Allaudinum Arputha Vilakkum

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There are so many great actors in Allaudinum Arputha Vilakkum. But you’d never guess they were that great just from watching it, if you catch my drift. The cast includes Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Gemini Ganesan, Savitri just to name a few. I.V Sasi made his gaudy 1979 Aladdin and the Lamp film in both Malayalam and Tamil. I happened upon the Tamil version first so that is what I will be discussing here.

The story opens with a sorcerer in a cave, who reads something disturbing in his big book of spells and then uses his great powers to conjure up….dancing girls. And HELEN! He also uses his magical powder to give Helen several outfit changes. He may be evil but I think I like his priorities.

Allauddin (Kamal Haasan) is a layabout. He gets into a fight after his opponent cheats on an armwrestling challenge, and actually uses the rough end of the pineapple as a weapon! Nice. His poor mother (Savitri) looks quite done in by all the drama. He is also the only person who can retrieve the fabled lamp from a cave. The Evil Sorcerer disguises himself and persuades Allauddin to accompany him to another city. Conveniently they pass by the secret cave. Allauddin is sent in to collect a lamp and is given a magic ring that will protect him. He evades some not totally terrifying special effects – although considered cumulatively, it would have been quite enervating. I noted snakes, demons, snakes, bits of demons, snakes, dancing ladies, snakes, demons with extra bits, a lion, lake of boiling acid, snakes.

Allauddin accidentally rubs the magic ring three times, and summons the spirit who helps him get home via a leisurely flight. There is a genie in the ring and also it turns out, one in the lamp. I wonder if there is some kind of formal demarcation. They don’t seem to communicate but there must be rules, surely?

Allauddin makes a wish and his lifestyle goes from poor but honest to grand and gaudy in an instant. Seriously. His outfits are just something else. And Savitri looks a lot more like, well, Savitri when she is in her fine silks and sparkles. He makes the transition from lazy rogue to competent hero with minimal effort. And I mean minimal effort. Kamal Haasan puts no energy into the action scenes, preferring to conserve his resources for the abundant opportunities to overact. He doesn’t even dance much.

He meets the ruling family when he accidentally saves one from ambush, when all he’d meant to do was have a perv at the dancers. And that brings him into the path of Kamaruddin (Rajinikanth!!!!). Back at the court, the Shahenshah (PS Veerappa I think) rewards Allauddin for his bravery and is furious at his security people that this incursion was allowed so easily. He berates his courtiers, especially Mir Qasim (Gemini Ganesan in a fetching lilac top and gold cloche) who is demoted. He appoints Kamaruddin to a job that requires a fancy sword. Kamaruddin also has notions of marrying Princess Roshni (Jayabharathi) although she doesn’t seem thrilled and I can see why. Kamaruddin is an unappealing, nasty tempered man with a taste for gaudy tunics and contrasting capes.

Rajinikanth’s facial expressions are priceless as he seems to have decided surely this must be a parody so he will go all out all the time in all the scenes. He also does very little “dancing” but that is hardly a surprise.

Allauddin also falls for Roshni just on hearing about her beauty, but decides to make sure by going to perv on her during a ritual bath. There IS a theme here.

I feel inspired to make bath time more of an occasion. I can do without the scores of onlookers, but I may make myself a gold chicken headdress.

To be fair Roshni returns the favour by disguising herself as a man so she can go check out Allauddin at his shop.  Theirs is a love based on mutual ogling and love of dress-ups.

Allauddin asks his mum to go ask the king for Roshni’s hand but Kamaruddin has already called dibs. When the courts cannot decide, they settle their differences as tradition dictates – by gladiator fight. The genie gives Allauddin fancy gold undies and a cape. Perhaps for protection. Maybe just for fun. It’s a gladiatorial triathlon! Horses and pointy sticks, then just the pointy things, then paperthin wobbly swords and shields. Allauddin wins, just, and I think Kamaruddin says something like “Fine. I never really liked her anyway dude”. And I marvelled at two of the biggest stars in Indian cinema. In gladiator outfits.

