Mythri (2015)

Mythri

There have been a number of good films released recently where the main protagonists have been children or juveniles, and Mythri is another one to add to the list. B.M Giriraj’s bilingual film follows a young Siddarama (Aditya) as he ends up in juvenile detention and makes it onto the TV show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’. There are shades of Slumdog Millionaire given that much of the film revolves around the TV show, but Mythri follows a rather different path. Here Siddarama is a big fan of Puneeth Rajkumar who hosts the show and it’s the plight of the young prisoners and their rehabilitation – or rather lack of rehabilitation that becomes the focus of the story.

Siddarama (Aditya) is a smart kid but he makes some poor decisions and ends up in jail after throwing stones at a passing police officer. His mother is out of her depth and to get her young son out of jail she approaches Gudi Pratap (Ravi Kale), a womanising thug and aspiring politician who runs drug and child trafficking rings on the side. Although he does deliver and gets Siddarama released, Gudi demands reparation for his services and it’s obvious that Siddarama’s mother is going to get the worse end of the bargain.

Once free, Siddarama is lucky enough to meet his idol, film star Puneeth Rajkumar (as himself) when he comes to their area to shoot a scene for his latest movie. Siddarama makes an impression on Puneeth with his scrapbook about the actor and his excellent general knowledge but fails to make the final cut of the scene when he rushes away before the end of the shoot. It isn’t until much later that the reason for Siddarama’s quick exit is revealed and the next time we see Siddarama he’s incarcerated in a juvenile detention centre.

Siddarama is one of the younger and more vulnerable boys, so it’s no surprise to find he is being victimised by a group of older youths who are unimpressed when he dobs them in to the warder Raviprakash (Atul Kulkarni). Despite his small stature and obvious dislike of violence, Siddarama fights back when the bullies gang up against him, and in doing so he earns the admiration of Jhonson (Jagadish), another young thief in the remand home. Jhonson is a serial offender, and the warders keep him chained up at all times to ensure he can’t steal anything further – unsurprisingly not a successful tactic! However, Raviprakash has firm views on how the young offenders should be treated and believes that strict discipline is the only way to teach the criminals how to behave. The harsh treatment of the boys and the poor condition of the detention centre are shocking and it’s understandable that most of the inmates either reoffend or become drug addicts after their release. Even the most basic of care is lacking and the warder meets violence with more brutality and an almost casual disregard for the boys’ welfare.

Atul Kulkarni is excellent here in the role of the strict and uncompromising warden. His interactions with the boys are frighteningly realistic and his reaction to a visit from the movie star is a perfect blend of admiration followed by condescension when Puneeth questions his regime. The rationale for his stance is one that seems logical – he came from a similar poverty-stricken background and didn’t turn to crime, so the youngsters in his care have no real excuse. This is one of the strengths of the film that such social clichés are shown to be inaccurate and too simplistic a view of more complex issues. Additionally the point is clearly made that education rather than punishment is the solution most likely to turn the young offenders’ lives around.

The film moves on to the TV show Karunada Kotyadipathi when Jhonson discovers Siddarama can answer the test questions for a children’s version of the show. With a lot of sneaking around behind the warden’s back, Jhonson manages to enter Siddarama as a potential candidate but it all hangs in the balance when the producers request a guardian for Siddarama. Raviprakash decides to let Siddarama go ahead – perhaps to demonstrate to Puneeth that his methods do work but also because he is impressed by Siddarama’s knowledge and is even a little proud that one of ‘his boys’ is clever enough to compete on the show. Again the decisions seem plausible despite the theatricality of Puneeth’s involvement, helped by Adithya’s portrayal of a young boy almost overwhelmed by the whole experience.

There is an odd twist to the tale when Mahadev Godke (Mohanlal) appears and tries to stop Siddarama from competing. This part of the film is inconsistent with the realism of the earlier scenes and the persona of Mahadev Godke is a little too contrived to fit easily into the narrative. However Mohanlal is good, his story helps to fill in the gaps and it also allows B.M. Giriraj to use a rather literal interpretation of the lifelines used by the show.

