Sardaar Gabbar Singh (2016)

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I didn’t expect great things from Sardaar Gabbar Singh, so wasn’t surprised when it turned out to be a formulaic action flick that’s overly reliant on Pawan Kalyan’s star power.  What the makers of Sardaar Gabbar Singh seem to have missed is that Dabangg and its Telugu remake Gabbar Singh were successful because they poked fun at the traditional herocentric films of the seventies and eighties. Here was a hero who wasn’t pure and honourable but instead was a bit crooked himself and out to look after No 1 above all else. If other people happened to benefit from that self-interest, well and good, but that wasn’t the main motivation behind Officer Chulbul Pandey’s vendetta against Chedi Singh. And therein lies the problem with Sardaar Gabbar Singh. While the first half gets off to a good start, by the time the story is starting to take shape Gabbar Singh (Pawan Kalyan) turns out to be just too, well, good. He’s not selfish enough, not corrupt enough and not greedy enough to win our hearts the way Chulbul Pandey did in Dabangg. For all it’s faults though the film does have an entertaining first half and the big budget ensures top-notch fight scenes and well constructed sets. It’s just a pity the rest is so pedestrian and clichéd.

The story is threadbare thin and follows a by-the-numbers good cop vs. evil landlord format with a beautiful and hapless princess thrown in to add a little glamour. After a cute opening scene to prove that Gabbar Singh has always stood up for himself (even as a child when sleeping under a Sholay film poster on the streets), he next appears as a rough and tough cop determined to bring his own form of justice to bad guys everywhere. Luckily for Gabbar Singh the crooks haven’t learnt that they need to attack en masse rather than one at a time if they want to have any chance of winning, so right from the first fight, he has little difficulty in overcoming an entire gang all by himself. At least the fight is well choreographed and Pawan Kalyan is funny as well as competent while taking down the latest collection of inept gangsters. His success means that Gabbar Singh is shipped off to a town in dire need of some law and order, with his best mate since childhood Samba (Ali) dragged along too.

The villain of the story is cartoonishly over-the-top evil and sadistic, while his crimes are varied and myriad. Bhairao Singh (Sharad Kelkar) has destroyed the local farmland by mining after viciously disposing of the villagers who happened to be living there. He’s also taken over the roads for his own use, intimidated the locals by killing anyone who opposes his rule and maintained a triad of lieutenants who commit various other crimes in his name. In Bhairao Singh’s sights is the land owned by Princess Arshi Devi (Kajal Aggarwal), as another potential site for a mine – although the concept of prospecting to discover if there is anything worth mining never seems to cross his mind. In the meantime, Gabbar Singh has the princess herself in his sights while simultaneously attempting to win control of the town back from Bhairao Singh. Adding to the impressive cast line-up but not necessarily to the plot, Mukesh Rishi plays the role of General Hari Narayana, guardian to the princess who is trying to secure a deal with hotelier Ramesh Talwar (Rao Ramesh) to save Arshi’s palace and secure her future.

Gabbar Singh is a one-man army capable of overcoming a seemingly never-ending parade of thugs while dodging bullets, speeding trucks, horses and everything else that comes his way. He wins back the local school for the children, fights against oppression and is prepared to give up the girl of his dreams because of her higher station in life. In short he’s a paragon of everything that is right and good, and that really just makes him rather dull and uninteresting. Thankfully Pawan Kalyan has the charisma and screen presence to make something more of his character, but even he can’t save the overlong and drearily predictable second half. Even the fight scenes start to become dull as Pawan Kalyan shows off his martial arts skills (impressive) and the thugs repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Another problem is the character of Bhairao Singh who is basically a caricature of an ‘evil overlord’ and is only required to curl his lip autocratically and look down his nose at everyone else to play his part. Although Sharad Kelkar has an impressive sneer and can flare his nostrils when required, it’s not a demanding role and he’s too cartoonish to be a properly intimidating villain. The usual suspects who appear as his multitude of henchmen and assistants are not on screen for long enough to make an impression, while Brahmaji appears as police officer who seems to suddenly back Bhairao Singh for no apparent reason. Surprisingly, although Ali and Brahmi provide much of the comedy they are both fairly subdued and practically disappear in the second half leaving Pawan Kalyan to supply the humour as well as the action. For me the most interesting character is Gayathri, Bhairao’s wife. It’s a small role but Sanjjanaa makes the most of her time on screen and conveys a lot of meaning though her body language and eyes, making more of an impact than many of the other seasoned actors around her.

