Pokiri is my favourite Mahesh Babu film, along with Athadu. I’ve seen the Tamil remake Pokkiri, and endured Wanted in Hindi (for completeness) and neither of them holds a candle to the original. Puri Jagannadh combines a strong story with striking visuals to make a gory, suspenseful action masterpiece. The story is set in the murky world of cashed up property developers, corrupt cops and parasitic crooks (the ‘land mafia’). Justice seems to reside outside of the legal system, but it isn’t immediately clear where.

We first see Pandu (Mahesh Babu) when he lures a gang out of their own territory and beats them to a pulp after kindly offering to leave a door in the shed open so they could run away if they got scared. He celebrates with a dance in which he beats people up. He then hooks up with the gang who he has just beaten up, including Subbaraju, employed by off shore crimelord Ali Bhai. Jyothirana as Mona shows an interest in Pandu that is not purely professional, and I can see why she might have been disappointed in his answer.

Pandu has all the typical hero attributes – the vestigial mullet hairdo, he’s invincible, he just has to break into dance and everyone around him joins in, he never gets lost or stuck in traffic and he is never stuck for a one liner. Despite his refusal to injure women and children, he will kill without remorse and his intensity in explaining how bad he is seems to indicate perverse pride in his achievements. Pandu is an anti-hero and there is no pretence made that he is really a good guy although of course he has a back story that explains much once it is revealed. Mahesh’s performance is totally committed to the crushing action scenes, and he is expressive in the emotional moments. Pandu is a baby faced killer with few if any scruples, although he seems to have caring friends (including Ajay) and occasional flashes of levity.

But I really had to question if someone who solved all their problems with such brutality would be any easier to deal with if he was motivated by love rather than anger. Dead is dead after all. But it’s Mahesh, so Pandu was never going to be left painted as a complete villain for the whole film.

Pandu is attracted to Shruthi and knows they are all wrong for each other. Oh God, what to do?

Ileana is Shruthi; young, pretty and pouty. Her storyline justifies wearing midriff-baring lycra as she is an aerobics instructor, and the sole breadwinner in her family. She still has the very flexible working hours and extensive wardrobe a film heroine needs. Slimy S.I Pasupathi (Ashish Vidyarthi in a creepy performance) hits on her and her mother, and pays rowdies to stage a fake rape to ruin her and prevent her marrying.

When Pandu finds out he pursues the perpetrators and none of them walk away from the encounter. But Shruthi isn’t grateful or smitten as a result – she is more fearful of her own lack of judgement in pursuing Pandu.

She struggles with her attraction to Pandu and her revulsion at what he does, especially following a squelchingly bloody fight set at Golconda. Ileana is given dialogue that illustrates Shruthi’s strength of character and should show this inner conflict but almost everything emerges as either a simper (I love him!) or a teary whine (he’s so mean!) and she missed the mark. Perhaps it was a question of maturity – she played Shruthi as a girl rather than a young woman which I think this needed.

The songs by Mani Sharma are highly enjoyable and so are the picturisations, possibly not always for the intended reasons. Who needs a comedy sideplot when you have those lanky pale legs in a lunghi?

The romantic duets look less successful as I don’t think there is sufficient chemistry between the couple, or enough actual dancing in their songs together. But I love the backing guys in this.

Brahmi is the neighbour who dresses 30 years too young and keeps cracking on to Shruthi. Mercifully he is mostly quarantined in a sideplot with Ali and Venu Madhav so they torture each other and I ignore it. It’s not really that bad as comedy sideplots go, but I fast forward in their scenes. I would like to suggest that comedy uncle types from all film industries should held in a secure facility on a remote island. There should be a strict ‘one in, one out’ policy that would keep their screen presence manageable. Sunil would be free to roam as he pleases because I find him funny.

Prakash Raj is the shadowy don, Ali Bhai. He is menacing from a distance, but seems less calculating and more self obsessed when he joins the mainstream of the drama. He has some fancy shirts and nasty habits that sometimes tip Ali into caricature.

