Kshana Kshanam

RGV’s Kshana Kshanam opens with an intense robbery and chase that takes place in the dark of night. There is no dialogue in this episode, the visuals and the very dramatic score tell the story. Finally one bad guy kills another bad guy and takes the money… So far so good as my DVD doesn’t have subtitles. From this point on, I am making things up.

Satya (Sri Devi) works in an office, struggles with over sleeping, has a nosy neighbour, and seems to have her life sorted. Satya unknowingly picks up the left-luggage receipt for the robbery loot. When things go wrong for her, Sri Devi is excellent at showing her fraying nerves and building fear as well as a gritty determination. There’s a bit of crying and whining, but Satya retains some dignity (despite the wardrobe in some songs) and is a likeable girl who is way out of her comfort zone and trying desperately to get back to her old life. Sri Devi’s expressions and timing are brilliant, often very funny, and she conveys so much with her simple gestures and reactions. I like her so much as a feisty heroine.

Paresh Rawal is the villain Nayar. It was his gang that did the break and enter, and his man who has double crossed them all and taken off with the loot. Nayar is on the traitor’s trail, and will stop at nothing even if he has to kill his entire gang one by one. He is a psychopath who can sweetly ask his victim to tell the truth even as he is snapping the guy’s fingers. It’s an over the top performance (he has a high pitched giggle, a love of filmi tunes and a mad eyed stare) but Nayar is genuinely scary when it counts.

Nayar and the gang pursue Satya, and RGV really does know how to ratchet up the tension in the pursuit. A rowdy follows Satya to her apartment and is injured when she defends herself. He is finished off by an unseen colleague and Satya believes she killed him. She decides to run.

And runs into Chandu (Venkatesh). He is a thief, an occasional police impersonator, but smart and fundamentally decent within his own moral code. Chandu uses Satya to escape the police he thinks have come for him, and they go on the lam. They team up since everyone else is chasing them, although it takes some time for them to work out why. I really loved the sight of Sri Devi in the midst of the motorcycle chase demurely sitting sidesaddle behind Venky as he sped through the traffic! Venkatesh is convincing as both the charming trickster and the gutsy hero. He has a boyish quality that suits the lighter scenes and he attacks the action scenes with conviction. His mullet seems to adopt more or less volume depending on his mood.

They escape into the jungle. Chandu shows his decency by not looking up Satya’s skirt and she shows her city girl ways by freaking out at absolutely everything. Chandu looks concerned then perplexed and finally amused as Satya calls on God, bemoans her fate and worries about being killed by tigers.

He doesn’t bully or belittle her, but he can laugh at the situation. Each allows the other actor to shine, and it makes the romance seem more natural as they have low key but convincing chemistry. I also liked seeing that as the film progressed Satya used her initiative in taking the next steps in the relationship. It’s a nice element to balance the darker suspense storyline.

Satya is overcome by the beauty of the landscape and trills a song, only to be asked to sing something more ‘mass’. Naturally this leads to:

A fabulous way to maintain a covert presence, I’m sure. I like Venky’s lawn bowls hat. And I love the male backing dancers who really make it their own.

After running into Nayar in the jungle, they realise that Satya has something besides her good looks to make all these men pursue her. And I have to say, no one made any effort to be stealthy so I was not surprised Nayar found them, only at how long it took.  Chandu beats up the baddies, Inspector Yadav (Rami Reddy) and his police stumble onto the path and in the mayhem Chandu and Satya escape by stealing Nayar’s car.

Once back in the city they encounter Brahmi and do a spot of comedy shopping. Then the plan is to break into Satya’s apartment to retrieve the receipt. The break in was both suspenseful and slapstick, with cops and rowdies running up and down stairs, and Satya and Chandu narrowly evading all parties. The adversity really brings out their song and dance side, as there are several musical interludes which are mostly fun. I do have an issue with Chandu – THIS is how he dresses in his wealth fantasy song.

Sri Devi sang on the track but I don’t recommend you seek it out. It’s an aural and visual assault.

