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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Bharat Ane Nenu

Koratala Siva and Mahesh Babu team up for this smart political thriller. It’s a good looking film with a fairly solid story, but you’ll need to turn your logic-meter off, or even inside out, at times. And not just for the gravity defying action scenes.

Bharat (Mahesh) is a perennial student in a London populated by white people with bizarre accents. He is on his 5th university degree, and has no immediate plans to stop studying. He is smart and curious, but might lack a bit of focus or motivation. Called home after the sudden death of his politician father (R Sarathkumar), Bharat is inveigled into taking up the apparently hereditary role of CM by his dad’s friend and colleague Varadarajulu (Prakash Raj). But while Bharat may be clueless about local Andhra Pradesh issues, he’s very rules driven and task focussed and likes to act decisively. He will bring back the FEAR, RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY (caps courtesy of the subtitles team) that he thinks society needs. And that sets him on a collision course with pretty much everyone in politics.

There are some odd inconsistencies in Bharat’s logic at times and it felt like there was an often unacknowledged conflict or contradiction in the film between what he stood for and what he did. Bharat left home to go live with friends in the UK when he was just a kid. He stayed away for years, but he still remembers his mother telling him stories about duty and doing the right thing (underscored by her death when he broke a promise so….). He seemed happy to follow his own whims while abroad and had no firm plans. However Hyderabad traffic sets him ablaze with indignation. He’s a true believer, fighting to see his vision brought to life, and at odds with the career politicians who feather their own nests. A benevolent dictator is still a dictator so I found it interesting that apparently I was supposed to see this as democratic representation of the will of the people. He was never elected, just chosen first by calculating party men and then by public acclaim. And the film shows that acclaim can turn very quickly to scorn. I really did like that in what could have been a clichéd scene of people coming to the Hero to rid their village of a problem, he turned the tables and asked why they didn’t save themselves. It’s a tired trope that needs to be retired or examined, and having Bharat say he would support people but they had to get off their butts and do something to help themselves was excellent. He sees a girl at a bus stop every morning and has no qualms about using state resources to get her number, but he does ask for her consent at key junctures so there is that. He asks why the roads have to be closed for his ministerial convoy but again, no issue with taking over an entire restaurant so he can have a coffee date with Vasumathi. There’s a bit of “don’t do as I do, do as I say” in Bharat.

Mahesh is convincing as the driven reformer who wants to remind people of the rule of law, and he can carry off the grand speeches. Bharat starts out using his intelligence and will, but at a point his awesome fighting skillz surface. It’s fitting that at the moment he went from protagonist to Hero, he was surrounded by swirling movie tickets just like the paper thrown by a cinema audience to greet a hero’s entrance. The action scenes are highly stylised, relying on Mahesh’s ability to stare down the camera while sauntering past wearing a baddie as a backpack. I laughed loudly and alone at that visual! Koratala Siva knows exactly what he is doing with the mass tropes and with his actor. I don’t think there is anything in the role that challenged Mahesh’s abilities but he gives a committed and smartly layered performance. For those who rely on me for other insights about layering, yes he wears t-shirts and even flashes his knees. I suspect in one scene that he might have had two white t-shirts stitched together to avoid any hint of transparency. But it’s modern, minimal layer Mahesh in terms of wardrobe.

Kiara Advani is Vassu, the object of the CM’s affections. While Vasumathi is interchangeable with just about every other newbie Telugu film heroine, she is vaguely intelligent and has a life. She obviously likes Bharat, but is nervous because of his position and just because she’s a middle class girl. Her giving him a stick on moustache was a stroke of genius. Seeing Bharat happily at one with the crowds on their low key dates because of his dodgy mo was very funny. Unfortunately after a promising start, Vassu loses all agency as soon as men start on about their own honour. I’m neither here nor there as far as Kiara Advani is concerned. She is fine but there’s so little to the character that I couldn’t say she brought anything unique to the role either. Her outfits were boho student in daily life but the songs are where the costume department run amok.

The Devi Sri Prasad soundtrack is full of tracks that sound like other tracks, and the lyrics are loaded with dubious English rhyming nonsense. Perhaps I am being harsh and Vasumathi likes to be called “my lovely harmonica”! Mahesh’s prime dancing days are a thing of the past, I think, so the choreography was largely of the walking and pointing variety. The big set number Vachadayyo Saami is a standout mostly for the colour and spectacle (which includes the aforementioned knees).

The supporting ensemble is full of competent actors, well cast, and most with a bit of depth or development to their characters. Prakash Raj is excellent as the avuncular Varadarajulu, completely believable as the long time friend and frenemy. Anish Kuruvilla, house favourite occasional director/That Guy, plays a slightly slimy but not unlikeable Chief Secretary caught between the party and the CM. He gets to give his appalled expression a good workout, along with a bit of side eye. Brahmaji is the CMs assistant and like most people dragged along in Bharat’s wake he alternates between flustered and tickled pink at the goings on. Another favourite That Guy, Ajay, has a small but sensible role too. And I was very pleased to see good old Mukhtar (Mukhtar Khan) was not forgotten after one pivotal and quite brutal scene. Bharat might be swept away by the public but the continuity and attention to detail and people was there, as befits his character and this film.

If you like the idea of a well-acted, well directed, and more violent story somewhat along the lines of Mr Smith Goes to Washington but with dodgy subtitles do see Bharat Ane Nenu!

