James Bond 777 (1971)

James Bond 777 DVD cover

K.S.R Doss, Superstar Krishna, Jyoti Laxmi in a double role – James Bond 777 is enormously entertaining from the funky opening music (James Bond, Triple Seven! Seven! Seven! Seveeeeen!) to the triumphant finale. And did I mention the gang of dogs who are highly skilled and organised jewel thieves?

My DVD only had the strength to share its secrets once before expiring with a load of histrionics and a strange grinding noise. The movie, missing a few songs, is online in several versions of varying quality and length (Note I screencapped from YouTube – if anyone knows who put that revolting logo on the print, please feel free to go slap them into the middle of next week for me).

Young Kishore is left orphaned after the man who will become The Boss (Satyanarayana Kaikala) breaks into the family home and kills his parents. Kishore takes off after the baddie armed with righteousness and a handy carving knife, but is wounded and thrown from the speeding car.

One alarmingly abrupt edit later, a shirtless cowboy (Shirtless, Mahesh. Your dad was SHIRTLESS) with a scar is Superstar Krishna and the theme music suggests he is James Bond Triple 7! James Bond appears to be a catchall term for a spy or intelligence officer and there is no character answering to the name, although there is some familiar music at times…Hmmmm. Krishna flings himself around with as much verve as a laid back leading man can muster, easily evading the gang who can’t shoot straight and who then wait politely for him to shoot them all in turn. It turns out that was a training exercise and Kishore has passed with flying colours. He will now go in search of The Boss to both get revenge and make the world a safer place.

Kishore disports himself with a bevy of styled up lovelies but sadly no matter what they shake or how vigorously they shake it, they can’t make his dancing actually look like dancing. Although, Krishna’s fight style is a little dancey as it seems to mostly go punch-twirl-punch-twirl so maybe the fight and dance choreographers just needed to collaborate more. I expect it is quite hard to look suavely heroic on a swing but he does his best.

Sopa (Vijayalalitha) is introduced when she sneaks up on her dad and threatens to shoot him, all in jest of course. Her dad makes a trip to Chennai and is next seen dead, in a box in the police office. In a Get Smart golden moment Kishore finds a bug planted in his mouth. And in a classic almost every Telugu film ever moment, Sopa vows to get justice.

Boss is a high tech criminal. He has a lair with all the accoutrements – Vat 69, girls looking at screens, machines that go ping, and a full array of audio-visual equipment linking him to his minions. Luckily Kishore is wise to the likes of the old exploding phone trick. Kishore does have a few tricky techie tricks of his own, and I particularly liked the watch-phone and the exploding onions. And both hero and villain are happy to go old school and use silly disguises, sleight of hand and even that filmi classic – “Snake in a Box”.

Jamila (Jyoti Laxmi) is one of Boss’s henchwoman, and she operates out of a Beauty Paraloure. A very industrial looking Paraloure, one with a branded truck. Maybe Paraloure doesn’t mean what I think they thought it meant. There is another evil henchlady, Cindy who works out of her own mini lair. She has anger management issues and a confused fashion sense, as well as excellent canine communication skillz.

Sopa and Kishore cross paths on a train, but are too busy arguing about the lights on/off etiquette of eating fruit at night to realise they have a common mission. Of course they are also staying at the same hotel, across the hall from each other. Sopa is under cover as the dancer Miss Kiss Miss, and Kishore is…Kishore. At least Sopa is well equipped for the random dance item which is an essential part of her cover.

When the dogs break into Sopa’s hotel room and menace her with their smiley faces and demands for pats and ear scratches she runs away, straight into an ambush. Luckily, Kishore is in pursuit and handily enough catches her when she jumps off a cliff pretending to have been fatally shot. Unluckily for him, she steals his motorbike and leaves him stranded. Luckily, Jamila comes by and picks him up.

Cut to Sopa pretending to be a man while talking to Boss on the walky talky while the increasingly unlucky Kishore spins around on a rapidly revolving round bed, swinging punches at assorted baddies. That Jamila, such a minx. When Sopa is chased on her motorbike, she tricks the henchmen and doubles back to steal their car. She doesn’t seem to need Kishore for much, if at all. Although she does hitch a lift with him at the end, off into the sunset, so maybe he had his uses when it came to logistics.

I could describe in detail all the brilliance of the dogs breaking into a heavily secured bank vault with naught but their briefcases, an exploding toy dog, and a whole lot of licking at complicated door mechanisms, but you really should just watch it. Go. Watch. It.

 

As seems common in B movies, the women are feisty and independent and don’t sit around waiting for some bloke to arrive. Kishore spends the whole film working within police channels, where Sopa is more DIY in her approach, and happily executes on her strategy regardless. Jamila and Cindy report to Boss but have some autonomy when it comes to how they carry out the big evil plan. Any woman who can dance in a sparkly outfit may do so, and men are excused from all but the most modest gyrations. After seeing her in Pistolwali, I am not really surprised that the only worthy adversary for Jyoti Laxmi is herself, and her catfight as twin sisters Rani and Jamila is a highlight (not just for the outfits, but that certainly doesn’t hurt).

