Australian Festival of Travel Writing: the road to Tollywood

The Australian Festival of Travel Writing wrapped up last night after three days of fantastic and interesting panel discussions and workshops. I was invited to represent our blog to discuss ‘Bollywood Stories and Contemporary Indian Cool’.

Our panel moderator Roanna Gonsalves was charming and elegant, and made the panel all feel at ease. She injected some style into proceedings, wearing a beautiful blue and cream sari that contrasted with the Melbourne monochrome wardrobe.  I will admit I googled her before we met and I was very impressed by her writing. Go look at her site.

Shalini Akhil shared some moving and funny reminiscences of how Bollywood touched on many ‘firsts’ in her life, including her first time going to the cinema by herself. What was the film that made such a mark on her life? Surakksha. Still not clear? Well, Gunmaster G9 may ring a bell. Here is a clip Shalini thoughtfully sent me afterwards:

Mitu Bhowmick-Lange gave the audience a quick history of Hindi cinema, how it has changed and the development of stories set overseas that reflect the NRI experience. She ended with a song filmed in Melbourne, My Dil Goes Mmmm from Salaam Namaste, which Mitu also line produced.

And I have no idea what I said. It was lovely to look at the audience and see Heather and other friends sitting there nodding emphatically at everything I mentioned, but that’s what great friends do. Thanks guys! I blathered on but I did manage to get 3 short clips of a minute or so each into my presentation. I really wanted to show why masala films have had such an impact on Heather and me and why we love to watch them. The audience seemed particularly taken with the South Indian film clips, and we may have a few more Magadheera converts! So what did I woo them with?




The organisers were fabulous and really set me at ease, and Heather and I got some very nice comments afterwards.  It was a fun thing to do, and I am delighted that we were asked to participate.

Thanks all!


Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari

It’s Chiranjeevi’s birthday on August 22, and Bollystalgia has been leading a celebration of all things Sri Devi this week in Sridevipalooza. Then our copy of JVAS turned up in the mail. We haven’t seen the planets aligned in such a pleasing formation since we last watched Magadheera! It seems fitting to look at two of our favourites in one of their most enduring films.

A disclaimer before we begin – The only copy of this classic film we could find was a VCD with no subtitles. So we might have made up some of what follows. The picture quality was not the best so we apologise for the dodgy looking screencaps.

JVAS is a socio-fantasy starring two of our favourites, Sri Devi and Chiranjeevi. Chiru plays Raju, a  guide to the local caves, who has four orphans in his care. Sri Devi is Indraja, the daughter of Lord Indra,  who pops down to earth for a visit and to go frolicking in the snow. The two cross paths when Raju is skiing, hiking and climbing the mountains in search of a rare plant that will cure the medical condition of one of his foster children. Indraja sees Raju and accidentally drops a magical ring as she flees. Her return to earth to retrieve the ring (she can’t get back into Heaven without it) sets in motion a train of events and sparks a sweet romance with Raju and his makeshift family. The mix of characters includes the aforementioned orphans, a younger than we are used to Brahmi, a suitably villainous Amrish Puri, plus an assortment of comedians and villains.

Chiranjeevi’s Raju is the tough guy with a heart of gold. He loves his children, he protects his people, and he worships god and defends the faith. He dances, he romances and he dishooms with the very best.  He is funny, endearing, dramatic, heroic and always compelling. From his appearance dressed as Hanuman to his prancing in a silver cape and all the varied wardrobe choices in between, he dominates the screen.

His on screen relationship with the kids is sweet – he is comfortable with them, and they seem to love being around him.  As we watched without subtitles, the facial expressions and body language were really important in working out what was going on.  Chiranjeevi totally embodied the character and  his motivations and emotions were evident without being hammy or over the top. His swagger and confidence in the fight scenes made them really entertaining.  The chemistry between Raju and Indraja was very compelling.  When Indraja says “Raju is a good boy” the cut to Chiru’s eyes is all you need to see to know that Raju has ideas of being a bad boy!

