Aagadu (2014)

Aagadu

After the major disappointment of missing 1-Nenokkadine, it felt as if it had been a very long time since I’d been able to indulge in the wonders of Mahesh on the big screen. As an added bonus Aagadu was being shown in my local cinema, the wonderful single-screened art deco Astor, which has the luxury of a dress circle and velveteen-couches for lounging while waiting to get into the auditorium. Plus the bonus of subtitles!

Going to the Astor is always an ‘experience’ and even more so for Mahesh.  There were massive posters with accompanying garlands, samosas for sale in the foyer, and even that rarest of things – allocated seating! Regular visitors to Telugu film nights in Melbourne will understand what revelation this was – no pushing and shoving to get in and try to find a seat that hasn’t been ‘saved’ by the first twenty people through the doors? Not this time! First night, first show and there was an orderly ticket collection queue, a leisurely stroll to your seat (with ushers!) and plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere with the sell-out crowd.

Aagadu

Aagadu sees Mahesh reunited with Dookudu director Srinu Vaitla, although the partnership doesn’t deliver such an entertaining film this time round.  Along with a number of familiar faces in similar roles, the usual mass themes pop up time and time again, so the plot feels tired even before it gets past the first half hour.  Still, it starts off well enough. Young Shankar is rescued from the streets by Police Inspector Raja Ram (Rajendra Prasad) who adopts him into his household based on Shankar’s non-tolerance approach to crime. Naturally this family relationship doesn’t last long, and Shankar is cast off by Raja Ram in suitably dramatic fashion after taking the blame for something he didn’t do.

Aagadu

Despite these early troubles Shankar follows in his adopted father’s footsteps and grows up to be ‘Encounter Shankar’; a man so feared that the mere mention of his name is enough to turn big, bad gangsters into quivering cowards.  As expected once he appears on-screen, Mahesh Babu throws villainous thugs around with gay abandon while indulging in snappy dialogues and keeping his uniform creases sharp. Mahesh is in his element here and it shows. He looks even more baby-faced than ever as he single-handedly beats various thugs into submission and revels in his indestructible super-cop persona.  Pretty similar to the way he did in Dookudu really.  The opposing gangsters have learnt nothing and still tend to attack one at a time (they can’t ever watch any movies or they would know better), and there are plenty of barrels, containers, and various other items for them to crash into. The outcome is always a forgone conclusion but it is the getting there that counts, and the action scenes are excellent.

Aagadu

Encounter Shankar is sent to Bokkapatnam, where crime lord Damodar (Sonu Sood) is terrorising the locals and keeping the police firmly under his own control. Sonu Sood seems a little off his game here and is never quite menacing enough to be the big bad movie villain needed to offset Mahesh’s heroic cop. An early attempt to give him a ‘quirk’ falls flat and apart from one or two moments of sneering he’s a bland and relatively innocuous character.  Srinu Vaitla seems determined to include as much humour as possible, but his inclusion of the gangsters into the comedy motif works against any possible build-up of menace and just isn’t particularly funny.  Even Damodar’s gangster lieutenants are roped in with Raghu Babu, Posani Krishna Murali and Prabhas Seenu dropping their initial villainous personae for dumb comedy routines that do nothing to help the story.

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There is more comedy in the form of M.S. Narayana who is reasonably amusing as a data broker, although the best comedy moments go to Mahesh as he befuddles the villains with reprises of his own movies.  These gangsters really don’t seem to get out to the cinema much!  The usual suspects turn up in the support cast including Nasser who seems wasted in a role as a mildly corrupt cop, while CinemaChaat favourite Ajay fares a little better in a more serious than usual role and Vennela Kishore has a reasonable role as Encounter Shankar’s main assistant.  Brahmi turns up late in the film and it says a lot that he is sorely needed to bring some relief into an otherwise dull and predictable second half.  He plays a broker who ends up as the fall guy for the police operation, but it’s really just the usual slapstick with the addition of a reasonably funny dance mix from recent films, although even that seems a copy of a similar scene from Dookudu.

