driven character. Ravi navigates the ego traps and financial shenanigans of the movie industry, all with one goal – to direct his film, ‘Neninthe’. He is brutally honest at times and fiercely determined to succeed in directing his own story. Ravi Teja is a very good actor, especially when he tones down the sleazy uncle act, and this role is great as it spans drama, humour and action. Ravi observes the characters around him, often with a sarcastic muttered aside.

With characters like the infamous director Idli Vishwanadham (Brahmanandam) and associates including producer Sayaji Shinde and production assistants Venu Madhav and MS Narayana, he has lots of material.

Ravi is pragmatic about love and expects marriage to wait on his priorities. I really liked seeing Ravi with his friends, especially his mate who is desperate to be a villain, and mother and they all had a nice rapport.

Ravi is a regular guy, albeit with heroic powers when required and can easily thrash a dozen hulking great rowdies. The trigger is more likely to be his career than a girl. Ravi is prepared to compromise over a lot of things, but not his film.

There are setbacks and sadness in his life, but he keeps going, even when it seems he must run out of energy. He represents the idealism and passion of film makers for their craft as well as being the vengeful, protective hero.

Sandhya (Siya) is an alleged dancer who has no ambition other than her next meal and not getting pimped out by her creepy brother-in-law (Krishna Bhagawan). Both the actress and the role are quite insipid and I wanted to slap her on more than one occasion. Sandhya is pursued by Yadu (Supreet), a local thug accustomed to taking what he wants. She, of course, falls for Ravi and seems to think that she can just leave every problem in her life for him to solve because her love places him under that obligation. It is quite annoying to hear her whining about how Ravi never helps her when she does bugger all to help herself. I am sure it would be hard to ditch the sadistic brother-in-law, but it’s even harder to walk away if you have no spine to speak of.  Anyway, she seems set on Ravi, and equally set on changing him.

Ravi helps her get a starring role, and her fortunes improve especially as her brother-in-law stops trying to sell her, but the couple start to drift apart. The scenes where Sandhya and Ravi discuss their relationship are well written, and Ravi Teja is believable as the man in love but not blind to practicalities. Siya has some good moments, especially when she is annoyed at Ravi, but she fades when the other stars are present. There was potential for Sandhya to be more interesting but Siya is as convincing an actress as she is a dancer and the script is lightweight.

Subbaraju is ‘Miracle Star’ Mallik. He was one of the first Telugu ‘That Guys’ that I could pick out from the pack. You know the guys – always a sidekick, policeman or henchman (not to be confused with ‘That Comedy Uncle’). I admit I may have paid particular attention because Subbaraju is rather good looking, even in the shirts they dug up for this film (see them hanging up in the screencap above). But I also noticed him as he seems to be more of a character actor than just a stock ‘type’ and can handle a range of roles. So that got me thinking about the trajectory from supporting actor to hero, and why there are so many ‘types’ and so few honest to goodness character actors in Telugu films nowadays.

Puri Jagannadh has fun with Mallik as the stereotypical hero, and Subbaraju gives it the right balance of sincerity and parody. He spouts dialogue recycled from Pokiri and then asks if it isn’t a bit over the top, and has a flock of minions fussing over him. Mallik swans about like a total diva and he proves he isn’t above using his fame when it suits. But he also voices concern about the obsession of the die-hard fans and how far they go in the name of their idols, and that forms a substantial sub-plot.

There was a mix of gratitude, ego, and resentment in Mallik’s dialogue about the fans and the effect their expectation has on movie making. If he had spoken to one particular nutter at the right time there may not have been a funeral at which to make that speech, but I suppose that would have been too sensible.

Mumaith Khan is the item girl, and her character is Malik’s girlfriend. Their scenes together are good, except for Mumaith’s occasionally stilted dialogue delivery. They serve more to comment on the obsessions of the press than to provide another romantic element in the film.

That song rhymes bus station with frustration. I just thought I’d mention it as Chakri’s music is pretty lacklustre and that’s all I ever seem to remember.

A confronting ‘movie meets real life’ moments occurs after Mumaith and Mallik break up over scurrilous rumours in the press. Mumaith overdoses, and on the way to hospital her car is hijacked by a couple of Yadu’s men who then rape her. She gets out of her hospital bed to deliver a speech (full of bleeps) to the press about their penchant for creating news with no regard for the individuals or the effect these stories have. It’s a sharp observation, but I wish it had been delivered in a different setting. Anyway, once again a valid point was made via a sensational set-up.

