Sri Devi is the main reason to watch Ram Gopal Varma’s film. She is wonderful as the plucky and caring Naveena, drawn into a mysterious plot involving religious nutters, dark rituals, and a dodgy taxi driver with anger management issues.
I watched this without subtitles and didn’t have too much difficulty following the plot, but wish I had been able to understand more of the conversations. Maybe things would have seemed more cohesive if I got the “as you know, Naveena” exposition. Or perhaps not.
The film opens with a religious back story to explain the significance of Venkateswara and the Tirumala Venkateswara temple at Tirupathi. And then the RGV factor kicks in and you can safely forget doctrine and logic as you know it. In the present day, an evil tantric commissions Paresh (Paresh Rawal) to steal Venkateswara’s crown from the temple. The relic combined with some human sacrifice will give the tantric ultimate power or something. Naveena (Sridevi) is a Telugu woman living in Bangkok. She returns to India to fetch her grandmother and take her back to Bangkok so they can live together. Seenu (Nagarjuna) is the taxi driver that picks her up from the station and takes her downtown. Seenu’s father, the temple security guard, is implicated in the theft, and little Babu (Master Anilraj), who Seenu calls Boss, is the only witness who can identify the real criminals. When Seenu and Babu go to Bangkok trying to clear the dad’s name, the kid wanders off and ends up on TV as a missing child. Naveena sees him and comes to the rescue, and is reunited with Seenu. Their lives are entwined on a level neither realises. Eventually all the ducks get in a fairly clumsy row, and it is time for Seenu and Naveena to try and thwart the tantric and save the world. It’s lucky for them that Vishnu had been sneakily keeping an eye on them all along.
The film is most alive when Sridevi is on screen. Naveena does a little of the scream-and-run heroine shtick but is largely sensible, thinks first, and tries to do things for herself even if it pushes her out of her comfort zone. Her outfits are a little…odd. I’ve never been a fan of the pedal pusher, and am on the fence when it comes to onesies. It’s hardly the worst character wardrobe Sridevi had to contend with. Perhaps Naveena was just veeeeery fashion forward, or maybe she was soft hearted and didn’t want Seenu to cop all the bad denim. There are some parallels with Kshana Kshanam although the story isn’t as strong. Naveena still has enough range as a character that Sridevi has something to work with. Whether she is being a clueless tourist or running for her life, she makes that moment feel real and with a sense of consequence.
Her cheeky expressions are an excellent distraction from the spectacle of Nag “dancing”, and the comedy is a good fit for her. Rewatching the movie to screencap for this review was so sad. Sridevi was well cast, had a decent and age appropriate costar, and a director who knew she was pure gold. Watching this did cheer me up a bit after reading so many Hindi-centric reviews of her career and best films. I firmly believe she did most of her best work in the South and if people have only seen her Hindi films, they’re missing out.
Nagarjuna is fine as Seenu. He’s probably the 90s hero I have seen the least of, so I don’t have a lot to compare this performance to. [Note: I hate the much vaunted Geethanjali with the fire of a thousand suns. Do not recommend it. Do. Not.] He is likeable as Seenu, lairising around with his highrise mullet, dressed in loud shirts and acid wash. He’s a good hearted guy even if he might be slightly dodgy when it comes to making a buck. Seenu is very close to his family, and seems proud of his father while not wanting to follow in his footsteps. The story is all over the pace and Seenu’s character is pretty flimsy and Nagarjuna does well to make him so engaging. His confusion and determination were equally believable, even when the situations were not. Some of his scenes with Sridevi are lovely as Seenu starts to realise his feelings, and he seemed to have a warm rapport with Master Anilraj who played Babu. His dancing style mostly consists of energetic walking with occasional bursts of pointing at things or people. But he kicks arse in the action sequences.
Paresh Rawal and Kota Srinivasa Rao are the main thieves, augmenting their gang with some dodgy foreigners. The extravagantly bewigged and made-up Dhir is the evil tantric, with a hint of depressed poodle in his styling. They’re all as horrible as you would expect, and overact like there will be no scenery to chew tomorrow. Kallu Chidambaram is an evil looking red herring. Annapurna plays Seenu’s mother and as you would expect, they’re quite sweet and natural with each other. Child actor Anilraj has no dialogue and that may be why I liked him so much.
