Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava

Trivikram’s Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava is a bit of a throwback to the factionist rowdy fests of yore, albeit with a bit of a difference. How much of a real difference though?

Veera Raghava Reddy (NTR Jr) returns to his village after studying abroad. His father Narappa Reddy (Naga Babu) is delighted to see his boy back at home although he is worried by a recent escalation in a decades old feud with Basi Reddy (Jagapathi Babu). Predictably enough they are ambushed on the drive home. What does a good son do when he is the heir to conflict? Is killing and mayhem the only way? Or can a Telugu mass film hero broker a lasting peace based on doing what is right for the people?

There was some character development for Raghava, if not for anyone else. It was good to see him learn from both experience and from wise counsel, and then apply those learnings. Raghava struggles with the community’s expectation that he will be a carbon copy of his father. NTR Jr is excellent and can show restraint and slow burning rage as well as going for the big emotional notes. We get to see Raghava in shock after a very traumatic incident, and his ensuing grief. He’s not superhuman although of course he has the usual kit of gravity bending tricks up his sleeve. This is a film where the hero is often seen simply sitting and thinking. He can dial a conflict down to a terse conversation as well as firing up at the villainous Basi Reddy. He has goals and makes his decisions in light of the objective. At key times people tell him that the man that prevents a war is a great man. Raghava also believes the man that wants peace has to have the strength to win a war. The hero must win, but maybe not in exactly the way usually predicted in this style of film.

Aravindha might be a bit princessy but as she says to Raghava, nobody is only what they appear to be. She tells him straight up what she expects from a partner. She also tells him women think hard about which man they will be best suited to while men see a pretty face, hound her ‘til she gives in, then leave her at home and bugger off to do whatever. When he considers the example of his own parents it makes him realise that he needs to change if he wants to be with Avi. He still decides to go win his war but promises once that is over, he will concentrate on her from that moment onwards. Which is a bit of an each way bet but as this film is kind of about compromise and negotiation it is fitting. Pooja Hegde is stunning, and while Avi is perfectly happy to get by on looks when it suits her, she has a sharp mind and a healthy dose of self-awareness. They have a nice rapport and I liked that the film took the time to show them talking, helping each other with little things, and feeling their feelings.

Jagapathi Babu is quite the villain de jour in Telugu films. I loathed Basi Reddy but kind of loved the boots and all commitment to making him despicable. There’s no subtlety in the character but the performance has some beautifully modulated beats and peaks that add an edge. Sunil was effective as the decent guy who helped Raghava out, mercifully not bogging the plot down in Comedy Uncle mode. Naresh and Srinivasa Reddy were tedious and time consuming. Rao Ramesh and Subhalekha Sudhakar added another element as the crafty career politicians who have drifted away from representing the people and were caught up in winning for the sake of winning. And many That Guys flew across the screen, bleeding, screaming, crying, and suffering for their art.

Eesha Rebba also had a tiny role with not much to say for herself, but her expressions were perfect for an irritated younger sister. Supriya Pathak and Sithara both deliver some strong dialogue on the folly of men indulging in constant bloodshed and who pays the price. Easwari Rao and Devayani play silent wives of warring men, but both can pack a punch without saying a word. Which is just as well since Trivikram silences them just at the moment when they should have been heard. It is telling that when the hero is delivering a big speech about what he learned from the women in his life that none of the women, who are all present, gets to speak for herself. So everyone ignored what the women said until the biggest baddest strongest man repeated their words, then everyone listened to him. Again, nice idea but didn’t quite land the execution.

I’m not saying this is a totally sensible version of a mass film. Who sets up a high security meeting complete with metal detector at the entrance and then leaves a nail gun lying around! The percussion of the BGM matched Tarak ferociously beating his opponents with sticks. And Trivikram gets Raghava’s shirt off in perfect mass style in the midst of raging carnage. The device by which Trivikram got Veera Raghava Reddy into Aravindha’s home as driver/bodyguard Raghava could only aspire to be called flimsy. And there are the usual 50 to 1 fighting odds when our hero takes on truckloads of armed rowdies and emerges with nary a blemish despite the unbridled enthusiasm of the Fake Blood Department.

