Acharya (2022)

A movie starring both Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Mega Power Star Ram Charan was always going to be a ‘must watch’ film with the question being would it be as good as anticipated. The answer to that question is ‘sort of’ as Koratala Siva at least partially delivers with plenty of action and dancing featuring the two Mega Stars. But the story is less successful, following a predictable and rather pedestrian path. I still enjoyed the spectacle of father and son together on screen and with good choreography for both the songs and the action sequences, there is enough here to make Acharya a worthwhile trip to the cinema.

The film opens with a fairly long animated sequence explaining the history behind the twin villages of Dharmasthali and Padaghattam. At least I think that was what was happening, because the subtitles were difficult to follow and mostly didn’t make sense. But from what I could gather, the village of Dharmasthali developed after the goddess Gattamma came to Earth to defend the tribal people of Padaghattam. The villagers built a temple in her honour and continued to live a peaceful existence until the people of Dharmasthali became corrupted. In contrast the tribal village of Padaghattam still followed the traditional way of life, and still do today, producing ayurvedic medicines that they take across the river to Dharmasthali. However life is becoming more difficult for them as Dharmasthali becomes a hotbed of crime and violence and the goddess seems to be allowing her people to be attacked.

Excitingly for me, CinemaChaat favourite Ajay is playing the role of Vedanna, the leader of the Padaghattam people. Their belief in Dharma means that they are peaceful and won’t fight back when threatened, leaving them vulnerable to the corrupting influence of local bigwig Basava (Sonu Sood). I really enjoyed seeing Ajay in this more pacific role where he gets the chance to emote, conveying emotion using just his eyes and facial expressions instead of just being thug #1. I thought he was excellent here and kept smiling ecery time he appeared onscreen.

Basava is working with businessman and developer Rathod (Jisshu Sengupta) to mine the mineral resources of the region, mainly located in the virgin forest of Siddhavana. Rathod is vicious and nasty for no apparent reason, but Koratala Siva does at least give Basava a sort-of back story that involves a bad hairstyle and humiliation by the people of Padaghattam. He’s also a generally nasty character who enjoys inflicting terror and controlling everyone else around him. Basava has risen up to become the municipal chariman, which gives him control of Dharmasthali, although he still has a bad hairstyle which demonstrates that money isn’t everything as it hasn’t allowed him to find a better hairdresser.

Against the heightening tension between the temple and Basava’s thugs, a stranger arrives in town and sets up a carpenter business in Dharmasthali. Acharya (Chiranjeevi) at first seems to be a do-gooder who sets out to help the people affected by Basava’s greed, but it becomes clear that there is a deeper reason for his involvement. The second half reveals the story of Siddha (Ram Charan) and why Acharya is working to save the people of Padaghattam and Dharmasthali.

It’s a fairly standard story for SI cinema and Kortala Siva doesn’t add anything new to the tale. The hero arrives, the bad guy’s motivations are explained, and then they fight. Mix in a lot of discussion of Dharma, a dash of Temple festivals, Ayurvedic medicine and Naxalite freedom fighters and there you have it. The first half has gorgeous sets from production designer Suresh Selvarajan and cinematographer S Thirumavukkarasu makes the most of the sumptuous colours and beautiful scenery. I loved the first song  Laahe Laahe, featuring the stunning Sangeetha Krish, which bursts with colour and energy against the backdrop of the temple. And of course, add in Chiru dancing and it’s a total winner!

Siddha turns out to be the son of a Naxalite leader who was raised by the people of Padaghattam after his parents were killed. Acharya was tasked by Siddha’s father to raise his son in the movement and when Siddha is injured fighting against corruption in Dharmasthala it’s the perfect opportunity for him to go back to his roots. Ram Charan is excellent and his eyes are brilliantly expressive as he shows Siddha to be a true follower of Dharma. There are so many emotions conveyed between Siddha and Acharya just using their eyes that there is an entire section of the film that just focuses on their eyes for a good few minutes. I was in heaven! Although the story may be not be anything new, the interactions between Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi continually made me smile and lifted the energy of the film. 

The scenes where Ram Charan is dancing with Chiranjeevi are spectacular and feature plenty of Mega Star patented moves that Ram Charan performs under the approving eye of his dad. It’s really effective and I wanted to see more! The action sequences too are mostly well choreographed, apart from the finale which doesn’t work as well as the earlier pieces. In terms of spectacle and production, the film looks amazing and each set is obviously well designed and beautifully filmed. But essentially the film lacks depth. The reason for Acharya to be in Dharmasthala is revealed too late and so Chiranjeevi’s character lacks motivation for most of the first half. The second half is better and benefits from the interplay between Ram Charan and Chiru, but the finale could have been so much more if Kortala Siva had taken better care of his characters and thought more about Acharya’s motivation. 

