Vinaya Vidheya Rama (2019)

vinaya vidheya rama

Boyapati Srinu specialises in films that are all action and little plot, but even by his standards Vinaya Vidheya Rama is a nonsensical mess. The film has zero logic and even less of a story than usual, along with a completely muddled-up timeline and ludicrously impossible situations. I don’t expect much logic from mass masala movies but I can appreciate their usually well-choreographed fight scenes, good music and memorable choreography, but even all of these fall significantly short in this overlong, systematic bloodbath of a film. A quick perusal of the plot (such as it is) makes it seem that Vinaya Vidheya Rama might fall into the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ category, but it misses this too by a mile, and not even the best efforts of Ram Charan can save the film from being anything other than a drearily predictable watch.

The opening scenes are also the best and since they almost make sense the film initially lulls you into a false sense of anticipation. Four orphans living on the railway in Vizag find a baby and on discovering he has been bitten by ants and also apparently has a head injury, they take the infant to a local hospital. Amazingly they’re allowed in, don’t have to wait and receive excellent care and attention from the attending medical staff with the eventual outcome that the doctor (Chalapathi Rao) adopts all five children. The four kids decide to send Rama to school while they raise the money to keep him there, but an early run-in with some child-napping thugs leads to the infant Rama disposing of the gang and vowing to send his brothers to school instead. This sounds ludicrous, but honestly, it’s far from being the most ridiculous idea in the film.

The brothers grow up and get married but creepily all continue to live together with their wives and assorted children. Only one of the brothers is ever called by name, and he’s also the only one who has any gainful employment, which might explain their unusual living arrangements. Bhuvan Kumar (Prasanth) is an election officer which brings him into contact with a warlord living in Bihar who objects to the government elections in his area. This necessitates the usual argy-bargy between the government officials, supporting police, local townsfolk and the generic thugs employed by Raja Bhai Munna (Vivek Oberoi) with the inevitable outcome that Rama (Ram Charan) has to head up north and save the day.

There is also a vague romance with Kiara Advani as an arranged marriage candidate. Boyapati Srinu tries to be topical by making her mother (Hema) a violent advocate for feminism but this falls completely flat and is at times actually quite nauseating while her husband (Prudhvi Raj) is portrayed as a hen-pecked loser who somehow stumbled into marriage. It’s not funny, it’s not even necessary for the story and the whole entirely pointless romance should have been left on the cutting room floor.

However, the romance is the basis for including the songs – mostly set as fantasy-dream sequence numbers. Although Charan dances up a storm, the female backing dancers are often out of time and incredibly stiff, which significantly detracts from his performance and makes these songs just as difficult to watch as the preposterous story. Devi Sri Prasad doesn’t break any new ground with the music either and the songs are mostly generic dance numbers that don’t leave much of an impression.

It doesn’t get any better. The story timeline keeps switching between pre- and post- Bhuvan going to Bihar and it’s frequently unclear just exactly when any particular scene is taking place. After a while I just ceased to care. Things get even more bizarre when Rama somehow manages to get from an airport in Gujarat to Bihar on top of a speeding train and then on horseback in less time than it takes for Raja Bhai Munna to threaten Rama’s brothers and their wives. That’s all the way across India in minutes standing on the top of a train and using a smartphone app for directions to the location of his brother’s phone. There’s always some suspension of disbelief required for any action movie but it’s a whole new dimension of disbelief that’s required for a Boyapati Srinu film!

Having arrived at his destination, Rama then proceeds to slaughter thugs like they were mosquitoes and claims to kill 300 men before finally being captured and imprisoned in a belt and chain affair that never looks as if it would be effective. There’s no doubt that Rama will win the day, but of course there has to be a lot more speeches and posturing before that happens – interestingly the best posturing comes from Bhuvan Kumar’s wife, Gayatri Devi (Sneha) whose determined defiance is more effective than all of Rama’s intense and overly dramatic speeches.

The fight scenes are brutal, bloody and in true Boyapati Srinu fashion, no object is unable to be used for impaling, dismemberment or general destruction. I have to admit that there are moments when the fight scenes threaten to be entertaining, but then they degenerate back into formulaic action that is dull because it’s been seen many, many times before.

