Gopala Gopala (2015)

film poster

Gopala Gopala, so good I watched it twice! Well, actually I would do that more often for more films if Melbourne had an extra show, which is what happened this week with Gopala Gopala. But it is a fun film and I enjoyed watching Venkatesh and Pawan Kaylan in their first movie together. I haven’t seen either the Hindi version of this movie, or the original Australian film that inspired both and that could be one of the reasons why I enjoyed Gopala Gopala as much as I did. I’ve read that this Telugu remake follows the original faithfully and as a result it may only be worth a watch if you haven’t seen OMG, or like me feel that Pawan Kalyan as God seems a more plausible choice than Akshay Kumar.

The Gopala of the title is a shopkeeper who decides to sue God when his insurance claim is rejected following an earthquake that has destroyed his livelihood. The insurance company representative points out that Gopala has signed the contract that lists (in small print) the exclusions for his insurance, including an ‘Act of God’ and since no-one else but God could have caused the earthquake, Gopala is out of luck and out of compensation. It’s a nice idea, even if the term act of god is a legal construct rather than anything remotely religious, but the film works on the premise that either God does not exist and therefore the insurance company has to pay, or God was responsible and the onus of care rests with his agents on Earth. Along the way the film questions the morality of the various religious orders and their representatives, but is clear throughout that despite Gopala’s own personal disbelief there is actually no question about the validity of God in any of his incarnations. It’s the charlatans and irrational customs that come up for criticism and the writers throw in some good questions about morality in general for later contemplation.

Venkatesh pitches his character perfectly as a non-believer who makes his living selling Hindu statues and religious artifacts even though he finds the rituals and superstitious involved in worship ridiculous. Just as much of a con in fact as his ordinary tap water masquerading as authentic water from the Ganges. His shady dealings aside, at heart Gopala is a compassionate man who is shown to indulge in random acts of kindness and generally feels some compassion for people less fortunate than himself. The problem here though is that his good deeds come across as rather contrived given the way they are somewhat haphazardly inserted into the narrative. However Venkatesh mixes his skepticism with obvious tolerance for his wife’s idiosyncrasies and his salesman has plenty of charm mixed in with his complaints, making Gopala a generally likeable character.

His wife however is Gopala’s polar opposite in all things religious. Meenakshi (Shriya Saran) prays to any and every possible God and shrine while falling for every piece of chicanery she sees during her devotions. I’ve mentioned before that Shriya seems to be better in roles that require her to have long hair, and she stays true to that judgement here, giving a good performance as a devoted wife and mother in every sense of the word. Although Shriya doesn’t have a lot of scope in her role, her presence does add grace and a human face to the otherwise random devotees who face Gopala’s scorn. Somewhere in the middle is Otthu (Krishnudu), Gopala’s assistant in his shop who prays to the gods and follows the rituals but is the one who suggests a religious trip to Varanasi will be the perfect time to stock up on cheap artifacts to sell at inflated prices back in Hyderabad. Krishnudu has good comedy timing but apart from funny early scenes he is also relegated to the sidelines once God appears to help Gopala in his quest for justice.

Ah, yes, God.

Gopala GopalaPawan Kalyan makes his grand entrance as Krishna just before the interval, and his presence immediately enriches the story and lifts the energy of the film. The reaction in Melbourne was loud and enthusiastic both times I saw Gopala Gopala, which somehow seems rather appropriate for the appearance of a deity, even if he doesn’t arrive with the classic blue skin and associated regalia I expected. The role suits Pawan Kalyan’s restrained delivery style when not in full action mode, and his Krishna is a little distant but very charismatic. As may be expected from a divine being he offers guidance rather than direct intervention and is often cryptic in his dialogue, although his explanation of why bad things happen to good people sounds like classical political spin. Gopala never asks any of the big questions (such as why just his shop was destroyed – would have been my first question. That and where do all the lost socks go?) but that makes the relationship between the two feel more genuine and does stay true to Gopala’s persistent disbelief in an all-powerful deity.

