Sammohanam (2018)

 

Sammohanam is kind of like Notting Hill (acknowledged by writer/director Mohan Krishna Indraganti), only with a few Telugu film staples and bonus rowdies. I liked it enormously, almost against my better judgement especially when it goes a bit awry in the second half.

Warning! partial spoilers ahead.

 

Film buff Sarvesh (Naresh) and wife Anasuya (Pavithra Lokesh) keep a beautiful and welcoming home, and she keeps the entire neighbourhood in snacks and sweets. Daughter Divya (Harini) is studying, and son Vijay (Sudheer Babu) is determined to be a picture book author. When Sarva is approached to let a film crew use his house, he agrees immediately on just one condition. They have to give him a role. Vijay is disgusted at the idea. He is an intellectual snob who believes while books can transform a mind movies are cheap and do damage. Divya is all for it because the It Girl of the day, Sameera Rathod (Aditi Rao Hydari), is the heroine. Sarva will brook no arguments, and the shoot commences. Sameera overhears Vijay and family mocking her bad Telugu and asks him to coach her. He reluctantly accepts and they develop a friendship that could be something more. After an uncomfortable start, everyone settles down and family and crew fall into a new routine. But they can’t all stay in this happy little bubble forever. What will happen when Sameera leaves? Will Vijay stop pouting? And will Sarva get his big acting break?

The answer in short is that people have their hearts broken, and some are mended. Sarva gets all ready for the movie premier only to find he was left on the editing room floor. He is devastated but his love for film cannot be killed. When Vijay was depressed over Sameera, his mum told him that rejection wasn’t the end of the world and that just because someone doesn’t return your feelings, that doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of love or that nobody else will love you. Don’t take it out on them, try and be there for them as it’s a hard time for both of you. It was done with warmth and a little bit of humour that made her advice relatable.

Aditi Rao Hydari delivered a good performance, although sometimes she was left with nothing to do but make doe eyes. Sameera’s character was well developed with respect to her work as an actress. She made it clear that while some producers (and co-stars) expected her to be little more than a prostitute, she was proud of her skills and training and wouldn’t sell herself out. There were many small moments and reactions where you could see Sameera subtly navigating the constant intrusion by Kishore the star kid. I liked when the family and loser mates started treating her more like a person, not a star, even when she was wearing one of her micro-skirts. She blossomed in their house, with people around who seemed genuinely to care for her, not for her status. But when her Dark Secret threw a spanner in the works, Mohan Krishan Indraganti reverted to film cliches. Sameera was being abused and gaslighted by an old friend and refused to tell anyone except her friend and assistant Ramya (Hari Teja). This led to lots of scenes with Aditi just staring at Vijay as he worked himself into a welter of negative emotions. She is made responsible for her own misery because apparently all she had to do was tell Vijay – easier said than done. Also why does a man have to physically threaten another man before a woman can consider herself safe? It felt a bit cobbled together to please the intended audience, and to allow the hero to take over.

Sudheer Babu is competent but bland. In part that is due to the writing as Vijay is introverted, but subtle emoting doesn’t seem to be in Sudheer’s wheelhouse. I felt that the scenes that worked best between Sameera and Vijay were because of Aditi’s energy which he could reciprocate or bounce off and they flowed nicely. But when the characters were at odds she seemed effortlessly in the moment and he was Acting. Of course he is the hero so getting the girl of his choice is a foregone conclusion, but there was a little emotional growth on the way that was a good sign. Vijay’s scenes with his dad are also nicely done and that brings me to the real star of the film.

Naresh. His performance as Sarva is beautiful. He is everything that comedy uncles try, and fail, to be. Whether he was crying at an old film, flirting with his wife (how shocking!) or throwing a tantrum over being denied his chance at stardom, I loved every moment. Even in the incredibly daft scene where he helps Vijay and the boys deal with Sameera’s problematic associate, he was hilarious. Naresh plays Sarva as a heart on sleeve kind of guy, and some of his scenes were unexpectedly touching. His rapport with Anasuya (Pavithra Lokesh) is really nice, and I enjoyed her performance too. They have a couple of scenes talking about the kids where you can believe they respect each other and rely on each other’s judgement. Unless it’s about films.

Harini is lively and natural, and I enjoyed her expressions as she swanned through the chaos of the shoot. She’s a capable and competent girl who seems able to sort the wheat from the chaff. When Vijay starts barking orders at Divya, Divya shouts back for him to stop moral policing her, she’s not an idiot. Their parents respect both kids’ positions and negotiate with each of them accordingly. There is no sense that Divya’s opinion is less valid than Vijay’s.

Of course Vijay has to have some friends with no purpose in life but to follow him around and be shorter and less atttractive. Murthy (Rahul Ramakrishna) is sleazy and dumb, and Seenu (Abhay Bethiganti) seems a little nicer and a bit more dim. Hari Teja has little to do as Ramya until one loooong piece of exposition. The always reliable Tanikella Bharani plays a small but significant role, and there are some cameos to spot.

The look and feel of the film is very appealing. But the story wasn’t as strong in the second half when it switched from character driven to plot driven action. The subtitles by rekhs and crew were a delight. They were idiomatic and clear, and the jokes translated well. When Sarva watches a character actor shouting his lines, he observes “He speaks Tegulu not Telugu”. I snorted as I suspect I may be picking up Tegulu from movies too. And there is a series of digs at heroes who get their break because of family connections. The soundtrack is almost completely forgettable, but emo balladeering is my least favourite genre so I probably just blotted it out.

