Alluda Majaka

E.V.V Satyanarayana’s Alluda Majaka could have been an excellent film. There’s peak mullet Chiranjeevi, Ramya Krishna and Rambha so you know the dancing is taken care of, a big budget and adventurous designers. But the story by Posani Krishna Murali is uneven and the comedy interludes are sexist and sleazy even by 90s mass standards. However, look for gold and avert your eyes from the dirt and there are some rewards for your time.

The film opens with Seetharam (Chiranjeevi) being taken to his village in police custody so he can attend a religious festival. Then he’s off straight into a big chase and escape from the police, and it is vintage Chiru. But oh those horse stunts churn my stomach, and the infamous horse sliding under a truck stunt doubly so, even with the hopefully fake horse in one shot. But there is a glass bus. Who knew?

Then Seetharam forcibly marries Pappi (Ramya Krishnan) who is at her wedding ready to get hitched to someone else. And then he is back off to jail again. A lawyer (Giribabu) arrives and promptly shoots Seetharam and then himself in the arm, setting his client up for that crime too. The laywer needs to know why Seetharam has ruined a young girl’s life by marrying her against her will and right before he went back to jail. This triggers a long flashback.

Seetharam’s father was the village president and seemed to be benevolent and practical, much loved by the people. Pappi (Ramya) and Bobby (Rambha) arrive in the village to stay with their mother Vasundhara (Lakshmi) and uncle. They stir up all kinds of trouble and see themselves as above the law and certainly above the people. That does not sit well with Seetharam. Another rogue joins the fray when Peddaiah (Kota Srinivasa Rao) arrives with the plan to get one of the rich girls married to his NRI son Chinna (played by the may as well have been non-existent for all the impression he made Siva). Chinna falls for Seetharam’s dialogueless sister Malliswari (Ooha) and they are engaged. Vasundhara wants the groom for Pappi, Seetharam is delighted his sister will be married, and Peddaiah is determined to find a bride based on dowry and gain for himself. When Chinna goes back to the US for a few months, Vasundhara and Peddaiah pull out all the stops to break up the engagement. It is on for young and old and the unmarried young women are the pawns in the game. By the time we stagger to the conclusion, it’s a straight up battle involving an explosives factory and a jetty and if that doesn’t scream Masala Death Trap I don’t know what does.

I am uncomfortable with the value this film places on women being pure and subservient, but the strong women in the story are so horrible I can’t stand them either. It would have been more interesting if they were less insane and more simply independent. Lakshmi as Vasundhara is the true villain here. She is smart, manipulative, and greedy. But what is her greatest crime? Not wanting to live with her husband – the lawyer Sivaramakrishna who is defending Seetharam. Pappi and Bobby are brats and completely lack common sense or empathy. But. Do they deserve to be humiliated by having their bathing suits ripped off them mid swim? Does Pappi deserve to be married against her will to a man who has been sentenced to death? Does Bobby deserve to be humiliated by the accusation that she’d had accidental sex with her brother-in-law?

Does anyone deserve the outfits they wear in the songs?

Much of the comedy is sleazy and gross. Apart from trying to get Ramya and Rambha in compromising positions to teach them a lesson, one track includes Brahmi in drag and a long build up to a tacky rape joke. Then there’s the farcical nuptial night with power outage that leaves the three women uncertain if they’re the one who had relations with Seetharam. And that’s a whole other line of enquiry I prefer not to pursue. I read a review that mentioned Rambha had once said that Chiranjeevi had made the director drop some of the really vulgar scenes planned. My reaction was “Yay for Chiru!” and then a mind boggling moment as I pondered what had been too much considering what had been left in.

Things I did like include that nobody thought Pappi should have to live in a forced marriage (although killing the groom is not cool). Also when Malliswari fell pregnant to her absent fiancé most people, with one notable exception, nobody tried to punish her (except the baddies but that was not on moral grounds). And Vasundhara was a terrible person but she was well written as a villain and had a little bit more going on than most of the men on Team Bad. I quite liked the use of a rainbow slinky as gangster accessory too but that might be a sign I was running out of patience with everything else. And of course, there’s the reason I watched this in the first place. The decor. No!

CHIRU!!!

Thankfully Chiranjeevi is in great form despite the lamentable material. He fights, he speechifies, he emotes so vigorously even his hair is furious, he defies laws of physics and gravity, and he dances like there’s no tomorrow. And he does it all so well. The fight choreo is complex and includes loads of acrobatics which Chiru nails. And he gets to drive lots of different forms of transport which I feel Chiranjeevi enjoyed. He looks quite content trundling around on his tractor, then so devil may care on a jet ski.

Although the stunt dummies lack his panache. As usual Chiru dances like he’s having the time of his life strutting his stuff in some truly eye-searing looks. In an unfortunate plot diversion, Chiru also plays the Mega rich Mr Toyota. Rich, weird, and foreign, he’s a comedy uncle on heat. I’m not sure how his disguise as Mr Toyota was in any way convincing and I am not at all persuaded the film needed him despite the additional scope it gave to the costume team. It is such a shame this film is an over long and undigestable turkey because there is so much peak Megastar stuff.

2 stars. Only for Mega-completists.

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Bhairava Dweepam

Bhairava Dweepam DVD

Released in 1994, Bhairava Dweepam is a lavish lolly coloured Telugu folk tale. Writer/director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao picked up a couple of awards and the film was both a commercial and critical success. Although I found it quite entertaining, there are a few things I couldn’t help but compare unfavourably with other similar films.

