Aditya 369

Aditya 369-Poster

When I heard Singeetham Srinivasa Rao’s Aditya 369 described as ‘historical science fiction’ I was immediately curious.  It is less about science or history and more about the outfits and derring-do, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The film is on Youtube without subtitles and there is a diverting but not very helpful plot summary on Wiki should you wish to swot before taking the journey. But no one in the film prepares, so please do not feel obliged.

Aditya 369-time machine

The plot goes something like this. Professor Ramdas (Tinnu Anand) is an eccentric inventor, but apparently does well enough for himself that he can support a large house and workshop and keep his daughter Hema (Mohini) in stylish polyester outfits. His life’s work is a time machine called Aditya 369. The professor takes a low key approach to security and intellectual property, allowing just about anyone to come and have a look at the machine.

Aditya 369-Amrish Puri

Raja Verma (Amrish Puri) is a crook with a particular interest in historical regalia and diamonds. He arranges to steal a golfball sized diamond from the local museum and replace it with a fake. Now, if you call one guard with obsessive rule observance a diligent approach to security, then this museum was world class. Young Kishore (Master Tarun) is accidentally locked in,  witnesses the theft and has to be rescued when he tries to outrun the thieves.

Aditya 369-Balakrishna and Master Tarun

He confides in his saviour Krishna Kumar (Balakrishna) who decides to investigate.  Kishore decides to take his fellow plucky orphans on a spin in the time machine, is rescued by Krishna,  and Krishna and Hema are sent back to the past where they rescue Silk Smitha and meet Sri Krishna Deva Rayalu (also Balakrishna) and learn about the Golfball Diamond.

You know how in lots of time travel fiction the first rule is don’t change anything and don’t use modern stuff and cause ruptures in the fabric of time? When I saw the two emergency suitcases stashed in the time machine I assumed historically appropriate costumes. Well, at least the inhabitants of 1526 got an eyeful of fine 80s fashions. And listened to a boombox.

I disliked Krishna once he had landed back in time. In the presence of poets and scholars he had only ever read about, he couldn’t help but stick his oar in and go for a bit of one-upmanship. It was really tiresome and just made no sense. The dialogue seemed to go along the lines of “As you know Jim, I have an electric shaver” “Wow! Please, unknown man who says he is from another time but based on those clothes may be a nutter, tell us what to do”.

Following that sojourn in the glorious past, the crew is catapulted into the future where they nearly die from radiation before being given their own shiny space suits. To be fair to Krishna and his lax approach to historical contamination, the future people didn’t seem to have any qualms about revealing significant details that characters would not yet have experienced. But while I could understand the future people knowing their history,  I expected a bit more curiosity from the people in that past. The final scenes bring hero, villain, professor and know-all child into conflict as things almost literally spin out of control as Krishna has to rescue his friends and save the world.

Balakrishna offers his usual high energy performance. He could never be accused of slacking off, except maybe in the dances where he often relies on a slow disco strut interspersed with vigorous flailing. Krishna doesn’t have any hidden depths so what you see is what you get. The character tried my patience and I found myself looking at the sets and backgrounds rather than caring about what was happening to the people. There were a couple of sickening stunts involving horses so that further tarnished the heroics.

Aditya 369-Mohini

Mohini is adequate as Hema given that for most of the film she is just part of Krishna’s baggage.

Aditya 369-walk like an Egyptian

Amrish Puri does his usual villain thing with flair. Raja Verma is a bit obsessed with things that are original and authentic which may explain his Faux-gyptian style robe.  The diamond was supposed to link all the times together but that part of the plot seemed like an afterthought.

There are comedy uncles but no one else gets much of a look in with Balakrishna in a double role so that is another positive for the film. Suthivelu plays a hapless policeman who gets dragged along on the time travels, and Brahmi makes a small appearance as a scientist.

Aditya 369-henchmen

I really enjoyed Raja Verma’s gang of purple shirted thugs who carried guns in violin cases, and then played violins as background music in an interrogation scene. I think that is the first time I’ve heard the violence/violins pun in an Indian film. Tinnu Anand seems to have his own personal wind machine in all his scenes, maybe to stop him overheating from overacting.  Annapurna is Krishna’s mum although she doesn’t get to do much apart from marvel at his awesomeness.

