Rakshasudu (1986)

Rakshasudu is all stops out mass from A Kodandarami Reddy. Chiru is The Nameless Hero, there are many people known by initials only, and you can’t go past his back up team of Nagababu, Suhasini, Radha and Sumalata. Evildoers beware!

A woman (Annapurna) goes into labour in an orphanage or children’s home. The unscrupulous owner (Allu Ramalingaiah) steals and sells her baby boy to a beggar who uses the kid to augment his begging routine. He is not a loving father figure, and physically abuses the child. The kid fights back, demanding to know where his real parents are, and one day finds himself sold and on the way to a mysterious island where he will work as a slave.

The nameless child grows up to be Chiranjeevi. In due course Chiru escapes the island, along with his bestie Simham (Nagendra babu) and an excellent dog. He goes to the orphanage and demands to know where his mother is. Allu Ramalingaiah asks for a large sum of money in return, and Chiru duly goes to steal it. But he is caught by wealthy JK (Rao Gopal Rao) and they make a deal. Chiru will terminate evil VR (Kannada Prabhakar) who owns the island where he was imprisoned, and JK will help him find his mother.

JK’s relative or assistant Vani (Sumalatha) is already on task regarding VR. She helps Chiru meet Shailu (Radha). Shailu is smitten immediately but he isn’t keen except that she is VR’s daughter. This opens up a whole new avenue of revenge for Chiru. He keeps an assignation with Shailu who sends a lot of mixed signals by bouncing on her bed and thrusting at him. What is he to make of it all? As soon as is decent, he is off to her dad’s place, presumably to announce he is out for vengeance and BTW about your daughter’s virginity…It doesn’t go down well with VR. But it is kind of amusing to watch the alpha male posturing backed up by handy photos. I would have been asking where the photographer was hiding but Shailu doesn’t care. She just wants Chiranjeevi. Poor Radha. She is doomed to be second fiddle, although she does her best to be unmissable. But Chiru is not all about being menacing and duplicitous.

Sumathi (Suhasini), a teacher, is dragged by a podgy Labrador to the river bank where she finds an injured Chiru. I have no idea how he got there, but I assume VR is responsible. Romance clearly starts to bloom as he convalesces, and her students find this a riveting spectator sport. Via flashback we see how VR killed her family when they were preparing to celebrate a festival. I think only Sumathi and her policeman brother Vijay (Rajendra Prasad) survived. Suhasini and Chiranjeevi seem to have good chemistry. In amongst all the wild shenanigans she looks like she is genuinely amused at some points but then I remember. Suhasini is a great actress.

Chiru is even more fired up for revenge now he knows who killed Sumathi’s family. He loves her and wants to start dishing out the comeuppances. But first he has to deal with Shailu and her incessant groping. While I don’t really like a lot of what his character does, especially when it comes to Shailu, I like the performance a lot. This role has the full Hero gamut from wisecracking to arse kicking and a whole lot of emo wallowing and shameless flirting. And random songs.

My notes here say: Song! Snow! Sleds!

There are so many flashbacks. Chiru recognises an old man in a photo in Sumathi’s album, and that sparks a memory of when he helped a Golden Labrador with a leg injury. His kindness was repaid in spades. When Chiru ends up high above the ground, strung up between two trees, the dog climbs a tree and crawls out along a branch to untie his human. What an anipal!

And maybe it’s the same dog who is delivering his love letters. Of course, the problem with sending your love letters by Labrador courier is that you may not be communicating with who you think you are. Chiru dreams of Sumathi but Shailu asserts herself in the song fantasies, perpetuating the love triangle that nobody is aware of. Yet.

Back in the island days, Chiru’s impressive high kicking fighting style wins the affection of VR’s lady friend, Jayamala. And that leads to the gladiator mini-skirt song.

