Tirugu Leni Manishi (1981)

Tirugu Leni Manishi poster

The early eighties gave us so much in India cinema – psychedelic titles, crazy costumes, extreme décor and disco to name but a few – and they all turn up in Thirugu Leni Manishi! Chiranjeevi shares the limelight here with none other than N.T. Rama Rao and as far as I can find out seems to be the only film where they appeared together. Providing excellent support are Rati Agnihoti, Jayalakshmi and Jaggayya, with the unexpected pleasure of Bob Christo who pops up towards the end of the film.

Some of those amazing titles.

And almost immediately afterwards Chiru is introduced as up and coming singing sensation Kishore Kumar.

Oh yes!

Naturally Padma (Jayalakshmi) is seduced by Kishore’s smooth skills with a guitar and his excellent prancing prowess. Padma is the daughter of multimillionaire Sasibhushan Rao (Jaggayya) so it’s pretty much guaranteed that the romance is going to be an uphill battle. Raja (N.T. Rama Rao) is Sasibhushan’s son and in a nice contrast to Chiru’s tight trousers, Raja has a collection of very wide flares teamed with natty multi-coloured shirts, as befitting a successful lawyer and young man about the town. I’m not sure why they decided to portray Raja as a newly qualified young lawyer as he does look more his real age for most of the film, although no more so than watching an ageing Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson playing a younger hero in Hollywood, but as he has plenty of energy and dashes around saving everyone in sight his youthful on-screen age doesn’t really matter.

Sasibhushan has no intention of allowing his daughter to be married to a penniless singer and instead arranges Padma’s marriage to the son of one of his rich friends. Padma follows standard filmi heroine behaviour and decides to commit suicide as that’s much easier than standing up to her father or even running away with Kishore. Well, it is the Eighties after all, and she does make sure to call her brother and explain in precise detail exactly what she is doing.

Raja turns up in the nick of time to save Padma and decides to get her married to Kishore despite his father’s orders. At the same time, Raja keeps running into a con man (Allu Ramalingaiah) and his niece Seeta (Rati Agnihoti).To begin with Rama tries to turn Seeta over to the police, but when he realises she’s a good person struggling to makes ends meet as she looks after her dead sister’s children, he has a change of heart and gives her a job instead.

Naturally the two get to dance together so that Raja can have his love story too.

Things turn darker once Raja discovers his father was involved with a criminal gang of smugglers and even worse when he finds out that Kishore has been corrupted by the same gang. In an attempt to live up to Sasibhushan’s standards for his daughter, Kishore became involved with the gang as a way to make a lot of money quickly but soon realises the error of his ways. As Sashibhushan is murdered and Kishore’s son kidnapped things quickly come to a head leading to Raja and Kishore teaming up to overcome the gang.

N.T.Rama Rao is the man who no-one can oppose of the title. He is successful in court, in love and in rehabilitating Ramudu and Seeta so naturally it falls to him to deal with the smuggling gang once he discovers their activities. While N.T Rama Rao is the out and out hero, Chiranjeevi has a more shaded and probably the more interesting role to play. His singer is initially carefree and very much the man in love, but as he struggles to win over Padma’s father, his pride and determination to give her the life she has been used to lead to his downfall. Chiru excels as a man under pressure especially when his child is kidnapped to force him to comply with the smuggler’s orders. Although most of the film is relatively light-hearted, the scenes where Kishore struggles with his conscience are much darker and a tribute to his acting skills to be able to pull such a character off without derailing the story.

The cast are all excellent and K. Raghavendra Rao ensures that each plays to their strengths. N.T Rama Rao is charming and debonair as Raja but does get the chance to beat up the bad guys and indulge in a few disguises too, while Chiranjeevi starts off very cool and groovy but changes into a conscientious husband and father – at least until his secret dealing catch up with him and he has to fight to win back his son. Jayalakshmi doesn’t have too much to do after she falls in love with Kishore, but Seeta gets a chance to dress up and fight against the smugglers, and does a good job of it too. Chiru and N.T.Rama Rao still get the most dazzling costumes though!

The film is amazingly colourful and cinematographer K.S. Prakash goes for some interesting angles and unusual framing to keep everything looking sharp too. The decor in Sasibhushan’s house is incredibly lavish, but much more to my taste is a totally awesome lamp on Raja’s desk, and I love the Village People poster on the wall of Kishore’s living room . Naturally the smuggling gang also have style, and their hideout features a number of gigantic masks on the wall, while their criminal mastermind (Satyanarayana) has two large china cat statues on either side of his chair. The giant birdcage where they stow Kishore’s son for safe keeping is perhaps just a tad over the top though!

