Vetagadu (1979)

Vetagadu

K. Raghavendra Rao’s 1979 film is a classic featuring N.T. Rama Rao and Sridevi in a mystery/romance full of stupendous seventies fashion and glorious home décor. Jandhyala’s story seems to have all the required elements but despite having 2 DVD copies of this film that say ‘with English subtitles’ neither my copies, nor the versions available on YT are subtitled, so I’m really just going with my interpretation of events. And there is a lot going on. As well as a jewellery theft, there is a murder, a feud between two rich families, some shenanigans in a tea plantation, a tribal village with a propensity for celebrating by dancing, a cosy villain’s lair and a convoluted plot to expose the criminals. N.T. Rama Rao looks a little old to be romping around the forest and fighting off the bad guys, but he does it with plenty of style while Sridevi is simply stunning as the heroine trying to find out what really happened to her mother. Apologies for the poor quality of the screencaps – in addition to no subtitles the DVD’s are of equally bad quality.

The film starts with Gayatri (Pushpalata) performing a musical interlude for her family, including her husband Ananda Bhupathi (Jaggayya) and young daughter Roja, at what seems to be a house-warming for their new palace. During her performance Gayatri wears a super-sparkly necklace which quickly attracts the attention of the palace’s steward, Sivananam (Rao Gopal Rao). Sivananam hatches a plot to steal the necklace that involves kidnapping Gayatri the next time she attends the temple. However, Gayatri manages to escape from her captors and runs into the forest where she meets Kalyana Gajapathi (Kanta Rao), a friend of the family who lives in the neighbouring palace. Kalyana Gajapathi attempts to fight the kidnappers but is killed in the struggle, while Gayatri manages to give her necklace to a local tribesman before the thugs catch up with her too.

The film moves to the present day where Ananda Bhupathi has moved back to the city after losing his wife, and the young Roja has grown up into Sridevi. Sivananam has taken over running the estate where he runs various shady businesses, including trafficking young women, with the help of his son Hari (Satyanarayana). As with all good villains, Sivananam has a lair, which judging by the fishy view, appears to be underwater and is furnished with the usual accoutrements including a handy trap door and convenient crocodile for disposing of recalcitrant girls. Hari wanders around the tea plantation, acting as a lord of the manner in his fancy suits with matching hat and flower, selecting the women he wants and disposing of them in his father’s business.

Sivananam has grand plans to marry Hari and Roja, which he puts into action when Roja visits for a hunting trip. However, he’s reckoned without Raja (N.T. Ramo Rao), the son of Kalyana Gajapathi and a hunter still living in his father’s old palace. Roja meets Raja on her way to the forest and immediately dislikes his rather sleazy approach to romance. After crashing into her car and harassing her on the train, Raja then follows the tried and true method of tormenting Roja and stalking her to make her fall in love with him, but to Roja’s credit this doesn’t seem to work. However, Raja’s heart is really in the right place and when he rescues Roja from a gang of thugs she changes her mind and the two can get down to some serious prancing.

One night Roja hears music coming from the old abandoned palace, and when Raja investigates he finds a masked man attacking a young woman in the building. Further investigation leads him to suspect something shady is going on, but it’s not until he rescues another young tribal woman and meets her father (Chalapathi Rao) that he starts to put everything together. Since he’s a man of good sense, he enlists Roja’s help with his investigations, and between them they discover the real story of what happened to Gayatri and her necklace.

Of course that’s not nearly enough drama, so added in is a feud between Ananda Bhupathi and Raja’s family as he believes Kalyana Gajapathi was behind the theft of the necklace and disappearance of his wife, resulting in his refusal to allow Roja to marry Raja. There’s also something about a little girl who was killed in a road accident, who I think was Raja’s sister, which may explain why his father was off hunting in the forest when Gayatri went missing. Or may not – I’m not clear exactly how her death fits into the rest of the story. Naturally there is a comedy track too and Nagesh and Allu Ramalingaiah ham it up between them in a feud over one of the women from the tea plantation. There is also a rather sad and toothless tiger who gets dragged into the mix and is supposedly part of the ‘comedy’, but for the most part Nagesh and Allu Ramalingaiah play well off each other even if their antics seem rather dated now.

