Kodama Simham

kodama-simham

Chiru as a cowboy! Hidden treasure! Radha as a jungle warrior princess!

While I love a lot about Kodama Simham I am going to begin with a caveat. There are some horse stunts that turned my stomach.  If that would worry you, have the fast forward button at the ready. In a couple of scenes it did look like the horse that went down got up and ran past the camera so maybe I am overestimating the likely damage. But it is something that makes me wary of this genre, no matter what industry made the film. And it seems a bit rough when it is a horse that saves the hero at a critical point.

Kodama-Simham-Bharath wants justice

Bharath (Chiru) is a gunslinger – the good kind – picking up the bounty on criminal types. Bharath manages to upset the local purveyors of iniquity. His parents are killed, but not before his dad tells Bharath he was adopted and to go look for his biological parents. His father Dharmadev (Satyanarayana Kaikala) hid some treasure to keep it safe, but was forced to go into hiding while Bharath’s Ma was jailed. Bharath must retrieve the treasure, clear his parent’s name, and give the bad guys their comeuppance. Simples!

I’m not sure what time period this film is meant to be set in. There are few reliable fashion indicators.

Horses are the only form of transport although there does seem to be a lit-up fish tank and a jukebox in the saloon.  There are what look to be Native American styled natives, as well as a forest dwelling tribe of non-specific plumage. Plus the (possibly) cannibal cat-people guarding the hidden treasure.

There are hangings and shootings galore, and justice seems to be an individual pursuit. Well, Brahmi is the local police so I can’t blame anyone for deciding to go DYI. Bharath disrupts an auction where young ladies are being sold to men or brothels, sets the captives free with a cheery “All the best” and that seemed to be the end of that. Swapna is chased for the umpteenth time by men of bad intent and runs into the jungle, leaving her girlfriends for dead. Nice. She meets Dharmadev who tells his boys off for their lack of manners and again, that seems to be the end of that. There is a pleasing finality to some of these issues: “You’ve been told, now bugger off and don’t do it again”. “OK”. If only that worked in real life.

While the title cards said K Muralimohana Rao directed, at times I suspected the film was being ghost directed by the Hat Department. Telugu cowboy films always turn it on for the headgear, and this was a corker. Behold!

Chiru’s hero entrance starts, as it should, with his boots before the rest of him swaggers in to view.

Kodama-Simham-The bootsKodama-Simham-the treasure

Unfortunately it is hard to tell on a grainy VCD print, but in one scene if his boots aren’t bulletproof, they come close. He has a laconic style and an extensive collection of guns. But what makes him an unstoppable Hero is his self-belief and righteousness. There is a touch of Clint Eastwood in how Bharath is styled – he wears a poncho with panache (probably all that practice Chiru has twirling capes) but Chiranjeevi puts his own stamp on the role. Bharath is a dancer and a ladies man as well as a capable fighter and filial son. Directors must have count their lucky stars to get a hero who could dance and fling himself around in action scenes and do the horse riding scenes as well as being ladybait. The story builds up to an all-in confrontation, and Bharath does follow a fairly logical path to that conclusion, even if the steps along the way strain the elasticity of my disbelief suspenders.

Could one heroine suffice for such an exemplary hero? No.

Kodama-Simham-SonamKodama-Simham-Swapna and art

Swapna (Sonam ) is the mayor’s daughter. She has a penchant for making bad art and wearing terrible outfits.

Kodama-Simham-the tribeKodama-Simham-Chiru and Radha

Bijli (Radha) could probably be described as a tribal princess. She likes hunting, shooting and wearing bad outfits. There is some common ground for these ladies if only they could see it. It took me a while to place Sonam but then it hit me. The vacant stare, the pout, the head tilted on the side – She was in Ajooba! Maybe her career is worth investigating further…. Radha of course was an established heroine in South films at this time, and Bijli is the more substantial of the female roles. She looks like she had fun playing the kickarse leader and Bijli and Bharath were the main drivers of many of the revengey plans. Sadly for Bijli, Bharath seemed to be drawn to the girl who did enough stupid things that he would be kept fully occupied in saving her.

Kodama-Simham-Pran the villainKodama-Simham-Pran!

Pran is the dastardly Mayor. He is first seen reading a proclamation off a fancy silk scroll before ordering the hanging of an assortment of extras. I was so pleased when I recognised him but somewhat disappointed that he was in such a stereotypical role with little scope for him to really work his villainy. Still, Pran! Always fun to see worlds collide even if he did try and have Chiru’s eyes out with a red hot poker.

Kodama-Simham-MohanbabuKodama-Simham-Sudhakar

Mohanbabu is the pungent Suddigaali – everyone sniffs when he turns up and no one looks pleased with the result. He is a cartoonish villain but his spaced out reactions and bizarre logic made for some entertaining scenes. Sudhakar is the Mayor’s bumbling accomplice and does his usual shtick. Kannada  Prabhakar is a more flamboyant and sociopathic bad guy.

Kodama-Simham-I shall call him Jaws

There is also that guy, who looks like a) Jaws from the Bond films and b) he stole one of Chiru’s costumes. There is a villain for all seasons in this film.

This is one of the films where I wait eagerly for the songs. Every picturisation has its own kind of awesomeness, largely fabric based. Raj-Koti’s songs are fun and Chiranjeevi makes the most of the choreography.  I choose to believe his dancing on the ceiling was a tribute to Fred Astaire rather than Lionel Richie.

Sadly few of these songs are available on YouTube or the like due to the egregious copyright claim shenanigans. I cannot fathom why a company with no apparent interest in promoting or preserving the old films they allegedly own would object to short clips being shared online when they don’t have their own version uploaded. I’d get it if they were worried about loss of ad revenue, but often I am mystified. Unless they’re worried someone will try and buy a copy.

