I was initially reluctant to watch a film billed as a comedy even with Chiru in the lead. But then I discovered Chantabbai was based on Blake Edward’s classic ‘A Shot In The Dark’ which I like, and not only does it star Chiru but also the lovely Suhasini. Then the ever helpful KB told me Chiru frocked up for a song and I was sold. And to top it all off, my favourite ebay seller BoomBox India found me a DVD with subtitles. So I would have been reasonably happy even if this was not brilliant, but guess what? It’s great fun!

It starts with cartoon titles:

Not all of them entirely suitable for children:

And more credits are painted on roads, buildings etc.  It’s a fun way to begin.

I always liked the slightly mad glitter in Peter Sellers’ eye when he played Clouseau and while that edge is missing in Jandhyala’s film there is a likeable eccentricity about the characters. Chiru’s portrayal of K Panduranga Rao a.k.a Pond…James Pond is sweet rather than insane. The subtitle team seemed to miss the mark, but perhaps they were just trying to add their own comic contribution to the often convoluted dialogue. What Chiranjeevi says is “Call me Pond…James Pond”:

Pandu is quite endearing and where Clouseau was a loner, Pandu is more of a people person. He has associates, including the omnipresent photographer sidekick Ganpathi (Suthi Velu),  he likes a girl, and of course he has his loyal servant. I always loved the scenes where Burt Kwouk as Kato would attack Clouseau and I cannot believe someone persuaded Allu Aravind to take up that role (IMDB insist it is indeed him) – and he is fantastic! I always think of him as the serious looking producer, but clearly he inherited the family comedy gene.

Suhasini is Jwala, a telephone hygienist and the object of Pandu’s affections…if she would ever shut up long enough for him to tell her.

She lives with her father (Allu Ramalingaiah) and seems to like her life and have good friends. She’s a happy girl with a bright smile and wonderfully expressive face.

Jwala is implicated in a murder and diamond theft, and PI Pandu takes her case.  The solution is arrived at via many sophisticated methods.

Chiru and Suhasini make such a nice screen couple and I greatly enjoyed seeing them in this lively romp. And you know, it leads to this lovely song which features Chiru in a pair of shoes recently discussed on this blog:

Chiru is lots of fun as the clumsy and sweet natured Pandu , obsessed with James Bond and determined to be a success.  I like his office and home decorations.

People are driven mad by James Pond and his schemes and theories that all seem to work out somehow.  They still help when he needs them, and the police do what he asks which may be a reflection on them rather than on Pond now I think of it. Bheema Raju as the police inspector looks as though he can barely keep a straight face in some scenes, and it adds to the jolly feel of the comedy. Chiru has a really nice rapport with the kids in his scenes with them, and Pandu is clearly regarded with great affection. This lacks the slightly manic edge of an Inspector Clouseau film – it’s just so nice. I mean, this is his idea of a stinging retort when he is being stood up:

Which requires a comedy song with Chiru as Chaplin! More shoes! And a tongue in cheek tribute to some of his earlier films including Khaidi.

While solving the murder, Pandu is also hired to find Jwala’s friend Dr. Nischilla’s long lost brother from her father Kongara Jaggaiah’s first relationship. There is a nice Egyptian theme to the artwork in Nischilla’s home and many people claim to be the lost Chantabbai, possibly because of the decor.

You may already have guessed who that brother turns out to be.

The discovery allows for a serious scene by Chiru as Pandu reveals how traumatised he was by being orphaned at a young age. There is a clear message about the need for people to support and help those in need and while it suited the theme of the story, the energy was suddenly a lot heavier. I found this scene surprising for the anger he expressed (briefly) in what is otherwise an amusing and lightweight film. There is also a subplot about a failed relationship of Nischilla’s which was also quite serious in tone although depicted in a stylised way. So maybe this is intended as the grown-up component of the family entertainment.

Even in a comedy film, there is apparently room for a comedy sideplot or two.  Sri Laxmi is wonderful as a would be poet who forces the newspaper editor to publish her work and try out her bizarre cooking experiments.  There is also a comedy kidnapping which is memorable for the kidnappers excellent sense of occasion:

Underneath the comedy there’s actually a well structured story that kept my attention from start to finish. The cast do a great job and are very entertaining, especially Suhasini and Chiranjeevi. Everyone looks like they had fun playing out their antics and really got into the spirit of the film. K. Chakravarthy’s soundtrack is pleasant and the songs were well placed, although they were a bit light on for dancing. If you want a slightly offbeat slapstick comedy with loads of charm I think this is a good choice. 3 1/2 stars!

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