Mechanic Alludu

There is nothing new in B. Gopal’s film, but we all know that Chiranjeevi and ANR are the drawcard.

Parvathi (Shubha) gives birth to a baby boy in the home of a stranger, Mahalakshmi (Sharada). She’s on the run from goon and soon afterwards she takes little Ravi and leaves town. Many years later Ravi (Chiranjeevi) ends up working for Jagannatham (Akkineni Nageshwara Rao) at his garage. He also pesters Jagannatham’s daughter Chitti (Vijayashanti) and of course, despite his appalling ideas of what constitutes “wooing”, she falls for him too. But there can be no mass film without birth secrets and fateful coincidence! Parvathi comes for the engagement and shock horror, she is Jagannatham’s estranged sister. And Ravi’s father is Bad News. It turns out that Ravi’s father Narayana framed Jagannatham for murder. So Ravi and Chitti both impersonate illegitimate children of Narayana and move into the big house to get their revenge. How will true love win? Was Brahmi necessary? Will Sharada come back at the end of the film to make a very important decision? Will Ravi reunite the good bits of the family?

It’s a good thing I could have answered all of those questions without seeing the film as I watched this on Youtube without subtitles. Subtlety and nuance would have been quite trying. And a big sarcastic thank you to people who add huge ugly watermarks to their video uploads.

Chiru is in his mass element here, but he doesn’t phone it in. He gets an excellent and surprisingly low key entrance via a bank of TV screens, but that quickly turns into Ravi being thrown through a window and into an adjoining body building gym for the fight part deux. He’s an atypical hero in some ways because the bad guys actually land a few punches. After being sacked for destroying his employer’s TV shop, Ravi saves Jagnnatham from a runaway car and scores himself a new job.

Chiru’s chemistry with ANR is delightful. It’s not often you see the Megastar consciously making room for his co-stars, or a co-star that takes it right up to the Megastar. Jagannatham spots Ravi moping, draped across his car bonnet, and decides to coach him in the ways of being a man – specifically drinking, dancing and romancing.

In the ebullient Guruva Guruva, you can see Chiru watching ANR, one of the original Telugu dancing heroes, and make small changes to his own timing and movement to keep in synch with his sprightly 70 year old partner. It’s always a bit disconcerting seeing fine actors with nothing much to do, but both deliver good solid performances despite the lacklustre material. Their scenes when Jagannatham refuses to accept Ravi have a bit of cheese and a bit of real pathos, as though neither could help themselves and had to add some quality emoting.

Poor Vijayashanti. Ravi’s approach to Chitti was of the treat them mean and they’ll find you irresistible school of thought. The same school that turned out generations of sex pests. Luckily Ravi is coached in the ways of over acting by Jagannatham. Although since Chitti was only written into the film to be his True Love and dance partner when ANR wasn’t available, did it make a real difference? Chitti does fight back in doomed attempts to free herself of Ravi’s presence, and those scenes at least give Vijayshanti something to do other than squeal and/or giggle. Once Chitti succumbs to Ravi’s advances, she is allowed into songs. She comes into her own for the dances although there she has to battle the wardrobe department.

I enjoyed the song picturisations a lot. They really play up to the Megastar image, as well as giving Chiru a range of choreographic and costume styles to showcase his charms. And he did solve the vexing question of how to manage many costume changes efficiently by having his backing dancers tear layer after layer of clothing off him.

The action scenes are varied. The intro fight incorporated a wide range of gym apparatus. I liked the longwinded rickshaw chase. Ravi fights on and off and under the rickshaw as the baddies keep coming and show how bad they are by not respecting a ma in mid cardiac arrest. Or maybe the quarry scene which kept me wondering “who, apart from antlions, buries themselves under a mound of gravel and waits for their prey to stroll by?” The comedy fight to impress Chitti was less delightful. I did kind of like the bit where Ravi throws Babji (Brahmi) on to a passing car to cause an accident. That’s a whole lot of confidence and a cavalier attitude to your friends on display right there. And I hope it hurt Brahmi as much as having to watch his shenanigans hurt me.

Apart from the usual comedy uncles (Ali is the least annoying), the supporting actors are underutilised. I got my hopes up when I saw Sharada in the opening scenes but she disappears until almost the end. She does play an important part in the final conflict but it wasn’t a satisfying role. Shubha is more present but also mostly silent. Satyanarayana and Kota Srinivasa Rao are the baddies, one calculative and one more bumbling.

See this for ANR with Chiru, and the songs. Everything else is OK but not amazing. 3 ½ stars!

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Idi Katha Kaadu (1979)

K Balachander’s 1979 movie is a remake of his own film, Avargal. Jayasudha and Kamal Hassan star and Chiranjeevi plays an important supporting role. It’s a sensitive and even handed look at relationships and standing up for yourself. The film is on YouTube without subtitles so bear with me as I have done my best to interpret what was going on.

