Gundello Godari

Gundello Godari

Gundello Godari is a step away from mass masala, going back to basics with a simple love story that evolves in quite a different way from the usual fare.  This is director Kumar Nagendra’s debut film and it’s loosely based on a novel by BVS Rama Rao, set around the real-life devastating floods in 1986.  Initially, newlyweds Malli and Chitra know nothing about each other, but as they battle through the Godavari floodwaters, they gradually learn about their respective troubled pasts.  The screenplay is a little patchy in places and the flood is frequently overly melodramatic, but good performances and beautiful music by Ilaiyaraaja make this a better than average watch.

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The story opens with the marriage of Malli (Aadhi) and Chitra (Lakshmi Manchu), although they barely acknowledge each other throughout the ceremony.  The first spark of interest occurs when the beautiful Sarala (Taapsee Pannu) gifts the groom with a golden ring, obviously with the intention of making his new bride jealous.  At that point, the sleazy Dhorababu (Ravi Babu) arrives and also has a present for the happy couple, this time a gold chain for the bride.  Lost in their thoughts, Chitra and Malli linger too long and get caught up in the flood waters as the rest of the village evacuates.  However, they end up cast adrift on a thatched roof together, just managing to stay afloat, and in the likelihood that they won’t survive, decide to discuss their past lives and exactly how Sarala and Dhorababu fit into the picture.

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The initial flood scenes are well integrated between the sets and some good CGI.  There are one or two moments of soggy model villages eroding with a trickle of water, but these are brief, and after all, who doesn’t like to see the traditional model village make an appearance.  The cinematography by M.R.Palanikumaar is excellent, with beautiful shots of the river, wildlife and surrounding countryside particularly during the flashback scenes.  These contrast with the fury of the river in full flood, and also highlight the difference between Malli and Chitra’s earlier lives and their current turmoil.  Predictable perhaps, but when the parallels are drawn this well with good imagery it’s hard to object.

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The first flashback deals with Malli and his undoing at the hands of his boss’s daughter.  Malli is a hard-working fisherman who has a good circle of friends, looks after his mother like all good boys should, and is saving up to buy his own boat.  He also tends to favour a string vest, but we shouldn’t hold that against him.

Kumar Nagendra captures the hopes and aspirations of a village fisherman perfectly and Aadhi is excellent in the role.  A boat race at a local fair epitomises Malli’s drive and determination to achieve what he wants, although the same fair brings him inadvertently to the attention of Sarala.  Despite her impending marriage, Sarala has no compunction in going after what she wants, and in this case what she wants is Malli!  Although she initially appears child-like as she threatens and cajoles Malli into taking her to the movies on her birthday, events become more sinister as Malli arrested by the local police on a spurious charge of brewing illicit alcohol.  Whether it’s Sarala or her father who is responsible, Malli ends up taking his frustration out on Sarala and gives her exactly what she wants in the process.  Sarala is an interesting and atypical character with her overt sexuality and brazen attempts to drag Malli into her bed.  Taapsee is good in the role, but her expression rarely varies, and although her knowing smirk is suitable a little more variation would have given her character more appeal.  Aadhi on the other hand does a fantastic job of capturing frustration, anger and even some lust in his dealings with Sarala and despite the nature of their relationship, there is plenty of emotion and sparkage between the two characters.

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After Malli’s story, Chitra’s explanation of past events is not as well written and her story tends to wander off track.  Chitra was adopted by Suri’s (Sundeep Kishan) parents as a child, but it’s not a happy family. Suri’s father Somaiah is a drunkard and his mother Rathamma works as a prostitute to keep the wolf from the door.  Chitra is in love with the adult Suri, but he’s a man more interested in his chickens, in particular fighting cocks, than in Chitra.  He also pays a little too much attention to the bangle seller Bangari (Suja Varunee) and all together there seems very little reason for Chitra to want to marry Suri.

It’s actually a little creepy since they were brought up together as brother and sister, but since there is minimal chemistry between the two actors this isn’t a major issue.  Sundeep Kishan is restrained but adequate in his role as Suri, and the character doesn’t have a lot of depth for Sundeep to work with.  The explanation for Dhorababu turning up at the wedding is also less convincing, but Lakshmi Manchu is good as the beleaguered Chitra, and her spirited defiance against the various calamities that befall her is heartening.

