Goodachari (2018)

Goodachari is great when it’s good. Sashi Kiran Tikka keeps things flying along, and the film and cast looks amazing. Unfortunately the writing is not as compelling although there are some decent twists along the way.

Satya (Prakash Raj) and Vijay (Ravi Prakash) are on a secret mission that goes horribly wrong. Satya survives, and returns home only to have to tell his colleague’s son that his father will not be returning. Knowing that the kid has no family, Satya takes Gopi in. But then he starts training the boy to forget his previous life and name.

After 174 unsuccessful applications to join Indian intelligence services, grown up Gopi who is now called Arjun (Adivi Sesh) hits the jackpot on number 175. He is summoned to a secret office below a shop, and told he has been shortlisted as a potential agent of the elite Trinetra agency. He is mentored by Damodar (Anish Kuruvilla), mildly threatened by Nadiya (Supriya Yarlagadda), and immediately singled out as the other potential alpha male by Mohammad (Rakesh Varre) and Leena (Madhu Shalini) although she seems more receptive to his presence. Shaam (Vennela Kishore) is kind of the Q of this ensemble, fussing over people messing up his stuff and keeping a beady eye on everyone. Sameera (Sobhita Dhulipala) is Arjun’s neighbour and eventual girlfriend. But something goes horribly wrong and Arjun has to run from his own team and from the real enemy. How will he prove his innocence, and how is he going to live long enough to do that? As they say in all the classic Wikipedia plot summaries, “this forms rest of the story”.

Arjun is driven by emotion and poor impulse control rather than the cool lack of inhibition that makes someone like Bond such an efficient killer. I guess the sentimentality of the character was supposed to make him sympathetic and relatable. But I was left thinking he was just going to get all the good agents killed. The way to get Arjun to focus on a task is to hurt his feelings and make him want to prove you wrong. Adivi Sesh spends an inordinate amount of time welling up in tears as Arjun feels sorry for himself that he isn’t living up to his idealised dad. He rarely questions why and how he could make his own contribution, his sole motivation was to be like a man he barely knew. I kept wondering why someone who was so obviously not completely stable kept getting through the screening. And for an elite intelligence operative, he was as sharp as a bag of hair. A critical incident hinges on interpreting a 4 digit code and this film would have you think it takes a master linguist to do that. I reckon anyone who’s tried to use Outlook might have been up to scratch. I feel that with a bit more thought for the writing and more variation layered into the performance, perhaps a little more moral ambiguity and less self indulgent wallowing, Arjun could have been a great character.

It is always refreshing to see a Telugu film include women who act like adults, had day jobs that you actually saw them do, and who had their own agendas, and generally got things done. Sobhita Dhulipala is stunning to look at as Sameera but her character is more subtle than just a throwaway love interest. Her relationship with Arjun seems a bit convenient initially, but they have some good conversations and grow closer through that mutual understanding.  Supriya Yarlagadda’s Nadiya is a gun as a training officer and makes some hard calls in the field, acting coolly with authority and decision. Madhu Shalini was more of a token girl agent, but she kicks arse in some crucial scenes despite being ditzier than she should be.

Prakash Raj is in Prakash Dad mode here, playing Satya as a fiercely loving parent while still utterly cynical about people and their motivations. And rightly so. Satya’s ability to hide in plain sight while still being connected to his networks was extremely useful. Arjun could learn a thing or ten from Satya about thinking before he leaps. Damodar is Arjun’s workplace mentor and I quite enjoyed the range of exasperated expressions and side eye Anish Kuruvilla brought to the role.

I know the Indian context and history is different and some things will take on a different tone with a local audience. But in Australia it feels like every day there are more and more hateful commentators and media pundits taking potshots at Muslim Australians among other groups. I am weary of it, and struggle to imagine how it feels to be on the receiving end of such unrelenting negativity. So when the head terrorist Rana (Jagapathi Babu) is revealed, I was glad to see a good actor giving a well thought out performance and not just a eyeliner wearing caricature. Rana articulates the question about what made people call him a terrorist when he and Satya were using the same tactics. He also asks Arjun to consider whether he might see things differently if he had not been brainwashed by Satya. They are brief moments and only a couple of lines, but I appreciated seeing a little more inner life to the bad guy as well as the question of perspective.