Aagadu

Tamanna plays the love interest and starts off as a relatively feisty character that seems to have potential. Unfortunately it doesn’t last, and after she succumbs to Shankar’s trite dialogue she is rewarded by relegation to appearing only in the songs.  There is absolutely zero chemistry between Tamanna and Mahesh but she does get to wear some pretty skirts and twirl around mountains and deserts while Mahesh does some enigmatic walking, so it all works out OK in the end.  I liked the soundtrack and the catchy songs are all well-choreographed and pictured, often with some very enthusiastic backing dancers.  Shruti Haasan makes an appearance in a rather athletic item number which got just as many cheers as Mahesh’s entrance, but Bhel Puri has some of the best costumes.  The backing dancers get to morph from Marvin the Martian to Jack Sparrow while Mahesh sports his classic shirt and jacket combination, although I’m not so sure about his red number with go-faster white stripes.

Overall Aagadu is disappointing, as Srinu Vaitla rehashes ideas from his previous movies and includes too much comedy and an excessive amount of punch dialogue in his formulaic screenplay.  The first half is entertaining enough, but the second half drags until the fast, final showdown which is over almost before it begins.  Mahesh is very watchable and almost manages to carry the entire film with his charismatic screen presence, but even his excellent performance and the best attempts of the rest of the cast aren’t enough to lift Aagadu above average. Best watched in a packed cinema with a large group of Mahesh fans, but in their absence, still worth watching for Mahesh, good action scenes at the start and the songs.

 

Temple says:

Aagadu is similar to other Mahesh films, particularly Dookudu, only longer and much less entertaining.

I found the first half quite dull as the slapstick and comedy uncles piled up and yet the plot never shifted gears.  The ‘comedy’ is broad and overstated – not Mahesh’s finest work. He can be very funny but Aagadu plods along, reusing the same shtick too many times, and Sankar lacks the sarcastic spark Mahesh has brought to other films (like Khaleja or The Businessman). The excessive punch dialogues were meant to be a running gag, but instead seemed a gratuitous reminder of how many other good films I could have been watching instead.  And it’s not an easy film for a new fan as the jokes are very Mahesh-centric, including a nice tribute to his dad, and would largely go over the head of anyone who wasn’t familiar with the oeuvre. The second half is more successful as Sankar FINALLY starts enacting his plans for revenge. Plus I quite enjoyed seeing Brahmi get slapped around. If I had to watch his tedious antics, I was glad to have the vicarious satisfaction of the tight slap.

Despite high production values the CGI work is often poor, both in execution and judgement, and breaks the effect of otherwise excellent action choreography. There is one scene where suddenly Sankar is CGI’d onto a tabletop during a fight and he may as well have been surrounded by a dotted line with a legend saying ‘cut here’. And the subtitles, much as I appreciate the effort, were a bit dodgy. ‘Frightended’ was a highlight, and anarchy had clearly swept through the personal pronoun department. Although I liked the description “Pant. Shirt. Shirt. Shirt.”as I think that is indeed how Mahesh dresses.

Well, at least the Astor has excellent choc-tops. And I hope that nice man The Mahesh Fan and I were talking to after the movie found his way to Doncaster.

 

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Manam (2014)

Manam

Manam is a beautiful film and a breath of fresh air in an industry usually dominated by beat-‘em-up heroes and the same old innuendo masquerading as comedy.  Featuring three generations of the Akkineni family and Nageswara Rao’s final screen appearance, it could very easily have tipped into trite sentimentality, but Vikram Kumar’s screenplay keeps the film on track with an novel storyline, sweet romances and genuinely funny comedy.  I have to admit that I almost didn’t buy a ticket when I read that Manam was being advertised as a comedy, since without subtitles most of the humour tends to pass me by (even with subtitles in some cases!) but Manam would have been a watchable and entertaining film even without subs.  As it was, being able to understand the jokes and laugh at the same time as the rest of the audience was excellent.  Long may this trend for subtitled Telugu films continue in Melbourne!

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The film starts in the 1980’s with the unhappy marriage of Radha (Naga Chaitanya) and Krishna (Samantha) who bicker and fight even on the occasion of their son’s sixth birthday.  The very next day they are both killed in a car accident, leaving the young Bittu an orphan and his wish to see them happy together unfulfilled.  This doesn’t seem to have held Bittu back however, as the film moves to the present day, and the now grownup Nageshwar Rao (Nagarjuna) is in Mumbai to receive the Businessman of the Year award.  However, on the flight back to Hyderabad, Nageshwar is seated beside a young man who is the image of his late father, and this begins his crusade to bring his ‘parents’ back together again.  Nagarjuna is absolutely perfect here and his child-like wonder at discovering ‘his father’ is brilliantly portrayed.  The scene is well written too, with the just the right amount of comedy to keep it from cloying sentimentality and Vikram Kumar even manages to make the suggestion of such an occurrence seem perfectly plausible.

