R…Rajkumar (2013)

R...Rajkumar

Prabhu Dheva (where did the extra ‘h’ come from?), the dance guru, directing Shahid Kapoor, one of the few Hindi actors who can dance – surely that has to be a good thing?

R...Rajkumar

Well… the premise is there, but in delivery R…Rajkumar is not as good as expected.  While the dancing is excellent (and it is fantastic to see a director make full use of Shahid’s talents in that respect), there are a few too many distasteful misogynistic moments to make this film anything other than just OK.  Shahid makes a reasonable attempt at masala served southern style, and his goofy shirts, dreadful hair and love struck Romeo are entertaining if somewhat reminiscent of Siddharth in Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana.  Although Shahid does his best, the story is standard fare, and adheres strictly to the usual Telugu formula complete with cartoonish fight scenes and ineffectual heroine.  It’s such a shame when all the ingredients are there to make a much better film, if only a little more thought had gone into the screenplay.

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Romeo Rajkumar turns up in a small town where two rival gangs are battling for control of the opium trade, managing to arrive just at the right time to save Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha) from a stray bullet. Simultaneously he falls deeply in love with her after just one brief glance – so deeply in fact, that the mere sight of his ‘lollipop’ (gah!) is enough to halt him in his tracks.   And I do mean completely stop – no matter what – even when taking part in an assassination or when driving the getaway car after another attack on a rival gang. Much hilarious comedy ensues. Well, to be fair, it is funny the first time or two, but it just gets repeated a few too many times.

Rajkumar signs up with Shivraj (Sonu Sood) and soon becomes one of his top men in the fight against rival gang boss Parmar (Ashish Vidyarthi) becoming good friends with Qamar Ali (Mukul Dev) in the process.  The first half is full of outrageous shirts, bad hair and some amazing dance moves from Shahid along with a brief appearance from Prabhu Deva himself.

R...Rajkumar

But while Shahid is blowing kisses and generally making an idiot of himself, there are darker scenes such as an apparent rape in the police station which is treated as an everyday occurrence and not worthy of further mention.  Further threats of violence and rape against the heroine are also treated as comedy and while some of the lewd dialogue is funny, most is offensive rather than comical.

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Sonakshi Sinha starts off as a feisty village girl with great attitude as she beats up a gang of louts who dare to wolf-whistle at her and her friends. She berates Rajkumar for his unwanted attentions repeatedly, until she manages to overcome her aversion to eighties hair and loud shirts and decides that maybe Rajkumar isn’t so bad after all. But that’s the end of any personality for Chanda, who rapidly becomes vapid and useless, totally unable to defend herself against her uncle and his plans for her marriage, and completely helpless in the face of Shivraj’s attempts to seduce her. It’s a role Sonaskshi Sinha has done many times in the past but she has less conviction in her character here, and it shows.  There is no energy in her performance and zero chemistry with her co-star which makes me wonder why Prabhu Deva didn’t pick someone like Trisha or even Charme Kaur (who turns up in a song) who surely would have brought more oomph to the role.

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Equally disappointing is Sonu Sood who is less menacing and more buffoonish than expected as a gang boss.  Ashish Vidyarthi is even more of a caricature as his rival, while Asrani is actually rather restrained in his role as spiritual advisor to Shivraj.  It’s bitter sweet to see Srihari appear here as the über villain Ajit Taaka, in one of his last appearances.  Generally he’s fine in spite of a rather unconvincing storyline and one rather bizarre scene where he appears gyrating with some bikini clad women on top of a hotel in (supposedly) Hong Kong. Best to just ignore and move along – when did masala ever have to make sense?

What does work well in the film are the songs by Pritam.  Prabhu Deva does an excellent job with the choreography, as for example here in Saree Ke Fall Sa where he uses the backing dancers and a few basic props to good effect.  The only exception is the last item song with Ragini Dwivedi and Scarlett Wilson which is shambolic with much less of a southern feel.