Given the robes the slaves wear, the mini dress kind of makes sense as a glammed up version of his work uniform. So if nothing else I am grateful to the film for clearing that up. But Chiru is not to be hers. Of course he winds up in a Love Parallelogram. A Triangle is simply not Mega enough!

In the present day, Shailu sees Chiranjeevi with Sumathi, and her head splits into two with a nice montage happening where her brain should be. She is devastated.

The end of the film brings closure to many of these tangled relationships. Usually by killing one of the people involved. There is a classic Masala Death Trap, needlessly complex shenanigans, feats of improbable strength, red paint galore. Who will live happily ever after? And who will be crushed by the Mega-boots?

Not a classic but an excellent ripping yarn, a great cast, and all the things I expect from Chiru. 4 stars! (a bonus half a star for making sense of the mini skirt)

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Mrugaraju

Gunasekhar’s film is a remake of the Ghost and the Darkness – but with Mega Heroics instead of Val Kilmer grimacing. Having seen both (not very good) films, this is actually my pick of the bunch. It makes no sense, the sound team may have been drunk, and everyone forgets about the lion far more than they should. But Simran and Chiranjeevi are good, the songs are fun, and it just never lets anything (particularly geography) get in the way.

Aishwarya (Simran) volunteers to take over a bridge building project that has come to a standstill following a number of lion attacks. Raju (Chiranjeevi) is the legendary forest guide and sharpshooter hired to keep the workers safe. Eventually we find out that Raju and Aishwarya had been married and that sparks a long lion-free flashback to explain their back story. Aishwarya thinks he deserted her knowing she was knocked up and he can’t believe he has a kid (in a happy way). So he sings a sad little song that has the effect of luring his daughter out into the night and towards almost certain death. Will they get back together? Will the lion kill again? Will anyone ever finish that bridge?

I liked that Aishwarya started out as a practical professional woman. Her character is on the receiving end of a lot of unfortunate comedy uncle buffoonery and sexist remarks from Raju. Simran plays Aishwarya as pleasant but firm, and she wasn’t afraid of confrontation. She realised her fiancé Vicky was an arse and at her own engagement ceremony, strode down the aisle and asked Raju to marry her. Good move! But because you can’t have The Heroine on an equal footing with The Hero, many of her skills failed to manifest at crucial times. And her lion catching plan is in MS Paint. I don’t think anyone on the crew consulted an engineer about what good construction looked like (surely half the crew WERE engineers?). I’m not sure about Aishwarya wearing beaded chiffon sarees around camp either, but each to their own. She has nice chemistry with Chiranjeevi and does her best with the stupid screenplay.

Raju is a fairly straightforward good guy character but Chiru’s acting chops drew out the emotional tension in some of his scenes with Simran. Of course he could beat up packs of drug dealers with one hand behind his back, poachers better beware, and he always knows best. But for a renowned hunter he was frankly hopeless. They come up with a plan to have Rajanna up on a platform, with a baboon tied to a tree nearby as bait. Aishwarya startled an eagle which knocked Raju to the ground, just as the lion shows up. I really wish they’d watched a proper wildlife doco or two. He was too chatty and smoked incessantly so ensured the lions knew exactly where he was, he dropped his gun ALL THE TIME (a strap? Did anyone think of a strap?), seemed constantly surprised by animal behaviour, and his clever plans resulted in several unnecessary deaths. He apparently had a no-kill policy which is laudable, but then he wore so many animal teeth I had to wonder. The action scenes range from standard fights to more complex stunts and Chiru throws himself into it all with vim and vigour (and a bit of overacting).

Chiru really shines in the songs, which is hardly a surprise, and they are highlights of this inconsistent adaptation. It was odd but not unpleasant hearing Udit Narayan sing for him in Aley Ley Aley Ley as I tend to associate his voice with SRK. And yes, Chiru provided the vocals for Chai Chai in a spirited Sprechgesang.