I wanted to like Vinaya Vidheya Rama because a film this silly should be entertaining, but for every fleeting moment that worked, there were hundreds of others that just didn’t. Apart from Rama, none of the characters are anything other than a brief sketch and to add to the tedium, all of Rama’s brothers (Aryan Rajesh, Ravi Varma and Madhunandan) spend the entire film talking about how amazingly wonderful he is. Vivek Oberoi’s villain says and does the usual things along with his army of ineffectual thugs, and while in general Vivek is fine as a bad guy, the character is so loosely drawn that there is never anything juicy enough for him to really get his teeth into.

Despite all the explosions, fights and general mayhem, Vinaya Vidheya Rama is surprisingly unexciting, made even more tedious by the unrelenting vagueness of the story. It’s a shame because there are the odd moments of light – the four young kids are good at the beginning, and the wardrobe department has done a good job styling Charan for the songs. But at the end of the day it’s not enough and even for fans this one is a tough watch.

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Taxiwaala (2018)

Taxiwaala

Rahul Sankrityan’s Taxiwaala is a supernatural comedy based around a taxi driver’s relationship with his car – which turns out to have a few more extras than he bargained for. The film has plenty of laughs, mixed in with a smattering of uncanny moments and just enough to jump scares to keep it interesting, although it does start to falter a little in the second half. Thankfully Vijay Devarakonda, Madhunandan and Vishnu Oi make an excellent team, helping to keep the film on track as it attempts to veer off down a number of side alleys. Their top-notch performances and a well written story ensure Taxiwaala is entertaining, even if it does end with an overly sentimental finale.

The film starts with a few set-up scenes to introduce the concept of a haunted car and it doesn’t really take off until Shiva (Vijay Devarakonda) arrives at his uncle’s garage in Hyderabad, looking for work. His uncle Babai (Madhunandan) runs the garage along with his apprentice (Vishnu Oi) called Hollywood because of his interest in American films. Babai suggests a number of jobs for Shiva, but since all of these involve major effort for little reward, Shiva struggles to stay in any of them longer than a day. So when an advert for taxi drivers goes up on a billboard near the garage, it seems like the answer to Shiva’s problems. Except that he needs a car… and he doesn’t have any money…

Luckily for Shiva his brother (Ravi Prakash) and sister-in-law (Kalyani) come to his rescue and raise the money he needs. With his limited funds, Shiva doesn’t have much choice, but is overjoyed when a broker finds him a vintage Contessa car at the right price. Even though the owner Raghu Ram (Sijju Menon) seems dodgy, and we already know that the car has given its previous owner some issues, Shiva is ecstatic with his purchase and takes time to fully restore the vintage car before starting work as a taxi driver. Although Shiva does well as a taxi driver, it doesn’t take long for the true nature of his car to make itself known and Shiva has to decide if the risk is worth the reward. It’s not as simple as just giving up either, since Shiva is paying for his sister-in-law’s vital medical treatment now that he is in a position to pay his brother back.

What works really well here is the character of Shiva and his petrol-head fuelled love of his car. It’s easy to understand how he falls heads over heels for the vintage automobile at first sight and why it becomes such an integral part of his life so quickly. His girlfriend Anu even comments that she takes second place to the car, and that is very definitely true. Vijay Devakonda has plenty of charisma and he turns it on full for much of this film, endearing himself to his passengers and ultimately the audience too as he comes to grips with working as a taxi driver and dealing with customers. Vijay has great comedic timing and uses it to good effect throughout the film so that his actions come across as totally spontaneous, which is a hard thing to get right. Madheenandan and Vishnu Oi are also hilarious and writer Saikumar Reddy has done an excellent job with the dialogues which really are laugh-out-loud funny. Adding a more traditional comedy actor can completely change the tone of a film and move the comedy focus away from the action, however here Chammak Chandra enhances the story in his support role without taking anything away from the main leads. Also, a major plus is the fact that his comedy comes through dialogue rather than slapstick and his involvement is kept in context with the main action.