Illayaraja’s background score is lovely. The theme over the opening credits is lush and a little eery. The songs are melodic although mostly a bit random. I did like the dance off between Silk Smitha and Mohini to settle the matter of Krishna’s honour. Well, I did until of course Krishna decided he could play all the instruments AND do the dancing.

The production design has a retro charm that sometimes made me nostalgic for TV series like Lost in Space. Terminator 2 was released in the same year and the difference in technical capability is enormous.

The “ye olden days” segment was what I would expect from any Telugu film, but the futuristic episode was more remarkable for the efforts of the wardrobe department to really feature antennas and silver lame.

Apart from that, as noted earlier, the costumes were mostly 80s mainstream fashion – lots of high-waisted denim, synthetic fabrics and big hair. And the women didn’t fare much better.

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy and Telugu films are a great place to find them. See this for the curiosity value of the Telugu mass hero formula applied to a different genre and for the low tech effects that have their own appeal. 3 stars!

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Kondaveeti Donga

One of the indicators of an excellent masala film is when I could pick holes in it but just don’t want to. Kondaveeti Donga sees Chiranjeevi teaming up again with director A Kodandarami Reddy in a story by Yandamoori Veerendranath and the result is glorious. It’s so good I want to share every little detail and yet give nothing away so you can enjoy it as it happens. The first 15 minutes is pure breathless insanity and then the film really takes off.

Raja (Chiranjeevi) is a graduate returning to his village home. That might explain why the subtitles say ‘coz. He’s so modern and citified. Raja is an orphan, adopted by village strongman Satyanarayana Kaikala. The local people funded his education, and he is back to repay them by working to make their lives better. He finds a mysterious tiger reservation has annexed the prime farming land, and the villagers are all in debt to bigwig Rao Gopal Rao and his creepy son Narasimham (Mohan Babu). Raja tries to fight for their rights in the courts but fails. He so disappoints the villagers that one of them drops dead in the court room, adding to the guilt trip. Raja decides he must deliver justice since the law won’t, even though the illiterate villagers were clearly swindled. Inspired by an old story his adoptive father used to tell, Raja becomes the Kondaveeti Donga!

Raja declaims some cracking dialogues and bowls the ladies and bad guys over at every turn. It is a brilliant role for Chiru as it needs his swagger and charisma to make the larger than life Kondaveeti Donga come to life and he makes the most of the less action driven scenes. He wears a nice sheer face mask which fails to disguise him at all, charging around the countryside on his white horse and accompanied by his trusty dog.

There are excellent fight scenes, one including tree dwelling ninjas, tigermen and a man with very long metal arms, and a great sequence on a speeding train.

There is romance, dancing and eccentric wardrobe as the ladies live out their fantasies in songs with the obliging Raja. He is a decent bloke who genuinely cares about his adoptive family and friends. Even as he surrendered to the police, he took time to give his dog and horse a little goodbye cuddle. Awwwww.  And they deserve a hug.

The dog is particularly useful as he not only disguises himself as the Kondaveeti Donga on horseback, he also saves his friend the horse from near certain death. There is only one horse stunt that made me cover my eyes so extra points for that too.

In case Chiru as Zorro isn’t enough to tempt you (what are you – nuts?!?) there is so much more.

Amrish Puri as an evil mystic with an excellent lair. The symbolism is quite eclectic. The beak on that peacock drawbridge must have been heavily reinforced as it hits the ground with a satisfying thunk. The lair is one of those that can only be reached by water, a long arduous trek or ride, or maybe a brisk walk from the office. There are some geographical inconsistencies that put me in mind of Howl’s Moving Castle. Gadra also has a crocodile pit AND cage full of bloodthirsty cheetahs, and still finds time for his day job.

Sharada as a vengeful woman with exacting standards in machete purchasing. I love Sharada’s intensity and she has an elegance that shines through.  Like Chiru, she can inject a bit of quality into the drama and shenanigans in even the silliest script. Sambhavi is strong, resourceful and driven by a thirst for revenge. She has an iron will that even Gadra cannot overcome and she does an excellent ‘death stare’ that is almost on par with Amrish Puri.