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While the flashback sequences provide some explanation of previous events, they do provoke more questions that are never answered.  There is no explanation of what happened to Malli after his interaction with Sarala, and more importantly no mention of whether or not he is working as a fisherman and able to support a wife given his previous dismissal by his erstwhile boss.  The arrangement of the wedding is never discussed and there is no reason given for these two strangers deciding to marry each other. Still, the developing relationship between the two is well handled, even though it is almost swamped at times by the drama of the flood, and both Aadhi and Laksmi Manchu are both very good in their respective roles.

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Ilaiyaraaja’s music is evocative of the time, although there are two rather oddly placed item numbers which don’t fit as well and don’t have any real place in the narrative.  Mumaith Khan features in one of these, while Suja Varunee does the honours in the second, but both feel as if they are just added in to try and appeal to a more mass audience and aren’t particularly well choreographed.  However, apart from the first song, these are the only two numbers which feature any dancing, since the rest are used to showcase the various relationships of the main characters.

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Gundello Godari is a brave attempt to take a different look at relationships and approach a love story in a more unusual way.  For the most part it works, although the second half could be tighter condensed to allow for a more detailed development of the relationship between the two main leads.  Worth watching for evocative imagery, good performances from Aadhi and Lakshmi Manchu and a bold characterisation from Taapsee.  3½ stars.

Gundello Godari

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Neninthe

Neninthe is an enjoyable mass entertainer with a dollop of romance and a splash of action, all set in the Telugu movie making world. There are plenty of references to popular Telugu film personalities starting right from the opening titles, and lots of opportunities to guess who various characters are based on. The humour is funny and cynical, and I really like most of the performances. But despite pointing out the blurred line between reality and film fantasy almost all of the conflicts and questions are resolved in ‘only in movies’ style, and not always in tongue in cheek fashion. I don’t think it’s meant to be a realistic expose of the film industry, and that isn’t how I viewed it, but the story would have benefited from a more careful eye on how these elements were blended.

Ravi (Ravi Teja) is an aspiring director. He lives with his ailing ma (Rama Prabha), and is a driven character. Ravi navigates the ego traps and financial shenanigans of the movie industry, all with one goal – to direct his film, ‘Neninthe’. He is brutally honest at times and fiercely determined to succeed in directing his own story. Ravi Teja is a very good actor, especially when he tones down the sleazy uncle act, and this role is great as it spans drama, humour and action. Ravi observes the characters around him, often with a sarcastic muttered aside.

With characters like the infamous director Idli Vishwanadham (Brahmanandam) and associates including producer Sayaji Shinde and production assistants Venu Madhav and MS Narayana, he has lots of material.

Ravi is pragmatic about love and expects marriage to wait on his priorities. I really liked seeing Ravi with his friends, especially his mate who is desperate to be a villain, and mother and they all had a nice rapport.

Ravi is a regular guy, albeit with heroic powers when required and can easily thrash a dozen hulking great rowdies. The trigger is more likely to be his career than a girl. Ravi is prepared to compromise over a lot of things, but not his film.

There are setbacks and sadness in his life, but he keeps going, even when it seems he must run out of energy. He represents the idealism and passion of film makers for their craft as well as being the vengeful, protective hero.

Sandhya (Siya) is an alleged dancer who has no ambition other than her next meal and not getting pimped out by her creepy brother-in-law (Krishna Bhagawan). Both the actress and the role are quite insipid and I wanted to slap her on more than one occasion. Sandhya is pursued by Yadu (Supreet), a local thug accustomed to taking what he wants. She, of course, falls for Ravi and seems to think that she can just leave every problem in her life for him to solve because her love places him under that obligation. It is quite annoying to hear her whining about how Ravi never helps her when she does bugger all to help herself. I am sure it would be hard to ditch the sadistic brother-in-law, but it’s even harder to walk away if you have no spine to speak of.  Anyway, she seems set on Ravi, and equally set on changing him.