The upbeat songs were most successful in their picturisations. Peniviti was made unintentionally funny with all the stringed instrumentalists getting soggy in the rain. Tarak is amazingly talented and looks like he is having a ball when the music kicks in and he can go for it. Pooja Hegde doesn’t really try and keep up with him but she puts a lot of energy into Reddy Ikkada Soodu and does some excellent face.

There are some minor similarities with the recent Rangasthalam, like the setting and a hero who takes on a sociopathic Jagapathi Babu character. Unfortunately one also seems to be the dodgy subtitles.  Is gizzard curry really a sign of love? What are cooling glasses and when should one wear them? Does administering Celine really cure a fever? How much chaos is required before your shirt buttons pop off? Ladies, would you be carried away by a man who says he looks like a sword with a moustache? It’s sad to see scrimping on something like the subs which shouldn’t be an afterthought, and would help capitalise on the success of other Telugu films with new markets.

Trivikram has tested the water for a new kind of hero but ultimately falls back on the old standards. Tarak is really coming into his own as an actor and makes the most of the range he’s given here, and the female ensemble cast was exceptional. See it if you like epic revengey films and have a high tolerance for gore.

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Goodachari (2018)

Goodachari is great when it’s good. Sashi Kiran Tikka keeps things flying along, and the film and cast looks amazing. Unfortunately the writing is not as compelling although there are some decent twists along the way.

Satya (Prakash Raj) and Vijay (Ravi Prakash) are on a secret mission that goes horribly wrong. Satya survives, and returns home only to have to tell his colleague’s son that his father will not be returning. Knowing that the kid has no family, Satya takes Gopi in. But then he starts training the boy to forget his previous life and name.

After 174 unsuccessful applications to join Indian intelligence services, grown up Gopi who is now called Arjun (Adivi Sesh) hits the jackpot on number 175. He is summoned to a secret office below a shop, and told he has been shortlisted as a potential agent of the elite Trinetra agency. He is mentored by Damodar (Anish Kuruvilla), mildly threatened by Nadiya (Supriya Yarlagadda), and immediately singled out as the other potential alpha male by Mohammad (Rakesh Varre) and Leena (Madhu Shalini) although she seems more receptive to his presence. Shaam (Vennela Kishore) is kind of the Q of this ensemble, fussing over people messing up his stuff and keeping a beady eye on everyone. Sameera (Sobhita Dhulipala) is Arjun’s neighbour and eventual girlfriend. But something goes horribly wrong and Arjun has to run from his own team and from the real enemy. How will he prove his innocence, and how is he going to live long enough to do that? As they say in all the classic Wikipedia plot summaries, “this forms rest of the story”.

Arjun is driven by emotion and poor impulse control rather than the cool lack of inhibition that makes someone like Bond such an efficient killer. I guess the sentimentality of the character was supposed to make him sympathetic and relatable. But I was left thinking he was just going to get all the good agents killed. The way to get Arjun to focus on a task is to hurt his feelings and make him want to prove you wrong. Adivi Sesh spends an inordinate amount of time welling up in tears as Arjun feels sorry for himself that he isn’t living up to his idealised dad. He rarely questions why and how he could make his own contribution, his sole motivation was to be like a man he barely knew. I kept wondering why someone who was so obviously not completely stable kept getting through the screening. And for an elite intelligence operative, he was as sharp as a bag of hair. A critical incident hinges on interpreting a 4 digit code and this film would have you think it takes a master linguist to do that. I reckon anyone who’s tried to use Outlook might have been up to scratch. I feel that with a bit more thought for the writing and more variation layered into the performance, perhaps a little more moral ambiguity and less self indulgent wallowing, Arjun could have been a great character.

