Gudachari No. 1 (1983)

Goodachari No 1-title

 

Special agent Kumar (who has a liking for statement lamps) is sent to investigate a Top Secret thing. He is killed, takes a very long time to die (from being beaten, shot, stabbed and overacting), and his wife is shocked into a coma after hiding the secret evidence.

His bestie Vijay (Chiranjeevi), AKA Number 1, is sent to investigate and arrives in a cloud of ladies. A gang of rowdies with evil laughs and nice manners try to abduct him en route to town. Chiru is a nattily dressed beige blur as he kicks the bejesus out of them. Then they politely submit to questioning, only to be mown down by gunfire. “Oh My Goodness” says Vijay. “WTF?” said I.

The things he eventually looks in to include, but are not limited to: a deadly pickle factory, Silk Smitha, poison tipped gloves, a fake priest, golden Cybermen in fancy Ye Olden Robot outfits, and a super villain with gold teeth. “WTF?” said I.

Of course Vijay needs to have his wits and his fists of fury ever at the ready. But he also needs love. He meets Latha (Radhika) at the airport as she is in mid tantrum. She seems unimpressed so he tells her he is a professional killer and to keep her mouth shut, oh and to keep the flower he gave her. Then sits next to her on the flight and tells her he is actually an international hijacker. But it becomes evident that Vijay is a lonely character who may not know how to interact with people who are not dead, trying to kill him, or trying to shag him. He doesn’t even have a comedy sidekick of his own. He eventually declares his affection, although Latha demurs. So he says if I can throw this grape into your mouth it proves you love me. Subtitles could probably only make that scene worse. “No really, WTF?” said I.

Chiranjeevi is the obvious casting choice for a film that needs swag and a gleefully uninhibited enthusiasm for the arts of Dance and Mayhem. Vijay is formidable in everything but his romantic relationships, and Kodi Ramakrishna just kept throwing more and more crazy stuff into the mix. There is an abundance of pompous speeches, gadgetry, freecycled Bond scenes, silly disguises, and more, and Chiru takes it all in stride. Every time I thought surely they will run out of stuff, there was more stuff. And more Chiru.

That is not just a voyeuristic moment for viewers to perve at Chiranjeevi in booty shorts. No. That was A Clue that he may have yogic abilities that could come in handy if he were to be, oh let’s say, buried alive. It’s important to always be checking him out watching attentively.

Latha (Radhika) is an interesting character in some respects but Radhika could, and maybe did, play this kind of role in her sleep. Latha is largely sidelined in favour of robots and explosions, and the good old values of 1983 that insist a girl should apologise for causing a man to sexually harass her. A bit further down the track she actually enjoys the opportunity to get her mitts on Disguised Vijay even as she complains about the beastly foreigner who has taken up residence. But she is smart, she has the comedy sidekick (another punishment?) so she is ahead of the hero on that score, and she was investigating the self-proclaimed international criminal herself. She is also the villain’s niece (maybe) but she doesn’t seem to let that get in the way, and indeed uses that relationship to help smuggle Vijay in to the Pickle Plant of Pestilence.

Vijay is sent to stay in hideously disturbing room 111 at Hotel 7, and (Laila) Silk Smitha “introduces” herself. I did like his booby trapped suitcase and was kind of hoping it contained a snake. To summarise the scene, they get busy. But before she can, er, finish him off Vijay’s contact (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) interrupts and Laila runs off to get ready for her next attempt.

But alas, Laila has but a brief moment in the limelight. Maybe it was payback for the completely unnecessary animal testing.

Govind Rao (Rao Gopal Rao) is the baddy, running his top secret chemical warfare facility in the guise of his pickle empire. The façade on the factory looks about as real as any of the trappings of his business.  But he does have serious pickle sales graphs and other business related stuff. Also – he is the father of the comedy sidekick/halfwit so the man had his very own, very real, problems.

One of his problems is a cranky boss. Supreme comes and goes standing up in a little boat, across a misty subterranean lake, rather like the Phantom of the Opera’s bookmaker. Where Govind Rao is organised and a bit unimaginative, Supreme really embraces the overly elaborate scheme, the signature look, and psychedelic lighting. And he certainly ignored key points on the Evil Overlord checklist.