Ravi helps her get a starring role, and her fortunes improve especially as her brother-in-law stops trying to sell her, but the couple start to drift apart. The scenes where Sandhya and Ravi discuss their relationship are well written, and Ravi Teja is believable as the man in love but not blind to practicalities. Siya has some good moments, especially when she is annoyed at Ravi, but she fades when the other stars are present. There was potential for Sandhya to be more interesting but Siya is as convincing an actress as she is a dancer and the script is lightweight.

Subbaraju is ‘Miracle Star’ Mallik. He was one of the first Telugu ‘That Guys’ that I could pick out from the pack. You know the guys – always a sidekick, policeman or henchman (not to be confused with ‘That Comedy Uncle’). I admit I may have paid particular attention because Subbaraju is rather good looking, even in the shirts they dug up for this film (see them hanging up in the screencap above). But I also noticed him as he seems to be more of a character actor than just a stock ‘type’ and can handle a range of roles. So that got me thinking about the trajectory from supporting actor to hero, and why there are so many ‘types’ and so few honest to goodness character actors in Telugu films nowadays.

Puri Jagannadh has fun with Mallik as the stereotypical hero, and Subbaraju gives it the right balance of sincerity and parody. He spouts dialogue recycled from Pokiri and then asks if it isn’t a bit over the top, and has a flock of minions fussing over him. Mallik swans about like a total diva and he proves he isn’t above using his fame when it suits. But he also voices concern about the obsession of the die-hard fans and how far they go in the name of their idols, and that forms a substantial sub-plot.

There was a mix of gratitude, ego, and resentment in Mallik’s dialogue about the fans and the effect their expectation has on movie making. If he had spoken to one particular nutter at the right time there may not have been a funeral at which to make that speech, but I suppose that would have been too sensible.

Mumaith Khan is the item girl, and her character is Malik’s girlfriend. Their scenes together are good, except for Mumaith’s occasionally stilted dialogue delivery. They serve more to comment on the obsessions of the press than to provide another romantic element in the film.

That song rhymes bus station with frustration. I just thought I’d mention it as Chakri’s music is pretty lacklustre and that’s all I ever seem to remember.

A confronting ‘movie meets real life’ moments occurs after Mumaith and Mallik break up over scurrilous rumours in the press. Mumaith overdoses, and on the way to hospital her car is hijacked by a couple of Yadu’s men who then rape her. She gets out of her hospital bed to deliver a speech (full of bleeps) to the press about their penchant for creating news with no regard for the individuals or the effect these stories have. It’s a sharp observation, but I wish it had been delivered in a different setting. Anyway, once again a valid point was made via a sensational set-up.

There is a salacious element in the media when discussing many actresses, and I doubt the same journalists would approve if that tone was directed at their sister or cousin. This would have been an interesting story to film post the advent of Twitter, since that is often what passes for ‘news’ these days. I like Rana Daggubati as an actor but I don’t think his recent tweet about luggage going astray warranted several paragraphs in the Times of India!

Supreet as Yadu is hilarious and utterly repulsive as he tries to woo Sandhya instead of just assaulting her as per his usual approach. Yadu’s attempts to be appealing are amusing even as my skin was crawling. It was like watching a bear trying to eat with chopsticks –unnatural and bizarre yet compelling. And his gang have some of the worst hair I’ve seen in ages. He is menacing, and doesn’t hold back on the crazy. Yadu’s obsession with Sandhya and the ensuing conflict with Ravi bring the film to a gory final confrontation.

The other supporting actors are generally fine and their characters are integral to the story. There are ambitious would-be directors, assistants to uphold the status of their boss, financiers and distributors as well as family and friends. It’s a crowded film, but the story and relationships remain clear. There are some fairly awesome song costumes too!

Puri Jagannadh doesn’t stop at movie references in the dialogue – he uses music snippets and visuals, and Ravi even uses a reel of film as a weapon. The dialogue sometimes sounds like a lecture but overall I find the subject and the characters engaging enough. It’s a very well planned and designed film. I just wish he had put as much effort into executing the story. 3 ½ stars.

Quite apart from the potshots at various industry types, I’m also convinced that Puri Jagannadh may hate a segment of his audience. Specifically, me. Why?

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

So who gets a song requiring beachside cavorting?

You’ve been warned.