Seasoned actors Nassar, Tanikella Bharani, Ravi Prakash and Vennela Kishore also put in an appearance and are all excellent in the type of roles they have played many, many times before. I’m not sure why Rathod’s main henchman Khilla (Shatru) had to have a deformity, but the bad guys are mostly faceless and evil because that’s what bad guys just are. Sonu Sood does his usual villain schtick effectively despite limited screentime and those dreadful wigs. But poor Pooja Hegde. After Beast I was hoping she would have a bigger role here, but she has even less to do here. Her character is mostly used as the reason for Acharya to explain Siddha’s history and apart from a song and a brief romance she barely appears in the film. 

I did enjoy Acharya and loved watching Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi together on screen. It’s unfortunate that the story doesn’t deliver the same emotional impact, but the songs from Mani Sharma are good, the action well choreographed and the dancing awesome! The worst part of the film is the subtitles which appeared to have been translated literally, and then misspelled (golry instead of glory, their instead of there – seriously did no-one check?) so that I was actually better trying to decipher the Telugu from my very limited vocabulary rather than rely on the subs. For a film with otherwise high production values, it seems such a shame to be let down so badly internationally for something like bad subtitles. So is Acharya worth watching – absolutely! Sit back, enjoy the performances and revel in the pairing of Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Mega Power Star Ram Charan.

Beast

I really was in two minds about posting this review. I usually really enjoy Vijay films and can find something to like about almost any film, but I just couldn’t find much that was redeeming about Beast. The film tries to be an action thriller comedy but fails on every one of those 3 aspects. There are a few good action set pieces, but just as many poorly thought-out scenes that just don’t work. The comedy is often inane, and the real laughs come from the attempts at making this a thriller, which are so bad they are funny. Nothing about this film worked for me except perhaps the first action sequence and Selvaraghavan as a security advisor attempting to negotiate the release of hostages. I really wanted to like Beast, but sadly I didn’t enjoy it at all.

I’ve previously watched Nelson’s début film Kolamaavu Kokila which was pretty good, so it is really disappointing that Beast is such a disaster. There are so many problems that it’s difficult to know where to start, but essentially the plot never engages or makes any kind of sense, while the supposed hilarity of terrorists being stabbed/shot/decapitated in front of young children is just grotesque. Beast starts well enough with RAW agent Veera (Vijay) capturing the terrorist Umar Farooq (Lillput) in typical ‘one-man-army’ style. The action sequences are good here and it doesn’t matter that none of them are realistic because it’s the usual fare expected from a Vijay action movie. But then a young girl is killed when Veera’s intelligence officer decides that it’s more important to capture Farooq than to save any civilians in the area and the plot starts to unravel.

Veera is devastated by his actions and immediately leaves RAW but is still traumatised some 11 months later. In what initially appears to be a very progressive move, he goes to see a therapist (Prudhvi Raj) but bizarrely the therapist cracks a few terrible jokes at Veera’s expense and then drags him to a wedding. There he meets Preethi (Pooja Hegde) and after a brief conversation and a quick bop they decide they are in love and get engaged. They ignore the small problem of Preethi’s current fiancé Ramachandran (Sathish Krishnan) who is still infatuated and refuses to believe that Preethi doesn’t want to marry him. This is somehow supposed to be funny, but it’s just plain stupid, while Ramachandran’s antics are consistently irritating and infantile. In an attempt to add even more puerile comedy, Yogi Babu and Redin Kingsley pop up as two inept mall workers but nothing they do is amusing at all. 

Preethi introduces Veera to her boss Domnic (VTV Ganesh) who runs “Domnic and Soldiers”, a security company so bad they are only employed by 1 shopping mall – which has just decided to terminate their contract. Veera goes along with Preethi and Domnic to the mall for further discussions, but just as they are leaving, the mall is hijacked by a group of terrorists led by Umar Saif (Ankur Ajit Vikal). Right from the start the hijack seems doomed to fail since the terrorists don’t appear to know what they are doing. Most seem to be roaming around the mall paying no attention to their surroundings, and only 2 are tasked to guard all the hostages. Naturally Veera’s spidey senses started tingling before the hijack started and he manages to find a hideaway along with Preethi, her boss and her ex-fiancé.

