Nene Raju Nene Mantri

 

Radha Jogendra (Rana Daggubati) narrates his story to a film crew as he awaits execution. He was once a simple money lender with a shrewd mind and a moral compass provided by his wife Radha (Kajal). After a couple of years of marriage Radha finally fell pregnant and the happy couple were over the moon. Sadly Radha lost the baby and her ability to conceive again after being attacked for accidentally infringing on the imaginary rights of the village leader’s wife. Yes, I know. Jogendra decides if he was the village head nobody would insult Radha again. So he schemes his way into the role. Then he eyes off the MLA position. Then a ministry. Then the CM gig. He always justifies his ambition as his means of giving Radha the best in life, but he is playing the game for the sake of power too. Can he keep outwitting his opponents? Where will he draw the line? And what does Radha make of it all?

Teja’s “Nene Raju Nene Mantri” is set in the murky world of politics but has all the flair and improbability of a cowboy film. It is great fun if you can ignore the death toll, and I always like a decent comeuppance.

Jogendra (Rana) adores his wife, but everyone else is expendable or interchangeable. He is deceptively simple looking, but his mind is subtle and calculating. Rana dominates his scenes and not just because he is twice the size of anyone else in the film. He is fully at home as the morally dubious but highly effective Jogendra and delivers his one-liners and proverbs with great relish. The action scenes are often brutal but then he switches to a convincing warmth and playfulness in his scenes with Kajal. There’s more complexity to Jogendra than I was expecting, and a lot more of the mass hero hijinks than I expected too. I laughed a lot at Jogendra’s amazing aptitude for killing, and his ability to stay on task.

The wardrobe team came up with a good look for Rana. Well, once I got over my confusion at seeing him in a shirt. There’s lots of monochromatic linens, a slightly modernised traditional look, and a fairly subtle way to emphasise his physique without it looking like his clothes were painted on. What else…Oh yes, there is a hulk-out shirt ripping moment, just to prove the gym sessions haven’t ended.

Radha (Kajal) is on the surface too saintly. But I really liked her chemistry with Rana, and some of her less sweet moments saved Radha for me. I loved when she fired up and told Jogendra she’d forgive so many of his mistakes (like shagging Devika Rani) but not the thing he just said. Or when he chided her for acting childish and she said it was because they didn’t have a child, and they both looked stricken. I didn’t like that everyone except Jogendra saw Radha’s value relative to her having a baby. She had no purpose or context in the script other than “wife”, so I was impressed with Kajal for bringing a bit more to the table. She showed Radha’s growing discomfort with her husband’s actions and her inner conflict because she knew he did it all for her. The wardrobe team dressed her in beautiful sarees that increased in opulence but always suited Radha, and Kajal looked comfortable in her skin. However. Radha was the perfect wife who would sacrifice anything for husband but that final sacrifice was just DUMB. The method struck me as quite improbable. Having said that, I still felt intensely sad when the cortege visited surrounding villages.

Devika Rani (Catherine Tresa) is a badly dressed avatar of media whoredom. Her painfully high silver wedge sandals and the almost there skirts were hideous. I guess the wardrobe team can’t love all their cast members equally. While it is good that Devika Rani was shown to be a confident woman I was concerned that none of her social media strategies were sound. Never hire anyone who says their plan is to send everything viral. And her character made little sense. But it does speak to the thinking around campaigning and media manipulation, with clicktivism and slacktivism getting a passing nod even if I am not sure that is what Teja was aiming at. Her major achievement in the film might have been that she had zero chemistry with Rana. What was probably supposed to be a titillating scene was just awkward and cold, with Rana looking like he was resigned to an invasive medical procedure. Catherine has some convincing moments in solo scenes, but as soon as Rana or Kajal shows up her lack of acting skill is all too evident.