Vijayashanti plays an undercover policewoman who poses as a snake charmer to uncover illegal activities. Srilekha is tough, has tunnel vision when it comes to the law, and is not afraid of conflict. Vijayashanti is great in this kind of role, being pretty and feisty and often very funny. Srilekha doesn’t quite join the dots and see that she is out to arrest Raja, perhaps being too distracted by his charm and laid back dance moves. Srilekha changes, most noticeably when she swaps her snug police uniform for pretty sarees. Ah, the influence of True Love!

Radha  is lovely as her sister Srikanya. Now Srikanya is a gynaecologist according to the subtitles, but she seems to perform general bullet removal surgery as well as tracking down the reason for so many villagers dying of anaemia (hint – they were literally paying a debt with their own blood). In many respects she is the opposite of her sister; reserved, soft-hearted and girly. But Srikanya is intelligent and independent in her career, so she isn’t just a piece of fluff. She falls instantly and hard for the thief, seeing him as a saviour.

Thanks to a bindi with extra stickum, she works out Raja is the mysterious Kondaveeti Donga. She keeps his secret even from her family as she believes in his cause, and despite being the softer of the sisters she holds her ground under threat. When medical fakery is needed, Srikanya is cool in a crisis.

Despite being an unashamedly masala potboiler, there is some nice depth to the ‘good’ characters. Some key supporting characters find forgiveness and a kind of peace. There is a love triangle between Raja, Srilekha and Srikanya. Most of the romancing is confined to the songs which are usually a depiction of the girls’ fantasies.  The drama develops between the two ladies, with one oblivious and one heartbroken and all too aware, the romance adding another tension to their already opposing views.  Their close sibling bond and strong personalities informed their behaviour not just the love for an irresistible hero.

Nagendra Babu plays an enigmatic loner who wanders the wood in search of unseen justice (that’s what he says). Brahmanandam has a small role and Allu Ramalingaiah plays the crooked subordinate to the bad guys. Most of the humour comes from Chiru and Vijayashanti and the naff rapey jokes are left to Mohan Babu and the bad guys. There are lots of small details and symbols scattered through the film and I really enjoyed that extra dimension.

And there were some subtitles that kept me thinking. Often thinking WTF? but thinking nonetheless.

Ilayaraja’s soundtrack is excellent. There is a heroic ‘look out evil-doers’ anthem, some romantic duets and a couple of upbeat sparkly costumed numbers. Something for all occasions!

 

This film has everything I want in masala entertainment. The casting is perfect with Chiru at his mass best, the story rattles along, the action is crazy, and the songs are highly entertaining. 5 stars!

Ajooba (1991)

Ajooba is always near the top of my list of favourite So Bad It’s Good films. Before we get started, I must share with you the very enticing blurb from the back of my DVD (click on it to enlarge the image):

Irresistible!

What better way to start some Christmas entertainment than with a mysterious star in the East?

And some wise men.

And a baby boy.

Surely this outfit just screams ‘Christmas Bauble’ (or according to Beth, ‘Mughal beach ball’).

Ajooba is a masala film masquerading as a magical sword and sandal romp. It is replete with a masked hero, a devil worshipping usurper, a good magician and his feisty daughter, sea monsters and so much more, made with enthusiasm rather than skill. While it may not be the story of Christmas, it is a miracle that Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor agreed to grace this film by Shashi Kapoor. I think it shows how much they loved him. Ajooba was quite a venture; expensive and a Russian co-production, so it seems like something Shashi felt strongly about making.

Once upon a time in Baharistan, the Sultan (Shammi Kapoor) and his wife (Ariadna Shengelaya) had everything they could want … except a son. Finally, after some magical intervention to protect the unborn child, an heir was born. Hurrah! The people rejoiced with a fun Laxmikant-Pyarelal number. There’s lots of colour and movement including a display of dazzling (ahem) magic, and a dance-off between a kind of skanky snakey dance and some Kathak-ish guys.

Amir Khan (Saeed Jaffrey) is a good magician. I use ‘good’ in the sense of not using his powers for evil, not as an endorsement of his skills.

The most impressive thing about his elephant trick is that the elephant looks like it is wearing dark glasses (perhaps it knew this film was not a great career move and was in disguise).

