Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India (2018)

Naa Peru Surya

After writing a couple of hits for Telugu cinema, Vakkantham Vamsi has moved into directing his own screenplay with the release of Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India. However, despite an excellent opening scene, the film quickly loses momentum and is let down by poor story development and lack-lustre dialogue, most notably between the hero and his estranged father. The bones of the story are there, but Vamsi tries to mix in too much masala in the form of a dodgy crime boss and a rather limp romance, that dilute down what could have been an excellent coming of age movie. It’s still entertaining though, mainly due to an outstanding performance from Allu Arjun, while there are some excellent action and dance sequences that almost make up for the jumbled storyline.

Bunny is Surya, an army officer with more than a few anger management issues. This leads him into trouble, although to be fair the two incidences where he loses his temper in the opening scene are reasonably justified. It’s more that the magnitude of his response is well above what would be considered ‘normal’ and that’s what ends up being his downfall. After an incident with a terrorist leads to his dismissal from the army, his only shot at redemption is to get a letter signed by eminent psychologist Dr Rama Krishna Raju (Arjun Sarja) certifying that Surya has conquered his anger issues. The problem is that Dr Rama is actually Surya’s father, although the two haven’t spoken since Surya walked out when he was 16 years of age. Surya has been raised and supported by his ‘uncle’ Rao Ramesh, who has sponsored his recruitment into the army and manages to persuade his commander, Colonel Sanjay Shrivastav (Boman Irani) to give Surya one last chance.

There is great potential here, but the basic story of Surya’s road to redemption is almost lost behind the subplot of conflict with gangster Challa (R Sarathkumar) his son (Thakur Anoop Singh) and henchmen, Pradeep Rawat and Harish Uthaman. While these scenes are well filmed with great action sequences, Surya’s anger management plans languish in poorly constructed scenes with his father. Where there should have been crackling tension between Surya and Dr Rama there is instead uncomfortable chat that doesn’t come close to developing any kind of relationship between the two men. Granted the premise is that Dr Rama has completely shut Surya out of his life, and Surya will do absolutely anything to get back into his beloved army, but their interactions are so cold and clumsy that they become meaningless. What I wanted was tension and some level of self-realisation from Dr Rama and Surya, but instead there is just Surya’s anger, represented by discordant background music, and a manufactured conflict between Surya and Challa’s son that he needs to ignore if Surya is to go 21 days without fighting.

Oh yes – that’s the other odd plot point. If Surya can demonstrate no angry outbursts in 21 days he will apparently have conquered his problem. This sounds like a google-based plan of anger management and not the evidence-based behavioural therapy expected from a University based psychology professor, but by this point it’s not one of the most far-fetched ideas in the film.

Also problematical is Surya’s romance with Varsha (Anu Emmanuel). Anyone faced with the kind of anger towards them displayed by Surya would start running and not look back, so Varsha’s continued interest in Surya is hard to fathom, especially when she has zero chemistry with Bunny (and how is this even possible?). The romance makes little sense and doesn’t fit into Surya’s self-inflicted isolation shown in earlier scenes when he single-mindedly pursues his goal to be stationed at the border. Anu Emmanuel has little to do other than look glamorous and ‘stand by her man’ at the appropriate point in proceedings. All of which she does competently but it’s another disappointingly pointless heroine role that adds little to the main story. Another wasted character is Surya’s mother, who doesn’t fit at all well into the narrative and fluctuates between apparently not recognising her son and extreme anger at his absence for all these years.

Despite the shortcomings with the screenplay, what does work here is the character of Surya and his struggles to conform. Surya does manage to control his anger but it’s at the expense of his own self-worth and Bunny gets that inner conflict across perfectly. He shows the enthusiasm and fire that drives Surya to be the best soldier he can be, along with Surya’s passion for his country and makes it seem completely natural. Even better are the later scenes where Surya has to come to terms with the compromises he has made to try and meet his 21 days target. What the dialogue doesn’t manage to get across is plain to see on Surya’s face and in his body language. It really is one of the best performances I’ve seen from Allu Arjun and he completely gets under the skin of his character, dour and driven, with only the songs showing his normal cheeky grin. The support cast are all competent and do as much as they can with their limited roles. Thakur Anoop Singh makes the most impact and is impressive in the action scenes, while Vennela Kishore does manage to sneak in some comedy. It’s great to see Arjun Sarja back onscreen but disappointing that he has so little to do here.

The action sequences are excellent and choreographed to make Surya’s one-man army seem plausible, particularly when intercut with scenes of his army training. Naturally no-one can stop Surya when he’s angry, but the action is well put together and Bunny makes it all look effortless. The songs are generally good too, although the first two have little dancing – which surely is a crime in an Allu Arjun film. However just as I thought that, Lover also, Fighter also started with some great moves and awesome tricks with a cap. Bunny interchanges between ultra-classy and gangsta-wannabe in this song, but when it’s right, no-one does stylish like Allu Arjun!

