Lady James Bond (1980)

There is very little written about this film. I can’t say I’m entirely surprised nobody wants this to grace their filmography. You may be delighted with the prospect of another Silk Smitha starring film, or perhaps just glad I watched it so you don’t have to. Check out this song!

That really is amazing. The hideous styling distracts from the lewd choreo which distracts from the hideous styling. It’s ingenious.

(You know, Chiru would have rocked that outfit. Just saying.) And while everyone is distracted, cat stroking villain Supreme’s Henchman 1 launches a kidnapping attempt!

The Professor has a folder of Important Research that is always in The Briefcase. It feels like everyone in the film is after The Briefcase at some stage. Luckily the government assigns Lady James Bond (Silk Smitha) to protect him. His daughter Indu’s boyfriend Kapil (Kapil Dev but not that Kapil Dev) is blackmailed into stealing The Briefcase. Apparently this is very bad for the country. Kapil lives in the equivalent of a lighthouse with a very long spiral staircase up to his lounge room, quite challenging for poor Indu trying to make a dramatic entrance and confront her deceitful fella. He admits to the theft, she pulls a gun, they struggle and she is both shot and falls out of a window. Lady J drops by to suss out the situation but Kapil sends her away.

And then – a blackface song.

Sadly for Lady J the baddies see right through her disguise and sadly for us we have to witness this at all. A rooftop fight shows off her latest horrible outfit complete with neoprene leg warmers AND arm warmers. She is chased, beaten, then maced. And the baddies run off. These people have no idea she still has half a movie to go and they are not yet safe. She is criticised by her commanding officer for being hopeless, either at her job or at disguises, I don’t know which. Either could be valid.

Undeterred by her lousy luck with disguises, 001 Lady James Bond pretends to be a food vendor and ends up drinking with Henchman 2. Finally an explanation for the ubiquitous black socks in skimpily clad dance numbers – it’s where she hides her pills! They spike each other’s drinks and this causes another terrible song. Lady James Bond recovers first, takes a hit of her special smelling salts and ransacks the house, finding The Briefcase. H2 seems to keep a hockey playing gang on retainer, or maybe they were just opportunistic thugs who play hockey in between assaulting women. Anyway, she has another epic fight on her hands as she runs the kilometres and kilometres to get from his house to the end of the driveway.

Lots of things happen but there doesn’t seem to be much to connect them all. There is a skanky item girl waiting for Nagendra in the lighthouse but just as the horror of that starts to settle, policemen are being garrotted and the director is under attack. Lucky for him Lady J doesn’t hold a grudge. I think she might resuscitate her boss by electrocuting herself on a desk lamp and passing the current through her hand to his body. That’s commitment. But the baddies are still after The Briefcase, which now has a new file in it. And Lady J has so much more high kicking and back flipping to do.

She rescues Nagendra from the gang, only to then be captured by “tribals”. Of course they strip off her snazzy purple jumpsuit and kit her out wearing the skin of a teddy bear, just for the sake of another skanky dance number. And then they tie her to a tree and leave her. There’s a theme with not finishing things off. People just leave Lady J and expect her not to come after them.

She wanders through the wilderness, again, and suddenly someone releases the hounds. She is taken to Supreme’s secret hideaway, more like a high school adventure camp or low budget theme park. Lady James Bond blows everything up, Suthivelu turns out to be both smart and useful, almost everybody else dies, and the baddies are taken away. But I still have no idea what they were up to.

So many men in this film “accidentally” kill the woman they say they love. And cry their teeny selfish hearts out about it. I’m not confident anyone in the film knows how to confirm people are actually dead either as they seem very reluctant to consider trying any form of treatment. But what goes around comes around, so…

Silk Smitha is actually pretty good. Despite the near constant gyno-cam and detour into sleaze at any and every opportunity, she is fun as the top secret agent. She is pleasant and professional with her charges, but can switch to a cold eyed rage when she is taking on the evil doers. She wears some hideous clothes, but as a skanky item specialist that wouldn’t have worried her. And the fancy agent gadgets were a triumph of imagination over budget and science. She uses her transmitter detecting boots to find a secret phone in a tree and uses another spy gadget aka a shirt button to disguise her voice. I think Silk carried on the legacy of ladies like Jyotilaxmi very well indeed. And all her snake dance appearances may have held her in good stead with Lady J’s trademark rolling away from trouble move.

My other favourite thing about the film was the prevalence of photo mural walls. Every house had at least one.

The excellent 4DK has written a much more thoughtful analysis of Lady James Bond.

Since this is, at least in English, almost undocumented I haven’t put names to many of the faces in the film. Feel free to leave a comment if you would like someone’s film legacy blighted by including their appearance in this.

It’s a film that goes beyond So Bad It’s Good and dives into Almost Endearingly Awful. I can mostly overlook the sleaze of the times and appreciate Silk doing her thing and Lady James Bond triumphing over the men, despite the men, without the men. Maybe 1 star for effort, 2 ½ stars for WTFery and entertainment. If you’d like to share your thoughts, just speak into the flowers!