Ultimately it is Ali Bhai who drives the final showdown. He humiliates and kidnaps the daughter of the ACP to have a bargaining chip. Once again the police are shown as powerless – forced to lie about an arrest to prevent political interference – and working outside the law to deal with this criminal.

Rape is a common threat against the women in Pokiri. It is treated as something serious, although in a very filmi way.  But then Puri Jagannadh shows a rapist’s father demanding to know why his son’s reputation is being ruined. The fact that his son filmed himself raping the girl doesn’t seem to worry him as much as seeing the footage on the TV news. There is also criticism of the tabloid media who glorify and collude with criminals for the sake of sensation and ratings yet demand law and order. Mona sells the rape film to the press and Pandu asks if she is a woman to be able do that to another woman. No such question to the guys in the gang – maybe we aren’t meant to expect morals from them. And of course, that old Telugu film chestnut; if a good person kills a bad person, was it really a crime? Behind all the blood splatter and gunfire there were some interesting notions floating around but they were never going to get in the way of the action.

The climax is brilliant. A slight twist is revealed – when will senior policemen learn not to tell their kids about top secret operations? All the bad guys converge on Binny Mills and Pandu wreaks havoc. There are dismemberments, impalements and all manner of gore, in a beautifully choreographed and filmed sequence that takes full advantage of the location and film technologies. I think there’s a bit too much slo-mo glass smashing, but I can forgive the excited over-use of new technology toys. Vijayan created some iconic set pieces in the fights and they really are stunning.

The support cast are there largely to contribute to the body count although Sudha as Shruti’s mother and Master Bharath as her little brother have some key scenes. Ajay and Subbaraju make the most of their roles and both exude menace and a dark comedic edge. Nasser has a small but crucial part in the drama. I liked Sayaji Shinde, the ACP, in his more restrained scenes. Mumaith Khan turns up too for the obligatory item number.

I think this is Puri Jagannadh at his best. He has the strong visual sense and a knack for picking up interesting concepts, which in Pokiri is meshed with an engaging story and some good performances. If you don’t mind your action bloody and unapologetic, this is for you. 4 ½ stars – a small deduction for Ileana’s snivelling.

Heather says: This was my first Mahesh Babu film, and what an introduction! I think Pokiri has one of the best hero entrance scenes when, after plenty of running feet and leg shots, there is that wonderful moment when Mahesh finally bursts onto the screen surrounded by flying vegetables and chillies. Brilliant! It’s definitely one of Mahesh’s best films where his acting and the action element all come together perfectly to create the total package. I saw the Tamil version Pokkiri with Vijay first and although I think that’s also great, the original Telugu film is definitely much better.

I like the way Pandu transitions from the total action hero and baby faced killer (who is not a nice guy at all), to the devastated son later in the film. There seem to be more shades of grey in the character of Pandu than in some of Mahesh’s other roles and it makes him much more interesting – especially as the film progresses and we learn more of the back story. He does still have an astonishing ability to be able to defeat an average of 20 opponents all by himself which seems to be pretty much obligatory for any Mahesh character. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all!  Pokiri does have some excellent action and fight scenes, and some of the methods used to dispose of various villains are very clever indeed. Full marks to Vijayan for some smart action segments and memorable fight choreography. It’s not just Mahesh who excels in Pokiri though. I’m a big fan of Ajay and his presence in any film always makes it just that little bit better. He’s great here as Pandu’s friend and as usual has some wonderful expressions, particularly as Pandu and Shruthi clash.

I like Ileana here too, as she is convincing as the girl who falls in love with the bad guy despite all her reservations.  Her acting in the scenes where her family is threatened is good and although her reaction to the thugs who burst in on her is a little too weepy for me it does come across as right for her character. I enjoyed the interactions between Pandu and Shruthi although there wasn’t too much chemistry between the lead pair. I put this down to the fact that it would be hard to be very romantic with a guy who spends most of his time systematically slaughtering his way through the various gangs in Hyderabad and Shruthi’s revulsion for Pandu’s lifestyle tends to comes across more clearly than anything else. However they do look good together in the songs and the romance works well enough. The various villains are all excellent although Prakash Raj is perhaps a little too much of a caricature in his role as Ali Bhai. Ashish Vidyarthi deserves special mention for being particularly disturbing as the corrupt cop, and Sayaji Shinde was also good as the police commissioner.

