Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (2019)

Surender Reddy’s history inspired epic is indeed epic. The sets are impressive, the set pieces are huge, the cast includes almost everyone working in Telugu films plus some ring-ins. And to top it off, Chiranjeevi. Very few things will compel me to see a movie at 7am. Chiru is one of those things.

It’s hard when you want to cram a lot of exposition into a ripping yarn, and Reddy fumbles the pace. Pawan Kalyan narrates,  Anushka Shetty makes a welcome yet probably unnecessary cameo as Rani Lakshmibai, using the story of Narasimha Reddy (Chiranjeevi) to inspire her outnumbered troops. And eventually we get to the main event – Narasimha Reddy, all grown up and ready to rumble. From there the remainder of the first half is about the local battle against Jackson, a sadistic white supremacist. The second half has to regain momentum for the final conflict with the even more revolting Cochrane, wearer of bad hats and owner of a mysterious black panther just to ram home his villainous leanings. Along the way Narasimha Reddy is mentored by his guru, supported and challenged by his peers, and adored by all women. But he is always hated by the Brits and he returns their enmity in spades. The film jumps around visually and looks amazing, the geography is frequently mystifying, but the narrative is dead linear and predictable. With lots of repetition for the people who decide to make important phone calls or switch seats several times during the movie.

Reddy does some things to perfection, and he gives Chiranjeevi some impressive hero entrances. He balanced the spiritual and the legendary heroic aspects along with the Megastar obligation to provide something familiar yet extraordinary with each return. But there are also some poor directorial choices and I really do have to get this off my chest now. I know this is a ye olden days film, I know they made some gestures towards historical accuracy….but no dancing?!? Chiranjeevi NOT DANCING AT ALL?!! Seriously. Walking around and pointing during a song is not enough. Could he not get his folky festival appropriate groove on with his people just once? Some of the fire twirling guys looked understandably nervous so maybe they could have used some Megastar spark instead.

 

Surender Reddy uses tight closeups on Chiranjeevi’s face as Narasimha Reddy absorbs news or prepares to roar inspiration or threats. Chiru goes all in, whether he is comforting a child or dismembering an enemy. It’s all about that commitment and the Mega charisma that makes you believe that people would follow him into a war, believing he is a chosen one. The action scenes allow him to kill in varied ways and with great gusto, busting out the athleticism and grace we don’t get to see in a dance (yes, I’m bitter about it). I especially enjoyed Jackson’s comeuppance as it drew upon earlier skills demonstrated so there was a pleasing blend of “oh, of course!” and WTFery. Despite being at a 7am show there was vocal appreciation of the gore and creative ways of killing. The special effects around the actors and stunt performers in the war and fight scenes worked pretty well, but some other effects were a bit amateurish and made what should have been impactful look silly. That was a blessing in parts, as if the CGI was better a couple of scenes would have been seriously traumatising.

The wig department is there for Chiru every step of the way. He has his fluffy Romance Hair, and two variants of Action Hair (one with man bun, one without). His outfits are detailed but not overwhelming or fussy, and avoid the period costume trap of looking like he’s been upholstered rather than tailored. He sported a nicely woven war sandal so I was pleased to see some appropriately statement footwear too.

Nayanthara had the clumpy eyelashes of a perpetual crier while Tamannaah had perfect eyelashes for flirting or murderous rages. And there’s about all the character development you get. Both actresses deliver what they can, but all the women in this story are required to do is support and/or sacrifice. Tamannaah plays a dancer but mostly sings, exhorting people to join the rebellion. She has a lovely, very sad, scene that made me sad because there was no room in the film for her acting ability. Nayanthara plays Sidhamma as shy and hopelessly worshipping her man. Again, she added some delicate touches to her characterisation but that may have been professional pride because I suspect the direction was “Stand there. Then go stand there. And cry.”