The direction, editing and visual styling are top notch and the action feels really dynamic. The fights are fast and full of aggression and Adivi Sesh is well up to the action choreo. There is a little too much shooting with total accuracy while looking the other way. It’s a boys own adventure idea of what cool looks like. There are some good spy gadgets and tech that bring a bit of quality and flair to Trinetra. The story is well constructed and there aren’t too many loose ends left. That might be a little bit of a drawback. I feel like this is being positioned as the start of a series and maybe some characters should have been allowed to survive into a potential sequel.

I guessed most of the plot twists and devices well in advance of the big reveal but perhaps I am just gifted like that. I didn’t spot one surprise at all and was thrilled to bits by how that played out. I was hooked the whole way through, and only found my mind wandering when anyone started on about their daddy issues. If you like high adrenalin action with a righteous (but slightly dim) hero, this is the film for you.

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Inji Iddupazhagi

Inji Iddupazhagi-title

Ever since she was a little girl Sweety has been collecting fortune cards from a machine, all of them telling her that happy is beautiful, and goodness and a genuine smile will win the day.

Grown up Sweety (Anushka Shetty) still collects these fortunes, and believes that her value is more than the size of her thighs. Her mother Rajeshwari (Urvashi) wants to see her married off, and blames Sweety’s size for her single status. While Sweety remains resilient under family pressure, and rejects many an unwanted match, she does tire of all the BS. Sweety meets fitness freak Abhi (Arya) and while the pair turn down the proposed match, a friendship develops. Sweety realises she actually has feelings for him, but clueless Abhi chooses skinny model looking do-gooder Simran (Sonal Chauhan) as his girlfriend. Sweety knows she missed her chance, and starts to believe that if she slims down, cute boys will like her. When her friend Jyothi (Pavani Gangireddy) becomes seriously ill from treatment at the dodgy Size Zero clinic, Sweety takes on Satyanand (Prakash Raj), the clinic owner and nominal villain.

Sweety is a fantastic character and I am so happy Anushka took the risk and did this film. I also love that she didn’t go the fat suit route, and probably had to eat like a non-celebrity for months and months to get Sweety’s physique.

All too often the fat chick in films is socially inept, asexual, and a charity case – but Sweety is sexy, funny and confident.  She isn’t desperate to get married and will not pretend to be someone she isn’t just to please some bloke and his mother. She has some good friends, enjoys her work, loves food, and has an eye for a hot guy. She also has a rich fantasy life, a temper, she makes mistakes, and makes amends. I loved that family pressure all about looking better for boys did little to budge Sweety, but when she found her own motivation she was sensible and healthy in the changes in her lifestyle. And she never became a stick insect. I also love that this is a South Indian film that revolves around a woman and there is no revenge or rapeyness in the plot. It’s a really simple, engaging, character driven story and Prakash Kovelamudi and Kanika Dhillon give their great cast the material to bring it to life.

Arya is a bit of a weak link. He is very personable and looks good but I never got any emotional development from Abhi, and Anushka’s more nuanced performance overshadowed him. And also – Abhi is a bit of an idiot. Sonal Chauhan is a good pair for him as she is also adequate without being interesting as Simran.

Abhi did engineer the right of reply for Sweety to give her version of a foxy item, the direct retort to Size Zero Clinic’s skanky advertisement. I wish Anushka was a better dancer, but again I am so happy they just went for it. It isn’t all that long ago that Jayamalini and Jyothilaxmi were shaking it for all it was worth, but the trend towards downsizing female bodies makes Sweety’s sassy dance seem quite startling.

Prakash Raj is more of a sleazy used car salesman than true villain. He makes the most of his big speeches and I did like his dedication to himself as the brand and the brand as himself. Adivi Sesh is suitably puppy-eyed as smitten Shekhar, the nice rich man who falls for Sweety as she is. There are comedy uncles, but they actually more or less serve a purpose. And Master Bharath plays a decidedly not size zero young lad. Rao Ramesh makes a short appearance as Sweety’s dad who died while she was still a child. Impish Mouli Thatha (Gollapudi Maruti Rao) loves his granddaughter and is more likely to feed her a jalebi than make her run a lap of the park. Urvashi is note perfect as Sweety’s grumpy but loving and ultimately supportive mother. You can really see where Sweety gets her backbone from, and understand why they clash.

