Tirugu Leni Manishi (1981)

Tirugu Leni Manishi poster

The early eighties gave us so much in India cinema – psychedelic titles, crazy costumes, extreme décor and disco to name but a few – and they all turn up in Thirugu Leni Manishi! Chiranjeevi shares the limelight here with none other than N.T. Rama Rao and as far as I can find out seems to be the only film where they appeared together. Providing excellent support are Rati Agnihoti, Jayalakshmi and Jaggayya, with the unexpected pleasure of Bob Christo who pops up towards the end of the film.

Some of those amazing titles.

And almost immediately afterwards Chiru is introduced as up and coming singing sensation Kishore Kumar.

Oh yes!

Naturally Padma (Jayalakshmi) is seduced by Kishore’s smooth skills with a guitar and his excellent prancing prowess. Padma is the daughter of multimillionaire Sasibhushan Rao (Jaggayya) so it’s pretty much guaranteed that the romance is going to be an uphill battle. Raja (N.T. Rama Rao) is Sasibhushan’s son and in a nice contrast to Chiru’s tight trousers, Raja has a collection of very wide flares teamed with natty multi-coloured shirts, as befitting a successful lawyer and young man about the town. I’m not sure why they decided to portray Raja as a newly qualified young lawyer as he does look more his real age for most of the film, although no more so than watching an ageing Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson playing a younger hero in Hollywood, but as he has plenty of energy and dashes around saving everyone in sight his youthful on-screen age doesn’t really matter.

Sasibhushan has no intention of allowing his daughter to be married to a penniless singer and instead arranges Padma’s marriage to the son of one of his rich friends. Padma follows standard filmi heroine behaviour and decides to commit suicide as that’s much easier than standing up to her father or even running away with Kishore. Well, it is the Eighties after all, and she does make sure to call her brother and explain in precise detail exactly what she is doing.

Raja turns up in the nick of time to save Padma and decides to get her married to Kishore despite his father’s orders. At the same time, Raja keeps running into a con man (Allu Ramalingaiah) and his niece Seeta (Rati Agnihoti).To begin with Rama tries to turn Seeta over to the police, but when he realises she’s a good person struggling to makes ends meet as she looks after her dead sister’s children, he has a change of heart and gives her a job instead.

Naturally the two get to dance together so that Raja can have his love story too.

Things turn darker once Raja discovers his father was involved with a criminal gang of smugglers and even worse when he finds out that Kishore has been corrupted by the same gang. In an attempt to live up to Sasibhushan’s standards for his daughter, Kishore became involved with the gang as a way to make a lot of money quickly but soon realises the error of his ways. As Sashibhushan is murdered and Kishore’s son kidnapped things quickly come to a head leading to Raja and Kishore teaming up to overcome the gang.

N.T.Rama Rao is the man who no-one can oppose of the title. He is successful in court, in love and in rehabilitating Ramudu and Seeta so naturally it falls to him to deal with the smuggling gang once he discovers their activities. While N.T Rama Rao is the out and out hero, Chiranjeevi has a more shaded and probably the more interesting role to play. His singer is initially carefree and very much the man in love, but as he struggles to win over Padma’s father, his pride and determination to give her the life she has been used to lead to his downfall. Chiru excels as a man under pressure especially when his child is kidnapped to force him to comply with the smuggler’s orders. Although most of the film is relatively light-hearted, the scenes where Kishore struggles with his conscience are much darker and a tribute to his acting skills to be able to pull such a character off without derailing the story.

The cast are all excellent and K. Raghavendra Rao ensures that each plays to their strengths. N.T Rama Rao is charming and debonair as Raja but does get the chance to beat up the bad guys and indulge in a few disguises too, while Chiranjeevi starts off very cool and groovy but changes into a conscientious husband and father – at least until his secret dealing catch up with him and he has to fight to win back his son. Jayalakshmi doesn’t have too much to do after she falls in love with Kishore, but Seeta gets a chance to dress up and fight against the smugglers, and does a good job of it too. Chiru and N.T.Rama Rao still get the most dazzling costumes though!