James Bond 777-a cunning plan

There are lots of familiar-ish faces in the supporting cast, although I can’t put names to all of them and IMDB is not much help. Cindy’s role was relatively small and segregated from Jamila and the Kishore/Sopa plot. Kishore has a sidekick who has a propensity for comedy uncle shtick but also does useful things. And there are squads of ostentatiously kitted out bad guys and the usual light sprinkling of law enforcement personnel.

If there wasn’t enough to keep you on your toes in the plot, there are scenes combining rapid cuts, spinning camera work, extreme zoom, crazy angles, and some outfits and sets that made me very thankful this is a black and white film. And if you didn’t care to watch the film, it is really worth a listen. The soundtrack is funky and slightly grungy with surf guitars and brass overlayed with exuberant vocals.

I love this style of low budget high ambition spy caper, and with a likeable cast and fab soundtrack, this is pure gold. Plus did I mention the robber dogs? 4 stars!

Also – go read good friend Beth‘s review. This film deserves some love!

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Gajakesari

Gajakesari

A very big ‘thank-you’ to Roopesh and Kannada Movies Melbourne for the opportunity to see Gajakesari in the cinema here in Melbourne.  This is the first time I’ve seen Rocking Superstar Yash, and I have to say he is pretty rocking!  However the real star of the film is an incredibly well trained elephant called Arjuna, who not only steals every scene when he appears but also perfectly defines the meaning of ‘on-screen chemistry’ with his co-star.  Noted cinematographer Krishna has stepped out from behind the camera to write the screenplay and direct this action adventure, which does mean that there are beautifully framed shots throughout even if the screenplay does drag a little at times. On the plus side there is an excellent flashback to a past life which helps lift the film out of the ordinary, and the combination of good fight sequences, an entertaining storyline and a charismatic elephant make Gajakesari better than average.

Gajakesari

The story opens with the introduction of chief villain Rana (John Vijay) who intimidates the local politician into giving him the right to develop a tribal area somewhere in Karnataka.  After establishing that Rana has the nastiest henchmen and also the most googly eyes in SI cinema, the film moves location to a temple in Mysore to introduce Krishna (Yash).  Krishna is a modern guy who rides a Royal Enfield and likes to hang around with his two friends, but is about to discover that his freedom is coming to an end.  As a child Krishna was promised to the temple and is supposed to take over leadership from the current Mutt (Anant Nag), not something he has any real desire to do.  However there seems to be an escape clause – Krishna just has to donate an elephant to the temple and will then be free of his obligations.  Now I can see some of the logic behind this since an elephant would no doubt be much less trouble than a rowdy young man.  Still it seems to me that a herd of goats would possibly be more useful and easier to house than an elephant.  Regardless of convenience, the temple wants an elephant, so Krishna obediently heads up into the hills to find his pachyderm.

Gajakesari

Luckily for Krishna he easily finds a small tribal village where there are plenty of elephants and the villagers are keen to help him in his quest.  However the local elephants don’t appear to want to leave their cosy jungle and since their leader is the particularly angry and intractable Kalinga (Arjuna!), it seems likely that Krishna may have to enter the temple after all.  Krishna though, is a man who seems especially blessed by his temple gods and he manages to calm Kalinga just in time to enlist his aid in fighting off Rana’s thugs.

Gajakesari

This is the start of a beautiful friendship, based (according to the village shaman) on the circumstance that Krishna is the reincarnation of hero Baahubali and Kalinga the reincarnation of his elephant.  This leads into an excellent historical flashback with plenty of heroism and action, although the low budget costuming for the attacking army is a little disappointing.  Baahubali and his elephant look awesome though!

In the village Krishna also meets Amoolya, who ostensibly is there to record birds but really just seems to be looking for trouble.  She has a tendency to wear inappropriately short shorts around the village and while tramping around the jungle, and to add further insult indulges in patronising photography of the villagers.

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Sadly her character is poorly conceived as she looks nothing like the scientist she is supposed to be and instead is a 2 dimensional throwaway heroine with little apparent rationale for her romance with Krishna.  Amoolya does her best but there is very little she can do in such an unconvincing role while looking uncomfortable in most of the outfits.  Her best moments are in the songs where she does get the benefit of pretty and dance-friendly shoes, but it’s not enough to justify her presence in the rest of the film.

This really is Yash’s film and he is excellent in his role as Krishna.  He’s lackadaisical and perfectly casual as Krishna but takes on a completely different and more martial role when we see him as Baahubali.  The relationship between Krishna and Kalinga is the lynchpin of the plot in the second half and the two carry it off perfectly – excellent acting by Yash and great screen presence by the elephant combine to make an impressive duo.  Forget Amoolya, this is the real relationship that matters in Gajakesari!

Yash also looks great in the songs, and not just because he always matches his shoes to his outfits.  He has plenty of charm and while his Krishna appears to be a lovable rogue, he also manages to convey an innate honesty and sense of moral integrity.  No wonder his elephant loves him and the villagers rely on him to defeat Rana and save their village.