There is a salacious element in the media when discussing many actresses, and I doubt the same journalists would approve if that tone was directed at their sister or cousin. This would have been an interesting story to film post the advent of Twitter, since that is often what passes for ‘news’ these days. I like Rana Daggubati as an actor but I don’t think his recent tweet about luggage going astray warranted several paragraphs in the Times of India!

Supreet as Yadu is hilarious and utterly repulsive as he tries to woo Sandhya instead of just assaulting her as per his usual approach. Yadu’s attempts to be appealing are amusing even as my skin was crawling. It was like watching a bear trying to eat with chopsticks –unnatural and bizarre yet compelling. And his gang have some of the worst hair I’ve seen in ages. He is menacing, and doesn’t hold back on the crazy. Yadu’s obsession with Sandhya and the ensuing conflict with Ravi bring the film to a gory final confrontation.

The other supporting actors are generally fine and their characters are integral to the story. There are ambitious would-be directors, assistants to uphold the status of their boss, financiers and distributors as well as family and friends. It’s a crowded film, but the story and relationships remain clear. There are some fairly awesome song costumes too!

Puri Jagannadh doesn’t stop at movie references in the dialogue – he uses music snippets and visuals, and Ravi even uses a reel of film as a weapon. The dialogue sometimes sounds like a lecture but overall I find the subject and the characters engaging enough. It’s a very well planned and designed film. I just wish he had put as much effort into executing the story. 3 ½ stars.

Quite apart from the potshots at various industry types, I’m also convinced that Puri Jagannadh may hate a segment of his audience. Specifically, me. Why?

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

So who gets a song requiring beachside cavorting?

You’ve been warned.

Heather says: Although there are a lot of elements I do like about this film, there are also a few I don’t like, and it was those that I noticed more on re-watching Neninthe for this review. However it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen by Ravi Teja who is very watchable and charismatic here, although (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) I do think I prefer him unwaxed! I also love the back-drop of the film industry as the setting for the story and the way that Puri Jagannadh manages to get across the routine repetitiveness associated with filming rather than the glitz and glamour that most people associate with movies. However I find the story rather bitty with elements that don’t gel  together quite as well as they should. Sandhya has so much to deal with that perhaps it’s not surprising that she doesn’t seem to know where to start. Her character seems to veer between hang-wringing and ineffectual ‘woe-is-me’ to being quite strong and decisive when it comes to making sure that she gets exactly what she wants from Ravi. I found all this dithering to be annoying, and couldn’t feel very much sympathy for her character at all. In fact I think the film would have been better without the romance factor, as it could make just as much sense that Ravi helped her career because he was a nice guy who felt she deserved better. There didn’t seem to be any zing to the romance and apart from the songs, no chemistry between the two actors.

On the other hand I do like Brahmi’s bumbling director and think that the comedy is generally well integrated into the main story. Like Temple, I’m a big Subbaraju fan, and I totally loved him as the ‘miracle star’.  Watching this for the second time and about a year and many films later, I did pick up more of the nuances in his performance, and in particular the way his character interacted with the cast and crew as well as the members of his fan association. I think he’s a great actor and apart from doing justice to his role as a stereotypical ‘hero’ he really looked the part too. Mumaith Khan is another of my favourite performers and while she seemed to be basically playing herself, I appreciated the way she appeared on camera with minimal make-up and gave a fairly convincing lecture about the evils of fame. As Temple has mentioned there are many good and valid points made about the way stars are treated by fans, the press and the industry but I agree that the set-up to deliver these messages tended to overshadow the points that Puri Jagannadh was trying to make.

I did notice that the subtitles appeared better than usual – there was a  ‘shut your gob’ in there which I appreciated as a very English idiom rather than the usual more stilted direct translations and there were quite a few of these more colloquial interpretations. I also enjoyed the shots of the orchestra with real musicians playing violins properly rather than the usual half-hearted attempts that drive me crazy!

This is still an entertaining film despite the irritating heroine and lacklustre romance. I’d recommend watching at least once for some excellent performances and the general overall view of the movie industry. 3 ½ stars.