Vakkantham Vamsi tries to include ideas about the evolution of home-grown terrorists but this is overly simplified and has little impact. I was expecting plenty of patriotism and Naa Peru Surya has a surfeit of flag waving and speeches about a United India that feel contrived, but inevitable in any film that mentions the army. If Vamsi had stuck to a straight-forward story about one man’s redemption this would have been an excellent film. However as it stands, with the additions of a gangster storyline, romance and failed family relationships, Naa Peru Surya has too many threads vying for attention and doesn’t do justice to any of them. Worth watching for Bunny, Arjun Sarja, who does a good job with his limited dialogue, and the dance sequences – just don’t expect too much from the story.

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Mankatha

Mankatha

I missed Mankantha when I was in Chennai due to limited time and sold-out shows in my usual cinemas – which I guess was a good indication that the film would be worth seeing.  Venkat Prabhu’s fourth film does feature his usual crowd of young actors, but also stars Ajith Kumar in his fiftieth film – it’s all about the numbers!  Mankatha is an action thriller based around the theft of illegal gambling money and features so many twists and turns that at times it’s hard to keep up with just who’s double-crossing who.  Although there are a few leaps of faith required to fully engage with the plot, overall the pace of the action and an excellent performance from Ajith in a negative role make the film well worth a watch.

The story starts with Ajith as Police Officer Vinayak Mahadevan, landing onto the screen in a typical Tamil Hero entrance style (i.e. unlikely appearance from out of nowhere) to prevent what appears to be a corrupt police execution of smuggler Faizal (Aravind Akash).  The lines are blurred right from the start – is Vinayak a hero, fighting corruption and gambling despite being suspended from duty for saving Faizal, or does his drunkenness and casual infidelity  point to even bigger character flaws and a tendency to flout the rules for his own benefit?  Each subsequent scene makes the conundrum more difficult to solve, and this ambiguity runs throughout the action in the first half.  It’s not until much later in the film that Vinayak’s true character becomes apparent (or does it?) and his real motives are revealed.

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Then there is ‘Action King’ Arjun, who appears as Prithviraj, the head of a special task force entrusted with stamping out illegal gambling on cricket matches after the head of the anti-corruption squad Kamal Ekambaram (Subbu Panchu) commits suicide due to his own gambling debt.  However Kamal isn’t dead, but instead reappears as one of the investigative team, a detail which I kept expecting to have some relevance, but it never actually does.  Arjun is very OTT in his action scenes, made even funnier by his terrible floppy hair, but otherwise delivers  a generally straitlaced and relatively heroic portrayal of a senior police officer intent on stamping out gambling.

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Vinayak, one night stands aside, is in a relationship with Sanjana (Trisha), the daughter of Arumuha Chettiyar (Jayaprakash).  Chettiyar runs the illegal gambling network in Mumbai along with various other illegal activities, and he also just happens to be the man who employs Faizal.  Was this good planning by Vinayak, or just a coincidence?

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Since Vinayak apparently turns a blind eye to Chettiyar’s illegal activities the question then follows, is this all part of an undercover plan to infiltrate the gang and bring down Chettiyar or does Vinayak really not care about his potential father-in-law breaking the law beyond the opportunity to pocket a few bribes?  It’s hard to tell, as Ajith makes the most of his devastatingly cheeky grin and ever more crazy persona to keep everyone guessing his true motives.

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Meanwhile, Chettiyar’s henchman Sumanth (Vaibhav) is in cahoots with local Sub-Inspector Ganesh (Ashwin Kakumanu) and bar-owner Mahat (Mahat Raghavendra) to steal the gambling take from the IPL final.  Mahat ropes in his friend from home Prem (Premji Amaren) who just happens to be an IT expert as well as a terminal idiot.  A little of Premji’s humour here goes a long way and less really would have been better, but cleverly developed group dynamics and good performances from the rest of the gang help keep the story on track.  In due course, Vinayak finds out about the plot which just happens to coincide with his own plans to loot the money, and the conspirators end up joining together to steal $5 billion in US dollars.  While some of the heist details require a major suspension of disbelief, the rest of the story deviously pits everyone against each other with  betrayals, plot twists and unexpected revelations, which mean it’s necessary to concentrate and pay attention to work out just who is allied with who at any given time.