Suhasini (Jayasudha) and Bharani (Sarath Babu) fall in love through a montage of the arts – he plays flute and she dances. They have a nice bond, he is laid back and she is very playful. But Bharani leaves town for work and he never replies to her letters. Sugunakar Rao (Chiranjeevi) moves in on Suhasini. He is superficially charming but once they are married he is controlling and abusive. In due course she leaves him and gets a divorce. He is clearly bitter but she leaves town to start her new life with their child. She finds an office job and makes new friends. Her coworker Janardhan/Johnny (Kamal Hassan) is particularly kind and considerate. He’s a ventriloquist so that set some alarm bells off because…just because. But Bharani is still on her mind. And now, he is just across the way as the apartment Johnny helps her find is right near his place. There is definite interest on both sides but she is more cautious and has a child now, and he lacks any sense of urgency and he has his friend Gayatri (Saritha) to consider too. And then Sugunakar Rao is back in the picture as Suhasini’s boss. He wants to reconcile and seems to have reformed. Suhasini has to decide what to do with her life.

I really enjoyed watching Jayasudha’s performance and Suhasini as a character. And on a very shallow note, her print sarees are wonderful too. She’s a lively young woman with a passion for dance and music, but she’s quite happy to get married sensibly because that’s what you do. When Sugunakar turns out to be a total arsehole, she does her best to tolerate him. But when he pushes her too far, she pushes back. In one scene she fantasises about stabbing him in the groin with his darts, and she does tell him to his face what she thinks of his behaviour. When she moves back to Chennai she seems to be accepted and liked in her new circles. Having a child isn’t a barrier to her getting a job and she makes the most of her new start. I got the impression Suhasini is not completely open about her situation but she certainly isn’t hanging on to her past. People, especially women, help each other in both big and small ways. Suhasini acquires a mysterious new maid (Leelavathi), actually her mother-in-law who had never met her.

Chiranjeevi is impressive as the horrible Sugunakar Rao. I think Chiru got on the bad side of the wardrobe team because those pants…He is charming but only as long as he gets his own way. He criticises Suhasini constantly and threatens her, smiling as he throws darts at her head or snarling as he tells her to give up dancing. One thing I always appreciate in these negative roles that Chiru took in his early career is that he doesn’t hold back on showing the full range of emotions, no matter how unlikeable or ugly. He is a fine dramatic actor under all the Megastar trappings. His mother (Leelavathi) finds out from a servant that the marriage was over and that Suhasini and their son were in another city. I couldn’t work out how he managed to keep everyone in the dark but I think he might have told her Suhasini was dead. Anyway, despite the filmi tradition that demands a Ma must support her boy, she is firmly in Team Suhasini and keeps working secretly for her daughter-in-law. That is how bad Sugunakar Rao is. He recognises mild and indecisive Bharani as a threat so he plants a seed that Bharani and Gayatri should marry. He belittles Johnny as he doesn’t compute the nice poor guy could be a rival. When he tries to ingratiate himself with Suhasini again he is almost believable as he clucks over her health and sends her fresh fruits. Almost.

Johnny (Kamal Hassan) has taken a shine to Suhasini too, although she only seems to have eyes for Bharani. Personally I’d pick the one who didn’t have a ventriloqusist dummy as his housemate. But Johnny is sweet and does things to make Suhasini happy without expecting any repayment – he finds her a flat, gets her movie tickets to a house full show, helps with work. He can’t articulate his feelings so he uses Junior to talk about his love. Of course, Suhasini treats it as a joke rather than a heartfelt confession. He’s well liked at work but a lonely soul underneath it all. Kamal Hassan isn’t challenged by the character except that the ventriloquism shtick calls on his physicality and control as he manipulates the doll while appearing to be oblivious to Junior’s shenanigans.

That weird clown song is completely unnecessary but when you have Kamal Hassan I suppose you’d be mad not to. And it lets him work off some energy that might have lead to overacting. His farewell scene with Suhasini was also unintentionally funny as he ran beside her train faster and for much longer than seemed possible, speechifying all the while.

Leelavathi and Sarath Babu are both good in their roles. But Bharani is so mild and understanding to the point of not seeming to care that he doesn’t give Suhasini any confidence and he kind of fades compared to Chiru and Kamal Hassan. Leelavathi’s Ma is an interesting woman who is prepared to believe evidence rather than continue to idolise her son. She makes decisions that are about how she wants to live her life and what she thinks is important. She’s a crier, but she gets things done. And she is the one to finally free Suhasini from her connection to her son.

Balachander uses some camera gimmicks and the ping pong analogy, and some shots are a little too composed to be natural, but generally the style of storytelling is low key and credible. Even the final comeuppance. Although I wish I understood the symbolism of the lion mask and the Mona Lisa. Oh well.

