Jalsa

Jalsa-posterTrivikram’s Jalsa wanders all over the place with an uneven blend of romance and action packed drama. I had to check that it really was made in 2008 as the plot, and treatment of female characters, is very retro and not in a charming vintage way. Pawan Kalyan gives a good performance but unfortunately he can’t save the script and some glaring plotholes. Like the hero, Ileana D’Cruz rides out some stupid plot turns and inconsistencies in her character to hit the right notes in the more thought out scenes.

Jalsa-Prakash Raj

Sanjay Sahu (Pawan Kalyan) goes to ask his girlfriend’s (Kamalinee Mukerjee – don’t blink or you might miss her) father (Prakash Raj) for permission to marry Indu. He refuses and she is married off (to Kamal Kamaraju). Sanju goes back to his longest standing relationship, the one with the bottle. But then he meets Bhagi (Ileana) who falls for him on sight and eventually he returns her feelings. The story jumps forward and Bhagi finds out that Sanju had previously wanted to marry her sister. Naturally she is disturbed by the news, and flashes back to a history of getting her sisters hand-me-downs. Her dad assigns Pranav (Brahmi) to keep Bhagi safe from Sanju so you know this is serious. Unfortunately Pranav’s presence spurs Sanju on to some childish behaviour and the movie gets bogged down in comedy uncle shenanigans.

The first half sets up the romantic angle and then everything takes a sharp left turn as Sanju’s secret past as a naxalite is revealed. He is presented as the ‘good’ kind of terrorist who doesn’t want innocents to die. But still, he embraces violence so…. I think I find the rebel Sanju more interesting than the drunkard but I can’t say I wholeheartedly like either aspect of his character. The flashback also reveals his prior connection to Prakash Raj’s character as well as the villain Damodhar Reddy (Mukesh Rishi).

Bhagi is introduced as she plays an energetic game of squash at the gym, then races her friend Jo (Parvati Melton) to the car. They are confronted by a creep chases the terrified girls into the path of a very drunk saviour, none other than Sanju. I’m not convinced that moments after avoiding a threatened gang rape their thoughts would have turned to romance and bickering over who gets the guy. Bhagi starts out characterised as innocent and a bit dumb, but Ileana bounces daft lines back and forth with her friend Seenu (Sunil) as Bhagi tries to deal with her one-sided attraction to Sanju. Later as Bhagi becomes more assertive and playful Ileana has more fun as she plays off Pawan Kalyan, and also shows more range and depth. I quite liked Bhagi but I got the feeling the role was written piecemeal to suit particular scenes rather than conceived as a character in her own right.

Sanju is the guy who beats up all the guys who tease girls at college. It is nice that the hero defends people against bullies but I am tired of seeing women only allowed to be safe if the biggest bully lets them. He also goes on a rant about how aggravating it is that he can’t slap his future wife to control her for fear of the law and women’s groups. It was done for dramatic and ‘comedic’ purposes and it just doesn’t mesh with the thoughtful side of Sanju. He was a smart guy who chose to become a naxalite through tragic family circumstances but then seems to just forget all about it once he got into college. It really made no sense. And why does he always wander around with his belt undone? Despite my issues with the writing and the rape jokes, Pawan Kalyan is very funny in some of Sanju’s drunk monologues, with a deft balance of verbal and non-verbal comedy beats. The fight scenes are choreographed to his strengths, whether a precision martial arts style or a scrappy street brawl, and he gives them an elegance and energy that is totally missing from the lacklustre songs. I did like it when he punched a car and all the doors flew off. His choreo seems to be limited to ‘shuffle-shuffle-jiggle-wave your hands around’ but I suppose it helps him avoid direct comparisons with You Know Who.

