Jalsa

Jalsa-posterTrivikram’s Jalsa wanders all over the place with an uneven blend of romance and action packed drama. I had to check that it really was made in 2008 as the plot, and treatment of female characters, is very retro and not in a charming vintage way. Pawan Kalyan gives a good performance but unfortunately he can’t save the script and some glaring plotholes. Like the hero, Ileana D’Cruz rides out some stupid plot turns and inconsistencies in her character to hit the right notes in the more thought out scenes.

Jalsa-Prakash Raj

Sanjay Sahu (Pawan Kalyan) goes to ask his girlfriend’s (Kamalinee Mukerjee – don’t blink or you might miss her) father (Prakash Raj) for permission to marry Indu. He refuses and she is married off (to Kamal Kamaraju). Sanju goes back to his longest standing relationship, the one with the bottle. But then he meets Bhagi (Ileana) who falls for him on sight and eventually he returns her feelings. The story jumps forward and Bhagi finds out that Sanju had previously wanted to marry her sister. Naturally she is disturbed by the news, and flashes back to a history of getting her sisters hand-me-downs. Her dad assigns Pranav (Brahmi) to keep Bhagi safe from Sanju so you know this is serious. Unfortunately Pranav’s presence spurs Sanju on to some childish behaviour and the movie gets bogged down in comedy uncle shenanigans.

The first half sets up the romantic angle and then everything takes a sharp left turn as Sanju’s secret past as a naxalite is revealed. He is presented as the ‘good’ kind of terrorist who doesn’t want innocents to die. But still, he embraces violence so…. I think I find the rebel Sanju more interesting than the drunkard but I can’t say I wholeheartedly like either aspect of his character. The flashback also reveals his prior connection to Prakash Raj’s character as well as the villain Damodhar Reddy (Mukesh Rishi).

Bhagi is introduced as she plays an energetic game of squash at the gym, then races her friend Jo (Parvati Melton) to the car. They are confronted by a creep chases the terrified girls into the path of a very drunk saviour, none other than Sanju. I’m not convinced that moments after avoiding a threatened gang rape their thoughts would have turned to romance and bickering over who gets the guy. Bhagi starts out characterised as innocent and a bit dumb, but Ileana bounces daft lines back and forth with her friend Seenu (Sunil) as Bhagi tries to deal with her one-sided attraction to Sanju. Later as Bhagi becomes more assertive and playful Ileana has more fun as she plays off Pawan Kalyan, and also shows more range and depth. I quite liked Bhagi but I got the feeling the role was written piecemeal to suit particular scenes rather than conceived as a character in her own right.

Sanju is the guy who beats up all the guys who tease girls at college. It is nice that the hero defends people against bullies but I am tired of seeing women only allowed to be safe if the biggest bully lets them. He also goes on a rant about how aggravating it is that he can’t slap his future wife to control her for fear of the law and women’s groups. It was done for dramatic and ‘comedic’ purposes and it just doesn’t mesh with the thoughtful side of Sanju. He was a smart guy who chose to become a naxalite through tragic family circumstances but then seems to just forget all about it once he got into college. It really made no sense. And why does he always wander around with his belt undone? Despite my issues with the writing and the rape jokes, Pawan Kalyan is very funny in some of Sanju’s drunk monologues, with a deft balance of verbal and non-verbal comedy beats. The fight scenes are choreographed to his strengths, whether a precision martial arts style or a scrappy street brawl, and he gives them an elegance and energy that is totally missing from the lacklustre songs. I did like it when he punched a car and all the doors flew off. His choreo seems to be limited to ‘shuffle-shuffle-jiggle-wave your hands around’ but I suppose it helps him avoid direct comparisons with You Know Who.

