Acharya (2022)

A movie starring both Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Mega Power Star Ram Charan was always going to be a ‘must watch’ film with the question being would it be as good as anticipated. The answer to that question is ‘sort of’ as Koratala Siva at least partially delivers with plenty of action and dancing featuring the two Mega Stars. But the story is less successful, following a predictable and rather pedestrian path. I still enjoyed the spectacle of father and son together on screen and with good choreography for both the songs and the action sequences, there is enough here to make Acharya a worthwhile trip to the cinema.

The film opens with a fairly long animated sequence explaining the history behind the twin villages of Dharmasthali and Padaghattam. At least I think that was what was happening, because the subtitles were difficult to follow and mostly didn’t make sense. But from what I could gather, the village of Dharmasthali developed after the goddess Gattamma came to Earth to defend the tribal people of Padaghattam. The villagers built a temple in her honour and continued to live a peaceful existence until the people of Dharmasthali became corrupted. In contrast the tribal village of Padaghattam still followed the traditional way of life, and still do today, producing ayurvedic medicines that they take across the river to Dharmasthali. However life is becoming more difficult for them as Dharmasthali becomes a hotbed of crime and violence and the goddess seems to be allowing her people to be attacked.

Excitingly for me, CinemaChaat favourite Ajay is playing the role of Vedanna, the leader of the Padaghattam people. Their belief in Dharma means that they are peaceful and won’t fight back when threatened, leaving them vulnerable to the corrupting influence of local bigwig Basava (Sonu Sood). I really enjoyed seeing Ajay in this more pacific role where he gets the chance to emote, conveying emotion using just his eyes and facial expressions instead of just being thug #1. I thought he was excellent here and kept smiling ecery time he appeared onscreen.

Basava is working with businessman and developer Rathod (Jisshu Sengupta) to mine the mineral resources of the region, mainly located in the virgin forest of Siddhavana. Rathod is vicious and nasty for no apparent reason, but Koratala Siva does at least give Basava a sort-of back story that involves a bad hairstyle and humiliation by the people of Padaghattam. He’s also a generally nasty character who enjoys inflicting terror and controlling everyone else around him. Basava has risen up to become the municipal chariman, which gives him control of Dharmasthali, although he still has a bad hairstyle which demonstrates that money isn’t everything as it hasn’t allowed him to find a better hairdresser.

Against the heightening tension between the temple and Basava’s thugs, a stranger arrives in town and sets up a carpenter business in Dharmasthali. Acharya (Chiranjeevi) at first seems to be a do-gooder who sets out to help the people affected by Basava’s greed, but it becomes clear that there is a deeper reason for his involvement. The second half reveals the story of Siddha (Ram Charan) and why Acharya is working to save the people of Padaghattam and Dharmasthali.

It’s a fairly standard story for SI cinema and Kortala Siva doesn’t add anything new to the tale. The hero arrives, the bad guy’s motivations are explained, and then they fight. Mix in a lot of discussion of Dharma, a dash of Temple festivals, Ayurvedic medicine and Naxalite freedom fighters and there you have it. The first half has gorgeous sets from production designer Suresh Selvarajan and cinematographer S Thirumavukkarasu makes the most of the sumptuous colours and beautiful scenery. I loved the first song  Laahe Laahe, featuring the stunning Sangeetha Krish, which bursts with colour and energy against the backdrop of the temple. And of course, add in Chiru dancing and it’s a total winner!

Siddha turns out to be the son of a Naxalite leader who was raised by the people of Padaghattam after his parents were killed. Acharya was tasked by Siddha’s father to raise his son in the movement and when Siddha is injured fighting against corruption in Dharmasthala it’s the perfect opportunity for him to go back to his roots. Ram Charan is excellent and his eyes are brilliantly expressive as he shows Siddha to be a true follower of Dharma. There are so many emotions conveyed between Siddha and Acharya just using their eyes that there is an entire section of the film that just focuses on their eyes for a good few minutes. I was in heaven! Although the story may be not be anything new, the interactions between Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi continually made me smile and lifted the energy of the film. 