The only downside to the film is the terrible comedy track, although it’s actually better here than in the Tamil version with Vadivelu. While I don’t mind Brahmi’s amorous landlord persona, the scenes with the beggars played by Ali and Venu Madhan are incredibly annoying and just slow down the action. Get rid of that and this would be as close to perfect as it gets. As it is it’s still a fantastic watch for all-out Mahesh action – 4 stars.

Nenu Naa Rakshasi

Did I like the film? Well, I wasn’t bored often (except for the comedy), I had plenty to think about, there are some good performances and the  first half is gripping. Puri Jagannadh has tried to frame an introspective psychological study in a mass thriller story, and ultimately fails, although he did set some interesting ideas in play. The issue of suicide is raised but left for us to make our own judgements for the most part. I appreciated the ambiguity that allowed for some viewer reflection instead of being hit over the head with one single message for the whole film. I disliked the final scenes which looked like they had been tacked on to change the overall tone of the story, but the pre-ending ending was lame too. So yes, yes I did like the film overall though there are clearly massive flaws and I am struggling to articulate why they didn’t quite outweigh the positives.

Abhi (Rana) is a hitman motivated by hospital bills for his mother. He is kind of geeky, a loner, and not at all a flawless killing machine. His story is told in an exposition to camera, giving his reasons for becoming a killer and his view of life and love. He isn’t ice cold homicidal perfection and I found this characterisation appealing.  He stresses when the police wander into a cafe, runs into trouble instead of away, acts impulsively when he could have waited for a better opportunity, that sort of thing. When the vengeance and coincidence kicks in, Abhi loses some of that humanity, increases in heroic unstoppability and becomes less believable. He sees Meenakshi (Ileana) and falls for her instantly, sparking some half-arsed stalking (in between kills) and an ‘MTV clip directed by John Woo’ fantasy.

She isn’t too bright if she can’t spot Rana following her in a crowd. Jeez!

Puri Jagannadh shows what Meenakshi does (she records video of people committing suicide and uploads it to Youtube) but doesn’t fully reveal why she does this until very late in the film (there are clear hints early). That was a miscalculation as I didn’t really connect with Meenakshi. In the psychological drama aspect this lack of character depth unbalanced the whole thing for me.

Superintendent Vikram (Subbaraju) and his young daughter move in across the hall from Abhi. I was quite alarmed by her being allowed to wander unsupervised into a stranger’s apartment, but whatever. They provide some emotional engagement for Abhi and some tension as the men become friendly, which is a bad idea for a hitman. Vikram is hunting the Youtube suicide film person as well as investigating the spate of shootings. Subbaraju plays it straight and gives a strong and energetic performance as the righteous cop and loving father. His investigations, together with a rowdy swearing revenge against Abhi, fuel the thriller aspect of the story.

Abhimanyu Singh is the batshit crazy villain who is just too insane and dysfunctional to be believed. He seemed to kill more of his own men than he did his intended victims and his twitchy and fey mannerisms were just hammy. He was so nuts he wasn’t really menacing and so it was all a bit underwhelming for me.

The first half is pretty punchy and l really enjoyed it. The second half loses that energy. For Abhi there is hope for a better tomorrow and he is looking for something to hold on to. Meenakshi on the other hand has disengaged from the world and withdrawn emotionally. They both understand the fragility of life but it motivates them in opposite directions. The Abhi/Meenakshi storyline in Venice detours into a meandering romance and the dramatic stuff happens mostly in India so it’s very uneven. By the time they reach the pretend Easter Island sculptures, the plot has been lost.

Rana is expressive but understated most of the time, and that suited Abhi’s character. His attraction to Meenakshi and his frustration with her is evident. His scenes with the kid next door are nice and the lighter moments are fun, plus his parade of silly walks in the Michael Jackson rip-off  inspired Padithnammo shows that he is prepared to make a goose of himself for our entertainment.