The villains are unfortunately quite familiar types from everyday life. The cop who takes bribes (Ajay), the gangster turned politician (Padeep Rawat), career politicians with no objective beyond lining their pockets (Tanikella Bharani, Ashutosh Rana, Posani Krishna Murali). All of these performances were solid, and there was some genuine menace and just nastiness in their interactions with Jogendra. Rana looked like he was having the time of his life threatening Ajay. Ashutosh Rana’s character didn’t know if he was coming or going sometimes, with a wry use of proverbs to explain how proverb-spouting Jogendra could beat him. I quite liked the one that went “if the cat is blind a mouse can hit it with a stick”. A convenient morality permeates the film. If Jogendra kills someone (or a hundred someones), don’t take it to heart. They were all bad so he was doing a good thing. Well, except for one. Navdeep wasn’t given much to do as Shiva but he managed to make an impression as one of the only people who held Jogendra morally accountable.

Anoop Ruben’s soundtrack tends towards the anthemic, which suits the purposeful journey Jogendra is on. They didn’t make Kajal and Rana dance which is also a blessing. There was a bit of convulsive twitching in one song but then lots of walking (him) and a bit of frolicking (her). Good decision dance team! I loved the special appearance by dance master Shiva Shankar. There is some dodgy VFX but realistic effects could have been overwhelming in the gory bits. And there is a sound effect for everything. There’s nothing new or outstanding in the direction but I feel the pace was pretty well managed until the finale which was a little drawn out. The dialogues contain proverbs and local sayings and I think the subtitlers did a good job of conveying some of the flavour.

It’s an engaging story with Rana and Kajal coming up with the goods and a decent support cast. I should be more concerned about the body count, the gender roles, the apathy surrounding politics, the problem solving preferences of a sociopathic charmer. But I was highly entertained and amused by the machinations and mayhem. Because he is Jogendra.

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Khaidi No 150

khaidi-no-150-poster

 

I thought the original film (Kaththi) was mediocre so I had low expectations. And I was honestly happy at seeing Big Chiru on screen, my first ever Megastar FDFS, and the bonus of subtitles. The audience went nuts when Chiru’s foot first appeared. Apparently I am not the only one who takes a keen interest in Mega Footwear. And the screaming and paper throwing erupted at the start of every song and every fight. It felt so good to be among my people.

The story goes like this. Escaped convict Seenu (Chiranjeevi) witnesses an attempted hit on a stranger, Sankar (Chiranjeevi). He takes Sankar to hospital but swaps over their ID so he can remain free, assuming that the police will let the other man go once they realise the error. Seenu then impersonates Sankar, and acquires a nursing home full of old men from the village of Neeru. As he understand their story, and gets to watch a handy documentary on Sankar’s crusade against the evil corporates, Seenu takes up the fight as his own.

In many ways this is a perfect comeback vehicle for Chiranjeevi. The dual role and the breadth of the action means no matter what his fans want from him, they’re likely to get it. He delivers action, big speeches, garish outfits, and some of his trademark dance moves (the veena step!), all with minor modification to suit a gentleman of a certain age. And most of that is done in the initial prologue section. The dual role means he can play both mass and class aspects of the standard hero, and even asks Lakshmi (Kajal) which she prefers before telling her his name. Sankar wears brainy glasses (HOT. Just saying) where Seenu has a more flamboyant style. There are references both in the script and the background music to his previous films, some of them drawing roars of appreciation from a very vocal crowd. He has a sidekick (Ali), an enemy (Tarun Arora), a frenemy (Brahmanandam as Doberman), and many comedy uncles and familiar actors as supports, dependants, and thugs. He also has an irrelevant love interest. See? Everything!

I was wondering how they would deal with the age gap between Chiru and Kajal and the answer is that Seenu thinks Lakshmi is a childhood sweetheart, but then realises they just look alike. So I decided that young at heart Seenu always thinks of himself as that twenty-something dude about town rather than thinking we’d believe they were actually the same age. I really should be on the payroll to find far-fetched solutions to ill-conceived plot devices…And the fight scenes are grand and full of energy, even though Chiru has long since left his limber acrobatic years behind. The songs also work to cover over the years because they are more a platform for people to worship the Megastar not a display of romance. The lyrics are mostly about how great he is, the choreo is very peacock-esque as he and the backing dudes strut their stuff, and the ladies just wiggle when in shot.

“Ammadu lets do Kummudu” is probably the worst song I will hear this year but as soon as it was over I would have hit replay if I could have. It has all the visuals I could ask for – prancing, colourful outfits, bedazzled Mega-shoes, and a guest appearance by Charan. Father and son look so chuffed to be dancing together. The backing dancer costumes are a wonder throughout. From drapey chiffon to see through plastic jackets, you name it, they had to wear it.