Nagendra Babu is a tribal man supervising the villagers work. He and Raju have a lion claw type gesture in place of a bro fist. At one moment that was supposed to be emotional I was shouting “He’s gonna do the hands” and he did and I laughed and then I felt bad but hey…It’s like lots of things in this film, under thought and over used. But I always like seeing Naga Babu as a good guy sidekick. I just wish he didn’t have to die so often.

Prakash Raj and Kovai Sarala are Raju’s befeathered parents. They love their boy and have faith in their tribe’s way of life. And they ham it up at every opportunity. Anyone who can overact when their character is dead really needs to take look at themselves. But they’re not alone. Brahmi is a Hindi speaking doofus who adds nothing. MS Narayana dressed up as a bear to scare Aishwarya, only to have a real (man in a suit) bear drag him away with, er, romantic intent…Jeez. I understand the traditional requirement of a comedy track but it doesn’t sit well against what could have been a suspenseful action oriented story.

Where this bridge is located is debatable. While all the people speak Telugu, the government departments seem to be Indian, and the place names are Indian there is a sizeable population of giraffes, along with a few rhinos and those pesky lions. The “tribal” people don’t help with narrowing down the continent either. The cultural appropriation extended to Australia as Raju also wielded a very sharp edged boomerang. There is so much geographic inconsistency – are they in a jungle or grassy plains, where did those mountains come from and why are they so easy for a toddler to climb up and back down again…

The lions were very diverting. Due to shonky CGI and changing perspectives they sometimes appeared to be hippo sized, then sometimes like a small terrier. Seeing what looked like a tiny lion speeding by with galloping pony sound effects – hilarious. I also liked the lion strolling along a log made to look like it was climbing a tree. Very 1960’s Batman. There were some stuffed lions too. I think I paid more attention to the lions than most people in the film. Aishwarya spends a lot of time wandering around the long grass looking picturesque and edible, and Raju spends more time singing motivational songs than actually being on task.

I was also reunited with an old friend – the jungle bunny. Aishwarya nearly shoots a fluffy white rabbit thinking it is a lion, but it fakes death until revived by Chiru breathing on it. And then in what may be an act of rabbit revenge, local glamour girl Sivangi (Sanghavi) chases a fluffy white bunny that leads her into the lions’ den; a cave filled with skulls and bones. I reckon either the rabbits are in cahoots with the lions or they are the real evil masterminds.

Mruga Raju is not a very good film, Gunasehar lacked focus and the execution is clumsy. But Chiru is very appealing (once Raju eases off the sexist BS), and Simran is a good partner. It plays a lot better with judicious use of the FF button, but the songs are worth a watch. 3 stars!

Khaidi No 150

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I thought the original film (Kaththi) was mediocre so I had low expectations. And I was honestly happy at seeing Big Chiru on screen, my first ever Megastar FDFS, and the bonus of subtitles. The audience went nuts when Chiru’s foot first appeared. Apparently I am not the only one who takes a keen interest in Mega Footwear. And the screaming and paper throwing erupted at the start of every song and every fight. It felt so good to be among my people.

The story goes like this. Escaped convict Seenu (Chiranjeevi) witnesses an attempted hit on a stranger, Sankar (Chiranjeevi). He takes Sankar to hospital but swaps over their ID so he can remain free, assuming that the police will let the other man go once they realise the error. Seenu then impersonates Sankar, and acquires a nursing home full of old men from the village of Neeru. As he understand their story, and gets to watch a handy documentary on Sankar’s crusade against the evil corporates, Seenu takes up the fight as his own.

In many ways this is a perfect comeback vehicle for Chiranjeevi. The dual role and the breadth of the action means no matter what his fans want from him, they’re likely to get it. He delivers action, big speeches, garish outfits, and some of his trademark dance moves (the veena step!), all with minor modification to suit a gentleman of a certain age. And most of that is done in the initial prologue section. The dual role means he can play both mass and class aspects of the standard hero, and even asks Lakshmi (Kajal) which she prefers before telling her his name. Sankar wears brainy glasses (HOT. Just saying) where Seenu has a more flamboyant style. There are references both in the script and the background music to his previous films, some of them drawing roars of appreciation from a very vocal crowd. He has a sidekick (Ali), an enemy (Tarun Arora), a frenemy (Brahmanandam as Doberman), and many comedy uncles and familiar actors as supports, dependants, and thugs. He also has an irrelevant love interest. See? Everything!