The gang of chieftains are largely undifferentiated, but a few make more substantial contributions. Mukesh Rishi got no love from the wig department so the hat team went all out for him. Brahmaji does his usual furious faces. Ravi Kishan got an economy wig and no moral compass to speak of. Jagapathi Babu is quietly compelling as Veera Reddy, a believer grappling with the consequences of betrayal. My favourite was Sudeep’s Avuku Raju. He dripped disdain, his silent reactions were anywhere from menacing to hilarious, and his frenemy dynamic with Narasimha Reddy was absolutely beautiful. The biggest supporting cast cheer was for Vijay Sethupathi as Tamil leader, Raja Paandi. Amitabh Bachchan as the lugubrious Guru Gosayi Venkanna got no response at all. I actually disliked his character. Mentoring is one thing but being a manipulative puppet master is something else.

The European actors range from adequate to terrible. It doesn’t require great subtlety to be a despicable cartoonish villain, so the patchy acting and clunky dialogues didn’t bother me too much. I did like that the film doesn’t pussy-foot around the British attitude that dark skinned people were inferior, and that nobody pretended the conflict was about anything but money and resources. The patriotic aspects of Narasimha Reddy’s fight got a great response from the audience and we all enjoyed seeing the white guys get what was coming to them.

The subtitles are largely OK but there are some strange errors. The subs express asking for forgiveness or offering an apology as asking for an apology regardless of context, which was confusing. Some things were overly literal and not meaningful. I particularly liked the subtitles that explained an accomplishment as “He is a great man. He has mastered the art of holding his breath in water”. Greatness may await us all, friends! And whoever was on spell checking left us with gems like “Your’s Sincerly”. Such a big budget film, and so little respect for the dialogues. Sigh.

Yes, there’s a story. Yes, there’s some History. Yes, there is a huge cast. Yes, it’s a film on a massive scale. And yet it all rests on Chiranjeevi. He delivers so much of the success of the film but can’t quite overcome the flaws. One to see on the big screen if you can, just to appreciate the grandeur, the guyliner, and the wigs.

Advertisements

Megastar Mega Mullet

I am often asked what I think is Chiranjeevi’s best hair era as well as when he hit peak mullet.

Note: I will exclude what I refer to as “character hair” – a hair style or wig worn purely to define a character or as a disguise. For example:

 

The Debutant

Back in the day when Chiranjeevi started out he was cast in supporting roles, often as a negative character. His glam hero days were yet to come, as was his stylish hero hair. Chiranjeevi’s late 70s hair was frankly unappealing – a long unstyled wavy bob with a side part. Perhaps it was part of his commitment to being a baddie. Perhaps.

1980

Punnami Nagu was the start of a hair transition from the long 70s sidesweep to a more structured hairstyle that would be versatile enough for office, romance, or revenge scenarios.

The 80s

The romantic hero who could have been a bad guy if he wasn’t so good. Chiru’s hair could go from good boy with a ruler straight side part to hair so furious it could have had its own dialogue. Magnificent. The late 80s is probably my favourite hair era.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1991 – The Mullet appears

Rowdy Alludu and Gang Leader mark early appearances of the Mega Mullet. There is some extra length at the back and the top has some volume, although it is not consistent and the degree of loft does seem to be humidity affected in some roles.

1995 – Peak Mullet

You can see the mullet really developing through 1994, but 1995 is Peak Mega Mullet year. The hair has achieved volume, curl, the required length at the back and height at the front, almost a dionysus perm albeit sculpted into mullet form. It almost won’t fit in the same frame as Chiru.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Late 90s-early Noughties

While Chiru maintained some volume in the ‘do, he never returned to the statement mullet of earlier years. Gradually his hair returned to a less voluminous and emphatic style with some similarity to the 80s good boy/bad boy look. He experimented with some colour, but I blame the era rather than the Megastar.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2017

Returning to starring roles, Chiru opted for a sleek modern look with less pouf and sharper edges.

I look forward to the next stage in Chiru’s hair evolution, and I have no regrets about seeing the mullet left in the past.

 

Of course it is hard to get a sense of how magnificent the Mega Hair is from stills alone. Here is the playlist for Megabirthday 2019. See you next year!

 

Mechanic Alludu

There is nothing new in B. Gopal’s film, but we all know that Chiranjeevi and ANR are the drawcard.

