Aapathbandavudu is a melodrama by K Vishwanath that has a bit of action, a ‘will they won’t they’ romance, ‘medicine’ found only in films and some lovely MM Keeravani songs. The memorable performances by Chiranjeevi and Meenakshi Seshadri make their characters likeable and their predicaments seem meaningful. Even with the tear soaked dialogues, dubious plot devices and inexplicable decision making, it is very entertaining, sometimes funny, and often moving.  I admit my love of Chiru helped me get past the ‘oh no they didn’t!’ moments but there are interesting ideas and dialogues that help balance out the excesses.

Good hearted low caste Madhava (Chiranjeevi) is attached to school teacher/poet (Jandhyala, who also wrote the dialogues) and his family. Apart from cow herding, Madhava is also the preferred Lord Shiva in district theatricals. Do not try and usurp his role – or this could happen to you:

Sigh. Did I mention this is a visually pleasing film?

Camera angles reflect the sense of elevation Madhava feels when he is compared to Lord Shiva, and he glows with pride at embodying the deity. But he is a country boy at heart and when his cow Ganga goes into labour his first thought is to get her off the train and into some privacy so she won’t be stressed. It’s a dynamic role that gives Chiranjeevi ample scope to use his mass hero shtick as well as delivering a nuanced performance. Most of the laughs come from situations and dialogues as well as Chiru’s knockabout physical comedy.

But I didn’t really need Madhava hamming it up in bovine (or ursine) ‘speech’.

People exploit Madhava’s generosity to make him fix their problems, but as Hema (Meenakshi Seshadri) says, it is usually him who pays the consequences. Despite his simplicity, Madhava is not stupid. He can find a loophole in an instruction as well as any lawyer, such as promising not to lay a hand on someone and still managing to rough them up. He takes on a local bigwig and employs a fighting style possibly inspired by Hanuman as well as Shiva, complete with his own vengeful song. In turn, the politician resorts to elaborate and inefficient methods to try and get Madhava out of the picture – including an attack by an enraged bull (mostly a fibreglass prop), and a murder attempt in a rigged performance. Luckily Hema realises what is going on and takes the guise of Shakti to protect Shiva. I love his dancing from around 5 minutes onwards as Shiva’s rage is unleashed.

But seriously – what is it with the rabbits?

Madhava has always called Hema a goddess, and when they dance as Shiva and Parvati he sees her as his goddess. He is very aware of the barriers between them.

Meenakshi gives Hema a distinct character and intelligence, and her emotional development is well portrayed. She is becoming physically as well as emotionally drawn to Madhava, and is both disturbed and excited by these feelings.  Hema tells Madhava she wishes he had the sense to understand what is in people’s minds, but he doesn’t. There is yearning and dreaming on both sides.

The first section is mostly rural romance with a caste barrier and a few dishooming fights, and I really didn’t expect the twist to take the form it did. Have a happy song before things get dark.

Hema’s father dies suddenly in the middle of a ceremony to honour Madhava. Chiru is brilliant as he shows the overwhelming emotions surging through the grief stricken and furious Madhava. He crafts a clay lingam and berates Shiva for his neglect despite all the prayers and offerings.  A kindly priest points out that just as Madhava could destroy what he had made, man is god’s creation and god has a right over our lives too. That seems to comfort him, but Hema is just devastated.

While Madhava is away, Hema visits her sister Lalita (Geetha) and baby niece. She is assaulted by her lecherous brother-in-law and Lalita is killed when she tries to intervene. The police are paid off and that is that. The shock, her grief over her father and sister, fear of a repeat attack – all these things cause Hema to become unstable. She exhibits extreme aggression towards men and is committed to a psychiatric hospital as her family cannot cope. Apparently a punch-up and a food fight is all it takes to fake insanity, so Madhava is soon an inmate and watching over Hema. Most of the inmates act happy and childlike and mental illness is made to seem harmless.

Rape and mental illness should not be used as cheap entertainment fodder, and there are disturbing abuses of power by characters in the film. What I liked was that other characters found these incidents as reprehensible as I did, and tried to get some justice. The mental patients had a right to decent treatment. Hema wasn’t blamed for being attacked or having a breakdown, and her family never abandoned her. There was some empathy shown for the damaged people. Not everything was swept under the carpet, but the powerlessness of the average person in the story was so frustrating.

Meenakshi plays traumatised Hema as intensely angry and determined to fight any perceived threat, which includes all men. When the drugs kick in she becomes empty eyed and withdrawn. She can’t recognise Madhava as her friend but she does eventually recognise she can trust him. When a staff member tries to rape Hema, Madhava defends her and is given shock treatment as the doctors think he is psychotic.  He is further accused of being the rapist, and his suffering is palpable as is his desperation to help her.

