Gautamiputra Satakarni

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For his latest film Krish takes inspiration from historical figure Gautamiputra Satakarni; a king who ruled in the South of India a couple of thousand years ago. Since little seems to be known about his reign, Krish is free to take the few major events that have been recorded and develop these into a plausible story, which he does reasonably well. The film follows Satakarni (Balakrishna) through a number of battles as he consolidates his rule over Southern India, and then moves north to tackle the invading Greeks. As a historical epic, there is plenty to enjoy but the film doesn’t shed much light on the man behind the warrior king despite a few diversions into his relationship with his mother and wife.

Over the opening credits, the young Satakarni declares that the only way to stop the petty wars between neighbouring kingdoms is for one man to conquer them all and thus unify the country. Needless to say, even at such a young age, Satakarni knows that he is the right man for the job and as the film begins the adult Satakarni has already embarked on his campaign. He starts off small by conquering a few neighbouring kingdoms (Milind Gunaji is good as one of the kings here) and then turns his sights towards the north, sending emissaries to King Nahapana (Kabir Bedi). Unsurprisingly Nahapana doesn’t respond well to a demand that he peacefully submits to becoming a vassal of Satakarni, and the scene is set for war!

Satakarni alienates his wife Vashishthee (Shriya Saran) when he takes his young son along to battle which allows for the development of some tension between the two. At the same time, Satakarni is shown as having great respect for his mother Gautami Balashri (Hema Malini), whom he has left to govern while he is off fighting his battles. These two relationships allow for more emotional and character-driven scenes to balance the battles that form the rest of the film. These are epically grand and give Balakrishna plenty of opportunity to make declarations (they’re much more dramatic than mere speeches) while looking imposing in armour and carrying a large sword. He has the gravitas and spectacular moustache required to play the ruler of the Satavahanan empire, although his age does seem to slow him down in the action scenes.

I enjoyed watching Balakrishna as Satakarni and this was a good choice for his 100th film. The character allows him to behave as the usual style of Telugu hero (unstoppable one-man army) but this time he does have an army to back him up. He’s also impressive in the more emotional scenes and his delivery of the epic speeches is very well done. Shriya Saran is also excellent as Satakarni’s wife and makes an impact despite her limited amount of time onscreen. There is the excitement of her reuniting with the king after time apart, their happiness together and then the shock of her young son heading into battle. Although at times she does emote just a little too much, at least the historical nature of the drama allows her to do so. The historical aspect also makes the sight of an older and portlier Balakrishna chasing Vashti around the royal bedchamber a little more acceptable, although I was reminded of portraits of the English King Henry the Eighth and his procession of younger wives. I find Shriya Saran can be a bit hit and miss, but here she is a definite hit and the relationship between her and Balakrishna works much better than expected. Hema Malini too is very good as the dowager queen, dealing with the pesky problems that crop up while her son is away subduing the realm. She does this with grace and style, looking regal and definitely projecting an aura that she is not to be trifled with.

After subduing Nahapana, the next challenge for Satakarni is the army of invading Greeks led by Demetrius. While the scenes where Satakarni plots his campaign are well delivered, the battle scenes are a little more patchy. For the most part when the camera is showing close ups of the action the battles look superb, but there are a few glitches between the CGI and staged fight scenes. These are mainly errors of perspective where there is a CGI view of massed warriors which moves in to show a smaller group of men and horses surrounded by green fields. For the most part the effects are well integrated into the live action and the battles do look good, but the few errors do divert attention away from the overall spectacle. The other problem is that a couple of the battles go on just that little bit too long. Some of this is due to repetitions of the same scene, as for example during the storming of the walls of Nahapana’s citadel but some just seem overly drawn out while Balakrishna indulges in some heroics which would mean certain death on a real battlefield.

There is plenty to enjoy in Gautamiputra Satakarni, even with the slightly uneven mix of plentiful epic battles and intermittent emotional drama. Balakrishna exudes power and authority while the appropriately grandiose costumes and palace sets seem to paint the time period well. Not that I would know if they were wrong, but judging by the paintings in museums I’ve seen while in India, this all looked pretty good! The soundtrack by Chirantan Bhatt is also excellent and to his and Krish’s credit, the songs don’t feel out of place in the narrative. However at the end of the day there is no real insight into the characters and the all too brief glimpse of Satakarni’s achievements only leads to more questions. This isn’t an attempt to detail the life of a famous ruler or to tell the story of a kingdom, but instead is a series of vignettes of what might have occurred, without delving too deeply into the why. Too, Balakrishna plays Satakarni as a regular Telugu hero with all the unlikely ability to stop an army single handedly so the story never feels quite as realistic as it should. But once the drums start beating and the swords clash that seems unimportant – the spectacle and grandeur of ancient India sweep across the screen and Gautamiputra Satakarni charges to victory!