The film is quite fanciful but stays within my tolerance for whimsy – more like Chungking Express (which gets a name check) than Amelie levels of whimsy. It’s beautifully filmed and has a fairytale air in some scenes. The camera freezes some moments, and then explores the scene layer by layer. There’s a device of cheesy but sincere fortune cookie messages that Sweety writes, a nice extension of her fondness for the positive messages she collected for herself. And there was a nice pay it forward demonstrated with said fortune cookie. If I am being picky I have an issue with the choice of wafer as a stand-in for the fortune cookies as they are what one friend calls “povo wafers” – the cheap ones you get in rubbishy gift hampers. I am not as strongly opposed to the cylindrical wafer as she is, while I agree they’re a bit sad. But I digress.

In lieu of any of the traditional action elements, the film loads up on star cameos and a massive spin class with special effects. The film community gets their lycra on to support Sweety’s campaign against Size Zero. Rana is hilariously Hulk like, flexing as as his avatar goes all Bhallaladeva on his animated foes. Tamannah has her game face on and looks like she is set for days. Other familiar faces included Jiiva, Nagarjuna, Revathy and Kajal Aggarwal. All of this is juxtaposed with dodgy animation and effects and some excellent Prakash Raj scenery chewing. So that replaced the usual car explosions and dismemberings quite nicely.

I missed out on seeing Size Zero on its two (yes two!) shows in Melbourne, but luckily the Tamil version, Inji Iddupazhagi, is easily available online and with English subs. (Thanks SakhiSpeaks for the HeroTalkies tip! And you can read her review here.) I love this movie and hope it reaches a wide and appreciative audience. 4 1/2  stars!

Panjaa

Panjaa’s opening titles are in bold graphic novel style with a 3D effect. Eye catching and intriguing, the confident visuals match a slick modern underworld thriller where characters are not always what they seem and life is lived in shades of grey.

There is nothing really new in the conflict at the heart of the plot, but Vishnuvardhan has tweaked things just a little and saves the film from being too familiar. I saw this in the cinema, without subtitles, when it released. While the basic plot and motivations were clear, I enjoyed seeing it again on a subtitled DVD as some of the characters’ thought processes were more accessible.

Most of the film looks to have been shot on location and it adds a note of authenticity in terms of the buildings, the lighting and the sense of place. I particularly liked the ornate architecture of Kolkata, as well as the lush green of the countryside. The colour palette is subdued and the style is pared back and modern. There is nary a plaid shirt in sight!

Jai (Pawan Kalyan) is the enforcer for Bhagawan (Jackie Shroff). He is a shadowy figure, always a step ahead and coolly efficient in his execution. Jai has a strong moral sense and acts according to his own notion of right and honour. He serves Bhagawan because when his mother and sister were assaulted, Bhagawan gave him justice and a refuge. But when Bhagawan’s son Munna returns from overseas, it is clear that Munna is not the kind of man Jai could tolerate, let alone support. Things escalate as Munna takes full advantage of being his father’s son.  Jai struggles between loyalty and his own code, and the need for more in his life.

Jai also struggles with the ladies. The one he wants makes him shy and tongue tied. The one that wants him is very assertive but he isn’t interested. I’m not convinced Janvi (Anjali Lavania) was necessary to the story, but it was nice to see the bad girl get to talk and think for herself. Unfortunately she ran into the brutal Munna on a bad day so it was shortlived. I like a good skanky item and this is certainly skanky.

Pawan Kalyan is a hero but Jai is almost an anti-hero. He is moral by his own lights but he is a professional killer. He is nice enough but not a good guy as such. He isn’t a dashing romantic hero although women fancy him and he doesn’t really win anything other than his own life. The final scene is ambiguous enough that it could be a vision of the future or a memory of the past so it’s not a resoundingly happy ending. Pawan Kalyan is very good as Jai. He draws the eye in all his scenes, using stillness and silence more than histrionics. His acting range easily spans Jai’s story from laid back comedy to high tension drama.