Mythri succeeds due to the excellent performances from the main leads and a well-developed storyline. Aditya is great as the young Siddarama, appropriately whiney and sorry for himself as expected for a kid his age, but also suitably resigned to his fate and more adaptable than even he realises. It’s a very good performance from the young actor and he holds his own well against the likes of Atul Kulkarni, Mohanlal and Puneeth Rajkumar.  Jagadish too is good as the recalcitrant thief and the other kids in the remand home all play their parts well. Puneeth Rajkumar has a relatively easy time of it since he just has to be himself, and perhaps it’s inevitable that he comes across as basically a nice guy – considerate and thoughtful. However at no point does he seem self-indulgent despite being shown as altruistic while his philanthropy and basic decency seem genuine. The only part which does seem somewhat forced is the movie within a movie where Puneeth is shown filming an over the top action sequence that ends with a rather cheesy message. It’s rather B-grade compared to the rest of the film, but maybe that’s the point.

Ilaiyaraaja provides the music and although there are only a few songs they are used effectively and suit the overall feel of the film. My favourite is Chandranenu Chenda, but the energy and exuberance in the title song is infectious and always makes me smile.

Overall Mythri is an intelligent and entertaining film with a social message that comes across clearly without becoming depressing or preachy. Despite the rather dire situation the kids in the remand home are facing, they still enjoy themselves and completely get behind Siddarama and his attempt to win the competition on TV. It’s a more upbeat film than the opening sequences would suggest and the combination of a well written story with polished performances makes Mythri well worth a watch. 4 stars.

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Bobbili Raja

bobbili raja dvd

Bobbili Raja had been enthusiastically recommended by so many Telugu film fans that while I wasn’t wildly enthused by the plot synopsis, I had to watch it. I think it might be a film best enjoyed with nostalgic fondness for your 10 year old self, but it was entertaining enough and certainly kept my attention. Another Adventure Without Subtitles, I probably made up most of the plot but it isn’t subtle and there is a lot going on so that wasn’t too much of a chore to keep up.

Bobbili Raja-The confrontation

The film is loosely divided into three sections. The first bit sets up conflict between power and money hungry Rajeshwari Devi (Vanisri), Minister for Forestry, and rival politician Gummadi and his sister. Rajeshwari plays dirty and when a lackey overhears that the sister Soundarya (?) is pregnant, she tries to shame the family publicly. It emerges that Soundarya is secretly married to Rajeshwari’s brother-in-law (?) and that just makes matters worse. When he comes home, he is somewhat accidentally killed. Then Soundarya  is almost raped and bayonets the corrupt policeman assaulting her.  She and her brother escape to the jungle where they live in secrecy. The baby Raja (Venkatesh) is born and raised in that distant jungle which can be reached easily by foot unless you prefer to use a helicopter, jeep or bike. Working as a jungle guide, if he works at all, Raja is hired to take the minister’s daughter Rani (Divya Bharti) on a hunting trip. They get separated from her group of squealing girlfriends and following encounters with wildlife, Ooga Booga Central Casting “Natives” and other perils, they fall in love.

Bobbili Raja-SnakeBobbili Raja-appreciation

Rani’s eyes certainly lit up at the sight of Raja handling an enormous snake. But her mother has other notions and separates the lovebirds. So Raja moves to town and sets about getting revenge for his family and getting his girl back.

The jungle adventure is heavily influenced by films like Romancing The Stone (think the mudslide with faceplant into the heroine’s crotch. Classy) along with Indiana Jones style adventures (I loved those films when I was young) and a dash of The Gods Must Be Crazy (a franchise I loathed then and now). The humour is hit and miss, sometimes offensive and racist, but Venkatesh is effortlessly likeable despite the material. Raja’s catchphrase is a cheery ‘Aiyo Aiyo Aiyiyooooo’ so there is opportunity for audience participation or perhaps a drinking game.

Bobbili Raja-Kangaroo

Raja deals with runaway cars (why does his jeep have a kangaroo painted on the door?), silly women and other forms of recalcitrant fauna and bad guys with aplomb.

Bobbili Raja-90s denimBobbili Raja-more 90s denim

Venkatesh has a leisurely way of moving, as though he knows the camera will have to wait for him so there is no need to look flustered. This works reasonably well in his fight scenes as they are not particularly realistic and often played for laughs.

Bobbili Raja-Raja in action

He does minimal dancing, partly due to the limited choreography, and generally relies on his characterisation rather than say, his burlesque chair dancing skills.