Pokiri

Pokiri is my favourite Mahesh Babu film, along with Athadu. I’ve seen the Tamil remake Pokkiri, and endured Wanted in Hindi (for completeness) and neither of them holds a candle to the original. Puri Jagannadh combines a strong story with striking visuals to make a gory, suspenseful action masterpiece. The story is set in the murky world of cashed up property developers, corrupt cops and parasitic crooks (the ‘land mafia’). Justice seems to reside outside of the legal system, but it isn’t immediately clear where.

We first see Pandu (Mahesh Babu) when he lures a gang out of their own territory and beats them to a pulp after kindly offering to leave a door in the shed open so they could run away if they got scared. He celebrates with a dance in which he beats people up. He then hooks up with the gang who he has just beaten up, including Subbaraju, employed by off shore crimelord Ali Bhai. Jyothirana as Mona shows an interest in Pandu that is not purely professional, and I can see why she might have been disappointed in his answer.

Pandu has all the typical hero attributes – the vestigial mullet hairdo, he’s invincible, he just has to break into dance and everyone around him joins in, he never gets lost or stuck in traffic and he is never stuck for a one liner. Despite his refusal to injure women and children, he will kill without remorse and his intensity in explaining how bad he is seems to indicate perverse pride in his achievements. Pandu is an anti-hero and there is no pretence made that he is really a good guy although of course he has a back story that explains much once it is revealed. Mahesh’s performance is totally committed to the crushing action scenes, and he is expressive in the emotional moments. Pandu is a baby faced killer with few if any scruples, although he seems to have caring friends (including Ajay) and occasional flashes of levity.

But I really had to question if someone who solved all their problems with such brutality would be any easier to deal with if he was motivated by love rather than anger. Dead is dead after all. But it’s Mahesh, so Pandu was never going to be left painted as a complete villain for the whole film.

Pandu is attracted to Shruthi and knows they are all wrong for each other. Oh God, what to do?

Ileana is Shruthi; young, pretty and pouty. Her storyline justifies wearing midriff-baring lycra as she is an aerobics instructor, and the sole breadwinner in her family. She still has the very flexible working hours and extensive wardrobe a film heroine needs. Slimy S.I Pasupathi (Ashish Vidyarthi in a creepy performance) hits on her and her mother, and pays rowdies to stage a fake rape to ruin her and prevent her marrying.

When Pandu finds out he pursues the perpetrators and none of them walk away from the encounter. But Shruthi isn’t grateful or smitten as a result – she is more fearful of her own lack of judgement in pursuing Pandu.

She struggles with her attraction to Pandu and her revulsion at what he does, especially following a squelchingly bloody fight set at Golconda. Ileana is given dialogue that illustrates Shruthi’s strength of character and should show this inner conflict but almost everything emerges as either a simper (I love him!) or a teary whine (he’s so mean!) and she missed the mark. Perhaps it was a question of maturity – she played Shruthi as a girl rather than a young woman which I think this needed.

The songs by Mani Sharma are highly enjoyable and so are the picturisations, possibly not always for the intended reasons. Who needs a comedy sideplot when you have those lanky pale legs in a lunghi?

The romantic duets look less successful as I don’t think there is sufficient chemistry between the couple, or enough actual dancing in their songs together. But I love the backing guys in this.

Brahmi is the neighbour who dresses 30 years too young and keeps cracking on to Shruthi. Mercifully he is mostly quarantined in a sideplot with Ali and Venu Madhav so they torture each other and I ignore it. It’s not really that bad as comedy sideplots go, but I fast forward in their scenes. I would like to suggest that comedy uncle types from all film industries should held in a secure facility on a remote island. There should be a strict ‘one in, one out’ policy that would keep their screen presence manageable. Sunil would be free to roam as he pleases because I find him funny.

Prakash Raj is the shadowy don, Ali Bhai. He is menacing from a distance, but seems less calculating and more self obsessed when he joins the mainstream of the drama. He has some fancy shirts and nasty habits that sometimes tip Ali into caricature.

Ultimately it is Ali Bhai who drives the final showdown. He humiliates and kidnaps the daughter of the ACP to have a bargaining chip. Once again the police are shown as powerless – forced to lie about an arrest to prevent political interference – and working outside the law to deal with this criminal.

