Jai Chiranjeeva

K Vijaya Bhaskar’s film is a rightfully neglected effort from the latter part of Chiranjeevi’s pre-hiatus career. While Chiru’s Megastar presence is always compelling, he can’t compensate for the desultory direction and derivative screenplay. On the upside, Arbaaz Khan makes Bhoomika look like a brilliant actor so she must be happy.

Pasupathi (Arbaaz Khan), obviously EVIL, steals a cargo ship to go to Mumbai. His henchman (Rahul Dev) is waiting there (again, obvious signs of EVIL). Pasupathi demonstrates a new fancy gun with computerised target tracking, and when Ramkoti (Jayaprakash Reddy) seems mildly disbelieving he shoots a child playing some distance away in the park. EVIL.

Meanwhile 40 something year old virgin Sathyanarayan Murthy (Chiranjeevi) comes to the big smoke to stay with his relatives. Some unfunny mistaken identity shenanigans result in sexual harassment, but it’s OK because he is filthy rich. Even a comedy fall from the roof involves heroics and mild sexual harassment (stopping a robbery, encouraging a couple to get it on, copping a feel of the one who will be One of The Ones). He continually crosses paths with Shailaja (Sameera Reddy) and of course sparks of all types fly. Sometimes literally.

After a big night Sathyanarayan passes out drunk and has a long flashback to the death of his much loved niece, Lavanya. She was a pushy little minx and, sadly, also the child murdered in Pasupathi’s gun demonstration. When Sathya learns that the doctor lied to him about Lavanya’s cause of death and colluded with the gang to prevent a police enquiry, things become more dangerous for everyone. Back in the present day, the doctor’s daughter Neelima (Bhoomika) becomes involved as she seeks justice for her dad who was killed to prevent further blabbing. She ends up in a fake marriage with Sathya so he can get a visa for the USA to go kill Pasupathy.

The film should be improbable but suspenseful, but almost everyone, including Sathya, seems go off task far too easily. For someone bent on revenge and believing he is on a mission from god, Sathya is easily distracted. There is always the opportunity to bust a move or rehabilitate a child beggar by telling her not to beg anymore because it just isn’t nice for a girl to do that. Chiru has to perform every style from slapstick to smack down and he is good, as he always is. But it’s more like a series of skits so the dramatic tension is lost, and Chiru has nothing to get his teeth into except the scenery. The songs by Mani Sharma are diverting and Chiranjeevi looks like he is having fun with the choreo. The action scenes are tailored to suit him and, despite being copied badly from films like the Bond and Die Hard franchises via Jackie Chan, they are a highlight. While it’s obvious he’d been living in a good paddock and wasn’t his svelte 80s self, he really goes for it.

However the attitudes are a bit 80s and it’s very vexing. Venu Madhav chases prostitutes and rejects one who is too dark. That was supposed to be funny. Shailu’s parents say they stopped her studying because she behaved like a boy – i.e. did what she liked. Shailu decides to stage a party and make Sathya pay for his insulting behaviour. Simple country lad Sathya has to be styled up as a parody of Chiru just to get in. Luckily pub = dancing. But his (drunk) song combines bhangra beats with a warning of how drinking and partying is not for nice young ladies and they should be careful not to make their parents cry with their modern ways. Neelu’s family pressure her to leave her father’s death alone and not cause embarrassment by looking for the truth.

The two girls are the only ones with a real sense of purpose. I quite liked Sameera Reddy. Shailu was not the most realistic character but Sameera has a robust energy that stood up well against Chiranjeevi’s presence and her dodgy wardrobe. She wasn’t afraid to go for it in the dances either. I didn’t necessarily agree with her decision making but I thought Shailu was articulate about what she wanted and where she drew the line. Bhoomika used both of her expressions, and despite having the potentially more substantial role she didn’t really make much of it. Neelu was tortured, threatened, kidnapped, her poor puppy Dandy was the victim of a Fatal Attraction bunny boiler scenario, and yet I barely remember anything about her. I have better recall of her bedroom furnishings, right down to the Australia shaped souvenir on her bedside table. Neelu has reservations but is won over by Sathya’s “revenge is better than happiness” speech. Plus he promised to only kill bad people. Shailu finds out Sathya intends to marry Neelu to get a USA visa but agrees because she loves him…and makes them have a church wedding as a Hindu ceremony is only for realsies. Points for actually having the discussion I guess.

