Ranuva Veeran (1981)

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S.P Muthuraman’s 1981 epic is standard mass fare in terms of the story and style, but it did bring early-ish career Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi together as hero and villain respectively. I saw this on a dodgy unsubtitled print, and no one seems to have bothered with detailed cast lists and the like so I will mostly have to refer to characters by the actor’s name. And my usual “Adventures Without Subtitles” caveat applies – I probably made it all up!

Raghu (Rajinikanth) returns home after military service. He defeats thugs on a train, acquires a gun-obsessed child, and returns home only to find that his village has been preyed upon by bandits lead by a mysterious man with one eye (Chiranjeevi). Raghu uses a rousing training montage to equip the villagers to fight back, and tensions escalate. He also meets the lovely Bhumi (Sri Devi) and decides to make her life miserable with his approach to courtship. When Raghu finally slaps the creepy contact lens and fake beard right off Chiranjeevi’s head he realises the gang leader is in fact his old college friend. After faking an accident the gentlemen retire to a grove of trees and strike poses as they declaim their views on good and evil or plaid or something. They certainly are not the same boys who were bosom buddies. And even worse, Chiranjeevi is married to (or living in sin with) Raghu’s sister Ganga who is the mother of the gun toting tot. Raghu eventually manages to overact his way through the dramatic landscapes and to freedom. Chiru is unrepentant about his criminal life, barely blinks at his son being rehomed, and seems more motivated now his secret is out in the open. Bad guys being bad guys, he is still intent on one more heist and that leads to the knock down drag out finale.

Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth have a similar ability to inject a feeling of quality in even the silliest or most sketchy of roles. Every hero needs a strong adversary and their scenes together have dramatic impact even when things are beyond ridiculous. Both actors spend time frolicking under waterfalls, with varying results. There is a real sense of personal animosity and betrayal in their confrontations. And karate!

Sri Devi gets the rough end of the pineapple with almost no nuance to her role and the burden of steering Rajini around in the dances. Plus perching on a giant Vat 69 bottle as it revolved looked quite scary.

Rajinikanth is the typically righteous and capable hero and seems to relish the mass dramatics. He is laconic but charismatic, and his chemistry with Chiranjeevi is great. His rapport with Sri Devi is less natural but they do have some scenes where neither of them is shouting or threatening the other, and those do work quite nicely.

My favourite action sequence has Rajini kind of mummified and stolen from hospital by Chiru who thinks it is his badly burned goon. But Chiru is not fooled and pours petrol over Rajini…Anyway, the suit morphs from mummy to Ninja to fireproof welding hood and the stunt body in the suit also morphs a bit. It’s a fun and fiery sequence! And did I mention the dancing and the karate?

Chiru makes a big entrance as he tries to evade an entire state’s worth of police. He has a glassy blue eye, and a striking purple suit that I would not have chosen if I was trying to look inconspicuous. But where was he hiding the grenade? Chiru tries to extort money from the mill owner, but Raghu hires security, who work for Chiru and it’s all so much more complicated than it needs to be.

I am not sure but suspect that the gimp masks on the hired goons might not be enough of a disguise in a small community. Look, I really don’t know where Chiru is hiding his grenades but if it’s where I think it is, he is brave and not counting on having any more children.

Raghu interrupts a cockfight run by Bhumi (Sri Devi), getting a cock drunk so it wins. How dare women think they can win at a manly man’s sport like letting a chicken kill another chicken. Bhumi may be silly and loud but Raghu is so mean to her, apparently because she is strong, independent, and her spirit must be crushed so she can settle for him. In another scene Rajini throws sarees at the men who hid from a gang, which is again quite unfair on women who tolerate enough pain to keep popping out babies and putting up with their husbands. It’s not a forward thinking feminist film by any means. Sri Devi wears clothes that are far too small and minus  a chunni in that universal filmi sign of “simple to the point of checking for head injuries”, and screeches a lot.

