Jagadeka Veeruni Katha

Jagadeka Veeruni Katha

Jagadeka Veeruni Katha (1961) is a sumptuous fantasy drama directed and produced by K.V Reddy. It stars NTR with B Saroja Devi, L Vijayalakshmi, Jayanthi and Bala as the love interests, is loaded with songs and is beautiful to look at. It’s also around 3 hours long, clearly made for a time when a more meandering pace was appreciated.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-Pratap and parents

The plot can be loosely described as follows. Prince Pratap (NTR) defies his parents and leaves the kingdom in search of love. His dream women are the devakanyas who represent the elements of Air, Water, Fire and…Snakes. Indra Kumari (B Saroja Devi), Nagini (L Vijayalakshmi), Varuna Kumari (Jayanthi) and Agni Kumari (Bala) like to bathe in a decorative pond, gossiping and singing the day away. Pratap finds them, but in return for his unwanted attention Indra Kumari turns him into a statue. Pratap’s mother goes into devotional overdrive and Parvathi (Kannamba) answers her plea. Pratap is restored to his princely self and Parvathi gives him the tip-off that if he stole Indra Kumari’s clothes, she would be stranded on earth and have to marry him. Marriage duly accomplished, he sets off with new wife and newly acquired best friend Rendu Chintalu (Relangi) to a neighbouring kingdom.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-ThreesokananduJagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-Men in drag

Threesokanadu (Rajanala Kaleswara Rao) is a petulant brat of a ruler and wants whatever he can’t have, including Indra Kumari. Devising numerous ploys to send her husband off on missions to Nagalokam and elsewhere, all he succeeds in is getting the remaining devakanyas hitched to Pratap. I don’t know why he thought dressing in a saree would help his cause. Relangi and Ekasa (Girija) have a comedy subplot in which they thwart the king’s plans and generally bicker.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-hard times

Meanwhile, back in Pratap’s home his brother has conspired to overthrow the Maharaju and Maharani (Mukkamala Krishnamurthy and Rushyendramani), who are now living on the streets. Eventually they get wind of Pratap’s whereabouts and a tearful reunion is on the cards. The devakanyas trick their mother-in-law and get Indra Kumari’s saree back and leave for the heavens.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-wild with griefJagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-change of heart

Pratap goes wild with grief and the ladies seem to miss him too. Indra and the other lords of various heavens test Pratap and eventually he gets his wives back. Happy days.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-NTR and RelangiJagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-NTR and Saroja Devi

It’s NTR’s film from go to whoa and he could do this kind of role in his sleep. Pratap is the perfect prince and goes from swooning to swashbuckling in the blink of an eye. He gets all the big speeches and a couple of key songs, and NTR dominates all his scenes. He always has a nice rapport with Relangi, and I liked them together as they showed the more human side of Pratap with a bit of humour.  Relangi’s character gets to do some useful and sensible things in amongst all his comedy bumbling too.

B Saroja Devi is the leading lady and does get the majority of screen time, but her character is not really developed beyond being designated as a heavenly beauty. The warmth in her interactions with the other devakanyas, and her chemistry with NTR is largely drawn from her own performance and not the script as far as I could tell.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-Indra Kumari and NaginiJagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-Pratap and Indra Kumari

One of my favourite filmi dancers L Vijayalakshmi gets a little bit of dialogue and a few not very snakey dances, but the other wives are not given a lot to do in the story. They all look stunning in their sparkly costumes, and I found their scenes together more lively than the ones where they had to stand around simpering at Pratap.

Given the heavenly origins of the leading ladies and the divine interference by Parvathi, there is lots of scope for special effects and magical plot developments. The devakanyas all have distinctive modes of arriving at their bathing spot. Nagini turns into a snake when her mood sours.

And faced with the demands of multiple wives, Pratap is magically cloned so he can spend quality time with his spouses.