Bobbili Raja-Family argumentBobbili Raja-Rani and Raja

Rani is not my favourite filmi heroine but I do think Divya Bharti did quite well with what is often a shrill, silly character. Rani did rise to the occasion when she had to, although I was dismayed when I found myself almost cheering her suicide attempt as at least she did SOMETHING for herself that didn’t just involve shrieking “do you know who I am?” (She had  some help from an enthusiastic red paint wielding assistant.) Her outfits were what I have come to expect from 90s Telugu films. But seriously ladies, when your mum asked what teenaged you and your boyfriend/self-declared husband got up to last night would any of you answer like this?

Maybe the mini Europe set provided some distraction from difficult questions. But so much of writhing and moaning. Tsk tsk tsk. The mood gets darker once Raja announces himself as Rani’s husband, escalating the conflict with Rajeshwari and co, and Divya does show a different side of her character to match that. She was so very young when she made this. Her performance was quite impressive when you look at the calibre of the rest of the cast and realise she wasn’t overshadowed.

Vanisri’s role is the most prominent of the supporting cast, and she is the true villain of the piece. She devises needlessly elaborate schemes and has the men in the family scared witless. I am not sure about the thinking behind her eyeliner technique.

Her husband (Kaikala Satyanarayana) is a kindly man, but never directly confronts her so his goodness is moot. He seems to be waiting for Raja to deliver the comeuppance. Kota Srinivasa Rao plays her brother and well, apple…tree… Brahmanandam plays a comedy policeman and Babu Mohan is another comedy bad guy. So much ‘comedy’.

The song picturisations must have had a decent budget, and as with all good mass films there is something for everyone whether your tastes run to Filmi Tribal or random European street dancing. Illayaraja’s music matches well with the cartoonish style of action and adds to the lightheartedness. On the subject of cartoons:

There are many things that amused me. I almost look forward to seeing some familiar “faces” in the array of taxidermy but the duck was a surprise. There are lots of scenes with animals, including some comedy elephants. I was concerned about the big cats as they seemed stressed but watching the end credits I was reassured a little that they were still quite feisty. Apart from the animals, the jungle is also inhabited by one or more people obsessed with digging pits and trenches.

Bobbili Raja-Snakes alive

There are loads of stunts and fights and dramatic incidents as Raja takes on his reluctant mother-in-law and her lackeys. The climax of the film takes place on a hijacked train. Exciting! But just in case that isn’t enough, director B Gopal added a lion! And if THAT isn’t enough, snakes! Snakes on a train! It was almost enough to overcome the rather weak (but family friendly) ending. And that approach probably sums up the whole film – throw enough stuff at the audience and they’re bound to like some of it.

See this for Venkatesh, the fun if silly songs and the full throttle approach to mass entertainment that just tips the low-gore scale.

3 1/2  stars!

Suresh Productions has kindly made the film available on YouTube if you’re interested.

Rudraveena

Rudraveena is a quiet contemplative film, written and directed by K Balachander, about the responsibility of the individual in matters of caste and society. Chiranjeevi must have felt strongly about making this film as he produced it. I only wish someone would release a decent quality DVD with subtitles as it is just beautiful, and I know I must have missed a lot by not understanding the dialogues. Having said that, the things I don’t fully understand are more the cultural and social aspects, and that is usually not spelt out anyway. I am torn between wanting to write about every little detail and not saying anything about the story so you can discover it for yourself. I really do love Rudraveena and think it is one of Chiranjeevi’s best performances in an engaging and intelligent story.

A man throws a banana towards a blind woman begging, and she accidentally knocks it away. A young Brahmin boy watches her struggle to find the fruit, but does nothing as he cannot touch her or the food that she has touched. He is troubled by her situation, but doesn’t act. Eventually someone does come to her aid, and he also gives the boy a lecture on the futility of mouthing a mantra if you do not act in accordance with the values contained in the prayers. This incident infuses the story, told in an extended flashback as Suryam (Chiranjeevi) shows a visiting minister around the apparently perfect village.

Suryam is that boy all grown up – the son of famed musician Bilahari Sastry (Gemini Ganesan). Suryam is a gregarious fellow, interested in what people do and how they live. He loves music and expresses his feelings through song, seeing it as a way of sharing and giving happiness.