Thirugu Leni Manishi has a more complex storyline than I was expecting and is a lot more fun too. Chiranjeevi is in his element as a flamboyant singer and his shift to family man and gang member is beautifully done, while N. T. Rama Rao is a solid and righteous hero who knows how to make things right. It’s fantastic to see the two together and the film is definitely well worth watching for that alone although the costumes, décor and screenplay are awesome added bonuses. Drama, action, comedy, Chiru and NTR all add up to an excellent film and one that shouldn’t be missed. 4 stars.

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Chanakya Sapatham (1986)

Chanakya-Sapatham-title

One of a half dozen films K Raghavendra Rao churned out in 1986 (including the awesome Kondaveeti Donga), Chanakya Sapatham again pairs Chiranjeevi with Vijayashanti in a ripping yarn of smugglers, flight attendants and the Indian Customs department. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Chanakya Sapatham a neglected masala masterpiece but I do think it deserves some love.

Shashi or Sasirekha (Vijayashanti) is a flight attendant, unwittingly caught up in a smuggling operation by BOB CHRISTO! Bob, with his trademark poor judgement, hides a pouch of diamonds in her blouse (no, I don’t know how she didn’t notice) and when he  tries to get it back, Shashi puts up a decent fight and Chanakya (Chiranjeevi) leaps to the rescue. It’s like the finale of Doodh Ka Karz only with flying Chiru instead of snakes.

Naturally Shashi is swept off her feet by the dashing customs officer in his very snug uniform. They fall in love through a Kodak moment and product placement. Oh the visual metaphors.

Rana (Rao Gopal Rao) is the main villain. Bless the Paruchuri brothers for going to the trouble of trying to think of vaguely sane reasons for him to do some things, and then make him explain himself. It was unnecessary but greatly appreciated.  Rana’s chief henchman Ranga is a flamboyantly unpleasant creature and Rana’s son is a nasty piece of work. The son (Sudhakar) works for the airline, or at least owns a uniform, and was in on the smuggling but hasn’t quite got the wattage to do much off his own bat. They have little depth of character, so I was pleased to see they have that nice tricolour chandelier in their house, and I think I also recognise the stuffed tiger and the mysterious beep boop machine from previous outings.

Rana runs a Natural Health Remedy Centre. I liked the apparent lift and shift substitution of ‘karate school’ for ‘yoga school’ as a background for some of the fight scenes.

Chanakya is hot on Rana’s trail, but frustrated at every turn by the sleazy businessman’s connections and ability to weasel out of any trap. But how do they not see Chiru in surveillance mode? His pants are so blindingly white.

Both Shashi and Chanakya are close to their families.

Shashi’s sister Savitri was married but due to dowry issues (Shashi was robbed on the way home from the bank), the in-laws turned her out. Financial pressures are causing strife at home, and Shashi is the only one who seems to have a chance of fixing things. The baddies have their eye on her as a way to get to Chanakya, and offer her a smuggling job that would pay for Savitri’s dowry and put the family back on an even keel. She traps the smugglers and gets a reward which she intends to use to pay the outstanding dowry and get her sister settled.

Chanakya’s family are close and affectionate, and I liked their domestic scenes. There are so few times when an older married couple get to show an affectionate or playful  side, and I really liked those moments between Kaikala Satyanarayana and Annapurna. Chanakya is the only child and, of course, the centre of his parents universe. When Rana sets Nagarjuna up to be arrested as a smuggler Chanakya is bent on revenge and justice, which may actually be more or less the same thing in this instance.

Chanakya and Sasirekha are united by their mutual attraction and also the mission to shut Rana down. I liked that they were both smart, both tried to take care of things themselves, but could accept or even ask for help when they had to. Chanakya understood her reservations and made an effort to address her concerns quite plainly to avoid further tension.

The relationship development  was all quite sensible (for a film) as well as providing fuel for some excellent  concepts for Chakravarthy’s songs.  Apart from the usual hillside prancing, the songs take place around a giant camera, a plane made of flowers with dancers dressed as airplanes, and in and out of a tray of photo developing chemicals, or even just surrounded by neon tube lights.

