It’s Christmas. And we’ve been very good all year. Yes, really! So Santa brought us not one, but two Chiranjeevi movies for the festive season.
Shankar Dada MBBS and Shankar Dada Zindabad are remakes of the hit Munna Bhai Hindi film series. Having seen both versions we have to say we like the Telugu versions much more.
In Shankar Dada MBBS Chiranjeevi takes on the lead role as Shankar, the rowdy who has been pretending to his parents that he is a doctor who runs a charitable hospital in Hyderabad. A series of mischances during his parents’ visit leads to Shankar vowing to become a real doctor to win back his father’s respect.
There is plenty of scope for comedy as Shankar, whose very name is enough to strike terror into the local community, heads back to school with the assorted nerds and geeks. But this is THE Shankar Dada who may be a thug, but still has a heart of gold and some very cool ishtyle. As a student he just has to have a stylish walk, as pointed out to him by his trusty assistant ATM (Any Time Murder – a much more graphic moniker than Circuit).
And then of course there is the dancing. An area in which Sanjay Dutt cannot compete! Only Chiru could possibly pull off some of these ridiculous moves with such panache and style.
Shankar objects to the injustice he sees in the hospital and infuriates his teachers by his stand on social justice and medical treatment for all. It is a bit of a worry, but possibly not surprising given the usual standard of filmi medicine, that he is more effective than the other doctors at the hospital with his outlandish cures. These rely heavily on the therapeutic benefit of hugs and spreading love to all with a big Chiru grin, which quite frankly would probably cure us of any ailments as well. There is a lot of byplay on Shankar’s use of English, while although funny to us is likely much funnier within the context of the Telugu dialogue.
The dean, Dr Ramalingeshwara Rao, is a proponent of laughter therapy which he has to rely on heavily as term progresses and Shankar makes his presence felt in the classes. This is used to good effect and Paresh Rawal is convincing in this role. His gradual breakdown into more manic behaviour as his carefully controlled world is invaded by Shankar is very funny. The beautiful Sunitha; daughter of the dean, Shankar’s childhood friend and a doctor herself, is the romantic interest. This also causes her father some stress, and extra giggling therapy is required.
As a goon Chiranjeevi uses his physicality to good effect when threatening local business men who are tardy with their loan payments. As well as the capable ATM (Srikanth) his gang includes comedy stalwart and permanent scapegoat Venu Madhav. For a change the alternate comedy track is kept to a minimum and is amusing enough without distracting from the main story.
One difference from the Hindi film is that the Shankar Dada role has been expanded but the character development for the other gang members has been reduced to accommodate this. ATM is a much less realised role than Circuit and the rest of the gang never really make an impression as individuals. The scenes with Munna Bhai and Circuit having late night conversations in the laundry troughs are almost totally cut and this removes some of the more poignant moments we recalled from the original film. However the scenes with Thomas, a terminally ill patient, work much better in this version as Chiru shows much more empathy and concern, and his ‘treatment’ is all the more amusing and touching as a result
Sonali Bendre as Sunitha has very little to do other than keep her lip gloss shiny but at least makes a more age appropriate heroine for her mature aged student hero.
Like the original Hindi version, the film suffers from a really thin and basically implausible storyline. And the sequel, Shankar Dada Zindabad falls even shorter in this regard.
Shankar Dada Zindabad revisits the same characters as previous, but this time Shankar is in love with RJ Jahnavi (Karishma Kotak) and there is no reference to any of the previous MBBS story. He pretends to be knowledgeable about Gandhi in order to win the prize of meeting Jahnavi and begins to hallucinate (or ‘haloginate’ as the subtitles would have it) that the great leader appears to talk to him and give him advice.
The story starts off well, but is a standard tale about a rich man’s greed versus the common man so stays in well travelled territory. Shankar does his best to put the world to rights with a hug and snippets of Gandhian philosophy aka Gandhigiri. As with the earlier film, the emphasis is on Shankar achieving a good result, regardless of his initial motivation. The story unravels as Jhanavi feels betrayed, then neatly re-knits itself into happy ever after endings for all.
Although this is a light entertainment piece, it does still include some thoughtful dialogues and ideas. There are some interesting questions raised along the way about respect for culture, obeying your conscience (which may appear to you as a small man in a dhoti), being truthful and being proud of who you are.
As with the first film, the message is about love, respect and truth. The disparate characters that Shankar has helped throughout the film all cross paths in the last scenes to hit us over the head with the message one final time. Pawan Kalyan shows up in a small but pivotal appearance to give his support to the message and prove that the men in that family have very nice eyes.
