Jai Chiranjeeva

K Vijaya Bhaskar’s film is a rightfully neglected effort from the latter part of Chiranjeevi’s pre-hiatus career. While Chiru’s Megastar presence is always compelling, he can’t compensate for the desultory direction and derivative screenplay. On the upside, Arbaaz Khan makes Bhoomika look like a brilliant actor so she must be happy.

Pasupathi (Arbaaz Khan), obviously EVIL, steals a cargo ship to go to Mumbai. His henchman (Rahul Dev) is waiting there (again, obvious signs of EVIL). Pasupathi demonstrates a new fancy gun with computerised target tracking, and when Ramkoti (Jayaprakash Reddy) seems mildly disbelieving he shoots a child playing some distance away in the park. EVIL.

Meanwhile 40 something year old virgin Sathyanarayan Murthy (Chiranjeevi) comes to the big smoke to stay with his relatives. Some unfunny mistaken identity shenanigans result in sexual harassment, but it’s OK because he is filthy rich. Even a comedy fall from the roof involves heroics and mild sexual harassment (stopping a robbery, encouraging a couple to get it on, copping a feel of the one who will be One of The Ones). He continually crosses paths with Shailaja (Sameera Reddy) and of course sparks of all types fly. Sometimes literally.

After a big night Sathyanarayan passes out drunk and has a long flashback to the death of his much loved niece, Lavanya. She was a pushy little minx and, sadly, also the child murdered in Pasupathi’s gun demonstration. When Sathya learns that the doctor lied to him about Lavanya’s cause of death and colluded with the gang to prevent a police enquiry, things become more dangerous for everyone. Back in the present day, the doctor’s daughter Neelima (Bhoomika) becomes involved as she seeks justice for her dad who was killed to prevent further blabbing. She ends up in a fake marriage with Sathya so he can get a visa for the USA to go kill Pasupathy.

The film should be improbable but suspenseful, but almost everyone, including Sathya, seems go off task far too easily. For someone bent on revenge and believing he is on a mission from god, Sathya is easily distracted. There is always the opportunity to bust a move or rehabilitate a child beggar by telling her not to beg anymore because it just isn’t nice for a girl to do that. Chiru has to perform every style from slapstick to smack down and he is good, as he always is. But it’s more like a series of skits so the dramatic tension is lost, and Chiru has nothing to get his teeth into except the scenery. The songs by Mani Sharma are diverting and Chiranjeevi looks like he is having fun with the choreo. The action scenes are tailored to suit him and, despite being copied badly from films like the Bond and Die Hard franchises via Jackie Chan, they are a highlight. While it’s obvious he’d been living in a good paddock and wasn’t his svelte 80s self, he really goes for it.

However the attitudes are a bit 80s and it’s very vexing. Venu Madhav chases prostitutes and rejects one who is too dark. That was supposed to be funny. Shailu’s parents say they stopped her studying because she behaved like a boy – i.e. did what she liked. Shailu decides to stage a party and make Sathya pay for his insulting behaviour. Simple country lad Sathya has to be styled up as a parody of Chiru just to get in. Luckily pub = dancing. But his (drunk) song combines bhangra beats with a warning of how drinking and partying is not for nice young ladies and they should be careful not to make their parents cry with their modern ways. Neelu’s family pressure her to leave her father’s death alone and not cause embarrassment by looking for the truth.

The two girls are the only ones with a real sense of purpose. I quite liked Sameera Reddy. Shailu was not the most realistic character but Sameera has a robust energy that stood up well against Chiranjeevi’s presence and her dodgy wardrobe. She wasn’t afraid to go for it in the dances either. I didn’t necessarily agree with her decision making but I thought Shailu was articulate about what she wanted and where she drew the line. Bhoomika used both of her expressions, and despite having the potentially more substantial role she didn’t really make much of it. Neelu was tortured, threatened, kidnapped, her poor puppy Dandy was the victim of a Fatal Attraction bunny boiler scenario, and yet I barely remember anything about her. I have better recall of her bedroom furnishings, right down to the Australia shaped souvenir on her bedside table. Neelu has reservations but is won over by Sathya’s “revenge is better than happiness” speech. Plus he promised to only kill bad people. Shailu finds out Sathya intends to marry Neelu to get a USA visa but agrees because she loves him…and makes them have a church wedding as a Hindu ceremony is only for realsies. Points for actually having the discussion I guess.