The film is amazingly colourful and cinematographer K.S. Prakash goes for some interesting angles and unusual framing to keep everything looking sharp too. The decor in Sasibhushan’s house is incredibly lavish, but much more to my taste is a totally awesome lamp on Raja’s desk, and I love the Village People poster on the wall of Kishore’s living room . Naturally the smuggling gang also have style, and their hideout features a number of gigantic masks on the wall, while their criminal mastermind (Satyanarayana) has two large china cat statues on either side of his chair. The giant birdcage where they stow Kishore’s son for safe keeping is perhaps just a tad over the top though!

Thirugu Leni Manishi has a more complex storyline than I was expecting and is a lot more fun too. Chiranjeevi is in his element as a flamboyant singer and his shift to family man and gang member is beautifully done, while N. T. Rama Rao is a solid and righteous hero who knows how to make things right. It’s fantastic to see the two together and the film is definitely well worth watching for that alone although the costumes, décor and screenplay are awesome added bonuses. Drama, action, comedy, Chiru and NTR all add up to an excellent film and one that shouldn’t be missed. 4 stars.

Gudachari No. 1 (1983)

Goodachari No 1-title

 

Special agent Kumar (who has a liking for statement lamps) is sent to investigate a Top Secret thing. He is killed, takes a very long time to die (from being beaten, shot, stabbed and overacting), and his wife is shocked into a coma after hiding the secret evidence.

His bestie Vijay (Chiranjeevi), AKA Number 1, is sent to investigate and arrives in a cloud of ladies. A gang of rowdies with evil laughs and nice manners try to abduct him en route to town. Chiru is a nattily dressed beige blur as he kicks the bejesus out of them. Then they politely submit to questioning, only to be mown down by gunfire. “Oh My Goodness” says Vijay. “WTF?” said I.

The things he eventually looks in to include, but are not limited to: a deadly pickle factory, Silk Smitha, poison tipped gloves, a fake priest, golden Cybermen in fancy Ye Olden Robot outfits, and a super villain with gold teeth. “WTF?” said I.

Of course Vijay needs to have his wits and his fists of fury ever at the ready. But he also needs love. He meets Latha (Radhika) at the airport as she is in mid tantrum. She seems unimpressed so he tells her he is a professional killer and to keep her mouth shut, oh and to keep the flower he gave her. Then sits next to her on the flight and tells her he is actually an international hijacker. But it becomes evident that Vijay is a lonely character who may not know how to interact with people who are not dead, trying to kill him, or trying to shag him. He doesn’t even have a comedy sidekick of his own. He eventually declares his affection, although Latha demurs. So he says if I can throw this grape into your mouth it proves you love me. Subtitles could probably only make that scene worse. “No really, WTF?” said I.

Chiranjeevi is the obvious casting choice for a film that needs swag and a gleefully uninhibited enthusiasm for the arts of Dance and Mayhem. Vijay is formidable in everything but his romantic relationships, and Kodi Ramakrishna just kept throwing more and more crazy stuff into the mix. There is an abundance of pompous speeches, gadgetry, freecycled Bond scenes, silly disguises, and more, and Chiru takes it all in stride. Every time I thought surely they will run out of stuff, there was more stuff. And more Chiru.

That is not just a voyeuristic moment for viewers to perve at Chiranjeevi in booty shorts. No. That was A Clue that he may have yogic abilities that could come in handy if he were to be, oh let’s say, buried alive. It’s important to always be checking him out watching attentively.

Latha (Radhika) is an interesting character in some respects but Radhika could, and maybe did, play this kind of role in her sleep. Latha is largely sidelined in favour of robots and explosions, and the good old values of 1983 that insist a girl should apologise for causing a man to sexually harass her. A bit further down the track she actually enjoys the opportunity to get her mitts on Disguised Vijay even as she complains about the beastly foreigner who has taken up residence. But she is smart, she has the comedy sidekick (another punishment?) so she is ahead of the hero on that score, and she was investigating the self-proclaimed international criminal herself. She is also the villain’s niece (maybe) but she doesn’t seem to let that get in the way, and indeed uses that relationship to help smuggle Vijay in to the Pickle Plant of Pestilence.