It is always refreshing to see a Telugu film include women who act like adults, had day jobs that you actually saw them do, and who had their own agendas, and generally got things done. Sobhita Dhulipala is stunning to look at as Sameera but her character is more subtle than just a throwaway love interest. Her relationship with Arjun seems a bit convenient initially, but they have some good conversations and grow closer through that mutual understanding.  Supriya Yarlagadda’s Nadiya is a gun as a training officer and makes some hard calls in the field, acting coolly with authority and decision. Madhu Shalini was more of a token girl agent, but she kicks arse in some crucial scenes despite being ditzier than she should be.

Prakash Raj is in Prakash Dad mode here, playing Satya as a fiercely loving parent while still utterly cynical about people and their motivations. And rightly so. Satya’s ability to hide in plain sight while still being connected to his networks was extremely useful. Arjun could learn a thing or ten from Satya about thinking before he leaps. Damodar is Arjun’s workplace mentor and I quite enjoyed the range of exasperated expressions and side eye Anish Kuruvilla brought to the role.

I know the Indian context and history is different and some things will take on a different tone with a local audience. But in Australia it feels like every day there are more and more hateful commentators and media pundits taking potshots at Muslim Australians among other groups. I am weary of it, and struggle to imagine how it feels to be on the receiving end of such unrelenting negativity. So when the head terrorist Rana (Jagapathi Babu) is revealed, I was glad to see a good actor giving a well thought out performance and not just a eyeliner wearing caricature. Rana articulates the question about what made people call him a terrorist when he and Satya were using the same tactics. He also asks Arjun to consider whether he might see things differently if he had not been brainwashed by Satya. They are brief moments and only a couple of lines, but I appreciated seeing a little more inner life to the bad guy as well as the question of perspective.

The direction, editing and visual styling are top notch and the action feels really dynamic. The fights are fast and full of aggression and Adivi Sesh is well up to the action choreo. There is a little too much shooting with total accuracy while looking the other way. It’s a boys own adventure idea of what cool looks like. There are some good spy gadgets and tech that bring a bit of quality and flair to Trinetra. The story is well constructed and there aren’t too many loose ends left. That might be a little bit of a drawback. I feel like this is being positioned as the start of a series and maybe some characters should have been allowed to survive into a potential sequel.

I guessed most of the plot twists and devices well in advance of the big reveal but perhaps I am just gifted like that. I didn’t spot one surprise at all and was thrilled to bits by how that played out. I was hooked the whole way through, and only found my mind wandering when anyone started on about their daddy issues. If you like high adrenalin action with a righteous (but slightly dim) hero, this is the film for you.

Nannaku Prematho

Nannaku Prematho treads the line between mass action shtick and a more restrained thriller. Sukumar is attentive to foreshadowing and resolving the things he sets up so it is all very satisfying. Note: I think I’ve avoided giving away most of the surprises, but this is not completely spoiler free.

Abhiram (Tarak) is the youngest son of Subramanyam (Rajendra Prasad), a successful enough NRI businessman. But all families have secrets and when Subramanyam is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he tells his three sons about his past. He was once even the even wealthier Ramesh Chandra Prasad, but was cheated by an associate who has gone on to become filthy rich and influential on a global scale. He wants those wrongs righted, and the lost wealth back, before he dies. The two older sons humour him but have no intention of paying anything more than lip service. Abhi is more action oriented and he decides to ruin Krishnamurthy (Jagapathi Babu) so his father can die in peace. He decides to throw everything he has at this, including emptying out the family bank accounts. And his method? Making Krishnamurthy’s daughter Divya (Rakul Preet Singh) fall for him so he can worm his way in to Krishnamurthy’s good books and then steal all the things. His brothers are not supportive after losing the family fortune twice, Divya is unimpressed when she rumbles him, but Abhi is undaunted.