What helps Vetagadu immensely is the mystery-based storyline and the enthusiasm and energy of the leads. Rao Gopal Rao is good as the villain of the piece with a generally benevolent air as he plots and plans his way through various schemes. Satyanarayana is also excellent as his son, with all his affectations which he drops easily once he’s involved in a fight scene. There’s a particularly good moment where he swaps shoes during an item song to pick up some diamonds and has to carry off the disruption to his perfectly matched outfit. I do like his style!

But the real stars are NTR and particularly Sridevi who manages to make her romance with the ageing superstar reasonably believable. NTR helps things along by some energetic fight sequences and a number of good dance numbers including this one in the tribal village where he imagines Roja and himself as the lead dancers.

Sridevi is simply stunning and has plenty of scope to demonstrate the full range of her acting skills Her initial comedy scenes with Raja are good, and I definitely think she gets the upper hand even though she does eventually succumb to Raja’s charms, or at least his ability to get them out of a sticky situation. Roja also gets a chance to turn detective as she partners up with Raja to find out what happened to her mother and the heirloom necklace, vamping it up and flirting with Hari as well as schmoozing up to Sivananam. She’s also gorgeous in the dance sequences and manages to carry off the various ruffles and seventies fashion (even a crocheted dress) with plenty of style. NTR does well to keep up with her, and he’s excellent in scenes where he is chasing down the answers to the puzzle of his father’s disappearance and the mystery of the missing necklace.

Although the finale, where Raja attempts a disguise to fool Sivananam and Hari doesn’t work quite as well, the rest of the story is a good mix of romance and action, just the way a masala should be. I would love to see this properly restored with English subtitles but until then, this was an enjoyable watch, even without understanding the dialogue– worth it for Sridevi, N.T. Rama Rao and Chakravarthy’s catchy dance numbers. 3½ stars.

 

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Aapathbandavudu

Aapathbandavudu is a melodrama by K Vishwanath that has a bit of action, a ‘will they won’t they’ romance, ‘medicine’ found only in films and some lovely MM Keeravani songs. The memorable performances by Chiranjeevi and Meenakshi Seshadri make their characters likeable and their predicaments seem meaningful. Even with the tear soaked dialogues, dubious plot devices and inexplicable decision making, it is very entertaining, sometimes funny, and often moving.  I admit my love of Chiru helped me get past the ‘oh no they didn’t!’ moments but there are interesting ideas and dialogues that help balance out the excesses.

Good hearted low caste Madhava (Chiranjeevi) is attached to school teacher/poet (Jandhyala, who also wrote the dialogues) and his family. Apart from cow herding, Madhava is also the preferred Lord Shiva in district theatricals. Do not try and usurp his role – or this could happen to you:

Sigh. Did I mention this is a visually pleasing film?

Camera angles reflect the sense of elevation Madhava feels when he is compared to Lord Shiva, and he glows with pride at embodying the deity. But he is a country boy at heart and when his cow Ganga goes into labour his first thought is to get her off the train and into some privacy so she won’t be stressed. It’s a dynamic role that gives Chiranjeevi ample scope to use his mass hero shtick as well as delivering a nuanced performance. Most of the laughs come from situations and dialogues as well as Chiru’s knockabout physical comedy.

But I didn’t really need Madhava hamming it up in bovine (or ursine) ‘speech’.

People exploit Madhava’s generosity to make him fix their problems, but as Hema (Meenakshi Seshadri) says, it is usually him who pays the consequences. Despite his simplicity, Madhava is not stupid. He can find a loophole in an instruction as well as any lawyer, such as promising not to lay a hand on someone and still managing to rough them up. He takes on a local bigwig and employs a fighting style possibly inspired by Hanuman as well as Shiva, complete with his own vengeful song. In turn, the politician resorts to elaborate and inefficient methods to try and get Madhava out of the picture – including an attack by an enraged bull (mostly a fibreglass prop), and a murder attempt in a rigged performance. Luckily Hema realises what is going on and takes the guise of Shakti to protect Shiva. I love his dancing from around 5 minutes onwards as Shiva’s rage is unleashed.

But seriously – what is it with the rabbits?

Madhava has always called Hema a goddess, and when they dance as Shiva and Parvati he sees her as his goddess. He is very aware of the barriers between them.

Meenakshi gives Hema a distinct character and intelligence, and her emotional development is well portrayed. She is becoming physically as well as emotionally drawn to Madhava, and is both disturbed and excited by these feelings.  Hema tells Madhava she wishes he had the sense to understand what is in people’s minds, but he doesn’t. There is yearning and dreaming on both sides.