Comedy demons perform a range of useful services, including transforming into a flying divan. Pratap is changed at different times into a statue and a baby. Aside from Marcus Bartley’s stunning camerawork with his trademark moonlit scenes, I was struck yet again by the skilful use of the limited 1960s technology to create some really effective illusions. There’s nothing that would fool today’s CGI savvy audience, but the sequences are creative and are perfect for the fable of a prince on a quest.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-lifelike rag doll 1Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-lifelike rag doll 2

Except maybe not the rag doll dummy used in some fight scenes.

The music by Pendyala Nageswara Rao is lovely and it feels like someone breaks into song every few minutes. The only character who does much by way of dancing is L Vijayalakshmi as Nagini. When Pratap arrives in her kingdom, this is how he is greeted.

And there are some lovely duets as well as more devotional songs.

The set design is lavish with all the intricate decorative motifs I’ve come to expect from this era and genre, including fabulous animal themed furniture and fittings. Plus some excellent work from the hat department. The film is available without subs on YouTube. I’ve also managed to track down an unsubtitled VCD, but the picture quality is poor. I can only imagine what it might have been like with a decent print and sound. Really Telugu film industry – get your act together and do something about these classics!

Considering so many things happen in this film, it’s almost remarkable how few of the incidents are essential to the plot. But if you can spare the time for a rambling adventure with a charming cast, gorgeous music, and beautiful visual design this is a sheer pleasure. 4 stars! (A small deduction for general crappiness of the print, irritatingly big watermark on that crappy print, and because comedy demons are to fantasy films what comedy uncles are to modern movies – a plague and a pox.)

Big B

In term of its story development, production and editing Big B seems more like a Hollywood film than a typical Southern Indian action film, so I wasn’t really too surprised to learn later that it was based on a US film called Four Brothers. However there is plenty of local flavour and like all Malayalam films I’ve seen the cinematography is first class with great scenic shots, despite the film being primarily an action thriller. I haven’t seen the American film but after watching Big B I really can’t imagine anyone else but Mammootty in the lead role. Although the other characters are almost all well cast and give good performances, it’s Mammootty who makes an impact as the rather dour and resolute Big B of the title, and it’s his film the whole way through.

The film opens with the murder of Mary John Kurisingal (Nafisa Ali), more commonly known as Mary Teacher, or just Teacher. She’s well known in Kochi for her social work which mainly involves looking after orphans, and over the years has adopted 4 of them.  The opening scenes of Mary as she goes about her daily life helping the poor are very powerful and director Amal Neered succeeds in painting a detailed picture of a compassionate woman in just a few moments. And despite her lack of physical presence, Mary appears throughout the film in lots of small gestures and in body language as her adopted children mourn her loss when they notice the empty place at the table or are reminded of her as they move through her house.

We are introduced to the four brothers through the eyes of SI George (Vijayaraghavan) as he explains to ACP Balaji (Pasupathy) who’s who in the funeral procession and it’s an efficient way of letting us know a little about the characters.  While second eldest brother Eddy (Manoj K. Jayan) has been living in the area with his wife and daughters, working in a tourist restaurant and generally helping his mother, the youngest brother, Bijo (Sumit Naval), is a student in Coimbatore and Murugan (Bala) is a stunt director in the film industry. However the eldest brother Bilal (Mammootty) was banished by Mary Teacher after he killed a man in a street brawl and his entrance into the film is dramatic as befits a character with such a dark past. Bilal’s feet appear first as he gets out of his car into the rain-drenched streets and slowly walks across to join the funeral cortege. It is very OTT but effectively establishes Bilal as a force to be reckoned with.

After the funeral the brothers get together to try to discover exactly who killed Mary Teacher and why. They have no faith in the police investigation believing that corruption in the force and general apathy will lead to a cover-up. There are various other subplots including a couple of romances, but the focus of the film is firmly on the search for Mary’s killers. When Bilal left Kochi he had quite a reputation and he certainly hasn’t mellowed in the intervening years.

