Roshagadu – why did no one tell me about you?

KSR Doss takes Chiru, Madhavi and Silk Smitha on a wild jaunt, and I was positively delighted to tag along. Any film that includes speedboat chases, ninjas, karate, and a hot pink sequinned cowboy suit has a good chance at winning me over. Add some feisty women, amazing and hilarious action, Chiru in a double role, and I could not ask for more. Well, except for decent print quality and some subtitles.

Sikander (Chiranjeevi) is a smooth criminal with an aversion to shirts. He seems to be taking advantage of the silliness of the two local crimelords, playing Tyagu (Thyagaaraju) and Bhayankar (Kannada Prabhakar) off each other and emerging triumphant with the loot. In his spare time Sikander frolics on the beach with a bevy of lovely ladies in retro bathers and sensible hats.

I like the bit where he rolls one of them into the water so he can sunbathe in her spot. A charmer, but not a gentleman.  But did I mention he has a lair! Concealed in a temple and only accessible via a secret and overly complicated thingie! The lock mechanism appears to rely on angle of the sun or time of day, although I have no idea why and it does rather limit the usefulness of the construction. Sikander also has a secret red book hidden in a secret (but unlocked) cupboard.

Main villain Bhayankar is prone to over-elaboration and has an addiction to the double cross that is almost endearing.  Amongst his assets, he has a gang of bikers whose jackets helpfully spell out KILL. Sikander pops out of Bhayankar’s car boot mid-execution, says hi and then takes both the money and the box. He has such swag! And Bhayankar has nothing to counter him with.

Tyagu is more bumbling than Bhayankar, although his style is far more flamboyant. I became quite fond of Tyagu’s henchman in the stripey top as he looked faintly embarrassed at the ridiculous shenanigans around him, and his outfit helped me identify which gang I was looking at.

Meanwhile on a train, Miss Neelima (Silk Smitha), a club dancer gets caught up in a smuggling racket when the contraband is hidden in her makeup case. The police find the diamonds but Sikander finds the police AND the diamonds. Neelima knows he is a fake, so now she knows she once had the diamonds, she wants them, and she knows who has them. However she does show appalling judgement by doing a Faux-gyptian club number with a toga clad man who is not Chiranjeevi. Silk is funny and fiery as Neelima and I really enjoyed seeing her in a more substantial role. She tackles the action scenes with energy and grit, and while Neelima uses her charms she is not just in the story for her looks.

Sikander and all the baddies disguise themselves to attend a wedding so they can steal the jewels. The others don’t know that Sikander has formed an alliance with Neelima. She impersonates the bride and after all the double double crosses go down, she whips off her mask, wig, and saree, and the game is afoot! There is a fun sequence of keepings off with the case full of bridal bling before Sikander finally scarpers with the haul.

After a bit of mutual keyhole peeping, a skanky dance ensues (and apologies, I can only find the Hindi version of some songs online). I like that while her dress seemed vaguely improvised and towellish, she had matching suede wedges. Very organised. I couldn’t quite work out why Neelima tipped Bhayankar off about the secret book and let him in to the swanky apartment. Sikander escapes and hands off The Book to a bloke on the roadside. The respite is brief as he is shot and his car crashes, eventually plunging into the sea, rendering him Completely Dead.

Srikanth (Chiru with a different hairdo) looks just like Sikander but spends his time dancing cutesy duets with Madhavi. She is from a rich family while he and his little sister seem to be a lot less well off. Madhavi’s character doesn’t get much screen time but she is quite interesting. She seemed quite forthright with her father when he took exception to Srikanth, and she doesn’t waste a lot of time on crying or pouting. She is ready to do what needs to be done from supporting Srikanth in his goals to kicking a few of her own.

Srikanth’s sister is set upon by sleazebags who decide rape is as good a way as any to while away a rainy afternoon. She puts up a very good fight and as her bro was out looking for her anyway, Srikanth is soon on the spot. He drives a tractor through the door and then repeatedly throws the rapists through each of the remaining walls. How did this building ever stand? Srikanth is seen by Tyagu’s men (bless that stripey man for gang identification). Bhayankar’s man saw him too so everyone thinks they have a chance at getting back at Sikander.