The first section is mostly rural romance with a caste barrier and a few dishooming fights, and I really didn’t expect the twist to take the form it did. Have a happy song before things get dark.

Hema’s father dies suddenly in the middle of a ceremony to honour Madhava. Chiru is brilliant as he shows the overwhelming emotions surging through the grief stricken and furious Madhava. He crafts a clay lingam and berates Shiva for his neglect despite all the prayers and offerings.  A kindly priest points out that just as Madhava could destroy what he had made, man is god’s creation and god has a right over our lives too. That seems to comfort him, but Hema is just devastated.

While Madhava is away, Hema visits her sister Lalita (Geetha) and baby niece. She is assaulted by her lecherous brother-in-law and Lalita is killed when she tries to intervene. The police are paid off and that is that. The shock, her grief over her father and sister, fear of a repeat attack – all these things cause Hema to become unstable. She exhibits extreme aggression towards men and is committed to a psychiatric hospital as her family cannot cope. Apparently a punch-up and a food fight is all it takes to fake insanity, so Madhava is soon an inmate and watching over Hema. Most of the inmates act happy and childlike and mental illness is made to seem harmless.

Rape and mental illness should not be used as cheap entertainment fodder, and there are disturbing abuses of power by characters in the film. What I liked was that other characters found these incidents as reprehensible as I did, and tried to get some justice. The mental patients had a right to decent treatment. Hema wasn’t blamed for being attacked or having a breakdown, and her family never abandoned her. There was some empathy shown for the damaged people. Not everything was swept under the carpet, but the powerlessness of the average person in the story was so frustrating.

Meenakshi plays traumatised Hema as intensely angry and determined to fight any perceived threat, which includes all men. When the drugs kick in she becomes empty eyed and withdrawn. She can’t recognise Madhava as her friend but she does eventually recognise she can trust him. When a staff member tries to rape Hema, Madhava defends her and is given shock treatment as the doctors think he is psychotic.  He is further accused of being the rapist, and his suffering is palpable as is his desperation to help her.

Chiranjeevi adds an extra layer of pretence as he switches from Madhava to Madhava (over)acting crazy, and there is a marked deterioration in his appearance once he is an inpatient.  On that note, while the idea of Chiru dressing up and having himself delivered to me in a box has some appeal, this costume may have caused the more fragile patient to have a bit of a setback. But the dancing is great!

Madhava manages to spend some time with Hema and uses a very ugly doll to reignite her memories of home and loved ones, sparked by a favourite lullaby. Compared to some of the other goings on in the asylum that struck me as quite sensible and therapeutic, and indeed she is soon released.

Madhava is left beset by fear and sadness. He has given everything he can, including selling his herd to get money to help the family, and may have ruined his own life. He berates himself for his stupidity in a powerful speech to his reflection, but can’t see any way out of this mess, or the asylum.

The ending is so filmi incredible but I still found myself on the edge of my seat. Just how could it possibly work out? And why on earth were so many people overcome with bad luck and bad judgement all at once?

There are no comedy uncles as such. Brahmanandam is Madhava’s friend and provides some physical comedy but largely this is a straight character role for him and they share a nice rapport. Allu Ramalingaiah as the uncle resents Madhava’s position in the family and has a sharp tongue when voicing his disapproval. Like Brahmi, his role is dramatic, not the comedic turn I expect from him. Sarath Babu as Sripati wants to do what is right, and is the sympathetic ‘other guy’. There is something reassuring about Sarath Babu and having him as a friend does seem to make the good guys that much more resilient. Jandhyala is very fatherly, and suits his role as the unfashionable teacher and poet who refuses to cheapen his art.

The emphasis is more on characters than causes although the film does say something about caste, dowry and other facets of society. It is wildly melodramatic, but the writer and actors invest in the central characters and there is plenty to enjoy along the way.

My DVD cover says this is a ‘must see movie before you die’. I’m not sure about that, but I encourage you to at least look at the song clips. The village scenery is pretty and beautifully filmed, the music is lovely and the dancing is excellent. But really, this is all about the performances by Chiru and Meenakshi and they won me over from the start.

3 ½ stars!

Sorry Chiru.  4 stars?

4 stars!

PS – thanks tolly for the recommendation all those months ago – where are you tolly? It’s been ages!

