Magalir Mattum (2017)

Bramma’s female centric film has a lot going for it, from the fantastic cast to the gentle mood of nostalgia and friendships that transcend time. But if you’re expecting a robust feminist statement, look elsewhere.

Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Prabhavati (Jyothika) arrives on the scene like a hero. She rides a motorbike, wears jeans and t-shirts, calls all the shots with her film crew, abbreviates her elders’ names and speaks casually to all. This is how we know she is a modern, empowered woman. She has a close relationship with her soon to be mother-in-law Gomatha a.k.a Goms (Urvashi). Prabha comes to know that Goms had a couple of very close friends at school but when one of the girls was expelled, the trio went their separate ways and haven’t seen each other in close to 40 years. She decides to use Facebook to track down the ladies, and get the gang back together. Rani (Bhanupriya) is married to a chauvinistic politician (Nasser) and describes herself as a glorified servant, looking after the family in return for food, lodging, and a little bit of affection. Subbu (Saranya Ponavannan) is married to a drunk (Livingston) and stuck at home with his ailing mother, cleaning bedpans and listening to endless complaints. Prabha coerces them all into taking a road trip for just 3 days, time to be themselves.

Bramma uses flashbacks to the friends’ college days and the three young actresses who play Rani, Goma and Subbu are delightful. The dynamic between the women hasn’t really changed, even though their circumstances and lives have forced them into different shapes. They quickly fall back into Rani being the firecracker, Subbu being daring, and Gomathi being timid but refusing to be left out. The links between timelines serve to remind the ladies who they used to be as well as showing the audience.

Prabhavaty eggs them on, wanting these women to live for themselves and stop holding back, to have the freedom she has. She is effusively informal, persuasive, and persistent. I had a bit of a chuckle at her being “like a hero” as, like many male stars, she is only about 10 years younger than her screen mother. I like Jyothika and she looks great and delivers a well-modulated performance as part of the ensemble.

Prabha says “men aren’t the problem, the system is the problem” which neatly overlooks that “the system” is largely constructed and maintained by men for their own benefit. But baby steps. Mainstream Tamil films tend to congregate at the rapey and misogynistic end of the spectrum so this is quite a departure and I’m grateful to the heavy duty star cast for getting this off the ground. Maybe that is the real feminist statement – Jyothika’s continuing film career that doesn’t require her to play Suriya’s mother!

Rani (Bhanupriya) is living a life of determined fortitude. Through the flashbacks we see Rani was the leader, always getting in trouble and loving it. Her husband (Nasser) and son Karthik (Pavel Naganeethan) see her as a fixture, nothing you need to consult or consider. When their ward is designated a ladies ward, Karthik’s political ambition is thwarted and his dad cautions him against letting his wife step out of the house to run for office. They put Rani up as their candidate as they are so confident she will never have an opinion of her own. It’s such a sad waste of Rani’s sharp mind and good heart. She blossoms on the trip away, but is resigned to going back to the status quo. But does she? There are signs that at least her kids learn to see Rani as a human being, and she does take the wheel again. Bhanupriya is elegant but also mischievous and I really wanted to see more of Rani’s story.

Subbu (Saranya) projects a polished and controlled exterior. Her life behind the veneer of her beauty channel set is far less appealing. Her husband drinks constantly, and sprawls around the house singing old love songs until he bursts into pathetic tears in a never ending cycle. While Subbu is immaculate, the house is verging on squalid and there is no sign of pride in her surroundings. Subbu eventually reveals the reason for her disillusionment and anger, and there is nothing that can really fix that. It’s just heartbreak after heartbreak as the women reveal the decisions made for them and how they live with the aftermath. One of the highlights is a sequence where all the ladies tell their story of first love, with the results ranging from tragic to wryly amusing. Saranya plays Subbu as outspoken but with an increasingly warm twinkle in her eye as she casts off the grinding routine. She and Bhanupriya dance and joke around, fire up at each other and then gang up on Urvashi.