There is a drawn out ‘comedy’ sequence where Sanju tells Brahmi’s character that he plans to drug and rape Bhagi. Then says he is only joking because it is no fun to rape an unconscious woman when you could have one running around and screaming. This kind of ‘joke’ is rife in 80 and 90s films, but at least I can pass that off as The Bad Old Days. Sanju’s plan to win Bhagi back seems to be to ruin any other chance for her until she caves in. And her sister insists Bhagi accept all this as it is Sanju’s way of expressing his love, and if a boy does that it is OK and you have to let him because he is a boy. Jalsa was made in 2008 by a smart director with a hero who is by all accounts quite intelligent so I cannot find it in me to make the same excuses for how this plays out.

One of the things I do really like is Mahesh’s laconic narration. His slightly lazy drawl hits the right notes of comedy, empathy, and sarcasm as he reveals more about Sanju than is evident in the drama.

Prakash Raj gets some nice bromantic moments with Pawan Kalyan but his character makes so many poor decisions that I lost all patience with him. Mukesh Rishi plays his usual imposing villain. He thinks nothing of killing an out of town Don on the way back to jail from his rejected bail hearing. Tanikella Bharani is creepy sidekick Bulli Reddy, his fixer. There is a tedious running gag between Sunil’s Bunk Seenu and Dharmavarapu Subramanyam’s greedy psychiatrist that I would have solved with a diagnosis of One Tight Slap, three times a day until the course is finished. Brahmi does his shtick, but is never more than mildly amusing. If you are looking for miracles to attribute to the Powerstar, he does seem to detoxify Ali who gives a fairly restrained character based performance. I generally enjoy Ali’s appearances in Pawan Kalyan’s films but typically loathe him in everything else so this is a mysterious but good thing.

Telugu Movie Science has long been on the cutting edge of creativity and the laws of physics are tested in Jalsa’s action scenes. As usual the showdowns involve an orderly lineup of hairy rowdies patiently taking turns to be beaten up. But no one can deny that disputes settled the old fashioned way – a swordfight – tend to have a definite outcome.

I can see why Powerstar fans, the most passionate movie fans EVER, often enthusiastically recommend this film. Pawan Kalyan is given ample scope to show his acting depth as well as his comedic and action chops and he really does shine in some scenes. It is just a pity that the story doesn’t really hold up and the direction seems more focussed on set pieces and not enough on bringing a balance to all the disparate elements. 3 stars.

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Race Gurram (2014)

Race Gurram

Race Gurram was very nearly a non-starter in Melbourne, but at the 11th hour the distributors managed to find a venue and the race was on!  Better still, there were English subtitles – even for the songs – a first for Telugu cinema here in Melbourne, but hopefully not the last.  So, with a small but luxurious cinema, subtitles and the promise of Allu Arjun for just over 2 ½ hours, was the experience worth all the effort to get the film onscreen? Definitely!  Race Gurram is a mass entertainer that doesn’t break away from standard masala fare, but still manages to leave you laughing at the end.  That’s thanks mainly to strong performances from Bunny and Brahmi, while the usual suspects who make up the rest of the cast are a bit more hit and miss.

Apart from Allu Arjun’s introduction with a herd of horses and a few brief dialogues between our hero and the main villain, I’m not entirely sure why the film is called Race Gurram.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the race track, and instead is a tale of acrimony between two brothers, Ram (Shaam) and Lakshman (Allu Arjun).

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Ram is the elder and more sensible brother. He’s an ACP and is the standard morally upright policeman that Telugu films like to use as a sacrificial lamb.  Lakshman prefers to be called Lucky, because apparently it sounds ‘cooler’, which is probably enough of a clue to his feckless and irresponsible character.  The interactions between the two brothers are one of the strengths of the film and Shaam and Bunny make their exchanges seem natural and realistic.  Their arguments are just petty and immature enough to ring true, and when the situation escalates after a few more personal jibes, Lucky’s response is also in keeping with his personality. The way their relationship develops later in the film is also well handled, even if Lucky’s revelations before the interval do seem a little forced.   The tables are turned when Lucky finds out that someone else is targeting his brother and while it’s OK for Lucky to humiliate and fight with his brother, it’s not on if someone else tries to do the same.  It’s typical boy logic, but at least it gets Lucky on to the right side in the war against goon turned politician Shiva Reddy (Ravi Kishan).

