Duvvada Jagannadham (2017)

In his latest release Harish Shankar sticks closely to the standard formula for Telugu hero-centric films, which makes Duvvada Jagannadham rather less exciting than it could have been. There is hardly any suspense and few surprises as the hero flexes his muscles, obliterates the bad guys and romances the heroine while recouping lost money for the victims of a property scam. What makes it watchable are the excellent performances from Allu Arjun, Rao Ramesh and Subbaraju who add life and energy to an otherwise pedestrian plot. The story might be plodding along, but the cast give it their all, and with many other veteran performers including Murali Sharma and Posani Krishna Murali, and some good songs, DJ ends up as a reasonable timepass.

The story opens with a young Duvvada Jagannadham Sastry picking up a gun and executing a gang of thugs who attack policeman Purushottham (Murali Sharma) in his local market. Not content with his body count so far, he then turns the gun on a suspected rapist in the police station and shoots him too. Bizarrely the police officer in question rapidly recovers from his previously incapacitating wound and then doesn’t bat an eyelid at the young multiple murderer, instead enlisting him as a vigilante in his never-ending war against crime. Because of course there is nothing abnormal about a young boy killing in cold blood (and also being a fantastic shot) – not in this film at any rate.

Moving quickly among to the present day and Duvvada Jagannadham (Allu Arjun), aka Sastry is a Brahmin priest who runs an all-vegetarian catering business in Vijayawada along with various members of his family. Sastry is devout, speaks in very precise Telugu and is passionate about his cooking, although he doesn’t take life too seriously as demonstrated by a recurring joke about using asafoetida in tamarind rice. Bunny is good here, particularly with the comedy scenes and dialogue, while the trio of Sastry, his father (Tanikella Bharani) and uncle (Chandramohan) make a good team as they feed the hungry hordes of wedding guests around Vijayawada.

However, when Sastry answers his phone he becomes a totally different person – his posture is different, his voice deeper and the language less classical. Going by the name of DJ, Sastry’s alter ego is still a vigilante killer working for Purushottham eliminating criminals permanently from the streets of Hyderabad. DJ is super stylish and ultra cool, which ensures that Bunny remains ‘the stylish star’ despite spending much of the film in more traditional attire. Naturally DJ is also an accomplished killer, although quite where he learnt his skills is as much of a mystery as his motivation to cleanse Hyderabad of all criminals. The action scenes here are all beautifully choreographed by Ram Lakshman and Bunny carries out the various impalings, defenestrations and executions as smoothly and effortlessly as he performs his dance routines, and with just as much style. Sadly, there isn’t much else to the character of DJ beyond the dapper surface and efficient bloodshed. There is no rationale behind why his character is driven to such violence, particularly since he has been raised as a priest and generally seems to be a kind-hearted and benevolent priest at that. There is a brief comment by his father at the start, questioning why his son has so much rage, but this is not explored at all, and of course Sastry never shows any sign of the explosive ferocity that is characteristic of DJ.

Naturally there is also a heroine, and as might be expected from the formulaic plot, Pooja Hegde’s presence is completely superfluous to the story with her only purpose seemingly to be to appear in as many skimpy costumes as possible and dance in a few songs. The brazen character of Pooja seems unlikely to appeal to the traditionally minded Sastry, and although her designer credentials might interest DJ, her nasty, childish behaviour when they first meet is unlikely to impress. The camera spends more time focused on Pooja’s navel than on her face and it’s a shame that the only real emotion she gets a chance to display is when she’s shopping in Abu Dhabi – her excitement here is the only genuine moment her character has throughout the entire film. Still, she does look stunning, and has good chemistry with Bunny in the songs, but it’s a shame that she has no opportunity to do anything more.

DJ becomes personally involved in the case of a property scam where the real criminal Royyala Naidu (Rao Ramesh) hides behind a proxy (played by Prabhakar). Royyala’s son Chintu (Subbaraju) also becomes involved when Royyala conspires with Pooja’s father Minister Kusuman (Posani Krishna Murali) to marry their respective children. Subbaraju is excellent as a crook with an unusual idiosyncrasy, particularly in the final showdown with DJ and Royyala.

Throughout the film Bunny excels with his comedic dialogue as Sastry and does a good job of keeping the two sides of his character quite separate and different. As always his dancing is superb on every level and I did appreciate his collection of sparkly sneakers in various colours too. Devi Sri Prasad’s songs are good, although the song sequences aren’t connected to the plot of the film and seem to be simply added in as part of the standard formula – “fight scene/ family scene/ romantic moment/ song”, and repeat. However, the dance sequences add in energy and give Pooja and Sastry/DJ a chance to develop their romance that otherwise appears rather lacklustre.

Duvvada Jagannadham is disappointing, but the action sequences are impressive, the songs are excellent and Bunny is always watchable. There are some good dialogues that were well appreciated by the audience here in Melbourne, and the comedy with Bunny, Vennela Kishore as his cousin Vighneswara Sastry and the rest of the family is generally pretty funny. The major issue here is the formulaic plot and uninspiring screenplay that feels dull despite the good performances from the cast. However it’s not all bad and there are some scenes that work very well, it’s just that it doesn’t all gel together as it should. Worth watching for Bunny, the songs and the action, just don’t expect too much from the plot.

