Sangarshana (1983)

I like a good socialist masala film. Sangarshana has surprisingly long interludes of sensible decision making and logical plot progression, plus loads of dancing and a very good cast. It’s highly entertaining and while the plot is fairly basic, it’s more rounded out than I expected. Lest that all sound a bit too straightforward, there are mysterious mute women, children separated at birth, a comic sideplot that hinges on romantic sabotage, family dramas, medical emergencies, flying somersaults, fight scenes and a bit of conflict resolution through disco.

Dilip (Chiranjeevi) returns from America to live with his wealthy industrialist dad (Satyanarayana Kaikala). He is a nice enough guy but used to the easy life, and can’t really understand the struggle of workers in his family factory. He believes his dad is a good guy and that the workers should trust him and remember their station in life. Eventually Dilip comes to realise that his father is more interested in money than in the means by which he obtains it. To make matters worse, the local site manager (Rao Gopal Rao) reneges on offers of compensation for injured employees and overacts wildly.

My post grad studies were in Industrial Relations and I can confidently state that I never encountered that reaction to a workplace accident in any of the cases I studied.

Dilip renews his relationship with his childhood friends Shivam (Sivakrishna) and Radha (Vijayashanti) and their father, the supervisor Mr Krishnamurthy (Gummadi).

When he isn’t prancing about reminiscing with Radha, lifelong snappy dresser Dilip is prancing about romancing Rekha (Nalini) the daughter of his dad’s local business manager. Life is all twirling around on hilltops and dancing around trees. But then other issues start to take over. Shivam starts a union and tries to get fairer conditions for the other workers. Some of his demands seemed a bit out there (workers compensations is fine, but three months bonus?), and fights the good fight. Unionisation is not ideal for the owners as regulation and systems may bring their smuggling sideline to light, and they certainly don’t want to reduce their profits.

Once Dilip realises the extent of the illegal activities and his father’s role in the shady doings, things start to get nasty. He is thrown out of home, his relationship with Rekha is threatened as her father coerces her to give up Dilip, and there is much drinking and crying.

When Dilip is framed for Shivam’s murder, Chiru dials up the heroics as he becomes a furious young man and makes his enemies sorry they ever crossed that line.

Chiranjeevi is very good as the showy Dilip who brings back expensive gifts and spouts some terrible English dialogues. He manages to be vain and likeable and the transition from easy confidence to anger and hurt betrayal is excellent. He is deliberately cheesy in some romantic scenes, adding a comic spark,  but brings genuine warmth and pathos when it is needed.

Oh those outfits make me weep, especially the poor backing dancers. But look at Chiru go! He dances up a storm and is handy in a fight. No wonder the ladies are lining up!

Sivakrishna has one expression for 80% of the film but since he plays an angry young man that works well enough. Allu Ramalingaiah is Varahamurthy, the comedy religious advisor who abets Rao Gopal Rao in his schemes. Varahamurthy has his own ideas about marrying his son Chalpai off to rich and lovely Rekha, while Chalpai has the hots for a voluptuous local girl. Those shenanigans constitute the comedy side plot and aren’t quite as painful as they might have been, although I did forward through most of it on a re-watch. Annapurna plays the mysterious mute woman who holds the key to a tangled family saga. Her revelations relieve Dilip of his sense of familial loyalty, and make him determined to bring his father and cohorts to justice.

Vijayashanti is beautiful as simple village girl Radha. She loves Dilip and has a fair number of song induced fantasies about their love. But she is a sensible and nice girl who doesn’t let romantic notions carry her away. Radha is committed to her family and to doing the right thing, and doesn’t hesitate to call Dilip on his weakness when he is wallowing in drunkenness. When she sees that rich Rekha is more Dilip’s type Radha has a talk to herself and decides she has to move on. See? Sensible.

Nalini gets less emotional range but more hideous fashionable outfits as Rekha. Rekha is pretty, a bit spoilt, but once she decides Dilip is The One, she doesn’t back away without putting up a fight. Literally – check her out in this clip.

Nalini is good but didn’t make as strong an impression as Vijayashanti despite the biffo.

K Chakravarthy provided a range of songs that suited the mood and the characters. Radha and Dilip have more traditional duets while Rekha gets a more Westernised treatment. The choreography is energetic and certainly suits Chiru who gives it his all.

