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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Midhunam (2012)

Midhunam Poster Over the past few years of watching Telugu films I’ve seen Tanikella Bharani on-screen in many roles, but most usually as the sensible father or responsible authority figure providing support to the hero or heroine. He appears as such a natural actor and fits those roles so well that I was surprised to find out that he is also an accomplished writer, dramatist, poet and now film director. In Midhunam, Tanikella Bharani has adapted a short story by Sri Ramana, writing the screenplay and dialogue and also directing the film. It’s a lovely little story about an elderly couple living alone in the country that focuses on relationships and shows that love doesn’t fade with the passing of time. It’s rather unusual in that there are only two actors for the whole two hours, and the film concentrates on their day to day activities and interactions without any momentous dramas or major events. It’s beautifully done, and is well worth a watch for a well-drawn picture of a happy marriage and a glimpse of rural life.

Appadaasu (S.P Balasubrahmanyam) and his wife Buchchi (Lakshmi) live by themselves on a small farm in the country. They have five grown up children who have moved to the USA but who keep in contact with their parents by phone. The couple seem to prefer their solitude and isolation, with Appadaasu shouting at a persistent caller who keeps knocking on his door, and yelling at his son down the phone when he calls unexpectedly. Buchchi on the other hand does seem to miss her children, but doesn’t have any wish to move away from her home despite the hard work it takes to keep everything maintained. She keeps a mobile phone hidden in one of her pots in the kitchen to talk to her children without her husband’s interference, although this seems more to be a way of outfoxing her husband rather than actually something that is completely necessary.

The couple squabble incessantly about literally everything, but their arguments seem to be more as a result of knowing each other too well and being very comfortable with each other rather than from any genuine acrimony. They are like small children, pushing at each other until they get a reaction, but not taking any of it too seriously. It feels comfortable and natural, just like any married couple after a number of years together. There is also a lot of laughter as they play tricks on each other and each tries to get the upper hand. Buchchi seems to be the more sensible one but she strands her husband on a top shelf by removing the ladder so that she can make coconut chutney in peace, and teases him later on by dressing a scarecrow in his clothes. Their love for each other shines through all of the bickering and teasing, and is the central thread around which everything else is woven.

Appadaasu is a man who takes his food seriously and much of the film is either about growing food, the preparation of food or eating.

The couple harvest everything they need from their farm, and they have impressive crops which do look very appetising. In fact the major focus on food might be one of the reasons why I enjoyed this film so much! At one point one of the sons proposes that the family come home for a wedding, and Buchchi immediately starts cooking enough food to feed an army. This is accompanied a song which celebrates pickles amongst many other traditional foods and is just mouthwatering!

There is an old radio on the wall and the programs and old songs are incorporated into the film, adding to the story. Both Appadaasu and Buchchi have conversations with their cow Savithri, who is almost a third member of their family and serves as a sounding board for some of Appadaasi’s ideas.  In between all the cooking and eating, Appadaasu expounds his philosophy that retirement from his teaching job doesn’t mean that he doesn’t work. He makes sandals, cleans cotton, throws pots and does a myriad of other tasks that emphasise his practical nature and willingness to do whatever he feels his wife wants. Actually asking and doing what his wife really wants naturally isn’t an option, and Buchchi makes sure that Appadaasu knows when he’s missed the point completely.

S.P.  Balasubrahmanyam is perfect in the role of Appadaasu. He’s cheeky and mischievous but also appears suitably serious when necessary. His expressions are wonderful and he fits the part of a cantankerous but loving husband perfectly. Lakshmi is also well cast as Buchchi and is the ideal partner for S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. The two have great chemistry together and the rhythm of their dialogue sounds as if they really have been together for years. That’s down to some good writing too, but the body language, delivery and tone from both actors ensures that they do appear to have grown old together and are very familiar with each other as a result. The use of older songs helps set the mood of the story, as does the beautiful location and wonderful farmhouse. I’ve just spent a week staying at a farmhouse near Tanjore, and much of the décor was just the same as my own recent experience. The film feels authentic due to this and many other small touches which is part of why it works so well. The cinematography by Rajendra Prasad Tanikella (a relative?) is also outstanding with beautiful use of light during the night scenes and great shots of the farm and surrounds.

This is a sweet film that simply follows the ups and downs of life for an older couple and shows how a marriage might be after more than 50 years together. It’s charming and yet meaningful with the contrast between Appadaasu and Buchchi’s life and the imagined lives of their children overseas just one of the ideas explored. There is jealousy, anger, forgiveness, tenderness, love and sacrifice, all mixing together to add colour and life to the description of a successful partnership and just what that partnership really means. A beautiful film that deserves a wide audience. 4 stars.

Padayappa

Padayappa

Many thanks to regular readers Violet and KB for suggesting Padayappa (1999) when I asked for Ramya Krishnan film recommendations. I believe that director K.S. Ravikumar cast her after seeing Ammoru, and I understand why. Padayappa has an amazing cast, an often incredible story, and all the trappings of a revenge drama custom built for superstar hero Rajinikanth. It also has a strong female antagonist that was perfect for Ramya Krishnan, who won the Tamil Filmfare Best Actress for the role. The support cast includes such talented actors as Sivaji Ganesan and Soundarya, along with Manivannan, Lakshmi, Nasser and even a brief appearance by Prakash Raj.

