Anaganaga O Dheerudu

There has been so much hype about this film; the Disney involvement, the special effects, the budget. Warning: there are lots of spoilers ahead, but this IS a Disney film so you should know what to expect.

The story is simple – an evil queen lays waste to an idyllic kingdom and the only hope for survival lies in the hands of a child mystic and her blind bodyguard.

The film opens with very Disney style animated credits, and then we immediately see a warrior pursued through a spooky forest before being made into a sort of zombie, his mind controlled by Irendri the evil queen with the Medusa hair. So there was already a question of whether this was aimed at being a kids film or a high fantasy epic. And that is the problem – this film doesn’t know what it is and as a result, is a bit unsatisfying in either genre.

The screenplay relies heavily on flashbacks. There’s a flashback about Moksha (the mystic child played by Baby Harshita). Shortly after we meet Yodha (Sid) he pauses for a flashback about his lost love (Priya, played by Shruti Haasan). Then when he and Moksha leave on their journey, Yodha stops for a really long flashback that explains his history, more about his lost love and how he became blind. Then towards the end of the film we get more long flashbacks explaining Irendri. It halted the momentum of the story and these could have been condensed or the information conveyed by other means.

While on the subject of how Yodha was blinded. If your eyes are poked out with a metallic pointy thing, they do not grow back changing their iris colour to blue. They would be white sightless orbs covered in scar tissue, or all the fluid drains out and they shrivel up like raisins. It does have to be said that Sid was good at playing blind but the contact lenses were a bit distracting, as were the constant close ups of his ears.

Some scenes were shot on location and the natural light was particularly unforgiving on the set constructions at the beach camp. Things looked too new and perfect; there was no wear and tear or mends on the snail shaped structures, the lighting was too obvious and modern. It sometimes looked cheap and fake, and more suitable to a kids tv show than a high fantasy epic. The wonky papier mache buildings at the village looked like they should be inhabited by Munchkins. When scenes shifted to interiors, things worked much better as the diffuse lighting was kinder to all the painted polystyrene and fibreglass props. The peacock theme, started as a beautiful costume worn by Shruti was well worked into the colour and decor of her room. Irendri’s palace fortress looked great – there was a commitment to the snake theme and it looked substantial and daunting. The scenes in the spooky forest with the bird demons were quite effective and  helped build some tension. Moksha’s special gift was shown by her ability to create magical butterflies. Oh so many butterflies. We were grateful she wasn’t obsessed with My Little Pony or unicorns.

The costumes would have looked great as sketches but some of them didn’t work as something an actor had to be able to move freely in. Poor Lakshmi Manchu must have developed thighs of steel as she had to power up the steps to Irendri’s throne dragging metres of fabric that we could see was catching or getting stuck.  Some of her outfits were just insane, particularly the shoulder details which were of epic proportions.

Sid’s outfits seemed to be a cross between leftovers from Mu Lan, a bit of D’Artagnan and a dash of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. And while some costumes were really beautiful, some of the outfits Sid and Shruti had to wear were just plain fugly. There were too many fabrics cobbled together, too many ruffles and frills, and again the feeling the costume was wearing them.

The final confrontation between good and evil occurs during a lunar eclipse and culminates in a fight between Yodha and Irendri – who morphs into a giant medusa squid. Well actually she seems to be multiple snakes joined together but the effect is squid like. Sid performs some amazing stunts and acrobatics, the lighting is moody and effective, and then we have to wait for ages as the CGI team show off their monster before the fight starts up again. It was strangely boring despite Sid clearly giving it his all. We both thought of the scene in Magadheera where Bhairava has to kill 100 men – We knew already how his character would die, we knew it was riddled with special effects (not all of them great) and we knew it was just plain impossible and yet that was edge of the seat stuff because of the editing, the music and the implacable pace. In contrast, this was unexpectedly pedestrian and didn’t get any emotional response from us. We did have ample time to notice that the medusa squid was frequently shot from what can only described as an upskirting angle (albeit there was no skirt).

So what were the successes?

Good performances by a charismatic cast (although we don’t really get all the fuss about Baby Harshita) who did all they could with a script that was lacking. Sid was charming and easily handled the comedy skits, the romance and the action sequences. Lakshmi Manchu made Irendri evil and despicable – a proper cartoon villain and a near relative of the evil queen in Snow White. Shruti was decorative and enigmatic, and had great chemistry with Sid.

The hair snake. Irendri would occasionally take a (fully clothed) bath in blood or venom or something and consult an entity called Sarpini who happened to manifest as a snake made of Irendri’s hair. This magical snake also created its own tiara and other accessories as it spouted prophecies of doom. It worked well as a piece of animation and suited the medusa theme. Irendri’s designers really used the snake imagery well, and added lots of serpentine detail to her lair and her costumes.

Ali in drag. Who knew? Well he did a very good Carmen Miranda fruit bowl hat, and fetching nipple enhancing propellers that picked up speed when he was near Sid (you can catch a glimpse in the theatrical trailer). We liked his mermaid ensemble a lot.