Music in the Sastry home is ceremonial, devotional and not for fun or for the people. The father is very traditional and conservative, living in strict adherence to caste rules. Bilahari Sastry raises his voice in song to drown out the pleas of someone needing help, and would rather be on time for a concert than help a dying commoner. And he pulls this face a lot:

He is a difficult man, but not a total monster. It’s obvious he has done the best he could after his wife died, and he misses her guidance or support.  There is already tension in the family purely because of the different personality types and this is heightened when Suryam meets Lalita (Shobana).

He sees her dancing on a hillside opposite a temple, ogled by men from their sacred vantage point. I think Lalita makes a point about men worshipping goddesses when women are excluded, and whatever she said it makes an impression. Suryam has a statue placed on the hilltop and is surprised to see the villagers lined up for pooja within shouting distance of a temple that didn’t include them.

Shobana has good chemistry with Chiranjeevi and although I know there is an age difference, it isn’t obvious and they look great.  Lalita isn’t a pushover to be impressed by the Brahmin boy and he doesn’t act entitled. Having the lower castes represented by the beautiful Lalita could have easily fallen more into the fairytale romance but thanks to some good writing and the excellent performance by Shobhana, Lalita is strong and individual.

Their shared love of music is another form of communication and bonding that helps this seem like a potential life partnership rather than a fluffy instant romance. Illaiyaraja’s songs are set into the narrative so they are part of the story, and the minimal dancing is in character for Lalita and Suryam so it all flows beautifully. The music is a real highlight of Rudraveena.

Their flirtation is fun as Lalita keeps Suryam guessing, which he kind of  enjoys,  and they do all those little things that are only really funny for people in the giddy stage of love. She’s not all cool and calm though, as she changes her sari five times before he arrives to visit. Lalita refuses to be cowed by Sastry’s disapproval and is clearly confident in her relationship with Suryam.

Lalita’s family are the opposite of the Sastrys. When Suryam arrives he is greeted with hugs and an extemporaneous welcome song introducing each family member and what they were doing. It’s an attractive environment for a boy who feels stifled at home.

Not that home life is all grim. Suryam confides a little in his sister-in-law about his love and she mocks him gently even as she is pleased to think he might soon marry. Prasad Babu gives an appealing performance as Suryam’s mute brother.

He is an observer of the tension in the house, and he uses music to force communication or at least momentary harmony. He is also a kind of moral compass, miming to his father that donning the trappings of religion doesn’t make you close to god if you don’t also do the right thing.

Bilahari will not tolerate what he sees as Suryam’s rebelliousness. As punishment, he takes on another student and promotes him to favoured disciple status. This guy is a fraud who pretends to be pious and dedicated but really he just wants to marry daughter Sandhya (the beautiful Devilalita). That relationship is quite nice, but the character is there more to be a contrast with Suryam who is outwardly not the ideal son but is a good and honourable man. Of course, Bilahari learns of his error eventually but he is a proud man and the damage has been done.

After yet another disagreement Suryam leaves the family home, but he doesn’t just marry Lalita and live happily ever after. Their wedding is interrupted by drunken louts out to cause him trouble, including an uncharacteristically nasty and dramatic Brahmi.

Suryam stops the ceremony rather than allow Lalita to be insulted further. He takes on a challenge to reform the village before he can marry and Lalita supports him despite her heartache. I think she is sympathetic partly because she wants to be certain that Suryam is sorted before they start a life together.

I liked that Lalita was active in the reforms, showing that a young low caste woman could be a leader too. Suryam sees that people don’t always have the motivation or resources they need, and he can help. It’s not as preachy as it sounds as he is a doer not just a talker, and is as likely to be driving a tractor as making a speech. It’s clear that he feels his position requires him to do something to raise people up rather than keeping them down. And I think there’s also a bit of wanting to show his father who was right.

Yes it is a little heavy handed at times but the romance and more fun elements provide the necessary balance.  The ending made me a little angry at Sastry jumping on the bandwagon, but you cannot get a clearer message than this:

Rudraveena says people can create change by doing something in their own community, and it doesn’t have to be on a grand scale to achieve a great result. I like that philosophy and it is as fresh and pertinent today as it was in 1988. All that thought provoking material, and a sweet love story to boot. And really, if you can resist Chiranjeevi in this role I just don’t know what’s wrong with you. 5 stars!