Pasupathi likes to believe he is the puppet master but while all of his plans seems grandiose, the execution kind of fizzles out. I mean, it takes a miracle from god and Lavanya but eventually Sathya notices the building sized portrait of Pasupathi on the side of a skyscraper over the road and deduces that might be the top secret HQ he has been searching for. A bomb that took several minutes to describe and would supposedly vaporise a building only set fire to a small section of the car park. If I had been Arbaaz’s school careers counsellor I like to think I would have steered him away from “acting”. But since the rest of the baddies are played for cartoonish laughs, he does kind of fit in.

Among the many interruptions to the big comeuppance there is a long comedy interlude with Brahmi. I kept shouting reminders they should be off doing revenge-y things but nobody seemed to care. Even on the way to find the baddies they had to stop for a dance break at a wedding. MS Narayana has a running gag appearance that does nothing but isn’t offensively awful. Sunil is Ramkoti’s useless son and while I find him likeable as an actor I kind of wished the death threats had come to fruition. Even Tanikella Bharani annoyed me with his turn as a travel agent. My Comedy Uncle Intolerance has not waned.

I don’t hate the film as there are enough bits and bobs that make it mildly entertaining, plus there’s Chiru. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but a Chiranjeevi completist. Watch the songs, you’ve seen the rest in one form or another. 2 ¾ stars!

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Autonagar Surya

Autonagar Surya

Deva Katta’s Autonagar Surya doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be and as a result ends up as a disappointing muddle.  There are elements of a message film with the ‘one man against the system’ storyline, but at the same time the film attempts a broader social commentary while following a standard mass entertainer formula – including the obligatory romance and fight scenes.   There is little of the subtlety Deva Katta brought to Prasthanam and the additions of Brahmi and Venu Madhav with a woeful comedy track certainly don’t help.  After watching the more recent Manam, where Chaitanya displayed improved acting maturity, it’s disappointing to watch his uneven performance here, particularly since the film focuses heavily on his character. In fact the best performances come from the support cast, including Surya’s group of friends and the assorted thugs and villains, but despite their best efforts they’re not enough to make Autonagar Surya more than a one time watch.

Autonagar Surya

The film starts off well enough – if a little on the violent side.  After an initial parade and explosion, where Chaitanya’s Surya is blasted into the sky like a cheap rocket, there is a flashback to explain who he is and how he got to be a human firework.  The young Surya is orphaned when an obnoxious thug detrains his parents when they try to intervene in a rape.  Surya ends up being brought up by his uncle (Sai Kumar) who has little time for the orphan as he thoroughly disapproved of his parent’s marriage, and Surya moves in with the auto mechanic opposite.  Cut to a few years later where Surya has grown up to develop an interest in all things mechanical and demonstrates an accompanying bad fashion sense.  Although to be fair, so do his friends too.  So far so good then, until he gets on the wrong side of the local union boss and ends up in jail for murder.

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This turns out to have been a blessing in disguise, since while in jail Surya manages to study for a degree in engineering.  On his release, after a seemingly short time (5 years for murder?), he pressures his friends into helping him build a battery powered car.  However the union is still in power and worse still, his uncle is now the elected president and still has no time for his nephew (not his niece as suggested by the subtitles!).  However Surya has the hope of the downtrodden and a powerful vocabulary on his side.  With the help of his friends he decides to tackle the union thugs, but despite all his speechifying and rhetoric he basically employs their dubious tactics of fighting, kidnap and intimidation to achieve his aims.

