Bharat Ane Nenu

Koratala Siva and Mahesh Babu team up for this smart political thriller. It’s a good looking film with a fairly solid story, but you’ll need to turn your logic-meter off, or even inside out, at times. And not just for the gravity defying action scenes.

Bharat (Mahesh) is a perennial student in a London populated by white people with bizarre accents. He is on his 5th university degree, and has no immediate plans to stop studying. He is smart and curious, but might lack a bit of focus or motivation. Called home after the sudden death of his politician father (R Sarathkumar), Bharat is inveigled into taking up the apparently hereditary role of CM by his dad’s friend and colleague Varadarajulu (Prakash Raj). But while Bharat may be clueless about local Andhra Pradesh issues, he’s very rules driven and task focussed and likes to act decisively. He will bring back the FEAR, RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY (caps courtesy of the subtitles team) that he thinks society needs. And that sets him on a collision course with pretty much everyone in politics.

There are some odd inconsistencies in Bharat’s logic at times and it felt like there was an often unacknowledged conflict or contradiction in the film between what he stood for and what he did. Bharat left home to go live with friends in the UK when he was just a kid. He stayed away for years, but he still remembers his mother telling him stories about duty and doing the right thing (underscored by her death when he broke a promise so….). He seemed happy to follow his own whims while abroad and had no firm plans. However Hyderabad traffic sets him ablaze with indignation. He’s a true believer, fighting to see his vision brought to life, and at odds with the career politicians who feather their own nests. A benevolent dictator is still a dictator so I found it interesting that apparently I was supposed to see this as democratic representation of the will of the people. He was never elected, just chosen first by calculating party men and then by public acclaim. And the film shows that acclaim can turn very quickly to scorn. I really did like that in what could have been a clichéd scene of people coming to the Hero to rid their village of a problem, he turned the tables and asked why they didn’t save themselves. It’s a tired trope that needs to be retired or examined, and having Bharat say he would support people but they had to get off their butts and do something to help themselves was excellent. He sees a girl at a bus stop every morning and has no qualms about using state resources to get her number, but he does ask for her consent at key junctures so there is that. He asks why the roads have to be closed for his ministerial convoy but again, no issue with taking over an entire restaurant so he can have a coffee date with Vasumathi. There’s a bit of “don’t do as I do, do as I say” in Bharat.

Mahesh is convincing as the driven reformer who wants to remind people of the rule of law, and he can carry off the grand speeches. Bharat starts out using his intelligence and will, but at a point his awesome fighting skillz surface. It’s fitting that at the moment he went from protagonist to Hero, he was surrounded by swirling movie tickets just like the paper thrown by a cinema audience to greet a hero’s entrance. The action scenes are highly stylised, relying on Mahesh’s ability to stare down the camera while sauntering past wearing a baddie as a backpack. I laughed loudly and alone at that visual! Koratala Siva knows exactly what he is doing with the mass tropes and with his actor. I don’t think there is anything in the role that challenged Mahesh’s abilities but he gives a committed and smartly layered performance. For those who rely on me for other insights about layering, yes he wears t-shirts and even flashes his knees. I suspect in one scene that he might have had two white t-shirts stitched together to avoid any hint of transparency. But it’s modern, minimal layer Mahesh in terms of wardrobe.

Kiara Advani is Vassu, the object of the CM’s affections. While Vasumathi is interchangeable with just about every other newbie Telugu film heroine, she is vaguely intelligent and has a life. She obviously likes Bharat, but is nervous because of his position and just because she’s a middle class girl. Her giving him a stick on moustache was a stroke of genius. Seeing Bharat happily at one with the crowds on their low key dates because of his dodgy mo was very funny. Unfortunately after a promising start, Vassu loses all agency as soon as men start on about their own honour. I’m neither here nor there as far as Kiara Advani is concerned. She is fine but there’s so little to the character that I couldn’t say she brought anything unique to the role either. Her outfits were boho student in daily life but the songs are where the costume department run amok.

The Devi Sri Prasad soundtrack is full of tracks that sound like other tracks, and the lyrics are loaded with dubious English rhyming nonsense. Perhaps I am being harsh and Vasumathi likes to be called “my lovely harmonica”! Mahesh’s prime dancing days are a thing of the past, I think, so the choreography was largely of the walking and pointing variety. The big set number Vachadayyo Saami is a standout mostly for the colour and spectacle (which includes the aforementioned knees).

The supporting ensemble is full of competent actors, well cast, and most with a bit of depth or development to their characters. Prakash Raj is excellent as the avuncular Varadarajulu, completely believable as the long time friend and frenemy. Anish Kuruvilla, house favourite occasional director/That Guy, plays a slightly slimy but not unlikeable Chief Secretary caught between the party and the CM. He gets to give his appalled expression a good workout, along with a bit of side eye. Brahmaji is the CMs assistant and like most people dragged along in Bharat’s wake he alternates between flustered and tickled pink at the goings on. Another favourite That Guy, Ajay, has a small but sensible role too. And I was very pleased to see good old Mukhtar (Mukhtar Khan) was not forgotten after one pivotal and quite brutal scene. Bharat might be swept away by the public but the continuity and attention to detail and people was there, as befits his character and this film.

