Veta (1986)


Veta DVD

Let me summarise the plot. It’s The Chiru of Monte Cristo.

A Kodandarami Reddy and the Paruchuri brothers transpose the Dumas classic to a pre-Independence India that still seems somewhat out of time. Maybe it’s all the ruffled shirts. Or lack of credible historical detail.

Pratap (Chiranjeevi) is an honest merchant seaman/maître d’, framed and sent to jail merely to protect the self-interest of others. His pre-incarceration outfits tend towards the Purple Rain era Prince influenced. Purple, ruffles, fancy boots, metallic mesh puffy sleeves. OK maybe that last one was purely the wardrobe team.

Saroja (Jayaprada) is related to, but not interested in relations with, Jairam (Mohan Sharma) an officer of the British Government. She loves Pratap and they do a lot of frolicking on the beach. Jairam leans on Bannerjee (Ranganath) to send Pratap to jail for the term of his natural life. Pratap tries to escape but is hunted down like a blindingly white trousered prancing thing. They truss him on the truck like a hood ornament or hunting trophy, and off he goes. Eventually Pratap hears sounds from the next cell. My note here reads “OMG he uses a broken cup to cut through solid rock. Of course.”

Mahendra Bhoopati (Kongara Jaggaiah) is the king next door, also in jail thanks to sleazy Jairam. He explains to still innocent Pratap who all had conspired to get him locked up. That lights a fire under Pratap and he vows revenge. He also promises to seek out the king’s daughter Jyotirmayi and restore her fortune and title. The map to the treasure is written in blood. Of course.

Pratap escapes and is rescued by quasi pirates who take him to the secret island location to find the treasure. There are so many plastic skulls…One pirate is eaten by cannibal tribesmen. But they bite off more than they can chew when they attack Pratap. Yes, I went there! Do note that if you are attacked by cannibals, it pays to have a cobra handy.

Many questions occurred to me throughout this episode, and I do not recall the same level of WTFery in the original text. How the hell did Mahendra Bhoopati get that huge trunk into this cave surrounded by all those perils? Did he have the cannibals installed later? How do Pratap’s clothes stay so white?

Pratap returns to civilisation as the mysterious Rana Pratap Kumar Varma. In a vague nod to realism, people do seem to recognise his face even if they talk themselves out of it. Saroja knows exactly who he is, even without the Significant Ring, but doesn’t tell her husband, the unlovely Jairam. Pratap is enraged at her faithlessness despite knowing she thought he was dead, and his anger makes him really bad at maths. Saroja has a young son and Pratap doesn’t even consider the kid could be his. Saroja tells him but he is too far into his rage to believe her. Jyotirmayi (Sumalatha) has feelings for Pratap but she can see he is not emotionally available. That doesn’t stop her from imagining him shaking his moneymaker in a tribal extravaganza.

My note here reads “OMG Pratap stabs Banerjee with his BARE HAND. His Red Right Hand!”

Veta-Pratap and Jyotirmayi

Eventually Pratap goes Rambo and takes his revenge. He is ably supported by the knife throwing Jyotirmayi and hampered by the clueless and obedient Saroja. The guns look super fake, Pratap survives being trampled by horses, it is all insane and exactly as expected. Even Jayaprada’s saree seems to have super protective properties as she did survive a rocket launcher attack unscathed. Once.

Chiranjeevi is more than up to the requirements of wearing outrageous outfits, chasing horses, prancing mightily, and emoting fiercely. He sounds so sincere in every big speech, and despite the silly trappings he does portray the darker side of Pratap’s character once he is set on revenge.

Jayaprada makes a stronger impression in the latter part of the film, when Pratap returns from the dead. She is no longer the demure young girl with horrible fashion sense. She has lived through loss and she knows what her priorities are. Her scenes with Chiranjeevi crackle with emotion and pain. I am often impressed by how good the good bits of a potboiler can be.

Sumalatha is world weary and a bit over it all as Jyotirmayi, and despite minimal dialogue and screen time she makes something of her character. And Jyotirmayi had excellent song costume imagination.

