Varun Tej takes on the role of a soldier in the Second World War so effortlessly in Kanche that it’s hard to believe this is only his second movie. His performance is one of the highlights of a film that has at its heart a simple love story but uses a more ambitious setting to deliver a deeper social message based on the literal and psychological ‘fences’ of the title.  The story starts in Thirties India and moves to the battle torn landscape of Italy during the Second World War using flashback sequences to keep the focus on Dhrupati Hari Babu (Varun Tej) and his romance with Seetha Devi (Pragya Jaiswal). It’s an unusual backdrop for an Indian film and despite a tendency towards melodrama in the second half Kanche is one of the better films I’ve seen this year and well worth catching in the cinema if you can.

The story starts when Hari meets Seetha while they are both studying in Madrasapattinam and Hari is working part-time as a waiter in a social club. Hari is outspoken but respectful with a twinkle in his eye, while Seetha is the perfect lady, always looking absolutely stunning in elegant saris, sparkling jewellery and perfect make-up. I was a little surprised at how liberal her thinking was for a wealthy and presumably somewhat sheltered girl in 1936, but Pragya has just a touch of aloofness which gives more authenticity to her role and she certainly looks the part. The couple have sparkling chemistry together and the romance moves along with a freshness that belies the familiarity of the story. Varun plays Hari with the perfect mix of serious scholar and carefree larrikin to make him an appealing character, and gives an immediate contrast with later scenes where he is more introspective and self-contained as a soldier in the Indian Army.

Although Seetha is from a royal family and Hari is the son of the local barber, their romance blossoms while they are away from home. When they return from college however their relationship seems doomed to failure since social norms decree that Seetha must marry a man from her own class. Seetha and Hari try to enlist the help of Seetha’s brother Eeshwar Prasad (Nikitin Dheer) but he is firmly on the side of tradition and opposes the match almost more vigorously than Seetha’s father. Nikitin plays Eeshwar with a permanent sneer that looks painful to maintain and becomes almost comical with each reappearance. There are whiffs of a more rational and intelligent man but they don’t seem to be able to make it past the facial grimace and Eeshwar is too one dimensional to be completely convincing here. Sowcar Janaki has more scope as Seetha’s mother, trying to get her daughter to conform while at the same time acknowledging that as a woman she has little influence and no effective assistance to offer. I love the subtle message that Krish adds here about the role of women in Indian society which is just as effective as his more obvious statements about social divides later in the film.

The class divide isn’t enough drama for Krish though, and he adds in inter-caste rivalries in the village which increase the tension and lead to literal fences being constructed alongside the invisible social barriers to keep different groups of villagers apart. The village is split by class, caste and gender which makes for a lot to expect Hari to fix in the final half of the film!

The romance is told as flashback sequences interspersed with events on the battlefields in Italy and although the love story follows a predictable path, the rest of the film is rather more unexpected. Eeshwar is now Hari’s commanding officer and still hasn’t lost the sneer or his enmity towards Hari although the two avoid each other as much as possible. Krish doesn’t fall into the trap of making Eeshwar a vindictive bully and Nikitin does a better job in these scenes, making Eeshwar an honourable and decent man behind the curled upper lip. As events unfold, Eeshwar is forced to depend on Hari when he is captured by the German army along with the other commanding officers. Hari and a few other soldiers set out to rescue them but find themselves confronted by Nazi atrocities in a small town they pass through and need to adjust their plans accordingly.

There are a number of more subtle messages that are almost lost as Krish hammers home the point that anything can be achieved through co-operation and mutual trust. The camaraderie between the soldiers – British and Indian – is unexpected and an interesting counterpoint to the more usual rivalry and prejudice seen in other films. Hari’s letters to Seetha also provide a different view of the war and her unseen presence provides support for Hari as he struggles with the realities of the conflict.

One of my pet hates in films with foreign characters is the usually poor quality of the performances, however here the actors are good and generally appropriately cast. The commanding German officer and a family of bakers in a small Italian village are particularly effective and add credibility to this part of the film, while the various British soldiers are also all good in their roles.  The dubbing is however not as successful with a definite miss on some of the British army accents making the British General sounding more like an East End butcher rather than an officer of the British Army. There is also some confusion with the Italian villagers who speak variously in oddly accented Italian and German, although this is mostly drowned out by the Telugu voice-over. Still, overall the foreigners are much better than usual and are convincingly part of the film storyline rather than simply extras in the background for added flavour.

