Lankeswarudu

Lankeswarudu Poster

Who could resist a film synopsis that says “Apart from crime Shankar is also a good dancer and he teaches dancing too”? Certainly not me and especially not when it stars Chiranjeevi. But Dasari Narayana Rao delivers little except for a solid performance from the Megastar and some diverting song picturisations in this lethargic stagger through a bunch of Hollywood “inspired” set pieces.

Siva and his sister Swapna are washed up on a beach. Alone in the world, the boy tries to make a living through odd jobbing and petty theft, eventually falling in with a gang. The siblings acquire a new brother, Kalyan, when his mother is killed saving the little girl. Ma put his hand in Siva’s hand and there you go. Adoption formalities completed. The kid who plays little orphan Kalyan is quite terrible at crying.

Thankfully we leap forward in time. Chiranjeevi enters casually taking his leopard for a stroll. After a recruitment process featuring Bob Christo and a pack of goondas he becomes Shankar, the right hand man of crimelord Dada (Satyanarana Kaikala). Dada already has two left hands in flashy dresser Mohan Babu and snake venom imbibing Raghuvaran.

When not preoccupied with his criminal activities, Shankar is also Siva and he is a dance god. Radha plays his love interest with a lot of “I just escaped from a high security psychiatric facility. Don’t you love ruffles?!?” She fantasises her way onto the stage by way of introduction and wears a spectacular array of fug. I think she either has a speech impediment or doesn’t speak Telugu, but all that ‘comedy’ went over my head, especially on fast forward. He signs an autograph on her arm because that’s not unhinged at all. And thus are their formalities completed and she will be his one true love whenever he gets around to it.

Kalyan has grown up to be a droopy looking guy (Kalyan Chakravarthy Nandamuri). Siva pays for him to take an exam or do something and next thing you know, Kali is a wilted figure in khaki. He’s joined the police, all funded by his brother’s secret criminal life. I just can’t warm to either the character or the actor so found my eye-rolling muscles got a workout during his scenes. Siva finally notices that his sister Swapna (Revathy) and Kalyan are quite handsy, and after a few tantrums on all sides he gets them married.

Things seem to be going well until Kali interrupts Siva’s dance class to tell him he is onto a big gang. I love how unconvinced the other guys seem by all the lycra. Then ensues some cat and mouse with the sidekicks setting Siva up and Kali trying to catch him. Siva is stuck in the middle trying to set things right by the victims and keep himself out of his brother’s way and both boys try and hide their dissent from the sister.

Kali confronts Siva with one of the best worst lines “Mr Siva you can break dance but you can’t break my sense”. Swapna and Kali move out, breaking Siva’s brotherly heart. Raghuvaran and Mohan Babu attack villagers who worship Shankar as a god, enraging him and upping the stakes.

Kali has a genius idea – get Swapna to fake her death and Siva will surely return for the funeral. Siva sees through this ruse but unfortunately for all concerned Kali is rubbish at working out drug dosage. Swapna dies just so her brother and husband can have one more big speech moment.

There are two distinct images for Chiranjeevi – the good big bro Siva and the metal studded baddie with leopard. He doesn’t have to do much more than swagger but as always Chiru just lends a little more authenticity to his dialogues than the film may demand. One thing I did see in this film that is usually glossed over was the Megasock. Admittedly they looked more like circulation stockings but it was good to see them out from the shadows of the Megaboots. And when most heroes would hit the bottle and settle for a pity party, Chiru gets his West Side Story on and manages to make it quite something.

And I have a theory about the costumes for this film. I think they drew lots and the actors took it in turns to raid the dress up box.

Chiru looks positively sedate except for the plunging necklines to indicate his Badness, Mahesh looks more like a porn star or maybe they just ran out of shirts, Mohan Babu looks like he is off to guest star in Miami Vice The Musical, and Radha seems to have stolen some of Chiru’s old dance outfits, especially in this song.

Radha’s character has very little to do in terms of the plot, but she sneaks her way into the film through the songs and her character’s robust fantasy life.

This does leave her at the mercy of the wardrobe department but she’s a trooper and doesn’t bat a false eyelash at any of the excesses. Revathy is also short changed and does little but gaze adoringly at her brother and sigh at her husband’s rhetoric.