The song picturisations range from the usual cavorting on hillsides to more epic fantasies. Often the song picturisations are a heroine’s fantasy but in Veta Chiru dresses himself in his songs and his happy memories seem to consist of flinging himself around in ruffled shirts or the mindboggling Fauxgyptian oasis. In the Oh Rani song Jayaprada has to frolic in a wet white saree so Chiru frolics in snug white pants. Equality in action.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this film other than I’d watch it because of Chiranjeevi. It’s not exactly good but it is highly enjoyable and visually pleasing. I like both Jayaprada and Sumalatha and their characters do more than just wait and simper, and the Megastar is suitably over the top heroic. I was sitting there thinking to myself that the stunts were unusually human centric with nary an injured horse in sight and then in the last 7 minutes or so the horses started toppling. It’s just so wrenching to watch.

See this to round out your education in film adaptations of classic literature, to see a robust sample of ruffled shirts to inform your wardrobe choices, or just because you aren’t sure if I am exaggerating the WTFery or being unusually understated. 3 stars!

P.S The film is on Youtube with subtitles.

Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu (1983)

Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu VCD cover

I really should stop buying unsubtitled dollar VCDs just because of the cover. But not yet. It’s hard to reconcile the masala excesses of Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu with Khaidi and Sangharshana which were made in the same year. Chiranjeevi is truly a versatile hero! A Kodandarami Reddy directs with his usual ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ flair.

The silly story reminded me of why I have such a soft spot for Telugu films. Their commitment to delivering a comeuppance is reassuring and reliable, and something the real world sadly lacks.  The VCD quality is poor. It was like watching a movie from the back row in an antiquated cinema while sitting next to someone snacking on cellophane wrapped treats. Among many visual delights, the costume department did their utmost to make an impression with their new discovery – the ruffle.

The film opens with Kongara Jaggaiah holding a baby and running from a gang of horsemen. He leaves the infant near a priest, who manages to carry on praying oblivious to the running man and pursuing horses. With the usual filmi total lack of surprise at finding an unattended child, the kindly man raised the baby as his own son. There were two babies in the original shot and the fate of the other child is revealed in due course. The baddies catch up with their prey and he is trampled severely by the horses and left for dead.

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The baby grows up to be Siva (Chiranjeevi). He is a simpleton, spending his days herding sheep, hanging out with his monkey and the village kids. Siva wears very snug fitting clothes – perhaps to show he is an overgrown child or perhaps a precursor to Chiru’s lycra era. He is easily bossed around and has little motivation to grow up or be more independent. Chiranjeevi and the monkey seem to get along well. I think Chiru permanently had a handful of snacks for his tiny co-star and the monkey noshes away happily in most of their scenes.

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Gauri (Radhika) seems to be the only other person of Siva’s age so they are clearly meant to be together. Gauri is bubbly, smart, opinionated and protective. She makes her feelings clear but Siva is a bit slow on the uptake. He eventually declares his intentions and Gauri thinks her life is set.

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The king (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) lives in luxury and adheres to traditional excess and appalling interior design. His manager, Rao Gopal Rao, is a nasty piece of work. He and his dodgy son extort money from the peasant workers. Gauri opposes him and tries to rally the people in an uprising. They eventually kill her along with half the village, and kidnap the survivors to work as slaves. The detention facility is one of those totally secret in plain sight kind of places and I doubt the design was all that functional. Anyway.

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When Siva sees the corpses and carnage he is traumatised. He goes to the king to appeal for justice. There he sees Malli (Radhika in a dual role), the king’s class conscious spoilt brat daughter.

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Mistaking her for Gauri, Siva allows Malli to bully and torment him before he realises that this stony hearted witch is not his lost love. It doesn’t happen on screen but I think she killed his monkey. How could you think it’s OK to kill a tiny monkey in a pink dress? Siva retaliates clumsily, and is on his way to the open air jail when he manages to fall hundreds of feet to a safe landing on some rocks.

He finds his way to a guru (Kongara Jaggaiah again) and his shrine to Shiva (with affiliated vengeful dude training facility). In a Sholay-ish touch, the guru’s arms dangle uselessly by his side and he is wrapped in a shawl to hide his crippled limbs. There is a flashback explaining his relationship with the overseer and what happened back in the day. He preaches the power of concentration, meditation and preparation as a means to overcome a foe. Presumably he is also of the school of ‘one swift kick’.