The comedy is often sexist or racist, and quite distasteful but seems to occur only in short bursts. There is the way Vijay torments the woman he loves and thinks it is hilarious, the racial stereotypes, and a really bad bird related comedy interlude with a guy whose headdress contains traumatised and maybe dead budgies. It’s a relief to get back to the serious business of “which Bond film was that lifted from?” with a bit of “WTF?”

Goodachari No 1-Bambi and Thumper

Answer – It’s Bambi and Thumper! From Diamonds are Forever! And there is a coffin stunt from You Only Live Twice.

The gadgetry is quite something, and ranges from a simple dart in a wire loop made from an old coat-hanger, to full body robot costumes, and lots of coloured smoke bombs. They tried. They really really tried.

Chakravarthy’s songs are nothing outstanding but they do provide a less violent form of hijinks, and Chiranjeevi just goes for it.

You know you’re onto a winner when the DVD menu has Chiru in disguises. Goodachari No. 1 is uneven, and I’d fast forward through the alleged comedy on a rewatch, but what it lacks in sense it make up for with energy. See it for early peak Chiru and for the gleeful “that’ll do” approach to a DIY spy caper. 3 stars!

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Anji

Anji-title

Anji is an unashamed tilt at a commercial blockbuster with an obviously huge budget and everything including the kitchen sink by way of recommended masala ingredients. Kodi Ramakrishna directed Devi, Ammoru, and the more recent Arundhati, all of which had big special effects and equally big performances. I think those films are more effective than Anji overall as the stories were less obviously ‘inspired’ by Hollywood. Also I suspect that casting such a big name hero skewed the story towards him, leaving mostly comic relief and buffoonery for the other performers. But the visuals are pretty good and Chiranjeevi brings his own style and verve to the adventure.

Back in 1932 a nasty man with blue contacts and huge teeth (Bhupinder Singh) tried to steal a sacred relic, the Aatmalingam. The Aatmalingam catches the waters of the Akasa Ganga every 72 years, and drinking that water grants immortality. Luckily for us and not so luckily for him, he triggers the defences around the Aatmalingam. Bhatia barely escapes, losing an arm to a sentient flying sword.

Anji-fingernails

I must just question the wisdom of sending a man with those fingernails to do a delicate job of thievery.

In 2004, when the heavenly miracle is due to occur again, Bhatia (now overacted by Tinnu Anand with odd prosthetic earlobes) once again has a crack at gaining supreme power. A diary containing the pertinent lore was sent to Swapna (Namrata Shirodkar), a student in the USA, to keep it safe. She returns to India and thanks to fate and public transport, meets Anji (Chiranjeevi) and is pursued by idiots (MS Narayana and gang). After hiring Anji to escort her to her destination, the two realise they have to protect the Aatmalingam (and all the people) and defeat the bad guy. They join forces in an adventure with epic overtones and rush towards the final confrontation.

There are numerous scenes lifted directly from other films – the Crocodile Dundee knife scene, references to the Indiana Jones series and Romancing The Stone among others – but with a Telugu mass and Megastar spin.

Big special effects are one thing but the actors still have to deliver. Anji rights wrongs, protects the defenceless and keep an eye on the guru (Nagendra Babu in some terrible wrinkle makeup). One thing I consistently enjoy about Chiru’s films is that even in the most familiar material he doesn’t seem to be phoning it in. I liked that Anji was a little bit whiny and ‘why me?’ in some scenes but his morals were sound. Chiru had good rapport with his brother Nagendra Babu and with the other filmi family members. The action scenes (by Peter Hein) are fast and often played for laughs as well as adrenalin, and Chiru highkicks and leaps like there is no tomorrow. Anji is ambushed in the jungle, beaten and pushed over a cliff but Heroes bounce when they hit rock bottom (literally and figuratively it seems). The dances are energetic and lots of fun. Anji is often the object of female fantasy in the songs so I quite enjoyed pondering why someone would imagine that particular outfit or that dance move when their thoughts turned to love (or lust). Chik Buk Pori is beautifully shot and features Chiru and his backing dudes, Ramya Krishnan as a flirty con artist, singing orphans and a random white chick. Who could ask for more?