Race Gurram

Shruti Haasan appears as Spandana, Lucky’s love interest, and at first seems to have an interesting role as a devotee of yoga who only shows her emotions on the inside.  But once she hooks up with Lucky, her usefulness to the plot seems to evaporate as her ability to emote increases, and she’s relegated to mainly appearing in the songs.  At least Shruti gets to actually dance rather than just pose and gyrate like Debi Dutta in the unimpressive opening number, and she does look great even if she doesn’t get to say much in the second half.

Another disappointment is Shiva Reddy and the whole plot against Ram and Lucky.  Although there are some good moments, overall Shiva Reddy is too much of a caricature villain to be properly offensive, and his machinations to become a minister are laughably inept. Ravi Krishnan never seems to get his teeth into the role, and mostly plays it for laughs with plenty of grimacing and sneering rather than any real maliciousness.  The knock-on effect is that the fight sequences don’t work as well as they should against such an ineffectual hoodlum and even throwing Mukesh Rishi in as Shiva Reddy’s somewhat nastier father doesn’t improve the situation. However, the usual suspects including Kota Srinivasa Rao, Posani Krishna Murali, Sayaji Shinde and even Prakash Raj as Spandana’s father all add enough to the mix to keep the action moving along well.

The second half introduces Brahmi as Kill-Bill Pandey, a name which does infer the usual dire slap-stick that Brahmi often relies on for comedy.  But such is not the case – Kill-Bill Pandey has great lines and an actual proper role in the story. And he’s really funny!  Seriously! Bunny and Brahmi work well together too, as Lucky comes to realise just what he has done by releasing Kill-Bill Pandey as head of a special police force on the unsuspecting Hyderabad public.  It makes for a much better ending than expected and has to be one of the best performances I’ve seen from Brahmi in recent times.

Race Gurram

I was expecting great things from the songs despite the fact that the soundtrack didn’t sound too special on first listen, and overall I wasn’t disappointed.  Apart from the first number which appeared out of nowhere without any particular point and had very little actual dancing by Bunny, the choreography was excellent.  Placement was generally odd and mostly there was no effort to place the songs within the storyline, but who really cares when it’s Bunny dancing? The stylish star looked, well, stylish, and as always his dancing was superb, particularly with Shruti Hassan in the larger group routines. Bunny always looks to be having such a good time when he’s dancing and his energy is incredibly infectious, so no matter how ridiculous the sudden appearance of Spandana and Lucky in the snow-covered fjords of Norway seemed, it was impossible not to enjoy the show.

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Race Gurram does suffer from a rather rambling screenplay, and at times the film gets bogged down with irrelevant odds and ends that taper off into nothing.  Apart from the feuding brothers, the family moments are a tad cloying and overdone, and a heavier hand with the editing wouldn’t have gone amiss.  However, Bunny and Brahmi together make for a surprisingly entertaining finale that was certainly well appreciated by the Melbourne crowd.   Well worth a watch for their combined antics

Race Gurram

Ramayya Vastavayya (2013)

Ramayya Vasthavayya

It seems like a very long time since the last NTR Jr. film and since I read some speculation about Tarak’s ‘new look’ I was interested to see exactly what Harish Shankar had come up with.  However the ‘new look’ is really just the old look, except for the odd moment on horseback which I admit was pretty cool.  And there were some groovy new shades.  But otherwise Ramayya Vastavayya sticks to the same old formula with the usual faces reprising roles they have played a million times before. Ultimately not even the actors seem to be able to rustle up much enthusiasm and although Tarak and Samantha both work hard and deliver good performances, the film is still let down by the clichéd storyline and stereotypical characters.

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The first half of the film is generally entertaining since it focuses on the developing romance between Nandu (NTR Jr) and Akshara (Samantha).  The romance aspect was perhaps enhanced by the fans behind throwing rose petals along with the usual strips of paper, but at least it made for a pleasingly more fragrant trip back to the old Chinatown cinemas in Melbourne.  As I’ve come to expect (yawn), Nanu sees Akshara one day while hanging out with his buddies at a coffee shop and falls instantly in love.  Akshara is not quite so sure and the ensuing comedy as Nandu tries to win her heart with a variety of schemes is amusing enough to overcome the usual discomfort of the’ stalking = true love’ theme.  

