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.

RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt 2022)

After the pandemic, 2 years of living in one of the most locked down cities in the world and increased pressure of work, it was going to take something special to get me back to the cinema. So, a film by Rajamouli seemed like the perfect way to get back to the big screen, especially with both NTR Jr and Ram Charan starring in a plot focused on rebellion against the British. RRR is a swashbuckling adventure with plenty of action and daring do that explodes onto the screen from the very first frame. Both heroes get exciting introductions before finally meeting in another explosive (literally!) scene that mixes their two elements of fire and water in equal measure. After such a long hiatus, this was definitely worth venturing out to the cinema to watch on a cold autumn evening in Melbourne.

The film is essentially a bromance between Raju (Ram Charan) and Bheem (NTR Jr) as the two mow their way through various opposing forces until they end up facing each other on opposite sides. There are romantic interests for both, but they are mostly one dimensional and appear only to move the plot forwards to the next major point. What is important here are the two heroes and the whole masala spectacle surrounding them as Rajamouli tells the story in his inimitable style. It’s interesting that the characters are based on Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, both real revolutionary leaders at the same time in India, although they never actually met in real life. K.V. Vijayendra Prasad’s story takes some real life aspects as the basis for each character however the tale itself is pure fiction.

The story is set in 1920 and starts with Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) and his wife Catherine (Alison Doody) visiting a Gond tribe and forcefully taking a young girl, Malli (Twinkle Sharma) back to Delhi with them. But even in this opening scene, Rajamouli adds more to immediately fills in some background and set the tone of the characters. The Governor’s Chief of Staff Edward (Edward Sonnenblick) contemptuously throws a few coins in the dirt as Malli is dragged away and when her mother throws herself at the Buxton’s car to save her daughter, Buxton tells his soldiers not to waste expensive British bullets on brown trash. So right from the start we know the Buxton’s are evil, Edward is a nasty character and we assume that they will all get their comeuppance before the end of the film.

Raju is a police officer in Delhi but is introduced defending a police station from a hoard of protestors somewhere outside the city. When his superior officer calls out for a man who threw a stone to be arrested, Raju throws himself into the howling mob to find the culprit. Much machismo action later, he drags the offender back to the police station but is later disappointed not to be promoted as a result. Much of Raju’s behaviour is explained later but from the start he appears cold, ruthless and driven to reach the top in his chosen profession. The only warmth we see comes from his friendship with Bheem, at least until his backstory is revealed. The enduring image of Raju from the first part of the film is his stoic demeanour while on duty followed by relentless pummelling of a boxing bag in the privacy of his quarters.

Bheem is the Gond tribe protector and we meet him during a hunt where he inadvertently ends up taking on a tiger. When the trap fails and the tiger roars at Beem, he immediately roars back before demonstrating that he truly is the king of the jungle. With a few trusted men, Bheem heads to Delhi to find Malli and bring her back to the tribe. He poses as a Muslim working as a mechanic while he searches for a way to get into the Governor’s palace with Lacchu (Rahul Ramakrishna) and Peddanna (Makarand Deshpande). During his time in the city, Bheem meets Raju when the two work together to rescue a small boy caught on the river after a train bursts into flame on the bridge above and falls into the water. The two have instant rapport, communicating at a distance via a series of signals and finally clasping hands under the bridge in a symbolic moment that foreshadows later events. It’s over the top, wonderfully cinematic and simply splendid as the two Telugu heroes meet amidst the roar of flames and again under water.

Tarak and Ram Charan have amazing chemistry together and the energy they share makes it easy to get engrossed in their story, without caring about how excessively extravagant and spectacular the entire plot actually is. Their action sequences are incredible, totally over the top with cartoonish violence, but it all works beautifully in the environment that Rajamouli has created. Tarak’s stockier frame is perfectly suited to his role as the Gond protector, but even with all the crazy action scenes, there are moments where a softer side is allowed to break through. What I love is the effort taken to show Bheem’s respect for the forest and wild-life, and I also really appreciate the emotion Tarak adds to the song Komuram Bheemudo. Ram Charan’s back story is also a tearjerker, and while Ajay Devgan makes an appearance as Raju’s father, the actor who stands out for me is Shriya Saran as Raju’s mother Sarojini. She only has a few brief moments onscreen but makes a mark with her performance, despite her limited role. The actor playing young Raju (Varun Buddhadev) is also excellent in this sequence and for a change, Ajay Devgan is not as annoying as usual even with his repeated ‘load, aim, shoot’ dialogue. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Alia Bhatt as Raju’s fiancée Sita. She has very little to do and quickly fades into the background as soon as her lines are delivered. I don’t feel that either of the two love interests were necessary for the story but of the two, Olivia Morris as Jennifer is the more memorable.