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While the guys get all of the action and pretty much all of the storyline, there is very little for Trisha and the other female characters to do.  Anjali has perhaps the next most realised role as Sumanth’s wife, but her only value is as a bargaining tool later in the story.  Andrea as Prithviraj’s wife and Lakshmi Rai have even less of a role, and almost all of the female roles could have been eliminated without making any real ripple in the story.  The songs are also mainly superfluous although the soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja does have a few memorable tracks.  This is probably the best choreographed, although the visual effects for Vaada Bin Laada are worth a look too (watch out for the plane on the wall that takes flight).

Ajith is definitely the star of the show in a negative role that must have been a hoot to play.  He spits venomous lines with great joie de vivre, throws in plenty of bleeped out profanity and his crazed megalomania is wonderful to behold.  He has great chemistry with Arjun and the two take control of every scene they are in.  However Vaibhav is also notable and the other cast members all provide solid performances.  While the focus is on the action there is also some nifty camera work from Sakthi Saravanan, including a great shot of some boys playing cricket in the slums while Vinayak chases down Sumanth.

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Mankatha is not the most convincing heist film, and it would definitely benefit from trimming some of the excess in the form of unnecessary songs and peripheral characters, but it succeeds in entertaining which after all is the main purpose of cinema.  I loved the twists and turns and appreciated Ajith’s excellent demonstration of just how to keep everyone guessing while Arjun tries his best to convince everyone that he is the hero.  It’s amusing and doesn’t take itself too seriously which makes for an enjoyable watch. 3 ½ stars.

Hanuman Junction

I’m not usually a fan of slapstick comedy in any language, but despite the entire complement of comedy uncles and plenty of farce, I really enjoyed Hanuman Junction. The story is nothing new but it’s entertaining and well told, with some good performances from the main cast. Although not all the comedy works, there is enough that does to make this a funny film and there is plenty of drama and the usual fisticuffs to add in to the mix. It’s actually a remake of the Malayalam film Thenkasipattanam which may be partly why it’s one of the better comedies I’ve seen.

The story follows two young orphans Krishna and Dasu who, along with Dasu’s little sister Devi, enterprisingly set up a business together in Hanuman Junction. However the seeds of a life long feud are sown when their fledgling shop is destroyed on the orders of local boss Devudayya (Jaya Prakash Reddy). On the advice of their mentor, the two decide to fight back and over the next 15 years graduate as fully qualified thugs themselves. By means of their fists and general belligerence they manage to depose Devudayya and rule over Hanuman Junction while running a successful carrier business – JD and Company.

For Krishna (Arjun Sarja) and Dasu (Jagapathi Babu) nothing matters more than the other’s happiness and the two have a fine bromance together which rather disturbingly involves wearing matching outfits a lot of the time. Krishna is the more likeable brother and Arjun has plenty of charm as seen before in Sri Anjaneyam. Jagapathi Babu is fine as Dasu but seems a little more stilted in comparison. His character is also darker than Krishna’s and without that lighter mood he often appears to be little more than a plain thug. They both resort to fighting to resolve every little issue, often appearing to go out looking for confrontations. However the two work together well and show that it’s necessary to keep your buddy with you at all times when fighting – even if you have to get your friend out of a hospital bed and carry him on your back to the fight!

Enter Sathru (Venu Thottempudi), a new manager for KD and Company who has designs on Devi (Vijayalakshmi) and a novel approach to winning her hand. After stalking Devi through her years at college (which we know is a sure sign of true love), Sathru has a plan to civilise the two brothers in the hope that this will impress Devi enough to marry him. Devi seems to have been worn down by Sathru’s perseverance or perhaps it’s just that she hopes his plan to calm her brothers down will actually work since she’s not impressed at all by their rowdy ways. Sathru’s idea involves getting the two brothers married as he thinks that a wife and children will act as soothing influences, or at least not give them any time to go out fighting which is probably more likely. I liked Venu in Gopi Gopika Godavri but his character is a bit more hit and miss here. Sathru is played strictly for laughs and the comedy relies very heavily on him getting slapped around by everyone. From time to time this is mildly amusing but his hapless scheming is much funnier and works better, especially later in the film.

Sathru doesn’t have to work very hard to find a candidate for Krishna’s wife. Meenakshi (Sneha) is Devudayya’s adopted daughter and she has had an understanding with Krishna since they were kids. But while Krishna is happy to let their relationship evolve slowly, not wanting to let her relationship to Devudayya upset Dasu, Meenakshi is keen to get her man and is not averse to taking matters into her own hands. I’m not very sure what a good day of butterfly romancing is, but Meenakshi is determined to have one.