Satya wants to turn the receipt over to the police, Chandu wants to keep it, but once again Nayar’s gang are too close for comfort. Finally Chandu goes to collect the loot but nothing is that simple. The ending is impressively action packed and people get what they deserve.

Kshana Kshanam is visually compelling. The fast edits and angles in dramatic scenes created a sense of urgency and menace. There are cameras mounted in and under cars and on motorbikes which added a feeling of speed and the panic of the chase. The background score throughout is very dramatic and while it often helps set the mood, sometimes it was distracting. Think heavy percussion and strings, occasional 80s power guitar and a dash of jaunty brass. Some scenes relied on ambient sounds from the background action, others had just the score, some had a blend of both and the transitions could be abrupt. The sound was a bit off at times – one rowdy ran across a floor and sounded like 4 people tap dancing, and everyone seemed to have the same soles on their shoes. It was odd in a film that was so accomplished on a visual level and had such a well crafted story. The MM Keeravani songs are hit and miss, but generally fun to watch although the dancing is suspect at times. There is a definite sense of time inside the story, and I wondered how much of it was shot in sequence (songs aside) as it felt as though the scenes were really unfolding one after another.

I’m not a diehard RGV fan as I find when he is good he is very very good, but you know, then there’s RGV ki Aag. See this for a great cast in a well told story with a deft balance of action, humour and suspense. It certainly lived up to the title, as every second counted. 4 stars!

Heather says: I really love this film. It combines suspense and action with just enough romance and has the benefit of two very attractive leads. RGV keeps it simple and as a result the story moves along well and despite the lack of subtitles it’s compelling viewing. This is probably because the romance is left to take a back seat through most of the film, and the focus is firmly on the action. Both Sridevi and Venkatesh are equally important in these action scenes and Sridevi is no useless hand-wringing heroine but is quite capable of making her own decisions, disastrous at times though they may be.

There are some great lighting contrasts in the film which also frequently add to the atmosphere of menace. The opening scenes heighten the expectation of what is to follow as the lighting is dim and no-one’s face is totally clear. When RGV finally moves to introduce Satya, the change to bright light and the intimacy of her bedroom completely alters the mood. This introduction also serves to accentuate the difference in circumstance later on when Satya ends up sleeping rough in the jungle. It really doesn’t take long before Satya’s initial confusion and fear change to a determination to fight back and I think this is a very natural reaction for her character and also suits Sridevi very well.

Sridevi is absolutely gorgeous here and perfect in her characterisation. She is excellent as the scared girl on the run and even better as she sets out to solve the puzzle of why everyone is after her. The romance with Chandu also grows very naturally throughout the course of their adventure and there is good chemistry between Sridevi and Venkatesh. While I think Venkatesh is very good in his portrayal of the happy go lucky thief who gets pulled along for the ride, I do think he is somewhat overshadowed by Sridevi in their scenes together. However he is excellent during the fights and action sequences and looks good in the songs too, although his mullet is a little distracting at times. At least I can put this and his rather variable wardrobe down to the fact that this was filmed in the early 90’s which does explain a lot. Paresh Rawal is great as the villain and is totally over the top in his psychotic shifts from raving bad guy to being scared of heights and pushing his henchmen into danger first. Plus he has a great moustache. The only downside to this film is the lack of subtitles. I’ve been told that the dialogue is very good as well, so it’s a real shame that I haven’t been able to track down a subtitled copy, although I may have to eventually succumb to the Hindi dubbed version. Thanksto KB for the recommendation. 4 ½ stars from me.

Badrinath

The great thing about an Adventure without Subtitles when Allu Arjun stars is knowing that no matter what, the dancing will be awesome.  But there is so much more to enjoy in Badrinath, and we had a great time.

The plot, for what it’s worth, can be summed up as follows. Prakash Raj is a guru who trains young boys to defend temples in the major holy cities of India. His school is located high in the mountains, and the scenery and the sets are nothing short of spectacular. Allu Arjun is Badri, who is assigned to protect Badrinath. Badri has a special relationship with the place, amazing sword and fighting skills, a strong faith in god and his guru, and is earmarked to take over the training camp. Tamanna is Alaknanda, a very pretty atheist who lost her faith after seeing her parents accidentally catch fire and die at a pooja. Badri and Alaknanda eventually fall in love, then the bad guys turn up to kidnap her. Will Badri desert his post, anger his guru and rescue his love? So much drama!