I spotted the dragon wall decoration again, and suspect someone’s teenage daughter might be missing some kitten posters which turned up in the gang lair.

The action scenes are entertaining and explosive but most lack the manic energy they need to be more than run of the mill. Having said that, Chiru spin kicks and hee-yahs like there is no tomorrow so that was pleasing. I was also impressed by Raghuvaran’s venom based strategy, especially when he licked a horse and it dropped dead. Obviously not a good outcome for the horse, but so much more effective than the usual finicky filmi snake “could bite won’t bite” dithering. I have mild concerns for the leopard but admired her resourcefulness and loyalty. Nagendra Babu features in the build up to the climax confrontation. There are double crosses and gore galore. And the finale is very Die Hard, right down to Chiru’s white singlet.

Lankeswarudu does enough to be worth a watch, but doesn’t rate high on my list of Mega Favourites. See it for fun of spotting references to other films, the unintentional hilarity of the songs picturisations, and of course for Chiru. 3 stars!

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Goonda (1984)

goonda

A sophisticated archaeological dig uncovers a priceless idol. Numerous criminal gangs swoop to claim the prize, and the title of Best Gang Ever.

There are men in red shirts v men in white pants v overgrown scouts in khaki.  And then a relatively svelte man in black ninjas his way onto the scene – cartwheeling and backflipping like he’d just invented acrobatics. Who could it be?!?

Chiranjeevi teams up with A Kodandarami Reddy again for a mass film with a few little tweaks on the standard formula. There are multiple identities, daring deeds, family histrionics, a significant mole, and a lot of prancing around in parks.

Kalidas (Chiranjeevi) is the up and coming star of a crime gang. Kali is confident and quite happy with his lot which seems to include Mohini (Silk Smitha), the chief’s daughter. He has a fearsome reputation, a tight perm, and blue contacts. He represents the meritocracy while the leader’s nephew Kasi prefers nepotism to ensure his career progression. He and Kali have an excellent and yet not very good at all blindfolded fight to the (almost) death which I found oddly compelling and quietly soporific.

The lair is a cave with odds and ends of lounge furniture picked up on hard rubbish collection day. And despite being top secret and underground, apparently anything that goes on is clearly audible in Kali’s lounge room. A series of unfortunate events triggered by the jealous Kasi sees Kali leave gang life to go straight.

Kali rebrands himself as Raja a pop singer with much better hair, and coincidentally meets SP Anand (Satyanarayana Kaikala) on a train. Cue flashback and the genial policeman is Raja’s father, back when he was a little boy called Ravi.

Goonda-tragedy

Ravi was involved in an accident resulting in a neighbour losing his sight, and his furious dad chased him down the road firing warning shots over his head. So I can kind of understand the kid being terrified of his father catching up with him. Raja saves SP Anand from goons sent to kill him, and SP Anand makes Raja stay in his home. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Raja gets a job at the nightclub owned by baddie Kasiram (Allu Ramalingaiah), where Jaya (his childhood intended played by Radha) sings. I do enjoy a bit of disco yoga classical fusion.

I am less in love with Chiru’s wardrobe, which seems to be sourced from the ladies floral blouse department.

While growing closer to Raja, Jaya reveals her intense hatred of Ravi, the child who destroyed her family. Raja decides he has to win her love as his new self, and fix everyone else’s life into the bargain. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Thankfully Raja likes to get his shirt off, so Jaya recognises the Significant Mole. After some angst and a little bit of PR from the gossipy doctor, she and Raja resolve their differences. Love arrives differently for us all. Sometimes it is wearing a Blondie t-shirt.

Raja decides to secretly protect his dad, although he still won’t tell his family who he is. But Dharmaraju has tracked down Kasi, a witness to Raja’s past. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Raja utilises his old Kalidas skills to get the money for Jaya to settle a debt, and he is the anonymous benefactor behind a sudden offer of an eye transplant to restore her dad’s vision. Raja’s fighting style is as flamboyant and flexible as ever, so the action scenes are loads of fun. There is an excellent train sequence where it is clearly Chiru himself (at least for most of the time), leaping from carriage to carriage and flinging his opponents to the winds.