The film does slow down a little in the second half when Gopala takes the assorted bunch of priests and swami’s to court but Mithun Chakraborthy, Posani Krishna Murali and Diksha Panth are all good in their respective roles as unethical leaders of their temples and organisations and the comedy helps to keep things moving along. Mithun as Leeladhara Swamy in particular has an impressive collection of idiosyncrasies although all three are so obviously corrupt and self-aggrandising that it seems hard to believe they would lower themselves to appear in court. Gopala is an equal opportunity plaintive and also summons representatives from the Muslim and Christian churches, while receiving help from lawyer Akbar Bhai (Murali Sharma) and determined opposition from Shankar Narayana (Ashish Vidyarthi) who has the unenviable task of representing the religious leaders. Interspersed with all the courtroom drama there are a number of songs by Anoop Rubens which are mainly fairly upbeat and fit into the narrative well. My favourite is a beautiful flute piece, but this runs a close second, particularly since it includes both Venkatesh and Pawan Kalyan dancing.

While Gopala Gopala is often rather simplistic with characters painted a little too black or white, Kishore Kumar Pardasany has made an entertaining movie that includes a discussion of superstition in religion without getting bogged down in dogma and matters of faith.   Pawan Kalyan and Venkatesh Daggubati have great chemistry and work well together while the rest of the cast provide excellent support and good comedy. This really was much better than I expected and is definitely well worth a watch – or two!

Advertisements

Karate (1983)

Karate title

Karate is a terrible film, and yet I watched it. Another of my ‘if it’s under a dollar, I’ll buy it’ VCD collection, this adventure without subtitles was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Mithun Chakraborty and Deb Mukherjee star as brothers separated well past the age at which they should remember their own names and that they have siblings. They are each out for revenge on Kader Khan. And there’s the Karate.

The film opens with the Karate boys, Desh and Vijay, and their Karate uncle Jai training on a beach under the watchful eye of their parents, Mr and Mrs Karate. There is a horrible family singalong and terrible child actors (Kajal and Tanisha are credited as junior artistes but I can’t say I noticed the unibrow). Thankfully, we soon discover that Mr Karate is in fact a Scientific Genius and has invented? a diamond that will focus a laser so powerfully it cuts through anything. He hides the diamond in a necklace but master criminal Kader Khan had the room under surveillance so he knows what to do. He kills Karate Dad and terrorises Karate Ma and children. Desh escapes on horseback and starts a whole new life with carnival folk about 2 kilometres away, where no one will ever find him or be able to trace his origins. Vijay is adopted by Uncle Karate who renames him Danny. Finally it is Kader Khan who sort of reunites the Karate Kids. He finds Karate Uncle Jai and threatens him so of course Jai stabs himself with a broken bottle and dies – after a long explanatory speech to Danny/Vijay.

Revenge, brooding, slomo acrobatics, disco and clumsy Bond homage round out the next couple of hours. And Karate. So much “Karate”.

In order to shield you from the worst and perhaps enliven the viewing experience, I propose a simple drinking game. Even if you stick to non-alcoholic beverages, at least you’ll be nicely hydrated by the end of the film. Here are some clues and the rules.

Take a drink when:

  • Deb Mukherjee brandishes nunchaku (take a double shot when he makes them himself mid fight)
  • Deb and his faux-bro hug (that one’s going to hurt you)
  • Mithun looks like he’d rather be elsewhere.
  • You witness Mac Mohan and Tun Tun cavorting poolside.

Karate -Mac Mohan and Tun Tun

  • You spot a direct rip-off of a Bond film.
  • You hear the word “Karate”.

Deb Mukherjee directed and tries to make himself look dashing and daring.  He lifted several scenes from Bond films, and I suspect even used footage from The Man With the Golden Gun. His character Desh is a thief (preferably diamonds) and a chancer, even stealing a statue from a temple. The ladies love him, and this is shown by a traditional gypsy mud-wrestle between two of his admirers.

Desh and his faux-bro Imran (Mazhar Khan) also perform a nightclub disco karate routine that is almost guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.

Danny/Vijay (Mithun) is sulky for most of the film – maybe he just felt the burden of perfection. He crosses paths with Desh and his long lost Ma so many times that it is ridiculous even by filmi coincidence measures. Mithun does a lot of his signature ‘dancing’, including one excellent nightclub scene where the baddies don’t know the choreo and can’t anticipate the swings and kicks that block their way. He even survives an attack involving flaming kebabs.