The casting is excellent. Having said that, I really do not understand the recent fad for Jackie Shroff in South Indian films. He doesn’t bring anything unique to the kind of roles he is playing, but he is adequate as Bhagawan. Munna (Adivi Sesh) is Bhagawan’s son, an overly entitled sadistic nutter. His performance is over the top but Munna needed to be hateful and I was certainly sick of the sight of him! Atul Kulkarni is excellent as rival crook Kulkarni. He conveys an intensity and intelligence that made Kulkarni seem plausible as a successful ‘businessman’. The relationship between Bhagawan, Kulkarni and Jai is revealed over time and the reactions and decisions of the main characters are consistent with what we know about them. The second tier of gangsters is represented by Tanikella Bharani as the slippery Guruvaiah and Sampath Raj as Kulkarni’s right hand, Sampath along with Amit Kumar and others in support. The interactions are well written and fairly restrained so it is possible to believe these guys can function in the real world. There are glimpses of family and other concerns that build a picture of this slice of the underworld.

Sarah-Jane Dias is Sandhya, a tree hugging good girl who turns up to work in Jai’s nursery. Yes. Jai is a complex man and has diversified his investments into a plant nursery he runs with Chotu (Ali). Jai is drawn to Sandhya and she likes him. Their relationship starts with superficial attraction and develops through time and proximity. She has a bit more going on in her life than just waiting for Jai, but she is primarily the love interest. I liked their scenes more on the second viewing as the dialogues helped show her character as smarter than her prancing around in gumboots lead me to think (although I appreciated the work appropriate clothing). Just as things looked promising, Sandhya returns home suddenly to see her sick grandmother.

The timing coincides with Jai’s need to get out of town. The rural setting puts him back in touch with his childhood self. He is looking for love and a home, the things he lost when his family was torn apart. But his past is a threat to himself and anyone close to him so he needs to resolve that while still keeping the promises he made.

The country sojourn introduces more of the excellent support cast including Subbaraju as Sandhya’s brother Ashok and Brahmanandam in amusing form as an inept local cop. I loved that this song is essentially a tirade against the greedy and cowardly policeman Paparayudu, accompanied by uninhibited dancing and some jiggly-bellied tiger men.

Ashok is a protective brother, henpecked yet determined to remain a bachelor, and no match for the smooth townie Jai or for local rowdies. He is frantic when Sandya comes home unannounced as he knows troubles from the past will be stirred up again and he wants to keep her safe.

Subbaraju gets to show off a bit more of his acting range than normal, and when he isn’t beating up baddies he has some fun scenes with the women of the household. Ashok and the rest of the family are vivid characters and very much part of Sandhya’s life.  Back in town, Chotu (Ali) was in trouble and believe it or not, I was sad to see his predicament. Despite these being small roles, the details are nicely drawn and the actors all deliver good performances. That kind of attention and care makes Panjaa quite satisfying viewing.

The comedy is not too intrusive. Pawan Kalyan doesn’t mind playing for laughs and I really enjoyed the Mega Tribute as Jai was persuaded to pose with cut-outs for a photo. Brahmi and Ali are in character roles and their shtick is part of the story so it stays on track. The fight scenes orchestrated by Shyam Kaushal are brutal but not too bloody, and highlight Pawan Kalyan’s strengths. The editing and composition of the action sequences is top notch. Everything flows quite well and there is a consistent look and feel to the whole film.

There are some flaws. The romance between Jai and Sandhya is a bit laboured and she does far too much marvelling at blades of grass and cooing at flowers. The first half takes a while to go anywhere. ‘Paparayadu’ excepted, Pawan Kalyan looked a bit lacklustre in the dancing but the choreography wasn’t that exciting either. The soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja is average and the song picturisations are quite predictable but don’t detract from the film. Overall, the positives greatly outweigh these niggles.

Panjaa is a well made thriller with good performances and a cohesive story. It’s not dazzling or wildly original, but I never found it dull. It’s a quality effort and well worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. 3 ½ stars!