Chantabbai

I was initially reluctant to watch a film billed as a comedy even with Chiru in the lead. But then I discovered Chantabbai was based on Blake Edward’s classic ‘A Shot In The Dark’ which I like, and not only does it star Chiru but also the lovely Suhasini. Then the ever helpful KB told me Chiru frocked up for a song and I was sold. And to top it all off, my favourite ebay seller BoomBox India found me a DVD with subtitles. So I would have been reasonably happy even if this was not brilliant, but guess what? It’s great fun!

It starts with cartoon titles:

Not all of them entirely suitable for children:

And more credits are painted on roads, buildings etc.  It’s a fun way to begin.

I always liked the slightly mad glitter in Peter Sellers’ eye when he played Clouseau and while that edge is missing in Jandhyala’s film there is a likeable eccentricity about the characters. Chiru’s portrayal of K Panduranga Rao a.k.a Pond…James Pond is sweet rather than insane. The subtitle team seemed to miss the mark, but perhaps they were just trying to add their own comic contribution to the often convoluted dialogue. What Chiranjeevi says is “Call me Pond…James Pond”:

Pandu is quite endearing and where Clouseau was a loner, Pandu is more of a people person. He has associates, including the omnipresent photographer sidekick Ganpathi (Suthi Velu),  he likes a girl, and of course he has his loyal servant. I always loved the scenes where Burt Kwouk as Kato would attack Clouseau and I cannot believe someone persuaded Allu Aravind to take up that role (IMDB insist it is indeed him) – and he is fantastic! I always think of him as the serious looking producer, but clearly he inherited the family comedy gene.

Suhasini is Jwala, a telephone hygienist and the object of Pandu’s affections…if she would ever shut up long enough for him to tell her.

She lives with her father (Allu Ramalingaiah) and seems to like her life and have good friends. She’s a happy girl with a bright smile and wonderfully expressive face.

Jwala is implicated in a murder and diamond theft, and PI Pandu takes her case.  The solution is arrived at via many sophisticated methods.

Chiru and Suhasini make such a nice screen couple and I greatly enjoyed seeing them in this lively romp. And you know, it leads to this lovely song which features Chiru in a pair of shoes recently discussed on this blog:

Chiru is lots of fun as the clumsy and sweet natured Pandu , obsessed with James Bond and determined to be a success.  I like his office and home decorations.

People are driven mad by James Pond and his schemes and theories that all seem to work out somehow.  They still help when he needs them, and the police do what he asks which may be a reflection on them rather than on Pond now I think of it. Bheema Raju as the police inspector looks as though he can barely keep a straight face in some scenes, and it adds to the jolly feel of the comedy. Chiru has a really nice rapport with the kids in his scenes with them, and Pandu is clearly regarded with great affection. This lacks the slightly manic edge of an Inspector Clouseau film – it’s just so nice. I mean, this is his idea of a stinging retort when he is being stood up:

Which requires a comedy song with Chiru as Chaplin! More shoes! And a tongue in cheek tribute to some of his earlier films including Khaidi.

While solving the murder, Pandu is also hired to find Jwala’s friend Dr. Nischilla’s long lost brother from her father Kongara Jaggaiah’s first relationship. There is a nice Egyptian theme to the artwork in Nischilla’s home and many people claim to be the lost Chantabbai, possibly because of the decor.

You may already have guessed who that brother turns out to be.

The discovery allows for a serious scene by Chiru as Pandu reveals how traumatised he was by being orphaned at a young age. There is a clear message about the need for people to support and help those in need and while it suited the theme of the story, the energy was suddenly a lot heavier. I found this scene surprising for the anger he expressed (briefly) in what is otherwise an amusing and lightweight film. There is also a subplot about a failed relationship of Nischilla’s which was also quite serious in tone although depicted in a stylised way. So maybe this is intended as the grown-up component of the family entertainment.

Even in a comedy film, there is apparently room for a comedy sideplot or two.  Sri Laxmi is wonderful as a would be poet who forces the newspaper editor to publish her work and try out her bizarre cooking experiments.  There is also a comedy kidnapping which is memorable for the kidnappers excellent sense of occasion:

Underneath the comedy there’s actually a well structured story that kept my attention from start to finish. The cast do a great job and are very entertaining, especially Suhasini and Chiranjeevi. Everyone looks like they had fun playing out their antics and really got into the spirit of the film. K. Chakravarthy’s soundtrack is pleasant and the songs were well placed, although they were a bit light on for dancing. If you want a slightly offbeat slapstick comedy with loads of charm I think this is a good choice. 3 1/2 stars!