Srikanth is again present as the reliable ATM, as are the other gang members. Despite the presence of Prabhu Deva as director this film also disappoints a little in the dancing. There is one exception: a fantastic number featuring hippies, people in animal costumes, clowns and also to our great delight a guest appearance by our favourite, Allu Arjun. The rest of the dance numbers are OK but not quite up to the standard of the first film.
Karishma Kotak stands around looking pretty while waiting for Shankar to save the day, and does well enough at this. There are some sweet moments with the group of elderly men who make their home with her, and this part of the story does work reasonably well. The gang run around doing their thing but the plot here is so worn and predictable that it’s hard to pay any attention to their antics. There is the obligatory comedy side plot involving Brahmi as an astrologer and the various supporting actors all do their best to keep the story, such as it is, moving along.
Both these films rely heavily on the performance and star power of the hero and really entertain best when Chiru is on screen. Chiranjeevi switches effortlessly between the hardened gang leader and the affable humanist. In this he does a much better job than Sanjay Dutt who excelled as the don, but his smile never quite reached his eyes so he lacked the warmth and humanity of Shankar. The comedy is funny the first time round but doesn’t stand up to repeated viewings and we are bombarded so much with the ‘love is all you need’ message that it totally loses all effectiveness. ATM suffers in comparison with the Hindi character of Circuit but Srikanth does as best he can with his reduced role. However, the films still entertain more than the Munna Bhai versions, thanks mainly to Chiranjeevi, the soundtrack and dances, and the ability of most of the cast to look as if they are enjoying themselves.
Heather says: Both these films are enjoyable to watch because of Chiranjeevi and his great screen presence. I have to confess that I did originally get Shankar Dada Zindabad for the Jagadeka Veerudiki song, and the first film was just a bonus, However MBBS is the better of the two films and having enjoyed the original Hindi version I was a little surprised at how much better this version is. While I thought that Sanjay Dutt was excellent as the gangster, when he smiled at the children he really did look more like a tiger eyeing its prey rather than a cheery doctor. Chiru on the other hand while excellent as the rowdy, was much less scary in these later scenes and his genuine and real-life humanitarianism shone through. Although I did miss Boman Irani’s terrible bald wig, that was more than made up for by the supporting actors who were all very capable. I did prefer Arshad Warsi to Srikanth, but this was also partly due to the difference in the characters of Circuit and ATM. The story is thin and rather tired, but Chiru manages to instil enough life to make it a fun watch. This one gets 3 ½ stars from me.
Shankar Dada Zindabad is just an excuse to watch more Chiranjeevi, and a little Allu Arjun. The cast all do their best, but the film really never excites, not even when they are on the Gold Coast in Australia for a song. I do really like the appearance of Prabhu Deva, Ravi Teja and Allu Arjun in Jagadeka Veerudiki and it was also a nice surprise to see Pawan Kalyan pop up at the end. The idea behind the story was interesting but there were too many clichés in the delivery to make it hold my attention. This film gets 3 stars from me which is just because of a couple of the songs that I really do love and the brief appearance of Allu Arjun – worth ½ a star alone.
Temple says: I’m not a fan of the Munna Bhai films, primarily because I don’t really like Sanjay Dutt, so found them a bit of a chore to sit through despite Arshad Warsi doing his best. So it was a pleasant surprise to find myself enjoying the films in Telugu, and only partly because of Chiru. Although, I do think that if you don’t appreciate Chiranjeevi there isn’t a whole lot else going on. I think both films are a little better written and better paced than their Hindi counterparts so make for better story-telling. The hero centric style does mean the peripheral performances are diminished but not reduced to the point of not mattering. The casting is pretty good in both – Paresh Rawal and Sonali Bendre were very good in MBBS, and it was fun to see the majority of the ensemble back for Zindabad.
One point of interest for me was looking at these films in light of Chiranjeevi’s political career. There are resoundingly clear messages around respect for culture and history, respect for people despite caste barriers, truth and love. So in my ignorance of AP politics, I was pondering what this said about the politician as well as the character in the film, and did this role have some synergy with his political persona. I’m sure I will be enlightened in due course. My DVD of MBBS also had a very interesting little addition at intermission: a plea from Chiranjeevi to the audience to consider donating their eyes after death and encouraging people to talk about it with their families, which I think was a great use of celebrity and sort of appropriate to the film.
Like Heather, I found Zindabad less engaging than MBBS, but will always be grateful to our fabulous DVD guy Sunil for finding me subtitled copies at a bargain price! Both films get 3 stars from me – they’re a good timepass and the songs are really fun.