See this, if you can find a copy, for the full tilt tongue-in-cheek mass style transplanted to Cowboy Country and the pleasing commitment to justice and hats. Chiru is in fine fettle and Radha is an excellent foil. The more is more approach means you’ll never have long to wait for the next song, dance, fight, demonstration of how to transport a treasure chest across a gorge or costume change. 4 stars!

Sangarshana (1983)

I like a good socialist masala film. Sangarshana has surprisingly long interludes of sensible decision making and logical plot progression, plus loads of dancing and a very good cast. It’s highly entertaining and while the plot is fairly basic, it’s more rounded out than I expected. Lest that all sound a bit too straightforward, there are mysterious mute women, children separated at birth, a comic sideplot that hinges on romantic sabotage, family dramas, medical emergencies, flying somersaults, fight scenes and a bit of conflict resolution through disco.

Dilip (Chiranjeevi) returns from America to live with his wealthy industrialist dad (Satyanarayana Kaikala). He is a nice enough guy but used to the easy life, and can’t really understand the struggle of workers in his family factory. He believes his dad is a good guy and that the workers should trust him and remember their station in life. Eventually Dilip comes to realise that his father is more interested in money than in the means by which he obtains it. To make matters worse, the local site manager (Rao Gopal Rao) reneges on offers of compensation for injured employees and overacts wildly.

My post grad studies were in Industrial Relations and I can confidently state that I never encountered that reaction to a workplace accident in any of the cases I studied.

Dilip renews his relationship with his childhood friends Shivam (Sivakrishna) and Radha (Vijayashanti) and their father, the supervisor Mr Krishnamurthy (Gummadi).

When he isn’t prancing about reminiscing with Radha, lifelong snappy dresser Dilip is prancing about romancing Rekha (Nalini) the daughter of his dad’s local business manager. Life is all twirling around on hilltops and dancing around trees. But then other issues start to take over. Shivam starts a union and tries to get fairer conditions for the other workers. Some of his demands seemed a bit out there (workers compensations is fine, but three months bonus?), and fights the good fight. Unionisation is not ideal for the owners as regulation and systems may bring their smuggling sideline to light, and they certainly don’t want to reduce their profits.

Once Dilip realises the extent of the illegal activities and his father’s role in the shady doings, things start to get nasty. He is thrown out of home, his relationship with Rekha is threatened as her father coerces her to give up Dilip, and there is much drinking and crying.

When Dilip is framed for Shivam’s murder, Chiru dials up the heroics as he becomes a furious young man and makes his enemies sorry they ever crossed that line.

Chiranjeevi is very good as the showy Dilip who brings back expensive gifts and spouts some terrible English dialogues. He manages to be vain and likeable and the transition from easy confidence to anger and hurt betrayal is excellent. He is deliberately cheesy in some romantic scenes, adding a comic spark,  but brings genuine warmth and pathos when it is needed.

Oh those outfits make me weep, especially the poor backing dancers. But look at Chiru go! He dances up a storm and is handy in a fight. No wonder the ladies are lining up!

Sivakrishna has one expression for 80% of the film but since he plays an angry young man that works well enough. Allu Ramalingaiah is Varahamurthy, the comedy religious advisor who abets Rao Gopal Rao in his schemes. Varahamurthy has his own ideas about marrying his son Chalpai off to rich and lovely Rekha, while Chalpai has the hots for a voluptuous local girl. Those shenanigans constitute the comedy side plot and aren’t quite as painful as they might have been, although I did forward through most of it on a re-watch. Annapurna plays the mysterious mute woman who holds the key to a tangled family saga. Her revelations relieve Dilip of his sense of familial loyalty, and make him determined to bring his father and cohorts to justice.

Vijayashanti is beautiful as simple village girl Radha. She loves Dilip and has a fair number of song induced fantasies about their love. But she is a sensible and nice girl who doesn’t let romantic notions carry her away. Radha is committed to her family and to doing the right thing, and doesn’t hesitate to call Dilip on his weakness when he is wallowing in drunkenness. When she sees that rich Rekha is more Dilip’s type Radha has a talk to herself and decides she has to move on. See? Sensible.

Nalini gets less emotional range but more hideous fashionable outfits as Rekha. Rekha is pretty, a bit spoilt, but once she decides Dilip is The One, she doesn’t back away without putting up a fight. Literally – check her out in this clip.

Nalini is good but didn’t make as strong an impression as Vijayashanti despite the biffo.

K Chakravarthy provided a range of songs that suited the mood and the characters. Radha and Dilip have more traditional duets while Rekha gets a more Westernised treatment. The choreography is energetic and certainly suits Chiru who gives it his all.

I love watching that song. It comes at a high point in the story and what I really enjoy is the slightly ragged energy that makes it look like people were having fun dancing and not just thinking about it as a scene.   

The interior sets are quite fabulous. Someone on the team decided that more is more in some cases, and I enjoyed playing ‘name that knick knack’ or ‘spot the repo old master’. The dedication to clashing patterns is also quite noticeable.

The western costumes are very 80s while the rowdies dress like a blind costume designer’s hippie fantasy.

One of my few quibbles with the film is that, as a result of what I assume is slacking off by the footwear team, Dilip often wore a pair of quite drab brown ankle boots that just didn’t go with his outfits.

The plot is quite cohesive and the lead characters are engaging.  Occupational health and safety, security for families of workers, a fair go and collective bargaining are things I have an interest in, so while this is very filmi it does throw some ideas around. Issues are explored in conversations, but nothing too heavy. The actors deliver good performances with the right balance of craziness and heart. Director K Murali Mohana Rao keeps things moving along and the story plays to Chiranjeevi’s strengths. 4 stars!