There are a number of action sequences set in the mall as Veera fights back against the terrorists and attempts to free the hostages. The problem is that none of these work very well, and some, such as Vijay fighting on roller blades, are just awkward. We have the usual 1 indestructible man against many and since Veera has no armour but the hostages are wearing excessive amounts of protective gear, the fact that bullets magically miss Veera while his always strike home makes for rather dull viewing. The whole hijacking sequence seems to be played for laughs except that it’s really not funny to watch Vijay chop up gunmen in front of children. The first decapitation is quite funny though. After that, the action is predictable (notwithstanding the bizarre decision to use roller blades) and there are a few quite horrific moments that are particularly jarring when set into comedy sequences. 

While the hostage situation is going on there is a corrupt politician (Shaji Chen) trying to play both sides, and this is where the film picks up pace adding some amusing scenes with National Security Advisor Althaf Hussain (Selvaraghavan). Who knew one of my favourite Tamil directors could act so well? His comedic timing here is good, and he stands out as one of the best performances in the film. As much as I want him to keep making films as a director, I do hope we get to see more of him in front of the cameras was well.

To be fair, it’s not that Vijay puts in a poor performance – in fact he’s livelier and more enthusiastic here than in his last outing Master, but the role is too schizophrenic to succeed. Jolting from lean, mean, killing machine to rollerskating comedian is a step too far and not even Vijay’s natural charm can save the character. Veera is always just Vijay acting and so nothing feels real – not the initial trauma of the mission gone wrong, the contrived romance or even the idea that he can take on all the terrorists by himself. There is a distinct lack of empathy in the character which is odd given his supposed issue with killing a child, and habit of hearing wailing children at odd moments. However, at no time during the hijack situation does Veera seem to even think of the hostages as people, and they are just the bargaining chip to let him kill terrorists in ever more bloody ways.

The rest of the cast don’t fare well either. Pooja Hegde is completely wasted in a role where she has nothing to do although Aparna Das makes more of an impression in her brief appearance as the politician’s daughter. Shaji Chen chews scenery at every opportunity and while Ankur Ajit Vikal is appropriately cold, he doesn’t get enough screen time or dialogue to make him a convincing opponent. It doesn’t help that the songs are woeful as well, with nonsensical lyrics and bizarre costuming that distracts from the choreography. The final song is called Jolly O Gymkhana (!) and features the backing dancers, Vijay and Pooja in tropical costumes wandering from a beach into a snowstorm for no apparent reason. Nonsense music, nonsense lyrics and nonsense choreography I guess all go together but the result is a mess. I noticed the backing dancers more than the main leads since they seemed to be having a much better time, but none of the songs were enjoyable at all. 

Thanks to rekhs for at least supplying subtitles that made sense even if nothing else about the film did. I can’t even mention the finale sequence which was jaw-droppingly terrible although the special effects were pretty good. The main problem with Beast is a lack of consistency in Veera’s character, added to a storyline that makes no sense. The jumble of action, comedy and political thriller needed a taut and well defined storyline with crisp action, but there is almost the complete opposite here. I left the cinema disappointed and sad because I wanted to like Beast, but there was little for me to enjoy. Maybe wait for streaming when it’s possible to watch the first sequence, Selvaraghavan and ignore the rest.

K.G.F: Chapter 2 (2022)

Finally the next instalment of Rocky and his plan for world domination is here! KGF2 is more of the same as Chapter 1, but with even more guns, declarative speeches and dramatic hair tosses from the leading man. The film follows on from the events of KGF1 to show Rocky now in control of the gold fields, but with so many enemies out to get him, how long will be manage to stay in power? Needless to say the answer involves plenty of brutal, blood-soaked violence and villainous in-fighting as the various factions try to gain the upper hand. It’s a whole lot of fun to watch as Prashanth Neel delivers yet another blockbuster in his definitive style.

The film opens with a group of men unearthing a buried statue of Rocky. We knew from the start of Chapter 1 that he didn’t have a good end, but the resulting crowd that surrounds the excavation serves to remind us that even if the Indian Government wanted to wipe his legacy from the record books, his people still remember.  It’s a powerful opening and an excellent reminder that Rocky was more than just a leader for the slaves in the mine – he was a god.