There is a drawn out ‘comedy’ sequence where Sanju tells Brahmi’s character that he plans to drug and rape Bhagi. Then says he is only joking because it is no fun to rape an unconscious woman when you could have one running around and screaming. This kind of ‘joke’ is rife in 80 and 90s films, but at least I can pass that off as The Bad Old Days. Sanju’s plan to win Bhagi back seems to be to ruin any other chance for her until she caves in. And her sister insists Bhagi accept all this as it is Sanju’s way of expressing his love, and if a boy does that it is OK and you have to let him because he is a boy. Jalsa was made in 2008 by a smart director with a hero who is by all accounts quite intelligent so I cannot find it in me to make the same excuses for how this plays out.

One of the things I do really like is Mahesh’s laconic narration. His slightly lazy drawl hits the right notes of comedy, empathy, and sarcasm as he reveals more about Sanju than is evident in the drama.

Prakash Raj gets some nice bromantic moments with Pawan Kalyan but his character makes so many poor decisions that I lost all patience with him. Mukesh Rishi plays his usual imposing villain. He thinks nothing of killing an out of town Don on the way back to jail from his rejected bail hearing. Tanikella Bharani is creepy sidekick Bulli Reddy, his fixer. There is a tedious running gag between Sunil’s Bunk Seenu and Dharmavarapu Subramanyam’s greedy psychiatrist that I would have solved with a diagnosis of One Tight Slap, three times a day until the course is finished. Brahmi does his shtick, but is never more than mildly amusing. If you are looking for miracles to attribute to the Powerstar, he does seem to detoxify Ali who gives a fairly restrained character based performance. I generally enjoy Ali’s appearances in Pawan Kalyan’s films but typically loathe him in everything else so this is a mysterious but good thing.

Telugu Movie Science has long been on the cutting edge of creativity and the laws of physics are tested in Jalsa’s action scenes. As usual the showdowns involve an orderly lineup of hairy rowdies patiently taking turns to be beaten up. But no one can deny that disputes settled the old fashioned way – a swordfight – tend to have a definite outcome.

I can see why Powerstar fans, the most passionate movie fans EVER, often enthusiastically recommend this film. Pawan Kalyan is given ample scope to show his acting depth as well as his comedic and action chops and he really does shine in some scenes. It is just a pity that the story doesn’t really hold up and the direction seems more focussed on set pieces and not enough on bringing a balance to all the disparate elements. 3 stars.

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.

AagaduAagadu

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.

 

Okkadu

Okkadu-Poster

Gunasekhar’s 2003 film Okkadu is a beautifully balanced masala film, full of action and drama with a splash of romance and a dash of humour. Set mostly in Hyderabad’s old city, there is a strong sense of place and community and some lovely visuals. Despite being almost 3 hours long, the pace is just right and the story canters along with barely a pause. The first 20 minutes or so is almost perfection, introducing the hero and establishing his character before the real story even starts and with minimal dialogue.

Ajay (Mahesh Babu) is an academic underachiever but excels at kabbadi. He hangs out with his friends and team mates, and has a strong sense of justice if not a strong regard for rules and laws. Seeing a damsel in distress (Bhumika Chawla as Swapna), Ajay must help. And so he draws the ire of crazy baddie Obul Reddy (Prakash Raj) who intends to marry Swapna. Fleeing back to Hyderabad, Ajay tries to help Swapna leave India and also win his tournament.

This is another of those songs that could have been shot by the Hyderabad Tourism Commission – it makes the city look so enticing and diverse. I always enjoy watching Mahesh attempt classical influenced choreography. There is an air of determination and faint panic, possibly the result of a dance teacher yelling ‘Shoulders down, elbows up, stop flopping those elbows around, now double time double time double time! Is it paining? Good, then you’re doing it right’. That clip also contains a bit of Maheshian freestyling. No matter how cool a film hero may look, he’s only ever a breath away from uncle dancing.