Devi Dri Prasad’s songs work well in the first half, especially the title track and Tauba Tauba which has the best picturisation and is fun to watch.

However the romantic songs in the second half are poorly placed and slow the pace considerably. They’re also very unimaginatively shot in the snow-covered peaks of Switzerland which for me is just a cliché too far.  Otherwise the film looks beautiful with Arshi Devi’s palace looking stunning and Kajal dressed in amazingly beautiful costumes and jewelry. The village does look as if it’s somewhere in the Wild West instead of India, but there are plenty of doors, boxes, miscellaneous carts and glass windows for the thugs to be thrown against, so it serves its purpose well.

Sadly Sardaar Gabbar Singh fails as a follow-up to Gabbar Singh, with the only link being the lead character’s name and occupation. The industry self-referential comedy that made Dabangg such a success is missing and there is little to recommend it other than Pawan Kalyan and a couple of good songs. While the first half is entertaining, the film badly loses its way after the interval and becomes yet another overlong and repetitive action film. It’s not terrible but given the team behind the film it’s disappointing that this is the result. One only for fans.

Pravarakhyudu

Pravarakhyudu-poster

I’m quite fond of hero uncle Jagapathi Babu and I always find Priyamani worth watching. They definitely make this more watchable than the material warrants, although I did enjoy the relatively low key look at relationships in this romantic comedy. The comedy is the unfortunate bit.

Recently returned from the US, Sasi (Jagapathi Babu) is taken out to meet many prospective brides. He is an educated man and his funky glasses impress, but he seems to struggle when presented with a modern opinionated woman who has ideas about her own life. But one day, while driving in the country, Sasi is drawn to a woman he sees working in a field. His friend Ravi (Sunil) tells him that is because she looks like his legendary ex-girlfriend Shailaja (Priyamani).

We are hurtled into the past where Sasi wears his hair in a down do, and everyone looks years too old to be an undergraduate student. Shailu is arrogant and none too kind to her suitors, humiliating one by reading his letter out to her friends while he listens. But she has a point that she shouldn’t have to reciprocate just because a guy likes her. Sasi tells her guys don’t like her because she is good at studies and things, it’s just because she is hot. Shailu is offended as she believes her superior qualities make men fall for her. Cue shower scene (for Shailu, of course).

Sasi sees romance and sex as biologically necessary but love is just a stupid human invention. At a temple festival Shailu sees only the beautiful spiritual celebration while Sasi spots the couples taking advantage of the crowd to cop a feel. She is intensely irritated by him yet seeks him out all the time (she knows she does both things and that annoys her too), and he seems quite unruffled although it’s obvious he is attracted to her. When a fellow student threatens suicide by jumping from a water tank, Shailu challenges him to do something to break up the crowd and their encouragement of the wild behaviour – so he kisses her. He sees it as a tactic to draw the crowds’ attention and stop them encouraging the boy to jump, but Shailu starts to see all of his past actions as hints of his love for her.

Shailu tells all her friends she loves him just as he arrives to laugh it off as a bit of silliness. Shailu insists that he is lying to conceal his heart, and a rainy goodbye is on the cards. Question – why did none of the friends run for shelter? Or use the handy umbrella lying there. Or just give them some privacy? Shailaja goes to transfer out of college, but he says he will leave and does. There is a lot of Goodbye Forever in this film.