As is often the case in Telugu films, justice is not clear cut and may reside outside of the legal system. SP Anand has to deal with the consequences of his temper, both in the past and now he knows his son has returned. And Raja has to pay for Kalidas’ actions. I liked that no one really escaped from themselves. It’s a good way to mesh a family drama with a revenge motif.

The multiple identities give Chiru a good excuse to switch up the wardrobe options and he imbues each character with a different emotional tone. Kali is never conflicted about being a crook, and his change of lifestyle was more to please his father figure. He certainly managed to heal his wounded heart in record time. Poor Mohini – forgotten in just one dance sequence. Raja has firm views on Jaya’s brother Srinu being a wastrel and tells him he has no right to eat if he doesn’t earn his own way. Which is interesting in light of his criminal past but maybe he saw that as honest work, and better than taking money from a WOMAN. The horror! His views on the role of women are typical of the age and genre, but he does understand why Jaya mistrusts him and that he needs to give her evidence before she would change her mind.  And despite his love for his estranged family, Ravi also sees that his father was very unfair. He doesn’t examine his own decision to jump off a bridge too closely, but you can’t have dazzling insights into everything.

Jaya has a bit of backbone, and Radha always has good chemistry with Chiru. When she realised who Raja was, she was furious and articulate in rejecting him. And when she changed her views, she was again articulate and clear in what she wanted to happen with their relationship. She is a typical filmi heroine but I could respect that she was making some of her own decisions. The wardrobe team do torment her in some dance sequences, and I suspect they even repurposed Kali’s perm wig. In a way she is the character that triggers Raja into action. He could have made do with seeing his family occasionally under the guise of friendship, but he fell for Jaya and so he had to do something to gain her trust and affection.

Allu Ramalingaiah and Rao Gopal Rao are the muddling but nasty crims who run the club and there is an ongoing subplot of both stupidity and cruelty at their behest. There is also a large cast of supporting goondas, many of whom seemed most animated in their death scenes. Satyanarayana Kailkala and Annapoorna do what they have done so very many times as Ravi/Kali/Raja’s parents. Silk Smitha’s role was small but she did get to wear some fabulous sequinned shorts so she made an impression.

Despite being full mass formula, Goonda is a bit more low key and contemplative than some of Chiru’s other hits. The music and choreography is a bit lacklustre, especially considering that Chiranjeevi and Radha were no slouches in the dance department. The set design and costumes also show the spirit of making do. I think they spent all the big bucks on the train. See this for truth, justice, and two kinds of Chiru! 4 stars!

James Bond 777 (1971)

James Bond 777 DVD cover

K.S.R Doss, Superstar Krishna, Jyoti Laxmi in a double role – James Bond 777 is enormously entertaining from the funky opening music (James Bond, Triple Seven! Seven! Seven! Seveeeeen!) to the triumphant finale. And did I mention the gang of dogs who are highly skilled and organised jewel thieves?

My DVD only had the strength to share its secrets once before expiring with a load of histrionics and a strange grinding noise. The movie, missing a few songs, is online in several versions of varying quality and length (Note I screencapped from YouTube – if anyone knows who put that revolting logo on the print, please feel free to go slap them into the middle of next week for me).

Young Kishore is left orphaned after the man who will become The Boss (Satyanarayana Kaikala) breaks into the family home and kills his parents. Kishore takes off after the baddie armed with righteousness and a handy carving knife, but is wounded and thrown from the speeding car.

One alarmingly abrupt edit later, a shirtless cowboy (Shirtless, Mahesh. Your dad was SHIRTLESS) with a scar is Superstar Krishna and the theme music suggests he is James Bond Triple 7! James Bond appears to be a catchall term for a spy or intelligence officer and there is no character answering to the name, although there is some familiar music at times…Hmmmm. Krishna flings himself around with as much verve as a laid back leading man can muster, easily evading the gang who can’t shoot straight and who then wait politely for him to shoot them all in turn. It turns out that was a training exercise and Kishore has passed with flying colours. He will now go in search of The Boss to both get revenge and make the world a safer place.

Kishore disports himself with a bevy of styled up lovelies but sadly no matter what they shake or how vigorously they shake it, they can’t make his dancing actually look like dancing. Although, Krishna’s fight style is a little dancey as it seems to mostly go punch-twirl-punch-twirl so maybe the fight and dance choreographers just needed to collaborate more. I expect it is quite hard to look suavely heroic on a swing but he does his best.