Pasupathi likes to believe he is the puppet master but while all of his plans seems grandiose, the execution kind of fizzles out. I mean, it takes a miracle from god and Lavanya but eventually Sathya notices the building sized portrait of Pasupathi on the side of a skyscraper over the road and deduces that might be the top secret HQ he has been searching for. A bomb that took several minutes to describe and would supposedly vaporise a building only set fire to a small section of the car park. If I had been Arbaaz’s school careers counsellor I like to think I would have steered him away from “acting”. But since the rest of the baddies are played for cartoonish laughs, he does kind of fit in.

Among the many interruptions to the big comeuppance there is a long comedy interlude with Brahmi. I kept shouting reminders they should be off doing revenge-y things but nobody seemed to care. Even on the way to find the baddies they had to stop for a dance break at a wedding. MS Narayana has a running gag appearance that does nothing but isn’t offensively awful. Sunil is Ramkoti’s useless son and while I find him likeable as an actor I kind of wished the death threats had come to fruition. Even Tanikella Bharani annoyed me with his turn as a travel agent. My Comedy Uncle Intolerance has not waned.

I don’t hate the film as there are enough bits and bobs that make it mildly entertaining, plus there’s Chiru. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but a Chiranjeevi completist. Watch the songs, you’ve seen the rest in one form or another. 2 ¾ stars!

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Gentleman (2016)

 

Gentleman_posterFans of the duplicate hero genre will not be surprised by the plot developments in Mohan Krishna Indraganti’s Gentleman, but it is an enjoyable film with some very good performances. Unfortunately the trailer doesn’t do the film justice. But here it is.

Aiswarya and Catherine meet on an international flight heading back to Hyderabad. In a stilted “hey I know how we can fill in the time” scene, the ladies decide to tell each other about the men in their lives.

Cathy tells her self-described cinematic story of meeting Gowtham, and falling head over heels. Now, Gowtham is the typical filmi hero stalkerish won’t take no for an answer guy, but Catherine sends him encouraging signals. Their dates are actually very cute, they have fun together, and they do seem to genuinely like each other. She had to leave him to go do a VFX course in the UK, and can’t wait to see him again.

Aiswarya tells Cathy about her perfect fiancé Jai. Where Catherine and Gowtham were endearingly real, Jai and Aiswarya are annoying, privileged and clueless. They can get in the sea. They go on a roadtrip for two days, and ostentatiously leave all their money in their checked baggage. Aiswarya makes up rules about not working or trading things for money and not calling home. This is to test them and their compatibility. So they whinge the whole way to their destination, except for a brief break for Rajnikanth impressions, and take advantage of the hospitality of poorer locals. In one of many brilliant decisions, Jai feeds Aiswarya magic mushrooms then freaks out when the hallucinogens kick in. Finally they decide they must be each other’s soulmates because really, who else could stand either of them?

Imagine Catherine’s surprise when she sees her new bestie walk up to Gowtham’s double at the airport. And imagine her shock when she goes to Gowtham’s home only to be told he was killed in an accident. Was there a connection between Gowtham and Jai? Was Gowtham’s death really an accident? What does her friend Aishu really know about the man she is going to marry? And now imagine the rest of the story! Or, just wait until the end when two characters do an awesomely committed bit of “As you know Bob” exposition and explain the entire plot for the convenience of an eavesdropping character and anyone in the audience who hasn’t worked it out.

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Niveda Thomas is fantastic as Catherine. Her acting is quite natural, and she has a healthy realistic beauty. Her chemistry with Nani was great, whether he was playing her boyfriend or the suspiciously perfect man going to marry her rich friend. When she started to question Jai’s integrity she took action herself and was as rational as someone so invested in the outcome could be. I also have to give some credit to whoever styled her for choosing a wardrobe that a normal young woman would wear instead of having her teeter around in high heels and higher skirts. Niveda has screen presence beyond what I’d expect for a 21 year old woman in an industry not known for developing actresses beyond their cup size.