The soundtrack worked well as a soundtrack, and the few songs are not really outstanding. Yodha has his own heroic theme, and that generally works although the 80s power guitar version was a bit incongruous.

Fabric. This film is one for the textile fanciers. And there is lots of sparkle.

With a lot more editing of the screenplay, a little restructuring of some scenes, and a decision as to whether they are aiming at kids or adults, this could be great. As it is, it’s a bit too dark to be a kids film, not substantial enough to be a grown up epic and just ends up being a bit wishy washy. The audience jeered at the songs, laughed at some of the dialogues, and as always Brahmi got the biggest cheer.

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20 thoughts on “Anaganaga O Dheerudu

    • Thanks 🙂 It’s not a perfect film, but credit is due on some aspects of it. Hopefully this brings more investment and development into the Telugu film industry so it can continue to grow. Temple

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  1. Did you see this with or without subtitles?

    Best news to me is that Lakshmi Manchu plays a monster. 🙂 I hope she learned to speak Telugu by now.

    Since Irendri’s familiar is called Sarpini, which means female snake, it’s no wonder that it manifests as a snake.

    From the trailers I got the feeling that it was a generic Disney animation film, albeit with live actors. But the standard formula seemed to all be there — hero, princess, monster, cute animal sidekick, etc. More importantly, the story seemed to be generic Disney/western and not really arising out of the Indian fantasy tradition, which is extremely rich. The trailers didn’t make me want to see the film, and your review only confirms that view.

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    • Hi mm. We saw this without subtitles. Apparently there will be a subtitled print released in a week or so, but our local distributors are unlikely to be bringing it in. I totally agree that this seemed to be a very western style fantasy, and could have been set and made anywhere. Thanks for the addition to my vocabulary – Sarpini is duly noted 🙂 I remember you commenting on the dialect/language issue before, and it may be that our ignorance is bliss as I just don’t notice the language and diction so much. I think Lakshmi Manchu did her own dubbing, but not certain. AOD is not the best of the sword and sandal genre, but it is far from being the worst film I have seen. Cheers, Temple

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    • Thanks indeed for the Telugu lesson – anything to do with snakes is essential to learn to help with the search for more snake revenge films!
      It really is a mish-mash of every other Western fantasy film you can think of, so there was no real link to Indian tradition as you mention. That was a missed opportunity as it would likely have made for a much more engaging story.
      Its not all bad though and would likely be worth a watch on DVD where you could fast forward past the dull parts 🙂

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      • Ha, ha, you’re welcome, Temple and Heather. But actually, “sarpini” is a Sanskrit word; the Telugu word is “paamu”, without gender specification, used for both male and female snakes.

        I hope I don’t get on your nerves with my observations on pronunciation and language. Ignorance is bliss for me in Hindi films, since, while I can follow the dialogs pretty well so that I can watch films without subtitles, I much prefer them with subtitles, and I am not knowledgeable enough to pick on people’s accents. For example, I don’t get all the grief that Katrina gets about her Hindi accent. When I consider how atrocious the English accent is for most of the characters or actors, I don’t think they have a right to complain. Hey, at least she learned the language!

        I do think it’s fun how one picks up bits and pieces of other languages while watching subtitled films.

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      • You won’t get on our nerves at all mm 🙂 My Hindi is atrocious but I can comprehend a bit whereas my Telugu and Tamil is still non-existent really. I do find myself judging people like Katrina (although I think she is improving) on pronunciation and the cadences of their speech as I am not as reliant on subtitles in a Hindi film and try to manage by listening rather than reading. On the other hand, I don’t have the same issues as other people with dubbing of heroines in Southern films as I haven’t yet developed an ear for their voices and language – although I do think they should make some attempt at learning the language if they’re going to work in the industry but that’s a whole other issue. Most of my Telugu vocabulary is film based and revolves around killing, so it’s not terribly useful in every day life! Although I was delighted to learn via watching Leader that bandicoot (the name of an Australian native animal) is actually Telugu 😀
        Now, on the subject of snakes, if you could see my DVD collection you would know that naag/naagin/nagina have been favoured search terms for some time 🙂 Heather and I have a friend who is crazy about snake films and we all love sharing our latest finds. I’ve mostly seen Hindi snake films so if you can reccomend any Telugu snakey classics, feel free! Cheers, Temple

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      • BTW, if you’re looking for keywords to search for snake themed films, you should focus on “naaga” (or nag), as that is usually part of the title of most snake films.