Back in the present day Shailu is the very strict principal of a ladies college and gets introduced with a jaunty chorus of “Lady Hitler!” Oh dear. But she does wear some nice sarees. And I do question that one of her perceived negative characteristics is that she gets security to beat up eve teasers outside the college. Is that really worse than eve teasing? Anyway. Her school had been looking for a Zoology lecturer and Sasi just happens to be a world famous Zoology lecturer.

Will Sasi ever overcome his intimacy issues that he says stem from not being breastfed as an infant? Will Shailu ever get off her high horse? Please. Nothing is impossible when you have an entire college stationery cupboard at your disposal.

Sasi turns into a mansplaining fauxmenist at times, usually to prove Shailu wrong. So I sometimes found myself agreeing with what he was saying even as I was itching to give him a tight slap for being such an arse. According to this film women feel empowered once a man, most likely Sasi, has told them how and when they may do so. But then he tells a girl she is at least partly responsible for a boy trying to kidnap her so you know Sasi really is a Telugu film hero, albeit one low on biffo and machetes. Jagapathi Babu manages to play off that tension between genuine good guy and insufferable know it all very well. He has a likeable screen persona and he is a good actor. He cannot dance to save his life and generally refuses to even try, preferring enigmatic walking, jazz hands and occasionally fighting with the air around him. Although with lyrics like”her booty is bigger than a Mercedes Benz. Baby baby baby, she’s my best friend”, I can understand he may not have felt inspired.

While she gets a slightly better deal out of the soundtrack, Priyamani has a challenging role in some respects. Shailu is often extreme and inflexible, although she is clearly not a bad person. But having been humiliated once by Sasi, she has a dim view of humanity and believes she needs to keep herself and her students safe from those bad boys.

Shailu’s character bears the burden of silly decisions (and a few dodgy outfits) for the sake of getting the plot to where writer-director Madan wanted it. But Priyamani brought her own presence and nuance to the piece. Both she and Jagapathi Babu added their own touches to the roles and their rapport and interactions helped me find enough to respect in both characters that I could overlook the worst. There was more of a Much Ado About Nothing vibe to the relationship than a Taming of the Shrew and I enjoyed some of the verbal sparring.

Unfortunately there are the tedious comedy tracks. Brahmi is in his element as a slimy teacher and does have the occasional good one liner. Ali is at his sleazy worst in an appalling racist, sexist, and homophobic skit set during a school trip to South Africa. Hamsa Nandini plays a glamorous married teacher with an eye for the professor, and is effectively coquettish as she irritate Shailu into fits of jealousy. Sunil is inoffensively amusing as Sasi’s mate Ravi, and does his usual bewildered shtick.

I like the leads, and am slowly working my way through as many of their films as I can track down.  Both the story and style of the film are quite engaging, and the fast forward button was made for those moments when Ali suddenly appears in tribal getup. See this if you like the idea of a slightly quirky hero with a smart and articulate woman, or just want a bit more talking and less killing in your mass fare. Plus a lion. 3 ½ stars!

 

Andarivaadu

Andarivaadu Poster

Andarivaadu is another of Chiranjeevi’s dual role ventures, although this time he plays father and son who share a house so that adds a degree of difficulty for director Sreenu Vaitla.

But right from the bombastic opening credits it is clear that this is a Megastar film and all other people and events will be quite incidental. And I’m generally OK with that.

Siddharth (Chiru the Younger) decides that his widower dad Govindarajulu (Chiru the Elder) needs to be pulled into line and someone has to take on the task of looking after him. Govind must be the luckiest man alive as Siddhu forces him to marry Shanti (the stunning Tabu). Siddhu also has to settle down some day, and he becomes engaged to his wealthy girlfriend-by-insistence, Swetha (Rimi Sen). Of course things can’t run that smoothly in a Telugu film with such a big ticket star. Swetha’s dad Veerendra (Prakash Raj) has history with Govind he would rather forget, and Siddhu upsets a local crime lord. There is drama, dancing, action and moralising galore before anyone can call it a day.

