Chantabbai

I was initially reluctant to watch a film billed as a comedy even with Chiru in the lead. But then I discovered Chantabbai was based on Blake Edward’s classic ‘A Shot In The Dark’ which I like, and not only does it star Chiru but also the lovely Suhasini. Then the ever helpful KB told me Chiru frocked up for a song and I was sold. And to top it all off, my favourite ebay seller BoomBox India found me a DVD with subtitles. So I would have been reasonably happy even if this was not brilliant, but guess what? It’s great fun!

It starts with cartoon titles:

Not all of them entirely suitable for children:

And more credits are painted on roads, buildings etc.  It’s a fun way to begin.

I always liked the slightly mad glitter in Peter Sellers’ eye when he played Clouseau and while that edge is missing in Jandhyala’s film there is a likeable eccentricity about the characters. Chiru’s portrayal of K Panduranga Rao a.k.a Pond…James Pond is sweet rather than insane. The subtitle team seemed to miss the mark, but perhaps they were just trying to add their own comic contribution to the often convoluted dialogue. What Chiranjeevi says is “Call me Pond…James Pond”:

Pandu is quite endearing and where Clouseau was a loner, Pandu is more of a people person. He has associates, including the omnipresent photographer sidekick Ganpathi (Suthi Velu),  he likes a girl, and of course he has his loyal servant. I always loved the scenes where Burt Kwouk as Kato would attack Clouseau and I cannot believe someone persuaded Allu Aravind to take up that role (IMDB insist it is indeed him) – and he is fantastic! I always think of him as the serious looking producer, but clearly he inherited the family comedy gene.

Suhasini is Jwala, a telephone hygienist and the object of Pandu’s affections…if she would ever shut up long enough for him to tell her.

She lives with her father (Allu Ramalingaiah) and seems to like her life and have good friends. She’s a happy girl with a bright smile and wonderfully expressive face.

Jwala is implicated in a murder and diamond theft, and PI Pandu takes her case.  The solution is arrived at via many sophisticated methods.

Chiru and Suhasini make such a nice screen couple and I greatly enjoyed seeing them in this lively romp. And you know, it leads to this lovely song which features Chiru in a pair of shoes recently discussed on this blog:

Chiru is lots of fun as the clumsy and sweet natured Pandu , obsessed with James Bond and determined to be a success.  I like his office and home decorations.

People are driven mad by James Pond and his schemes and theories that all seem to work out somehow.  They still help when he needs them, and the police do what he asks which may be a reflection on them rather than on Pond now I think of it. Bheema Raju as the police inspector looks as though he can barely keep a straight face in some scenes, and it adds to the jolly feel of the comedy. Chiru has a really nice rapport with the kids in his scenes with them, and Pandu is clearly regarded with great affection. This lacks the slightly manic edge of an Inspector Clouseau film – it’s just so nice. I mean, this is his idea of a stinging retort when he is being stood up:

Which requires a comedy song with Chiru as Chaplin! More shoes! And a tongue in cheek tribute to some of his earlier films including Khaidi.

While solving the murder, Pandu is also hired to find Jwala’s friend Dr. Nischilla’s long lost brother from her father Kongara Jaggaiah’s first relationship. There is a nice Egyptian theme to the artwork in Nischilla’s home and many people claim to be the lost Chantabbai, possibly because of the decor.

You may already have guessed who that brother turns out to be.

The discovery allows for a serious scene by Chiru as Pandu reveals how traumatised he was by being orphaned at a young age. There is a clear message about the need for people to support and help those in need and while it suited the theme of the story, the energy was suddenly a lot heavier. I found this scene surprising for the anger he expressed (briefly) in what is otherwise an amusing and lightweight film. There is also a subplot about a failed relationship of Nischilla’s which was also quite serious in tone although depicted in a stylised way. So maybe this is intended as the grown-up component of the family entertainment.

Even in a comedy film, there is apparently room for a comedy sideplot or two.  Sri Laxmi is wonderful as a would be poet who forces the newspaper editor to publish her work and try out her bizarre cooking experiments.  There is also a comedy kidnapping which is memorable for the kidnappers excellent sense of occasion:

Underneath the comedy there’s actually a well structured story that kept my attention from start to finish. The cast do a great job and are very entertaining, especially Suhasini and Chiranjeevi. Everyone looks like they had fun playing out their antics and really got into the spirit of the film. K. Chakravarthy’s soundtrack is pleasant and the songs were well placed, although they were a bit light on for dancing. If you want a slightly offbeat slapstick comedy with loads of charm I think this is a good choice. 3 1/2 stars!

Chiranjeevi: the legend, the lycra

People often ask me why I frequently feel the need to comment on Chiru’s outfits. Are they blind? Was his costume designer blind? He had an astounding array of outfits (he needed them to go with the boots) and the style to carry them all off.

He can go from this standard issue hero tight white trousers

To this extremely snug lycra and leg warmers

To this…this….

To this more traditional look for the more mature hero

But in fact, he doesn’t need much of a costume

Or need a costume at all

But you know what I always remember most about Chiranjeevi? How incredibly joyful his dancing is. I love his energy and the way he always looks like he is having the time of his life. And I love the happiness I feel when I watch a Chiru dance number.