Chiranjeevi adds an extra layer of pretence as he switches from Madhava to Madhava (over)acting crazy, and there is a marked deterioration in his appearance once he is an inpatient.  On that note, while the idea of Chiru dressing up and having himself delivered to me in a box has some appeal, this costume may have caused the more fragile patient to have a bit of a setback. But the dancing is great!

Madhava manages to spend some time with Hema and uses a very ugly doll to reignite her memories of home and loved ones, sparked by a favourite lullaby. Compared to some of the other goings on in the asylum that struck me as quite sensible and therapeutic, and indeed she is soon released.

Madhava is left beset by fear and sadness. He has given everything he can, including selling his herd to get money to help the family, and may have ruined his own life. He berates himself for his stupidity in a powerful speech to his reflection, but can’t see any way out of this mess, or the asylum.

The ending is so filmi incredible but I still found myself on the edge of my seat. Just how could it possibly work out? And why on earth were so many people overcome with bad luck and bad judgement all at once?

There are no comedy uncles as such. Brahmanandam is Madhava’s friend and provides some physical comedy but largely this is a straight character role for him and they share a nice rapport. Allu Ramalingaiah as the uncle resents Madhava’s position in the family and has a sharp tongue when voicing his disapproval. Like Brahmi, his role is dramatic, not the comedic turn I expect from him. Sarath Babu as Sripati wants to do what is right, and is the sympathetic ‘other guy’. There is something reassuring about Sarath Babu and having him as a friend does seem to make the good guys that much more resilient. Jandhyala is very fatherly, and suits his role as the unfashionable teacher and poet who refuses to cheapen his art.

The emphasis is more on characters than causes although the film does say something about caste, dowry and other facets of society. It is wildly melodramatic, but the writer and actors invest in the central characters and there is plenty to enjoy along the way.

My DVD cover says this is a ‘must see movie before you die’. I’m not sure about that, but I encourage you to at least look at the song clips. The village scenery is pretty and beautifully filmed, the music is lovely and the dancing is excellent. But really, this is all about the performances by Chiru and Meenakshi and they won me over from the start.

3 ½ stars!

Sorry Chiru.  4 stars?

4 stars!

PS – thanks tolly for the recommendation all those months ago – where are you tolly? It’s been ages!


Vikramarkudu centres on ASP Vikram Singh Rathore (Ravi Teja) and his attempts to bring rural crimelord Bavuji and his evil brother Titla (Ajay) to justice. Needing to go into hiding, Vikram schemes to have his young daughter left with unknowing duplicate Athili Sathibabu (also Ravi Teja), a conman conned into caring for the child. The now familiar theme of justice being outside of the law is at the fore as even the police cannot rely on the legal system. There is suspense as the bad guys get closer and the two lookalikes cross paths in a series of action packed episodes. SS Rajamouli knows how to get a story up on screen and make it look amazing but he doesn’t have the best material to work with here. Vikramarkudu is a bit less satisfying than it should have been.

The major problem for me is the first section which sets up a very unconvincing love at first sight romance between Sathibabu and Neeru (Anushka Shetty). She acts giggly and flirty and he is sleazy and grabby. I struggle to believe Neeru would be smitten by Sathibabu. I can believe she might fall for him over time, but on sight? It wouldn’t have taken much to come up with a better story for her, but apparently no one could be bothered. Apart from the unfortunate giggling and the attempt to be a minx, Neeru was quite likeable but then she disappears until the end of the film. While it wasn’t much of an acting challenge at first (except maybe for having to gaze lustfully at Ravi Teja) Anushka did at least look like she was having fun in the songs. She got a bit more to work with later in the film, but the heroine was not pivotal to the story.

Ravi Teja is a good actor and created two very distinct characters while playing up their similarities so that while I was never confused, I could believe that the other characters might be. He gave the policeman a serious demeanour that was almost out of place in the mass madness.

The action scenes look great and Ravi Teja is up to the challenge of the scuffling, bruising fights. But most of the story is about Sathibabu whose notion of romance is slapstick sleaze.

I have a fear of Anil Kapoor’s back hair which dates from seeing Janbaaz. Oh, the rolling in the hay scene was so disturbing even without the straw woven into Anil’s furry pelt. I had post traumatic flashbacks when I saw Ravi get his shirt off with no warning.