The film moves back to where KGF1 finished, with Rocky having killed the mine controller Garuda and taken control of the gold fields. He moves quickly to consolidate his power, and demonstrates his ruthlessness by killing Kamal (Vasishta N. Simha) when he objects to Rocky kidnapping Reena (Srinidhi Shetty). Perhaps in keeping with the seventies vibe, this is not a film that is progressive about women. All the female characters are either mothers or ‘entertainment’ with the exception of Ramila Sen (Raveena Tandon) who ends up as the Prime Minister of India. Raveena Tandon has more screen time and makes more of an impact than Srinidhi, despite the latter’s role as Rocky’s love interest. But Rocky’s mother Shanthamma (Archana Jois) and the slave woman (Eswari Rao) who is Farmaan’s mother, also have roles with a bigger impact than Reena. It’s a shame, especially that there is no big dance number, as in the small amount of choreography we do see, Srinidhi is lovely and I would have liked to have seen more. She does well with her limited role and hopefully we get to see her in more films soon.

As part of his plans, Rocky opens up all the mines for exploration amidst rumours that he exploiting the workers for his own gain. Attacks from his rivals organised by gangster Shetty (Dinesh Mangaluru) lead him to develop his own army from the slaves in the mines. To this end he recruits former overseer Vanaram (Ayyappa P. Sharma) to train the boys and look after security. But Rocky’s efforts seem in vain when Adheera (Sanjay Dutt) returns and kidnaps Reena as bait to lure Rocky out of the KGF complex. Of course that’s not the end of it as alliances are made and broken, politician Guru Pandian (Achyuth Kumar) schemes and plots and CBI officer Raghavan (Rao Ramesh) recruits the Prime Minister in his quest to bring Rocky to justice.

I was perhaps a little less invested in this film than the first one, I think because there is less emotional impact to the story. There is less of Rocky’s ‘soft side’ and even the impact of the young slaves taking up arms to fight for Rocky, and the children idolising their hero is lessened simply because there is just so much story to get through. It does make for tighter and more effective action but I felt the lack of the emotional core that underpinned the first story. However, there are plenty of amazing action sequences choreographed by Anbariv and others, and the special effects are world class. I still enjoyed the film immensely and it’s very close to being the perfect sequel. Sanjay Dutt is actually quite brilliant as Adheera making him a maniacal Viking with an unlimited capacity for cruelty. He is suitably dramatic and OTT in a role where nothing else would work as well. There are so many epic scenes that I can’t even begin to find a favourite, although Rocky’s entrance scene to the beats of hundreds of drums is certainly up there. 

Prashanth Neel uses the music from Ravi Basrur as part of the action, as he has done previously with the BGM in Ugramm. As the action ramps up, so does the score and it helps makes the fight sequences even more adrenaline inducing. What doesn’t work so well are the black screens he interposes in the car chase sequence where Rocky is chasing after the men who have Reena. I found that this broke up the action and slowed the effect down too much. But that’s a small quibble in a film where the action choreography is outstanding, and the fight sequences are the key to everything else in the story. Yash is again awesome as Rocky and despite the small audience for the show I went to, the entire theatre was cheering and whistling at his entry scene (me too!). He owns the character of Rocky through and through and invests him with real star power. As we see more of Rocky’s back story and his mother’s instructions, his name and stoic demeanour are ever more appropriate and the reason for his drive for success is as sad as it is inspirational. He takes on the seventies fashion with as much flare as in KGF1 and looks amazing in both the action and dramatic sequences. Again, most of the dialogue is declarative and uttered with high drama, but it suits the film premise and all the actors buy into the trope so it doesn’t seem overdone. 

Of the rest of the cast, most are suitably aggressive as various gangsters and Achyuth Kumar is suitably devious as a scheming politician. The narrator for KGF1, Anand Ingalagi (Anant Nag) is ill when the story begins, and the narration is taken over by his son Vijayendra (Prakash Raj). The breaks to the narration, still to Deepa Hegde (Malavika Avinash), serve as a good contrast to the more bombastic action sequences and help to fill in the back story as villains fly across the screen briefly before being shot, decapitated or otherwise destroyed by Rocky. I am a big fan of Ayyappa so loved seeing him back in the action and also really enjoyed watching Dinesh Mangaluru’s Shetty try to stay in control.

KGF2 deserves to be a blockbuster. Prashanth Neel has created a well defined world with characters that are well drawn with clear motivations and who all act in alignment with those drivers. Nothing is left to chance and despite the cast of thousands it is always clear exactly who everyone is and their role in the plot. The end credits give a tantalising teaser that there may be a KGF3. If so, sign me up now! Highly recommended for fans of action films who don’t mind some blood and gore with a really well made story.