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After a training montage which includes a snippet of learning to dance, Siva graduates to wearing fringed pleather and heads off to seek revenge.

Once again I found myself appreciating how Chiru totally commits to his performances. He may be wearing fluoro bike shorts and not much else but he dances with energy and forcefulness as he prepares to go epic.

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While out on a hunting trip, Malli is left to fend for herself when a tiger menaces the group. Chiru to the rescue! Calling himself Vijay, he joins Malli’s staff as a bodyguard (after a death match competency test) and the ruffled shirt department go into overdrive.

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Is it any surprise that Malli finds him alluring and irresistible? Radhika and Chiranjeevi do have nice chemistry although this in no way approaches their performances in Aaradhana a few years later.

I like the faux flamenco prancing in that song although Chakravarty’s music and the choreography are uninspired. The bouffy mullet is not Chiru’s best hairstyle but it does set off the matching headbands nicely. And yes, dear reader, he is in stylish mega-boots.

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The overseer and his son favour shiny shirts, and Malli likes a frill or ten so there is something for everyone.

Siva/Vijay tells Malli’s servant that her husband is alive but to keep up the appearance of widowhood until the plan comes to fruition. The servant is also Malli’s real mother, something that eventually comes as a shock to the girl obsessed with her pure blueblood heritage.  Siva shows her paintings he made of his lost love Gauri, and his monkey, and Malli seems to understand his torment and apologises. I think. (Which is nice seeing as she is partly responsible for his loss.) While I am sure Siva and Malli are not siblings, I am not sure if Siva was the rightful heir to anything or was just a lost boy.

Love blooms, revenge ferments and eventually there is a showdown at the secret jail. And there the film really surprised me. I…words fail me.

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There might be some folkloric element to the basic story but I am not sure what inspired these guys.

But good will triumph and evil will be overthrown.

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And yet again, a surprise as Chiru ripped the intestines out of one villainous henchman using only his bare hands and the righteous power of Shiva. Ah filmi justice – extreme yet reassuringly final. And if you have faith, or maybe unshakable self-confidence, everything will come right in the end. Even if your arms are painted on.

This is far from being a good film but it was mightily entertaining. 2 ½ stars for quality, 4 for astonishing outfits!



Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu_those costumes again

Kirathakudu (1986)

If Kirathakudu didn’t have Chiru and Suhasini in the leads I am not sure I would have persisted. The first hour or so is very trying indeed. But then I would have missed out on an unexpected reworking of John Carpenter’s 1981 classic, “Escape From New York”. If I see Chiru plus subtitles, the DVD is an automatic purchase so I didn’t read anything about the film before I watched it. There is a voiceover about criminals and the government, but the concept wasn’t well translated in the subtitles. Imagine my delighted confusion when it started to seem somewhat familiar.

Chiranjeevi is Charan, a poor rich boy who just wants his father (Kongara Jaggaiah) to show him some affection. Charan spends his time winning every possible sporting and aeronautical trophy, beating people up, carousing and brooding in his room.

I enjoyed this sporting montage greatly, although it has prompted me to make a statement critical of Chiranjeevi.

His swimming style is splashy and inefficient and he would not have won a race against the under 9s in my swimming club. There – I’ve said it.

Maybe it’s not about winning the race, but about looking stylish on a lilo.

And making bad art.

He is a renaissance man, albeit one with questionable taste, a very bad temper and poor impulse control. He drinks heavily, and I think I was supposed to find this appearance a warning – but he looks so good!

Charan sees a quite unimpressive statue in a local emporium and runs afoul of Swetha (Suhasini) who has purchased the one of a kind piece. His reaction to finding out he can’t have it is extreme.

Swetha is a psychology student, and daughter of the local police chief. She is smart, self assured and is not intimidated by Charan. She is also a raging narcissist from the looks of her house – pictures of her adorn almost every wall.

It is interesting that Swetha is given career aspirations and a brain, and yet the dialogues are often very disparaging of women. Suhasini is such a graceful and intelligent actress that I was pleased to see her in a reasonably involved role. She is drawn to Charan both as an interesting psychological study and because he is Chiru – those eyes!