If you like the idea of a well-acted, well directed, and more violent story somewhat along the lines of Mr Smith Goes to Washington but with dodgy subtitles do see Bharat Ane Nenu!

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Janatha Garage

I want to grab Koratala Siva and shake him till his teeth rattle, then kick him into the middle of next week. He has managed to get a top notch cast and the beginning of a good idea and turn it into something far less than the sum of its parts.

Sathyam (The Complete Actor Mohanlal) is the head of Janatha Garage, a leader, and is genuine in his desire to give the little people a fair go. Mohanlal has great conviction and gravitas when he speaks of what is right and fair, and he gives the impression of a man who seeks to take a balanced view but who will never take the easy way out. He gathers a small crew of like-minded men who also represent in shorthand the diversity of Hyderabad. Janatha Garage repairs engines and problems.

Anand (Young Tiger NTR) has an unusual hero entrance where he arrives to … plant a tree. Or actually, tell someone he’s busy and so can they please plant the tree. Anand’s environmentalism is very simple. Trees good, humans bad. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with wanton destruction as long as it is him dishing out the destruction. He is given an overblown fight intro where he beats some thugs up while claiming to be giving them a taste of Mother Nature’s temper. He tells people what to do and believes they will do it because he has told them so. Sathyam sees him as a good fit for Janatha Garage, and welcomes him into the fold.

Some of the movie’s highlights are the scenes between NTR Jr and Mohanlal. Their characters have a connection that is unknown to either of them for quite some time, so that added a bit of interest for the audience. They both bring more to the table than that flimsy screenplay required. The actors portray a nice dynamic – warm, mutual respect, and a recognition of the gradual changing of the guard and what that means. But there are too many gaps and things that Anand in particular just accepts too easily. This is not a lack in Tarak’s acting – I felt he added as much complexity as he could. Both Anand and Sathyam are so sure they are right, and that their right is more right than anyone else’s idea of right. Anand in particular brooks no discussion and has no compassion for anyone who opposes him. It robs his character of any inner life, and makes them both rather joyless.

And that lack of heart is the real problem with this film. For a story that should be so intimately tied to people and their daily struggles, once the story moves to Hyderabad Janatha Garage seems to take place in a lifeless bubble. The sound design makes it seem like they are on a stage with echoing dubbing and swelling string music every time Janatha Garage is invoked. In contrast, an early scene of Anand running through a slum area in Mumbai had a real sense of place and the vibrant, persistent signs of life in high density cities. Even in the impressively choreographed action scenes, Anand takes on all comers alone. He finally allows the other Garage guys in on the final fight but they are barely on camera. And he never even gets a mark on his linen shirts, let alone get his hair messed up. I wonder if his construction strength hair product was environmentally friendly? His apparent invulnerability also saps the drama of tension because you know how every fight will end before it starts.

The support cast are pushed so far into the periphery that I was actually a bit sad to recognise so many capable actors. The Janatha Garage family includes Rahman as Sathyam’s murdered brother, Sithara as Anand’s aunty, Suresh as his uncle, and Devayani as Sathyam’s wife. Perennial favourite Ajay is likeable and sympathetic, Brahmaji doesn’t look angry for maybe 40 seconds of his total screentime, Saikumar is suave as police chief Chandrasekhar, and I liked Vennela Kishore’s fleeting appearance as an inappropriate office manager flirting with Samantha. I have just spent as much time on developing their characters as Koratala Siva did.

The baddies were played by Sachin Khedekar and Ashish Vidyarthi who both exuded an urbane egotism in their pursuit of wealth. They both want to keep a distance from what is being done, but have no illusions about the outcome. Unni Mukundan plays Sathyam’s son Raghava who goes over to the dark side. Raghava is slimy and bit of a sook and I cared not one jot for his well-being. But I did wonder just how he turned out that way when everyone else even tenuously associated with Janatha Garage was lining up for sainthood.

Samantha and Nithya Menon are capable, and both project warmth and liveliness which was sorely lacking in the rest of the film. But their relationships with each other and with Anand were never developed, and their storylines just fizzled out. Even Anand, apart from one tearful scene, seemed largely to forget that he had a girlfriend and a spare.

Luckily there are beautiful visuals from cinematographer S. Thirunavukkarasu, especially when the story heads out of town and Anand gets his groove on while frolicking in the mountains. Tarak can express such joy when he dances and it was a relief to see Anand lighten up. Rock On Bro is exactly what you’d expect if you briefed a 70s metal cover band to write a theme for a tourism ad with a hippy vibe. Having said that, the Apple Beauty song has possibly the worst lyrics I’ve heard since Eurovision. I pitied the subtitle team for having to work with such gems as “when you devour me I am like the Apple logo on an iPhone”. But don’t take my word for it. Here is a sample:

And who on earth thought Kajal could deliver a skanky item? She’s very attractive, she gives it her all, but she has none of the sensuality or basic coordination required to dance her way in and out of trouble. And casting a Mumbai girl to perform a Telugu item called Pakka Local…Luckily Tarak decides he can’t see the excellent sets go to waste so he jumps in.