Yes, this is a movie that embraces the technology of 1986. And Shashi generally looks fine (for 80s filmi fashion), even in the more imaginative sequences. Vijayashanti demonstrates she has nailed the saree run with hair toss. My biggest disappointment was Chiru’s footwear which was less than spectacular and relied heavily on the monotone ankle boot. But I rarely enjoy product placement as much as I did in this film – well done Luma Lamps people, well done.

Vijayashanti is always a pleasure to watch, and I like her rapport with Chiru. They’re well matched in the choreography, and neither of them lacks energy or commitment to the role. Shashi is smart and while she wants to sort things out herself, she appreciates Chanakya’s sincerity in wanting to help her and considers his offer rationally. I liked that he had to put his cards on the table before she would accept his gift and they didn’t play silly games. Also, this is a remarkably non-rapey film for 80s mass. The villains stay on task and when they threaten Shashi it is because they need her to do something for them, not run around screaming.

 

I liked the very specific design and fit-out for some action scenes. I would never have thought to create a factory full of…exploding ice…but it came up a treat. I always enjoy a good fight in a factory full of stuff that is only there for the hell of it. More exploding ice! A statue! Things in barrels! A luge run! And a later fight on the beach uses swings. So fun! There is more than a nod to Jackie Chan and the Hong Kong school in some of the fight choreography and Chiru has the right attitude to carry it all off – he milks those bendy iron bars and flying kicks for all they’re worth, and then some.

The earlier action scenes are funny but still a bit exciting. The finale starts out with an unfortunate tendency to Comedy before the drama and action ramps up again.

I could have done without most of the last 30 minutes, well maybe except for the bit where Chanakya rocked up not only in disguise but in a lotus submarine. But then the movie redeemed itself with what may be the best use of a wheely board and improvised ski poles since Shashi Kapoor in Duniya Meri Jeb Mein.

Vijayashanti and Chiranjeevi are a delightful on screen pair, and while Chanakya Sapatham doesn’t break new ground it does what it does so very well. 4 stars!

Chanakya-Sapatham-Karate

Rudranetra

Rudranetra is silly masala fun that starts from the assumption that more is more. Drawing on Gunmaster G9 more than Bond, it gallops along in dazzling and hilarious style.

Chiranjeevi stars as Agent Netra who saves the world from evil, but does nothing to rid us of lycra and lurex. There are multiple villains and heroines, silly catchphrases, overcomplicated schemes, foreign locations, strange gadgets, horrific outfits and memorable design. This was another Adventure Without Subtitles but who needs words when this visual assault is coming at you?

Agent Netra (Chiru) investigates a shady businessman (Rao Gopal Rao) whose real business is in creating some kind of drug. Netra is killed in a confrontation with the next crimelord up the foodchain, Mr Kyun (Raghuvan). Agent Prathima (Vijayashanti) takes over and vows to solve the case for her lost love. She visits some associated bad guy (Nutan Prasad), and finds Yadgiri, a Netra lookalike, working in his home. She persuades Yadgiri to pretend to be Netra. Despite wearing a stealthy red and gold ensemble she is captured and taken to an underwater drug manufacturing plant guarded by men in Michael Jackson Thriller suits. I’m not sure but I think Netra was never really dead and was pretending to be Yadgiri who pretends to be Netra. It really doesn’t matter, as Chiru rescues Prathima very stylishly.

They try get to Rao Gopal Rao through his eldest daughter Rekha. Unfortunately, some pictures get swapped and Chiru acidentally sets his sights on the younger daughter – Hansalekha (Radha), who had obviously incurred the wrath of the costume designer. He decides to sweep her off her feet, and frankly who can blame her for giving in quick smart. Well, I have some doubts about a man who shoots you with a suction-capped arrow and love letter that looks like it was written by an 8 year old with her ‘My Little Pony’ crayons.

Which is the perfect style for Lekha. There is no respite from her horrible outfits until she mistakenly thinks she is pregnant (to Netra) and starts wearing sarees. Netra breaks up with Lekha and pursues Rekha but to no avail. It turned out poor Rekha was not the villain’s real daughter and he was just using her as a human guinea pig for his drug testing. He really is bad! And who but an evil man would order a child fired out of a circus cannon? (OK I admit, that idea does have some appeal, but I wouldn’t actually do it.) A daring trapeze rescue and fight by Netra ensues. What with one thing and another Netra finds his way to the top villain, Mr Kyun’s dad – Black Eagle!

Will Netra save the world? Will someone save Radha from the vengeful costume designer?