Pelli Choopulu (2016)

 

PelliChoopulu-posterI loved Pelli Choopulu (or #pellichoopulu as it is also known). Writer-Director Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam has an ear for dialogue and a sharp eye for people and their quirks. It’s a funny, feel good, movie with a little dash of realism, and packed with great characters. And – it had subtitles!

Prashanth, with his family and friends, goes to meet a prospective bride. After an idli related mishap on the way he asks for somewhere to change into a clean shirt when he arrives. Prashanth, Chitra, and a little boy there because this is a family friendly rom-com, get locked in her room. While they wait for a carpenter to come and break them out, they decide to have the chat they need to have. Initially awkward, they warm up and talk about their relationships and life goals. Chitra feels that Prashanth should follow his passion for cooking and not just drift along. He doesn’t really understand her drive. They have a frank conversation interspersed with laughter and good natured jokes at each other’s expense. Things turn awkward again when it turns out Prashanth’s dad got the address wrong, and everyone has to shuffle off to the right meetings. But at the very least, a friendship has begun. When Chitra needed a cook for her food truck, and Prashanth needed a business to impress his intended father-in-law, working together was a no-brainer. Then the question was – will they or won’t they?

I liked the sensible conversations between Chitra and Prashanth as well as the more playful scenes. She could easily outgun him in a battle of wits, but gave him his fair dues. The dowry discussion was interesting. Prashanth saw a substantial dowry as a way he could relieve his father’s worries and avoid a life where, based on his work experiences to date, he would most likely fail. Chitra was dismissive of his motives saying he was taking the easy way, and Prashanth agreed but saw nothing wrong with that. He found himself engaged, pending running a successful business, to a rich girl with a slightly unhinged father (Anish Kuruvilla). Richa and her dad took almost no interest in him as a person beyond his horoscope, and it was clear that he wouldn’t have voting rights in any decisions. Prashanth tried not to be offended by their behaviour, but the effort was visible. Would the lure of dowry win? Would he and Chitra realise that while they’re both imperfect they are perfect for each other?

Ritu Varma’s Chitra is feminine but practical, assertive but not rude. She is an articulate, educated girl who knows what she wants and that she is worth it. Chitra was hurt by a previous boyfriend, Vikram, but more because he effectively ran away without the courtesy of a face to face break up. Chitra also felt that her dad didn’t appreciate her as he wanted a son. But she didn’t let these things scar her. She got her MBA, she had a plan to make some money, and wanted to move to Australia. She was prepared to listen to her feelings, trust her gut, and go ahead with her business idea.

Vijay Deverakonda plays Prashanth as a bit dim and a little hopeless, but not in a bad way. Prashanth is an underachiever who decided not to try too hard because he knew he couldn’t do what he wanted anyway. He just wanted to find a way to get his family off his back, and not to keep feeling like a failure. When he is doing the things he loves – like cooking or drinking with his mates – his body language changes and he is more present and more confident. His call centre melt down is a sight to behold! When he is switched off his uncertainty shows in how he speaks and moves, and he seems to take up less space. It took me a while to recognise him as the actor who played one of the rich kids in Life is Beautiful, but I knew I’d seen those eyelashes before.

I think for Chitra to stay in charge, and not have to change to suit a partner, she needed a cute puppy type like Prashanth. He would give her the space to be herself, and not fight her on all the decisions. And Prashanth had some backbone when it came to showing her affection and support, telling her father off for wanting to send his own in house Ambani away for the sake of acquiring a son. What was wrong with the amazing daughter he already had? And dad agreed, later telling Chitra that he loved her and would support her no matter what and to take her time. He would still keep arranging the marriage meetings because of all the family expectations, but she was not to feel pressured to accept.

The relationships are depicted beautifully. Prashanth and Chitra get the bulk of attention on their will they won’t they romance, but the families and friends are very much part of the goings on. Prashanth was lolling around at home, with a drink topped up from his dad’s liquor stash. When his grandmother took a sip her reactions were priceless and the unspoken threats, mimed blackmail, and affectionate laughter as they shared a sneaky tipple was just gorgeous. Gururaj Manepalli and Kedar Shankar play the gruff but good hearted dads, and they showed how the tension between what their kids wanted and what they wanted for their kids was driving them both to distraction.

Prashanth’s friends are good value. Priyadarshi Pulikonda is a scene stealer with his droll expressions and slightly vague timing that made me wonder if Kaushik was an idiot or a genius. Vishnu (Abhay Bethiganti) is more sensible but has a larrikin streak a mile wide. They all know they could try harder, but they don’t judge each other (I was doing enough judging for everyone!). Everyone needs friends who just accept them and give them a hand when they can.

Once I recognised Vijay Deverakonda I couldn’t help but think of Life is Beautiful. Pelli Choopulu has a lot of the things I like about Sekhar Kammula’s films (a strong sense of community, realistic issues, good ensemble cast, Anish Kuruvilla who will seemingly do anything to avoid directing) and less of the things I don’t like so much (the assumption boys are right,  over-engineered plot developments, excessive and badly executed VFX).

The audience here in Melbourne went off at all the Australian references and the engineering jokes. The biggest reaction was garnered by mention of a potential groom from Melbourne who had a really good job. (7-11? Enquired one of the audience, to great merriment). Slightly sarcastic good humour was the prevailing mood for the movie, and for the viewers.

See this for a story full of love and warmth, laugh out loud zingy lines, relationships that make sense, and the delightful cast who bring it all to life.