Samantha and ChaitanyaManamNageshwar reasons that if his father has been reborn, then his mother must be around somewhere too, and to this end he scours the streets of Hyderabad until he tracks down Priya (Samantha) who is the image of his mother and, luckily for Nageshwar and his plans, she immediately feels a connection.  Again Nagarjuna’s determined search is neatly summarised in just a few shots and the obvious unlikely coincidences feel much less contrived than expected.  It help that both Nageshwar and Priya are very likeable characters and Nagarjuna and Samantha ensure their interactions are full of genuine warmth and respect.

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Having found his re-incarnated father and mother, Nageshwar has to find a way to re-ignite their romance.  In the midst of his attempts to bring about true love, Nageshwar finds love himself when Anjali (Shriya) commandeers his car to carry a sick man to hospital.  As it turns out, the older man is Chaitanya (Akkineni Nageswara Rao) who has seen his parents Seetharamudu and Ramalakshmi  reborn as Nageshwar and Anjali.  It’s then his turn to explain the past and try to reunite the lost lovers.

Manam

ANR is the absolute star of the show, and seems to take great delight in playing the octogenarian matchmaker.  He is mesmerising every time he appears, and his facial expressions and reactions to every other character are superb.  For his part, Nagarjuna is quietly competent as Nageshwar Rao with a subtle but effective performance, and his romance with Ramalakshmi in the second half is an absolute delight to watch.  There seems to be something in Temple’s theory that Shriya Saran’s irritation factor is related to the length of her hair, as here she has long hair and is actually pretty good.  Shriya looks beautiful and displays an engaging personality as a 1920’s traditional villager, and she is just as stunning as the cool and efficient Dr Anjali.  I vote Shriya always has long hair in her movies!

Manam

Nagarjuna and Shriya also share good chemistry together, which is sadly conspicuously absent in the romance between Samantha and Chaitanya, although to be fair the script really doesn’t ever let them develop much sparkage except in the way of confrontation.  Despite the lack of passion with Chaitanya, Samantha shines as Priya / Krishna.  She sparkles in her songs, and is full of bubbly enthusiasm as she meets Nageshwara, but her pain at her perceived husband’s betrayal is obvious as is her contempt of Chaitanya’s Nagarjuna.  Chaitanya is also better than usual, although that may be because his role mainly requires him to play a drunk and obnoxious college student which he seems to fit well.  The usual suspects pop up as various mothers, fathers, cousins etc, but do watch out for the brief cameo appearance of Amitabh Bachchan which garnered plenty of cheers from the audience.

Manam

It’s not all perfect though – the inclusion of Ali as a dance teacher is unnecessary and M.S. Narayana’s role is too obvious and crude to fit with the rest of the characterisation.  However Brahmi is good as Nagashwara’s assistant and without any misogynistic humour, he manages a restrained performance that proves he can act perfectly well when required.

Manam benefits from a sweet and  simple telling of a relatively convoluted story.  There are no exciting car chases, no big fight scenes and no cliff-hangers (even though the last few minutes attempt to raise the dramatic tension), but overall it’s an entertaining and watchable film.  All praise must go to Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Nagarjuna for their exemplary performances, but the younger generation hold their own, with even Chaitanya showing that he learnt something from the rest of his family while on set.  Definitely recommended viewing and a last performance to savour from one of the legends of Telugu cinema.

Ramayya Vastavayya (2013)

Ramayya Vasthavayya

It seems like a very long time since the last NTR Jr. film and since I read some speculation about Tarak’s ‘new look’ I was interested to see exactly what Harish Shankar had come up with.  However the ‘new look’ is really just the old look, except for the odd moment on horseback which I admit was pretty cool.  And there were some groovy new shades.  But otherwise Ramayya Vastavayya sticks to the same old formula with the usual faces reprising roles they have played a million times before. Ultimately not even the actors seem to be able to rustle up much enthusiasm and although Tarak and Samantha both work hard and deliver good performances, the film is still let down by the clichéd storyline and stereotypical characters.