I love watching that song. It comes at a high point in the story and what I really enjoy is the slightly ragged energy that makes it look like people were having fun dancing and not just thinking about it as a scene.   

The interior sets are quite fabulous. Someone on the team decided that more is more in some cases, and I enjoyed playing ‘name that knick knack’ or ‘spot the repo old master’. The dedication to clashing patterns is also quite noticeable.

The western costumes are very 80s while the rowdies dress like a blind costume designer’s hippie fantasy.

One of my few quibbles with the film is that, as a result of what I assume is slacking off by the footwear team, Dilip often wore a pair of quite drab brown ankle boots that just didn’t go with his outfits.

The plot is quite cohesive and the lead characters are engaging.  Occupational health and safety, security for families of workers, a fair go and collective bargaining are things I have an interest in, so while this is very filmi it does throw some ideas around. Issues are explored in conversations, but nothing too heavy. The actors deliver good performances with the right balance of craziness and heart. Director K Murali Mohana Rao keeps things moving along and the story plays to Chiranjeevi’s strengths. 4 stars!

Megastar Mega Style

Last year during Megabirthday I mentioned Chiranjeevi’s excellent boots. I would now like to draw your attention to another Mega Style Skill – how to wear a cape. It’s a dying art people.

Whether he is wearing a more practical, utilitarian garment or a sparkly swishy statement, Chiru has made the cape his own. It is impossible to convey his panache and flair with stills so I give you my current favourite Chiru-in-a-cape songs, in no particular order.

He sports an excellent array of wings and capes in Muttamestri (review coming later in Megabirthday week). The wings nearly got the better of Chiru when he was airborne, but he puts the Batusi to shame when he dances.

A Zorro-ish figure in classic black in Kondaveeti Donga (review on the way):

A fantasy Ye Olden Days cape (excellent boots too), from Adavi Donga (review here)

Then there’s a crocheted mini-poncho, perfect for um, space exploration. Or something.

Finally, a simple and stylish sequinned silver evening cape, perfect for romancing Sri Devi (from Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari, full review here)

I am pleased to see the Mega Boys are also having a go. Charan had a nice array of capes in Dillaku Dillaku from Racha, and Bunny tried out a beginners mini-cape in Nachavura from Badrinath. I like to picture Chiru and the boys having a little masterclass in the living room at home, swishing and prancing and sharing tips on how to manage difficult fabrics and styles. Sequinned boots optional.

What are your favourite Megastar in a cape moments?

Happy Birthday Chiru! I hope you have as much fun and happiness in your life as you give to your fans.

Challenge (1984)

Although the title conjures images of martial arts films and to me sounds as if it should be about a physical fight, Challenge begins rather conventionally with a dying mother whose son is desperate to get her medicine. However it quickly evolves into a more social drama as Chiranjeevi’s ambitious young entrepreneur Gandhi bets rich industrialist Ram Mohan Rao that he will make 50 lakh in 5 years despite his unemployed status. With Rao Gopal Rao, Vijayashanti and Suhasini Maniratnam along for his journey from rags to riches the film touches on poverty and unemployment, workers’ rights and even industrial espionage as Gandhi rises to his Challenge.

The opening scenes introduce Gandhi as a smart but penniless man who isn’t the type to back down or give up easily.  After his mother dies, he uses his intelligence to wheedle money for her funeral from Ram Mohan Rao’s daughter; but for all of his brain power Gandhi isn’t very canny and is easily swindled out of his windfall by the hospital mortuary attendant (Sai Kumar).

Although this introduces Mohan Rao and his ‘money can buy anything’ approach to life as well as his beautiful and more compassionate daughter Harika (Vijayashanti), both the money and Gandhi’s speech to the attendant become important towards the end of the film. I haven’t been able to read Yandamoori Virendranath’s original story but the screenplay uses a number of such incidents where apparently trivial events are used to illustrate different facets of Gandhi’s character and their importance to the plot only becomes apparent later on. It’s all very cleverly done, and I did have to go back and re-watch some of these early scenes to pick up on all the details, although perhaps I was just a little distracted by Chiranjeevi’s dancing!

