Takkari Donga

Made back in the day when Mahesh Babu was more baby-faced than baby-faced killer, Takkari Donga is a cowboy treasure quest featuring a map, a secret ‘diamond valley’, plus some bad acting and worse outfits courtesy of Bipasha Basu and Lisa Ray. Oh Mahesh. You’ve come a long way!

The Mahesh Fan prompted me to watch this film some time ago (“It’s Mahesh! In chaps!!”). As I often do, I ignored her. She sent me the link to watch it with subs on YouTube. Again, I somehow managed to ignore that (“It’s Mahesh! In chaps!! And there’s venom sucking!!!”). Finally she turned up at my house with a DVD made up of all those YouTube clips cobbled together. Resistance was futile. And she was right – it does feature Mahesh in chaps, and there is indeed venom sucking. I don’t think they are the most compelling reasons to watch a film, but I was quite amused by the sheer silliness that has diamonds harvested like fruit and a bit of skanked up boot-scooting. I watched it ages ago with Beth and Amrita and they found it tedious. But I say there is (fools) gold in them thar hills.

It’s a pastiche, maybe more along the lines of the Trinity series than a purported remake of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The music is a good match as Mani Sharma veers from Marlboro Country anthemic to cheesy songs. There is also a fair dollop of ‘sad trombone’, Addams Family finger snaps and samples from other Hollywood soundtracks. The camera work is often lovely and there is good use of aerial shots that help capture the grandeur of stunning scenery. It’s loaded with cowboy film standards – a saloon brawl, pratfalls, gun twirling and enigmatic galloping. There is a rickety bridge, TNT, smart horses and dumb humans. All the clichés, lovingly filmed for our enjoyment. Plus lions.

Mahesh Babu is Raja, the titular ‘Tricky Thief’. Raja has a tragic backstory that featured his family, a tiny white puppy and villain of the piece Shaka at his most sadistic. He’s an enigma. I mean, where does a man who is essentially homeless keep that extensive hat collection?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raja’s bullets pack an extra punch as several opponents are literally blown away with a single bullet, flying out of shot thanks to some enthusiastic wire work. But he also deals with an epic rope bridge confrontation simply scaring the bad guy silly by wobbling the bridge so it’s not all guns and blood spatter. I could empathise with the creepy Dega in that scene. A friend did that to me every single time we crossed a bridge in Nepal and he always found it amusing to see me ricocheting past yaks and backpackers as I fled into the distance.

Of course, the bridge HAS To break eventually but the villain is actually sent to his death by a fluffy white dog. Excellent! And then Mahesh rescues the dog so he is doubly heroic and the music agrees. I do like a good dog assisted comeuppance.

Panasa (Bipasha) makes her entrance pretending to be blind in order to rob Raja who had just robbed a train. Raja pursues her to get his booty (the money – I’m talking about the money). Despite Mahesh making loads of noise and lighting up a cigarette she persists in pretending she has no idea he is there which makes for a nicely gratuitous bath scene. She falls for Raja but to no avail, as he seems immune to her charms as amply signalled by her snug fitting leather pants.

Lisa Ray is Bhuvana, the girl destined to marry a man with exceptional qualities and a significant mole on his thigh. She sets off on a perilous journey to her uncle’s house with Raja as her paid guard, but really she is all about checking him for that mole. Lisa got a gratuitous bath scene as well as the venom sucking scene so I feel the film maker’s objectives were clear.

There is a vague love triangle as Panasa chases Raja who is sort of keen on Bhuvana who hates Raja but we know that won’t last. Panasa is a piece of work, conspiring with her sidekick (Tanikella Bharani with comedy moustache) to get Bhuvana kidnapped by the horrible Dega who likes his women to be unwilling and temporary guests.

The humour is very slapstick, uneven and only intermittently funny. Sometimes things do work well. I liked the way Raja would scoot into frame during the Chukkallo Chandrude song and shoot people to emphasise the beat. And if you ever wanted to see Mahesh weaponise a bra – wish granted.

Rahul Dev is the villain Shaka. He is obsessed with finding the map that Veeru (Ashok K Kumar) escaped with. 18 years of looking and time has not mellowed his disposition. I can’t help but think that if he had actually looked for the diamond valley rather than the man with the map he may have got there all by himself. Shaka has an unfortunate tendency to let his victims die before they speak so he is eternally frustrated. He is a sadistic psychopath and appears to own just one outfit. He has a significant scar but I think his nose is just so hypnotic it takes a while for Raja to notice the fateful mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the plot is not really worth discussing in detail. Either you’ll enjoy the story unfolding or you won’t care. It’s set in a non specific time and place using Western tropes including a Texas Rangers Sheriff badge alongside piles of chilli drying in the sun mixed with tacky plasticky photo frames and vile synthetic fabrics. The design team had some fun with the map and subsequent clues and the diamond mine is quite astonishing.

I was quite concerned when I realised there would be lots of horse scenes as frequently the stunts in films are horrifying and it is obvious that some animals would have been severely injured (at best). Takkari Donga relies mostly on the horse chase and equine acting so there was nothing that had me ready to cover my eyes. The fluffy white dog seems to have mysterious powers of teleportation. He generally trots along after the drama waiting for a chance to save Raja so that was also quite stress-free.