Kajal’s character is irrelevant, and she can hardly dance, so I really paid little attention to her. However. In every song picturisation she wears extremely sensible walking shoes regardless of her dress. So I was mildly diverted and wondered if it was due to her height compared to Chiru, perhaps she had an injury and couldn’t wear the usual ugly strappy sandals, was it some kind of statement. I don’t know. I doubt that this is what she wants to be remembered for but it really is the most interesting thing about Lakshmi.

Farmer suicide is a real issue given pretty superficial treatment by V.V Vinayak, although I appreciate he tried to show the effects of the ever shortening media cycle on long running issues. But the main components of the story felt off kilter. Farming life was overly romanticised, described as a necessary fate, and condemned as too harsh, often in the same grand speech. The speech that got a really big response was one about people being forced out of their villages and having to take crappy jobs in the big cities to earn some money. But the film seemed adamant that people should stay on the land, which I think is a bit simplistic as country kids may want or need to pursue other careers and they should have those opportunities. Sankar was supposed to be a man of principle but didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond when offered a deal to let some thugs kill Seenu if they got him out of jail. It was OK to throw in a tasteless joke that Doberman (Brahmi) had raped 100 women. And Ali in drag is never necessary to any movie ever. And the Megastar presence really dominates so that the reliable and accomplished guys like Nasser had little opportunity to make much of their roles. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to anyone but Chiru!

khaidi-no-150-dancers

There are also some genuinely funny moments. I think my favourite was  when Posani Krishna Murali’s men all pretended to pick up phone calls as he was blustering and wandered off looking busy rather than face Seenu. Or maybe when Brahmi lost his religion during a huge fight scene. I also liked the thinking behind one fight scene that progressed through corporate thugs, oiled up baldy muscle men who looked like an angry pack of Maltesers, and finally the bad hair gang.

Lest you think I am completely superficial and only looked at the shoes, there was an interesting moment regarding justice in this film world. The judge (played by Naga Babu) says that if a single person kills that is murder, but if society kills it’s a revolution. It’s a problematic statement once you get thinking about the mob and riots but it did mean someone notionally good avoided jail time, and the person they killed was bad news anyway. No biggie.

Will Khaidi No 150 make a fan of anyone who isn’t? Probably not. Does any of that matter if you are a fan? No way!

Pssst  – Make sure you stay for the end credits for some glimpses of the famous visitors on set, and Lawrence closely monitoring a dance and giving someone the stinkeye.

Naayak

Naayak Poster

Naayak is an updated masala potboiler, action packed with colourful dance numbers and an improbable but entertaining enough story. The audience last night was mostly young couples and families. I did wonder yet again at the ability of children to sleep through anything. At the end of the film the dads left with a kid slung over one shoulder, dead to the world.

To summarise the story, with mild spoilers:

Naayak opens with four men being pursued through the streets and lanes of Kolkata, and eventually tied to a pillar in the forecourt of an ornate manor. Surrounded by approximately 4962 taxis with their headlights on, the men look doomed. But a mysterious figures glides through the darkness, and rescues them in a bloody fight involving lots of pointy objects and ornate axes. Who was he and why were they in trouble? That comes later. Charan is Charan AKA Cherry, a Hyderabadi IT dude. Through some Brahmi induced comedy complications, he meets the gangster Babji (Rahul Dev) and his pretty sister Madhu (Kajal). In the background, Cherry appears to be on a killing spree from Kolkata to Hyderabad. Babji sees Cherry shoot a senior police officer and starts asking questions about who Cherry really is. At the same time the police, led by Ashish Vidyarthi, are closing in. A trip to Haridwar and a chance encounter with a lookalike prompts a long flashback introducing Siddharth (Charan). Siddharth is on a mission of revenge following Pradeep Rawat’s criminal (and insane) treatment of workers in his chemical factory (and others). Siddharth has his own love interest in Amala Paul, and a tragic back story. To quote nearly every Telugu film reviewer ever, ‘how the hero triumphs over the villain forms the rest of the story’.

