Alluda Majaka

E.V.V Satyanarayana’s Alluda Majaka could have been an excellent film. There’s peak mullet Chiranjeevi, Ramya Krishna and Rambha so you know the dancing is taken care of, a big budget and adventurous designers. But the story by Posani Krishna Murali is uneven and the comedy interludes are sexist and sleazy even by 90s mass standards. However, look for gold and avert your eyes from the dirt and there are some rewards for your time.

The film opens with Seetharam (Chiranjeevi) being taken to his village in police custody so he can attend a religious festival. Then he’s off straight into a big chase and escape from the police, and it is vintage Chiru. But oh those horse stunts churn my stomach, and the infamous horse sliding under a truck stunt doubly so, even with the hopefully fake horse in one shot. But there is a glass bus. Who knew?

Then Seetharam forcibly marries Pappi (Ramya Krishnan) who is at her wedding ready to get hitched to someone else. And then he is back off to jail again. A lawyer (Giribabu) arrives and promptly shoots Seetharam and then himself in the arm, setting his client up for that crime too. The laywer needs to know why Seetharam has ruined a young girl’s life by marrying her against her will and right before he went back to jail. This triggers a long flashback.

Seetharam’s father was the village president and seemed to be benevolent and practical, much loved by the people. Pappi (Ramya) and Bobby (Rambha) arrive in the village to stay with their mother Vasundhara (Lakshmi) and uncle. They stir up all kinds of trouble and see themselves as above the law and certainly above the people. That does not sit well with Seetharam. Another rogue joins the fray when Peddaiah (Kota Srinivasa Rao) arrives with the plan to get one of the rich girls married to his NRI son Chinna (played by the may as well have been non-existent for all the impression he made Siva). Chinna falls for Seetharam’s dialogueless sister Malliswari (Ooha) and they are engaged. Vasundhara wants the groom for Pappi, Seetharam is delighted his sister will be married, and Peddaiah is determined to find a bride based on dowry and gain for himself. When Chinna goes back to the US for a few months, Vasundhara and Peddaiah pull out all the stops to break up the engagement. It is on for young and old and the unmarried young women are the pawns in the game. By the time we stagger to the conclusion, it’s a straight up battle involving an explosives factory and a jetty and if that doesn’t scream Masala Death Trap I don’t know what does.

I am uncomfortable with the value this film places on women being pure and subservient, but the strong women in the story are so horrible I can’t stand them either. It would have been more interesting if they were less insane and more simply independent. Lakshmi as Vasundhara is the true villain here. She is smart, manipulative, and greedy. But what is her greatest crime? Not wanting to live with her husband – the lawyer Sivaramakrishna who is defending Seetharam. Pappi and Bobby are brats and completely lack common sense or empathy. But. Do they deserve to be humiliated by having their bathing suits ripped off them mid swim? Does Pappi deserve to be married against her will to a man who has been sentenced to death? Does Bobby deserve to be humiliated by the accusation that she’d had accidental sex with her brother-in-law?

Does anyone deserve the outfits they wear in the songs?

Much of the comedy is sleazy and gross. Apart from trying to get Ramya and Rambha in compromising positions to teach them a lesson, one track includes Brahmi in drag and a long build up to a tacky rape joke. Then there’s the farcical nuptial night with power outage that leaves the three women uncertain if they’re the one who had relations with Seetharam. And that’s a whole other line of enquiry I prefer not to pursue. I read a review that mentioned Rambha had once said that Chiranjeevi had made the director drop some of the really vulgar scenes planned. My reaction was “Yay for Chiru!” and then a mind boggling moment as I pondered what had been too much considering what had been left in.

Things I did like include that nobody thought Pappi should have to live in a forced marriage (although killing the groom is not cool). Also when Malliswari fell pregnant to her absent fiancé most people, with one notable exception, nobody tried to punish her (except the baddies but that was not on moral grounds). And Vasundhara was a terrible person but she was well written as a villain and had a little bit more going on than most of the men on Team Bad. I quite liked the use of a rainbow slinky as gangster accessory too but that might be a sign I was running out of patience with everything else. And of course, there’s the reason I watched this in the first place. The decor. No!

CHIRU!!!

Thankfully Chiranjeevi is in great form despite the lamentable material. He fights, he speechifies, he emotes so vigorously even his hair is furious, he defies laws of physics and gravity, and he dances like there’s no tomorrow. And he does it all so well. The fight choreo is complex and includes loads of acrobatics which Chiru nails. And he gets to drive lots of different forms of transport which I feel Chiranjeevi enjoyed. He looks quite content trundling around on his tractor, then so devil may care on a jet ski.

Although the stunt dummies lack his panache. As usual Chiru dances like he’s having the time of his life strutting his stuff in some truly eye-searing looks. In an unfortunate plot diversion, Chiru also plays the Mega rich Mr Toyota. Rich, weird, and foreign, he’s a comedy uncle on heat. I’m not sure how his disguise as Mr Toyota was in any way convincing and I am not at all persuaded the film needed him despite the additional scope it gave to the costume team. It is such a shame this film is an over long and undigestable turkey because there is so much peak Megastar stuff.