Charan goes off the rails due to the influence of vampy Hamsa (Silk Smitha). Only Chiru could make Charan watchable as he broods, rants and sooks over why his daddy doesn’t love him and then commits crimes as a cry for attention.  Showing that she is smarter than most people in the film, Swetha finds Charan’s hideout and dobs him in to the police. He kidnaps her in a dramatic getaway and their forced proximity accelerates the already budding love.

Having been ruined by a tramp, he feels that the love of a good woman will let him live like a decent person. Yes. Surely it would be unreasonable to expect him to take responsibility or just grow up. She then takes on the burden of reforming Charan and settles in for a lifetime of prison visits. I found their song fantasies quite amusing – Swetha was all flowers and pretty colours, while Charan was much more, um, hands on. One thing they did have in common was their terrible taste in art.

Silk Smitha is Hamsa.

Well, Silk’s arse does most of the work thanks to the constant upskirting camera, but she sneaks the rest of herself into shot occasionally. Hamsa is a Bad Girl who entraps Charan and forces him to turn smuggler (bad) and wear pleather (not so bad). Again, I had to growl a bit at Charan crawling out of her bed the morning after and treating Hamsa like dirt for giving him what he wanted.

Mothers in the film are sacred but women who have sex are evil  – so I wondered briefly about how these idiots thought babies were made. I am not exactly sure why sleeping with Hamsa would be enough to place Charan under Snake’s control, especially given his cavalier attitude to the law and society, but it seems he was besmirched and that was it. The bad girl is usually a thankless role, but Silk gets a few pithy lines and an excellent confrontational cheerleading dance.

The second half of the film took a sharp turn towards awesome. Maybe because Chiru changed into this outfit?

The police need Charan’s help to take on Snake and rescue his dad (and the Top Secret papers) as they could not get into the badlands themselves. When Charan stole a car ferry and chuffed off about 10 seconds ahead of the cops, he managed to hide the ferry within walking distance of a sari shop and judging by the number of Swetha’s outfit changes, remain undetected for days. The man is a genius and I can see why the police appealed to him.

Armed with an array of gadgets and with deadly time release microcapsules implanted in his neck, Charan sets off to save the day. He lands a glider on top of a skyscraper in the crime quadrant, on a mission to rescue his father and protect Indian national security. He had to take a glider as there was no way in by land. In a puzzling development, Swetha and Baby (the cab driver played by Nutan Prasad) decide they have to follow him, and drive in through the front gate in a taxi, sedately avoiding the bombs planted along the route. While the residents look like a left over mob from a B grade post apocalypse horror movie, Swetha is able to glide around in her pristine sari without being spotted. The scenes in this second half are more closely aligned to the original film and the mood is both darker and more absurd.

Snake (Kannada Prabhakar) is the kingpin in the sealed off criminal zone. While John Carpenter recreated Manhattan as his prison colony, Snake has to make do with a warehouse complex a few minutes from the downtown area. He has possibly the best DIY lair and henchmen I’ve seen to date, and I enjoyed deciphering the very random graffiti.

Snake is also a psycho killer on a very short fuse.

This guy is quite fascinating.

He plays his role of chief henchman with a blend of odd chicken inspired noises and statue postures, and walks with what I can only describe as a slow-mo mince. While wearing a dress (maybe toga).Who is he?

And the guy who would have been played by Bob Christo in a Hindi version of this is back! Last seen in Adavi Donga (the apple peeler Wolverine claws guy) here he is sporting a fake scar and some hideous trousers.

How does it end? Is there any doubt?

It’s a film by A Kodandarami Reddy so I expected crazy, and the second half delivers. I did have to chant the ‘it was made in 1985’ mantra a few times, but even allowing for that I was irritated by some of the dialogue relating to women and their evil powers. Grow up guys! Yandamoori Veerendranath gets a writing credit, but this is a reasonably faithful remake with the addition of loads of sentiment and a message about good family values.

Chiru and Suhasini inject a bit of class into their scenes, and the WTFery dial is set to 11. I’m totally biased due to Chiranjeevi but I’d give this a cautious 3 stars, for the curiosity value of the remake and for the dystopian second half.

Here is a snippet of Silk’s big song number – it is interspersed with the final action sequence so I won’t give away all the surprises!