This is a vehicle for Bunny and, as expected, he excels in the dancing and fighting scenes. We had questioned the efficacy of an Indian Samurai when pitted against men with guns, but that question was put to rest. You need arms attached to your body to pull a trigger. Swords win! The fight scenes were cool, and it looked like someone may have been inspired by games where each set of bad guys has a particular set of weapons. So once the guys with sickles are defeated, the next batch has axes and so on. It isn’t all gore and anger though; there is room for what our friend calls Funny Bunny and he is joyful in the dances. He does an excellent wet shirt, and even wears a Chiranjeevi inspired silver cape in one song! This pleased us greatly.

Tamanna is a beautiful girl, and she can act and dance. She more or less keeps up with Bunny, and her facial expressions when she dances are great. Alaknanda is rarely more than a sketch, a pretty face on the sidelines, and sadly it seems that she discovers faith and love only after Badri slaps her. She also discovers more appropriate clothing. (And she had been spectacularly rude and stupid in the lead up to the slap). There is a fun moment when she keeps pretending to slip so she can fling herself on Badri’s manly chest and cop a feel. That seemed perfectly sensible so we decided we liked her a lot. Her subplot involving abduction by evil relatives and an attempt at forcing her to marry could have been cut back without diminishing the idea of the damsel in distress. Tamanna was very good in 100% Love, and lovely in Badrinath, so we hope more substantial roles come her way.

Alaknanda had the best imagination. Most of the songs were her dreams and she spared no effort in dressing Bunny up and giving every single backing dancer the most amazing outfits as well.

On the subject of wardrobe, this is what Badri wore as his going into town outfit so there are arguments for and against him choosing his own clothes.

Prakash Raj is excellent as the guru. He gets to do pretend martial artsy stuff, levitate, growl at people and also use his misty eyes of love. His character is the cause of Badri’s conflict as he demands the young man be sworn in as his replacement, and thus swear off marriage and women. He probably should have thought that through a bit more.  But we could rely on him to do the right thing when it counted and all was well between the master and disciple.

The Comedy Sideplot was over represented by MS Narayana, Venu Madhav , Master Bharath and Brahmi among others. Too many! And took up at least 30 minutes that could have been condensed or cut. Brahmi was fun, and the crowd went wild for him, but it was basically the same fleecing the pilgrims shtick he did in Indra. We guess that was a deliberate reference. The supporting cast was full of familiar faces, all of whom do the thing they do so well. We think the Allu family pug made an appearance too so if Ice’s agent is reading this, please confirm? But in an unsubtitled film we tend not to give the support artists their full dues as we have to concentrate on the main action. And yes, there were compelling visuals adding to the distractions. We totally appreciated the backing dancers for their enthusiasm, their dancing and the way they rocked the purple and gold glittery outfits.

We did have to notice the evil family as they showed dedication to the bulk purchase of coloured contact lenses, and the matriarch wore some excellent saris.

The evil henchmen deserve a shout out. From the Pick n Mix Assorted Terrorist Stereotype Brigade to the Ninjas in Hoodies, they gave it their best, and Peter Hein and team really made them work for their money. He knows how to make chaos look elegant.

There are massive plot holes, but they aren’t an impediment to enjoying the story. There is no pretence at realism so questions of why there are never any police around or how Badri could survive the latest incident just didn’t matter. We were far more interested in why people wore some of the crazy outfits. The soundtrack is effective and enjoyable, and the songs are well placed. How well they stand up without the supporting visuals is another question.

This is an out and out entertainer that succeeds, and the audience last night certainly enjoyed it. The balance of action and ridiculous stunts with beautiful visuals and fantastic dancing is just about right. See it on a big screen if you can!