Okkadu-city viewOkkadu-uncle dancing

Ajay is a great role for Mahesh. He is heroic in that he does what he sees as right, but he doesn’t have the usual array of super skills. He is just a guy who happens to be handy in a fight. He is a well rounded character, and his family and friends were very much part of Ajay’s life. Announced as a Krishna like figure in his first song, Mahesh delivers a lighthearted and fun performance but switches on the intensity when Ajay is on the warpath. While Ajay has Swapna hidden (in his room at home), he does remember to feed her and give her access to a bathroom and he remembers her birthday. So he is thoughtful but he does throw his weight around as all filmi boys do, and there is a slap that sparked a bit of debate between me and The Mahesh Fan. She was not a fan of the slap. I say that anyone who had to put up with Swapna and her poor decision making for so long would not be human if they didn’t want to slap her.

Okkadu-birthday suitOkkadu-not even close

No. But for for those who pay attention to such things, there is a lot of elbow on display in Okkadu.

Prakash Raj makes Obul Reddy one of my favourite filmi villains. He is so creepy and wrong, but believes he can charm Swapna despite having killed her two brothers.

Okkadu-Flirting 1Okkadu-Flirting 2

His obsession with Swapna extends to Ajay, the man standing between him and his love. Prakash Raj plays the romantic lovey-dovey dialogue with a demented flirtatiousness and like Mahesh, can bring the dark side when needed. While his antics were laughable, there was a determination that kept him from seeming a laughing stock. His fighting style was needlessly flamboyant yet got results, much like the character.

Okkadu-the planOkkadu-Telangana Sakuntala

There are even moments of pity for the bad guy as his mother (the awesomely over the top Telangana Shakuntala) clearly doesn’t think he is always manly or bad enough.

Okkadu-Bhumika face 1Okkadu-Bhumika face 2

Almost everything Swapna (Bhumika Chawla) does is stupid. She finally seems to develop a bit of a brain towards the end of the film, her coolness unsettling Obul Reddy (and his rapey plans). But that confidence seemed more to be borrowed from Ajay than due to any of her own qualities. I find Bhumika an indifferent actress and both of her facial expressions irritate me. This isn’t a challenging role but I would have liked to see someone who could add a bit more nuance to their snivelling.

Swapna did get a very pretty introductory song, and I could ignore Bhumika and concentrate on the tiny birds fastened to the set (and her) and the lovely scenery.

Mani Sharma’s soundtrack and songs work so well in Okkadu. The songs are mostly nicely picturised and generally help the story or character development to emerge. And there is a lot of dancing so that is a plus in my book. Gunasekhar makes good use of the background score and ambient noise from the scenes, with the tempo of street sounds heightening the intensity of the action. Even Obul Reddy gets a theme that is memorable and perfectly daft. The fight scenes are energetic but not too gory and I find them very entertaining. There are some nice visual set pieces that mirror other events or highlight the difference in characters too.

The old chestnut of justice vs. what is legal was given a slightly different treatment here. The ever authoritarian Mukesh Rishi plays Ajay’s dad, a senior policeman. He is out to capture a kidnapper, while his son is out to save Swapna. The priorities and conflict are clearly shown but not in too heavy handed a manner. Political corruption and the lack of independence of the police force are also shown up but it almost happens in passing, with little tub thumping about causes or society.

Okkadu-the good sonOkkadu-Overacting

The ensemble scenes are particularly good. Ajay’s mum and sister (Geetha and Baby Niharika) are less than reverent towards the son of the household and I liked their teasing banter. Ajay had a large group of friends and team mates and at critical times they stepped in to help him and give him information he needed to carry out his plans. I even laughed at some of the comedy dialogues, more because of the excellent delivery than the lines, but it is unusual for me not to look for the remote when I spy a comedy uncle.

Okkadu has it all without having too much of anything. Gunasekhar directs another excellent performance from Mahesh and the balance of serious and silly is bang on. Full on entertainment that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. 4 ½ stars! (deduction for Bhumika and her woeful expressions of woefulness and some dodgy CGI).