The pace in the second half is slower and the particularly in the final scenes the action becomes overly dramatic where less really would have been more compelling. The end is also heavy on the films message of peaceful co-existence through mutual respect and tolerance, even adding a baby called Hope just in case there could be anyone who missed the point. However despite the awkward melodrama and overly drawn out final fight scene, the story is still powerful and Varun is impressive right to the end. Definitely an actor to look out for.

With good performances, an interesting story and some clever dialogue, Kanche demonstrates Krish’s ability to think outside the norms of Telugu cinema and deliver another great film. Don’t miss it!

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum


Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum is complex, controlled, visually beautiful and highly entertaining. Taking themes ranging from corruption, environmental vandalism and the disenfranchisement of the poor to Telugu film standards of revenge and justice, director Krish keeps it all in hand, gathering momentum to the dramatic showdown.

B Tech Babu (Rana) is an actor in his grandfather’s traditional Surabhi theatre troupe, performing devotional plays as well as ones based on old films and stories. (I was delighted to recognise bits of Patala Bhairavi)  He is planning to leave the theatre and go work in the US. But Subramanyam (Kota Srinivasa Rao) dies and Babu feels compelled to ensure his final play is staged at a fair in Bellary. Devika (Nayantara) is in the region filming an expose of land grabs and illegal mining practices. She interviews workers and tracks down rural folks displaced from their lands. Boy meets girl, he is smitten, she is annoyed, but they both keep on with their work and their romantic relationship is a minor facet of the story. Their connection grows as they are thrown together under an external threat. Redappa (Milind Gunaji) is the villain of the piece. His goons threaten the theatre company and he is out to prevent any interference in his mining business so has his sights on Devika. He has a deeper tie to Babu than is initially apparent and his relationship to all the various players is gradually revealed.

It is a little complicated but I felt I followed most of the plot despite this being another Adventure Without Subtitles. I had to really concentrate on who was who, and was completely taken in by one of the plot twists until the truth was revealed. I saw this with two friends – one who dislikes seeing unsubtitled films and the other had only seen one other Telugu film – and they both found it hard going. The audience were whistling, cheering and laughing at a lot of the dialogue, real belly laughs at that, so I am looking forward to seeing this with subtitles. Hopefully the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.

KVJ backstage Babu

I think this is easily Rana’s best performance to date. When Babu’s grandfather died, there was no weeping and chest beating but a definite sadness and quiet loss. There are lighter moments and some glimpses of vulnerability as well as the heroics. Rana’s dialogue delivery and the costumes for the plays within the movie were lots of fun.

KVJ Babu takes a break

He switched between young lad about town and theatrical mode with ease. I got a sense of the character’s struggle with tradition and his fundamental sense of fair play. The fight scenes were excellent and Krish knew how to use his hero to best effect. All Rana did in one sequence was stand suddenly and the audience cheered madly as the bad guy’s knee and hip joints popped and crunched. Plus Rana has Toes of Death.

Despite his ability to carry off a choreographed fight Rana cannot do the same for the other kind of choreography. He can execute dance steps but has no timing at all. The editing was very kind, and it largely worked in Ranga Marthanda, but his shortcomings were all too evident. I wonder if now Charan and Bunny are married, they don’t have time to coach their mate. Poor Rana. But he has an excellent heroic run and he is very tall. My rowing coach used to say to me whenever I had had a disastrous training session ‘you can learn technique but you can’t learn height’.

KVJ Devika at work

Nayantara is glammed up with false lashes and shiny perfect hair, but Devika is primarily focussed on her film and the cause she hopes to help. She has some contact with the CBI and I am not sure whether they were using her to get evidence or she was informing to them. There is a tough side to her and she doesn’t just sit back and wait for the men to sort things out.

Nayantara and Rana

There is no chemistry between Babu and Devika at first as the interest is on his side and he got her offside by acting like an idiot, but it does develop. Devika described Babu to her mother on the phone but that was based on him just being in front of her and looking good so I think she was giving her mum a wishlist rather than declaring an interest. Regardless, the romance is not necessary to make the story development make sense as the characters have other motives for their actions. Nayantara conveyed a sense of purpose and resilience often lacking in filmi heroines.

