Nene Raju Nene Mantri

 

Radha Jogendra (Rana Daggubati) narrates his story to a film crew as he awaits execution. He was once a simple money lender with a shrewd mind and a moral compass provided by his wife Radha (Kajal). After a couple of years of marriage Radha finally fell pregnant and the happy couple were over the moon. Sadly Radha lost the baby and her ability to conceive again after being attacked for accidentally infringing on the imaginary rights of the village leader’s wife. Yes, I know. Jogendra decides if he was the village head nobody would insult Radha again. So he schemes his way into the role. Then he eyes off the MLA position. Then a ministry. Then the CM gig. He always justifies his ambition as his means of giving Radha the best in life, but he is playing the game for the sake of power too. Can he keep outwitting his opponents? Where will he draw the line? And what does Radha make of it all?

Teja’s “Nene Raju Nene Mantri” is set in the murky world of politics but has all the flair and improbability of a cowboy film. It is great fun if you can ignore the death toll, and I always like a decent comeuppance.

Jogendra (Rana) adores his wife, but everyone else is expendable or interchangeable. He is deceptively simple looking, but his mind is subtle and calculating. Rana dominates his scenes and not just because he is twice the size of anyone else in the film. He is fully at home as the morally dubious but highly effective Jogendra and delivers his one-liners and proverbs with great relish. The action scenes are often brutal but then he switches to a convincing warmth and playfulness in his scenes with Kajal. There’s more complexity to Jogendra than I was expecting, and a lot more of the mass hero hijinks than I expected too. I laughed a lot at Jogendra’s amazing aptitude for killing, and his ability to stay on task.

The wardrobe team came up with a good look for Rana. Well, once I got over my confusion at seeing him in a shirt. There’s lots of monochromatic linens, a slightly modernised traditional look, and a fairly subtle way to emphasise his physique without it looking like his clothes were painted on. What else…Oh yes, there is a hulk-out shirt ripping moment, just to prove the gym sessions haven’t ended.

Radha (Kajal) is on the surface too saintly. But I really liked her chemistry with Rana, and some of her less sweet moments saved Radha for me. I loved when she fired up and told Jogendra she’d forgive so many of his mistakes (like shagging Devika Rani) but not the thing he just said. Or when he chided her for acting childish and she said it was because they didn’t have a child, and they both looked stricken. I didn’t like that everyone except Jogendra saw Radha’s value relative to her having a baby. She had no purpose or context in the script other than “wife”, so I was impressed with Kajal for bringing a bit more to the table. She showed Radha’s growing discomfort with her husband’s actions and her inner conflict because she knew he did it all for her. The wardrobe team dressed her in beautiful sarees that increased in opulence but always suited Radha, and Kajal looked comfortable in her skin. However. Radha was the perfect wife who would sacrifice anything for husband but that final sacrifice was just DUMB. The method struck me as quite improbable. Having said that, I still felt intensely sad when the cortege visited surrounding villages.

Devika Rani (Catherine Tresa) is a badly dressed avatar of media whoredom. Her painfully high silver wedge sandals and the almost there skirts were hideous. I guess the wardrobe team can’t love all their cast members equally. While it is good that Devika Rani was shown to be a confident woman I was concerned that none of her social media strategies were sound. Never hire anyone who says their plan is to send everything viral. And her character made little sense. But it does speak to the thinking around campaigning and media manipulation, with clicktivism and slacktivism getting a passing nod even if I am not sure that is what Teja was aiming at. Her major achievement in the film might have been that she had zero chemistry with Rana. What was probably supposed to be a titillating scene was just awkward and cold, with Rana looking like he was resigned to an invasive medical procedure. Catherine has some convincing moments in solo scenes, but as soon as Rana or Kajal shows up her lack of acting skill is all too evident.

The villains are unfortunately quite familiar types from everyday life. The cop who takes bribes (Ajay), the gangster turned politician (Padeep Rawat), career politicians with no objective beyond lining their pockets (Tanikella Bharani, Ashutosh Rana, Posani Krishna Murali). All of these performances were solid, and there was some genuine menace and just nastiness in their interactions with Jogendra. Rana looked like he was having the time of his life threatening Ajay. Ashutosh Rana’s character didn’t know if he was coming or going sometimes, with a wry use of proverbs to explain how proverb-spouting Jogendra could beat him. I quite liked the one that went “if the cat is blind a mouse can hit it with a stick”. A convenient morality permeates the film. If Jogendra kills someone (or a hundred someones), don’t take it to heart. They were all bad so he was doing a good thing. Well, except for one. Navdeep wasn’t given much to do as Shiva but he managed to make an impression as one of the only people who held Jogendra morally accountable.

Anoop Ruben’s soundtrack tends towards the anthemic, which suits the purposeful journey Jogendra is on. They didn’t make Kajal and Rana dance which is also a blessing. There was a bit of convulsive twitching in one song but then lots of walking (him) and a bit of frolicking (her). Good decision dance team! I loved the special appearance by dance master Shiva Shankar. There is some dodgy VFX but realistic effects could have been overwhelming in the gory bits. And there is a sound effect for everything. There’s nothing new or outstanding in the direction but I feel the pace was pretty well managed until the finale which was a little drawn out. The dialogues contain proverbs and local sayings and I think the subtitlers did a good job of conveying some of the flavour.