Padayappa (Rajinikanth) comes home to attend a family wedding. He falls in love with poor but honest Vasundhara (Soundarya) however overseas educated rich girl Nilambari (Ramya Krishnan) decides she must have him for herself. Her branch of the family is riddled with self-serving weaklings and their machinations help hasten the death of Padayappa’s father, played by legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan. Padayappa stays in the village to support his mother and sister, sort out the cheating relatives, and also to try and woo Vasundhara. The conflict between Nilambari and everyone who gets in her way is the main focus, although there are the obligatory comedy tracks and lots of rousing speeches.

Padayappa-SuperstarPadayappa-Padayappa the hero

In Padayappa Rajinikanth is Superstar Rajni the Hero rather than using his considerable acting skills for a fully developed character that required any subtlety. The thing I always find admirable about Rajni is that he commits to the role and to the style of film he is in, and that conviction makes even the most preposterous shenanigans seem somehow right.

Padayappa is moral, righteous and has absolutely no self-doubt. He has all the trademark Rajni mannerisms from the snappy salute with whooshing sound effects, the cigar trick, the ability to force his enemies to attack him one by one and at a pace that allows him to win, the power to make multiple cars explode just by looking at them. There is some light and shade as Padayappa gets all silly and tongue-tied around Vasundhara, or as he grieves for his family’s losses but he is less a character and more a personification of Heroic Values.

Padayappa-against the oddsPadayappa-Flexing

Confession – I am so fond of Rajni that I really don’t care that his fight scenes are implausible or his ‘dancing’ quite terrible. But I could have done without the shirtless flexing.

I rarely take issue with the (usually considerable) age gap between Rajni and his heroines. Maybe it’s because I discovered him comparatively recently so to me he has always been an elder statesman of film. And to some extent his reputation overshadows any character he plays.  He’s Rajinikanth!

Padayappa-NilambariPadayappa-Ramya Krishnan 2

Nilambari is compelling yet totally unlikeable. A spoilt girl who never took no for an answer, Nilambari often does things more likely to be done by the hero – she stalks the hero, she grabs him and kisses him in front of everyone at a wedding then saunters off casually, she torments her rival (the lowly Vasundhara) and threatens anyone who tries to obstruct her.

Padayappa-Ramya Krishnan 3Padayappa-Nilambari and Vasundhara

Ramya Krishnan gave Nilambari a beautiful façade over a twisted and arrogant core. It is great to see an actress capable of such expression and subtlety and who is not afraid to reveal the ugliness of a character’s dark side. She took it up to Rajinikanth and more than held her own in their confrontational scenes.

Padayappa-beauty status and talentPadayappa-contrast

Nilambari’s outfits improved but her attitude never did.

There is a village tradition that couples should only marry when both want to, either through love or mutual agreement. Padayappa rebukes Nilambari saying a good woman should be well-mannered and demure, so it’s not exactly progressive but I liked seeing girls get a voice too.

Padayappa-Soundarya (2)Padayappa-awkward

Vasundhara (Soundarya) is Padayappa’s ideal woman. She is a servant in Nilambari’s household, but her family used to be wealthy. Devout and domesticated as well as very pretty, Vasundhara obviously likes Padayappa too. She and Rajni seem to have nice rapport and the courtship is more about shy conversations and sideways glances. It’s quite cute if predictable. Soundarya does well to build up a character that is only lightly sketched out by the screenplay and dialogue. I did yell at Vasundhara a couple of times to STOP TRUSTING NILAMBARI. Luckily her devotion earns her some snake assisted escapes from near certain death.

Padayappa-Soundarya

Soundarya also does an excellent job of dancing around Rajni in their songs together. She often has a cheeky smile on her face, so Vasundhara might have a colourful fantasy life to balance her dutiful side.

Padayappa-wedding wishesPadayappa-promise

The dynamic between Padayappa and Nilambari was interesting as this is an instance where the hero is quite passive. Padayappa doesn’t do anything to torment or punish Nilambari other than be happily married to the one he loves. She is insignificant to him, and that is what drives her insane.

The song picturisations have all the colour and excitement I expected. AR Rahman’s music is a good fit and his use of recurring motifs helps express the characters inner lives.

Minsara Poove sees Nilambari dancing her feelings for Padayappa as he sings for Vasundhara. It’s very pretty, apart from the bits that are happening in Nilambari’s fantasy. She really needed a better dream wardrobe designer. Suthi Suthi is colourful, with giant puppets and lots of costume changes for Soundarya and Rajni. Kikku Yerudhey is a little out of place in terms of the story and I think it was only there to get Rajni prancing about with lots of young girls (Padayappa’s daughter’s school friends) and drunk uncles. Or maybe just to let the director make his trademark cameo appearance.

Padayappa-carnage

There are fight scenes, cars stunts, a murderous cow (not a euphemisism for Nilambari) and all manner of excitement as well as the revenge and drama.

Padayappa-the dating advice committeePadayappa-advice gone wrong

Padayappa’s friends are largely there to provide comic interruptions but they also do an excellent line in relationship advice and support (and hiding behind trees).

Padayappa-Sivaji Ganesan and Lakshmi

The legendary Sivaji Ganesan had a small but pivotal role as Padayappa’s father and was still quite magnetic. Lakshmi made the most of her big scenes as the surprisingly fierce mother. The always excellent Manivannan made his character despicable and yet pitiful while Nasser was just despicable.

Padayappa-Prakash Raj

And a quite svelte Prakash Raj was a nice bonus as a police officer. The casting budget for this film must have been enormous.

At almost 3 hours Padayappa does drag occasionally but just as I was thinking that surely things must settle down, K.S. Ravikumar would ramp up the action. See it for a classic village family revenge masala style story with a first class cast and loads of colour and movement. 4 stars!