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Sticking to the formula, there is a romance between Surya and his uncle’s daughter Siri (Samantha).  Samantha looks beautiful and has a couple of good scenes where she gets to explore her comedic side, but mostly she has frustratingly little to do. The love story is really only an excuse for a couple of forgettable songs with dull choreography and is dealt the death knell by a distinct lack of chemistry between Chaitanya and Samantha.  They seem to be more like best mates rather than lovers, and that probably would have made a more believable storyline too.

Autonagar SuryaAutonagar Surya

There are many fight scenes, particularly in the second half, which tend to be on the grisly side with plenty of spouting blood and the odd limb or two flying around.  The graphic fights seem to be at odds with Surya’s more intellectual dialogue relating to the human condition and it just doesn’t add up that such a technical and generally rational genius should also be a competent and vicious fighter. Chaitanya also doesn’t quite look the part, as he seems too young, and just not angry enough to be the classic ‘angry young man’ that I think Deva Katta wants to portray. Generally there is an overall lack of passion which makes Surya’s revolutionary speeches and rabble rousing dialogues fall somewhat flat.  It’s so frustrating when Naga Chaitanya has demonstrated that he can be much better than this.  At least the union thugs all know exactly what they are doing and why, so the various atrocities carried out by the gang fit more easily into the mass formula.  Ajay is particularly effective as one of the main villains, and it’s good to see him in a more protracted role.  Jayaprakash Reddy is a little too subdued, but is otherwise fine and Madhu impresses as an exceptionally evil mayor.

Autonagar Surya

While the first half shows some interesting potential, the second half drags and shows Surya to be just as vindictive and violent as the thugs he is trying to replace.  The good ideas introduced at the beginning seem to be submerged beneath repetitive fights, numerous references to RGV’s Shiva, and oddly placed songs.  Maybe I expected too much from Deva Katta after Prasthanam, but Autonagar Surya doesn’t come close to his previous film, despite the good ideas at the start.  Overall Autonagar Surya is disappointing on many levels, although does warrant a look for the excellent support cast and some impressive sets.

Nijam

Nijam_title

Nijam (Truth) is an odd film. It is far too long, contains some truly repellent characters and the story requires maximum elasticity from your Disbelief Suspenders. And yet I find it draws me in. Produced, written and directed by Teja, Nijam deals with truth, corruption and the eternal Telugu film question of justice. Nijam won several awards and there were a few good films released in 2003 so I guess this really resonated with the audiences.

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Mahesh Babu is Rama, a shy studious weakling with no visible heroic qualities (apart from being fair skinned and irresistible to women). He idolises his fireman father (Ranganath) but it is the women in his life who really mould Rama’s character. His mother (Rameshwari) is a strong willed and protective woman.  His neighbour Janaki (Rakshita) is also strong willed and is determined to get her hands on Rama. The first 90 minutes or is just preamble to the real crux of the story and could have been condensed considerably. Following a run in with local heavy Devudu (Gopichand), Venkateswarlu is framed for murder. He is innocent but the police, especially Brahmaji, are corrupt and the process does not favour the truth.  Rama has to pay bribes just to visit his father and is asked for payment by a witness who could clear his dad. Brahmaji lets Devudu in the cell to take his revenge on Venkateswarlu and things start to go crazy. Rama discovers his father has been injured and tries to get him out of jail. At every turn people ask for bribes to do what is right or, even worse, just to do their job. Rama runs from pillar to post trying to raise the money he needs in time to save his father. Brahmaji colludes in an elaborate scheme to ensure Venkateswarlu dies outside of the jail. Rama is devastated by his father’s death but his mother is enraged. She decides her son will take revenge on those who lied and starts him on a training montage to build his strength and skills. She helps him choose targets in the same way she used to help with his schoolwork. Rameshwari accompanies him on missions and is active in taking vengeance. Things come to a head when Rama and his ma come to the attention of CBI officer (Prakash Raj) and the unhinged and homicidal Devudu.

