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!


Vikramarkudu centres on ASP Vikram Singh Rathore (Ravi Teja) and his attempts to bring rural crimelord Bavuji and his evil brother Titla (Ajay) to justice. Needing to go into hiding, Vikram schemes to have his young daughter left with unknowing duplicate Athili Sathibabu (also Ravi Teja), a conman conned into caring for the child. The now familiar theme of justice being outside of the law is at the fore as even the police cannot rely on the legal system. There is suspense as the bad guys get closer and the two lookalikes cross paths in a series of action packed episodes. SS Rajamouli knows how to get a story up on screen and make it look amazing but he doesn’t have the best material to work with here. Vikramarkudu is a bit less satisfying than it should have been.

The major problem for me is the first section which sets up a very unconvincing love at first sight romance between Sathibabu and Neeru (Anushka Shetty). She acts giggly and flirty and he is sleazy and grabby. I struggle to believe Neeru would be smitten by Sathibabu. I can believe she might fall for him over time, but on sight? It wouldn’t have taken much to come up with a better story for her, but apparently no one could be bothered. Apart from the unfortunate giggling and the attempt to be a minx, Neeru was quite likeable but then she disappears until the end of the film. While it wasn’t much of an acting challenge at first (except maybe for having to gaze lustfully at Ravi Teja) Anushka did at least look like she was having fun in the songs. She got a bit more to work with later in the film, but the heroine was not pivotal to the story.

Ravi Teja is a good actor and created two very distinct characters while playing up their similarities so that while I was never confused, I could believe that the other characters might be. He gave the policeman a serious demeanour that was almost out of place in the mass madness.

The action scenes look great and Ravi Teja is up to the challenge of the scuffling, bruising fights. But most of the story is about Sathibabu whose notion of romance is slapstick sleaze.

I have a fear of Anil Kapoor’s back hair which dates from seeing Janbaaz. Oh, the rolling in the hay scene was so disturbing even without the straw woven into Anil’s furry pelt. I had post traumatic flashbacks when I saw Ravi get his shirt off with no warning.

Brahmanandam and Sathibabu live in a house they had furnished from various stolen items. It was neatly quirky, and might have been better suited to college aged guys but the set designers had fun. Ravi Teja has an upbeat energy which is very effective in the dances and he looks like he enjoys the dreaded comedy scenes. Their conman shtick was mildly amusing and I liked some of their schemes, but the heavy handed and repetitive dialogue especially by Brahmi became annoying. And I just don’t think sleazy puns and groping equates to humour.

There was more to Sathibabu than I initially expected. He was coerced into caring for a little girl (Baby Neha) who was convinced he was her father. I liked the developing affection between Sathibabu and the little girl. It didn’t seem that he was won over because she was cutesy but because he started to appreciate she was a little human being and had her own fears and likes that he could relate to. And from that initial moment of empathy came a protective affection that was endearing. It also meant that he was more invested in helping Vikram and sorting out the villains when the time came.

The bad guys play for cartoon effect but there was an edge of darker violence to some of these scenes. Bavuji is a stock baddie who leers and shouts and does a pretty good mad eye. Ajay as Titla is more striking and not just because of his height and aura of evil. He leads a gang who were possibly involved in the trial run for Magadheera costumes, and is armed with what looks like a kind of blunderbuss and a cross bow.

Ajay has the right amount of menace and silliness and he plays it to the hilt. Munna (Amit Kumar), Bavuji’s son, is flamboyantly bad but opts for a comedic approach which masks his calculating nastiness.

Their crimes include abducting women from the village for sex and killing anyone who stands up to them. Rajamouli doesn’t soften these scenes at all and, while it does make payback more cathartic, it is dark. Mind you, they still know how to party:

The supporting cast of good guys do well with the patchy script. Inspector Mahanti (Rajeev Kanakala), paralysed when they abduct his wife Pramila, is an example of what happens when good men stand by and do nothing.  Yet again I found myself wondering about how a handful of psychos can dominate a population of hundreds. His wife and kids make a strong impression and I cheered and cheered in one of her scenes. Prakash Raj makes a very small appearance as a DCP but gets to use his misty eyed Gaze of Blossomimg Bromance to good effect.  Ruthika is a tough policewoman who is handy in a fight and that is treated as kind of unremarkable which I liked. She just does her job. It didn’t stop the writers inflicting some ‘comedy’ on her though. She is drugged by Brahmi which causes a sound effect of whinnying like a horse and the terrible side effect of fancying Sathibabu. The only good thing I can say is that this song happens:

The MM Keeravani songs are fun and they provided a battlefield between the choreographers and the costume team. There is a pleasing commitment to metallic pants and that makes me happy.

The costumes are a highlight and Ravi Teja’s trousers often make a statement. Anushka seemed to get the more experimental designer but she didn’t seem too fazed. I suppose that is a benefit of knowing you could wear a hessian sack and still look stunning.

There is some excellent Only In Films Medicine I must mention. I bet you didn’t know that a temporary cure for an aneurysm is running cold water over your head.

I struggled with Vikramarkudu at first as I couldn’t see the story going anywhere and I didn’t care less about the lead pair. Once the revenge story started to dominate, the pace picked up and I found the film much more satisfying. There was some tension and characters started to become more fleshed out once the common enemy was in play. While the content and situations are unrealistic, the impact of the dramatic and action oriented scenes was surprisingly strong. By the end, as Ravi Teja made those baddies sorry they had ever been born, I cheered and laughed and occasionally winced. As for the resolution, well I question some of the logic but you know what they say; all’s well that ends well. 3 stars!