Heather says: Although there are a lot of elements I do like about this film, there are also a few I don’t like, and it was those that I noticed more on re-watching Neninthe for this review. However it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen by Ravi Teja who is very watchable and charismatic here, although (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) I do think I prefer him unwaxed! I also love the back-drop of the film industry as the setting for the story and the way that Puri Jagannadh manages to get across the routine repetitiveness associated with filming rather than the glitz and glamour that most people associate with movies. However I find the story rather bitty with elements that don’t gel  together quite as well as they should. Sandhya has so much to deal with that perhaps it’s not surprising that she doesn’t seem to know where to start. Her character seems to veer between hang-wringing and ineffectual ‘woe-is-me’ to being quite strong and decisive when it comes to making sure that she gets exactly what she wants from Ravi. I found all this dithering to be annoying, and couldn’t feel very much sympathy for her character at all. In fact I think the film would have been better without the romance factor, as it could make just as much sense that Ravi helped her career because he was a nice guy who felt she deserved better. There didn’t seem to be any zing to the romance and apart from the songs, no chemistry between the two actors.

On the other hand I do like Brahmi’s bumbling director and think that the comedy is generally well integrated into the main story. Like Temple, I’m a big Subbaraju fan, and I totally loved him as the ‘miracle star’.  Watching this for the second time and about a year and many films later, I did pick up more of the nuances in his performance, and in particular the way his character interacted with the cast and crew as well as the members of his fan association. I think he’s a great actor and apart from doing justice to his role as a stereotypical ‘hero’ he really looked the part too. Mumaith Khan is another of my favourite performers and while she seemed to be basically playing herself, I appreciated the way she appeared on camera with minimal make-up and gave a fairly convincing lecture about the evils of fame. As Temple has mentioned there are many good and valid points made about the way stars are treated by fans, the press and the industry but I agree that the set-up to deliver these messages tended to overshadow the points that Puri Jagannadh was trying to make.

I did notice that the subtitles appeared better than usual – there was a  ‘shut your gob’ in there which I appreciated as a very English idiom rather than the usual more stilted direct translations and there were quite a few of these more colloquial interpretations. I also enjoyed the shots of the orchestra with real musicians playing violins properly rather than the usual half-hearted attempts that drive me crazy!

This is still an entertaining film despite the irritating heroine and lacklustre romance. I’d recommend watching at least once for some excellent performances and the general overall view of the movie industry. 3 ½ stars.

Nenu Naa Rakshasi

Did I like the film? Well, I wasn’t bored often (except for the comedy), I had plenty to think about, there are some good performances and the  first half is gripping. Puri Jagannadh has tried to frame an introspective psychological study in a mass thriller story, and ultimately fails, although he did set some interesting ideas in play. The issue of suicide is raised but left for us to make our own judgements for the most part. I appreciated the ambiguity that allowed for some viewer reflection instead of being hit over the head with one single message for the whole film. I disliked the final scenes which looked like they had been tacked on to change the overall tone of the story, but the pre-ending ending was lame too. So yes, yes I did like the film overall though there are clearly massive flaws and I am struggling to articulate why they didn’t quite outweigh the positives.

Abhi (Rana) is a hitman motivated by hospital bills for his mother. He is kind of geeky, a loner, and not at all a flawless killing machine. His story is told in an exposition to camera, giving his reasons for becoming a killer and his view of life and love. He isn’t ice cold homicidal perfection and I found this characterisation appealing.  He stresses when the police wander into a cafe, runs into trouble instead of away, acts impulsively when he could have waited for a better opportunity, that sort of thing. When the vengeance and coincidence kicks in, Abhi loses some of that humanity, increases in heroic unstoppability and becomes less believable. He sees Meenakshi (Ileana) and falls for her instantly, sparking some half-arsed stalking (in between kills) and an ‘MTV clip directed by John Woo’ fantasy.

She isn’t too bright if she can’t spot Rana following her in a crowd. Jeez!

Puri Jagannadh shows what Meenakshi does (she records video of people committing suicide and uploads it to Youtube) but doesn’t fully reveal why she does this until very late in the film (there are clear hints early). That was a miscalculation as I didn’t really connect with Meenakshi. In the psychological drama aspect this lack of character depth unbalanced the whole thing for me.