Sri Devi is just beautiful, and perfect for this role. While the separate comedy track wasn’t particularly funny or comprehensible, her facial expressions and comic timing were excellent, and we can forgive anything when she dances.  She does struggle with some unfortunate 80s fashions in her “modern earth girl” avatar, but when she goes mythological, she is breathtaking.

Indraja is not the most substantial character Sri Devi has played, but she invests her with a warmth and cheekiness that is endearing.  She even manages a psychic connection with the family dog that cements her place in the household! Her machinations to try and recover her ring from Raju are amusing and her growing fondness for him seems natural and not forced. Her fear and vulnerability are played well, and she shows some steely resolve in later scenes.

The Illaiyaraja soundtrack is lovely and melodic. Andalalo is a wonderful opening to the film, and the picturisation has a pretty Disney cartoon fairytale quality that works so well in this genre. It’s not even trying to be real, just a beautiful fantasy.  Both leads are great dancers and it is a delight to see them matched together.

The chemistry between them is particularly evident in the dances, and both are given choreography by Prabhu Deva that highlights their compatibility. We don’t know why it is that Chiru, who is a stocky and not particularly tall man, can carry off some of these moves, and in lycra. We do know that he just lights up when the music begins and we can’t resist.

While the first half of the film is mostly fluffy romance, the second half is much darker as Amrish Puri plays a guru who wants to kill Indraja so he can obtain immortality. Or something (we guessed). From his sweeping entrance down a grand staircase flanked by glowing eyed skulls, to his creative use of a huge pearl on a string as a hypnotic yoyo, the presence of Amrish Puri signifies Bad Things will happen.

Events culminate in Chiru and the orphans rescuing Sri Devi and crushing the evil plot. But once things settle down, and Indraja has her key to the front door of Heaven (her ring), what will become of this little family? Raju and the kids know who she is and they accept that they will lose “their” Indraja.  Since knowing them has changed Indraja on many levels,  will she be able to leave them and return to her previous carefree existence in heaven?  You will just have to watch the film to find out.

Temple says: I had heard so much about this film, and tried for so long to get a copy that I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn’t – if anything this exceeded my hopes for great entertainment. Chiranjeevi is just awesome as Raju. He has such charisma on screen, his acting and comedy are superb and he throws himself into the dances with such enthusiasm. His chemistry with Sri Devi is perfect and adds depth to the story as their relationship progresses and his character moves from amused tolerance of crazy Indraja to a deep attachment. Despite being light in tone overall, his expression of anguish and loss when he believes he has lost Indraja is heartbreaking and makes it all feel so real. Sri Devi is , of course, perfect in a role that is tailor made for her. She switches from comedy to slapstick to elegance and back and never misses a beat. I keep reading about the possibility of Charan being involved in a remake of JVAS. Much as I am a fan of Charan, I am not sure any modern version of this could add anything to improve on the original. It really is that good.

The overall visual style is lovely, the music is perfectly matched to the film, the actors are at their peak; there is dancing, action and a fine effort by the wardrobe team. It just has everything! I can see why so many people recall this film with huge affection. It is full of heart and the good kind of sweet sentimentality. A resounding 5 stars from me!

Heather says: This is a delightful film.  There is so much to look at, with some beautiful costumes, great set design and of course Sridevi and Chiru.  Both leads are their charismatic best in this film and together create a magical feel to the story.  Sridevi is luminous as Indraja and even in her Earth avatar she creates an aura around her character.  Her comedic timing is as flawless as ever, and she portrays innocence and compassion with total ease.  The children are amazing, great performances from such a young cast – and not just token orphans either, they each did have important roles to play in the story.  And of course this film has Chiru in top form – who can resist him when he is saving the day, (and the heroine plus orphans of course) with such panache and flair.  Certainly not me!  The looks exchanged between Sridevi and Chiru as they fall in love are just sizzling and the empathy between the two when dancing put this pairing right up there with the greats for me.  Totally enjoyable film even without subtitles.  I give this film 5 stars!