Neelima and Srikanth end up in Bhayankar’s lair. They put the pieces together – he is missing a significant mole so cannot be Sikander, and she is actually a police officer! Then they escape by pushing some cardboard boxes out of the way. I don’t think anyone in this film nailed the functional specs for their respective lairs. Bhayankar recaptures Srikanth easily enough and kidnaps his sister too. They tie Srikanth to the hood of a jeep and make him watch as they run over his sister. He escapes and swears vengeance.

He starts boot camp under Madhavi’s loving gaze and learns karate, perfects some Jedi mind trick to shoot things without looking at them, does motorcycle tricks, horse riding, stuff. Srikanth really embraced Sikander’s style. And sets his plan in motion by performing at the night club wearing a hot pink sparkly cowboy outfit (the video should start at the beginning of the song. Have your sunglasses ready to protect against the glare!).

And just when you think that might not work, a Ninja suited goon in the audience jumps up and runs away…But why no sign of Srikanth in pursuit?

Of course. He stopped to change into appropriate duelling attire.

Tyagu and Bhayankar join forces to get rid of pesky Srikanth. They kidnap Madhavi who had the secret red book. But Srikanth and Neelima are both in hot pursuit as the police largely stand back and let the vigilantes take care of justice. Silk is all kinds of awesome as Neelima goes to rescue Madhavi, and the ladies win their freedom. Doss throws EVERYTHING into the mix, starting with the duel and then adds a dollop of vehicular vengeance and a bit of “karate”.

The trove is revealed and baddies rejoice in their pick of the bling – but then a shot rings out. After an excellent fight with lots of polystyrene props being smashed, Bhayankar and Srikanth run off to the finale. They narrowly miss the ladies who have come to rescue Srikanth. They don’t seem too fussed and take the opportunity to beat everyone to a pulp. You go girls! But that’s not all. Let me just say the Karma Bus made an appearance. And it’s a good thing Srikanth was wearing sensible leather trousers.

This is a fun film that has little substance but a lot to enjoy. B movies often had the best heroines and I really liked Madhavi and Silk and their characters, with everything staying on the right side of improbable. Chiranjeevi is in his element as both the suave thief and the righteous hero. 3 ½ stars!

Roshagadu-Come get me ladies

Chattaniki Kallu Levu

Chattaniki Kallu Levu poster

Chiranjeevi and Lakshmi star as siblings out for vengeance against the three men who killed their father and older sister and tortured the rest of the family. Durga (Lakshmi) grows up to be a police inspector, while Vijay (Chiru) takes a more DIY approach to justice. It’s not a ground-breaking story but I liked that director S.A. Chandrasekhar kept the focus on social justice and how different laws apply to different people.

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After making an entrance swearing vengeance by two graves, Chiranjeevi is quite low key for much of the film as he only has one job. Vijay is pretty much on task for the revenge all through the story, and even his romance with Rekha (Madhavi) ties into that main plot thread. He is extremely self confident and never seems to question whether his is the right path. He often undermines his sister’s career and that seems to be OK with his mother. Vijay has no discernable occupation other than being the hero so I was a bit impatient with his attitude to Durga, but they are both obsessed with getting their own idea of justice.

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Lakshmi is Durga, a police inspector who demands that the legal system provide justice for her. She is an interesting character as she has a lot of the same traits as Vijay – the confidence, the belief that hers is the only righteous way, and putting her priority (the law) ahead of her sibling. Lakshmi mostly has to scowl and shout, occasionally breaking the routine with a bit of shock horror or a rare smile. It’s not a complex performance but I admired the strength of her character and liked that she didn’t resort to getting shrill or calling her brother for help. She took everyone on and believed she could win.

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The long suffering Ma (Pandari Bai) is often caught between her bolshie children and just seems to want a quiet life after all the death and mayhem.

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Maybe she should have given them separate bedrooms. Or less seizure-inducing décor.

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Madhavi is the nightclub dancer Rekha, and being an adventure without subtitles I think I missed the explanation about how she ended up at the cabaret. She lived with her father or maybe uncle, and seemed to have a clear delineation between work and home life.

She certainly didn’t tolerate anyone treating her as a whore and was quick to threaten any disrespect with a chappal. Madhavi and Chiru have nice rapport and I liked that Vijay seemed to accept Rekha without the need to tell her off about her situation or blame her for being a skanky item dancer. Durga doesn’t like Rekha and clearly thinks she is no better than she ought to be. The tension between the two women mostly originates in Durga’s judgemental nature. Rekha seems quite content with her lot, and is happy to abet Vijay as he realises the man who abducted and attacked her is the man with coke bottle glasses who helped kill his father.