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Rohini Hattangadi pops up as an aunt of some sort to Akshara and her older sister and although her role is small and fairly gratuitous she still steals the limelight every time she appears.Presumably to appeal to a wider audience, there are numerous references back to classic films, the most blatant being Tarak’s entry scene.  Most of these are fairly obvious and seem contrived to ‘fit’ into the storyline, and I’m sure there are more that I missed (hopefully more subtle) by not understanding the dialogue.  

Samantha looks gorgeous and there is only one attempt by the notorious Telugu shoe designer to make her look ridiculous so I’m presuming she must be a favourite with wardrobe.  However, Akshara is a standard Telugu heroine, whose only purpose is to make the hero look good and is otherwise completely one dimensional, which seems a complete waste of Samantha’s talents. Still, she does get to dance and there is good chemsitry between Samantha and NTR Jr. which makes their interactions more enjoyable to watch.

Tarak’s Nandu seems a fairly typical hero – there are the requisite commanding dialogues laced with a modicum of modesty and comedy, excellent dancing skills and the ability to defeat numerous opponents by the mere flexing of a muscle or two accompanied by a snarling grimace.  As always, Tarak delivers exactly what is expected of him with plenty of animation and charisma, but since he’s playing the same character he has played in his last few films it feels stale and completely predictable.  The only really up side are the songs which feature better than usual choreography and excellent dancing from both Tarak and the backing dancers.  I loved the addition of spectacles as part of the costumes for one of the songs and the music by S. Thaman was generally catchy and effective, and at least better than the recent crop of new releases.

Ramayya Vasthavayya

After the interval, Nandu moves on from bouncing people off wall, floors and sundry items of furniture to hacking people apart with increasingly bloodier and even more poorly choreographed fight scenes.  I’m not sure who is responsible for the action for Ramayya Vastavayya, but they seem to have taken inspiration from episodes of Tom and Jerry rather than anything that remotely resembles a feasible fight scenario.  The gore content rises but it’s so ridiculous that even the various severing of limbs has little impact, particularly since the fights are so obviously staged and formulaic to begin with.

Ramayya Vasthavayya

The second half also moves the action to the countryside for Akshara’s sister’s wedding and attempts to explain the antipathy between Akshara’s father Nagabhushanam (Mukesh Rishi) and two assassins (Ajay – yay!) who tried to kill him at the beginning of the film.  This involves a lengthy flashback with Shruti Haasan as Nandu’s previous fiancée Amullu, but it’s dull, overlong and Shruti and NTR Jr. have absolutely zero chemistry together.  To make matters worse, P. Ravi Shankar appears as a stereotypical evil and lecherous politician with mannerisms straight out of the ‘Villains for Dummies’ handbook and, inevitably, Kota Srinivasa Rao appears as his equally evil father. Doesn’t he ever get tired of playing the same role?  Adding to the stereotypes, Tanikella Bharani appears as Amullu’s father, Saranya Ponvannan as her mother and M.S. Narayan briefly appears in a throwaway role which adds absolutely nothing to the plot.  Harish Shankar tries to evoke American crime shows by tying together moments from the first half with explanations later in the film, but it looks clumsy and is generally ineffective.

Ramayya VasthavayyaRamayya Vasthavayya

Ramayya Vastavayya disappointingly doesn’t cover any new ground and Harish Shankar sticks to a very well-worn formula without adding anything novel.  With such a tired screenplay and an abrupt change of pace in the second half, it’s really only the songs that appeal despite generally good performances from the actors.  NTR Jr. is as good as ever, but even with his energy and the appeal of two heroines Ramayya Vasthavayya is really a film solely for the fans.  Still, it’s worth watching at least once for the dancing, which is excellent and much better than the film deserves.