Vijay is sent to stay in hideously disturbing room 111 at Hotel 7, and (Laila) Silk Smitha “introduces” herself. I did like his booby trapped suitcase and was kind of hoping it contained a snake. To summarise the scene, they get busy. But before she can, er, finish him off Vijay’s contact (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) interrupts and Laila runs off to get ready for her next attempt.

But alas, Laila has but a brief moment in the limelight. Maybe it was payback for the completely unnecessary animal testing.

Govind Rao (Rao Gopal Rao) is the baddy, running his top secret chemical warfare facility in the guise of his pickle empire. The façade on the factory looks about as real as any of the trappings of his business.  But he does have serious pickle sales graphs and other business related stuff. Also – he is the father of the comedy sidekick/halfwit so the man had his very own, very real, problems.

One of his problems is a cranky boss. Supreme comes and goes standing up in a little boat, across a misty subterranean lake, rather like the Phantom of the Opera’s bookmaker. Where Govind Rao is organised and a bit unimaginative, Supreme really embraces the overly elaborate scheme, the signature look, and psychedelic lighting. And he certainly ignored key points on the Evil Overlord checklist.

The comedy is often sexist or racist, and quite distasteful but seems to occur only in short bursts. There is the way Vijay torments the woman he loves and thinks it is hilarious, the racial stereotypes, and a really bad bird related comedy interlude with a guy whose headdress contains traumatised and maybe dead budgies. It’s a relief to get back to the serious business of “which Bond film was that lifted from?” with a bit of “WTF?”

Goodachari No 1-Bambi and Thumper

Answer – It’s Bambi and Thumper! From Diamonds are Forever! And there is a coffin stunt from You Only Live Twice.

The gadgetry is quite something, and ranges from a simple dart in a wire loop made from an old coat-hanger, to full body robot costumes, and lots of coloured smoke bombs. They tried. They really really tried.

Chakravarthy’s songs are nothing outstanding but they do provide a less violent form of hijinks, and Chiranjeevi just goes for it.

You know you’re onto a winner when the DVD menu has Chiru in disguises. Goodachari No. 1 is uneven, and I’d fast forward through the alleged comedy on a rewatch, but what it lacks in sense it make up for with energy. See it for early peak Chiru and for the gleeful “that’ll do” approach to a DIY spy caper. 3 stars!

Babu Bangaram

babu-bangaram-poster

 

Maruthi has loaded the formulaic Babu Bangaram with lots of references and jokes that rely on Vekatesh’s earlier films and persona. But there are also some more fun and interesting supporting characters than you often get in a mass movie, and the silliness has a certain charm. And Venkatesh is just so likeable on screen that he gets away with it.

The film opens with a flashback. Ye Olden Venkatesh allows some whinging “Europeans” in a diverting selection of bad wigs to eat at his table, despite them being unwelcome in the country. He allows a pregnant woman to have surgery before himself despite being mid heart attack. So he dies a saint, revered as a truly unselfish man. Flash forward and Krishna (Venkatesh) is a policeman, with his grandfather’s soft heart as well as his looks. Indeed one of his subordinates calls him “the pity police”.

Babu-Bangaram-Krishna

After a hard day of beating up rowdies and then visiting them in hospital, Krishna is hanging out with his colleagues. He sees a woman in distress and is smitten by her integrity and her beauty, possibly in that order. Sailu (Nayanthara) is trying to keep her family together and financially viable in the absence of her father who is in hiding from crooked MLA Puchappa (Posani Krishna Murali) and his associate Mallesh Yadav (Sampath Raj). Krishna infiltrates her family in order to help solve her problem and to help himself find a wife.

Sailu sees through the machinations of her would be husband (Prudhviraj) and confronts him, making it clear that she is not interested nor is she stupid. She also says that Krishna has been helping her because of who he is and not because of an ulterior motive. Then she grabs Krishna by the wrist and drags him away. You go, girl! She’s a smart young woman, and her moments of annoyance, fear and anger are all quite proportionate to the stupidity and aggression of the men threatening her. When she finds that Krishna may not what seems she is equally firm in kicking him to the curb until he can prove his integrity.

babu-bangaram-smitten

The film is most enjoyable when Krishna is off balance and trying to woo Sailu while also doing his job and being taunted by his friends. Once the cat and mouse game with the baddies becomes the focus in the second half, the story is more prosaic and by the numbers.