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There are a few surprises in the plot, mostly in Vijay’s elaborate execution set-ups. He recognises his intended victims by some very odd idiosyncrasies, and uses their weaknesses. I am not sure exactly why John (Hemasundar) the very short sighted guy had pigeons, a dog and – horror of horrors – a scrawny kitten let loose in his apartment before being sent into traffic minus his glasses. I suppose it made a change from generic biffo. Janardhan (Ceylon Manohar) had a revolting habit of flicking cigar ash into his glass and drinking it, so he deserved to die just for that. But Vijay got him so drunk he was easily dealt with. I also liked that his obliging corpse would shuffle around in the bathtub to make sure it was in shot as required. The third killer Javed (Kannada Prabhakar) was a serial rapist and murderous villain, so again no need to feel conflicted over his imminent demise. The thing I found most intriguing was the unresolved conflict between Vijay and Durga. She was unapologetic and disapproving to the end, with no sign of the usual capitulation to the man of the family.

Vijay and Durga get almost equal screen time, but he gets most of the songs. Not saying that is a good thing, but I do like a bit of sequinned revenge disco, especially with disguises. Even with the, er, décor at this classy (?!) establishment.

The title song is set over a montage of contrasts between the rich and poor. And a cat and (dead) rodent. I’m used to seeing lots of chickens or rabbits in Telugu films but this one is more cat centric.

Now can anyone tell me, was 1981 a big year for the zipper in Indian fashion? Madhavi is abducted by one of the baddies and he gleefully has at her multi-zippered playsuit. Chiru sports a very peculiar onesie with feature zippers that is not exactly flattering to the stockier gentleman.

And he wears many very disappointing beige outfits, often with extensive sweat marks that seem to indicate a bit too much synthetic fibre.

The fight scenes are numerous and very energetic. There is a vague martial arts flavour to some of the fight choreography and no prop survived unscathed.

The film also uses a lot of stills montages – particularly for the final courtroom scene. I guess they ran out of Chiru hours and just decided to wing it. It works well enough, and I did find the lawyers posturing highly amusing.

Probably a film for the Chiranjeevi completists, I still found a few things that were unusual or interesting enough that I’ve been thinking about the movie for a while. So many Telugu films locate justice outside of the legal system but the sibling dynamic was an interesting lens through which to view the different perspectives. Chiru, Lakshmi and Madhavi are accomplished and deliver strong characterisations and a range of emotions. It’s not a masterpiece but it’s a good example of Chiranjeevi’s vigilante style hero that became such a trademark. 3 ½ stars!

Chattaniki Kallu Levu-Chiru

Big Boss (1995)

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I felt the need to end 2012 watching something with a quick and decisive approach to justice and guaranteed consequences for the baddies. Vijaya Bapineedu’s Big Boss delivers, albeit in a fairly slapdash manner, and is boosted by the presence of Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha in key roles. If you’re not a huge Chiru fan you could just watch the songs. Actually the opening titles almost tell the whole story. If you can tolerate plot holes, enjoy colourful dance numbers, or just like bad wigs and interior designs, this could be quite rewarding.

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Bavaraju Surendra, AKA Basu (Chiranjeevi), is an educated man who chooses revenge over a career. His father was murdered and his brother crippled in an incident many years ago, and Basu has not forgotten. Basu moves to the city to pursue his revenge. He ends up getting caught between opposing crime lords and is vigorously pursued by Roja who has set her cap at him.

Basu rents a room from a local widow (Madhavi) who is related to Roja (I never remember her character’s name). Living in this household allows Basu to see the injustices inflicted on residents of the area. He is the kind of guy who stands up for the defenceless and then berates them for letting one goon intimidate dozens of them. He has difficult relationships with his mother Thulasi (Sujatha) and sister Sumathi, and they don’t automatically accept he is right just because he is a bloke.

Chiru is mostly in action hero mode but the role does give him some sentimental moments with his ma, some silly mugging and slapstick with Roja and a bit of speechifying and social consciousness raising. It’s a tailor made package, right down to a running gag with Johnny (Ali) who believes Chiranjeevi is really Chiranjeevi.

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Thulasi reminds Basu of her dreams for the family, and won’t accept his decision to turn vigilante. When he takes her back to the old mansion she thanks him for returning her to the Hell she had escaped. Sujatha has little dialogue but a strong presence and her reactions and expressions are really effective. I wasn’t expecting a subtle filmi Ma but she is really lovely.