Dilwale

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Kaali (Sharukh) and Meera (Kajol) fall in love. Kaali tells Meera he is a gangster, son of don Randhir (Vinod Khanna). Meera tells Kaali she is an artist and they do lots of picturesque and cutesy romancing. But Kaali finds out there is more to Meera than being a simple artist. Eventually they part and go their own ways. Fifteen years later, Veer (Varun Dhawan) meets Ishita (Kriti Sanon) and they fall in love. Veer is Kaali’s little brother, although Kaali now calls himself Raj and is a simple mechanic and car modifier. Ishu’s big sister? Yeah. Will Veer and Ishu ever get together in the face of such strong family opposition? And why did neither Kaali nor Meera ever move on and marry someone else?

My love for Shahrukh goes way, way back, and I was not disappointed at all by him in Dilwale. I’ve always liked him most in roles where he is not too sugary sweet. I particularly liked the moments when, as Raj, he let the calculating menace of Kaali show through. He seemed completely at home in his character’s skin without looking like he’d phoned this one in. The fight scenes showed Kaali as a relentless and brutal machine. Careful angles and editing made it seem as though Shahrukh was doing all his own work in the action sequences so there was no break in the dramatic tension. I’m sure his stunt guy was working overtime but I think they’ve done a great job when it is hard to pick who is who.

His stylist also did a great job of making the 15 year gap between timelines seem believable. Plus I enjoyed the double layered linen shirts, sometimes matching or in a monochrome mix, and always with a hint of cleavage. Well done, that person.

And after Janam Janam, all I can say is “move over Mr Darcy”. (Plus, as far as I know, Colin Firth has not fixed a VW Beetle in the rain while dancing and wearing his Mr Darcy puffy shirt.)

Like Kaali there is more to Meera than meets the eye, and Kajol is fantastic. She looks great and gives Meera a tough femininity that really works. Of course she has amazing chemistry with Shahrukh, and I think the film should have concentrated on their story. Kaali and Meera were like Romeo and Juliet who had survived and moved on in life, if not emotionally. I was more interested in what they had been up to since they last met, how they went legit, and what would happen next, than I was in Veer and Ishu’s sincere puppy love. One thing that I really liked is that the women drive the pace of developments in their relationships. Raj/Kaali told Meera she had got him all wrong. She didn’t budge just because he looked sad (and hot), but when she was ready she investigated further and she listened to the evidence.

Varun is pleasant, can dance, is good in action, but his dialogue delivery was odd. It sounded Shatneresque. Mumbled! And! Like! He! Spoke! With! An! Exclamation! He seemed to be pushing to make his action bigger, but instead it looked like his timing was off. His best moments were one on one with Shahrukh as the brothers dealt with the rocky road to true love. In one scene they are laughing through tears and it was genuinely touching, and then later a grim looking scene turned to sheepish laughter. I’d like Varun to do more action centred roles as I think he’d be great in that genre.

Kriti Sanon seems to be eminently qualified to be a romantic lead by virtue of not wearing much. Her acting is not offensively bad, but like Varun her shortcomings were all the more evident for the contrast. She fares better in scenes with either Shahrukh or Kajol as maybe she had something more to work off where Varun was a bit patchy.

Vinod Khanna and Kabir Bedi played Kaali and Meera’s respective fathers. They were charming and pragmatic, loving their families and hating their enemies with equal vigour. The stuff revenge sagas are made of.

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Shetty’s taste is hit and miss for me. The audience I saw this with was in stitches at the excruciating wordplay from Oscar (Sanjay Mishra). I loved the montage of lies that Anwar (Pankaj Tripathi) and Shakti (Mukesh Tiwari) spun, using snippets from what was on TV, to cover up Raj’s past. Veer cheekily does the SRK arms flung wide and lean when he needs help, channelling his inner filmi hero, and knowing that pose never ever fails. But when Mani (Johnny Lever) turned up in a fro, lungi, and mesh vest, masquerading as a South Indian thug I couldn’t understand why Shetty thought it was OK in Dilwale when he’d largely avoided such nonsense in Chennai Express. Boman Irani has settled comfortably into a half-arsed overacting groove that belies his abilities. There are lots of little references to DDLJ and other films from Love, Actually to Dude, Where’s My Car, and some laugh out loud lines so it pays to pay attention.

I was dying to see Gerua. I’ve recently been to Iceland and had visited several of the locations, not knowing Dilwale had been shooting there earlier in the year. I can assure you that the countryside really is THAT spectacular. Janam Janam is lush and full of longing, and showcased Kajol and Shahrukh’s chemistry with some age appropriate choreo. Varun got the best intro with the colourful Manma Emotion Jaage. Tukur Tukur plays over the end credits so if your audience is as annoying as mine was, you’ll probably just see a line of people’s butts shuffle past! The difference in style between Kajol and Shahrukh and Kriti and Varun is really evident as the youngsters act at the camera while the established stars know exactly where the camera is, but also know it will find them so they just do their thing.

This is definitely a good bet for the SRK or Kajol fans, but for others maybe not so much. I do think Dilwale delivers on the promise of being (fairly) entertaining, gorgeous to look at, and with loads of energy, but it falters when the film moves away from Raj and Meera. One I’d watch again on DVD and make judicious use of the fast forward button!