I was wondering how they would deal with the age gap between Chiru and Kajal and the answer is that Seenu thinks Lakshmi is a childhood sweetheart, but then realises they just look alike. So I decided that young at heart Seenu always thinks of himself as that twenty-something dude about town rather than thinking we’d believe they were actually the same age. I really should be on the payroll to find far-fetched solutions to ill-conceived plot devices…And the fight scenes are grand and full of energy, even though Chiru has long since left his limber acrobatic years behind. The songs also work to cover over the years because they are more a platform for people to worship the Megastar not a display of romance. The lyrics are mostly about how great he is, the choreo is very peacock-esque as he and the backing dudes strut their stuff, and the ladies just wiggle when in shot.

“Ammadu lets do Kummudu” is probably the worst song I will hear this year but as soon as it was over I would have hit replay if I could have. It has all the visuals I could ask for – prancing, colourful outfits, bedazzled Mega-shoes, and a guest appearance by Charan. Father and son look so chuffed to be dancing together. The backing dancer costumes are a wonder throughout. From drapey chiffon to see through plastic jackets, you name it, they had to wear it.

Kajal’s character is irrelevant, and she can hardly dance, so I really paid little attention to her. However. In every song picturisation she wears extremely sensible walking shoes regardless of her dress. So I was mildly diverted and wondered if it was due to her height compared to Chiru, perhaps she had an injury and couldn’t wear the usual ugly strappy sandals, was it some kind of statement. I don’t know. I doubt that this is what she wants to be remembered for but it really is the most interesting thing about Lakshmi.

Farmer suicide is a real issue given pretty superficial treatment by V.V Vinayak, although I appreciate he tried to show the effects of the ever shortening media cycle on long running issues. But the main components of the story felt off kilter. Farming life was overly romanticised, described as a necessary fate, and condemned as too harsh, often in the same grand speech. The speech that got a really big response was one about people being forced out of their villages and having to take crappy jobs in the big cities to earn some money. But the film seemed adamant that people should stay on the land, which I think is a bit simplistic as country kids may want or need to pursue other careers and they should have those opportunities. Sankar was supposed to be a man of principle but didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond when offered a deal to let some thugs kill Seenu if they got him out of jail. It was OK to throw in a tasteless joke that Doberman (Brahmi) had raped 100 women. And Ali in drag is never necessary to any movie ever. And the Megastar presence really dominates so that the reliable and accomplished guys like Nasser had little opportunity to make much of their roles. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to anyone but Chiru!

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There are also some genuinely funny moments. I think my favourite was  when Posani Krishna Murali’s men all pretended to pick up phone calls as he was blustering and wandered off looking busy rather than face Seenu. Or maybe when Brahmi lost his religion during a huge fight scene. I also liked the thinking behind one fight scene that progressed through corporate thugs, oiled up baldy muscle men who looked like an angry pack of Maltesers, and finally the bad hair gang.

Lest you think I am completely superficial and only looked at the shoes, there was an interesting moment regarding justice in this film world. The judge (played by Naga Babu) says that if a single person kills that is murder, but if society kills it’s a revolution. It’s a problematic statement once you get thinking about the mob and riots but it did mean someone notionally good avoided jail time, and the person they killed was bad news anyway. No biggie.

Will Khaidi No 150 make a fan of anyone who isn’t? Probably not. Does any of that matter if you are a fan? No way!

Pssst  – Make sure you stay for the end credits for some glimpses of the famous visitors on set, and Lawrence closely monitoring a dance and giving someone the stinkeye.