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Roja has the most peculiar wardrobe. I think the outfits are meant to be ‘modern’ and also represent her mental age of 9. She is constantly reprimanded by her grandmother (Nirmalamma) for not being able to tell the difference between flower and leaf and she does indeed seem a bit dim. She is all over Basu like white on rice and he just finds her irritating if not insane. Who can blame him?

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Rarely do I agree with the filmi advice to pop on a sari and you’ll snag a husband, but it really was a relief to see the end of the fruit hat.

Despite the horrors of the costume designs, Roja is at her best in the songs when she escapes her character’s childish habit of squealing. I know this is a remake but it is lots of fun.

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Varadarajulu is a slimy nasty villain, played to the hilt by Kota Srinivasa Rao. With his effete mannerisms and terrible wig he should be comedic, but he has a sadistic streak and a psycho wife in coloured contacts. He is bad news. He killed his father and brother (Basu’s father) with the help of his wife. Ankineedu (Narra Venkateswara Rao) is more sympathetic as crooks go, but his adherence to the mafia code means he is not long for this world.

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The action scenes are many and bloody. The fights are heavily choreographed and while that makes them look less realistic, they are violent. Death takes many forms. If you’re on the wrong side it is Chiru and his trusty matches as he douses the baddies with petrol. The police are corrupt and so are the lawyers. If you can’t get your own justice, forget it.

In a recent discussion with Beth and Sujoy we agreed that none of us understand why people say there is no sex in Indian films. Sex and relationships are clearly a part of this story. Consensual sex between people who like each other is not treated harshly at all. In many films, Roja would have been marked as the bad girl based on her dress, her forwardness, her dream of climbing into bed with Basu (and then telling her grandmother all about it). Grandma seems to have been a bit wild in her youth too. When Madhavi’s blouse is deliberately torn, Ankineedu is furious at his son’s behaviour while Madhavi holds her head high. Varadarajulu’s wife uses sex to lure men into helping her, Sumathi chooses a marriage as a way of escaping what she sees as a useless family. Women behave in a range of different ways and with varying degrees of ‘niceness’, but they have clear goals and feel free to go for them. Only one of those women dies – and as a mini spoiler, it had more to do with being downright evil than expressing desire. Telugu films are hero-centric, but if you watch what is happening on the periphery, sometimes there are interesting things going on.

Mind you, I cannot be certain that generosity is deliberate. Basu’s youngest brother appears to regrow a lost leg late in the film.

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And at the time the father was killed, there were two kids and I don’t think Thulasi was pregnant so I have no explanation for Sumathi. Maybe they just forgot to kill off the bad girls. Details, boring details!

The songs are a viewing highlight, and Bappi Lahiri is quite restrained. The introductory song is Chiru as seen by his fans, and I think it was filmed at an actual Mega Birthday event. Nearly all the picturisations are from Roja’s point of view, and are her fantasies. Roja escaped a bizarre assault in which creepy cop Tanikella Bharani threw a bucket of water over her before tearing her ugly skirt off to reveal an even more hideous dress underneath. Her grandmother had to explain the significance of a rain song. So Roja launched into one of my favourite rain songs, and kindly imagined Chiru tearing his own shirt off. In her dream of crawling into Basu’s bed she tears her blouse.

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After a few double entendres, this song actually makes sense (except the chicken references). I can’t explain the little people or their outfits.

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This isn’t a film that rests on nuanced performances but apart from Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha, I have to say Ali was good. He played a character rather than doing comedy, and when I saw him tied up with a time bomb stuck to his chest, I was sorry. But he IS a comedy uncle so my tears were held at bay. Allu Ramalingaiah has a small role as a deaf yet singing policeman. Tanikella Bharani overacts like his life depends on it. Despite being cartoonish there is a nasty edge to his character although he does redeem himself a little at the end. The assorted That Guys all do their thing and succeeded in being so vile I cheered as each was dispatched.

The design teams were unfettered by practical considerations or good taste. Is that a kangaroo statue I spy?

And the costume team shared the love.

The climax fight took place in a masala death trap (complete with giant gas cooker thingie) and a godown filled with rooms of things that look cool when they break. Divine intervention, Megastar powers – whatever the reason, the bad guys got their just deserts.

One for the Chiru fans. 3 ½  stars (extra for the dancing)