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Rama is a challenging character as he spends half the film being a nerdy nobody and then becomes an invincible hero. Mahesh shows the transition well although I struggle to believe he was as affronted by the sight of a female ankle as his gasping and shrieking was intended to convey. He was vulnerable and a bit pathetic as Rama, while there were glimpses of a more aggressive side under his peaceful exterior. He modified his body language and posture as well as his voice to project that less threatening image. Early scenes are often played for laughs, a strong contrast to what is to come. There is a steep trajectory from a scuffle at the police station to the final bloody conflict where he uses anything and everything at his disposal. Mahesh certainly has the intensity to make it seem that this transformation could happen. Rama is firmly a mummy’s boy and that relationship was sustained, adding another dimension to the hero-on-a-mission.

Nijam_breakfastNijam_Rameshwari gives the orders

Rameshwari is very good as the mother. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, but she had a softer side too. There were some really nice domestic moments in the first half of the film. As soon as her husband dies she starts to think of how she can continue to live in the world that has so betrayed her family. The answer is to change the world and she gets on task immediately. This is such an unhealthy parent child relationship but the film wants us to understand that they were forced to become serial killers because corrupt society and the law did not allow them to remain innocent. She never repents of her actions but is worried about how it might impact her beloved son. The film ends with her being congratulated for being a righteous woman and building the future of the nation. A future built on serial killer vigilantes? Oh well, as long as they only kill the bad people…

Nijam_Rakshita

Rakshita was not bad but she had a thankless and poorly written role. I’ve read several reviews that think Janakis’s harassment of Rama is some manifestation of a woman owning her sexuality and should be celebrated. Some of those reviewers would be the first to cry ‘creepy/rapey/stalker’ when a male character behaves in the same way so I am not sure why they think this is a good thing. The whole drawn out gag with her pressing her breasts against Rama and teasing him with her newspaper padding went on for far too long. She does get a few good lines and I liked that she was unafraid, but I’m not sure if that was bravery or lack of self awareness. This song (which I could only find online in the Tamil version) is quite amusing though as Rama rebukes Janaki for behaving as though he is hers for the taking.

I eventually warmed a little to Janaki a little. She stops just being irritating and does some practical and smart things which was a relief. While I like seeing a heroine with more to do than look pretty this is not really a character I want to see more of.

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Gopichand is over the top yet effective as psycho Devudu who believes he is a god. He killed his boss Sidda Reddy (Jayaprakash Reddy) because Reddy took Devudu’s girl Malli (Raasi). He killed Venkateswarlu because Malli’s brother was accidentally killed in their confrontation. When he wasn’t getting all hands on with Malli he killed and killed and killed. Gopichand really goes for it boots and all, and Devudu creates some of the most striking visuals as his mania incorporates religious motifs.

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Malli is his equal in murderous intent and has no qualms about sticking a knife into Rama when the chance presents. She is another of the driving forces in Nijam – the women who decide who and what must be punished.

Nijam_The whiteboard

Prakash Raj is the honest and competent police officer set to track down the mystery serial killer. Nobody does authoritarian with heart of gold as well as Prakash Raj. His character is a voice of sanity and reason, but then makes a decision that is totally at odds with his stated goals of upholding the law. Justice seems to be about intent and not actions.

The design of Nijam is one of its strengths. The houses and local markets all look realistic enough and the big set pieces for songs and fights are well shot. Red is a significant colour and not always as a tide of blood washing across the screen.  Red can be the blessing of vermillion or the pain of chilli powder in a wound. It’s all quite intense.

Nijam_a metaphorical snake perhaps

The songs often seemed out of place, especially once the death toll started to rise. The flirty duets gave way to more emotionally loaded songs but they interrupt the flow and slow the film down even more. The songs are shared out among the cast so everyone gets a chance to strut their stuff.

The pace is so slow it often feels like the story is happening in real time. It’s not a film I rewatch often but I think this is one of Mahesh’s stronger performances and more unusual roles. Teja just needed a bit more discipline when it came to editing and trimming down his screenplay. As a plus,  it does have strong female characters – I just don’t like them very much. 3 stars!