Bhumi absolutely scandalises Raghu’s family who are quite stitched up, but Raghu is more egalitarian so I did like his complete lack of judging her on her caste or status. Sri Devi’s scenes were an uneven mix of slap happy confrontations and slapstick comedy, but she is charming in a shrill and chicken obsessed way. And someone had to know what to do in the big musical numbers.

Raghu’s family show a dedication to overacting that thankfully failed to manifest in him. The boy Iqbal is shrill and annoying, and reactions to him highlight the differences between the father (Poornam Vishwanathan) and Raghu especially where religion and social welfare are concerned. Raghu’s mother (Nalini) gets her teeth into the scenery too, and I could see why the military might offer Raghu some peace and quiet. Sister Ganga is clearly sad to be separated from her family but will not give up Chiru. She has to make some hard decisions and while she is the film’s fallen woman she is not unsympathetic or unlikeable.

The finale is epic as Chiru and gang spend what seems like DAYS riding their motorbikes towards a big festival that also requires a Rajini and Sri Devi dance number. The climax involves a lot of karate and finally Iqbal’s penchant for guns is utilised. I’m not sure what becomes of that child but I hope all of his near and dear were aware of his vengeful streak and accurate aim.

See this for the excellent pairing of Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi, for some striking visuals including Rajni prancing through giant bottle props, and because you’d never get the budget to put this cast together again today. 3 ½ stars! Would have been 4 but all that screeching…my ears are still recovering.

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Khaidi No 150

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I thought the original film (Kaththi) was mediocre so I had low expectations. And I was honestly happy at seeing Big Chiru on screen, my first ever Megastar FDFS, and the bonus of subtitles. The audience went nuts when Chiru’s foot first appeared. Apparently I am not the only one who takes a keen interest in Mega Footwear. And the screaming and paper throwing erupted at the start of every song and every fight. It felt so good to be among my people.

The story goes like this. Escaped convict Seenu (Chiranjeevi) witnesses an attempted hit on a stranger, Sankar (Chiranjeevi). He takes Sankar to hospital but swaps over their ID so he can remain free, assuming that the police will let the other man go once they realise the error. Seenu then impersonates Sankar, and acquires a nursing home full of old men from the village of Neeru. As he understand their story, and gets to watch a handy documentary on Sankar’s crusade against the evil corporates, Seenu takes up the fight as his own.

In many ways this is a perfect comeback vehicle for Chiranjeevi. The dual role and the breadth of the action means no matter what his fans want from him, they’re likely to get it. He delivers action, big speeches, garish outfits, and some of his trademark dance moves (the veena step!), all with minor modification to suit a gentleman of a certain age. And most of that is done in the initial prologue section. The dual role means he can play both mass and class aspects of the standard hero, and even asks Lakshmi (Kajal) which she prefers before telling her his name. Sankar wears brainy glasses (HOT. Just saying) where Seenu has a more flamboyant style. There are references both in the script and the background music to his previous films, some of them drawing roars of appreciation from a very vocal crowd. He has a sidekick (Ali), an enemy (Tarun Arora), a frenemy (Brahmanandam as Doberman), and many comedy uncles and familiar actors as supports, dependants, and thugs. He also has an irrelevant love interest. See? Everything!

I was wondering how they would deal with the age gap between Chiru and Kajal and the answer is that Seenu thinks Lakshmi is a childhood sweetheart, but then realises they just look alike. So I decided that young at heart Seenu always thinks of himself as that twenty-something dude about town rather than thinking we’d believe they were actually the same age. I really should be on the payroll to find far-fetched solutions to ill-conceived plot devices…And the fight scenes are grand and full of energy, even though Chiru has long since left his limber acrobatic years behind. The songs also work to cover over the years because they are more a platform for people to worship the Megastar not a display of romance. The lyrics are mostly about how great he is, the choreo is very peacock-esque as he and the backing dudes strut their stuff, and the ladies just wiggle when in shot.