I’ve been debating whether to rent/buy these, and it definitely sounds like it’s worth the time. However, your review does not answer my most urgent question: who does the item number in MBBS, and is it half as good as Mumaith in the Hindi MBBS?
I’m especially interested in Temple’s point about how the messages of the movie may link in with Chiranjeevi’s political career, since I had the same thought when I was watching Tagore and Stalin.
Hi Liz. I can’t recall her name, but the item number in question is a bit less, well, skanky than Mumaith’s while still being lots of fun to watch.
Now are you a Sharwanand fan? He plays a whiny suicidal patient in MBBS, and as it’s a non-speaking role he was tolerable.
I haven’t watched either Tagore or Stalin yet – we will have to compare notes when I do! Cheers, Temple
I have to agree that I don’t know the actress in the item song, and a quick search failed to confirm her name 100%, although I think she may be a Malika. But Chiranjeevi has some excellent moves in this, so I have to confess I didn’t really pay her all that much attention. She certainly is no Mumaith Khan, but the song is great!
I’ve seen Stalin and think it’s much heavier on the social message, but thought it was based more on the ‘Pay it Forward’ HW film (which I’ve never seen, but the idea seemed to be from there). Maybe because I’d watched the Munna Bhai film first, but Zindabad seemed a bit lighter in comparison. I haven’t seen Tagore, but interesting that Chiru’s later films do seem to lean towards the social message. But then again, so many Indian films seem to 🙂
Thank you for these reviews! You encourage me to seek out these films.
Re Chiru and AP politics, the messages about respecting culture, not being divided by caste, etc., are standard homilies to be found in many Telugu movies for many years, so I don’t think any particular significance needs to be attached to those. Specifically, they were not a big part of the campaign or the party platform when Chiru ran for CM in 2009 (I happened to be in AP at the time).
As for the appeal for eye donation, this is something that Chiranjeevi has been advocating and been a spokesman for for many years, so it is not something new that he came up with for this film. He runs a blood bank in AP, and might also be running an eye hospital, though I can’t be sure of this right now (when I say “he runs” obviously I mean he has a charitable organization that operates these facilities, but they are in his name).
Hi mm 🙂
Thanks for the political education! I find politics in Australia to be more than enough to digest, and had no idea what platform Chiranjeevi’s party had campaigned on. You’re right – I see lots of themes containing the notion of putting caste aside, culture and pride in AP in movies. In fact, at one stage I was wondering if it was compulsory to have a “Hyderabad is the best city” song in every film! But I still can’t help pondering the cross over of an on-screen persona with the political persona – and it’s very apparent some film reviewers in AP seem to be basing their critiques of the Chiranjeevi and Nandamuri clan films on political affiliations not movie making abilities.
I should have made myself more clear – I have been aware of the Chiranjeevi eye and blood banks for a little while and didn’t think it was a set up just for this film. I just liked that the message re organ donation was added to MBBS, and that it seemed quite smart and appropriate to the film and it’s target audience. I am very pro organ donation in general, and Heather is an optometrist who works in TN health camps annually, so we both think it’s great that he is giving people food for thought, and a simple yet very effective action to take if they’re comfortable with it.
Cheers 🙂 Temple
Actually, the surprise to me was how little Chiranjeevi’s on screen persona was used during the campaign! Unlike other superstars turned politicians in south India, like NTR in AP or MGR in TN, there didn’t seem to be any attempt to capitalize on or leverage off of his screen image. It was more just to exploit his popularity. His fan associations were a big part of the party’s infrastructure, in terms of organizing local events, etc., but they also had input into policy positions that had nothing to do with movies. In the early days of the formation of his party, I remember reading news articles where some of his fan associations were threatening to withdraw their support if he did not advocate for caste based reservations for one particular caste. 🙂 In any case, there are so many actors involved in AP politics at all levels (that is, they are not all big shots politically, however big they may be on screen), that it may not have been feasible to link anyone with their onscreen image. At one point members of his party were attacking/abusing a member of another party by saying that, as an actress, she obviously had loose morals! Pot and kettle. 🙂
I’ll end this on a personal tidbit. I was naturally looking forward to seeing lots of Telugu movies while I was there, but there were practically no big Telugu releases for a period of almost four months. When I expressed my dismay over this, I was told that it was because all the big heroes were busy campaigning for one party or another, and so didn’t have time to make any movies. 🙂
I suppose it would be a bit much to have Chiru hitch up his lunghi and start belting the living daylights out of political adversaries. Although I would have found that very entertaining 🙂
Your final point regarding stars being too busy campaigning just reaffirms my belief that entertainers shouldn’t cross over to politics. Partly for my own selfish wish to see them keep making films or music or whatever they do. And partly because the political party machine often eats them alive & there is little room for individual idealism. Sigh. Well, I hope you enjoy the Shankar Dada films if you do get around to watching them. And I am looking forward to seeing what Chiranjeevi does in his comeback film planned for 2011. Happy New Year! Temple
OK, last word on politics! You said:
“I suppose it would be a bit much to have Chiru hitch up his lunghi and start belting the living daylights out of political adversaries.”
