There are three reasons that we ended up watching this film. It’s an S.S Rajamouli creation. It was name checked in the opening sequence of Desamuduru. The other was a throwaway remark by our good friend The Mahesh Fan: “Once you’ve seen Prabhas fight the CGI shark there’s not much else to it.” And she said that like it was a bad thing! We ordered the DVD immediately.
The film is a familiar ‘hero looking for lost mother’ tale intertwined with a search for social justice and a jealous half brother to flesh out the storyline. Some time is spent setting up the back story for hero Shivaji (Prabhas). Separated from his doting step-mother and jealous step-brother after fleeing Sri Lanka, he and the other men who made it across the sea are working as bonded labourers to a local thug Baji Rao. By the time young Shivaji has grown all the way up into rather lanky Prabhas, apathy born of despair seems to be well entrenched into the refugees. Inspired by his mother’s stories of the heroic Chatrapathi and traumatised by the brutality inflicted by the strong on the weak, Shivaji is truthful, defends the innocent and has never given up on finding his family. He also has a shell necklace given to him by his mother. This will become Very Significant.
But it’s the shark scene we were hanging out for! We applaud Rajamouli’s dedication to the CGI predators in his films. It really is fabulous, and this shark is a scene stealer. It growls!
This very silly episode gives Prabhas a highly memorable heroic entrance scene. It sets Shivaji up as resourceful, capable, tough, resilient and with exceptional lung capacity.
Life is cheap in this refugee settlement, and Katraj (Baji Rao’s man) rules the roost. The level of violence, both implied and actual and especially against women and children is very confronting. It does serve to illustrate the inhumanity of the thugs in charge, the general lack of support for the under classes and most importantly for a film of this type, it allows the hero to arise from the masses. The sight of a child lying near death as people watch on is not easy to view as a light entertainment.
The romantic interest, Neelu played by Shriya, works at a local government office and after some supposedly comic misunderstandings (she thought they thought she was a prostitute, puns on the words “repu” meaning tomorrow and “rape”) locates the necessary file but not the actual address of the missing mother. Unknown to Shivaji, his mother and brother are alive and well and not far away. And his brother Ashok still doesn’t like him one little bit. Romance blooms. More rape jokes and sadism pranks ensue. And Bhardam, Shivaji’s oldest friend on the settlement and the voice of caution and moderation is killed.
Corruption and rowdyism are the bane of Shivaji’s people and the film takes a darker note when he becomes a popular leader and takes up the ruthless methods of the people he wants to displace.
The fight scenes are brutal and gory, leaving nothing to the imagination. The violence is cartoonish and unreal but still seriously dark. He takes to kidnapping, extortion, bombs and guns with no hesitation. The shocking end to a confrontation with his brother Ashok then propels the story into a final escalation of score-settling.
Neelu and Shivaji’s friends disappear into the background of the story, often appearing as silhouettes or blurry figures as the second half of the film is pure Prabhas revenge-o-drama. The machinations of Ashok continue to drive some truly bizarre behaviour and Shivaji is no closer to regaining the love of his mother. Baji Rao’s brother muscles in on the action to become the new face of evil and gives Shivaji another enemy to fight. The final scenes include a travelogue of Hyderabad’s temples and a catalogue of lies, tears and betrayals before things go up in flames. Literally.
In the nick of time, Shivaji’s mother recognises the Very Significant shell necklace. Everyone who is still alive at the end of the film gets the life they deserve.
The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and filmed, but may be too bloody for some tastes. The same care was given to the songs but Prabhas is not as comfortable dancing as he is in stunts and fights. The camera work in all the action sequences was excellent and really conveyed a sense of an epic struggle between heroic and villainous forces.
The support cast were effective although very much in support. Ajay played his usual sidekick role, and had a bit more range as his character was both a thug and a caring older brother. Kamal Kamaraju was another of Shivaji’s inner circle but mostly just had to stand around looking cross. Venu Madhav was the comic relief and supplied a few laughs especially in his “Anniyan” skit. Shriya was typically girly and shrill as the heroine but also displayed some good comic flair and had a few scenes allowing her to be a bit feistier. The mother (Bhanu Priya) was an irritatingly passive and trusting character for the most part, although conveyed the anguish over her sons very well. Ashok (Shafi) was a bit less successful in making his character seem at all real or memorable. He missed the mark on showing both the madness of twisted jealousy and the neediness of the overlooked son and just went for bug eyed, grimacing and grinning for comedic effect.
The soundtrack worked really well and suited both the drama and the performers. In particular, the Mumaith Khan item number was great fun and was tailor made for her. The backing cast and dancers all seemed to throw themselves into it with enthusiasm. The Chatrapathi chant that accompanied Shivaji added that element of mythical heroism, and suited the epic nature of the underlying themes.
Finally, a special shout out to whoever designed Prabhas’ outfits. We do want to know what they were on when they chose some of the shirts! It’s a bit cruel to put a tall lanky man in lolly pink and then make him dance like he means it.
Temple says: Chatrapathi is entertaining enough due to Rajamouli’s ability to make the most cliched story seem fresh and Prabhas’ likeable screen presence. The film is all his and it works most of the time. The story was secondary to the heroics and flexing, and the supporting characters were given little range. I am frequently bewildered by the White Queen style ability of a filmi mother to believe six impossible things before breakfast and this film continues that trend. Ashok’s character was a sketch rather than a fleshed out role and Shafi did what he could— but it felt like a missed opportunity as a bit more depth there would have added to the tension of the final scenes. I know Heather can’t stand Shriya but I think the heroine roles are generally written as irritating air-heads so I try to make allowances . On my personal scale of how annoying was Shriya? this is one of her least irritating roles (perhaps as there was no stupid meringue hair). I quite like the soundtrack and the songs were highlights as they were often a respite from the gore and gunshots. Mumaith Khan is a favourite as she always looks like she is having such a great time and is totally in on the joke. I love that the South Indian heroes know that they can’t avoid dancing so regardless of their comfort levels, they just do it. I always giggle at the sight of Mahesh Babu in a lunghi (something about those long skinny pale legs) and now I can add Prabhas to the list of men who should stick to wearing trousers please!
This isn’t a film I will re-watch over and over, although the shark fight was on high rotation for a while. There was something endearingly Parvarish-like about the special effects in that scene, and I love that Rajamouli had his shark snarling, snapping and almost literally chewing the scenery. I give this 3 and 1/2 stars.
Heather says: Prabhas is a hero very much in the style of early Amitabh Bachchan in this film. He is the ‘angry young man’ who is searching for his mother and will let no obstacle stand in his way. Unlike Amitabh though, he makes a fair attempt at dancing! In the first half of the film Shivaji is truly the hero with his drive to always do the right thing, and of course his constant search for his step-mother. His switch from the hero of the docks to violent thug is quite abrupt and rather confronting, and he seems to be almost a different character. I did enjoy Ajay’s slightly more sensitive role here, and I like the way that both young Shivaji and the grown up version had the same mannerisms. There really should have been no need for an identifying significant necklace! This film also has one of my favourite lines, at least according to the subtitles: ‘trust your whiskers’!
Shriya is still not my preferred actress – there is just something about her that irritates, and I was quite relieved when her character was sidelined in the second half of the film. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed Shafi’s characterisation of the jealous step-brother Ashok. Especially when he has some money and can indulge his terrible taste in clothes and become as obnoxious as he has clearly always wanted to be. Overall I felt the story works well, providing there is some major suspension of disbelief that Shivaji couldn’t find his step-mother even though she lives close by! Plus there is that shark scene, which really is fantastic! 3 1/2 stars from me.