Brahmanandam and Sathibabu live in a house they had furnished from various stolen items. It was neatly quirky, and might have been better suited to college aged guys but the set designers had fun. Ravi Teja has an upbeat energy which is very effective in the dances and he looks like he enjoys the dreaded comedy scenes. Their conman shtick was mildly amusing and I liked some of their schemes, but the heavy handed and repetitive dialogue especially by Brahmi became annoying. And I just don’t think sleazy puns and groping equates to humour.

There was more to Sathibabu than I initially expected. He was coerced into caring for a little girl (Baby Neha) who was convinced he was her father. I liked the developing affection between Sathibabu and the little girl. It didn’t seem that he was won over because she was cutesy but because he started to appreciate she was a little human being and had her own fears and likes that he could relate to. And from that initial moment of empathy came a protective affection that was endearing. It also meant that he was more invested in helping Vikram and sorting out the villains when the time came.

The bad guys play for cartoon effect but there was an edge of darker violence to some of these scenes. Bavuji is a stock baddie who leers and shouts and does a pretty good mad eye. Ajay as Titla is more striking and not just because of his height and aura of evil. He leads a gang who were possibly involved in the trial run for Magadheera costumes, and is armed with what looks like a kind of blunderbuss and a cross bow.

Ajay has the right amount of menace and silliness and he plays it to the hilt. Munna (Amit Kumar), Bavuji’s son, is flamboyantly bad but opts for a comedic approach which masks his calculating nastiness.

Their crimes include abducting women from the village for sex and killing anyone who stands up to them. Rajamouli doesn’t soften these scenes at all and, while it does make payback more cathartic, it is dark. Mind you, they still know how to party:

The supporting cast of good guys do well with the patchy script. Inspector Mahanti (Rajeev Kanakala), paralysed when they abduct his wife Pramila, is an example of what happens when good men stand by and do nothing.  Yet again I found myself wondering about how a handful of psychos can dominate a population of hundreds. His wife and kids make a strong impression and I cheered and cheered in one of her scenes. Prakash Raj makes a very small appearance as a DCP but gets to use his misty eyed Gaze of Blossomimg Bromance to good effect.  Ruthika is a tough policewoman who is handy in a fight and that is treated as kind of unremarkable which I liked. She just does her job. It didn’t stop the writers inflicting some ‘comedy’ on her though. She is drugged by Brahmi which causes a sound effect of whinnying like a horse and the terrible side effect of fancying Sathibabu. The only good thing I can say is that this song happens:

The MM Keeravani songs are fun and they provided a battlefield between the choreographers and the costume team. There is a pleasing commitment to metallic pants and that makes me happy.

The costumes are a highlight and Ravi Teja’s trousers often make a statement. Anushka seemed to get the more experimental designer but she didn’t seem too fazed. I suppose that is a benefit of knowing you could wear a hessian sack and still look stunning.

There is some excellent Only In Films Medicine I must mention. I bet you didn’t know that a temporary cure for an aneurysm is running cold water over your head.

I struggled with Vikramarkudu at first as I couldn’t see the story going anywhere and I didn’t care less about the lead pair. Once the revenge story started to dominate, the pace picked up and I found the film much more satisfying. There was some tension and characters started to become more fleshed out once the common enemy was in play. While the content and situations are unrealistic, the impact of the dramatic and action oriented scenes was surprisingly strong. By the end, as Ravi Teja made those baddies sorry they had ever been born, I cheered and laughed and occasionally winced. As for the resolution, well I question some of the logic but you know what they say; all’s well that ends well. 3 stars!

Anukokunda Oka Roju

Sahasra  is a B.Comm student, but her passion is singing. She is a smart, confident girl who is an unwanted addition to her step-mother’s household and she tries to keep her head down.  Her friends are an unexceptional bunch of students and singers, and she is an ordinary girl. So why are people trying to kill her?

Anukokunda Oka Roju translates as Suddenly One Day and the answer lies in a missing day in Sahasra’s life. The action took some time to get going, but I always felt there was some underlying sense I just hadn’t uncovered yet. The direction by Chandrasekhar Yeleti is pacy but allows time for the story to unfold in a way that felt realistic enough and the city setting gives a slightly chaotic edge to the action. It didn’t feel like a join the dots story and there were things that seemed irrelevant initially but took on more significance later. The strength of the characterisations helped keep the suspense set to high despite some overly contrived incidents. Once the motivation behind the attacks on Sahasra was revealed I struggled to completely believe in it, but I was so interested in the characters that I eventually found the ending quite satisfying.