The actual dancing was restricted to a drunk song in Venice and in the club number with Mumaith. It’s not his strength but he isn’t completely unwatchably terrible and I would say he falls firmly into the ‘actors who try to dance’ category. He did look self conscious in a handful of scenes. Rana was very impressive in the action sequences as he is so imposing, and the fight choreography and filming was excellent. The hero entrance scene was great, and had all the visual trademarks I expect from Puri Jagannadh. Abhi supplemented his sharpshooting with some very handy knife and martial artsy skills apparently acquired during the interval so that was time well spent. The ladies in the audience all squealed when Rana said ‘I love you! Something something full package!’ I think they liked his package.

Ileana is beautiful, and certainly gave it her best in a couple of key scenes. She was far more impressive than in the recent Shakti. She plays Meenakshi as perfectly pleasant but distant for most of the film so there isn’t a lot to say about her performance. This is a spoiler–Meenakshi films someone who decides he wants to live after all, and asks her to help him get to a hospital. She refuses saying she is just there to video not to change the course of events and walks away, which was quite powerful. Later on it is revealed that she did indeed call for an ambulance so her actions were at odds with her stated beliefs and this is a problem with the character as I don’t think that was really explored or challenged. Her backstory when it eventually showed up was so clichéd and undermined what was a fairly original idea for a heroine. I also have a problem with her ninja scarf disguise which disguised nothing. Firstly, it left most of her face uncovered and secondly, how do we all recognise Ileana instantly? The hips.

Mumaith Khan appears on and off throughout the film, and really her only contribution was to make me think ‘Is she gonna?’ When she eventually danced, it was a standard club number but still fun (also notable for the silly hat team having their way with Rana). Her facial expressions are so much more lively and spontaneous when she dances than when she acts. Mind you, she was stuck in the comedy side plot with Ali and a plus sized lady of colour so she may well have been having suicidal thoughts of her own. I was.

It’s a very stylish film, lovely to look at but the team often use tricky angles and edits just because they can. There is good attention to detail in the wardrobe and set design, and the editing is excellent in the action scenes. The music is formulaic and more effective as a background score than in the songs. There is not one healthy romantic relationship in the film, and that may be deliberate but it seemed to be more an excuse for bad comedy or dubious behaviours in the name of love. Oh for a better script and more balanced direction!

I want to get this on DVD so I can see what I missed in the dialogues and to enjoy the beautifully executed action scenes. But I think I’ll stop before the end, and concentrate on the more successful crime drama aspect.


Here is a list of things we know the film makers didn’t spend the reputedly huge budget on:

  • A hairdresser for Ileana
  • Good quality CGI
  • Historical research
  • Decent wigs
  • A good story

Here is a list of things they did invest in:

  • Scarves
  • Stars
  • Helicopters
  • Excessive editing
  • Guns and rocket launchers
  • Cars (to be blown up)
  • Locations
  • Oversized glowing props
  • A slide announcing that no matter when or where people lived, for the purposes of this film everyone speaks Telugu.

The story opens at the pyramids with lots of Ancient Egyptian-ish folk speaking Hindi. We also catch our first glimpse of topless Sonu Sood, although not topless in our preferred sense. He first appears as a severed head in a bag. So of course, his grieving lover’s first reaction is to gouge his eyeballs out and preserve them in a jar of something orange and smoking.

Skip forward to rich girl Aishwarya (Ileana) slipping away from her father’s security detail to go touring with her gang of friends which includes Ali as Tommy, a character at least 20 years too young for him. While in Jaipur they cross paths with Shakti (Tarak) and he appoints himself their groups’ highly paid guide and protector. How to resist a man who arrives on elephant back, kicks assorted bad guy arse and can get tickets to first day first show of Wanted?