Mildly surprising for a family-ish film, it opens with an item including rain, pole dancing, and finger sucking. The poor girls must have really struggled wearing their big clompy boots in the water. There is a faint attempt to weave the skanking into the plot as the water tankers have been diverted away from the colony and residents are left for days with no drinking water. Of course, only one man can sort this out. Sparks and a hitched up lunghi signal the arrival of THE HERO!

Govind is a sentimental bloke with a strong sense of family and justice. He adores his son and couldn’t stand to see him hurt in any way, and can’t even harm a slightly evil genius mouse. Chiranjeevi hedges his bets by also playing suave Siddhu, educated and apparently irresistible to all women.

Siddhu gets to wear more knitwear and his dance sequences are a riot of colour. Chiru in some ways tests the waters of being an ageing hero by playing the father, complete with last minute hair dye as he decides he needs to look a bit younger. But since Govind is still a roguish and salt of the earth man who solves all crises and defends the defenseless, he isn’t exactly turning his back on heroic hijinks.

A great benefit of two Chiranjeevi roles is a double up on the dancing and once again he has Lawrence on board as a choreographer. Chiru’s moves are not as sharp as back in the day but he seems thoroughly delighted to get down with his bad self, and his energy is undeniable.

The action relies a little more on nifty camera work than on Chiru flinging himself about but he does a lot of wire work that adds both comedic underscoring and dramatic impact to those scenes. There are some days when the skinny double worked as there are obvious changes in physique in some scenes requiring both Chirus.

Siddhu meets Swetha when she suckers him into pretending to be her boyfriend so she can save face as she has told her friends they’re together. She is introduced through a series of closeups of her butt, her waist and her chest and that is about it for character development. Rimi Sen does little but pout and swish her hair around, although even that exceeds the minimum requirements for a Telugu film heroine. Swetha reflects her father’s belief that wealth is the same as worth. Veerendra tells Govind that he will allow the marriage only because Swetha loves Siddhu and only on condition that Govind not be part of his son’s life at all. Cue noble idiocy as Govind tries to do what he always does, sacrificing his own happiness for his son. And then even more idiocy as Swetha tries to make Govind and Siddhu pay for insulting her father.

Shanti is working as a Hindi teacher and has been running her family household. For some reason she says yes, perhaps because Govind is so honest about all his flaws in an attempt to put her off marrying him. She seems fond of him but does register that he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Tabu’s role is frustrating. Early on Shanti seems competent, a little bit judgemental as she listens to the sheer nonsense her husband is spewing out, but fond of him and his moustache.

I do love ‘the moustache song’, as I call it.

But later on she loses the scope for the fun expressions and signs of character that made Shanti so appealing. It is a waste of a good actress, but Tabu does what she can to give Shanti some more depth. I liked her rapport with Chiranjeevi and they look good in their dances. In some scenes Tabu looked like she was genuinely trying not to laugh and that actually helped me see Shanti as someone with firm views of her own, even if she didn’t always articulate them. And on a really shallow note, she wears some beautiful sarees.

I am perfectly fine with Govind and Satti Pahlwan (Pradeep Rawat) kicking the living suitcases out of each other, but casual domestic violence is harder to take as entertainment. Govind slaps Shanti (even though he knew she had done nothing wrong) and Shanti dissolves into tearful joy at his acknowledgement that he had slapped her for no reason at all. Grrrrrr! Swetha gets slapped around a bit towards the end of the film but she and Sunil (as an annoying comedy cousin) were just so horrible and scheming that I can almost empathise. Lots of people slap Brahmi but, to be completely honest, nowhere near enough for my liking. I’m a little conflicted.

The climax of the film is not really concerned with the emotional coming of age of two men. There is still the matter of revenge to be thwarted, wrongs to be righted, and the greatest love of all: Will Govind and Ganesh the rat, finally acknowledge their friendship?

Chiranjeevi is showing his age but he also shows why his career has legs. See this for a silly and generally good-hearted action packed family romantic comedy. 3 ½ stars!

Andarivaadu-Ganesh