Despite the premise that Abhi will use Divya the relationship that develops between them, as much as any relationships in this film are developed, is quite respectful and they seem to like each other. Sukumar falls back on the hero saving heroine from a completely unnecessary and gratuitous rape scenario but this is a big budget Telugu film and it’s not like they have the inclination to actually think about having the hero talk to a woman with a brain. When Abhi tries to get over losing Divya he doesn’t want her insulted or cheapened in any way, so he focusses his anger on her father. I like that he didn’t think less of her because of either how their relationship started or who she was related to. But I am not sure he really knew her all that well either. He knew what he wanted to know of her. A lot of the tension is really about misunderstanding. And when people do understand the situation or the motivation, they deal with it and it makes sense. Mostly. The character with minimal respect for Divya is her father.

Tarak is low key and solid in his 25th film, and manages to make the shift into heroic daring and action a seamless extension of Abhi’s character. It was well judged, and helped by some thoughtful plotting. Sure there was still some near certain death, and suspension of logic and laws of physics, but overall his challenges required brain as well as brawn. Abhi tries not to let extreme emotions sway his behaviour, but he isn’t dull. He has a sense of humour to go with his overweening confidence, treats his sidekicks like valued helpers most of the time, and Tarak has a nice rapport with his co-stars. I was really interested in how Abhi was going to solve the various challenges thrown in his way and very invested in seeing him win over the slimy Krishnamurthy. The action scenes seem like a breeze for Tarak, and he gets to strut his stuff in a few songs too.

Rakul Preet Singh has some fairly thin material as Divyanka, but manages to pull a decent performance out of it. She doesn’t simper, she looks Abhi straight in the eye and demands answers. It is nice to have an unapologetic and self-assured woman as the heroine. Divya was also given a little bit of space to be angry, be sad, be scared, get drunk, hang out with friends, and be a person in her own right. It’s not a ground breaking role, but I liked the performance and the hints of being more than just an accessory for the hero. Rakul Preet just turns up in the songs, does great face, and leaves most of the work to Tarak which suited me fine. She dressed appropriately for the part, wore stylish and sensible flat shoes which made me ridiculously happy, and only suffered a few dodgy outfits. I also liked that her conflict over her father heading for a collision with Abhi was somewhat resolved, albeit in a thrifty way.

Set in the UK and Spain the film’s style is urban and the characters well to do. It all looks crisp, well composed, and orderly. Tarak’s image as Abhi was a mildly dandified hipster about town, affluent and understated. But I laughed at the matching outfits all three sons wore in one critical scene. Otherwise the wardrobe team did well. I’ve been thinking about eyebrows a lot since I rewatched this.

Also interesting – I’ve never seen a plot hinge on a car full of guinea pigs before. The poor little buggers were thrown around a bit, which I find distressing. But the stupid science thing that had me rolling my eyes turned out to be a ruse so I’m glad that was not supposed to be a thing. The songs by Devi Sri Prasad are OK and are integrated well into the action.

The supporting cast is strong, even if they don’t always seem essential. Jagapathi Babu is in his element as the urbane, narcissistic, Krishnamurthy. How cool that he gave Abhi a swipe card to get into his office anytime without breaking in, he was so confident he would win. The way the story was fleshed out around the characters made sense in this world, and there were few false notes. Hooray for quietly competent Kate (Liza van der Smissen) in amongst the sidekicks. I was honestly puzzled by why Srinivas Avasarala was even in the film because I can’t recall his character doing anything necessary. Rajeev Kanakala does high emotion well, but his character was hampered by the lack of connection between some scenes. Rajendra Prasad isn’t in the film for long but his presence permeates everything.

I have a small gripe. The opening titles are over a badly animated approximation of a Rube Goldberg machine….Why not just build one instead of faking it? But the film is fairly well constructed, has decent internal logic, throws in a few elaborate surprises, and like a Goldberg machine everything lands where it should.

See this if you like a good mass film but often wish they made more sense, and for people mostly acting like grown-ups. 4 stars! (deductions for gratuitous rapeyness and imperilled guinea pigs).