Jayant Paranji did go on to make the excellent Shankar Dada MBBS and Teen Maar, and we all know Mahesh’s star continues to rise so clearly this film was not the career ending move it might have been. The choreography is uninspired despite a credit for Saroj Khan (among others). Make sure you watch right to the end for a special appearance by Superstar Krishna and for the blooper reel. 3 stars just for the so bad it’s good-ness!

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Theen Maar

Theenmaar is a fairly faithful remake of the Hindi film Love Aaj Kal, with a few minor changes and thankfully a lot more Southern style action and drama.

We do think that Pawan Kalyan has the most enthusiastic fans we have ever encountered. There was a good turnout at India Talkies, especially considering this was the second night showing, and more ladies and families than we usually see. In many of the Cape Town location scenes, bikini clad extras strutted around to no audience reaction at all. But let PK appear in shot and the roof almost came off! And we must add – it was the guys making the most noise!

Pawan Kalyan is Michael, a chef working in Cape Town while he waits for an opportunity to be a stockbroker in New York. Trisha is Meera, a fine arts graduate who specialises in restoration work (or something). Michael is selfish, impulsive, charming but ultimately high on talk and low on commitment. His dialogues are hilarious and he actually used the vintage line ‘Coffee, tea …or me?’ which had us in fits of laughter. It was followed up by a kiss so clearly the old material hasn’t lost any of its magic…or maybe it’s all in the delivery? And he does speak Italian (not so well, but it was actual dialogue in actual Italian delivered with great gusto).

Trisha plays Meera as vain and princessy, accepting compliments on her beauty with a smile and an ‘I know!’ Their relationship is shown in a series of montages deteriorating from the happy honeymoon phase to him being bored and her being restless and the performances develop more subtlety as the characters situations change.  Meera loves Michael but goes back to India to pursue her career dreams. They both try to move on from this relationship, but really don’t, and the question of will they or won’t they get back together is the story.

Paresh Rawal introduces the flashback story of his friend Arjun (Pawan Kalyan) and his love, played by Kriti Karbandha. The Varanasi locations and slightly faded colour palette are simply stunning. Arjun is a student activist, albeit one who never seems to do any study, a man of few words and deep feelings. Arjun and his nerdy mates follow Kriti around Varanasi and these are some of the funniest scenes.

Pawan Kalyan’s expressions flicker from nervous to smouldering to determined and back again as he wordlessly conveys his feelings and confusion. There is a fabulous vintage style song with Arjun and his mates skipping around and dancing like madmen and it is just brilliantly done. Kriti didn’t have a lot to do except stand around and stare at Arjun and is a bit low energy in many of her scenes. She does come to life in her dances and those scenes are where she looks her most appealing. Her family don’t approve of Arjun and his determination and resilience are a total contrast to Michael’s floundering and apathy. His body language is completely different to Michael – Arjun stands up straight, shoulders back, head up and looks people in the eye where Michael’s gaze is always shifting or angled and he rarely stands still or takes a stand.

One of the side effects of Filmi True Love is that all other partners end up as Romance Roadkill. Australian Misha or maybe Michelle (played by someone maybe called Jahna) and Sonu Sood as Meera’s new man are adequate in their roles, but they aren’t given a lot to do. Sonu makes more of an impression, mostly because he gets more dialogue and also has a confronting scene with Trisha. We did find it interesting that although the relationship between Meera and Michael was clearly physical, it was only the white girlfriend who was overtly shown as having a sexual relationship. It is obvious she is a pale (pun intended) substitute for Meera, although she did spark a truly funny Dirty Harry impression by Michael.

The remaining support cast were their usual selves. Tanikella Bharani was Michael’s Skype savvy dad, Paresh Rawal was avuncular and natty in golf knits, Mukesh Rishi was imposing and mean as the olden days father. The actors who play Arjun’s friends are really expressive and fun, and have a fab collection of Seventies polyester body shirts and flares. The male backing dancers were great and looked the part – if they were random street dancing IT guys, they looked like IT guys. There were too many skinny white girls in the club dances. Considering we were supposed to be in Cape Town, there was little diversity in the ethnic makeup of the extras so it was a bit odd. Another very strange thing – no Brahmi. We really can’t recall the last Brahmi-less film we have seen. Ali however did turn up in a fairly restrained (for him anyway) cameo.

Mani Sharma’s music is well matched to its place in the story.  We particularly liked a gorgeous temple song dedicated to Shiva that used perfect retro Bollywood choreography. The club numbers were fun, and Pawan Kalyan went all out to entertain. The costumes were occasionally puzzling – we have no idea who was styling Meera’s return to India wardrobe but apparently going home means wearing lots of patchwork and garish harem pants. A big hurrah for whoever designed Arjun’s look. We loved Pawan Kalyan in the simple kurta and jeans.

Imtiaz Ali’s story is a great basis, and Trivikram did really well in translating it into the Southern film style.  We missed a lot of the dialogue based jokes, but judging by the audience reaction, they were very funny indeed. The action scenes are way more energetic than in the Hindi original. We aren’t sure about the climax fight that seemed to have been designed solely to allow a motorbike blow up but heroes must be heroes. Jayant Paranji kept the story ticking along for the most. There is a draggy section towards the end, but as usual the final scenes seem to happen at breakneck speed.

Theenmaar is a really entertaining film that has something to say but doesn’t beat you over the head with a message. We can’t wait for the DVD!