charan nayak

Charan has matured as an actor and his dialogue delivery has more authority. Perhaps that is because he seems really comfortable in the mass entertainer roles, and he certainly gets the style. Naayak is an updated version of the kind of films Chiranjeevi is known for. Action, dancing, flamboyant costumes, a dash of romance and a social message all add up to a good showcase for the young star. The fights are very stylised and rely on not always seamless wirework and effects. Sometimes the clunky visuals took away from the drama. Charan seems comfortable with the physicality of the fight scenes so he doesn’t let his characterisation lapse and that does help. There were few differences apparent between Cherry and Siddharth – Siddharth’s hair was a bit higher and his necklines a tad lower. But as the story turns on their similarity, that all worked nicely.

Charan’s dancing was such a highlight, especially in the very Chiru-ish Laaila O Laaila which I wanted to be replayed again right away, and Naayak which is just so pretty and colourful.

Naayak Kajal in gold pants

Kajal was very likeable. Madhu is more ‘girl next door in glamourous dress-ups’ than total glamour doll, and she often had a cheeky glint in her eye. The costume designers were reasonably kind to her, with only a brief foray into shiny metallic pants. She cannot dance to save her life, so the choreographers wisely decided to go for stunning locations plus giving Charan all the actual steps and telling Kajal to either shake her butt or heave her chest.

Naayak Charan and Kajal dance

I tell a lie – in one song she had to point one hand skywards and walk, which must have been challenging.

Naayak Kajal and Charan dance

But she looks like she has fun, and she and Charan goofed around flirting rather than worrying so much about the steps.

Amala Paul made little impression apart from looking very pretty. Her role is small but she does get a couple of visually spectacular songs. Unfortunately the costume designers never really considered the implications of dancing with your hair down and wearing a chiffon sari on undulating terrain in Iceland in a stiff breeze so she didn’t always looks graceful.

Charan and Amala dance

Naayak Amala and her shoes

Particularly not as she wore brown Ugg boots  with a green sari and black shoes with bright blue laces with her diaphanous black sari during one song. Kajal wore leggings under her short shorts but apart from being greyish and a bit baggy around the knees, they weren’t as peculiar. I’m all for actresses dressing appropriately for the climate, and for workplace safety, but it was odd.

Rahul Dev is Babji, and he plays a more sympathetic gangster than his usual psycho villain. Indeed, there is quite a sweet bromance developing between him and Cherry until things start to get crazy. Raghu Babu and Jayaprakash Reddy are on comedy duty in his gang and, judging by the audience reaction, knocked it out of the park. MS Narayana is a drunk lip reading expert and his timing and droll expressions are really quite amusing. (As was the misspelled ‘Drinking is injurious to your HEATLH’ warning.) Brahmi has an actual character to play. When he can be dissuaded from just repeating his usual shtick he is so much more bearable. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of his scenes when normally I would be sighing so either I’ve had a head injury or he was good. Dev Gill made an appearance as a psycho baddie with impressive (that’s not the right word but they are very in your face) moobs.

Naayak Charan and Amala

SS Thaman’s music is OK but sounds like every other film. You know, there’s the upbeat hero song, the item (featuring Charmme), the duet, the other duet, the remake of a better song. Nothing wrong with it, but I sit here now and I can picture the sets and the fancy costumes, but can’t recall the music as clearly. One thing I loved in Charmme’s item was Siddharth imaging joining in. His cheesy expressions and Chiru-esque mannerisms were really amusing. That was all his own character’s vision so I liked that glimpse of his inner life.

Despite this being an adventure without subtitles the only thing I feel I really missed was the comedy dialogue. People around me were weeping with laughter and a couple of guys said it is one of the funniest films they’d seen in ages. I’ll be buying the DVD regardless, and am interested to see how well that laugh riot translates. I liked spotting the Pawan Kalyan and Chiranjeevi references in the visuals and dialogues and was pleased to see Shah Rukh smirking from the back of a Significant Magazine.

See it if you like films with clearly defined heroes and villains, action, drama, colour and movement. You’ll need some tolerance for dismemberments, gore and a lot of comedy uncles but it pays off with an explosive climax.