Charmme delivers a great performance as a girl in trouble and out of her depth. Sahasra is a talented singer in a studio chorus with ambitions of singing solos for the great film composers. Charmme shows the spark of confidence and joy that Sahasra feels when she is involved in her music, and how that evaporates when she returns home to a less hospitable environment. Her speech and expressions become younger, almost childlike as she seeks to placate her step-mother, but then regains her robust cheekiness when on the phone to her mother. It makes Sahasra’s fear and also her resilience seem real as we see her strength in everyday situations, not just in the struggle to survive.

This is my favourite of Charmme’s performances, and if you want to see a modern heroine carry a film other than a rom-com, this is a great place to start. And she sings a song sort of dedicated to Chiranjeevi so clearly she has excellent taste in film heroes!

Rajesh (Shashank) is a student who runs an unofficial taxi service on the side. He spots Sahasra and chases her demanding money for a taxi fare she doesn’t remember. She denies everything but they keep crossing paths. He rescues Sahasra from a gang of big burly men and in turn becomes a target of sorts. Shashank does an OK job, but as in Sye he doesn’t do any more than just OK. He is suited to this role, and the fight scenes are realistically scuffly and non-heroic, but despite being in a couple of highly dramatic sequences he made little impression.

SI Suresh Reddy (Jagapathi Babu) is an odd character. A corrupt and eccentric juice-swilling policeman, he is in the vicinity when Sahasra is attacked. His investigation is motivated by both judicial and personal concerns – unbeknownst to Sahasra, her father was in talks to marry the pair. He is socially awkward and falls for her like a ton of bricks.

Jagapathi Babu is brilliant at showing glimpses of the awkward guy with a crush as well as the confident bully. His eccentricities seem to stem more from boredom in his career and his life, and when he means business, he is convincing. He takes on the investigation and at first is totally unwelcome in Sahasra’s life and her friends resist him. But he gets results and as he unravels the events, he realises that other mysterious deaths may be related and Sahasra is in more trouble than she knows. His character builds over the course of the film, and I found myself first dismissing him as a corrupt nutter, but then anxiously looking for his face in the crowd as things looked grim for Sahasra.

Sahasra’s friend Shwetha (Pooja Bharti) took her to a party and Sahasra’s drink was spiked. This is the reason for the lost time, and lost memories. The drugs were let go by Suresh Reddy when he took a bribe from the dealer so his involvement takes on another dimension. The dialogue (by Ganga Raju Gunnam) was excellent, often amusing and very illuminating in terms of character insights. The girls are such different characters and I liked that they were shown as disapproving but not bitchy. There are a couple of dialogue exchanges where the girls discuss sex and it is refreshing to see friends who can tell each other they think the other is an idiot but without rancour.

The safe sex message is loud and clear and despite being linked to an unwanted pregnancy, I didn’t feel that the girl was being demonised, and she certainly wasn’t made to suffer or repent. In fact, the good girl was the one to walk out of the hospital and nearly be killed. It was an interesting detour and suited the low key modern urban setting and the cast of 20-somethings. Sahasra is a typically good girl heroine, but her friends are diverse (although very much in the background) and that makes her more relatable and real.

It was this level of detail in the characterisations that made the film so engaging for me. These people had lives I could identify with to an extent, and their motivations were believable. Sahasra’s home life was complicated by her father’s remarriage, but her step mother wasn’t a crazy evil stereotype, just a bit of a bitch. Shwetha was partially responsible for her friend’s predicament because she didn’t speak up at first, but she was still a good friend when Sahasra needed support. Rajesh had debts and aspirations, but didn’t let his own plans blind him to a person in need. Suresh could have used his authority to pressure Sahasra but he backed off and when she came to him, he helped and did it in as sensitive a manner as he could. There is a scene at the end where Suresh just says what he needs to say to the guy who he thinks might get his girl and it’s touching but realistic.

There is a comedy sideplot, but mercifully it is carried mostly by the very likeable Harsha Vardhan as a hapless school teacher and neighbour, and to an extent by Rajesh in his taxi. The comedic incidents do all in some way feed back into the main story, and involve relevant characters. Harsha Vardhan wins my special gold star for most excellent insults delivered in delightfully plummy English.

And there was a fight in a music shop which I enjoyed a lot as it was funny and still menacing – and Charmme acquitted herself pretty well before her rescuer turned up.

The M.M.Keeravani soundtrack is effective and all the songs have their place either illustrating characters or incidents, so there were no breaks in the dramatic tension just because people burst into song. The cinematography adds to the mood, using changing angles and distances to show the pursuit, but balancing that with character focussed shots that reveal people’s inner thoughts and hopes.

It’s a really enjoyable thriller and I highly recommend it. I have to make a minor deduction for an over the top although rarely seen bad guy, and his motivation. But the conclusion for the three main characters is satisfying and a little less predictable than it might have been. 4 stars!