Superintendent Vikram (Subbaraju) and his young daughter move in across the hall from Abhi. I was quite alarmed by her being allowed to wander unsupervised into a stranger’s apartment, but whatever. They provide some emotional engagement for Abhi and some tension as the men become friendly, which is a bad idea for a hitman. Vikram is hunting the Youtube suicide film person as well as investigating the spate of shootings. Subbaraju plays it straight and gives a strong and energetic performance as the righteous cop and loving father. His investigations, together with a rowdy swearing revenge against Abhi, fuel the thriller aspect of the story.

Abhimanyu Singh is the batshit crazy villain who is just too insane and dysfunctional to be believed. He seemed to kill more of his own men than he did his intended victims and his twitchy and fey mannerisms were just hammy. He was so nuts he wasn’t really menacing and so it was all a bit underwhelming for me.

The first half is pretty punchy and l really enjoyed it. The second half loses that energy. For Abhi there is hope for a better tomorrow and he is looking for something to hold on to. Meenakshi on the other hand has disengaged from the world and withdrawn emotionally. They both understand the fragility of life but it motivates them in opposite directions. The Abhi/Meenakshi storyline in Venice detours into a meandering romance and the dramatic stuff happens mostly in India so it’s very uneven. By the time they reach the pretend Easter Island sculptures, the plot has been lost.

Rana is expressive but understated most of the time, and that suited Abhi’s character. His attraction to Meenakshi and his frustration with her is evident. His scenes with the kid next door are nice and the lighter moments are fun, plus his parade of silly walks in the Michael Jackson rip-off  inspired Padithnammo shows that he is prepared to make a goose of himself for our entertainment.

The actual dancing was restricted to a drunk song in Venice and in the club number with Mumaith. It’s not his strength but he isn’t completely unwatchably terrible and I would say he falls firmly into the ‘actors who try to dance’ category. He did look self conscious in a handful of scenes. Rana was very impressive in the action sequences as he is so imposing, and the fight choreography and filming was excellent. The hero entrance scene was great, and had all the visual trademarks I expect from Puri Jagannadh. Abhi supplemented his sharpshooting with some very handy knife and martial artsy skills apparently acquired during the interval so that was time well spent. The ladies in the audience all squealed when Rana said ‘I love you! Something something full package!’ I think they liked his package.

Ileana is beautiful, and certainly gave it her best in a couple of key scenes. She was far more impressive than in the recent Shakti. She plays Meenakshi as perfectly pleasant but distant for most of the film so there isn’t a lot to say about her performance. This is a spoiler–Meenakshi films someone who decides he wants to live after all, and asks her to help him get to a hospital. She refuses saying she is just there to video not to change the course of events and walks away, which was quite powerful. Later on it is revealed that she did indeed call for an ambulance so her actions were at odds with her stated beliefs and this is a problem with the character as I don’t think that was really explored or challenged. Her backstory when it eventually showed up was so clichéd and undermined what was a fairly original idea for a heroine. I also have a problem with her ninja scarf disguise which disguised nothing. Firstly, it left most of her face uncovered and secondly, how do we all recognise Ileana instantly? The hips.

Mumaith Khan appears on and off throughout the film, and really her only contribution was to make me think ‘Is she gonna?’ When she eventually danced, it was a standard club number but still fun (also notable for the silly hat team having their way with Rana). Her facial expressions are so much more lively and spontaneous when she dances than when she acts. Mind you, she was stuck in the comedy side plot with Ali and a plus sized lady of colour so she may well have been having suicidal thoughts of her own. I was.

It’s a very stylish film, lovely to look at but the team often use tricky angles and edits just because they can. There is good attention to detail in the wardrobe and set design, and the editing is excellent in the action scenes. The music is formulaic and more effective as a background score than in the songs. There is not one healthy romantic relationship in the film, and that may be deliberate but it seemed to be more an excuse for bad comedy or dubious behaviours in the name of love. Oh for a better script and more balanced direction!

I want to get this on DVD so I can see what I missed in the dialogues and to enjoy the beautifully executed action scenes. But I think I’ll stop before the end, and concentrate on the more successful crime drama aspect.