Actually there was a huge controversy early in the campaign because Pawan Kalyan (Chiranjeevi’s brother) said of their opponents, “We will strip off their dhotis and stand them naked in public!” 🙂 Of course it was a figure of speech to mean that they will defeat their opponents soundly, but it was widely decried, and bilked for all its newsworthiness for about a week. (In the end it was actually Chiranjeevi who was figuratively stripped of his dhoti, winning only a few seats.)
On the general question of actors/entertainers going into politics, though, I think you may be out of touch with their own aspirations. I doubt that any of them see themselves as artistes serving their muse; rather, being in films is purely a way of making large amounts of money and gaining public popularity; and, since a movie star’s shelf life is rather limited, politics represents a natural extension to continuing in the public eye and making pots of money. 🙂 In any case, what the dearth of films during the campaign illustrated to me more was the extent of the “closed shop” or nepotism in the film industry. Chiranjeevi’s run for office took out not only him from film making, but also Pawan Kalyan (brother), Allu Arjun (nephew), Ram Charan Teja (son), Allu Aravind (brother in law). Thus, at one stroke, four top heroes and the top producer were all out of action for their politicking. Similarly, both Balakrishna (brother-in-law) and NTR jr. (nephew) were campaigning for another party. Even when stars have no family ties to the politicians, they are frequently hired by political parties to campaign on their behalf to bring in crowds. Sometimes it even coincides with their political ideology. 🙂 Thus Mahesh Babu was campaigning for the incumbent party, though neither he nor any of his family was running for office. But it kept him off the sets nevertheless.
OK, back to the films. I did start watching Shankar Dada MBBS on youtube and found it quite funny even in the first 10 minutes. The main distraction for me was that Srikanth (who I otherwise like and think is a good actor) had all his lines written in the Telangana dialect (since he’s a Hyderabadi goonda), and he just couldn’t get the accent right! So, while his body language and other acting was fine, the clash between his accent and his actual words kept drawing me out of the moment. I plan to finish watching both films in the next few weeks, however, when I am less pressed for time. So again a thank you from me for letting me know they are worth watching.
Happy New Year to you, too!
Thanks for your comments. I think the strangest thing for me is that they keep working in films while trying to pursue a political career at the same time. It seems so obvious that you cannot give your best to two such demanding jobs.
I always thought that for a number of film stars the motivation was to use the awareness of their name to give them a head start above other candidates, but I’m sure that at least some of them do have strong political beliefs that they want to pursue. I don’t think it’s always about the money, although I’m sure that’s a factor in many cases.
When I’m in India I do read a lot about stars being involved with charities and health drives (that being my interest) and to me that seems a much better use of their time and possible influence. We rarely get to hear about any of that in Australia though.
I guess it’s the same story everywhere – there are many entertainers both here and back home in Ireland who go on to pursue political careers. Just not both at the same time!
I must admit that despite my endless love for Chiru, I was a little apprehensive about watching these two because I generally don’t tolerate remakes very well (unless we’re talking Pokkiri :)). And the idea of anyone else playing Circuit physically hurts me, so that was the other reason why I was determined to deprive myself of a film where Arjun makes a special appearance. But the two of you have convinced me it’s time to give them a shot, so they’ll be in my basket soon for sure. (The fact that you mention Circuit’s reduced role was actually a big argument in favour of these films as far as I’m concerned, now I’m less worried about missing Arshad :D)
I would normally agree regarding remakes – they so rarely improve on the original. Circuit was my favourite character in the Hindi films so I was also quite happy to see the Telugu version take a different tack with the supporting characters. Luckily for me, I don’t know enough to have the language issues mm noted with Srikanth’s dialect so it all worked OK. If you’re pressed for time I would say watch MBBS and skim through Zindabad, making sure you pay attention to the songs 🙂 Temple
Presence of Chiru in these movies is worth the tickets/DVDs price … everything else is just the bonus.. the songs, comedy and support cast 😛
You are 100% correct 🙂 Temple