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The first half of the film is generally entertaining since it focuses on the developing romance between Nandu (NTR Jr) and Akshara (Samantha).  The romance aspect was perhaps enhanced by the fans behind throwing rose petals along with the usual strips of paper, but at least it made for a pleasingly more fragrant trip back to the old Chinatown cinemas in Melbourne.  As I’ve come to expect (yawn), Nanu sees Akshara one day while hanging out with his buddies at a coffee shop and falls instantly in love.  Akshara is not quite so sure and the ensuing comedy as Nandu tries to win her heart with a variety of schemes is amusing enough to overcome the usual discomfort of the’ stalking = true love’ theme.  

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Rohini Hattangadi pops up as an aunt of some sort to Akshara and her older sister and although her role is small and fairly gratuitous she still steals the limelight every time she appears.Presumably to appeal to a wider audience, there are numerous references back to classic films, the most blatant being Tarak’s entry scene.  Most of these are fairly obvious and seem contrived to ‘fit’ into the storyline, and I’m sure there are more that I missed (hopefully more subtle) by not understanding the dialogue.  

Samantha looks gorgeous and there is only one attempt by the notorious Telugu shoe designer to make her look ridiculous so I’m presuming she must be a favourite with wardrobe.  However, Akshara is a standard Telugu heroine, whose only purpose is to make the hero look good and is otherwise completely one dimensional, which seems a complete waste of Samantha’s talents. Still, she does get to dance and there is good chemsitry between Samantha and NTR Jr. which makes their interactions more enjoyable to watch.

Tarak’s Nandu seems a fairly typical hero – there are the requisite commanding dialogues laced with a modicum of modesty and comedy, excellent dancing skills and the ability to defeat numerous opponents by the mere flexing of a muscle or two accompanied by a snarling grimace.  As always, Tarak delivers exactly what is expected of him with plenty of animation and charisma, but since he’s playing the same character he has played in his last few films it feels stale and completely predictable.  The only really up side are the songs which feature better than usual choreography and excellent dancing from both Tarak and the backing dancers.  I loved the addition of spectacles as part of the costumes for one of the songs and the music by S. Thaman was generally catchy and effective, and at least better than the recent crop of new releases.

Ramayya Vasthavayya

After the interval, Nandu moves on from bouncing people off wall, floors and sundry items of furniture to hacking people apart with increasingly bloodier and even more poorly choreographed fight scenes.  I’m not sure who is responsible for the action for Ramayya Vastavayya, but they seem to have taken inspiration from episodes of Tom and Jerry rather than anything that remotely resembles a feasible fight scenario.  The gore content rises but it’s so ridiculous that even the various severing of limbs has little impact, particularly since the fights are so obviously staged and formulaic to begin with.

Ramayya Vasthavayya

The second half also moves the action to the countryside for Akshara’s sister’s wedding and attempts to explain the antipathy between Akshara’s father Nagabhushanam (Mukesh Rishi) and two assassins (Ajay – yay!) who tried to kill him at the beginning of the film.  This involves a lengthy flashback with Shruti Haasan as Nandu’s previous fiancée Amullu, but it’s dull, overlong and Shruti and NTR Jr. have absolutely zero chemistry together.  To make matters worse, P. Ravi Shankar appears as a stereotypical evil and lecherous politician with mannerisms straight out of the ‘Villains for Dummies’ handbook and, inevitably, Kota Srinivasa Rao appears as his equally evil father. Doesn’t he ever get tired of playing the same role?  Adding to the stereotypes, Tanikella Bharani appears as Amullu’s father, Saranya Ponvannan as her mother and M.S. Narayan briefly appears in a throwaway role which adds absolutely nothing to the plot.  Harish Shankar tries to evoke American crime shows by tying together moments from the first half with explanations later in the film, but it looks clumsy and is generally ineffective.

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Ramayya Vastavayya disappointingly doesn’t cover any new ground and Harish Shankar sticks to a very well-worn formula without adding anything novel.  With such a tired screenplay and an abrupt change of pace in the second half, it’s really only the songs that appeal despite generally good performances from the actors.  NTR Jr. is as good as ever, but even with his energy and the appeal of two heroines Ramayya Vasthavayya is really a film solely for the fans.  Still, it’s worth watching at least once for the dancing, which is excellent and much better than the film deserves.