“Ammadu lets do Kummudu” is probably the worst song I will hear this year but as soon as it was over I would have hit replay if I could have. It has all the visuals I could ask for – prancing, colourful outfits, bedazzled Mega-shoes, and a guest appearance by Charan. Father and son look so chuffed to be dancing together. The backing dancer costumes are a wonder throughout. From drapey chiffon to see through plastic jackets, you name it, they had to wear it.

Kajal’s character is irrelevant, and she can hardly dance, so I really paid little attention to her. However. In every song picturisation she wears extremely sensible walking shoes regardless of her dress. So I was mildly diverted and wondered if it was due to her height compared to Chiru, perhaps she had an injury and couldn’t wear the usual ugly strappy sandals, was it some kind of statement. I don’t know. I doubt that this is what she wants to be remembered for but it really is the most interesting thing about Lakshmi.

Farmer suicide is a real issue given pretty superficial treatment by V.V Vinayak, although I appreciate he tried to show the effects of the ever shortening media cycle on long running issues. But the main components of the story felt off kilter. Farming life was overly romanticised, described as a necessary fate, and condemned as too harsh, often in the same grand speech. The speech that got a really big response was one about people being forced out of their villages and having to take crappy jobs in the big cities to earn some money. But the film seemed adamant that people should stay on the land, which I think is a bit simplistic as country kids may want or need to pursue other careers and they should have those opportunities. Sankar was supposed to be a man of principle but didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond when offered a deal to let some thugs kill Seenu if they got him out of jail. It was OK to throw in a tasteless joke that Doberman (Brahmi) had raped 100 women. And Ali in drag is never necessary to any movie ever. And the Megastar presence really dominates so that the reliable and accomplished guys like Nasser had little opportunity to make much of their roles. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to anyone but Chiru!

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There are also some genuinely funny moments. I think my favourite was  when Posani Krishna Murali’s men all pretended to pick up phone calls as he was blustering and wandered off looking busy rather than face Seenu. Or maybe when Brahmi lost his religion during a huge fight scene. I also liked the thinking behind one fight scene that progressed through corporate thugs, oiled up baldy muscle men who looked like an angry pack of Maltesers, and finally the bad hair gang.

Lest you think I am completely superficial and only looked at the shoes, there was an interesting moment regarding justice in this film world. The judge (played by Naga Babu) says that if a single person kills that is murder, but if society kills it’s a revolution. It’s a problematic statement once you get thinking about the mob and riots but it did mean someone notionally good avoided jail time, and the person they killed was bad news anyway. No biggie.

Will Khaidi No 150 make a fan of anyone who isn’t? Probably not. Does any of that matter if you are a fan? No way!

Pssst  – Make sure you stay for the end credits for some glimpses of the famous visitors on set, and Lawrence closely monitoring a dance and giving someone the stinkeye.

Veta (1986)

 

Veta DVD

Let me summarise the plot. It’s The Chiru of Monte Cristo.

A Kodandarami Reddy and the Paruchuri brothers transpose the Dumas classic to a pre-Independence India that still seems somewhat out of time. Maybe it’s all the ruffled shirts. Or lack of credible historical detail.

Pratap (Chiranjeevi) is an honest merchant seaman/maître d’, framed and sent to jail merely to protect the self-interest of others. His pre-incarceration outfits tend towards the Purple Rain era Prince influenced. Purple, ruffles, fancy boots, metallic mesh puffy sleeves. OK maybe that last one was purely the wardrobe team.

Saroja (Jayaprada) is related to, but not interested in relations with, Jairam (Mohan Sharma) an officer of the British Government. She loves Pratap and they do a lot of frolicking on the beach. Jairam leans on Bannerjee (Ranganath) to send Pratap to jail for the term of his natural life. Pratap tries to escape but is hunted down like a blindingly white trousered prancing thing. They truss him on the truck like a hood ornament or hunting trophy, and off he goes. Eventually Pratap hears sounds from the next cell. My note here reads “OMG he uses a broken cup to cut through solid rock. Of course.”