While the film initially feels like a series of short comedy sketches, everything slows down in the second half and becomes a little more serious with more fight scenes and fewer songs.  The inevitable final showdown is good, although I don’t think Shahid is quite as convincing in ‘back-from-the-edge-of-death’ recoveries as, for example, Shahrukh in Chennai Express, which does make the last fight scene funnier than I think it was meant to be. The film could definitely do with fewer rape references, and a more socially responsible hero would have made for less uncomfortable viewing.  Still, Shahid puts in a good performance and seeing him dance up a storm southern style, makes R…Rajkumar worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights I expected.

R...Rajkumar

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Naayak

Naayak Poster

Naayak is an updated masala potboiler, action packed with colourful dance numbers and an improbable but entertaining enough story. The audience last night was mostly young couples and families. I did wonder yet again at the ability of children to sleep through anything. At the end of the film the dads left with a kid slung over one shoulder, dead to the world.

To summarise the story, with mild spoilers:

Naayak opens with four men being pursued through the streets and lanes of Kolkata, and eventually tied to a pillar in the forecourt of an ornate manor. Surrounded by approximately 4962 taxis with their headlights on, the men look doomed. But a mysterious figures glides through the darkness, and rescues them in a bloody fight involving lots of pointy objects and ornate axes. Who was he and why were they in trouble? That comes later. Charan is Charan AKA Cherry, a Hyderabadi IT dude. Through some Brahmi induced comedy complications, he meets the gangster Babji (Rahul Dev) and his pretty sister Madhu (Kajal). In the background, Cherry appears to be on a killing spree from Kolkata to Hyderabad. Babji sees Cherry shoot a senior police officer and starts asking questions about who Cherry really is. At the same time the police, led by Ashish Vidyarthi, are closing in. A trip to Haridwar and a chance encounter with a lookalike prompts a long flashback introducing Siddharth (Charan). Siddharth is on a mission of revenge following Pradeep Rawat’s criminal (and insane) treatment of workers in his chemical factory (and others). Siddharth has his own love interest in Amala Paul, and a tragic back story. To quote nearly every Telugu film reviewer ever, ‘how the hero triumphs over the villain forms the rest of the story’.

charan nayak

Charan has matured as an actor and his dialogue delivery has more authority. Perhaps that is because he seems really comfortable in the mass entertainer roles, and he certainly gets the style. Naayak is an updated version of the kind of films Chiranjeevi is known for. Action, dancing, flamboyant costumes, a dash of romance and a social message all add up to a good showcase for the young star. The fights are very stylised and rely on not always seamless wirework and effects. Sometimes the clunky visuals took away from the drama. Charan seems comfortable with the physicality of the fight scenes so he doesn’t let his characterisation lapse and that does help. There were few differences apparent between Cherry and Siddharth – Siddharth’s hair was a bit higher and his necklines a tad lower. But as the story turns on their similarity, that all worked nicely.

Charan’s dancing was such a highlight, especially in the very Chiru-ish Laaila O Laaila which I wanted to be replayed again right away, and Naayak which is just so pretty and colourful.

Naayak Kajal in gold pants

Kajal was very likeable. Madhu is more ‘girl next door in glamourous dress-ups’ than total glamour doll, and she often had a cheeky glint in her eye. The costume designers were reasonably kind to her, with only a brief foray into shiny metallic pants. She cannot dance to save her life, so the choreographers wisely decided to go for stunning locations plus giving Charan all the actual steps and telling Kajal to either shake her butt or heave her chest.

Naayak Charan and Kajal dance

I tell a lie – in one song she had to point one hand skywards and walk, which must have been challenging.

Naayak Kajal and Charan dance

But she looks like she has fun, and she and Charan goofed around flirting rather than worrying so much about the steps.

Amala Paul made little impression apart from looking very pretty. Her role is small but she does get a couple of visually spectacular songs. Unfortunately the costume designers never really considered the implications of dancing with your hair down and wearing a chiffon sari on undulating terrain in Iceland in a stiff breeze so she didn’t always looks graceful.