Namrata Shirodkar is perhaps best known as the woman who persuaded Mahesh Babu he could wear t-shirts, AND wear them one at a time. Oh, and she is a former Miss India. Swapna seems like a smart modern girl while in the US – she flies a plane, drives a fast fancy car – all of which is promising in an adventure. So I was confused when she came to India and walking and talking simultaneously seemed to be rather challenging. Her acting mostly ranges from jiggle and giggle to SCREAM and grimace. And the Telugu dubbing gives her a breathy little girl voice which is just annoying. She doesn’t have great chemistry with Chiru, but romance is a fair way down the ranks of subplots which was refreshing. I was expecting more substance in this role based on Ammoru and Devi which had fierce female leads. Namrata’s performance holds up reasonably well as she wasn’t challenged to deliver much more than be a foil for The Hero. Although Swapna did remember some of her foreign skills and I was pleased to see her steal and hotwire a bus to save the obligatory orphans.

The songs are well integrated into the action so they don’t halt the momentum. I wouldn’t care anyway because Chiru! Dancing! Lawrence is credited as a choreographer and he works so well with Chiranjeevi. Swapna throws some bark on the fire and ends up stoned. He knows what it is but he inhales anyway (eventually, after helpfully explaining what was happening). All of which leads Abbo Nee Amma. Om Shanti Om is stylistically a little weird but Namrata’s outfits add some entertainment value even if her dancing doesn’t. Reema Sen makes an appearance in Mirapakaya Bajji that has excellent use of Chiru.

There are some cool effects but there are also polyester stick on beards and an unconvincing roasted lizard on a stick. And a baby crocodile that squeaks like a rubber mouse. But I was pleased to see that when Anji’s dog attacked to save a family member it was clearly a stuffed toy and not a real dog being shaken around. And the horse stunts were not too scary. Where the adventure intersects more with history and religion, the quality and scale of the effects improves although the gore levels were consistent throughout. The religious elements are woven into the action very well and give the story more substance. In one scene Anji accidentally does the right things in the right order and is protected from the giant snake and flying sword. Because I understood what he should do I found the sequence gripping, where sometimes I wonder ‘who made this nonsensical ritual up?’. Some of the magical effects when the Aatmalingam is discovered are very pretty, and there are some excellent locations and sets. Maybe Kodi Ramakrishna is a thrifty director and spends his budget where it will have the most impact. The final confrontation takes place in the Himalayas and Heaven, under the eye of Shiva. It’s all quite grand and otherworldly.

Anji is entertaining from start to finish. My DVD ends quite abruptly following the showdown between Bhatia and Anji but I am quite happy as Swapna was doing something useful for a change, and I suspect if there is a missing scene it probably has singing orphans. Chiru owns his role and his energy is evident in every scene. If you like fantasy or supernatural adventures or have a soft spot for Indiana Jones and Chiranjeevi then I highly recommend Anji. 4 stars!

Devi (1999)

devi-DVD-cover

Devi offers a giddy blend of religious and folkloric elements in a story that is ultimately all about faith and honour. Directed by Kodi Ramakrishna, the special effects look a treat and the heroine Prema is wonderfully entertaining.

Some technical notes. The Telugu film was released in 1999 and is available without subtitles on DVD and on Youtube. There is a 2001 Hindi dub released as Goddess that is available with subtitles. I’ve taken my screencaps from Youtube as my DVD is out on loan so the picture quality is not as good as it should be. If you can’t locate a subtitled copy, Liz’s excellent review is very helpful to cover off the relationships and plot points.

Devi-Spaceship

Did I mention space ships?

Devi-snakes 1Devi-snake maidens

Devi and her snake handmaidens arrive on earth to look at some wildlife. Unfortunately they neglected to consult the appropriate almanac and so their trip coincided with an eclipse, an event that rendered Devi back into her comparatively helpless cobra form for the duration.

Devi-Devi and fire demon

A very nasty demon (Abu Salim) took the chance to adopt a fiery form and attack her, but she was saved by a kindly human who lost his life in the encounter. Being an honourable girl, Devi stayed on earth to help his daughter who is left at the mercy of not very nice relatives. The story then turns to Devi’s attempts to get Suseela’s life settled and then protect the world from said demon, while also taking some time for herself to fall in love. Devi is a practical woman and her defences are usually effective, causing great vexation to the demon. She draws on her own power as well as negotiating with her father, an array of goddesses and finally makes a drastic sacrifice to save her adopted family.