Gomatha’s life is not explored as thoroughly as the others, and Urvashi doesn’t have the same complexity of material to work with. Goma was less well off than her friends and struggled to keep up appearances at college. She was more conservative but would follow Rani and Subbu into the fire. She loves her son who works overseas, and worries about her life after the wedding when Prabha will go to live with him. The rapport between Prabha and Goms seems a little forced initially as Urvashi overreacts constantly, but she eases off once the ensemble is in place.

The supporting cast is excellent but the roles are sketches with minimal detail or depth. The men are either jerks or SNAGs, nothing much in between. I was delighted to see Maddy as Suri, Prabha’s fiancé. I quite like slightly unkempt and stubbly Maddy and liked that Suri wasn’t a manscaped picture of perfection. He’s a nice bloke who appreciates Prabhavati, and that is perfect. Nasser, (who Goms describes as looking like an eagle with diarrhoea), and Pavel Naganeethan are very effective at being horrid, and Livingston as Subbu’s husband Mangalamurthy is the kind of man who is nice but such a deadweight that he has the same effect as a total bastard.

Bramma gets a bit bogged down in a sub plot, and doesn’t really carry all the good ideas through into action. But the film looks great, the acting is generally top notch, and it’s a rarity to see female friendships celebrated on screen.

See this to enjoy the presence and fine acting of some wonderful female actors, and for the emotional resonance of their friendship and shared memories.

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Khaidi No 786

 

What a way to kick off Megabirthday2017!

Vijaya Bapineedu’s film opens with married woman Radha (Bhanupriya) going on a journey that clearly makes her sad, which cuts to a defiant Gopi (Chiranjeevi) under interrogation at the police station. Gopi is taken to the office and something makes him so mad he actually flips a table. Then he beats everyone up, has a few choice words for the key players, and gets back into his cell. The film then moves to a long flashback, explaining who Gopi is and how he came to be in the lock-up.

Radha is the daughter of local bigwig and furry suited villain Surya Chandra Rao (Kota Srinivasa Rao). One day Gopi refuses to let her car pass his cart, and she swears vengeance. Clearly the only way this can end is in True Love.

Chiranjeevi and Bhanupriya have good chemistry, and that is tested through a long series of clashes that Radha never really wins. She goes to learn music from Gopi with the intent of punishing him for blocking the road. She storms off insulting everyone, so Gopi goes to teach her a lesson…by lassoing her car then forcing her to dance in what might be a choreographed rape threat. So she tries to run over him and kills his harmonium. So he beats her car up, egged on by the children she almost ran over too. She slaps a kid, and that is Just Too Much. But when she frames Gopi for rape, she gets the whip hand. Literally.

In turn he whips a marriage chain out of nowhere and marries her very much against her will, and as payback. Despite their relationship being adversarial at the start, Radha gives as good as she gets, at least verbally. Eventually Gopi weakens, and finally Radha has her way with him. And Radha’s song fantasies are the worst dressed by far, so there is perhaps an element of payback. At the jail she steals a few moments with him and OMG his smouldering glance is enough to trigger a hideous hat-fest of a song. Love it! She is also the one who initiates the physical relationship, so I felt that they achieved a healthier balance in their dynamic over time.

But Radha’s dad sets up a thug to kill Gopi, and after the attempt fails Asirayya (Mohan Babu) convinces Surya Chandra Rao to kill the henchman and set Gopi up for the murder.  Just as well Gopi is a one man justice seeking machine with a very bad temper!

Chiru gets to show off his athleticism in the fight scenes, throwing himself and his opponents around with verve. I like that Chiru remembers to act while fighting, so Gopi’s motivation and level of fury is always apparent. The action scenes cover a lot of ground and use lots of props, a very entertaining combination. My favourite fight was with the That Guy who wore boots so fancy I was not surprised Chiru would fight him.