Gandhi is a graduate with a first class degree and somehow feels that this means the government owes him a job. In fact he’s quite belligerent about his lack of employment but is rather taken aback when Lakshmi (Suhasini Maniratnam), a girl he has rescued from the river, takes him to task about his attitude.  It turns out that Lakshmi is a graduate herself, but rather than complaining about the lack of opportunity is working in a number of different jobs to maintain her independence. Her basic belief is that it’s more important to earn a living than worry about the status of the job and since she has such a practical and pragmatic attitude also sees no problem with offering space in her house to Gandhi. Although Gandhi is initially shocked by the suggestion that he should move in with a single girl, Lakshmi solves the problem by telling him not to think like a woman which quickly stops his objections. This song is another daydream and I do like how Suhasini gets to dance on Chiru’s back!

Gandhi ends up applying for a job with Ram Mohan Rao but at the interview is humiliated by the company owner, who is furious that Gandhi sent in his application without a stamp. However Gandhi is just as angry about the trickery used in the job advert and goads Ram Mohan Rao to such an extent that he challenges Gandhi to prove that money is not important. Gandhi vows that he will earn 50 lakh in 5 years and such is his belief that Gandhi will lose, Ram Mohan Rao promises the hand of his daughter Harika in marriage if Gandhi succeeds.

Game on then!

Gandhi makes the important distinction that he will make the money legally, although not necessarily honestly and with a coin he has been given by a beggar woman, he begins his rise to riches. However, as he becomes wealthier his attitude changes and he becomes more and more fixated on the money until nothing else, including his relationship with Lakshmi, seems to matter. Indeed it’s not even the money, but rather beating Ram Mohan Rao which becomes the driving force behind Gandhi’s various plans. This then is the real challenge –can Gandhi stay true to the ideas and principles he had as a poor man or will the power of wealth corrupt his values?

Lakshmi isn’t the only woman having some issues with Gandhi’s wager. Harika is initially appalled at her father’s pronouncement but as she meets with Gandhi, she gradually falls in love with him (who can blame her!) and she actively starts to help his cause. Since Ram Mohan Rao’s first action was to rip up the contract and set his goons after Gandhi, Harika has plenty of work to do in foiling her father’s plans to ruin Gandhi’s various business ventures. While Gandhi seems determined to win the bet and therefore marry Harika, he is still living with Lakshmi – although the two seem to have a strictly platonic relationship. To add more confusion, Lakshmi’s brother Hanumantha Rao (Gollapudi) and his wife Priyamvada (Silk Smitha) move in with Gandhi and Lakshmi. Hanumantha is secretly working for Ram Mohan Rao, while Priyamvada has designs of her own on Gandhi which seem to involve a rather short red toga and a rendezvous in the desert!

Chiranjeevi is riveting as Gandhi and his portrayal of the drive and determination with which Gandhi meets his various challenges feels authentic. Chiru made me believe in every aspect of Gandhi’s moral and physical struggle and I think this is one of his best performances.  A. Kodandarami Reddy has done a great job of developing such a complex story and has put a lot of detail into the characters of Gandhi and Laxshmi to make me feel every moment of their struggles. It’s a good story too and although there are a few points that require a little suspension of disbelief, the basic theme echoes stories of personal achievement that do occur in real life. The other lead actors are all excellent.  Suhasini is perfect as the strong-minded Lakshmi and she makes the most of her well written dialogues. Rao Gopal Rao is suitably villainous as Ram Mohan Rao and although Gollapudi is fairly irritating when he tries to be funny, he doesn’t appear often enough to make it a problem. I surprised myself and recognised a young  Rajendra Prasad, who has a small but important role as one of the graduates Gandhi employs as he builds his empire. Vijayashanti looks incredibly beautiful but her character is more than just the glamour element and she too has a strong role to play.

The songs by Ilayaraja are another highpoint. Generally they represent fantasies by the various women in Gandhi’s life and the upbeat music and dancing make a good contrast with the more grim reality of the story. Vijayashanti gets the best costumes and also probably the best line in the film – Mind it! Again it’s a shame that the film isn’t in better condition but at least Challenge is available with subtitles even if they appear at times to be rather literal.

I loved this film and it’s a great way to celebrate Megabirthday! Watch for what really is an outstanding performance from Chiranjeevi and his co-stars in a cracking good story. 4 ½ stars.