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Allauddin goes home to break the news to girl next door Jamila (Sripriya) who has always been sweet on him. He tells her it would never work out. Sorted! For no obvious reason, Kamaruddin is catapulted off his horse and lands with pinpoint accuracy in a tiny patch of quicksand, just big enough for one person. His horse stands by pretending it doesn’t know what is expected in these circumstances – it had not seen MAGADHEERA! Happily Jamila walks by and she comes to his rescue. Although. Surely the idea is to use the rope to drag the victim out, not drag yourself towards them…Anyway.

Kamaruddin is easily distracted by a glimpse of shoulder, and the idea of a girlfriend who will rescue him.  I think another wedding is on the cards (although this one may require a shotgun).

While the ladies are very much pushed into the background by the story and their male co-stars, I did like that Jayabharathi and Sripriya brought some individuality and expressiveness to their roles. And Savitri could overpower Kamal Haasan’s overacting with just the raise of an eyebrow. Plus, outfits.

While love bloomed, they all forgot about the Evil Sorcerer who is now in league with disgraced Mir Qasim. But our heroes are game for anything, AND Allauddin has his trusty genie. What could possibly go wrong? You’ll need to watch it to find out!

There is a lot going on but nothing of substance really happens so I didn’t really miss having subtitles. I did find that whenever anyone spoke for a very long time, I drifted into happy contemplation of all the gaudy frocks and sets. The visual effects are showing their age but there is a cheeky good humour at play. I even laughed out loud at Allauddin and the genie playing hide and seek around the house. And I could not believe this cast in this film, getting up to these shenanigans.

This is a film I would have loved when I was seven and really, not much has changed. It’s a ripping yarn with some unintentional hilarity and a commitment to searing it’s images on your retinas. I don’t think it would warrant frequent repeat viewing but gosh it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. 4 extra sparkly SBIG stars!

Jyo Achyutananda

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The film opens with an awkward family photo session. The photographer tries to get the two boys to loosen up and stand closer together, and tries to get the mum to look mildly happy. And so we learn the brothers Achyuth (Nara Rohit) and Anand (Naga Shourya) had a falling out and the mother (Seetha) is grieving her recently deceased husband…Well, to be fair she spends the whole film looking tearful or giving people the stink eye. The tension continues at home as Achyuth reminds Anand of the disparity in their earnings and who is the head of the family.

Through flashbacks we see the boys in happier, pre-moustache times. They sneak cigarettes and enjoy gossipy chat over snacks, and seem to be each other’s best friends. There is rivalry over the dumbest things but it is all pretty good natured. Until they both fall for the same girl. Jyosna, or Jyo (Regina Cassandra) is their new neighbour and commits the crime of being single and gorgeous. The boys fall over themselves to impress her, but she sees them only as friends. This does nothing to dampen their enthusiasm and they cut each other’s lunch with abandon. Anand is goofy and puppy like but Achyuth reveals a less likeable side of his persona, especially when he burns her passport to prevent her from leaving to study overseas. Yes. And then they blame her somehow for their father having a heart attack, assuming she told him that his sons were vile and that’s why he dropped dead. Jyo leaves with the support of her dad (a beautifully warm and understated Tanikella Bharani) and so that chapter closes. But the boys’ rivalry festers into something nastier over the years…and then Jyo comes back.

The way the story unfolds initially is lots of fun. Each brother tells his wife that it was the other brother who had a thing for Jyo and the detailed recounting is filled with little jibes. The brother who is acting out the story being told gets to do some excellent hamming and spout cheesy dialogue. Then we see the “real” version of all three becoming friends and indulging in a song montage all over Hyderabad.

Here’s another notable song moment.  Man stalks girl at market, girl tries to make him go away, man becomes more persistent, girl goes to the police who throw her back into the man’s arms and then join in the dance. It was an early inkling that I was going to have issues with this film.

The second half covers what happens after Jyo returns, and I found myself liking both brothers less and less. They rarely spared a thought for their wives other than to try and keep them away from Jyo. They didn’t even think that much about Jyo and what she wanted. They were too far gone in their chest-beating weenie-waving man games.