There is minimal romance in the dramatic scenes, but plenty of emotion. I liked Gopi’s relationship with his family as the guys seemed affectionate and supportive of each other. But when he was angry – helpfully indicated by scenes of crashing waves – look out!

Bhanupriya is excellent as potentially unlikeable Radha. She was never beaten into submission but came around to the realisation that her dad wasn’t all that while Gopi was rather fine. Radha seemed comfortable making her own decisions, and was resolute when telling her creepy dad that Gopi was her only family and to leave her be. She remained strong through Gopi’s incarceration, even though clearly stressed and saddened by events. When his grandmother (Annapoorna) is killed, Radha is the one who colludes with Silk Smitha to get him to the funeral to light the pyre. The wardrobe department had a go at her in the songs, but she looks beautiful and elegant in her sarees. And when she faces off with her enemies, I definitely got the feeling Gopi was not the only tough nut in the family.

Silk Smitha is great as a good bad girl with an inexplicable thing for Satyanarayana Kaikala and a resourceful approach to life. I mean…of all the men in this film who I might want to get naked, he is not one. In one scene Radha is seeing a lawyer and I don’t know what he says but she starts seeing flashes of Silk which turns into this hideous song where she dances for the baddies and fondles a lot of fish.

The song is also a cover for Gopi’s family to get into villain HQ, although Asirayya sees through the unfortunate blackface disguises. And that is not even the silliest thing that happens.

The support actors generally have a reason for their existence. Satyanarayana Kaikala is funny and avuncular, Nutan Prasad and Allu Ramalingaiah are there for comedic shenanigans and heart. They even have a nice little “I’m Spartacus!” scene in an attempt to buy Gopi some time. Kota Srinivasa Rao chews the scenery and Mohan Babu is slimy and opportunistic. But you know, crocodiles aren’t that fussy about their food.

This is a highly entertaining and a perfect vehicle for Chiru and for Bhanupriya. There’s little you couldn’t predict but a few things you might not expect. And while there is a bit of clueless comedy, there is more collaboration and support when it counts. And crocodiles. 4 stars!

Jwala (1985)

jwala

Jwala hails from deepest darkest 1985, and is the first collaboration between Ravi Raja Pinisetty and Chiranjeevi. It’s a typical mass effort with the added delight of Chiru in dual roles. I watched this on a terrible quality print and with no subtitles so I was quite confused until I realised there were two Chirus!

The story opens with a Chiru being washed and dressed by his Ma. He is an adult, but buttoning up his shirt seems to not be in his skillset. As it turns out, that trait runs in the family.

Jwala-the kittens know

The Chakravarthis (Annapoorna and Satyanarayana Kaikala) fight about their sons under the watchful eyes of kitten art. There’s floppy haired Yuvaraj who cannot dress himself but is respectable, and Raju who favours an up-do and also cannot dress himself, but is possibly working as a mechanic and maybe has slightly rowdy-ish tendencies.

Bhanupriya has a troubled relationship with cars. She nearly runs Yuvaraj into a ditch, he runs her off the road, she retaliates against his parked bike and flees the scene leaving a cocky note and a blank cheque. Bhanupriya’s dad is less than happy when the cheque is presented with a generous amount filled in but hardly surprised.

She flounces off to a nightclub and sees Chiru , but he doesn’t seem to care or recognise her. She goes off in a huff, casting aspersions on his ability to shake what his mama gave him, which can Only Mean One Thing. A quick change later and Chiru hits the stage that has been used in so many films I cannot name off the top of my head.