Newcomer Priyanka Jawalkar plays the role of Anu, a taxi passenger who ends up in a relationship with Shiva after he behaves chivalrously when she is very drunk one night. After the initial meeting, Priyanka has very little to do here, the entire romance is pretty much all contained in one song, and she doesn’t have much chemistry with Vijay so it’s hard to say too much about her capabilities. However she’s fine with what she has to work with and it will be interesting to see her in a more central role. Malavika Nair has a little more to do as Sisira Bharadwaj and there is an extended flashback in the second half that explains her story. She still doesn’t have enough screen time to make much of an impact but her performance is competent even if I didn’t quite buy into the reasoning behind her choices. The flashback involves Yamuna as Sisira’s mother, Shijju as her stepfather and Ravi Varma as a paranormal professor who explains the concept of astral projection, all of which means that the flashback is rather too long. While the length means it detracts somewhat from the main story, it does provide a neat explanation for everything that has happened so far and sets up the finale reasonably well.

Overall the film looks good and the special effects are well done, especially those centered on the car. The jump scares are genuinely unexpected and mostly tied in with some comedy which works really well. Jakes Bejoy’s music also fits the mood, particularly the background score, and the songs themselves are reasonably catchy. Sujith Sarang provides excellent cinematography and the action is all well choreographed and suits the characterisation of Shiva. There are no big all out fight scenes, but instead plenty of small action scenes, the most impressive of which require Vijay to act against the car. It’s to his credit that he makes these believable with his reactions. Rekhs and her team (credited for a change!) do a magnificent job ensuring that the subtitles make sense in English, and they have also subtitled the written captions, which are so often forgotten in films. I love the yellow font too, which is so much more visible and easier to read than white.

The only real issues here are the long diversions in the second half to explain the supernatural element and a rather schmaltzy finale which all happens a little too easily for me. For the most part the story moves along well and although there are some obvious plot holes I think that is to be expected when talking about something so unrealistic. The best part of the film is undoubtedly the comedy but with great performances and a well written story, Taxiwaala is definitely another hit for Vijay Devarakonda. It’s clear he’s going places too – last night’s Melbourne show was the first Telugu film in a long time that played to a full cinema and the film had an appreciative reception. This is one definitely worth catching on the big screen to get the full impact of the special effects and really appreciate the comedy.

 

Savyasachi

Savyasachi

I have a theory that Indian screenwriters search medical texts for the most bizarre sounding diseases which they then change out of almost all recognition, blend them together and then use this bizarre hybrid as the plot for a film. That might at least go some way to explaining why Vikram (Naga Chaitanya) is introduced as the surviving half of a ‘vanishing twin’ pregnancy, the inaccurate explanation of which is only one of the fantastical medical diagnoses described in the film. That may not have been a bad move if the idea of a separate parasitic twin living through his brother’s left hand was better explored, but Savyasachi doesn’t seem to know if it’s a romance, a thriller or a comedy about alien hand syndrome, and by the end I was no wiser either.

Naga Chaitanya does his best with a terrible script, Madhavan overacts like crazy and it’s not a good sign when the best characterisations come from Vennela Kishore, Bhumika Chawla (who is excellent as Vikram’s sister) and child actor Dishita Sehgal. The other major problem with Savyasachi is truly terrible subtitles which I would ascribe to using Google Translate except that there are many spelling errors. This makes it even more difficult to work out exactly what is going on, when even the actors don’t appear to have any idea. With so much wrong is there any reason to watch Savyasachi? Well, yes. The songs are good, the flash-back and family scenes in the first half are better realised, and even if Madhavan chews the scenery excessively his exploits as a villain are generally entertaining. So not terrible then and given the general incomprehensibility of the subtitles, probably a better watch if you understand more Telugu than I do.

Vikram is the surviving twin while his brother Aditya was ‘absorbed’ into Vikram during their mother’s ‘vanishing twin’ pregnancy. Aditya still lives on as a few neurones in Vikram’s brain and is able to express himself by independent movement of Vikram’s left hand. All this is described in detail by Vikram’s doctor (Rao Ramesh) and his mother Mahalakshmi (Kausalya) which is just as well as this mishmash of a number of different conditions does need a lot of explanation. However, apart from a habit of slapping buttocks and faces, Aditya doesn’t do much else until Vikram is threatened, when Vikram’s left hand suddenly develops uncanny spatial awareness and super-human reaction speed along with the ability to thrash innumerable villains. So, basically the usual hero ability to fight his way out of any given situation. Vikram even manages a bit of hero-style action himself, beating a group of students during a flashback scene at University, with his left hand tied behind his back. Just in case there was any suggestion that Vikram isn’t just as capable as his intangible twin.