Bilal is the driving force behind the investigation and seems to use his search as a way to atone for his previous crime which forced Mary to close her door to him. While Bilal gives Mammootty the opportunity to be menacing, cold and vicious there is a more compassionate side to his character and there are glimpses of this in the way he deals with his brothers. The relationships between the four forms the secondary focus of the film and their differences in background, religion and opinion all disappear when they have a common enemy. Their camaraderie is well depicted and although I’m not very familiar with the actors here, they do all appear to be well suited to their roles.

Manoj K. Jayan is excellent as Eddy and gets it right as the hard-working family man who is more concerned with protecting his wife and children than cornering his mother’s killers. This reluctance to get involved in the investigation ends up making the others suspicious and the scene where the three brothers interrogate Eddy is very well scripted and filmed. I love the way Eddy is framed in the shot here, with a background showing family pictures and his brothers glaring down at him. The cinematography is excellent and the script is fast paced and seems well suited to the action although sometimes the subtitles do seem strange – perhaps this refers to measured speech??!

Not everything works though. The romance between playboy Murugan and Rimy (Mamta Mohandas) is generally well depicted and Murugan’s affection does seem to solidify into something more permanent, but there is a rather oddly placed song featuring the two frolicking around on a beach. It seems as if the director felt a ‘romantic’ song was needed to tick all the boxes for an Indian film, so in it went without any real thought as to how well it fitted with the story – which in my opinion is not at all. However it’s a good song that just needed to be in a different film. I do like Rimy’s character though, as she knows exactly what she wants and goes out to get it. Innocent appears in a brief role as Rimy’s father providing some comedy relief which isn’t particularly funny, but isn’t too annoying or intrusive either.

There is also an item song at the villain’s rather swish lair, which again seems to be rather oddly pictured with lots of tourists roped in to dance around and provide a party atmosphere. Again it doesn’t really work for me as it doesn’t quite give the debauched tone that I think it was trying to convey (and it’s also a remix of a Shakira hit).

The other disappointment is the villain of the story. Tony (Sherveer Vahil) is a horribly hairy man with a disconcerting habit of rolling his tongue which does make him sound appropriately villainous. But he’s too much of a caricature with his depraved and immoral parties, drug taking and enjoyment in beating up his minions as a bizarre form of training. He seems too unbalanced and quite frankly too psychotic to be able to lead a gang competently, let alone organise the killing of Mary Teacher. His co-conspirators are better and are more menacing and believable as bad guys, with the much appreciated added benefit of not removing their shirts unnecessarily. I warn you – Tony has no such scruples.

Big B is a relatively violent film but it’s all integral to the plot and the fight scenes are excellently choreographed by Anal Arasu. The casual brutality that Bilal displays is as much a part of his character as his ability to reason through the connections to find his mother’s killer. Bilal’s links to the various figures in the underworld and his fearsome reputation are also essential elements to determining exactly who was involved in the murder. But each of the brothers has their part to play in the investigation and the final showdown has a good mixture of suspense and action.  The background music by Gopi Sundar seems to fit the film better than the songs by Alphons Joseph although the ‘Yo Big B’ theme music and the beautiful Vida Parayukayano are excellent. The clip below does feature Bilal’s attack on a street thug so skip from 2 min 45 to 3 min 15 if you don’t like violence but the song is lovely and beautifully sung by Shreya Ghosal.

Apart from horribly hairy Tony the support cast are all good and overall it’s a slick and well-made film that looks fantastic. Amal Neered started in the industry as a cinematographer and early in his career worked with Ram Gopal Varma which seems to have been an influence on his directing style. He makes very good use of cinematographer Sameer Thahir’s camera work and as ever Kerala looks amazing – even in the rain.  I’m a Mammootty fan and have enjoyed all of his films I’ve seen so far, but I love him in this film as he gets everything right – he’s cold and ruthless when he needs to be but there is still plenty of emotion raging away underneath. Big B is well worth a watch for his performance and for a film that is a little bit different in its approach. 4 stars

Temple says:

I’m not sure what Heather means by saying this film is more Hollywood in style. To me it bears many  hallmarks of South Indian cinema – beautiful visuals, a sense of place/locality (in Kochi), a story heavily centred on the male star, flashy editing and sound effects, an emphasis on family loyalty, songs whether the film needs them or not,  a flexible attitude to the law, and a long lead up to a crunching finale.