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Govinda Govinda

Sri Devi is the main reason to watch Ram Gopal Varma’s film. She is wonderful as the plucky and caring Naveena, drawn into a mysterious plot involving religious nutters, dark rituals, and a dodgy taxi driver with anger management issues.

I watched this without subtitles and didn’t have too much difficulty following the plot, but wish I had been able to understand more of the conversations. Maybe things would have seemed more cohesive if I got the “as you know, Naveena” exposition. Or perhaps not.

The film opens with a religious back story to explain the significance of Venkateswara and the Tirumala Venkateswara temple at Tirupathi. And then the RGV factor kicks in and you can safely forget doctrine and logic as you know it. In the present day, an evil tantric commissions Paresh (Paresh Rawal) to steal Venkateswara’s crown from the temple. The relic combined with some human sacrifice will give the tantric ultimate power or something. Naveena (Sridevi) is a Telugu woman living in Bangkok. She returns to India to fetch her grandmother and take her back to Bangkok so they can live together. Seenu (Nagarjuna) is the taxi driver that picks her up from the station and takes her downtown. Seenu’s father, the temple security guard, is implicated in the theft, and little Babu (Master Anilraj), who Seenu calls Boss, is the only witness who can identify the real criminals. When Seenu and Babu go to Bangkok trying to clear the dad’s name, the kid wanders off and ends up on TV as a missing child. Naveena sees him and comes to the rescue, and is reunited with Seenu. Their lives are entwined on a level neither realises. Eventually all the ducks get in a fairly clumsy row, and it is time for Seenu and Naveena to try and thwart the tantric and save the world. It’s lucky for them that Vishnu had been sneakily keeping an eye on them all along.

The film is most alive when Sridevi is on screen. Naveena does a little of the scream-and-run heroine shtick but is largely sensible, thinks first, and tries to do things for herself even if it pushes her out of her comfort zone. Her outfits are a little…odd. I’ve never been a fan of the pedal pusher, and am on the fence when it comes to onesies. It’s hardly the worst character wardrobe Sridevi had to contend with. Perhaps Naveena was just veeeeery fashion forward, or maybe she was soft hearted and didn’t want Seenu to cop all the bad denim. There are some parallels with Kshana Kshanam although the story isn’t as strong. Naveena still has enough range as a character that Sridevi has something to work with. Whether she is being a clueless tourist or running for her life, she makes that moment feel real and with a sense of consequence.

Her cheeky expressions are an excellent distraction from the spectacle of Nag “dancing”, and the comedy is a good fit for her. Rewatching the movie to screencap for this review was so sad. Sridevi was well cast, had a decent and age appropriate costar, and a director who knew she was pure gold. Watching this did cheer me up a bit after reading so many Hindi-centric reviews of her career and best films. I firmly believe she did most of her best work in the South and if people have only seen her Hindi films, they’re missing out.

Nagarjuna is fine as Seenu. He’s probably the 90s hero I have seen the least of, so I don’t have a lot to compare this performance to. [Note: I hate the much vaunted Geethanjali with the fire of a thousand suns. Do not recommend it. Do. Not.] He is likeable as Seenu, lairising around with his highrise mullet, dressed in loud shirts and acid wash. He’s a good hearted guy even if he might be slightly dodgy when it comes to making a buck. Seenu is very close to his family, and seems proud of his father while not wanting to follow in his footsteps. The story is all over the pace and Seenu’s character is pretty flimsy and Nagarjuna does well to make him so engaging. His confusion and determination were equally believable, even when the situations were not. Some of his scenes with Sridevi are lovely as Seenu starts to realise his feelings, and he seemed to have a warm rapport with Master Anilraj who played Babu. His dancing style mostly consists of energetic walking with occasional bursts of pointing at things or people. But he kicks arse in the action sequences.

Paresh Rawal and Kota Srinivasa Rao are the main thieves, augmenting their gang with some dodgy foreigners. The extravagantly bewigged and made-up Dhir is the evil tantric, with a hint of depressed poodle in his styling. They’re all as horrible as you would expect, and overact like there will be no scenery to chew tomorrow. Kallu Chidambaram is an evil looking red herring. Annapurna plays Seenu’s mother and as you would expect, they’re quite sweet and natural with each other. Child actor Anilraj has no dialogue and that may be why I liked him so much.

As I have come to expect from RGV, the background score is loud and percussion driven. It works well to build a sense of urgency in some scenes but in others it is like someone rattling a tin full of buttons. And the Raj-Koti songs are forgettable, apart from the ungainly choreo and peak 90s Fashion and the obligatory item by Silk Smitha. I did like the way the film signals it belongs in a place and time. Characters listen to songs from movies of the day, there are signals that the audience would be immediately familiar with. So while there are exotic foreign locations, other than the sleazy girly bar we don’t do the rounds of tourist attractions. It’s quite grounded and a little bit grubby.

