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.