Parvathi (Shubha) gives birth to a baby boy in the home of a stranger, Mahalakshmi (Sharada). She’s on the run from goon and soon afterwards she takes little Ravi and leaves town. Many years later Ravi (Chiranjeevi) ends up working for Jagannatham (Akkineni Nageshwara Rao) at his garage. He also pesters Jagannatham’s daughter Chitti (Vijayashanti) and of course, despite his appalling ideas of what constitutes “wooing”, she falls for him too. But there can be no mass film without birth secrets and fateful coincidence! Parvathi comes for the engagement and shock horror, she is Jagannatham’s estranged sister. And Ravi’s father is Bad News. It turns out that Ravi’s father Narayana framed Jagannatham for murder. So Ravi and Chitti both impersonate illegitimate children of Narayana and move into the big house to get their revenge. How will true love win? Was Brahmi necessary? Will Sharada come back at the end of the film to make a very important decision? Will Ravi reunite the good bits of the family?

It’s a good thing I could have answered all of those questions without seeing the film as I watched this on Youtube without subtitles. Subtlety and nuance would have been quite trying. And a big sarcastic thank you to people who add huge ugly watermarks to their video uploads.

Chiru is in his mass element here, but he doesn’t phone it in. He gets an excellent and surprisingly low key entrance via a bank of TV screens, but that quickly turns into Ravi being thrown through a window and into an adjoining body building gym for the fight part deux. He’s an atypical hero in some ways because the bad guys actually land a few punches. After being sacked for destroying his employer’s TV shop, Ravi saves Jagnnatham from a runaway car and scores himself a new job.

Chiru’s chemistry with ANR is delightful. It’s not often you see the Megastar consciously making room for his co-stars, or a co-star that takes it right up to the Megastar. Jagannatham spots Ravi moping, draped across his car bonnet, and decides to coach him in the ways of being a man – specifically drinking, dancing and romancing.

In the ebullient Guruva Guruva, you can see Chiru watching ANR, one of the original Telugu dancing heroes, and make small changes to his own timing and movement to keep in synch with his sprightly 70 year old partner. It’s always a bit disconcerting seeing fine actors with nothing much to do, but both deliver good solid performances despite the lacklustre material. Their scenes when Jagannatham refuses to accept Ravi have a bit of cheese and a bit of real pathos, as though neither could help themselves and had to add some quality emoting.

Poor Vijayashanti. Ravi’s approach to Chitti was of the treat them mean and they’ll find you irresistible school of thought. The same school that turned out generations of sex pests. Luckily Ravi is coached in the ways of over acting by Jagannatham. Although since Chitti was only written into the film to be his True Love and dance partner when ANR wasn’t available, did it make a real difference? Chitti does fight back in doomed attempts to free herself of Ravi’s presence, and those scenes at least give Vijayshanti something to do other than squeal and/or giggle. Once Chitti succumbs to Ravi’s advances, she is allowed into songs. She comes into her own for the dances although there she has to battle the wardrobe department.

I enjoyed the song picturisations a lot. They really play up to the Megastar image, as well as giving Chiru a range of choreographic and costume styles to showcase his charms. And he did solve the vexing question of how to manage many costume changes efficiently by having his backing dancers tear layer after layer of clothing off him.

The action scenes are varied. The intro fight incorporated a wide range of gym apparatus. I liked the longwinded rickshaw chase. Ravi fights on and off and under the rickshaw as the baddies keep coming and show how bad they are by not respecting a ma in mid cardiac arrest. Or maybe the quarry scene which kept me wondering “who, apart from antlions, buries themselves under a mound of gravel and waits for their prey to stroll by?” The comedy fight to impress Chitti was less delightful. I did kind of like the bit where Ravi throws Babji (Brahmi) on to a passing car to cause an accident. That’s a whole lot of confidence and a cavalier attitude to your friends on display right there. And I hope it hurt Brahmi as much as having to watch his shenanigans hurt me.

Apart from the usual comedy uncles (Ali is the least annoying), the supporting actors are underutilised. I got my hopes up when I saw Sharada in the opening scenes but she disappears until almost the end. She does play an important part in the final conflict but it wasn’t a satisfying role. Shubha is more present but also mostly silent. Satyanarayana and Kota Srinivasa Rao are the baddies, one calculative and one more bumbling.

See this for ANR with Chiru, and the songs. Everything else is OK but not amazing. 3 ½ stars!