Sye

The first half of Sye is director SS Rajamouli’s take on West Side Story – except that instead of knives two rival college gangs fight it out on the rugby field in a reasonable facsimile of Rugby Union. There is romance but no Romeo and Juliet inspired tragedy and by the second half the film has morphed into a fairly standard sports film, underdogs and inspirational speech included. Sye is Rajamouli’s third film and was another hit, proving that no matter what the subject matter he manages to tell a good story.

The film begins with a very violent over throw of local don Narayana by Bikshu Yadhav; the wonderfully evil Pradeep Rawat in totally over-the-top villain mode.  This all becomes very relevant later on, but initially seems quite disconnected from what follows. As a bonus though, there is Ajay as one of the gang.

Next we move on to the MK College of Arts and Sciences or, as the film helpfully points out, Arts vs. Sciences. The college is split into two factions; one led by the son of the headmaster, Prithvi (Nitin)and the other by Shashank (Shashank). Science students have taken on the name of Wings and are self-confessed less disciplined than the Arts students: the Claws. I thought this was a little strange as most science students in my experience tend to be the nerdy conformist types – terrible generalisation I know but I was a science student which probably explains a lot! The hero Prithvi and his rival Shashank do a lot of taunting and grimacing at each other but there is very little actual violence – everything is settled on the rugby pitch.

Genelia plays Indu, an Arts student who acts as another point of contention between Prithvi and Shashank. Her introduction starts well enough as this rather cute song where the lyrics are made up of signs and posters Prithvi and Indu see along their route.

This pleasant introduction is totally ruined by the next scene which is probably the most ridiculous and stupid in the entire film. Getting onto the wrong bus, Indu is pursued and then forcibly tattooed by the rival Wings gang. Yes, tattooed! Never mind the difficulty of tattooing someone against their will when they are struggling, or that it would take more time than the few minutes shown to actual achieve such an intricate design, but then this act of outrage is NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN!!!! This really bothered me as I just couldn’t see that something as permanent and potentially disfiguring as a tattoo wouldn’t cause more of a reaction, but it didn’t seem to bother Indu much at all.

Moving quickly on, since everyone else in the film does, the two gangs take their rivalry onto the rugby field which is where I had my next ‘what the?’ moment. Now I’m a big fan of Rugby Union. It was the sport of choice for the guys at my school in Northern Ireland and I grew up watching the game. My husband also played for many years and it’s still my favourite sport, which was one of the reasons why I wanted to watch this film. But in all my years of watching Union games, I have never seen anything like the scoring system used here. Unless there is a strange form of the game in India (which I really do doubt), I suspect Rajamouli totally made it up. The rest of the game however did seem to mainly follow the usual rules and was fun to watch.

In another plot point that is never totally resolved, the headmaster Satyam pits the two gangs against each other to develop land behind the school as a rugby field, telling them that he will name the ground for whoever finishes first. They must have both finished together as the ground seems to end up as the MK Arts and Colleges ground. Despite Satyam’s good intentions, this accomplishment doesn’t manage to unite the two sides and with Indu rapidly becoming a bone of contention between the two gang leaders, the situation deteriorates further.  I’m not entirely sure why Nitin is wearing a vest underneath a see-through shirt here, but it really doesn’t work. Especially not with the puffy sleeves and a cap.

It all culminates in a huge fight between the two sides which the police try unsuccessfully to break up. Strangely they are about to do this by firing at the limbs of people in the crowd. Really? Whatever happened to other perhaps less potentially fatal options like water cannons or tear gas? Anyway, they don’t get the chance, as Bikshu Yadav (remember him?) shows up asserting his rights to the land, in a rather skilful display of coordinated 4-wheel drive manoeuvring.

It’s never very clear exactly why Bikshu Yadav wants this land so much, but he tortures and kills the legal owner to get it. There is a very unpleasant scene where he threatens a pregnant woman, which was really quite nauseating, but thankfully threats is as far as he goes.

The appearance of an enemy finally gets the Wings and Claws start to work together. You add together wings and claws, and you get Eagles – of course!

Rather sensibly advised by Prithvi, the Eagles decide to fight their enemy by subterfuge rather than by direct opposition. They use a variety of techniques to ruin his drug and alcohol businesses, derail his political career and even manage to stop his nights of passion with his mistress.