Where to start? Well, after reading this awesome review by the always interesting Post-Punk Cinema Club we knew we  HAD to see this film. Hindi cinema has been disappointing of late for those of us who love full throttle all singing all dancing all biffo masala films, and we both sensed this may just hit the spot. Months of googling, emailing, staring forlornly at shop shelves here (and by Heather when in Chennai) was finally put to rest with the DVD release! Yay! We rejoiced, and we ordered quick smart (shameless plug for the excellent Raj and Bhavani DVD).  A select viewing audience was assembled (including  two Mumbai born Hindi speakers and hardcore filmi fans) and we settled in. Only to find out Heather had cheated and watched it on her own. This might have destroyed our friendship but it did have the benefit of allowing her to lunge across the couch and announce “This is VERY SIGNIFICANT!” at relevant points of the film. We are still friends.

OMG. What a ride this film was!

From the heart-string-tuggingly beautiful opening scenes to the joyous end credits, we lapped it up. We have a charismatic young hero with hair that loves a wind machine , a despicable but well accessorised villain, a heroine with some common sense but not much to do, dancing, music, explosions, swords, horses, tigers and ye olden days. And an elephant!

The story spans 400 years or so and tells of Kala Bhairava (played by Ram Charan)and his love for Princess Mithravinda (played by Kajal Aggarwal). Through the machinations of the despicable villain, Rana Dev Billa, the young couple die before they ever get their love lives sorted out and so their story is incomplete. Jump forward 400 years, and who could it be exploding off the screen riding his motorcycle through the clouds? Yes. Harsha aka Bhairava is back and that can only mean one thing. Two plus hours of getting the girl and triumphing over the forces of evil!

Mumaith Khan and her powerful chest in an unintentional(?) Baywatch Jiggle Run tribute is perhaps a sign that this is going to be one for the boys.

But the item girls are overshadowed by Ram Charan’s awesome dancing and so the eye candy quotient seems to be there for all.

One of the major disappointments in recent Hindi films is the boring montage instead of a proper multi-costumed spangly dance. Thankfully, Tollywood seems to still have a commitment to the kind of entertainment that we love. We did ponder whether it was the actors who can dance so well that makes this possible or are the actors who can’t dance so well just overlooked and never blight the viewers eye? MAGADHEERA takes full advantage of excellent backing dancers and a hero with a thoroughbred pedigree. We loved seeing Chiru turn up in his special appearance, maybe almost as much as these guys did!

In fact, we both loved MAGADHEERA so much, it has become the first step in our South Indian Cinema Induction programme. Guests are required to watch MAGADHEERA (snacks and chaat provided of course) and later they must discuss the strange allure of the Southern Hero Ishtyle. Phase 2 of the programme will be revealed in coming weeks…

Suitably inspired by David and Margaret “At The Movies”:

Heather says: Lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!  Or rather horses, tigers and (an) elephant!  This movie really has everything,  and manages to tell a rather overused storyline in such an inspired way.  There is enough comedy without it being obtrusive and annoying as I’ve found can be the case in Indian cinema.  Meanwhile the drama quotient is high, performances excellent with great casting and very good use of CGI. The dancing was awesome and technical enough to appease even those of us channeling Jason Coleman from SYTYCD.  Good guys win, bad guys don’t (eventually) and there is plenty of mayhem and blood shed in the process .  And the final song over the end credits is the best ever!!    Loved it so much I watched it 3 times in as many days, and still feel a week isn’t complete without just a little MAGADHEERA in it somewhere.  This is a full five star movie.

Temple says: What I loved about this film is the wide eyed serious commitment to the truth of the story, with no irony or raised eyebrows to undermine the impact. I had a discussion with a good friend about this – she felt it was a bit too testosterone laden and serious to be palatable as a viewer and she wanted some sign of irony. I love the all out all in drama and while there is some unintentional humour, I reckon I was laughing with the film and not at it most of the time. As a viewer I want to get swept up and dragged along by a film, I want to cheer the good guys and hiss at the baddies, I want to try and dance along and have the songs stuck in my head for ages.  I can honestly say MAGADHEERA delivers all this and more! If the number of times we paused the DVD to look at each other and just marvel at the stunts, the drama, the sheer fun is any indication, this is a classic! Go watch it if you haven’t already. Seriously – go now! I give this five stars!