I’ve tried not to spoil the plot too much as there are some nifty set pieces, a few minor surprises along the way, and quite a ripping yarn if you just go with it. When RGV is good, he’s good. And when Sridevi is good she’s brilliant. 4 slightly teary eyed and sentimental stars!

Khaidi No 786

 

What a way to kick off Megabirthday2017!

Vijaya Bapineedu’s film opens with married woman Radha (Bhanupriya) going on a journey that clearly makes her sad, which cuts to a defiant Gopi (Chiranjeevi) under interrogation at the police station. Gopi is taken to the office and something makes him so mad he actually flips a table. Then he beats everyone up, has a few choice words for the key players, and gets back into his cell. The film then moves to a long flashback, explaining who Gopi is and how he came to be in the lock-up.

Radha is the daughter of local bigwig and furry suited villain Surya Chandra Rao (Kota Srinivasa Rao). One day Gopi refuses to let her car pass his cart, and she swears vengeance. Clearly the only way this can end is in True Love.

Chiranjeevi and Bhanupriya have good chemistry, and that is tested through a long series of clashes that Radha never really wins. She goes to learn music from Gopi with the intent of punishing him for blocking the road. She storms off insulting everyone, so Gopi goes to teach her a lesson…by lassoing her car then forcing her to dance in what might be a choreographed rape threat. So she tries to run over him and kills his harmonium. So he beats her car up, egged on by the children she almost ran over too. She slaps a kid, and that is Just Too Much. But when she frames Gopi for rape, she gets the whip hand. Literally.

In turn he whips a marriage chain out of nowhere and marries her very much against her will, and as payback. Despite their relationship being adversarial at the start, Radha gives as good as she gets, at least verbally. Eventually Gopi weakens, and finally Radha has her way with him. And Radha’s song fantasies are the worst dressed by far, so there is perhaps an element of payback. At the jail she steals a few moments with him and OMG his smouldering glance is enough to trigger a hideous hat-fest of a song. Love it! She is also the one who initiates the physical relationship, so I felt that they achieved a healthier balance in their dynamic over time.

But Radha’s dad sets up a thug to kill Gopi, and after the attempt fails Asirayya (Mohan Babu) convinces Surya Chandra Rao to kill the henchman and set Gopi up for the murder.  Just as well Gopi is a one man justice seeking machine with a very bad temper!

Chiru gets to show off his athleticism in the fight scenes, throwing himself and his opponents around with verve. I like that Chiru remembers to act while fighting, so Gopi’s motivation and level of fury is always apparent. The action scenes cover a lot of ground and use lots of props, a very entertaining combination. My favourite fight was with the That Guy who wore boots so fancy I was not surprised Chiru would fight him.

There is minimal romance in the dramatic scenes, but plenty of emotion. I liked Gopi’s relationship with his family as the guys seemed affectionate and supportive of each other. But when he was angry – helpfully indicated by scenes of crashing waves – look out!

Bhanupriya is excellent as potentially unlikeable Radha. She was never beaten into submission but came around to the realisation that her dad wasn’t all that while Gopi was rather fine. Radha seemed comfortable making her own decisions, and was resolute when telling her creepy dad that Gopi was her only family and to leave her be. She remained strong through Gopi’s incarceration, even though clearly stressed and saddened by events. When his grandmother (Annapoorna) is killed, Radha is the one who colludes with Silk Smitha to get him to the funeral to light the pyre. The wardrobe department had a go at her in the songs, but she looks beautiful and elegant in her sarees. And when she faces off with her enemies, I definitely got the feeling Gopi was not the only tough nut in the family.

Silk Smitha is great as a good bad girl with an inexplicable thing for Satyanarayana Kaikala and a resourceful approach to life. I mean…of all the men in this film who I might want to get naked, he is not one. In one scene Radha is seeing a lawyer and I don’t know what he says but she starts seeing flashes of Silk which turns into this hideous song where she dances for the baddies and fondles a lot of fish.

The song is also a cover for Gopi’s family to get into villain HQ, although Asirayya sees through the unfortunate blackface disguises. And that is not even the silliest thing that happens.

The support actors generally have a reason for their existence. Satyanarayana Kaikala is funny and avuncular, Nutan Prasad and Allu Ramalingaiah are there for comedic shenanigans and heart. They even have a nice little “I’m Spartacus!” scene in an attempt to buy Gopi some time. Kota Srinivasa Rao chews the scenery and Mohan Babu is slimy and opportunistic. But you know, crocodiles aren’t that fussy about their food.

This is a highly entertaining and a perfect vehicle for Chiru and for Bhanupriya. There’s little you couldn’t predict but a few things you might not expect. And while there is a bit of clueless comedy, there is more collaboration and support when it counts. And crocodiles. 4 stars!