2 stars. Only for Mega-completists.

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Govinda Govinda

Sri Devi is the main reason to watch Ram Gopal Varma’s film. She is wonderful as the plucky and caring Naveena, drawn into a mysterious plot involving religious nutters, dark rituals, and a dodgy taxi driver with anger management issues.

I watched this without subtitles and didn’t have too much difficulty following the plot, but wish I had been able to understand more of the conversations. Maybe things would have seemed more cohesive if I got the “as you know, Naveena” exposition. Or perhaps not.

The film opens with a religious back story to explain the significance of Venkateswara and the Tirumala Venkateswara temple at Tirupathi. And then the RGV factor kicks in and you can safely forget doctrine and logic as you know it. In the present day, an evil tantric commissions Paresh (Paresh Rawal) to steal Venkateswara’s crown from the temple. The relic combined with some human sacrifice will give the tantric ultimate power or something. Naveena (Sridevi) is a Telugu woman living in Bangkok. She returns to India to fetch her grandmother and take her back to Bangkok so they can live together. Seenu (Nagarjuna) is the taxi driver that picks her up from the station and takes her downtown. Seenu’s father, the temple security guard, is implicated in the theft, and little Babu (Master Anilraj), who Seenu calls Boss, is the only witness who can identify the real criminals. When Seenu and Babu go to Bangkok trying to clear the dad’s name, the kid wanders off and ends up on TV as a missing child. Naveena sees him and comes to the rescue, and is reunited with Seenu. Their lives are entwined on a level neither realises. Eventually all the ducks get in a fairly clumsy row, and it is time for Seenu and Naveena to try and thwart the tantric and save the world. It’s lucky for them that Vishnu had been sneakily keeping an eye on them all along.

The film is most alive when Sridevi is on screen. Naveena does a little of the scream-and-run heroine shtick but is largely sensible, thinks first, and tries to do things for herself even if it pushes her out of her comfort zone. Her outfits are a little…odd. I’ve never been a fan of the pedal pusher, and am on the fence when it comes to onesies. It’s hardly the worst character wardrobe Sridevi had to contend with. Perhaps Naveena was just veeeeery fashion forward, or maybe she was soft hearted and didn’t want Seenu to cop all the bad denim. There are some parallels with Kshana Kshanam although the story isn’t as strong. Naveena still has enough range as a character that Sridevi has something to work with. Whether she is being a clueless tourist or running for her life, she makes that moment feel real and with a sense of consequence.

Her cheeky expressions are an excellent distraction from the spectacle of Nag “dancing”, and the comedy is a good fit for her. Rewatching the movie to screencap for this review was so sad. Sridevi was well cast, had a decent and age appropriate costar, and a director who knew she was pure gold. Watching this did cheer me up a bit after reading so many Hindi-centric reviews of her career and best films. I firmly believe she did most of her best work in the South and if people have only seen her Hindi films, they’re missing out.

Nagarjuna is fine as Seenu. He’s probably the 90s hero I have seen the least of, so I don’t have a lot to compare this performance to. [Note: I hate the much vaunted Geethanjali with the fire of a thousand suns. Do not recommend it. Do. Not.] He is likeable as Seenu, lairising around with his highrise mullet, dressed in loud shirts and acid wash. He’s a good hearted guy even if he might be slightly dodgy when it comes to making a buck. Seenu is very close to his family, and seems proud of his father while not wanting to follow in his footsteps. The story is all over the pace and Seenu’s character is pretty flimsy and Nagarjuna does well to make him so engaging. His confusion and determination were equally believable, even when the situations were not. Some of his scenes with Sridevi are lovely as Seenu starts to realise his feelings, and he seemed to have a warm rapport with Master Anilraj who played Babu. His dancing style mostly consists of energetic walking with occasional bursts of pointing at things or people. But he kicks arse in the action sequences.

Paresh Rawal and Kota Srinivasa Rao are the main thieves, augmenting their gang with some dodgy foreigners. The extravagantly bewigged and made-up Dhir is the evil tantric, with a hint of depressed poodle in his styling. They’re all as horrible as you would expect, and overact like there will be no scenery to chew tomorrow. Kallu Chidambaram is an evil looking red herring. Annapurna plays Seenu’s mother and as you would expect, they’re quite sweet and natural with each other. Child actor Anilraj has no dialogue and that may be why I liked him so much.

As I have come to expect from RGV, the background score is loud and percussion driven. It works well to build a sense of urgency in some scenes but in others it is like someone rattling a tin full of buttons. And the Raj-Koti songs are forgettable, apart from the ungainly choreo and peak 90s Fashion and the obligatory item by Silk Smitha. I did like the way the film signals it belongs in a place and time. Characters listen to songs from movies of the day, there are signals that the audience would be immediately familiar with. So while there are exotic foreign locations, other than the sleazy girly bar we don’t do the rounds of tourist attractions. It’s quite grounded and a little bit grubby.