Luckily for Sathru’s plans, the two brothers’ inept handling of a festival results in singer Sangeetha (Laya) being thrown out of her uncle’s house. As Devi decrees that Sangeetha can stay with her until she decides what she wants to do next that gives Dasu a potential bride and Sathru plots to get the two together. But nothing goes to plan as Sangeetha declares her love for Krishna and Dasu mistakenly thinks that Meenakshi has been selected as a suitable wife for him. More great lyrics in this song!

In the middle of all this farce, Davudayya is trying to win back control of Hanuman Junction and destroy the two brothers once and for all.  There are more fight scenes, plenty of melodrama and the comedy of errors becomes more and more convoluted with the only sure thing being that Krishna and Dasu are more devoted to each other than to any of their prospective brides.

It’s all wonderfully silly and there are some genuinely funny moments and good one-liners. Every single possible Telugu comedian seems to have been roped in, but their roles are kept to a minimum which keeps their antics under control. Brahmi is in good form as Sangeetha’s uncle and Kovai Sarala goes totally over the top as her disapproving aunt. Ali, LB Sriram and MS Narayana do their usual thing but in a more restrained manner which makes them reasonably amusing and I didn’t find it necessary to use the FF button at all.  There is one protracted skit involving a comedy cow which overstays its welcome, but otherwise I found most of the confusion between the prospective couples quite funny. The comedy works for me as the underlying story itself is amusing and the slapstick and comedy uncles are just window dressing rather than the main event.

While Arjun and Jagapati Babu have reasonably well-developed roles, the women overall are given much less to do. Meenakshi is the best of the female roles and Sneha makes the most of her irrepressible and mischievous character. Sadly even her role is reduced in the second half of the film but her interactions with Dasu are among the funnier moments. Laya is very restricted in a role that doesn’t require her to do anything other than generally mope around while Devi appears on-screen even less.

The songs don’t stand out in any way, but I do like the choreography and the picturisation which seems to suit the village style of the film. the choreography is credited to Lawrence and Dinesh which perhaps explains the exuberant quality of some of the steps. Suresh Peters apparently reprised the music from his Malayalam soundtrack and apart from some rather odd lyrics the songs fit well into the main narrative. I love the way this song seems to have been filmed with a group of locals who just happened to be standing around with nothing better to do one day so were rounded up for this clip. Plus there is some excellent uncle dancing from Arjun and Jagapathi Babu.

As I‘ve written before, comedy is the hardest genre to understand in a foreign language and I’m sure that I missed a lot of the references here even without the added issue of dodgy  subtitles. But Hanuman Junction is still a funny film and so far tops my list of good Telugu comedies – not that it’s a very long list! I think it’s worth a watch for Arjun and Sneha and for an updated version of the Sholay-style friendship between Krishna and Dasu. You can always FF past all the really stupid slapstick. 3½ stars.

Temple says:

I loathed almost every second of this excruciatingly unfunny and stupid film. I’ve been on quite strong painkillers for a week and I watched this for a second time in the hopes that it would improve under the influence, but no.

The director seems to think that if someone falling over and landing with their head in a bucket once is genius, how hilarious will it be if they do it over and over? And then applies that logic to EVERYTHING. Slapstick can be really funny, and so can running gags, but this film is so heavy handed and witless I just groaned. Normally I’m all for two men in a cow suit, but even that was belaboured and went on and on and on. There was too much repetition and overuse of standard jokes, pratfalls and sight gags, so even the mildly amusing stuff lost its appeal very quickly.

None of the actors impressed me, and I was disappointed to see Jagapathi Babu and Arjun wasted in such unlikeable roles. Krishna and Dasu’s relationship was straight out of the tin labelled ‘generic brand filmi bromances’, and I found it very unengaging.  Arjun as Krishna has almost no personality until very close to the end of the road, and by then I was over it. Jagapathi Babu’s Dasu is an aggressive alcoholic bully with few saving graces, and yet is supposed to be a sympathetic character. His ‘romantic’ dilemmas were not well developed  (‘Oh you love my brother,  so then I pick HER’ is about the sum of his emotional journey), and his reactions seem all out of proportion. The romances are not well developed and none of them convinced me in the slightest that it was genuine attachment and not a sense of entitlement or something,  so I couldn’t care less about the outcome. Although I was pleased to see Sneha in actual clothes (not skanky item apparel) and looking quite pretty for a change. There was little effort placed into writing the story or making any of the characters more than caricatures, so the actors were at a disadvantage from the get go. It’s just a mish mash of brawls and bad jokes, with a big bucket of sentiment thrown in for the climax.

Watch the songs for a bit of colour and movement and avoid the rest. Luckily? the film is on youtube with subs so I didn’t have to buy another DVD that ends up as a drinks coaster or bird scarer. I’d still like those hours of my life back though. I suppose I have to give a rating … 1/2 a star – just for the song picturisations which are mildly diverting.