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      • Hi Temple — I can’t actually “recommend” any Telugu snake films. The only ones I could think of were from about 50 years ago! 🙂 They might be available in DVD, but I doubt that they would have subtitles. And the recent “Nagavalli” has gotten pretty bad reviews, so I wouldn’t recommend that (though I haven’t seen it). So I went searching through a Telugu dvd supplier in the U.S., whose site unfortunately doesn’t have a search function. So I just stumbled upon this one, which sounds pretty intriguing, and, at $0.99, was cheap enough to risk, I thought. 🙂 Of course I don’t know if it’s available in your neck of the woods, or at what price. Still, here is the description:

        Swethanagu (Soundarya) $0.99
        Swethanagu (Soundarya)
        Click to enlarge

        Cast: Soundarya, Abbas
        Music: Koti
        Screenplay – direction: Sanjeeva
        Producer: C.V. Reddy

        Swethanagu’ is a heroine-oriented film. Soundarya and Abbas play the lead characters. This is the first film by Soundarya after her marriage. Assistant director Sanjeevi is introduced as a director through this film. Lalla Devi pens the story for the movie.

        The story of the film revolves around snakes. Soundarya is a researcher on snakes. A 12 feet long white Cobra has been specially brought from Meghalaya for the movie. The snake is trained by Masthaan. The snake does many extraordinary activities in the movie. The movie is said to be sentimental and entertainer as well.
        ——————————————————–

        The premise sounds interesting enough, and I would watch any movie with Soundarya, as she’s a very good actress. I find it interesting that the snake actor gets equal billing with the leading actress. 🙂 If you can find it, it might be worth a try.

        BTW, the site I found this on is http://www.bhavanidvd.com. I think they ship overseas, too.

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      • Ah yes, Heather and I did go see Nagavalli. It was highly entertaining but perhaps not in the way the film makers intended 🙂 I know BhavaniDVD well, and sadly I just placed an order the other day so will have to wait before acquiring another potential gem. I am intrigued by the description of this film, and as you say, the snake certainly gets fair credit. Thanks!

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      • Thanks mm
        I’m heading to India in a few weeks and will have to keep an eye out for this – the snake sounds like the real star 🙂
        We love Bhavani DVD and also BoomBoxIndia on ebay who spend time trying to find films with subtitles for us.
        Like Temple, I can understand more Hindi, but struggle with Telugu. My few Tamil words are pretty limited to ones involving eyes, so that’s not very helpful either! But I am slowly building up a vocabulary of filmi words and a few friends on twitter try to help as well. Its a good excuse to keep watching more and more films to improve!
        Heather

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  2. Fab review girls! can’t believe the details you guys delved into, had the filmmaker gone into this kind of research, it would have been a different story all together.!
    Sarpini is my fav character, what grace.. spooky! but the climax blew it for me.. way too long, too messed up & bit too preachy for my liking!
    Agreed on flashback being obstacles, agreed on confusion on the genre! seems like the filmmaker wanted to please too many sections of the audiences & tried put in a little bit of everything for everyone, which didn’t really blend in well together. Which makes me think, would it have been a different movie had Disney not been involved?
    But overall, was a good watch, think i’ll go for it again when it release in a subtitled version! cheers, luv, P

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    • Hi Pooja 😀 That is a great question – what would this film have been if Disney weren’t involved. I do think they have made an attempt to please everyone, and as we all know, you can’t do that for long. Temple

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  3. Nice review–I agree that this is definitely a film for fabric-fetishists. When I’m watching something in the theater without subtitles, I definitely get this laser focus on the visual elements, and it was good that this film had lots to look at. In particular, I always have this moment during the opening credits when I start to have deep thoughts about the type faces for the Telugu script, and if they have names, and what they convey, and I think “I should do a blog post on that”, but never do.

    I actually liked the snail tents quite a bit, but I see your point about everything looking too “new”. I got confused about Yodha’s eye color–at first I thought the blue tint was supposed to signify blindness, but then it was the same color in the flashbacks. Perhaps the subtitles (on dvd) will illuminate that.

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  4. Well, I don’t know if you guys were trying to communicate that it’s not that good, but I for one am sold on buying this DVD when it comes out 🙂 And yes, I am a fabric-fetishist, and definitely interested in the over the top action and fug. 🙂 But I see Tollywood has still not learned about how the human eye functions and what makes it stop functioning, eh? Oh well… baby steps, baby steps 😀

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    • It’s not that it’s not that good….it’s just not that good. I am glad I saw it on the big screen as I think the effects probably benefited from that. And the eyeball searing fug was certainly striking 🙂 I really don’t know that I need this on DVD as my only interest would be in comparing the subtitled version to what I think happened and seeing how close I was. Temple

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      • If it’s just to compare, I’m sure youtube will provide all the study material you need when it’s out on DVD. After all, you’ve paid your dues as far as supporting Indian films goes by seeing it in the theatre, right? 🙂

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      • There is a faint hope it will explain the blue contact lenses so it might be worth a DVD purchase…And yes the fabric. There is one costume I haven’t been able to find a picture of, and thats perfectly understandable – so picture a baby blue accordion pleated satin overskirt looped up into a sort of bustle at the back and with swirly rosettes gathered along the edges at the front, towards the waist. Add a cream fitted sheer knit top with pink ruffles as an accent around the , um, chest region and there you have one of Shruti’s memorable moments. So that might be what makes me buy the DVD – being able to show people that outfit without being accused of making it up. Temple

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