The scenes where Ram Charan is dancing with Chiranjeevi are spectacular and feature plenty of Mega Star patented moves that Ram Charan performs under the approving eye of his dad. It’s really effective and I wanted to see more! The action sequences too are mostly well choreographed, apart from the finale which doesn’t work as well as the earlier pieces. In terms of spectacle and production, the film looks amazing and each set is obviously well designed and beautifully filmed. But essentially the film lacks depth. The reason for Acharya to be in Dharmasthala is revealed too late and so Chiranjeevi’s character lacks motivation for most of the first half. The second half is better and benefits from the interplay between Ram Charan and Chiru, but the finale could have been so much more if Kortala Siva had taken better care of his characters and thought more about Acharya’s motivation. 

Seasoned actors Nassar, Tanikella Bharani, Ravi Prakash and Vennela Kishore also put in an appearance and are all excellent in the type of roles they have played many, many times before. I’m not sure why Rathod’s main henchman Khilla (Shatru) had to have a deformity, but the bad guys are mostly faceless and evil because that’s what bad guys just are. Sonu Sood does his usual villain schtick effectively despite limited screentime and those dreadful wigs. But poor Pooja Hegde. After Beast I was hoping she would have a bigger role here, but she has even less to do here. Her character is mostly used as the reason for Acharya to explain Siddha’s history and apart from a song and a brief romance she barely appears in the film. 

I did enjoy Acharya and loved watching Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi together on screen. It’s unfortunate that the story doesn’t deliver the same emotional impact, but the songs from Mani Sharma are good, the action well choreographed and the dancing awesome! The worst part of the film is the subtitles which appeared to have been translated literally, and then misspelled (golry instead of glory, their instead of there – seriously did no-one check?) so that I was actually better trying to decipher the Telugu from my very limited vocabulary rather than rely on the subs. For a film with otherwise high production values, it seems such a shame to be let down so badly internationally for something like bad subtitles. So is Acharya worth watching – absolutely! Sit back, enjoy the performances and revel in the pairing of Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Mega Power Star Ram Charan.

Parugu

Parugu

Parugu is Bhaskar’s 2008 follow-up to his hit film Bommarillu and despite a rather hit and miss screenplay the movie ended up being a hit, was remade in various other languages and scored a number of awards. While the story might be nothing new and labours under every single film cliché imaginable (love at first sight, stalking = love etc), both Prakash Raj and Allu Arjun are excellent and work well together to make Parugu more watchable than the synopsis suggests. Plus the film starts with Bunny on roller skates – how can you not appreciate that!

I particularly love this song since when I can tear my eyes away from Bunny dancing, I recognise many of the locations. Plus, as always Bunny’s energy and enthusiasm is incredibly infectious, making for a great start to the film.

Sadly, the film doesn’t manage to keep the energy for long as the story moves to a village where local big-wig Neelakanta (Prakash Raj) is presiding over the marriage of his daughter Subbalakshmi (Poonam Bajwa). However, not all goes to plan as Subbalakshmi elopes with local villager Erra Babu which sets her father and his army of goons off on a rampage to find her. As part of their investigations, they pick up all of Erra Babu’s friends from the village and soon widen their search to include Sharma (Saptagiri) from Kakinada, Seenu (Chitram Srinu) in Nellore and Krishna (Allu Arjun) in Hyderabad.

Neelakanta and his brother Chinnabbayi (Subbaraju) keep the men in a shed while they continue the search for Subbalakshmi and Erra Babu, although this seems likely to backfire when Krishna engineers an escape. However, just before making it to the train and freedom, Krishna is brought up short by a girl he sees in the morning mist. He falls instantly in love and resolves not to leave the area until he discovers her identity. Naturally, the girl Krishna has fallen for is the youngest daughter of Neelakanta and she’s already having a number of issues due to the fall-out from her sister’s elopement. Through a window in the shed she pleads with Krishna and the rest of the detainees to reveal her sister’s whereabouts but instead she gets caught in a blackmail trap and agrees to help Krishna find the girl of his dreams. While the audience know that Meena (Sheela Kaur) is the girl he has fallen in love with, neither Krishna nor Meena realise until well into the film that she is the one Krishna is trying to find.