The second half doesn’t live up to the very engaging start. But it’s still a refreshing and well considered film in many aspects, with a couple of great performances. Come for the romance, stay for the parents!

Toofan Rani (1985)

Toofan Rani-title

I’ve only been able to find this 1985 Hindi dub of the 1983 Telugu film Puli Debba, so I’ll keep referring to it as Toofan Rani. Actually, I have found this to be the case with a few Telugu B movies. For some reason the Hindi dubs have survived and are available online in reasonable condition, but finding an original is nigh on impossible. Why is this so? And forget subs. I had to make it all up as I went so please observe the usual Adventures Without Subtitles disclaimers that events may not have transpired exactly as I imagined.

K.S.R Doss has cobbled together another excellent masala entertainment chock full of his usual tricks, plus Silk Smitha, that guy Naresh who looks like someone else, Sarath Babu and assorted others, guns blazing, a handful of marbles, and some flashy karate moves. What is not to love? And Satyam’s soundtrack is funky and grungy, and just cheesy  and disco-fied enough.

Nalini and Manohar are childhood friends and spend a lot of time being dressed for school by their family retainers and frolicking in the sand dunes in their school clothes but don’t actually seem to go to school. Mahendra Chaudhury and his wife (Nalini’s parents) are murdered by a couple of goons who also set the house on fire to destroy the evidence. Side note – most of the victims have been instructed that the correct reaction to being shot is to throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care (jazz hands optional), so the death scenes can be strangely festive. The children are dispersed into the populace according to the Infant Distribution Laws of Masala Filmidom. Don’t worry if you miss this opening scene as it will be replayed several times.

Silk Smitha has the right confident physicality for Nalini, who is out to get revenge on the men who killed her parents and baby brother. Nalini has her childhood trauma flashbacks in lurid colour which may explain why her expression sometimes says migraine rather than revenge. But whether Silk is strutting her stuff in sparkly disco bike shorts or righting wrongs in a sensible khaki leather ensemble, she is ready for anything.

As she is in a film where anything can happen and frequently does, this is a very good thing. She even has to wear a saree. Killing is bad, but a heroine who looks at all the male posturing and just shrugs and takes control is good. I know I shouldn’t, but I cheered when Nalini shot someone. Naresh and Manohar were all for taking a punt on the court system but Nalini grabbed the gun and achieved her objective, refusing to be sidelined. And honestly if it had been left to the men, we’d still be chasing the baddies around the exploding hills.

Naresh is introduced at his college Karate championships in which he beats a variety of opponents with his Blue Steel approach to Karate. There is so much Karate face. It was almost as bad as actually watching Karate again. Naresh seems to be more than a bit of a narcissist. His house is full of huge pictures of himself in karate mode, including one above his bed. I was slightly sorry for Naresh as when he won the competition it sounded like only one guy bothered to clap, but maybe that was due to budget constraint in the sound department. Unbeknown to Naresh, Hariram who gave him the award was the guy who killed his parents and older sister. Do you see where this might be going?

Hariram’s daughter Archana likes Naresh. Unfortunately for the lovebirds his ma recognises Hariram and the match is OFF. Naresh broods in a most unbecoming fashion until she hits him with the truth. He then tells Archana and she tells her dad. No one really seems to understand the concept of oversharing. Hariram sends Uncle Fester to finish Naresh off. Karate ensues. In one excellent sequence Naresh kind of Harlem Globetrotters his way through a fight, using a book. Trouble is brewing!

Inspector Manohar (Sarath Babu) is now a grown up policeman, on the trail of a mysterious smuggler. He develops grave suspicions about Hariram Uncle’s revenue sources but has no idea his father was once a silver jacketed goon. Once his suspicions are finally aroused, he tries to investigate.

I could not fault Manohar’s enthusiasm for discovering whether his dad was faking paralysis but his methodology was a bit OTT, and potentially lethal. There is a vague romance between him and Nalini but it’s nothing to write home about, except they do seem to wear colour coordinated outfits. He doesn’t even twig that she is his childhood sweetheart until she tells him, and I’m not sure he should have been smiling goofily when she was about to do jail time. Maybe Manohar is just a bit rubbish at reading people

Doss pulls out all stops and throws in all the clichés from accidentally shooting your Ma, a significant birthmark, masala deathtraps, a concealed slide entrance into the lair, and skanky item stalwart Jayamalini dancing for “Arab” businessmen.

Hariram goes home from the club with that traditional filmi entertainment; the Man In The Boot. The man is allowed to escape from a well provisioned dungeon, with shirtless Simon now It as The Man In His Boot. If you were fleeing, wouldn’t you drop a stolen car off somewhere not outside your apartment? Luckily the apartment also houses Nalini! Even her boots are weaponised, and those powerful thighs can deliver a hell of a kick.

Simon attacks Nalini and in between bouts of acrobatic biffo in her stylish boudoir she tells him she is the surviving daughter of Mahendra Chaudhury and they are all In For It. He tells Hariram who tells the mysterious smuggler in the cave. Trouble is brewing! Again!

The finale is more exuberantly amusing than thrilling, but both Silk and Naresh backflip and ninja leap like crazy, there are explosions and dodgy disguises and the camera adds another layer of skewed perspectives and angles. And never forget those sensible wedge heeled weapon ready boots.

Toofan Rani-killer boots

I’m enormously fond of the Masala B Movie as they give a platform to the smaller stories and quirkier characters, all held together by the spirit of making it up as you go. Toofan Rani is loads of fun and I enjoyed seeing Silk carry a whole film rather than just do a typical bad girl dance and die. 3 stars!