Well, you can’t have everything.

Any film with Chiru playing a triple role will get my attention. Especially when his idea of secret agent work attire is this:

Poor poor Radha. I shall let the pictures tell that story.

 

Vijayashanti gets a slightly better everyday wardrobe but doesn’t get away without a few feathers and sequins. Generally Prathima is the smarter more resourceful female, and can hold her own in a carefully choreographed fight.

The villains have truckloads of style.

Rao Gopal Rao firmly believes in world domination and colour matched lurex shoes for all his ensembles. His lair is more functional than iconic, in keeping with his pragmatic and cold blooded style. He even kills his not-really daughter Rekha once she is of no use.

Then there is Mr Kyun whose catchphrase is ‘Mr Kyun is always a question to yoooooooou’. He is a bit disappointing visually, but makes up for it with cheesy English dialogue and being pure evil.

Black Eagle is confused. Why else would he be in a dragon themed lair? Accessorising with snakes?

Perhaps this outfit is intended to make him more Eagle-y, despite the boa as boa.

His catchphrase varies from ‘Black Eagles loves you’ to ‘Black Eagle hates this’. You know you’re on a winner when the villain talks about himself in the third person. His minions look like Lego men and are about as handy in a fight.

It also makes for excellent espion-tertainment when the gadgets are abundant. Black Eagle has a ‘death bell’, which has a disco floor, and two dragons that bong the ‘bell’, which kills the prisoner (unless the prisoner is Netra). Black Eagle and Mr Kyun have built a rocket to launch their killer bees or lethal gas or drugs (there is evidence pointing to all as a possibility) but neglected to acquire the “destruction gadget lock” so that created a delay. There are fake planes, underwater lairs, exploding guns and lots of cool stuff along the way before we get to the top secret circus tent rocket control centre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The interiors are all quite special and no wall is left unadorned. This dragon appears in several other vintage Telugu films, and turns up both in a lair and Netra’s own house. Was it the height of style? Or just recycling? There is also a pleasing commitment to chandeliers throughout, including a song in a lighting showroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a comedy track. Brahmanandam is not it, despite being a bumbling sidekick to Rao Gopal Rao. The comedy happens in Malaysia and Singapore and involves some very unfortunate ethnic stereotypes, an annoying child and a comedy uncle in garish shirts. The only good thing about the comedy is that they get someone to take Lekha’s pulse and determine that she isn’t really pregnant. There is a fun scene where hotel staff (who look like actual hotel staff roped in for the day) chase Rao Gopal Rao through the complex shouting ‘Look Madman!’ and ‘Stop Madman stop!’

This is not Illayaraja’s finest work but the songs are pleasant enough if you watch them with your eyes closed. There is a puzzling lack of orchestral support in the climax scenes. It sounds like they forgot to write anything, the band had gone home, and in a panic they asked a bunch of blokes in the studio to vocalise heroically. This is the result  – and you’ll get to see Chiru in excellent fighting form, plus the death bell! I don’t think I was supposed to be laughing so hard I cried.

Rudranetra is a whirlwind of colour and movement. See it for the cheese, stay for the Chiru! At best, 2 stars for quality but a full 5 for entertainment and effort.

Happy New Year!

Heather says: This is such a totally fab film that it’s hard to believe it was made in 1989, at least that is until you get to the satin frocks with mutton sleeves and excessive amounts of frills and flounces. Otherwise it’s very much 70’s style Bond, although mainly without the actual style. The plot is ridiculous and I kept getting the various women confused until Temple pointed out that Radha always had the most garish outfit in any particular scene. Every time I thought the costumes couldn’t possibly get any worse, the costume department managed to go that really bit further, add in a little more bright canary yellow and dig out the worst hair ornaments I think I have ever seen. Bravo!  I do have a lot of admiration though for anyone who can carry out top-secret surveillance in shiny satin which really is quite an achievement.

It was also a real plus to see the whole of the dragon creature that appears so briefly (and only its feet) in Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu, not to mention the number of dragons that are everywhere in Black Eagle’s lair – so why not Black Dragon then – hmm? The whole film looks so amazing that it’s hard to keep track of the story and not get distracted by the visuals. Thankfully though, even without subtitles, it all makes sense in the end, or at least as much sense as I think it was ever meant to, and the climax is really excellent. Overall a really fun watch, although probably best watched with another Chiru fan for best effect. 3 1/2 stars.