Prema is lovely as Devi. She is quite statuesque and effortlessly draws attention in even the most chaotic ensemble scenes. Devi is a resourceful and playful young lady but never crosses into hyperactive nutter heroine territory. Prema’s expressions are spot on and she is very funny without being too broad or too silly. I really liked Devi’s relationship with Vijay as once she tricked her way into his home, they genuinely seemed to like each other and would joke around or gang up on Vijay’s brother. Sadly, Devi does no snake dancing but she does frolic a lot; in meadows, in the snow, even in water. Lots of frolicking. But she also takes decisive action when needed, including dragging Vijay to the temple and marrying him on the spot before she went off to sort out the demon. The wardrobe department suffered from the lack of good snake costume reference material and would that they had read Jenni’s Filmi Snake Spotter’s Field Guide.

Devi-Naag PanchamiDevi-The Look

Devi is quite demurely clad, if occasionally retina searing in her colour choices. She does have a simple everyday snake headdress and can muster up a passable Look, but there was room for more and better accessorising.

Devi-Suseela and Devi as a snake

Vanitha is Suseela, and she is the other focus of the story. Devi’s efforts to protect her range from intervening when her guardians abuse her to setting up a romance with Vijay’s bossy older brother Ranjit (Bhanuchander). Suseela is not as active in the drama as Devi but her faith and resilience are tested so many times, and she honours her promises. Her romance with Ranjit is quite sweet despite his tendency to grumpiness. Suseela proves the power of her faith, abetted by Devi, and saves him from Devi-in-disguise-as-a-common-cobra so he is wildly impressed by this shy yet fearless woman.

Devi-Showkar Janaki

Showkar Janaki is Vijay and Ranjit’s grandmother (I think). She is loved and respected and is the glue that holds her household together. She is funny and a bit sarcastic but treats her daughter-in-law and the mysterious Devi with kindness and respect. It is nice to see a blended family that gets along and where people are generally nice unless they are demonically possessed.

Devi-Vijay lycraDevi-Bhanuchander

Shiju and Bhanuchander are good in their roles but despite having seen the film a couple of times I don’t ever recall them in much detail. I do always remember the black and silvery lycra bike shorts Vijay wears in one early scene. What were they thinking? Ranjit is an unlikeable character at first but he does seem to lighten up once he goes sweet on Suseela. Both actors have some nice scenes and are involved in pivotal moments but they are either pawns or observers most of the time as Devi and the demon battle secretly around them.

Devi-Bad familyDevi-babu Mohan and squirrel headdress

The rest of the support cast are in more comedic and less interesting roles. Suseela’s horrible relatives get their comeuppance thanks to Devi who literally shows them in their true colours. Comedy uncle regular Babu Mohan is a hapless fool who is transformed into a monkey for most of the story and if anything, that improves his performance. I’m still not sure why he appeared wearing a stuffed squirrel on his head. The demon also takes on the appearance of a creepy homicidal child (the rather too convincing Master Mahendran) as well as the more traditional multi-limbed monstrous avatar.

Devi-Giant space snakes

The special effects are pretty good and help blend the fantasy and religious themes. Plus it’s very entertaining what with the demonic bats, divine medical intervention, giant fire breathing snakes, you know … the usual. The real snakes are excellent and once again I paused to wonder at the art of filmi snake wrangling and hope that all the scaly stars were in good health after the filming.  But fundamentally the story is not about CGI or being immortal or who has the biggest weapon (although giant snake fangs are hard to beat), it is about doing right and demonstrating faith, no matter how overwhelmed and outgunned you feel.

I liked the opening song which had Shiju and Babu Mohan dancing what was more like a romantic duet than an heroic introduction. I mentioned the missed opportunity for a snake dance. The songs serve little purpose, and neither are they very memorable. Devi Sri Prasad’s soundtrack isn’t bad, but would work just as well as a background score without the very basic picturisations.

Devi is enjoyable if you like the fantasy genre and appreciate the religious underpinning of the story. Prema delivers a strong performance and it was good to see a film with several prominent and likeable female characters. Plus it seems I’m a sucker for a cobra space ship and a bit of divine justice. 3 ½ stars!