Rape is a common threat against the women in Pokiri. It is treated as something serious, although in a very filmi way.  But then Puri Jagannadh shows a rapist’s father demanding to know why his son’s reputation is being ruined. The fact that his son filmed himself raping the girl doesn’t seem to worry him as much as seeing the footage on the TV news. There is also criticism of the tabloid media who glorify and collude with criminals for the sake of sensation and ratings yet demand law and order. Mona sells the rape film to the press and Pandu asks if she is a woman to be able do that to another woman. No such question to the guys in the gang – maybe we aren’t meant to expect morals from them. And of course, that old Telugu film chestnut; if a good person kills a bad person, was it really a crime? Behind all the blood splatter and gunfire there were some interesting notions floating around but they were never going to get in the way of the action.

The climax is brilliant. A slight twist is revealed – when will senior policemen learn not to tell their kids about top secret operations? All the bad guys converge on Binny Mills and Pandu wreaks havoc. There are dismemberments, impalements and all manner of gore, in a beautifully choreographed and filmed sequence that takes full advantage of the location and film technologies. I think there’s a bit too much slo-mo glass smashing, but I can forgive the excited over-use of new technology toys. Vijayan created some iconic set pieces in the fights and they really are stunning.

The support cast are there largely to contribute to the body count although Sudha as Shruti’s mother and Master Bharath as her little brother have some key scenes. Ajay and Subbaraju make the most of their roles and both exude menace and a dark comedic edge. Nasser has a small but crucial part in the drama. I liked Sayaji Shinde, the ACP, in his more restrained scenes. Mumaith Khan turns up too for the obligatory item number.

I think this is Puri Jagannadh at his best. He has the strong visual sense and a knack for picking up interesting concepts, which in Pokiri is meshed with an engaging story and some good performances. If you don’t mind your action bloody and unapologetic, this is for you. 4 ½ stars – a small deduction for Ileana’s snivelling.

Heather says: This was my first Mahesh Babu film, and what an introduction! I think Pokiri has one of the best hero entrance scenes when, after plenty of running feet and leg shots, there is that wonderful moment when Mahesh finally bursts onto the screen surrounded by flying vegetables and chillies. Brilliant! It’s definitely one of Mahesh’s best films where his acting and the action element all come together perfectly to create the total package. I saw the Tamil version Pokkiri with Vijay first and although I think that’s also great, the original Telugu film is definitely much better.

I like the way Pandu transitions from the total action hero and baby faced killer (who is not a nice guy at all), to the devastated son later in the film. There seem to be more shades of grey in the character of Pandu than in some of Mahesh’s other roles and it makes him much more interesting – especially as the film progresses and we learn more of the back story. He does still have an astonishing ability to be able to defeat an average of 20 opponents all by himself which seems to be pretty much obligatory for any Mahesh character. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all!  Pokiri does have some excellent action and fight scenes, and some of the methods used to dispose of various villains are very clever indeed. Full marks to Vijayan for some smart action segments and memorable fight choreography. It’s not just Mahesh who excels in Pokiri though. I’m a big fan of Ajay and his presence in any film always makes it just that little bit better. He’s great here as Pandu’s friend and as usual has some wonderful expressions, particularly as Pandu and Shruthi clash.

I like Ileana here too, as she is convincing as the girl who falls in love with the bad guy despite all her reservations.  Her acting in the scenes where her family is threatened is good and although her reaction to the thugs who burst in on her is a little too weepy for me it does come across as right for her character. I enjoyed the interactions between Pandu and Shruthi although there wasn’t too much chemistry between the lead pair. I put this down to the fact that it would be hard to be very romantic with a guy who spends most of his time systematically slaughtering his way through the various gangs in Hyderabad and Shruthi’s revulsion for Pandu’s lifestyle tends to comes across more clearly than anything else. However they do look good together in the songs and the romance works well enough. The various villains are all excellent although Prakash Raj is perhaps a little too much of a caricature in his role as Ali Bhai. Ashish Vidyarthi deserves special mention for being particularly disturbing as the corrupt cop, and Sayaji Shinde was also good as the police commissioner.

The only downside to the film is the terrible comedy track, although it’s actually better here than in the Tamil version with Vadivelu. While I don’t mind Brahmi’s amorous landlord persona, the scenes with the beggars played by Ali and Venu Madhan are incredibly annoying and just slow down the action. Get rid of that and this would be as close to perfect as it gets. As it is it’s still a fantastic watch for all-out Mahesh action – 4 stars.