However they are too clever for their own good and are ratted out to Bikshu Yadav  by Venu Madhav, who appears periodically throughout the film in a rather silly comedy role. This leads to a final show down rugby match which is attended by a huge crowd and is also televised. Not only that but they even have a third umpire and there’s even a hakka. I loved the drums and team mascot for the Bulls and the half-time inspirational speech by the Eagles coach. Even if it was a mish-mash from the classics, political speeches and other sporting films – but then again aren’t they all?

The film improves a lot in the second half where there are fewer totally ridiculous moments, and the story is more engaging. There are some clever ideas but overall the film is quite patchy and jumps around between the two different themes. The violence perpetrated by Bikshu Yadav is an abrupt contrast to the college story and for me this keeps disrupting the flow. Genelia really doesn’t have much to do in this film other than be the love interest and the reason for the two gangs to finally fight it out. Her character is annoyingly complacent with the antics of Prithvi and Shashank and finally is almost totally sidelined in the second half of the film. Nitin and Shashank do well as the two college kids, but are totally overshadowed by Pradeep Rawat who revels in as much violence as possible. I am a fan of Ajay and I love to see him turn up as one of the villains, since he always seems to be having such a great time being one of the bad guys. The various actors playing the students do a good job of creating a typical college atmosphere and stalwarts of Telugu cinema Tanikella Bharani and Nassar provide good support for the younger cast.  I was somewhat surprised that one of the songs Chantaina Bujjaina is a remix of the classic Hindi song Duniya Mein Logon Ko from Apna Desh but it didn’t work here quite as well as it might have.

Overall Sye is not a bad film, but it’s not a particularly good film either. Worth watching for the final rugby game which really is the high point and just bumps the film up to 3 stars for me.

Temple says:

I didn’t see any West Side story qualities in Sye, just a bunch of college boys with nothing better to do. Had there been stronger dramatic tension or real animosity between the school factions in the first half this would have been a better film. The rivalry between Arts & Sciences was childish and not terribly interesting as basically, the group members were pretty interchangeable. And to Heather’s point about the Science geeks being the quiet good kids…well, I was an Arts student and the Engineering parties at Melbourne Uni back in the day were legendary. The first half meandered from silly pranks to macho posturing and back again. It wasn’t until the rowdies became the common enemy uniting the college that there was any drama.

One of many problems I had with Indu’s character was  the supposed love triangle. It didn’t work as Shashank and Prithvi were pretty much the same so it didn’t matter which one got the girl. I actually really liked Genelia’s performance in this – Indu was energetic and engaging, not crazy bubbly. And she tried to dance which is always fun. Unfortunately her character is one of the most stupid I have ever endured. I was glad when Indu stuck to cheerleading in the second half as I was in danger of tearing an eye-rolling muscle. Prithvi constantly tricked her into inappropriate behaviour and it made me dislike the pair of them intensely (her for being so dumb and him for being an arsehole). Nitin and Shashank were, as I said, virtually the same in terms of their characters. Neither of them really stood out, apart from Nitin’s hideous song outfits. Certainly when Pradeep Rawat is in full throttle, I think you need a hero with a bit more testosterone.

And back to the dancing – a friend of ours once tried to teach a dance step with the instruction ‘sit into it lower and try and move like a really sexy duck’. I think perhaps someone said the same to Genelia in the ‘Duniya Mein’ remake but it turned out more funky chicken than sexy duck. I will never forget the look on Jag’s face when she saw the results and I think the choreographer for this may have felt a bit the same.

I have issues with a rugby try that was clearly not a try (especially when it is called a touchdown and is under the Chicago Bulls basketball team logo), as well as the bizarre scoring and some other things which were at odds with the bits they got right. I guess a proper college team played most of the games, which did make it more enjoyable and realistic, although the actors’ rugby scenes were noticeably less believable. The haka was both impressive and so very wrong.

Despite the woeful story Rajamouli has an eye for great set shots and action sequences, and really understands the tempo of a story. This was surprisingly enjoyable at times, but the good bits are few and far between. I give this 2 ½ stars.