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Surabhi was less impressive as Aiswarya, but that was likely due to the limitations of the character. Aishu was ignorant of the suspicions about her fiancé so was mostly the bubbly happy bride to be. She certainly looked the part of a pampered girl with an optimistic nature, and her scenes with Nani were generally good (if nauseating).

Nani’s characters developed from different directions. Gowtham was a bit of a pest who revealed his heart of gold as Cathy got to know him, while Jai started sweet and considerate, then revealed more of his ruthless side. Nani is always likeable, but he managed to make Jai creepily perfect so that everything he did after a certain point became suspicious, regardless of how innocuous it was. Even his 70s cop show blow wave seemed to indicate menace. Gowtham seemed less calculating, more of a take it as it comes kind of guy, and a bit glib. Gowtham’s fight scenes were very tongue in cheek and entertaining, which suits Nani to a T.

Sreemukhi is Nitya, a straight talking journalist who takes an interest in Jai’s business dealings and seeks Catherine out to help confirm her suspicions. They had a nice dynamic and it was good seeing another sane career woman in the ensemble. Srinivas Avasarala is good as Vamsi, Jai’s suspiciously agreeable cousin who doesn’t seem to mind being ignored continuously in favour of the golden boy. Vennela Kishore was amusing as highly strung work supervisor and Youtube legend. Tanikella Bharani has a small role as Jai’s uncle Mohan. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it gig so maybe he was just doing a favour for a mate. Vinay Varma is Catherine’s creepy uncle David, and I shed no tears for his character. This film was very smart in how it showed their relationship and Catherine’s reaction without getting into voyeuristic rapeyness. It was all wrong, and no more needed to be said. Rohini played Gowtham’s mum, and every time I see her on screen I just love her. Her acting is excellent, and she and Nani still had the rapport that I loved so much in Ala Modalaindi.

Saturday Night Fever had a dorky fun feel, with the main cast doing enthusiastically uncoordinated dancing that helped gloss over the song’s lack of freshness. Mani Sharma’s songs are standard formulaic film fare, and most add little either visually or musically. The engagement song at Aiswarya’s house (Dintaka Dintaka) was nice mostly for seeing the character actors get their moment in the spotlight.

I liked the use of graphic novel style effects in some early scenes but that seemed to go by the wayside later on in favour of standard dodgy looking breaking glass VFX and the like. Odd considering Catherine’s career, they didn’t seem to invest in getting that right.

While I was overjoyed to have subtitles, there were some silly errors in them. Broachers for brochures, one excellent instance of comma for coma, and my favourite – missionary for masonry (as in, the reinforcing rod is embedded in the missionary masonry). It did deflate a very tense scene.

See this for a complex and yet fast moving plot carried by Nani’s rock solid skills, and Niveda Thomas’ excellent heroine who does stuff that won’t make you facepalm all through the film.

Cameraman Gangatho Rambabu

CGRCameraman Gangatho Rambabu sees Puri Jagannadh teaming up again with Powerstar Pawan Kalyan for a tale about one man’s crusade against corrupt politicians with a little help from sidekick Cameraman Ganga.  I first saw CGR in the cinema without subtitles, but since the audience seemed to be appreciative of the dialogue I thought it might improve the film if I could understand what was being said.  And to some extent the DVD subtitles do help, although they also serve to highlight the silliness of the female lead character and a general condescension towards women throughout the story which is less enjoyable.  CGR is a straightforward good guy vs. bad guys story which relies on the Power Star’s presence to keep the action ticking along, but there are a few good fight scenes and some well written interactions between Pawan Kalyan and Prakash Raj in their respective roles which make it worth a watch.

CGRCGRCGRCGRRambabu (Pawan Kalyan) is a mechanic who has superhero tendencies to fight crime, a large mural of Che Guevara on his apartment wall and an idealistic view of a utopian world which he tries to make reality.  To that end he races off to beat wrongdoers into submission whenever he hears of injustice or petty crime on the news and provides assistance to widows, orphaned children and marginalised members of society whether they want it or not. Rambabu’s determination to break up a fight between two rival student groups leads him to feature on the news himself and brings him to the attention of cameraman Ganga (Tamannah).  After a brief meeting, Ganga decides that Rambabu would be perfect as a journalist and despite a conspicuous lack of any training, her station head agrees wholeheartedly giving Rambabu carte blanche to do whatever he wants as a reporter on the news channel.