The evil Vizier (Amrish Puri) attacks the toy boat of the Sultan and Malika. The royal family is scattered, each believing they are alone in the world. Malika is blind, the Sultan loses his memory, and their baby is presumed drowned.

Rescued by a dolphin, raised by a kindly blacksmith, unaware of his real parentage, Ali (Amitabh Bachchan) undergoes years and years and years of training to become the hero who can free his people. Well, those people who are still left after 30 odd years of brutal oppression. Maybe it was the costume that held him up, especially creating a cunning disguise for both Ajooba and horse.

Why something as silly as a tin mask will be so detailed and finished with little flourishes when so much else is left half-baked is part of the charm. It doesn’t save the idea from being daft, but it is fun to look at. There is a serious design flaw. Did you spot it?

With the Vizier in power, life is tough for the simple folk of Baharistan. They still have their picturesque outfits but Amrish Puri and his brother-in-law Shah Rukh (Dalip Tahil) pillage and plunder as the mood seizes them.

With all of his evil deeds to draw on I expected the Vizier to have better material for his catch phrase, but he sticks to ‘Shaitan Zindabad!’. It is clear that he is bad and so are all his associates.

The evil shtick gets a little monotonous despite Amrish Puri’s eyeballs giving it their all.

When Amir Khan is imprisoned, he sends messages back to his family in Hind by talking to birds. Luckily his daughter Rukhsana (Dimple Kapadia) can communicate with animals so she sets off on a rescue mission, leaving her mother (Sushma Seth) behind. Rukhsana works as a puppeteer in the bazaar and I liked that she had a plan to both support herself and give a cover story as she was searching for her dad.

Baharistan is not the place for a single lady, and it doesn’t take long before she needs rescuing. Repeated rescuing. Ajooba becomes somewhat tired of this damsel in distress, but she sees through his flimsy disguise (amazing!) and of course that means true love.

Rishi Kapoor is Hassan, the local Romeo who falls for the Princess Henna (Sonam). That’s about as much character development as you get. I liked Rishi and Amitabh together, and they have a fun song as the romantic Hassan tries to get repressed Ali to talk about love.

But I lost interest as Rishi detours into drag and sleazy antics and Sonam does little more than this:

The romances play out as you would expect, and Dimple and Amitabh make the more interesting couple (though that is not saying much). Ali does wrestle a tiger to rescue Rukhsana and Amir Khan from the dungeons so that added a level of commitment.

Of course in a fairytale there are trials and tribulations before good can triumph and that means special effects! If only someone had told Shashi Kapoor. The visual effects are quite poor and while it is part of the cheesy fun, I do wish they had done a little better. Beth did ask why a flying gondola was employed in one scene and I think it is because the maximum passenger load for a flying carpet would have been exceeded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there are some odd lapses and inconsistencies. When Ali’s sister needs to give him an urgent message, she wends her way through dim corridors and finally  a concealed passage which opens into Ali’s secret training ground. It’s an open field next door that anyone could see. And when Ali and Hassan are chained up with Malika and the blacksmith awaiting Certain Death they are rescued by a sea monster…or are they? Four people in chains, three sets of chains are cut. What about your foster dad Ali????

I recognised so many faces in the background. Memsaab as usual provides a more rigorous acknowledgement of the supporting artists so you should go read her post. But just think – Dara Singh, Sushma Seth, Rajendranath, Narendranath, Tej Sapru, Bob Christo just to name a few!  The locations and sets are delightful, and enhance the fantasy and poetic flavour. The art direction is batty at times, but this is a pleasure to watch.

The streets of Baharistan are always full of colourful locals ready for a backflip or bellydance. The fight scenes are OK without being amazing, flying carpets or no. But there is a brilliant episode in a temple with Amitabh swinging from bell to bell to dishoom Bob Christo and rescue Shammi – it is epic and silly and I love it. The final battle gets everyone to Baharistan and there are reunions and expositions all over the place.

I absolutely love that in the climax fight, once people realise Ajooba is Ali is the long lost prince, everything pauses briefly so the onlookers can have a chat amongst themselves about how he is related to everyone and what his title is. Never mind the big glowing sword, or the evil sorcerer – is he your cousin? And is he married?

Ajooba’s heart is pure masala gold and I have enormous affection for it. 4 stars for entertainment alone!

Merry Christmas!