To summarise: Aishwarya accidentally took a very large mystical jewel from her family safe and doesn’t notice she is carrying it in her bag. The Faux-gyptians want it to destroy the world or something. And there are the good guys seeking to protect the jewel and ensure it is used in the ritual required to keep several holy cities in India, or maybe the world, safe.  And Shakti is the son of the man killed performing the last saving the world ritual (either several hundred or maybe thirty years ago).

The first half of the film is a blend of road trip, romance and action in some lovely Indian locations as Shakti has to constantly rescue Aishwarya from her own stupidity as well as from the villains who are tracking her. The second half of the film is a less successful blend of exploding cars and storms of bullets with the mythology underpinning the story of the jewel and the elaborate ritual. We were slightly surprised to learn that the Ancient Egyptians, or a cult, who lived outside the pyramids at Giza had tried to invade Andhra Pradesh on horseback either a couple of thousand or twenty years ago. But compared to all the other nonsensical stuff going on (not a tourist in sight at the pyramids, roads in Hyderabad with no traffic at all), we were only very slightly surprised.

The special effects were cheap looking considering the budget. A sacred sword was made of red plastic, and the significant trishul was yellow plastic with little light bulbs inside it. There was clearly a vision, but it was translated in a very clumsy way. Even in the fight and dance sequences, where we expect Tarak to absolutely shine, the overly jumpy editing and poor effects were a distraction and really diminished his impact. We are well accustomed to seeing action footage sped up or slowed down for impact, but in Shakti the slow bits were often so slow they highlighted the CGI and wires, and the fast bits were jerky and cartoonish. A couple of the songs had huge sets and lots of costume changes but lacked the ‘Wow factor’ we expect from this style of film. The opening Rajasthani song was a great example of what didn’t work – the dancing and choreography were great, the costumes and sets were stunning, and the editing made it look bland and disjointed. We were very hopeful once the rocket launchers appeared, but sadly once the director had blown up umpteen cars and people, it was time for more ‘creativity’ and the film deteriorated. The climax set in an underground temple full of more glowing props was too repetitive as it mimicked a long preceding flashback and the visual effects were not great.

Every film comedian except Sunil made an appearance and it was just too much. We have no idea at all why Jackie Shroff was in this film. His role could have been played by anyone in a brocade jacket and every time we saw him poolside we just prayed he would keep his clothes on. From the look on their faces, so did the gori extras paid to cavort around him! Sonu Sood did his usual villain thing and made an appearance (head attached) in a flashback in the second half. The angrier he got the less he wore, so as you can imagine we were very interested in his scenes. The whole subplot with his lover and her supernatural vengeance was a confused mess, and not helped by the wig department. But there was lots of eye stuff happening, mostly anatomically correct too, which pleased Heather! The orc-like baddie sent to destroy Shakti was blind at first, but after years of punching and headbutting Egyptian columns into shards (think Juggernaut from X-Men), he was apparently given Sonu’s eyes although disappointingly we never saw the actual installation procedure.

Tarak and Ileana were good considering what they had been given by writer/director Meher Ramesh. They had no chemistry as a couple but Ileana did what she could with an under developed character and the nonsensical behaviour required of her. Tarak delivered his usual robust physical performance and rousing speeches. Shakti (the character) had only two facial expressions for most of the film – surly and surlier. We would be peeved too if we got landed with The Wig. The flashback exposition was inexplicable in style and chronology. If this was 20 odd years ago, why was Shakti in a pageboy wig? We were a little bemused by the decision to try to create flowing warrior locks with the use of a wind machine. Sadly, the breeze lacked sufficient oomph to stir the clumpy and hideous wig so it was all for naught. And that inability to make a concept work sums up the whole film.

There were some positives. The audience were laughing a lot at some of the comedic dialogues and they appreciated Tarak’s big speeches. Some things were really fun – Shakti’s dramatic reveal as super agent A1 of the NSA, the rocket launchers, CGI snakes (especially when carried as a concealed weapon), Brahmi and Tarak’s scenes together and the backing dancers who really did give it their all. The Ladakh and Haridwar scenes were beautiful even with all the gimmicky camera work.

This is a film solely for the hardcore fans.