Charan and Amala dance

Naayak Amala and her shoes

Particularly not as she wore brown Ugg boots  with a green sari and black shoes with bright blue laces with her diaphanous black sari during one song. Kajal wore leggings under her short shorts but apart from being greyish and a bit baggy around the knees, they weren’t as peculiar. I’m all for actresses dressing appropriately for the climate, and for workplace safety, but it was odd.

Rahul Dev is Babji, and he plays a more sympathetic gangster than his usual psycho villain. Indeed, there is quite a sweet bromance developing between him and Cherry until things start to get crazy. Raghu Babu and Jayaprakash Reddy are on comedy duty in his gang and, judging by the audience reaction, knocked it out of the park. MS Narayana is a drunk lip reading expert and his timing and droll expressions are really quite amusing. (As was the misspelled ‘Drinking is injurious to your HEATLH’ warning.) Brahmi has an actual character to play. When he can be dissuaded from just repeating his usual shtick he is so much more bearable. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of his scenes when normally I would be sighing so either I’ve had a head injury or he was good. Dev Gill made an appearance as a psycho baddie with impressive (that’s not the right word but they are very in your face) moobs.

Naayak Charan and Amala

SS Thaman’s music is OK but sounds like every other film. You know, there’s the upbeat hero song, the item (featuring Charmme), the duet, the other duet, the remake of a better song. Nothing wrong with it, but I sit here now and I can picture the sets and the fancy costumes, but can’t recall the music as clearly. One thing I loved in Charmme’s item was Siddharth imaging joining in. His cheesy expressions and Chiru-esque mannerisms were really amusing. That was all his own character’s vision so I liked that glimpse of his inner life.

Despite this being an adventure without subtitles the only thing I feel I really missed was the comedy dialogue. People around me were weeping with laughter and a couple of guys said it is one of the funniest films they’d seen in ages. I’ll be buying the DVD regardless, and am interested to see how well that laugh riot translates. I liked spotting the Pawan Kalyan and Chiranjeevi references in the visuals and dialogues and was pleased to see Shah Rukh smirking from the back of a Significant Magazine.

See it if you like films with clearly defined heroes and villains, action, drama, colour and movement. You’ll need some tolerance for dismemberments, gore and a lot of comedy uncles but it pays off with an explosive climax.

Anukokunda Oka Roju

Sahasra  is a B.Comm student, but her passion is singing. She is a smart, confident girl who is an unwanted addition to her step-mother’s household and she tries to keep her head down.  Her friends are an unexceptional bunch of students and singers, and she is an ordinary girl. So why are people trying to kill her?

Anukokunda Oka Roju translates as Suddenly One Day and the answer lies in a missing day in Sahasra’s life. The action took some time to get going, but I always felt there was some underlying sense I just hadn’t uncovered yet. The direction by Chandrasekhar Yeleti is pacy but allows time for the story to unfold in a way that felt realistic enough and the city setting gives a slightly chaotic edge to the action. It didn’t feel like a join the dots story and there were things that seemed irrelevant initially but took on more significance later. The strength of the characterisations helped keep the suspense set to high despite some overly contrived incidents. Once the motivation behind the attacks on Sahasra was revealed I struggled to completely believe in it, but I was so interested in the characters that I eventually found the ending quite satisfying.

Charmme delivers a great performance as a girl in trouble and out of her depth. Sahasra is a talented singer in a studio chorus with ambitions of singing solos for the great film composers. Charmme shows the spark of confidence and joy that Sahasra feels when she is involved in her music, and how that evaporates when she returns home to a less hospitable environment. Her speech and expressions become younger, almost childlike as she seeks to placate her step-mother, but then regains her robust cheekiness when on the phone to her mother. It makes Sahasra’s fear and also her resilience seem real as we see her strength in everyday situations, not just in the struggle to survive.

This is my favourite of Charmme’s performances, and if you want to see a modern heroine carry a film other than a rom-com, this is a great place to start. And she sings a song sort of dedicated to Chiranjeevi so clearly she has excellent taste in film heroes!