I’ve tried not to spoil the plot too much as there are some nifty set pieces, a few minor surprises along the way, and quite a ripping yarn if you just go with it. When RGV is good, he’s good. And when Sridevi is good she’s brilliant. 4 slightly teary eyed and sentimental stars!

Khaidi No 786

 

What a way to kick off Megabirthday2017!

Vijaya Bapineedu’s film opens with married woman Radha (Bhanupriya) going on a journey that clearly makes her sad, which cuts to a defiant Gopi (Chiranjeevi) under interrogation at the police station. Gopi is taken to the office and something makes him so mad he actually flips a table. Then he beats everyone up, has a few choice words for the key players, and gets back into his cell. The film then moves to a long flashback, explaining who Gopi is and how he came to be in the lock-up.

Radha is the daughter of local bigwig and furry suited villain Surya Chandra Rao (Kota Srinivasa Rao). One day Gopi refuses to let her car pass his cart, and she swears vengeance. Clearly the only way this can end is in True Love.

Chiranjeevi and Bhanupriya have good chemistry, and that is tested through a long series of clashes that Radha never really wins. She goes to learn music from Gopi with the intent of punishing him for blocking the road. She storms off insulting everyone, so Gopi goes to teach her a lesson…by lassoing her car then forcing her to dance in what might be a choreographed rape threat. So she tries to run over him and kills his harmonium. So he beats her car up, egged on by the children she almost ran over too. She slaps a kid, and that is Just Too Much. But when she frames Gopi for rape, she gets the whip hand. Literally.

In turn he whips a marriage chain out of nowhere and marries her very much against her will, and as payback. Despite their relationship being adversarial at the start, Radha gives as good as she gets, at least verbally. Eventually Gopi weakens, and finally Radha has her way with him. And Radha’s song fantasies are the worst dressed by far, so there is perhaps an element of payback. At the jail she steals a few moments with him and OMG his smouldering glance is enough to trigger a hideous hat-fest of a song. Love it! She is also the one who initiates the physical relationship, so I felt that they achieved a healthier balance in their dynamic over time.

But Radha’s dad sets up a thug to kill Gopi, and after the attempt fails Asirayya (Mohan Babu) convinces Surya Chandra Rao to kill the henchman and set Gopi up for the murder.  Just as well Gopi is a one man justice seeking machine with a very bad temper!

Chiru gets to show off his athleticism in the fight scenes, throwing himself and his opponents around with verve. I like that Chiru remembers to act while fighting, so Gopi’s motivation and level of fury is always apparent. The action scenes cover a lot of ground and use lots of props, a very entertaining combination. My favourite fight was with the That Guy who wore boots so fancy I was not surprised Chiru would fight him.

There is minimal romance in the dramatic scenes, but plenty of emotion. I liked Gopi’s relationship with his family as the guys seemed affectionate and supportive of each other. But when he was angry – helpfully indicated by scenes of crashing waves – look out!

Bhanupriya is excellent as potentially unlikeable Radha. She was never beaten into submission but came around to the realisation that her dad wasn’t all that while Gopi was rather fine. Radha seemed comfortable making her own decisions, and was resolute when telling her creepy dad that Gopi was her only family and to leave her be. She remained strong through Gopi’s incarceration, even though clearly stressed and saddened by events. When his grandmother (Annapoorna) is killed, Radha is the one who colludes with Silk Smitha to get him to the funeral to light the pyre. The wardrobe department had a go at her in the songs, but she looks beautiful and elegant in her sarees. And when she faces off with her enemies, I definitely got the feeling Gopi was not the only tough nut in the family.

Silk Smitha is great as a good bad girl with an inexplicable thing for Satyanarayana Kaikala and a resourceful approach to life. I mean…of all the men in this film who I might want to get naked, he is not one. In one scene Radha is seeing a lawyer and I don’t know what he says but she starts seeing flashes of Silk which turns into this hideous song where she dances for the baddies and fondles a lot of fish.

The song is also a cover for Gopi’s family to get into villain HQ, although Asirayya sees through the unfortunate blackface disguises. And that is not even the silliest thing that happens.

The support actors generally have a reason for their existence. Satyanarayana Kaikala is funny and avuncular, Nutan Prasad and Allu Ramalingaiah are there for comedic shenanigans and heart. They even have a nice little “I’m Spartacus!” scene in an attempt to buy Gopi some time. Kota Srinivasa Rao chews the scenery and Mohan Babu is slimy and opportunistic. But you know, crocodiles aren’t that fussy about their food.

This is a highly entertaining and a perfect vehicle for Chiru and for Bhanupriya. There’s little you couldn’t predict but a few things you might not expect. And while there is a bit of clueless comedy, there is more collaboration and support when it counts. And crocodiles. 4 stars!