The Daggubati Dance Curse does manifest in Venkatesh, although I think it has hit peak (nadir?) with Rana. But in the final fight scene, is Maruthi really saying there are few things more frightening than Venkatesh in full dance mode? Brave. And maybe true. But funny nonetheless.

One of the things I always like about Venkatesh is that he works well in an ensemble, and seems quite generous in allowing the rest of the team to take some of the limelight. He has a nice rapport with Nayanthara and while the romance between Krishna and Sailu wasn’t one of sizzling chemistry, they seemed happy and compatible. The film revolves around Venkatesh and his film legacy and his is the titular Golden Boy. There are quotes and references to his earlier films that had the audience whooping and cheering, and even some I could catch. For example, Krishna constantly indicates his dismay and regret with a lilting “Ayyo Ayyo Ayayoooo”. There is also song dedicated to Venkatesh in which Venkatesh pays tribute to himself in a dance off with an energetic hijra. The action scenes are tailored to Krishna’s preference for minimal violence, which is also a kindly approach for a hero past his spring chicken years. More than anything, Venkatesh brings both solid acting and a sense of fun to the proceedings.

Nayanthara delivers a nicely judged performance. Sailu is annoyed by Krishna stalking her, but she starts to see that he may have his uses. Like carrying her groceries. Also she observes how he treats other people and that is a good indication he is a generous and kind man. Sailu had a filmi dilemma but a realistic approach to problem solving, and didn’t just rush into peril. I also liked that while Krishna believed he could give her a better life, she actually quite liked her life and just wanted the gang to leave her, her dad, and her sisters alone. She was articulate about boundaries and what was unacceptable behaviour. She was only a little bit too glam, and I liked her sensible but pretty wardrobe that mixed Indian and Western styles. Her pretend cello playing is abysmal though.

How many times have you wondered why the hero’s friends don’t tell him he’s delusional or suggest he may need to rethink his plans? Giridhar and Vennela Kishore are delightful as Krishna’s colleagues. Giridhar’s expressions are priceless and Vennela Kishore delivers his wry one-liners with a sense of glee, eyeballing Krishna to see how much more he could get away with. They still go along for the ride, but sometimes it seems they do that for their own amusement as much as because they are contractually obliged to be supportive.

All the usual suspects turn up in supporting roles. Despite the film having humour woven into the plot, comedy uncle Brahmi wedged himself into proceedings in a mercifully brief appearance as a dodgy magician. Sampath Raj and Posani Krishna Murali are over the top and yet I liked having criminals who had small, real world, achievable objectives. I don’t think the onsite violinists and guitarists were necessary, but all evil masterminds must have their Thing and it’s hard to build a good lair in a family home. Sampath Raj’s gang also has the best and most diverse collection of bad haircuts I’ve seen in ages.  And Brahmaji maintained an impressive level of anger at everything all the time.

Ghibran’s soundtrack leans a bit too much to the cheesy ballads, but he ticks all the required elements off. The song picturisations are also cheesy, sometimes in a good way. But the more up tempo songs work a bit better as they provide a different texture and contrast to the rest of the film.

This screening had subtitles, which makes life easier for me. And the subtitle team may also have been doing their bit for the drama. In one action scene Krishna lays into his foes, leaving them dripping with what they assume is blood. But it isn’t – he’s such a softie!- it’s pomegranate juice, as he had been thumping them with a bag of fruit. Not content with that the subs explained it as “promo granite”. Now that would have hurt!

This isn’t a great movie, but it’s more entertaining and a bit smarter in some aspects than I was expecting, especially in the first half. And for a mass action romance it is quite restrained in depictions of violence, and I laughed out loud a few times. It’s all nicely packaged for the Venkatesh fans, but even if you aren’t hardcore target audience you could do worse than watch this for a timepass.