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Inevitably this brings him into conflict with politician Jawahar Naidu (Kota Srinivasa Rao) who is prepared to do anything to win back the role of Chief Minister from the incumbent Chandrasekhara Reddy (Nasser).  This looks promising, but since both politicians are one-dimensional caricatures of absolute black and white they end up as rather ineffective characters.  Jawahar Naidu is evil with no redeeming features, prepared to murder, lie and cheat his way back into power while Chandrasekhara Reddy is painted as the perfect CM who is kind, compassionate and honest although at one stage he does confess to an ambition to hang onto his top spot.  Added in to the mix is Jawahar’s equally amoral son Rana (Prakash Raj) who takes over his father’s manifesto when Jawahar suffers paralysis and has to withdraw from active campaigning.  The real battle is the one that develops between Rana and Rambabu and the scenes between these two are generally the best in the film.  Prakash Raj is excellent as he sneers and schemes his way to political success and Pawan Kaylan is zealous and righteous in appropriate amounts as he counters Rana’s various plots.

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Tanikella Bharani also puts in an impressive performance as Jawahar’s brother-in-law and right hand man. He is obsequious and just a little bit creepy as he fawns over Jawahar while making sure that self-preservation is still his number one policy. I also have to mention the excellent décor in Jawahar’s house which was beautiful and made a welcome contrast to his bombastic, over-emotional and over-acted speeches.

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What don’t work as well are the interactions between Rambabu and his various work colleagues including Cameraman Ganga.  Although Ganga has equal billing on the title, in reality the character is only peripherally involved with the action of the story, and her main role is in a rather clunky romance with Rambabu.  Ganga is bratty and immature and her hearty attempts to appear as a “woman in a male dominated career” are unimpressive and implausible.  Her reaction to her rival Smitha (Gabriela Bertante) is also rather too ingenuous although I like Ganga’s accusation that Smitha is a snake.  Smitha does show a number of snaky characteristics but sadly that’s as far as any possible naga connection goes.

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 Smitha is the owner of a rival TV station who snaps Rambabu up when Jawahar forces him out of the news channel. Although I liked the overall idea of Smitha’s character and was hoping for a sharp, slightly unethical businesswoman to add another layer to the plot, the execution failed miserably and Smitha’s character was wasted as basically another love interest.

Ali appears as the head of social interest at the TV channel and there are some inane attempts at comedy which fall very flat.  Later comedy scenes with Brahmi are better, although the placement of some of these seems odd as they break into the action and slow down the film momentum just when it begins to take off in the second half.   The music by Mani Sharma is also nothing special but isn’t helped by lacklustre choreography.  Scarlett Wilson appears in a forgettable item number while the other songs are mainly pictured on Tamannah and Pawan Kalyan.  However this one featuring Gabriela is a little more interesting, since she does get to wear a large hat which seems to fit rather well with the giant mushrooms in the background and I think does help reinforce the snake connection.

The opening titles over news reels of various marches, speeches and events suggests that CGR will be a political thriller, but instead it’s a standard mass movie which doesn’t manage to break out of the usual mould.  There are some good ideas in here but the film needed better editing as it’s too long with too many irrelevant side issues which detract from the main story.  The inability of corrupt politicians Jawahar and Rana to make effective comebacks when questioned by Rambabu feels very contrived since surely politicians should be excellent wordsmiths – or at the very least have PR people who can write their speeches and stop them from speaking out of turn, while Nasser’s Chandrasekhara Reddy is improbably perfect .  The characterisation of Ganga is also irritating and Tamannah is capable of much better than this overacted and disappointing performance from her.

Cameraman Gangatho Rambabu works as a mass masala film, not as a political message movie despite Rambabu socialistic tendencies,  and as such the performances by Pawan Kalyan and Prakash Raj ensure that it’s entertaining enough for a one-time watch. It just could have been so much better. 3 stars.

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