The film starts with a bus crash that causes the death of everyone on board, apart from Vikram, and then promptly ignores this initial mystery for the entire rest of the first half. Instead, writer/director Chandoo Mondeti concentrates on developing a romance between Vikram and businesswoman Chitra (Nidhhi Agerwal), who has employed Vikram’s ad company Artihc to promote her company. Vikram is assisted in making his films by his best friend from school Kittu (Vennela Kishore) and Tenali (Satya) who are aware of Vikram’s ‘vanished’ twin and make allowances for the occasional bizarre behaviour of Vikram’s left hand.

Vikram and Chitra have a history together from their time in college which is shown in a series of flashback scenes. While at college, the two gradually begin a relationship, first as friends, but just as it seems to be developing into something more and Vikram was about to declare his love for Chitra, something happened and he vanished from college, never to be heard from again. Until rocking up to make an ad many years later. Despite this long separation, his sudden reappearance doesn’t generate too much reaction from Chitra, and after accepting Vikram’s rather lame excuses for dropping out of touch, the two rekindle their old romance. There isn’t much chemistry between Vikram and Chitra, but to be fair they don’t have many scenes with just the two of them together, and there is a fraction more sparkage in the college flashbacks. In fact, most of the actual romance happens during M.M. Keeravani’s catchy songs.

The first half also deals with Vikram’s relationship with his sister Siri (Bhumika Chawla) her husband (Bharath Reddy) and daughter Maha (Dishita Sehgal). This part of the film is better, and the family dynamic is well developed as Siri becomes annoyed and objects to Vikram spoiling Maha, allowing her to do whatever she wants, while at the same time appreciating the reasons behind her brother’s affection for her daughter. Bhumika Chawla is excellent as Siri, particularly in later scenes as her character has to deal with a considerable amount of complex emotion.

After all the family background and romance in the first half, the second half of the film totally shifts gear when Vikram returns from a trip to America to find his family has been targeted and his sister in hospital. Suddenly the pace picks up as Vikram struggles to find out who is attacking him, and what has happened to his family. Madhavan is rapidly identified as the villain here, but he plays Arun Raj with such cheerful bonhomie that it’s difficult to take him seriously. Arun also has an oddly weak reason for his behaviour that further undermines his villainous stature, so in the end I felt little investment in the outcome of their struggle. However, Arun does have uncanny ability to be able to find and follow Vikram which is explained by various cloning, cloaking and other electronic wizardry, which at least is slightly more probable than Vikram’s pop-up twin brother’s abilities.

Although the story struggles to keep everything moving forward together, the action sequences work well and there is plenty of energy in the confrontations between Vikram and Arun. While Vikram’s rogue left hand does take over for most of these scenes there is enough variety and challenge to keep them interesting, at least until Arun runs out of disposable henchmen to throw at Vikram. Chaitanya does well to keep his character even vaguely on track, but the uneven mix of comedy, action and paranormal doesn’t blend well, making Vikram appear like a fish out of water for much of the second half. Madhavan’s Arun is too one-dimensional to be anything other than a caricature and his scenery chewing plays into the cartoonish nature of the character. However, Arun is entertaining even if he doesn’t appear particularly villainous and the interactions with his servant (Thagubothu Ramesh) are amusing. On the other hand, Nidhhi Agerwal has little to do and really is just ‘the love interest’ while Vidyullekha Raman and Vennela Kisore play their usual type of characters proficiently and effectively.

I really liked Chandoo Mondeti’s previous film Karthikeya which had a much better mix of action and supernatural, but Savyasachi just doesn’t have a strong enough story and the various side-plots detract too much from the central action. This could have been a better film if the story had stuck to the idea of alien hand syndrome with a better realised villain or a more involved romance rather than trying to add both. This is one probably better watched on DVD or Netflix when you can forward past the slow and confusing set-up and get straight to the action.