It all sounds good on paper. But despite Mammootty delivering a compelling performance, there just isn’t enough to keep my interest throughout. I kept picturing the production team watching the rushes, congratulating themselves on bagging a brilliant actor and then one day asking each other that awkward question ‘Did YOU remember to write the rest of the story?’. The opening is brilliant and builds up the suspense and sense of loss very economically. But then the film wallows in repetitive scenes of the brothers’ unhappy reunion, and it starts to feel laboured. There isn’t enough conflict, character or relationship development to consistently keep my interest over the first hour. It’s all quite predictable, and while the actors are competent, I never cared much for the characters apart from Mary and Bilal. It is too easy to work out whodunit and who is marked for death so there is little suspense. Once things do ramp up in the quest for revenge, the story becomes more engaging but then goes off the rails again. As Heather said, Tony is a caricature. The opportunity for a real menace was lost so Bilal is the only convincingly scary bad guy in the final confrontation.

The songs were badly placed and poorly picturised, serving only to pad out the running time. The background score is probably OK if you like florid strings and angelic choirs but I found it intrusive and it detracted from the acting. Visually, there are far too many instances of the freeze frame, fast edits, quirky camera angles and accompanying sound effects when they aren’t really warranted. I felt that they were trying to inject some excitement into the draggy scenes by using effects. But what they needed was a bit more work on the story and structure.

See it for the excellent characterisation by Mammootty and the beautifully filmed scenery and interiors. 3 stars.

Pithamagan

Pithamagan is not a film for the faint hearted. Like other Bala films, it deals with society’s poorest and most disadvantaged – in this case, he delves into the world of cremators, petty con artists and drug pedlars.  And yet it’s very watchable, with excellent performances from Vikram, Suriya and the rest of the cast making Pithamagan much more than just another film about the miseries of being poor and outcast.

The focus of the film is the relationship between Chittan, an orphaned cremator and Sakthi who is a small time criminal. Chittan is born in a graveyard and brought up there by the cremator who seems to do his best for the child. However Chittan grows up to be unable to deal with society; he cannot communicate in words, and is unable to understand the basic tenets of normal behaviour.

After his guardian dies, Chittan ventures into the local town where he creates mayhem before being rescued by Golmathi, a local cannabis dealer. He ends up following Golmathi home, and since she has a kind heart and feels sorry for another orphan like herself, she helps him to find a job. This turns out to be at a cannabis farm and when it is raided by police, Chittan ends up in jail. There he meets Sakthi who also feels sorry for Chittan and tries to help him cope with life inside prison. Sakthi is a petty crook who runs street tricks and confidence games which seems to have given him a performers approach to life. He has a sunny disposition and a positive outlook despite his circumstances and occasional rather interesting dress sense.

After Sakthi is released from jail he works with Golmathi to secure Chittan’s release, and along with Manju, a student who was once victim to Sakthi’s confidence tricks, the friends then spend most of their time together. They work on improving Chittan’s appearance and behaviour, and try to get him away from the drug trade with mixed results.  However, the local drug baron has other ideas and the final conclusion is as bloody and gruesome as you might expect.

While the story itself is rather predictable, overall the film works well and this is down to the chemistry between Vikram and Suriya. Vikram seems to be able to take any disability and make it instantly realistic. I really believed that he was blind in Kasi and here he is totally convincing as the mentally disturbed Chittan. His facial expressions are just perfect and he really does appear to be totally wild and uncontrolled. It’s hard to define exactly what Chittan’s problem is, but as a scientist (and brain researcher!) I’m immediately intrigued and want to analyse the cause of his condition.  Is he simply a wild child – raised without the benefit of society and therefore unable to function within its rules? Or is it more organic and he has a functional neural developmental problem? I tend to favour the latter as the cremator who took him in was able to speak and obviously had some idea of how to interact with the townspeople. So the total inability of Chittan to communicate and relate seems to be something more than just growing up with little social contact. It also doesn’t explain why he was able to fight so well, but obviously that was essential to the plot and we can’t ask for too much realism I guess. I love that he left the policeman upside down in the shot below – the fight scenes really were good in this.