Khaidi

Khaidi is apparently based on the Stallone film First Blood, and while that sort of helped as I watched without subtitles, the context is completely different. Where First Blood was John Rambo dealing with post traumatic stress and using his lethal skills against the former employer that had made him a killer, A Kodandarami Reddy makes Khaidi a personal drama that charts the path of a man on his own mission of vengeance. Also – the added songs and dancing were very pleasing.

The film starts with Suryam (Chiranjeevi) being picked up by the police as he is walking towards a crossroads. He refuses to tell the police anything, not even his name. He is a mysterious and silent stranger in black, and there is a disquieting fury in his eyes. When Suryam is threatened with having his moustache shaved off, he has flashbacks to some earlier torture which sets him off and he fights his way to freedom.

He is taken in by Dr Sujatha, who patches him up and tells him he needs a lawyer but it’s obvious from his expression that he intends on sorting out his problems without involving the legal system. I’m not sure if they knew each other before she found him unconscious on the street, but there is an element of sexual tension or curiosity in some of their scenes. I did enjoy Chiru’s quick peek under the blanket to see if he was decent before he tried to storm off (silently – he hasn’t spoken a word to this point).

Sujatha passes him off to nosy neighbour girl Rosie as a relative who had been in an accident, and it seems he may have found safety. She does discover he is a wanted man, and based on something in her own past (I guess) decides to trust her own judgement about him.

Finally, Suryam speaks and his story starts to emerge, partly through this surprising interlude:

Suryam is a poor boy who is pursued by, and falls for, Madhulatha (Madhavi) and based on that clip, I’m not surprised she was a bit keen.

Her wealthy landlord father is unimpressed but she refuses to consider any other man. Madhu is used to getting what she wants, and will not back down despite the consequences to Suryam or herself. She seems to be her father’s daughter as he also refuses to compromise and in true filmi fashion he decides to ruin Suryam’s family.

Suryam has witnessed his family home taken away, his father murdered, his farm sabotaged, his sister attempted suicide and was finished off by the bad guys,  and he was implicated in her death. Any one of these things might tip someone over the edge, but all of them? He is a time bomb. He has lost everything, and without the security of family and home, there is nothing to restrain him. Pursued by police and by the landlord’s men, Suryam is in a deadly cat-and-mouse game.

This was a very successful film for Chiranjeevi and by all accounts launched him into action hero territory. He is excellent as both the ordinary boy and angry man. Chiru is adept at using his eyes to express strong emotion and he switches from sorrow to implacable rage in an instant. There are lighter moments within the story although the focus is firmly on the trajectory of Suryam towards his revenge. I was highly amused by a scene where a local Romeo was sleazing on to Suryam’s sister, offering her a sari. Chiru forces the guy to change into the sari and sends him off with a flea in his ear.

The final showdown is insane and kept me on the edge of my seat as Chiru takes on the law, a band of axe wielding ‘tribal’ folk, trees that stand in his way, thugs with evil designs on Madhu, a (fibreglass) horse and eventually the bad guys all while using a range of weapons including knives, arrows, bees and guns and having survived gunshots, being set on fire and shot out of a cannon (OK I made up that last one). Whew! And I recognised much of that action sequence from Charan’s debut film, Chirutha. So why are people talking about him starring in a remake of Khaidi when…never mind. Enjoy Chiru in action mode:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madhu was a fairly annoying character and Madhavi had little to do apart from rant and pout. She looked lovely and seems to be well suited to the more aggressive roles as she has a strong physical presence. There were some positives.  As she was going to storm off after a spat Madhu shrieks and points at two snakes, then I think Suryam says something like ‘they’re too busy shagging to bother biting you…look!’ and we have this:

Awesome. A random snake dance that has NOTHING to do with anything other than the costume designer wanting to get Chiru into a pair of silver bike shorts. Bravo! Although I did realise that there may be some connection to the Jeetendra Effect as he starred in the Hindi version of this film.

I did give Madhu some reluctant applause late in the piece when she escaped her house using the old sari-as-a-rope trick. But I took it back minutes later for a lame snake wrestling scene. The woman has played a snake quite well so I expected better from her in that department. But then I cheered again when she managed to outrun several men on horses, all while keeping her wedding sari decorously tied. I think Madhavi did the best she could with a role that was ultimately just to be both the hero’s trial and his reward.

I was more interested in Sumalata as the independent and intelligent Sujatha. She stands up to her neighbour who is a police officer, and has a strong sense of justice. She seemed to be a more complete person than the rather sketchy Madhu and I found myself wondering more about how she fit into the story and I’m sure subtitles would have helped explain that. I also liked her very glam 70s house with cuckoo clock sound doorbell.

The story is predictable, as little except the body count and method of despatch is left to guess at, but there is still some suspense largely due to the intense performance from Chiranjeevi. There’s also a hefty dose of WTFery but you know, I really liked the commitment to making it memorable. If you like your films action packed and your heroes invincible, this is well worth seeing. 3 ½ stars.