Despite their roles being quite strong and motivated, the actresses are generally filmed in the sleaziest way possible (except for Karate Ma of course). I did like that Kaajal took on anyone who threated her man, extricating the fairly dim Desh from trouble even if it meant running him over and kidnapping him. Deb and Mithun are not exactly miscast (who else would have done this kind of film in 1983?), but don’t convince as martial arts heroes no matter how much you bling up their costumes.

There are some really quite remarkable plot twists. Desh tries to escape the police at a wedding he is robbing so he poses as the groom and ends up married to Kaajal Kiran. This doesn’t go down well with the very assertive Prema Narayan and the ladies have a karate catfight as well as a fight that is inspired by From Russia With Love. Luckily Danny turns up and starts shooting people and stops the skank off. There are fabulously ridiculous low budget stunts and effects, including some great Dukes of Hazzard driving skills. Even poor Yogita Bali ends up dangling from a conveniently placed rope ladder outside her apartment as she tries to protect the diamond necklace. People turn out to be related to key characters and there are a few moments when subtitles would have helped as I thought ‘dude … is she your sister?’ And what is not to like about a film that resolves major conflicts through disco Karate in a bizarre set?  Here is a snippet for your viewing pleasure.

The music is exactly what you expect when you combine Bappi Lahiri and Mithun. It is dire yet, when compared to Mithun’s endless speeches, a joy to hear. The costumes range from pedestrian to eye searing, and I would demand nothing less from an 80s B movie. It did confirm to me that my love for Chiru is not just about the silver go-go boots.

While Kader Khan’s lair looks rather spectacular, the spy gadgets and bombs are as realistic as if my nine year old self had made them from egg cartons and gaffer tape.

Karate is kind of fun although highly questionable. One for the Mithun completists, and anyone who has ever considered a career as a diamond thief/cabaret performer.  No stars. Wait! 2 stars! My inner Margaret and David cannot agree.  Maybe I’m a victim of my own drinking game.

Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki

I was meant to review another film this week, but I misplaced the DVD before I completely finished my post and it all just got too hard. As a result, you’ll have to wait for a sensible review. And it might be a very long wait. Looking for a substitute film, I decided I wanted something I wouldn’t feel obliged to think hard about, something with some sparkle and a lot of dancing. But I watched this instead.

The super groovy psychedelic titles seemed quite promising! Also, Amrish Puri.

The story opens with a child, the orphaned Prince Satish, being bullied by his uncle. The kid is the heir to an estate held in trust until he turns 20, but guess who has other plans? Evil Uncle Amrish Puri in some jaunty neckwear! I have to say the water torture was mild in comparison to any day at the pool for me and my brothers so I didn’t have immediate sympathy for the young fellow. Then the use of snakes as training aids turned the tide.

Satish is reduced to a snivelling wreck under all this duress, and is not improved by turning into Mithun Chakraborty. Years have gone by but still Uday Bhan Singh is terrorising his nephew. I really would have expected more efficient villainy from Amrish, but then the whole film would have been mercifully brief. Still, Satish is widely regarded as a drunken, insane rapist by the time he is in his teens.

I found the Uday Bhan family conferences of evil quite amusing:

Knowing that no good girl is likely to marry her Prince, his faithful maid tees up a wedding with the first likely orphan they meet. Sadly, the orphaned Aarti (Smita Patil) is a thief and intends to steal away before the wedding is consummated and take all the cash and jewels she can carry. This is not such a bad thing considering the helpful advice Satish receives about women:

WTF?

It’s obvious that we are supposed to believe Satish is such a halfwit that he has no idea his wife really might not want him pouncing on her, but it’s just so badly acted and written that I felt a bit queasy. She….well , I suggest you fast forward past the ‘rape or is it romance?’ montage, bypass blossoming True Love,  continue past the revelations and betrayal and rejoin the film when Satish is long dead (Amrish Puri has knife skills), leaving Aarti with a son who looks eerily as though he will soon be played by Mithun.  Although, you would then miss an excellent attempt by Smita to use her own Eyeballs of Hate (TM PPCC) against Amrish Puri – go girl!