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8 thoughts on “Duvvada Jagannadham (2017)

  1. Heather, I agree with you that this is just another hero centric telugu movie. I still have hope for telugu movies since baahubali 2 became such a massive hit, I think directors will get it that multiple strong characters in a movie is better than a single strong character with others acting as accessories. Baahubali 2 broke the regional barriers and basically is all time number one at even the hindi BO. It decimated even the previous records held by khans of bollywood. I hope the directors learned their lesson.

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    • Hi Dileep,
      They could also look to Malayalam and Kannada cinema which is producing different and interesting films. More so than any other industry at the moment. Quite a few have been remade in Telugu to reasonable success too – Drishyam, Premam and Lucia for example.
      Rajamouli seems to be one of a kind in Telugu cinema!I’m not so sure that it’s the single strong character, but he is able to tell a story without simply following formula. He doesn’t add elements simply for the mass audience but instead each scene is used to further develop the characters or the story.
      I agree with you though, as films such as Vedam that had a number of lead characters were critically acclaimed (if not perhaps big BO hits), so perhaps a combination of all of this is what Telugu cinema needs 🙂
      Cheers, Heather

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      • Hi Heather,
        I believe kannada is not close to mal, may be marathi is. But after seeing the collection of pulimurugan 120cr, bahubali 70cr(just from kerala) and great father 50 cr. There is slow shift to masala from main stars.
        Also is property dispute a common plot in every Telugu movies?

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      • Hi faizal,
        Lol! It seems so – I’d hadn’t thought about it, but almost every film does have some sort of housing issue!
        Re Kannada cinema – I’ve been really impressed with the films coming out of Bangalore – yes they are small budget, but the director and screenwriters have come up with some excellent films that are very enjoyable.
        Cheers, Heather

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      • The movies you mentioned although are good movies, are low budget movies by telugu market standards. You have to realize that telugu movie market is way bigger than the malayalam and kannada film industries. Big directors like puri jagannath, rajamouli, boyapati direct movies that cost probably like 6 times that of the big directors in these industries so they usually tend to make time tested formulaic mass masala movies and the production companies insist on that, as lot of money is on the line. That’s why I said they should follow rajamouli as a role model, keeping these big directors on mind.
        Also you are probably right that character development is the key to rajamouli’s success and I think strong multiple characters complement eachother and adds to the richness of story telling. That’s just my opinion ofcourse.

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      • I would like to also add that baahubali’s high budget of Rs. 400 cr+ required that they release the movie in 4 different markets(telugu tamil. malayalam and hindi) because it’s impossible to collect even 2/3 rd that amount in telugu market alone, no matter how big of a blockbuster the movie becomes. So it was a very bold move on rajamouli and producer’s part, as they had to bet on non-traditional markets.

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      • Hi dileep,
        Good points all – from Australia it’s hard to know the size of the relevant industries. Tamil films release in the bigger cinemas and we do get quite a few of the smaller films, but with Telugu we tend to only get the big star films that release for only a few days. When I’ve been to Bombay, I’ve found Tamil and Malayalam films in the multiplexes, but never Telugu – at least not so far!
        I take your point about Baahubali too – however I think that Rajamouli also released Eega across different markets, and although it wasn;t as successful I presume from that there was the realisation that some cross-over was possible. Particularly with Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn remaking many of the SI blockbusters in Hindi – the market for these films seems to be there as long as the language is right.
        And yeah – as far as money is concerned, that makes sense. Most of the better films I’ve seen from the other industries have been smaller films with a small budget – directors and producers should learn from these too that no amount of money and special effects can take the place of a good story!
        Cheers, Heather

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  2. Heather, Distribution of various ethnic groups across india probably explains(?) why you see malayalam and tamil movies in bombay’s multiplexes. For instance there is a huge telugu population in parts of karnataka and chennai and that’s why you see direct telugu releases there. Baahubali released in telugu only in karnataka as the local film industry won’t allow dubbed releases.
    I can’t say I know anything about australian market, but I know USA is bigger market for telugu movies compared to any other indian language movies( except may be hindi movies) because of the large telugu population there. Also number of single screens according to an estimate in telugu states is 2400+ compared to 700+ in kerala and 900+ in karnataka.
    Again to stress the big gamble that rajamouli made with his baahubali project, let me tell you that the highest any southindian movie made at hindi BO before baahubali was a meager Rs. 25 cr by Shankar’s Robo. Baahubali 2 rights had to be sold to a hindi distributor for Rs. 90 cr to get their investment back and make some money. The movie went on to make 510 cr at the hindi BO alone. I remember the local distributors here mocking rajamouli and the producer before they released the first part, basically calling them idiots. The movie basically changed the market value perceptions of everyone here.
    At the end of the day money is what dictates the product. In order to understand why certain industry produces certain kind of movies, you may also need to know their markets.

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