Everything in the film is completely over the top, the action, the dances sequences and even Bheem and Raju’s friendship. When Raju transforms into Ram, complete with bow and arrow, and Bhhem picks up a motorcycle to use as a weapon, it doesn’t seem overblown at all after the excesses of the previous action scenes. Naturally the British are all horrible, with the exception of Jennifer although she has little to do once she provides the way for Bheem to access the palace. Buxton and his wife are caricatures of villains, both completely vile, with Catherine revelling in the blood and gore during torture sequences and Buxton showing disdain for anyone and anything not British at every possible opportunity. I totally love how absolutely horrible they all are and it really seems as if the actors enjoyed their roles thoroughly. Ray Stevenson, Alison Doody and Edward Sonnenblick are all good and make their exaggerated roles fit into the screenplay much better than expected although I would have liked to see Edward have more of an action role in the final sequences with all the explosions and carnage.

RRR is riotous, extravagant and totally mind-blowing. The action sequences are fabulously staged and spectacular while the two main leads are outstanding. There are just not enough superlatives to describe just how totally over the top this film is, and all I can say is do not miss this experience at the cinema! RRR is masala entertainment as it should be. After the last few difficult years this really was a triumphant return to a theatrical experience, and I loved every minute. 5 stars!

Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya

Swaroop RSJ’s 2019 film is a neo-noir style comedy mystery that is a departure from the more usual fare from the Telugu film industry. I haven’t seen many Telugu films at all that involve detective investigations, and very few that combine comedy and suspense so effectively. Naveen Polishetty is excellent in the titular role while Shruti Sharma makes a great sidekick and best of all, there is no dodgy romance to muddy the waters. I really enjoyed this film, despite a few plot holes, and the mix of comedy and serious investigation make Agent Sai Srinivas Athreya well worth a watch.

Sai Srinivasa Athreya (Naveen Polishetty) goes by the name Agent and runs the Fatima Bureau of Investigation or FBI for short. For Agent, being a detective is all about the look and the attitude, despite running his business from a small office in the market area of Nellore. He’s teaching the ropes to new recruit Sneha (Shruti Sharma) which mostly consists of asking her to watch a series of classic detective movies and discussing famous literary detectives such as his hero, Sherlock Holmes. Also involved in his instructions are to always carry a take-away coffee cup (actual coffee is optional) and to dress with style and panache. Agent interprets this by wearing a waistcoat, an overcoat and sporting a fedora which do at least serve to make him stand out from the crowd.

Agent’s actual detective work consists of small cases and barging in unwanted on police investigations, which earns him the ire of the local officers and ends up with him being forcefully ejected from crime scenes. However, when his friend Sirish (Chanakya Tejas) tells him about unidentified bodies being found alongside railway tracks, Agent has a whiff of a case that he can really sink his teeth into. The only problem being that the police arrest him on suspicion of the murder when they find him at the site of a recently discovered body. During his night in jail, Agent speaks to an old man, Maruthi Rao, who tells him about his daughter who was raped and murdered. The police aren’t showing any interest in the case and Agent vows to find Vasudha’s killer. Agent assigns Sneha to follow the more dangerous looking of two suspects, while he himself shadows Ajay (Sandeep Raj) but when both Harsha (Vinu Varma) and Ajay turn up murdered, Agent is once again prime suspect for the police. Along with a fellow private detective Bobby (Suhas), Agent slowly starts to unravel the case, which ties into the railway bodies mystery and even has connections to his own personal life. With the police determined to blame Agent for the murders, it’s a race against time to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the crime.

The film works primarily due to Naveen Polishetty’s portrayal of the fast-talking and slick detective at the centre of the story. The comedy scenes are excellent, and he gets the delivery just right for maximum impact almost every time. He’s just as good though in the moments when he does have to show more emotion and for the most part, he gets the mix of over confidence and vulnerability just right. I also liked the no-nonsense relationship he has with Sneha and really appreciate that Swaroop didn’t go with the obvious and add a romance between the two. Their working relationship is well written and the mix of Agent’s brilliance and Sneha’s down to earth practicality serves the story well. The support cast are all fine but have little depth, apart from Krishneswara Rao who is adept and adding mystery to his role as Maruthi Rao.

One of the only issues I have with the film is that we are told everything, often in great detail as Agent describes every scene and what each clue means. It would have been less overwhelming to show a little more and tell less, which could also have been used to give the most significant moments more impact. There are many, many twists and turns in the tale which does make it interesting, but since they occur at break-neck speed, by the time I could process the information and make the link back through the various characters, Agent was already on to the next twist. I really wanted Swaroop to slow down some of these scenes and draw out the revelations a little more, particularly when the film started to delve into the shady operators who prey on their victims’ superstitions and beliefs. 

Despite the uneven pacing, the story itself is well put together and the twists are unexpected and cleverly integrated into the narrative. Sunny Kurapati makes sure the film looks good and Mark K Robin’s background score suits the mix of action and more cerebral detective work. It comes down to a good story, a clever mix of action and comedy and two great lead characters who work well together. So good in fact, that I really hope they put together a sequel! A very different film from the Telugu film industry and one well worth catching now that it is available online. 4 stars.