As I have come to expect from RGV, the background score is loud and percussion driven. It works well to build a sense of urgency in some scenes but in others it is like someone rattling a tin full of buttons. And the Raj-Koti songs are forgettable, apart from the ungainly choreo and peak 90s Fashion and the obligatory item by Silk Smitha. I did like the way the film signals it belongs in a place and time. Characters listen to songs from movies of the day, there are signals that the audience would be immediately familiar with. So while there are exotic foreign locations, other than the sleazy girly bar we don’t do the rounds of tourist attractions. It’s quite grounded and a little bit grubby.
I’ve tried not to spoil the plot too much as there are some nifty set pieces, a few minor surprises along the way, and quite a ripping yarn if you just go with it. When RGV is good, he’s good. And when Sridevi is good she’s brilliant. 4 slightly teary eyed and sentimental stars!
I firmly believe she did most of her best work in the South and if people have only seen her Hindi films, they’re missing out.
Bless you! That’s exactly what I tell my Sridevi-hating Northie friends. (Why are they still my friends? Hmm…)
[Note: I hate the much vaunted Geethanjali with the fire of a thousand suns. Do not recommend it. Do. Not.]
Bless you twice over! For years, I have been lurking in the shadows as the only person I knew who hated that film and couldn’t say a word!
But Nag is a fine actor – I quite liked him in Agni Varsha, Siva, Santosham, and Ninne Pelladatha.
RGV adored Sridevi, so it’s no wonder he framed her so well. I haven’t watched this, but Nag and Sridevi are a combination that makes me want to watch. Now, if only I can find the time.
Some of my Hindi-only movie friends make quite disparaging comments about Sridevi’s earlier films and her looks. Sigh. She did some great work in Hindi films too but I feel like the South is where she shone. It’s not as though she only learned act for English Vinglish.
I am so happy there is another person on this earth who feels the way I do about Geethanjali! Thank you for coming out Anu 🙂
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+1 to “I firmly believe she did most of her best work in the South and if people have only seen her Hindi films, they’re missing out.”
I am surprised you brushed off the songs – they are regarded all time hits – “Andama anduma” is considered as the perfect tribute to Sri Devi by RGV.
This movie ran into lot of issues during the making and censor as it dealt with the Tirupati Venkateswara, who is regarded high by Telugus and the richest temple in the world. This had an impact on the script and production resulting in haphazard scenes. One good thing was RGV shifted to Bollywood vouching to never make anymore in Telugu. Good for him and good for us to get Rangeela, Satya and others. As his nature, he made multiple comebacks to Telugu industry.
If RGV never did all the things he has said he would never do…well, where would we be 😉
The camera (and the director) love Sridevi, and I get that people might think the sight of her prancing around the hillsides in a saree was the best thing ever. But the music does nothing for me and the choreo was probably constrained by Nag’s limitations so that is a bit underwhelming too.
That’s why I like your blog site – get a different perspective 🙂
Agree on Nag’s limitations – Disappointing when it had to be accepted that his father was the one who brought ‘steps’ into Telugu cinema, was the best dancer before the revelation of Chiranjeevi, and who, in his 70s, matched gracefully to Chiranjeevi’s steps in a song when the latter was in his prime. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2j1fsw2STJ8
I love that song and knew from your description which clip it would be before I clicked on the link 🙂 ANR’s expressions are priceless in that, as well as his dancing. And now you’ve jogged my memory I might add Mechanic Alludu to my Megabirthday review list for August!
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I wish I could find a version of this (and Gaayam, while I’m at it) with English subtitles, but at the very least I enjoyed reading your take on it.
It’s a shame even a director as big as RGV has stuff that I guess is just always going to be language-locked for dumb Americans like me.
There are quite a few films we’ve tagged as “adventures without subtitles” since so many older films and still quite a few new releases don’t have subtitles. I have seen 1 or 2 in the cinema without subtitles where I made up my own story, which I thought was better than the real story once I saw the DVD with subs!
Thankfully, more and more of the big releases now have subtitles, and I really hope that the international success of RRR will make producers release that there is a big market outside of India for English speakers and they finally get their act together. Sadly, so many of the subs are of a poor standard. Thank goodness for rekhs, who always has high quality subs – her songs even rhyme!