I love that he is frozen in mid-air to give people ample time to applaud. Bhanupriya is furious that his outfit is better than hers and goes home in an even bigger huff. Her house has a photo mural and a cuckoo clock so she knows Style. Her dad lectures her about huffiness. I think maybe the money was either returned or used for a good cause, but he seems to be quite OK with motorbike dude. And that was about it for her – a couple of songs and a simper, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile Janaki (Radhika) is sold out to cover a debt. Raju (Chiru) sees this go down and rescues her from the sleazy baddies.  But Raju can’t save Janaki from all harm. People are calling her second hand and men see her as an easy mark. Raju realises he can’t bash everyone up – especially the really old ladies – so he marries Janaki. They do have a conversation about something before he ties the knot but I am not sure what it was about and whether she was actually consulted. However, neither of them looks unhappy, and when they go to his house to pay respects Raju reassures her while his dad goes nuts. At least his mum welcomes her daughter in law and there is time for a group hug. Radhika is a versatile actress and she manages to build a sense of Janaki and her feelings for Raju in small unspoken ways. Despite seeming to start purely through obligation, their relationship has many moments of warmth and sweetness.

 

In a room with another photo mural, the brains trust of the gang meets before adjourning to the tastefully appointed lair; skeletons, eclectic art collection, taxidermy, comfortable chairs… bedazzled gloves. The flamboyant Boss (Kannada Prabhakar) has a son who has been in the US so you know he is bound to be a creep. The Son begs to be allowed to run smuggling as he thinks it will be a thrill. There is so little common sense in this family it truly is a miracle they have managed to be so successful. The Son clashes with SP Chakravarthi on the beach when smuggled goods land. It’s too dark to see what’s going on but he is killed in a gunfight and now there is Revenge to be had.

The fight choreographer seems to be obsessed with Chiru’s thighs. The action requires he crush many an evildoer betwixt them as he hangs from a beam or does an impressive handstand to snare his opponent. Van Damme’s got NOTHING on Chiru! And all that rowdy lifting kept him in good form for duets.

My copy had this ad just after one of the fight scenes. Annoying, but appropriate product placement.

Raju is framed for murder and sentenced to jail. I don’t know what happened with the film but this section is mostly shown in stills. The Boss calls Chakravarthi and tells him why he has targeted his son. This causes 1) a tearful reconciliation and b) death.

Raju breaks out of jail. Yuvaraj flies home for the funeral and is met at the airport with news his big brother is now an escaped felon. While Yuvaraj rues that the rites won’t be completed by the eldest son, Raju turns up to light the pyre. After a justice versus vengeance bro-ment, the only thing that can happen next is an abrupt jump to the gang’s tastefully appointed courtyard for an item, complete with Silk Smitha humping all the props.

Jwala-that outfit

Yuvaraj wants Raju to turn himself in but Raju is on a mission, with firm views on appropriate forms of execution. Proving that apart from the shirt button thing, the brothers also share excellent groove genes, he undertakes a gladiator mini-skirt clad dance of death.

I almost said no one saw the flaming spear coming, but…

Yuvaraj tries to arrest Allu Ramalingaiah but protection from on high thwarts his plan. Raju seems to know his brother is only going to get into trouble trying to do things legally so he stays on task. He even impersonates Yuvaraj to get close to his next victim.

Jwala-surprise

The uniform was a good disguise, but once the hat comes off and the up-do is unleashed all is clear. I think the unbuttoned shirt was also a good indicator.

While Janaki sings to her fugitive Raju over the phone (oh, sorry I must have some dust in my eye), The Boss attacks her. She puts up a hell of a resistance until finally she runs out of room to fight. Raju finds her in a pool of blood. She asks him to kiss her, either for the first or last time, and she dies in his embrace. Raju is a killer and not to be lauded, but his life seems to be tidied away so neatly and with so little left that it’s a bit sad. He loses his parents, his wife, and his kid brother is on a different path.

The final showdown is brutal and silly and epic and even a little bit moving. I wasn’t really expecting one Chiru to take on the other Chiru, but then who else could stand up to a Megastar?

This is probably one for the Chiranjeevi  completists, but it’s not completely without merit for the non-fan. Bhanupriya is wasted in her small role, but Radhika stands her ground and carves out space for Janaki in a man’s story. The plot gallops along, the action is energetic, and there is just enough light relief through the songs. Bonus points for no extra comedy track. 3 stars!