Sopa (Vijayalalitha) is introduced when she sneaks up on her dad and threatens to shoot him, all in jest of course. Her dad makes a trip to Chennai and is next seen dead, in a box in the police office. In a Get Smart golden moment Kishore finds a bug planted in his mouth. And in a classic almost every Telugu film ever moment, Sopa vows to get justice.

Boss is a high tech criminal. He has a lair with all the accoutrements – Vat 69, girls looking at screens, machines that go ping, and a full array of audio-visual equipment linking him to his minions. Luckily Kishore is wise to the likes of the old exploding phone trick. Kishore does have a few tricky techie tricks of his own, and I particularly liked the watch-phone and the exploding onions. And both hero and villain are happy to go old school and use silly disguises, sleight of hand and even that filmi classic – “Snake in a Box”.

Jamila (Jyoti Laxmi) is one of Boss’s henchwoman, and she operates out of a Beauty Paraloure. A very industrial looking Paraloure, one with a branded truck. Maybe Paraloure doesn’t mean what I think they thought it meant. There is another evil henchlady, Cindy who works out of her own mini lair. She has anger management issues and a confused fashion sense, as well as excellent canine communication skillz.

Sopa and Kishore cross paths on a train, but are too busy arguing about the lights on/off etiquette of eating fruit at night to realise they have a common mission. Of course they are also staying at the same hotel, across the hall from each other. Sopa is under cover as the dancer Miss Kiss Miss, and Kishore is…Kishore. At least Sopa is well equipped for the random dance item which is an essential part of her cover.

When the dogs break into Sopa’s hotel room and menace her with their smiley faces and demands for pats and ear scratches she runs away, straight into an ambush. Luckily, Kishore is in pursuit and handily enough catches her when she jumps off a cliff pretending to have been fatally shot. Unluckily for him, she steals his motorbike and leaves him stranded. Luckily, Jamila comes by and picks him up.

Cut to Sopa pretending to be a man while talking to Boss on the walky talky while the increasingly unlucky Kishore spins around on a rapidly revolving round bed, swinging punches at assorted baddies. That Jamila, such a minx. When Sopa is chased on her motorbike, she tricks the henchmen and doubles back to steal their car. She doesn’t seem to need Kishore for much, if at all. Although she does hitch a lift with him at the end, off into the sunset, so maybe he had his uses when it came to logistics.

I could describe in detail all the brilliance of the dogs breaking into a heavily secured bank vault with naught but their briefcases, an exploding toy dog, and a whole lot of licking at complicated door mechanisms, but you really should just watch it. Go. Watch. It.

 

As seems common in B movies, the women are feisty and independent and don’t sit around waiting for some bloke to arrive. Kishore spends the whole film working within police channels, where Sopa is more DIY in her approach, and happily executes on her strategy regardless. Jamila and Cindy report to Boss but have some autonomy when it comes to how they carry out the big evil plan. Any woman who can dance in a sparkly outfit may do so, and men are excused from all but the most modest gyrations. After seeing her in Pistolwali, I am not really surprised that the only worthy adversary for Jyoti Laxmi is herself, and her catfight as twin sisters Rani and Jamila is a highlight (not just for the outfits, but that certainly doesn’t hurt).

James Bond 777-a cunning plan

There are lots of familiar-ish faces in the supporting cast, although I can’t put names to all of them and IMDB is not much help. Cindy’s role was relatively small and segregated from Jamila and the Kishore/Sopa plot. Kishore has a sidekick who has a propensity for comedy uncle shtick but also does useful things. And there are squads of ostentatiously kitted out bad guys and the usual light sprinkling of law enforcement personnel.

If there wasn’t enough to keep you on your toes in the plot, there are scenes combining rapid cuts, spinning camera work, extreme zoom, crazy angles, and some outfits and sets that made me very thankful this is a black and white film. And if you didn’t care to watch the film, it is really worth a listen. The soundtrack is funky and slightly grungy with surf guitars and brass overlayed with exuberant vocals.

I love this style of low budget high ambition spy caper, and with a likeable cast and fab soundtrack, this is pure gold. Plus did I mention the robber dogs? 4 stars!

Also – go read good friend Beth‘s review. This film deserves some love!