Bhairava-Dweepam-Vasundhara is rejected

The story is easy to follow, which was handy as I haven’t been able to find subtitles. Vasundhara (K.R Vijaya) had a baby, probably out of wedlock but certainly not to the liking of the royal family. When she takes her son to the prince, the father in question, she is turfed out into the stormy night. She has an accident in her small unstable boat and mother and child are separated. Vasundhara is taken in by a kindly hermit who also creates a magical (poorly trimmed fabric) flower that will thrive as long as her son is also alive.

The boy is adopted by a village leader and grows up to be Vijay (Balakrishna). The people rejoiced – except that baby in yellow. Vijay and his sidekick or adopted brother, (Mohan Babu), are out and about doing what boys in folktales do when they spy Padma (Roja). Vijay is instantly smitten and sets about finding his way into the palace to spend more time with her. Unbeknownst to Padma, an evil magician also has his sights set on her. Padma is rendered seriously ill by a spell and Vijay searches for a cure. Along the way he meets his mother but they don’t yet realise their connection. She gives him a protective amulet which comes in very handy. He discovers the nefarious plot and after much travail, confronts Bhairava to set things to rights.

The story is very similar to the gorgeous 1951 film, Patala Bhairavi. And that is where the comparisons start. Where Patala Bhairavi was stunning and NTR was effortlessly charismatic, Bhairava Dweepam is a bit less magical and Balakrishna is more workmanlike in constructing his performance. The special effects in 1994 have not moved on all that much from 1951. I did wonder what my 1994 self would have thought, but in 1994 I had already seen films like Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985). While there were some things about Legend I don’t care for (Tom Cruise for starters), it did look like a magical fairytale and the unicorns are beautiful. Compare and contrast these approaches to prosthetic horse makeup.

While I appreciate the spirit of making do, even if it does result in a grumpy looking horse with feathers stuck on, I was left a little underwhelmed. It was a mixed bag and often more amusing than enchanting.

There are other sequences involving a two headed rubber chicken dragon attacking the flying bed used to whisk Padma to the villain’s cave, some tiny miniature people who help Vijay obtain a magical necklace, a mirror monster in a peekaboo green rubber suit and so much more. It is kind of great but not really good. Ajooba-esque, perhaps. And there are some horse stunts that look horrible. One scene involved Vijay using a stick to trip horses, and not all of them looked like they were going to get up. I deducted Hero points from Vijay on seeing that tactic.

Balakrishna works harder than anyone else in the cast. Vijay is in almost every scene and usually throwing himself into a duel or bounding about rescuing the princess so this is a physically demanding role. If Balakrishna had been paid per leap he would have cleaned up. Vijay helps or liberates a number of magical beings along the way, and they give him valuable assistance in his quest. Balakrishna certainly has the confident swagger down pat even if his dancing is less than impressive. But making a film that is so similar to one of NTR’s acclaimed roles and trying to replicate his style is a big ask. I thought the same when I watched Sri Rama Rajyam. There is nothing wrong with his performance, but he doesn’t have the same expressive quality or panache and so comes off as less engaging. Tarak (NTR Jr) seems to take a slightly different tack by paying a tribute to his grandfather in his films but not trying to mimic him as closely. That allows for more individuality and he has developed a kind of everyman hero persona (with phenomenal dancing skills). Balakrishna is more closely tied to the legacy and so I find it hard to appreciate him as an individual actor, at least based on the handful of his films I’ve seen. Plus he will always be This Guy to me.

Roja is the love interest, Padma Devi. Padma is your standard damsel in occasional distress. She does nothing other than look sparkly, frolic with her handmaidens and wait to be rescued from Certain Death. Roja is pretty and lively, and she handles the numerous songs and dances easily. But I think she would have spent more time in hair and makeup than having to learn her few lines. I did wonder why, since Bhairava required a virgin for his spell, no one thought about how Padma could disqualify herself.

The supporting cast are all good without being outstanding. Rambha has one of the big musical numbers as Yakshini, the owner of both magical necklace and green mirror monster. Giri Babu and Subhalekha  Sudhakar play scheming brothers (and Vijay’s relatives) who not only depose their own father but have their eye on Padma’s kingdom as well.

K.R Vijaya is good as Vasundhara and she does get a couple of quite dramatic scenes, including a classic Nahiin Face Off with Balakrishna.

The design department certainly went for it. Their philosophy could be summed up as ‘all the colours, all the time’. Vijay has an extensive wardrobe of gaudy leggings and tunics, nicely accessorised with an array of ornate boots and matching wristbands. I was particularly impressed with the outfit that had canary boots to match the yellow terry-towelling trim and headband. Perfect for the active hero! Roja is very glittery, as are her attendants. Bhairava’s island cave lair is more impressive from the outside but he does have more than the usual number of talking statues so that was something. There are comedy demons that help Vijay, and they look like something straight out of the kindergarten dress up box.

Bhairava Dweepam is entertaining enough, but having seen it twice now I don’t think I’d invest the time on watching it again. See it for a relatively recent take on the folkloric blockbuster and for the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the cast. 3 stars! (But if you’re a diehard fan of Ajooba, add an extra star!)

Bhairava-Dweepam-Rabbit

Also – I love this production house emblem.