Gajakesari

Overall Gajakesari works due to Yash’s strong screen presence and a good story.  It doesn’t need the added burden of a romance, particularly when it fails to ignite and the heroine seems so completely out of place.  The scenes set in the past are definitely a highlight, but the action in the present day is almost as good, and the inclusion of an elephant as a fighting partner is inspired.  Definitely one to catch in the theatre if you can and appreciate just how much star quality one elephant can bring to a movie.

Arrambam (2013)

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Arrambam is yet another Southern Indian film to use Mumbai as its backdrop, but really this action thriller could be set anywhere and still have the same impact.  Although there are a few Mumbai landmarks seen, the story is less about the location and more about the motivations behind the lead character’s quest for revenge, so despite Om Prakash’s excellent cinematography the background just isn’t important.  The action takes off immediately from the opening frames and there’s no time to take a breather until well into the second half. It’s fast, furious and best of all lots of fun as Ajith and Arya take on corruption in politics, the police force and basically just about everywhere!  There’s an excellent extended guest appearance from Rana Daggubati and even Nayanthara gets a chance to get in on the action and show off her ruthless side.  On the minus side, the songs aren’t too inspiring and there are a few gaping plot holes, but there is enough going on to make Arrambam an entertaining mass masala flick despite the lack of logic.

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The film opens with a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this latest terrorist.  The man they are looking for is Ashok Kumar (Ajith), who has an unusual recruitment scheme to enlist the help of computer expert Arjun (Arya).  Also involved in Ashok’s master plan are his sidekicks Maya (Nayanthara) and Mango (Krishna) who assist Ashok with kidnapping Arjun and forcing him to hack into a number of computer networks.

Arrambam

Despite this rather inauspicious beginning, Arya’s character actually adds some light relief to the film, starting with a flashback sequence to explain why Ashok targeted him in the first place.  This features Arya heavily made up and wearing a fat suit as a stereotypical computer nerd at college.  Even with his daunting appearance and apparent flatulence, Arjun is still pretty popular due to his ability to hack into the college computer system and change grades as required for the other students. However when he encounters Anita (Taapsee Pannu) and decides that she is his soul mate, he’s inspired to exercise and loose the flab.

During a rather disconcerting song where a now trim and fit Arjun sprouts blue wings for no apparent reason, he manages to woo the girl and ends up heading to Mumbai for a job interview.  One which doesn’t turn out anything like the way he expected.  Arya still keeps the nerd mentality even though he’s updated his fitness levels and appears suitably geeky throughout while also managing to keep up with the action.  It’s helped by his choice of T-shirts, but he gets the attitude right and his lack of awareness of the world around him is absolutely classic. Taapsee is ditzy and rather shrill as his reporter girlfriend but thankfully she’s not on screen often enough to be too annoying.

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While Ashok keeps telling his various victims to ‘keep it simple’, he himself makes things incredibly complicated by kidnapping Arjun and using threats against Anita to force Arjun’s compliance.  The first half keeps the thrills coming as Arjun attempts to escape and inform Inspector Prakash about Ashok and his criminal activities while trying not to endanger his girlfriend.

But of course that’s only part of the story and the second half involves a long flashback where Ashok’s motives are explained and suddenly the tables are turned.  The fast pace of the first half isn’t maintained and the film slows down considerably in the second, but there are still some good action sequences including a shoot-out sequence with Ashok’s old partner Sanjay (Rana Daggubati) and a high speed boat chase in Dubai.

Arrambam

Ajith is in his element here and writer/director Vishnu Vardhan has kept Ashok’s character deliberately ambivalent while making sure he has plenty of charisma and charm.  Ashok punctuates the end of his sentences by putting on his sunnies (which at least lets you know the conversation is over), and he is always über cool and classy despite his terrorist activities.  The relationship between Ajith and Arya also works well although the sequences with Rana and Ajith stand out as some of the best in the film.  The camaraderie between the two actors feels very genuine and it’s easy to believe that they are long term friends and partners with their teasing banter and rapport during police operations.

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While Taapsee really is the drama queen the corrupt Home Minister Rane (Mahesh Manjrekar) describes, many of the other female roles have a strong presence.  Nayanthara gets to threaten, bluster and fight in many of her scenes and does an excellent job, keeping her fight sequences realistic and looking suitably athletic to carry it all off, while Suman Ranganathan is also very good in her small role.  I’m always happy to see Atul Kulkarni pop up although his role as the chief of police doesn’t really give him much scope here, and the rest of the supporting cast are equally kept mainly in the background.  Although I like Yuvan Shankar Raja’s soundtrack, the songs don’t work well in the film mainly because they disrupt the flow of the story. The item song featuring Akshara Gowda is particularly painful and seems completely pointless since it really doesn’t suit her character of the home minister’s daughter at all.  I don’t think that such a fast paced action thriller needs any songs other than the background score but at least the Holi song had more energy and made a little more sense in the context of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Arrambam.  It’s fast paced, slick and stylish with plenty of action and I loved that one of the female characters was involved in the mayhem too. You go girl! The excitement and tension of the first half isn’t sustained through the second, but with Rana added in to the mix the action is still full on. Worth watching for Ajith and Arya as long as you can ignore the lack of logic and just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Ajith boat