Aarti is not a soft mother figure – she is a tigress. She tells Avinash that if he ever loses a fight, he won’t be able to call her Ma. She really is a vengeful woman. Aarti is struggling financially so Avinash takes a job as a drummer (it is never really explained) to start earning. It is a bizarre career move but it is lucky in one way as it means lots of dodgy songs.

It’s at this point my DVD seemed to be possessed. You might remember that it took multiple DVDs and wily tactics when Heather and I watched Surakksha and it really seems that the universe is determined to protect me from Mithun. I eventually got to see the rest but couldn’t screencap, and the picture quality was woeful. However – the disco part of the revenge psychodrama kicks in from here so you can have some lurid songs to keep up the pictorial content.

Naina (Salma Agha) is your part time Disco Diva and full time student. She and Avinash bond after he saves her from a gang of drunken would-be rapists. Perhaps he is repaying the universe for his father’s misdeed? I doubt it’s anything that meaningful.

Mithun’s dancing highlights just how talented Michael Jackson was!

Avinash and Naina fall in love, of course, perhaps because they both have hideous fashion sense and share a love of white pants. Aarti hasn’t raised her son to be a loverboy and opposes the match until such time as Avinash settles the score with evil uncle Amrish, although she hasn’t told him about his family yet. But the past can never remain buried, and the truth comes out and then of course vengeance is sworn.

I’ve mentioned before that I like it when screeds of argy-bargy can be condensed into a song, and apart from the threats this also has scary outfits. I get the impression that there were different people directing sections of the extras who were supposed to be party guests. Some are having a toe tapping good time while others maintain the traditional glaze of boredom. And what better way to alert Uday Bhan Singh of his imminent doom than this?

After a court scene full of shouting, staring and more swearing of vengeance, Uday Bhan and his horrible son, Chandra Bhan get horribly drunk and sing. Then junior rapes a local girl as his father shoots the girl’s brother. It’s perfectly obvious they are vile people, and I don’t think all this was needed. I do feel B Subhash thought he was making a much more worthy film than this turned out to be, but struggled to interpret the story into an original film format and fell back on badly used clichés.

By this time, my DVD had only sparse subtitles and Naina’s name changed to Neena. She has been hanging around, adoring Avinash from afar, and goes undercover to get the information he needs (whatever that is) to crush the enemy. I‘m not recommending the sailor suit for potential Bond girls among you – it’s a hard look to carry off. She also has a ridiculously flat clutch purse that somehow contains a gun and a tape recorder and some kind of truth drug.

Chandra Bhan is a stupid as he is horrible, and falls for her tricks. The women then get together to map out the final revenge. All of a sudden Aarti seems to like her prospective daughter in law!

The evil Singhs get their come-uppance starting in a neat replay of the fake rape stunt that ruined Satish’s name. The film is effectively over now despite all attempts to add more drama, but it drags on for another 30 minutes and two more songs and a few explosions.  The final scenes are are most notable for the wardrobe, the Michael Jackson inspiration, the crappy effects and a chance to take one last look at some of the fab sets. Salma Agha is supposed to turn into a kickarse heroine but looks disoriented and more concerned about her lipgloss most of the time. Smita Patil gives this film a lot more than it deserves, and maintains her rage right til the end.

There was lots of significant symbolism, more injustices that had to be avenged, recurring motifs, but I stopped caring as soon as Mithun tried to ‘Thriller’ Chandra Bhan into madness. I can understand why the undead backing dancers were a bit messy, but really the choreography is terrible!

See this film if you really have to see every Mithun film ever made, have a penchant for horrible 70s/80s fashion, can tolerate Bappi Lahiri’s misuse of Billy Jean, or want to see Amrish Puri in a bowtie. Can I even give this a star rating? I don’t want to mislead anyone into seeing this film because it really is dire, and not So Bad It’s Good; it’s just Bad. And not in a Michael Jackson Bad way. There are too many men in tight white pants. Maybe 2 stars –for Smita Patil, Amrish Puri, and their duelling Eyeballs of Hate.