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!

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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.

Life is Beautiful (2012)

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I’m not sure whether Life is Beautiful needs to be an hour shorter or about 5 hours longer. Sekhar Kammula’s observational style might play out better as a mini-series than a film as while not a lot really happens, neither do we get much insight into some of the large ensemble of characters. And understanding more about them might have made all the difference when, for want of a better word, things go a bit stupid.

Sreenu, Chinni and Sathya move to a Hyderabad housing development to stay with relatives when their mother (Amala Akkineni) tells them she needs to take a work transfer for a year. It’s clear their aunt just tolerates them, and the rich aunty (Surekha Vani) next door doesn’t want to know the kids. But where Gold Phase has shiny cars and swimming pools, the B Phase colony is rich in characters and goodwill. Money causes all manner of tension, but mostly between those who value work and self-improvement over those take their privilege for granted. In a similar vein, the film contrasts the superficial gated enclosure of Gold Phase with the more organic sense of community in B Phase where sharing is second nature.

The B Phase kids expect to work to make their own way. Chinni is trying to get into a prestigious English school and Sathya (Rashmi Sastry) is preparing to study medicine. Nagaraj helps new neighbour Laxmi (Zara Shah) to find a job so she can continue her engineering studies, and his lack of education and prospects is a recurring theme. Sreenu (Abhijeet Duddala) soon meets Nagaraj (Sudhakar Komakula) the local cool dude and Abhi (Kaushik Darbha), a sweet-natured geek. Cousin Paddhu (Shagun Kaur) is pretty and confident, and keeps Sreenu on his toes. They’re all good hearted and fundamentally optimistic, and friendship comes easily. It’s not hard to like them and I enjoyed watching them grapple with coming of age and growing responsibility.

I really like that the girls are interested in finding the right life partner not just a hot hero, and that their parents are broadly supportive of their right to do so (if not of their choices). I’m not as happy with some of the films tricks to get the girls to realise who they love. There is an odd decision to make Paru (Shriya Saran) have a gimmicky epiphany, as though she was incapable of understanding her own feelings without a billboard sized clue. And I couldn’t really get on board with her ‘I must win Miss India to fulfil my mother’s dying wish’ thing.  I didn’t think Ajay (Vijay Sai) was really a bad guy, but he had a different view of sex and relationships so Laxmi found herself fleeing what she saw as overly determined advances. It seemed she was being punished for straying from Nagaraj and B Phase. Nagaraj has a reverse snobbery about educated people and blames Laxmi for the encounter. And once a boy has decided he likes a girl, that girl should only do what he says or face harsh criticism. Maybe it is just an illustration of how it is easy to be liberal when you’re comfortable, but how people under pressure can revert to type. Maya (Anjala Zaveri) was being harassed by a sleazy caller so the boys actually use their education to catch the culprit. But then their biggest problem seems to be that he is a Gold Phase guy and shouldn’t be allowed to ogle their local hottie while they may do so at their whim. When Maya comes to bail the lads out at the police station, they seem shocked that women can Do Thinking And Other Good Stuff Too. So it’s a mixed bag but the women are distinct and interesting characters and that was pleasing.

The youngsters various relationships absorb most of the film, but they all have families and other issues to deal with. Sreenu and his sisters find out the real reason for their mother’s absence – a reason that made me furious and considering whether to pull the plug on the movie – and have to think hard about what to do with their lives. On the other hand, Abhi and his mum have a really nice relationship. She knows he is a bit weird and nerdy but she loves him for his quirks, and he is super smart and appreciative of her support. Paddhu is caught between her snobby parents expectations and her own heart, plus a dithering Indian Filmi Boy, but she is not a pushover and nor are they villains. Friends help friends, and sometimes friends force friends to confront things they might try to avoid.

Language is both a conduit and barrier. Chinni is denied a place in school because she doesn’t speak English, although she is eloquent when speaking Telugu. Nagaraj tells new neighbour Laxmi that Telangana speakers aren’t formal, they speak from the heart. I couldn’t pick up on the nuances of language in the conversations about Andhra and Telangana speech, although I assume that would resonate with the local audience.

The cast are largely novices and they generally do quite well. Of the young actors, Kaushik and Shagun Kaur were my favourites maybe because they played sunny characters and seemed genuine. I smiled when I saw them and could easily overlook a couple of wobbly acting moments. Amala Akkineni is the largely absent mother, and while I like her performance a lot I had strong reservations about the plot manipulation tied to her character. Shriya Saran is very natural as Paru, the It Girl of Gold Phase, pretty and a princess. And she shows a different side in her scenes with Abhi and the guys where she is at ease, genuine, and friendly.

I don’t like the songs. Especially the English lyrics in this one. It is Eurovision level bad.

My test for whether a song enhances a film is simple. I imagine the sequence, replacing the filmi song with Boston’s More Than A Feeling – a truly naff song which is all about itself. If it works just as well as the movie song I reckon the film could have done without. Obviously if there is excellent dancing, great costumes, or Chiru, I don’t question the validity of the musical interlude.

The song montages are well put together and do help amplify the mood and inner feelings. The locations and set dressing are lovely to look at and the details help flesh out the characters living in the various houses and streets. C Vijay Kumar has collaborated with Sekhar Kammula on several films and their styles mesh very well. He knows how to get the most out of fields, trees and rooftop terraces.

Kammula uses some cheap and cheesy effects which is at odds with his predilection for slice of life stories featuring the unexceptional middle class. Animated hearts when the scruffy boy dog fell for the ritzy lady dog was mildly funny but then there was the magic at the wedding, the magic at Miss India…the (bad and nonsensical) magic. While David Copperfield need not worry about losing his day job, it was nice to see Anish Kuruvilla acting. And Anish, if you don’t like being a character actor you could always, I dunno, direct another film. Just a thought.

I really like Sekhar Kammula’s films, even though I have a few issues with his horrible taste in music and addiction to animated effects, as he can tell simple stories well. While Life Is Beautiful is meandering and low on drama, I do like the characters and the glimpses into their lives. 3 stars!

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