See this for some early career Megastar, a pared back and heartfelt performance from Kamal Hassan and a lovely role for Jayasudha. 4 stars!

The Gentleman (1994)

Bhatt’s remake of the Tamil film Gentleman had the opportunity to be excellent. Unfortunately despite having all the necessary ingredients – a solid central idea, an AR Rahman soundtrack ready for Anu Malik to put his name to, and of course Chiru! – it never quite hits the mark.

A note on the print quality. And by “note” I mean rant. It doesn’t seem to matter which VCD or DVD I tried, the quality is so awful so you may as well watch a dodgy YouTube copy. I never found subtitles for this so that wasn’t a factor. Nobody who owns the movie seems to care if it’s watchable. I ended up taking screencaps from Youtube because my disc had a strange pixellation along the edges of the picture.

Chiranjeevi is Vijay, a small business owner and gentleman thief. He steals from the rich to build a school for the poor, all explained in a tragic backstory flashback. Chiru is excellent and quite restrained, unless he is in a comedy disguise when all bets are off. How much do I love the bit where he rips off a grey moustache only to reveal his own moustache underneath? Gold.

I really liked his characterisation and his dramatic range got a workout as Vijay experiences both the highs and the lowest of lows. The action scenes are on a grand scale and Chiru gets to throw himself around. He even has to do a bit of home surgery on himself. The dubbing artist for Chiru (I think it was Shakti Singh) is pretty good but I always seem to struggle with hearing another voice come out of a familiar face. Since there were no subtitles, and I understand more Hindi than Telugu (still not much) it should have been easier but it just sounds Wrong. Chiranjeevi did his own dubbing for fights and crying scenes so it was both familiar and a bit jarring to hear. And there was a very good opportunity for a rousing “Bastards!” that never happened, and you know how much I look forward to that. Especially when Paresh Rawal is playing one of the bastards in question. The cat and mouse with the police never quite hits high suspense. Vijay’s elaborate schemes and disguises always fail but for some reason the police always fail to capitalise on his mistakes. Even when they know about the Significant Ring.

The styling for the songs is largely standard filmi 90s hideousness but I did like seeing Chiru work his way through all the dressy-uppy options. From European prince to ye olden warrior to biker aerobics gear to a cross between a pharaonic headdress and a doo-rag, he made it his own.

Of course all the ladies love Vijay and while none of the female characters contribute much, the threat of romance does make it easier to fit the songs into the movie. And allows for an extra number featuring Roja. Most of the songs were lifted from the original soundtrack so while they look terribly dated they still sound quite good. The one song Anu Malik actually contributed (by nicking it from Haddaway), “What is Love?” is terrible and yet it is hard to stop watching no matter what your ears are telling you.

The female characters get the rough end of the pineapple. From honka-honka comedy horns when Roshni (Juhi Chawla) and Babli (Heera Rajagopal) hugged (because boobs), to writing that aspires to be tissue thin, and a costume department out for some kind of vengeance on Heera, it is a mess. Juhi spends approximately 83% of the film grimacing in the background as Roshni makes eyes at Vijay and hates anyone who appears to get in her way. There is no chemistry between her and Chiranjeevi, so the few scenes of Roshni’s jealous rage seemed silly rather than anything else.

I am pretty sure Juhi only signed on to be in Roop Suhana Lagta Hain because that is her moment to shine.

Heera Rajagopal plays a character who is dangerously stupid, a bit of a kleptomaniac, and extremely shrill. Only Babli could find herself in an attempted rape scenario by being lured into a ball pit. Yes. I know. And she was wearing heels when she went in. It is really hard not to victim blame when a character has absolutely no ability to learn from experience and apply those learnings to future situations. She still didn’t deserve the whole “be a decent girl like Roshni who is always covered up and in the kitchen” speech. But she moved on straight into a song fantasy so I assume no lasting harm was done to her self-esteem.

Paresh Rawal and Deepak Tijori play the two police most likely to catch the elusive Vijay. There are no surprises in either performance, but they largely avoided going over the top on the comedy. I like Paresh Rawal more as a villain than as an angry but honest cop, I have to say. It felt like a waste of his abilities but I appreciated the intensity he brought to the confrontation.

The tone wanders from slapstick to deep tragedy and grief, and while the actors seem to have a handle on what they are doing I can’t say the same for the direction. Rather than give Vijay’s backstory as things unfolded, the film ground to a halt while we found out what had happened to his mother and brother and why he became a thief. Then back to a long and talky court scene as Vijay attempted to show that society and greedy rich people were to blame for his crimes before a jump to 6 years later.

Of course this is one for the Chiranjeevi fans, but it is not a bad film. Just an uneven one. 3 ½ stars! (Points off for badly written female characters, points on for the songs, points off again for trying to pass the songs off as Anu Malik’s)