It seems men are the only people in the film, the women are just fixtures. Priya and Kalpana are mocked by their husbands’ machinations to get with Jyo and the lies they tell. The lines are funny and their acting is fine, but the characters are not given any respect and the audience isn’t expected to find a problem with that. In some ways Jyo is punished for her failure to like one of the boys. She has to deal with the aggravation and the obstacles put in her way, try and sort out her own life and relationships, and she even gets saddled with fixing Achyuth and Anand. In a film supposedly about love and relationships, it’s a shame so many of the relationships seem a bit toxic.

I loved the performances by Nara Rohit and Naga Shourya. Loved them. They looked perfect, their chemistry was fantastic, their comedy timing was spot on, and when they fought it felt like they really meant it. Their late night snuggles and gossip like an old married couple were very funny and they brought the complex dynamic in their relationship to life. It seemed effortless. I wish they’d been playing characters I could have loved as much. Anand was the least objectionable because I could see his behaviour was driven more by emotion and impulse in the moment, and by conditioning to kick back at his overbearing big brother. Achyuth was more calculating and deliberately set out to hurt Anand and to control Jyo. I’d be laughing at something silly he’d do or say and then recoiling at the next moment. For example, at a corporate tennis match he hit the ball into an opponent’s face and high-fived his partner. The writing of his mean spiritedness is excellent and the things he chooses to do are really hurtful. So it was quality work in terms of insight into a sibling rivalry. But there is no real penalty for him, or Anand, and they reconcile because they want to go back to the good old days.

Regina Cassandra is great as Jyosna. Despite occasionally being made to forget she has a brain, Jyo is a smart and independent woman who has ideas about her future and who should be in it. She is lively without being manic and I liked the way she shifted tone slightly depending on which of the brothers she was talking to. Jyo’s return and the subsequent scheme to set things back to rights was a bit muddled but I enjoyed all of her screen time. And I was chuffed when Nani showed up for her.

Srinivas Avasarala wrote and directed and shows his love of, and influences from, cinema. While the structure works and he handles the flashbacks quite well, he maybe lacked some confidence in his audience. Every joke is underscored with loud sound effects, there is a bit too much repetition in some scenes, and he hammers home the obvious points. Visually the film is pleasant but gets a bit cheesy in songs. I liked the parallels between present day and the past boys relationships and the ending was neatly done.

The audience was in stitches at some of the lines, so I missed a lot. But if all the jokes were on par with the English ones, then I don’t think it was a huge loss. Has anyone over the age of 9 ever said “I miss you from the heart of my bottom” and genuinely expected a laugh?

The good bits are good, the actors are great, but the film left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe this would improve with the benefit of subtitles but whatever it is that raised my hackles would still be there. It’s a shame. I’d love to see more low-key relationship driven films coming out of the Telugu industry, but not ones that idolise a load of male wish fulfilment BS. (Note: I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with the film Love Actually so I’ve got form in this genre)

Veta (1986)

 

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Let me summarise the plot. It’s The Chiru of Monte Cristo.

A Kodandarami Reddy and the Paruchuri brothers transpose the Dumas classic to a pre-Independence India that still seems somewhat out of time. Maybe it’s all the ruffled shirts. Or lack of credible historical detail.

Pratap (Chiranjeevi) is an honest merchant seaman/maître d’, framed and sent to jail merely to protect the self-interest of others. His pre-incarceration outfits tend towards the Purple Rain era Prince influenced. Purple, ruffles, fancy boots, metallic mesh puffy sleeves. OK maybe that last one was purely the wardrobe team.

Saroja (Jayaprada) is related to, but not interested in relations with, Jairam (Mohan Sharma) an officer of the British Government. She loves Pratap and they do a lot of frolicking on the beach. Jairam leans on Bannerjee (Ranganath) to send Pratap to jail for the term of his natural life. Pratap tries to escape but is hunted down like a blindingly white trousered prancing thing. They truss him on the truck like a hood ornament or hunting trophy, and off he goes. Eventually Pratap hears sounds from the next cell. My note here reads “OMG he uses a broken cup to cut through solid rock. Of course.”