KVJ Venkatesh Sameera and Rana

The music sounded too familiar at times so I wondered if Mani Sharma had recycled some of his other work. The songs pop up all over the place but they provide a timeout from the action or explain important theories like ‘media is a circus’. If you have ever wondered what Rana would look like as a dwarf, on stilts, or wearing a lilac sequinned cowboy hat ‘Spicy Spicy Girl’ will provide answers. And they solved his dancing issues by getting him to flex to the beat. Venkatesh made a guest appearance in a fun item number with Sameera Reddy and the audience went nuts. The second item was not strictly necessary (are they ever?) but Hazel Keech was just dire. Oh for the love of Helen –  hire a girl who can dance!

KVJ Theatre Company

This is such a beautiful production. Backstage glimpses of the theatre company are dominated by jewel tones, gilding and rich fabrics in honeyed light while the town scenes are sun bleached with harsh shadows. The fairground lights and shapes were used effectively without being overwhelming. The contrast between the forest and the mines could not be more pointed.  People were dressed appropriate to their characters and apart from the songs, the costume team only got away with one lurid shirt – Redappa’s main enforcer wore a fetching mauve satin with shiny spots. A special shout out to whoever designed the theatre costumes for Rana – his Narasimha look was quite something.

KVJ Rana as Narasimha

A lot of the violence was directed at mouths – people had their tongues cut out, their lips pulled at, were forced to swallow boiling water. It was disturbing at times but seemed to be a literal representation of power silencing the poor and unrepresented. The action scenes use a lot of wire work and different film techniques to heighten the drama. The climax fight merges the symbolism of Narasimha with the film hero style in extravagant and memorable fashion.

The support cast includes Brahmi in a pointless gig as a rival actor, Satyam Rajesh and Raghu Babu as members of Subramanyam’s troupe, Murali Krishna Posani as a comedy taxi driver, Adithya as Babu’s murdered father, Murli Sharma in a pivotal role and many others. I liked seeing Krish’s attention to detail in the background scenes. The Surabhi company members were often seen repairing costumes or organising props and makeup and it felt like a working theatre group.

I found Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum immensely satisfying and never dull. Krish balances dialogue driven and action scenes, and draws out the themes to make a cohesive and substantial narrative. Rana excels as the modern hero with traditional inspirations and Nayantara was appealing as a heroine with a brain. This is one of my favourite films in 2012.  I’m crossing my fingers the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.


After weeks of reading about the latest Allu Arjun film, we booked tickets to see it at a local cinema.  Booking tickets was an experience in itself.  The lovely Rama was baffled at our interest, and after speaking to us both on the phone offered his services post film to explain anything we didn’t understand as the print (he repeatedly warned us) had no subtitles.

So off we went to watch the opening night – our first Telugu movie on the big screen! Yay!

The cinema was fairly full, not totally packed,  but we were still happy to have got there early enough to be able to find good seats. We did notice quite a few sideways glances as we took our seats, since we were obviously the only non-Telugu speakers in the entire cinema. Then the lights went down, the movie started rolling and the audience started to cheer – awesome! Haven’t heard an audience reaction like this in Australia since Chak De India! Much more like going to see a movie in India, since the Bollywood viewing audiences have been very tame recently.  The cheers and whistles resurfaced every time one of the main characters was introduced, or when they did something fairly spectacular – which for Bunny, Manoj and Anushka was fairly often!

The movie follows five storylines

– Nagayya as the old man Ramulu, a weaver, whose grandson is taken away to work in a brick factory after he cannot pay the moneylender.

– Manoj Manchu plays an up and coming rock star, going against the wishes of his mother who wants him to join the army like his deceased father – a war hero

– Anushka plays Saroja, a prostitute who wants to set up her own business

-Allu Arjun is Cable Raju, a guy from the slums who is trying get enough money to buy tickets to a party to further his chances of marrying his rich girlfriend – his ticket out of poverty. Raju is a social chameleon, switching from slum to country club regular Raj at the flick of a hairband and the donning of a designer fake t-shirt. (Temple – OK maybe it was just me obsessing about the manband but it really was almost a character by itself.)






– Manoj Bajpai plays a Muslim, Raheemuddin Qureishi, trying to leave India after his wife has miscarried following an incident at a Hindu celebration in the streets.