There is some comedy in the first half as Krishna hatches up various schemes to search for the girl in the woods, while Sunil and Srinavasa Reddy add some slapstick to further lighten the mood. Prakash Raj does his usual ranting as an enraged father but Bhaskar aims to show him as a more sympathetic figure and changes tack with the character in the second half.

As Krishna discovers that the girl he loves is Neelakanta’s daughter, Neelakanta finds out that it is Krishna who has helped Subbalakshmi vanish and he tortures him to find out where his daughter is hiding. This results in everyone – Neelakanta, Chinabbayi, all the various thugs, Krishna and Erra Babu’s other friends and Meena, haring off to Hyderabad on the trail of the missing couple. Krishna takes advantage of every opportunity to speak to Meera and starts to manipulate her feelings for her father to his advantage.

Meena doesn’t instantly fall for Krishna, but rather tries to keep her distance and is generally upset and confused by his attentions. Sheela plays Meena as nervous and afraid, although also somewhat gullible and impressionable. Bhaskar has given Meena and her father the same nervous mannerisms which does help link the two as a family, but Neelakanta’s decision to bring Meena with him still stands out as odd. There is some attempt to have meaningful conversations between the two, but these don’t work as well as they could, and the relationship between Meena and her father seems cold and impersonal as a result.

Meena genuinely seems scared and anxious for most of the film – afraid of her father and his goons, afraid of the men in the shed, particularly Krishna and afraid of falling in love. There is a rather bizarre song where Krishna is dressed as a mad priest and chases Meena though the canyons of Petra before she wakes up to realise it’s a dream. Bhaskar isn’t as clear here as he could have been that stalking is not the best way to a girl’s heart and for all his cheer and mostly sunny personality at times Krishna’s behaviour is quite predatory, making Meena’s fear seem quite rational. There really isn’t any good reason for Krishna to continue his pursuit of such a reluctant object of his affections, and very little basis for Meena to change her opinion. So Meena’s gradual acceptance of Krishna doesn’t seem realistic and even when she does start to warm to him, the romance generally has little sparkage. It’s left to Arjun and Prakash Raj to provide the chemistry that keeps the film going, and they both do that magnificently!

As Neelakanta gets more and more desperate, Krishna starts to realise that it’s his love for Subbalakshmi and his concern for her welfare that is driving her father to such desperate lengths. Although the change from concern about reputation and prestige to concern about his daughter is uneven and not always convincing, the change in Neelakanta does make the point that families suffer in a myriad of ways after a runaway marriage and provides the families point of view rather than the usual romantic picture of an elopement. Strangely, neither Krishna nor Meena use this opportunity to approach Neelakanta about their own love affair, which draws out the already overly long screenplay even further without adding any more substance to the plot. However it’s the interactions between Krishna and Neelakanta that make the film interesting, and both actors work well together to make their conversations and gradual acceptance of each other the best part of the film.

This is a Bunny movie and so there are plenty of opportunities for him to shake a leg and demonstrate his dancing skills. This is one of the best although the location and costumes could have been better.

Prakash Raj is in his element here. He has plenty of material to work with – all the rage and fury when his daughter runs away, slow burning anger at the men who are hiding her whereabouts and plenty of angst and remorse as he starts to fear that he as lost her forever. However, Bunny matches him step for step and together the two bring credibility to their roles that the romance and hunt for Subbalakshmi fail to deliver. It may be predictable with a total lack of empathy for any of the female roles (for which I’ve deducted a star), but Parugu does have strong performances from Bunny and Prakash Raj and the idea that elopement isn’t the solution to every problem is at least a little different from the norm. Parugu is worth watching for Bunny (of course!), Prakash Raj and the excellent dance sequences, but best to consider as an action/drama rather than as a romance to avoid disappointment. 3 ½ stars.

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!