Mahendra Bhoopati (Kongara Jaggaiah) is the king next door, also in jail thanks to sleazy Jairam. He explains to still innocent Pratap who all had conspired to get him locked up. That lights a fire under Pratap and he vows revenge. He also promises to seek out the king’s daughter Jyotirmayi and restore her fortune and title. The map to the treasure is written in blood. Of course.

Pratap escapes and is rescued by quasi pirates who take him to the secret island location to find the treasure. There are so many plastic skulls…One pirate is eaten by cannibal tribesmen. But they bite off more than they can chew when they attack Pratap. Yes, I went there! Do note that if you are attacked by cannibals, it pays to have a cobra handy.

Many questions occurred to me throughout this episode, and I do not recall the same level of WTFery in the original text. How the hell did Mahendra Bhoopati get that huge trunk into this cave surrounded by all those perils? Did he have the cannibals installed later? How do Pratap’s clothes stay so white?

Pratap returns to civilisation as the mysterious Rana Pratap Kumar Varma. In a vague nod to realism, people do seem to recognise his face even if they talk themselves out of it. Saroja knows exactly who he is, even without the Significant Ring, but doesn’t tell her husband, the unlovely Jairam. Pratap is enraged at her faithlessness despite knowing she thought he was dead, and his anger makes him really bad at maths. Saroja has a young son and Pratap doesn’t even consider the kid could be his. Saroja tells him but he is too far into his rage to believe her. Jyotirmayi (Sumalatha) has feelings for Pratap but she can see he is not emotionally available. That doesn’t stop her from imagining him shaking his moneymaker in a tribal extravaganza.

My note here reads “OMG Pratap stabs Banerjee with his BARE HAND. His Red Right Hand!”

Veta-Pratap and Jyotirmayi

Eventually Pratap goes Rambo and takes his revenge. He is ably supported by the knife throwing Jyotirmayi and hampered by the clueless and obedient Saroja. The guns look super fake, Pratap survives being trampled by horses, it is all insane and exactly as expected. Even Jayaprada’s saree seems to have super protective properties as she did survive a rocket launcher attack unscathed. Once.

Chiranjeevi is more than up to the requirements of wearing outrageous outfits, chasing horses, prancing mightily, and emoting fiercely. He sounds so sincere in every big speech, and despite the silly trappings he does portray the darker side of Pratap’s character once he is set on revenge.

Jayaprada makes a stronger impression in the latter part of the film, when Pratap returns from the dead. She is no longer the demure young girl with horrible fashion sense. She has lived through loss and she knows what her priorities are. Her scenes with Chiranjeevi crackle with emotion and pain. I am often impressed by how good the good bits of a potboiler can be.

Sumalatha is world weary and a bit over it all as Jyotirmayi, and despite minimal dialogue and screen time she makes something of her character. And Jyotirmayi had excellent song costume imagination.

The song picturisations range from the usual cavorting on hillsides to more epic fantasies. Often the song picturisations are a heroine’s fantasy but in Veta Chiru dresses himself in his songs and his happy memories seem to consist of flinging himself around in ruffled shirts or the mindboggling Fauxgyptian oasis. In the Oh Rani song Jayaprada has to frolic in a wet white saree so Chiru frolics in snug white pants. Equality in action.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this film other than I’d watch it because of Chiranjeevi. It’s not exactly good but it is highly enjoyable and visually pleasing. I like both Jayaprada and Sumalatha and their characters do more than just wait and simper, and the Megastar is suitably over the top heroic. I was sitting there thinking to myself that the stunts were unusually human centric with nary an injured horse in sight and then in the last 7 minutes or so the horses started toppling. It’s just so wrenching to watch.

See this to round out your education in film adaptations of classic literature, to see a robust sample of ruffled shirts to inform your wardrobe choices, or just because you aren’t sure if I am exaggerating the WTFery or being unusually understated. 3 stars!

P.S The film is on Youtube with subtitles.