I also find it interesting that in so many of Vikram’s films, his character is somewhat crazed, and he is completely convincing each time! But as good as Vikram’s performance here is, I think that Suriya manages to equal it. This is the first film where I have really ‘got’ Suriya’s appeal. I’ve seen him in a number of films and while I thought he was good as the cop, or the good guy, or even as the bad guy, I’ve never felt that he’s been anything more than that . But Suriya is absolutely fantastic in this film. He is funny and charming, and breathes life into the story. Most of the comedy comes from Sakthi and his various cons, and without this balance Pithamagan would have been very grim indeed. Suriya’s character has plenty of flaws but at heart he is kind and his relationship with Chittan allows this side of his character to flourish.

Sakthi’s friendship with Chittan is cleverly developed throughout the story and makes it credible that the two would end up as constant companions. Chittan seems initially perplexed by Sakthi’s benevolence towards him but soon realises the benefit of a friend. And later, Chittan’s obvious jealousy when Manju is spending time with Sakthi is both childlike and logical since Sakthi has become the centre of his world.

Sangitha is perfect as Golmathi with her paan-stained lips and philosophical approach to life. Her character is another orphan and her initial pity for Chittan seems similar to how she would feel for a stray dog. But as a drug dealer and someone who is shunned by the local community (unless they want her product), she is able to empathise with his alienation and is the first person to start opening up his world. Golmathi’s emotions and reactions are all plain to see on her face which helps make her character much more sympathetic.

On the other hand, the first time I watched this film I really didn’t like Laila’s character and felt that she over played the schoolgirl. But on re-watching, I think she was supposed to be a fun character with a sense of adventure and an awareness of the possibilities of life which was intriguing to Sakthi. However I think Manju is a much less believable character than the others, and her presence is often more irritating than anything else. Initially her father seemed to be quite strict, even taking her to the jail to beg for Sakti’s forgiveness for her actions, which in itself seemed a really strange thing to do. But then later on in the story, her family seem to let her do whatever she wants, despite knowing that the man she is involved with is a convicted criminal. They do turn up to support Manju in the end, by which time it seems to be too late and is perhaps just a way to make a contrast to the other characters  whose only family is each other. Manju’s presence also provides another dynamic to the relationship between the two men since she becomes a barrier between them. But my biggest issue with her character is her inability to articulate what had happened to Sakthi, and this is a major flaw in the story for me. While I’m quite sure that in real life people become too distressed to be able to communicate, here it just didn’t seem to suit her personality, even allowing for her youth. It was also just a bit too over the top and filmi for a story that relies so much on gritty realism – at least for most of the film.

There is one other odd note, which is the protracted interlude with Simran. This completely changes the nature of the film and lasts just a bit too long. In fact it reminded me of the Hindi film Shakti, where Shah Rukh Khan turns up for an item song and ends up taking over a large part of the final scenes. While the song here is fantastic, and I love it, it stops the flow of the story and the subsequent scenes initially feel out of place as the pace abruptly changes again. But here it is anyway, since both Simran and Suriya are brilliant and it’s very funny.

I think Pithamagan is an excellent film despite a few flaws with the pacing. The friendships are successfully portrayed and the action is fast and well choreographed. Vikram’s grunting and animal noises are interesting and effective, and so much better than his singing which is absolutely brilliant in its tonelessness. I wonder just how hard Vikram had to work to make it sound that bad! The music by Ilayaraja is quite beautiful but not particularly memorable, especially since it’s often used as a backdrop for more of the story. Overall though it’s the performances that make this film worth watching and I would recommend it for Vikram and Suriya who are both outstanding. 4 stars.