Rajesh (Shashank) is a student who runs an unofficial taxi service on the side. He spots Sahasra and chases her demanding money for a taxi fare she doesn’t remember. She denies everything but they keep crossing paths. He rescues Sahasra from a gang of big burly men and in turn becomes a target of sorts. Shashank does an OK job, but as in Sye he doesn’t do any more than just OK. He is suited to this role, and the fight scenes are realistically scuffly and non-heroic, but despite being in a couple of highly dramatic sequences he made little impression.

SI Suresh Reddy (Jagapathi Babu) is an odd character. A corrupt and eccentric juice-swilling policeman, he is in the vicinity when Sahasra is attacked. His investigation is motivated by both judicial and personal concerns – unbeknownst to Sahasra, her father was in talks to marry the pair. He is socially awkward and falls for her like a ton of bricks.

Jagapathi Babu is brilliant at showing glimpses of the awkward guy with a crush as well as the confident bully. His eccentricities seem to stem more from boredom in his career and his life, and when he means business, he is convincing. He takes on the investigation and at first is totally unwelcome in Sahasra’s life and her friends resist him. But he gets results and as he unravels the events, he realises that other mysterious deaths may be related and Sahasra is in more trouble than she knows. His character builds over the course of the film, and I found myself first dismissing him as a corrupt nutter, but then anxiously looking for his face in the crowd as things looked grim for Sahasra.

Sahasra’s friend Shwetha (Pooja Bharti) took her to a party and Sahasra’s drink was spiked. This is the reason for the lost time, and lost memories. The drugs were let go by Suresh Reddy when he took a bribe from the dealer so his involvement takes on another dimension. The dialogue (by Ganga Raju Gunnam) was excellent, often amusing and very illuminating in terms of character insights. The girls are such different characters and I liked that they were shown as disapproving but not bitchy. There are a couple of dialogue exchanges where the girls discuss sex and it is refreshing to see friends who can tell each other they think the other is an idiot but without rancour.

The safe sex message is loud and clear and despite being linked to an unwanted pregnancy, I didn’t feel that the girl was being demonised, and she certainly wasn’t made to suffer or repent. In fact, the good girl was the one to walk out of the hospital and nearly be killed. It was an interesting detour and suited the low key modern urban setting and the cast of 20-somethings. Sahasra is a typically good girl heroine, but her friends are diverse (although very much in the background) and that makes her more relatable and real.

It was this level of detail in the characterisations that made the film so engaging for me. These people had lives I could identify with to an extent, and their motivations were believable. Sahasra’s home life was complicated by her father’s remarriage, but her step mother wasn’t a crazy evil stereotype, just a bit of a bitch. Shwetha was partially responsible for her friend’s predicament because she didn’t speak up at first, but she was still a good friend when Sahasra needed support. Rajesh had debts and aspirations, but didn’t let his own plans blind him to a person in need. Suresh could have used his authority to pressure Sahasra but he backed off and when she came to him, he helped and did it in as sensitive a manner as he could. There is a scene at the end where Suresh just says what he needs to say to the guy who he thinks might get his girl and it’s touching but realistic.

There is a comedy sideplot, but mercifully it is carried mostly by the very likeable Harsha Vardhan as a hapless school teacher and neighbour, and to an extent by Rajesh in his taxi. The comedic incidents do all in some way feed back into the main story, and involve relevant characters. Harsha Vardhan wins my special gold star for most excellent insults delivered in delightfully plummy English.

And there was a fight in a music shop which I enjoyed a lot as it was funny and still menacing – and Charmme acquitted herself pretty well before her rescuer turned up.

The M.M.Keeravani soundtrack is effective and all the songs have their place either illustrating characters or incidents, so there were no breaks in the dramatic tension just because people burst into song. The cinematography adds to the mood, using changing angles and distances to show the pursuit, but balancing that with character focussed shots that reveal people’s inner thoughts and hopes.

It’s a really enjoyable thriller and I highly recommend it. I have to make a minor deduction for an over the top although rarely seen bad guy, and his motivation. But the conclusion for the three main characters is satisfying and a little less predictable than it might have been. 4 stars!