By the interval the main characters were all on their way to Hyderabad for the final interweaving of their stories.  As the lights went up we had to answer a number of questions from people sitting near us: Why were we there? Did we understand Telugu?  Did we understand what was happening? Did we know who the actors were? And finding out that we did know the names and previous movies of a number of the actors seemed to totally amaze everyone!

In fact we were coping with the lack of subtitles pretty well – Krish managed to get his message across so that even without the dialogue it was pretty clear what was happening.  The only thing I guess we were missing was the comedy, but we knew to laugh as soon as Brahmi’s bald spot appeared!

So overall this was just such an excellent experience, the crowd were really behind the movie; yelling and whistling pretty much the whole way through.  The stories were all easy to follow at least in a broad sense without subtitles, and the actors all did a great job.  Manoj was arrogant enough to be a rock star, Anushka was believable as a prostitute particularly in looking beautiful, affordable and not overly glamorised, the plight of Nagaya’s family tugged at the heart strings, and of course Manoj Bajpai and Allu Arjun drew our attention every time they were on screen.

Bunny was fantastic as the guy trying to get the money (and being spectacularly inept in his efforts at turning to crime) and in the second half he was just so believable as he battled with his conflicting emotions. (Heather -OK – so I’m a big Bunny fan – of course I’m going to pay more attention to his scenes!!) The scene where Raju struggled with Ramulu, holding back his strength, trying to win without physically hurting the old man, was so intense.  Bunny managed to show the conflict his character felt and we all felt his despair at what he had done. Contrast this with the joyful peek-a-boo scene after his redemption, and the range of emotions and engagement was just exhilarating.

We enjoyed it so much that a week later when there were some extra showings ‘by public demand’ we went back to do it all over again.

The second time round, because we knew the story, we didn’t have to concentrate so much on what was happening.  We could focus more on the performances of the actors  and totally enjoy the songs and the dancing.  Saroja’s song in the brothel was a perfect filmi moment – it felt random, spontaneous, a bit ragged round the edges, and full of life.

There was still no hint of an explanation as to why Bunny was wearing a t-shirt as a shrug in his poolside cavorting, but some things don’t really need a reason. They just are.

(Shrug alert at 30 sec)

Vedam was just brilliant – an excellent choice for our first Telugu film on the big screen.  Having such a great time ensures that we will be back to watch more and more new Tollywood releases,  with or without subtitles!

Heather says: Fantastic direction by Krish – this was a really wonderful watch.  All five storylines were well developed and it was a real delight to be able to watch each character’s evolution in their journey through the film.  Allu Arjun just gets better and better as an actor – he really was the stand out for me in this film – the portrayal of his confusion as his desires fought against his basic good morals was riveting – an impressive performance!   Also have to mention first-rate portrayals by Nikki as Saroja’s friend Kapuram, and Ravi Prakash as the corrupt cop.  Manoj Bajpai’s story was perhaps the hardest to fully follow and appreciate all the nuances without subtitles, but the power behind his emotions was very clear, particularly in the last scenes in the hospital.  In summary, Vedam is an excellent interweaving of five storylines with an impressive conclusion, fabulous performances by all the actors and brilliant work by the cinematographer.  And I think I’ve managed to use every superlative there is in that sentence!  I cannot wait for the DVD release to fill in a few of the missing details and to finally understand the dialogues I see quoted everywhere online!  A full 5 stars from me!

Temple says: Without rehashing the whole plot, it is enough to say that Krish took 5 pretty typical narrative arcs and wove them together in a way that made these stories seem fresh and novel. The ending is certainly darker than most mass crowd pleasers would normally allow. In hindsight there are some beautiful little pieces of foreshadowing scattered through the early scenes – and I think its the mark of a really good filmmaker that you walk out almost replaying the whole film and saying “A-ha! That’s what that was all about”. We haven’t mentioned the supporting cast but they were uniformly good, and looked like real people. The extras casting is a strength of this film I think, as well as the bigger budget names. I am an Allu Arjun fan, I happily confess, but I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to take what could be the weakest of the plot threads and make it seem real and engaging. His comic timing and spontaneity worked to great effect in the role of Raju. I am  really looking forward to seeing this on DVD so I can pick up more of  the subtleties of dialogue. Maybe it will seem like a different film? Who knows! For now, I give this 4 and a half stars ( I am deducting points for the manband. I am taking a stand.Heather points out that anyone who can wear a manband and NOT look like Abhishek should be applauded. I remain unconvinced.)