I’m putting the flaws in Janatha Garage firmly on Koratala Siva’s account. He had a super cast, a decent budget, and a good idea and he threw most of it away with shoddy writing and empty clichés. One for the Tarak or Mohanlal fans who will enjoy the star performances.

Mirchi

Mirchi-Movie-PosterMirchi is a mass action romance revenge saga, offering few surprises in the story but with great casting and some solid performances. Writer/director Koratala Siva gets bogged down in a long flashback and loses the momentum a bit towards the second half, but generally moves along at a reasonable clip from fight to song to romance to fight and back again. Like many mass films, it starts light and fluffy but then the body count starts to rise so you do need to be a bit gore tolerant to fully enjoy Mirchi.

Jai (Prabhas) is an architect in Milan. He meets Manasa (Richa Gangopadhyay) and saves her from some thugs. They become friendly and he learns of her family – dominated by a violent assortment of men living in a big old house – and Jai decides to fix her life. Of course, Jai has an ulterior motive for wanting to reform her family, and that is revealed through a very long and detailed flashback. Jai is the son of Manasa’s family’s enemy, Deva (Sathyaraj). How can Jai reform her family, reclaim his place with his own estranged family, eliminate any enemies who refuse to comply and oh yes – what will happen to Manasa when he is reunited with his first love, Vennela (Anushka Shetty)?

mirchi_movie_prabhas dancersprabhas-mirchi

Prabhas is made for this kind of role. Jai is a nice guy, although of course he can kill evil doers with a single blow. Prabhas has such a likeable screen persona and the action scenes are well within his capability. He has nice chemistry with both leading ladies although as the story unfurls there is little ambiguity about who he would choose.  There is not a lot of complexity or nuance, but the role contains enough variety to give Prabhas a bit to work with. Jai does have to find a way that doesn’t totally rely on revenge and violence so there is a clear before and after in his character. One of the highlights is the slightly more prominent roles given to some supporting actors, and those scenes give Prabhas more scope for lighter moments. Jai’s relationship with his father is played out nicely too, showing the slightly more sympathetic side of the feud.

Favourite That Guy Subbaraju is Manasa’s brother. He is first seen pursuing some unfortunate bloke through college and delivering a serious beating. But Jai can see that apparently all he needed to give up his bullying ways was … discovering girls. Yes, Subbaraju got in touch with his sensitive side after dancing to Moves Like Jagger with the girl who fancied him. Who knew Maroon 5 was good for anything? But if that’s what it takes to get a good looking bloke to eschew dismemberment and take up flirting, well then I suppose that is not a bad thing. This dance outbreak also had the effect of making him dress better, pay his rent on time and generally improve his manners.  From then on he spends the rest of the film on the phone to the girl, very coy and giggly as he mouths what I can only assume are dialogues along the line of ‘no you hang up…no you…no you hang up first’ and the like. Silly but amusing, and nice to see him in a slightly different role.

Mirchi-Jai and Manasa

Richa has a one note character so there isn’t much she can do with Manasa, although she and Prabhas have nice rapport and that helps make the growing friendship between the characters more credible. Once the terribly long flashback starts, she is sidelined and pretty much disappears until the last couple of minutes. Anushka gets more investment from the screenplay as the feisty village belle Vennela. She sets her cap at Jai and he happily succumbs, colourful dance numbers and all. Until disaster strikes on their wedding day.

Sampath Raj has a prominent role as Manasa’s uncle, a nasty piece of work who bullies the entire household and believes he can heal his paralysed father by despatching selected enemies in front of him. Another That Guy, Adithya, plays Jai’s uncle, an old school type who believes in sorting out issues with a machete. Adithya doesn’t get the same opportunity to show off his acting range but he does get ample chance to flash a bit of leg. Supreet and Ajay make an appearance in the second half as muscle for Manasa’s family and the violence escalates towards a fairly brutal ending.

Sathyaraj and Nadhiya are good as Jai’s estranged parents and there are lots of other familiar faces. Brahmanandam does his usual thing and luckily has minimal screen time in the latter section of the film where comedy would have been misplaced. His scenes had the audience howling with laughter, but as this was another Adventure Without Subtitles that all went over my head. Satyam Rajesh, Raghu Babu and others do what they do in a film that relies on ‘types’ more than on characters.

The soundtrack is fun and the picturisations are sometimes spectacular (Darlingey and Mirchi in particular). Devi Sri Prasad seems to know his audience, and the crowd response to the songs was great. The choreographers generally concentrate on the possibilities afforded by Prabhas’ lanky frame and enormous wingspan.

Despite what you may think based on that selection of images, Prabhas largely escaped the worst efforts of the blind costume designer, apart from one inexplicable t-shirt with braces attached. And there is an unwavering commitment to ugly acid wash denim throughout. But I do have to ask – the Keytar? Really design team? What were you thinking.

Mirchi is a good formulaic timepass. It has a good cast delivering the minimal requirements of the script, along with well structured action and song sequences. If you’re a fan of Prabhas or the mass action genre, it’s well worth a watch.  Plus  if you like medical moments only possible in Indian films, then this is for you.