Mahendra Bhoopati (Kongara Jaggaiah) is the king next door, also in jail thanks to sleazy Jairam. He explains to still innocent Pratap who all had conspired to get him locked up. That lights a fire under Pratap and he vows revenge. He also promises to seek out the king’s daughter Jyotirmayi and restore her fortune and title. The map to the treasure is written in blood. Of course.

Pratap escapes and is rescued by quasi pirates who take him to the secret island location to find the treasure. There are so many plastic skulls…One pirate is eaten by cannibal tribesmen. But they bite off more than they can chew when they attack Pratap. Yes, I went there! Do note that if you are attacked by cannibals, it pays to have a cobra handy.

Many questions occurred to me throughout this episode, and I do not recall the same level of WTFery in the original text. How the hell did Mahendra Bhoopati get that huge trunk into this cave surrounded by all those perils? Did he have the cannibals installed later? How do Pratap’s clothes stay so white?

Pratap returns to civilisation as the mysterious Rana Pratap Kumar Varma. In a vague nod to realism, people do seem to recognise his face even if they talk themselves out of it. Saroja knows exactly who he is, even without the Significant Ring, but doesn’t tell her husband, the unlovely Jairam. Pratap is enraged at her faithlessness despite knowing she thought he was dead, and his anger makes him really bad at maths. Saroja has a young son and Pratap doesn’t even consider the kid could be his. Saroja tells him but he is too far into his rage to believe her. Jyotirmayi (Sumalatha) has feelings for Pratap but she can see he is not emotionally available. That doesn’t stop her from imagining him shaking his moneymaker in a tribal extravaganza.

My note here reads “OMG Pratap stabs Banerjee with his BARE HAND. His Red Right Hand!”

Veta-Pratap and Jyotirmayi

Eventually Pratap goes Rambo and takes his revenge. He is ably supported by the knife throwing Jyotirmayi and hampered by the clueless and obedient Saroja. The guns look super fake, Pratap survives being trampled by horses, it is all insane and exactly as expected. Even Jayaprada’s saree seems to have super protective properties as she did survive a rocket launcher attack unscathed. Once.

Chiranjeevi is more than up to the requirements of wearing outrageous outfits, chasing horses, prancing mightily, and emoting fiercely. He sounds so sincere in every big speech, and despite the silly trappings he does portray the darker side of Pratap’s character once he is set on revenge.

Jayaprada makes a stronger impression in the latter part of the film, when Pratap returns from the dead. She is no longer the demure young girl with horrible fashion sense. She has lived through loss and she knows what her priorities are. Her scenes with Chiranjeevi crackle with emotion and pain. I am often impressed by how good the good bits of a potboiler can be.

Sumalatha is world weary and a bit over it all as Jyotirmayi, and despite minimal dialogue and screen time she makes something of her character. And Jyotirmayi had excellent song costume imagination.

The song picturisations range from the usual cavorting on hillsides to more epic fantasies. Often the song picturisations are a heroine’s fantasy but in Veta Chiru dresses himself in his songs and his happy memories seem to consist of flinging himself around in ruffled shirts or the mindboggling Fauxgyptian oasis. In the Oh Rani song Jayaprada has to frolic in a wet white saree so Chiru frolics in snug white pants. Equality in action.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this film other than I’d watch it because of Chiranjeevi. It’s not exactly good but it is highly enjoyable and visually pleasing. I like both Jayaprada and Sumalatha and their characters do more than just wait and simper, and the Megastar is suitably over the top heroic. I was sitting there thinking to myself that the stunts were unusually human centric with nary an injured horse in sight and then in the last 7 minutes or so the horses started toppling. It’s just so wrenching to watch.

See this to round out your education in film adaptations of classic literature, to see a robust sample of ruffled shirts to inform your wardrobe choices, or just because you aren’t sure if I am exaggerating the WTFery or being unusually understated. 3 stars!

P.S The film is on Youtube with subtitles.