It’s an engaging story with Rana and Kajal coming up with the goods and a decent support cast. I should be more concerned about the body count, the gender roles, the apathy surrounding politics, the problem solving preferences of a sociopathic charmer. But I was highly entertained and amused by the machinations and mayhem. Because he is Jogendra.

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Dhruva (2016)

dhruva

Dhruva is a reasonably faithful remake of 2015 Tamil film Thani Oruvan that benefits from Arvind Swamy reprising his role as the villain of the story. Dhruva is definitely slicker and glossier than the original, but the story is essentially the same although the emphasis is even more on the two main characters than in Thani Oruvan. Thankfully both Ram Charan and Arvind Swamy are excellent and the cat and mouse game between the two makes Dhruva an entertaining and worthwhile watch.

The film is a thriller that follows the attempts of a young and righteous police officer, to track down and catch one of three über criminals. Dhruva (Ram Charan) believes that if he locks up the kingpin of any criminal organisation this will immediately impact on 100 petty criminals and be more effective than tackling each street thug individually. It doesn’t take long before he discovers that his three possible targets each themselves are controlled by an even bigger villain – Siddharth Abhimanyu (Arvind Swamy). Siddharth is a respected scientist, recipient of a Padma Shri award and all round respected businessman so Dhruva has to somehow find convincing enough evidence to send Siddharth to jail for his crimes.

In the original film Dhruva was helped by his close friends who all formed a posse to fight crime together while they were in training college. However their role in the story here has been reduced and although the friends are still there, they have less to do in the hunt for Siddharth.  Goutham (Navdeep) is the only one who has been kept fairly true to the original, but without the detail of their friendship as background, his character is less effective. This also has an impact on the characterisation of Dhruva who appears more isolated and less of a leader as a result, making his assumption of control of a crime task force immediately after his graduation rather less credible.

Another casualty of the re-write is Ishika (Rakul Preet Singh) whose character has even less to do than Nayantara in the Tamil version. Ishika is a victim of love at first sight when she sees Dhruva, and she pursues him relentlessly, knowing that in a Telugu film eventually her persistence will be paid off by Dhruva finally accepting her love – rather than arrest for stalking, which would be the most probable outcome in real life. Although she is a forensic specialist, this is barely mentioned in the film, and Ishika has little involvement in the search for evidence against Siddharth. Where Nayantara’s Mahima had useful ideas and forced her way into the investigation, Ishika is limited to appearing only as the romantic interest. However Rakul Preet Singh does a good enough job in this role and has reasonable chemistry with Ram Charan, which at least makes the scene where Dhruva finally does admit his feelings one of the better moments in the film.

The film is all about Dhruva and his developing relationship with Siddharth and Ram Charan is excellent as the obsessed police officer, determined to track down Siddharth no matter what it takes. He certainly looks the part, easily demonstrated since Surender Reddy is an equal opportunity director who ensures that for every shot where Rakul Preet Singh appears in a bikini there is a shot of Charan without his shirt. No complaints here!  While Ram Charan expertly channels his inner Salman Khan, he also does a good job of portraying the more cerebral side to his character and his monologues where he describes his theories about the local criminals are well delivered. He’s even better when Siddharth’s tactics begin to hit home and Dhruva begins to doubt himself as he loses Goutham and his every move is known by Siddharth even before he makes it. This gradual erosion of his self-confidence is well depicted and Charan gets the emotions across effectively while still maintaining his tough cop persona.

However, as in Thani Oruvan the real star of the film is Aravind Swamy, who is perfectly evil as the amoral and unscrupulous Siddharth. His callously dismissive way of ordering the execution of anyone from mere bystanders to major players in his plots is wonderfully chilling and his appreciation of a worthwhile enemy in Dhruva just adds more menace to his character. I think he is even better here than in Thani Oruvan, or perhaps it’s because there is less focus on the other criminals and his added screen time lets him play nasty more effectively. Posani Krishna Murali does well as Siddharth’s bumbling politician father and the contrast between the clever but absolutely evil son and his unaware and totally inept father is simply brilliant and works just as well here as in the original.

The story stands up well to the remake in Telugu, even if shifting the focus even more onto the two lead characters does make for a less believable plot. Ram Charan is suitably heroic and the only disappointment is that there is little opportunity for him to show off his dancing skills. The music from Hiphop Tamizha is fine but not as memorable as his Tamil soundtrack, and the songs occasionally seem rather oddly placed, particularly in the second half. Still, the picturisations are good, and the scenery for Choosa Choosa stunning. Neethoney has the best dance moves though.

Dhruva is a good remake of an excellent film and definitely well worth a watch. Ram Charan takes on the role of a dedicated police officer, but one with more flaws than a usual Telugu hero and performs his part admirably. Arvind Swamy is perfect as his nemesis while the psychological cat and mouse game between the two is beautifully played out. Mohan Raja is credited with the original storyline and Surender Reddy has aptly modified the plot to give a slick and entertaining thriller. One to catch in the cinema if you can.

Baadshah (2013)

Baadshah

Time for another adventure without subtitles – this time the latest Jr NTR release Baadshah.  There was a surprising new innovation at the cinema too – the addition of a queuing system! No free-for-all crush to get in and grab a seat!  This meant less conversation outside, but more time for discussions inside as it took quite a while for the trickle of people to slowly fill up the cinema.  Needless to say there were still plenty of chants and cheers (and a lot of seat swapping) as the cinema was full for the first night show.

Not understanding Telugu turned out to be not too much of a problem this time since Baadshah closely resembles director Srinu Vaitla’s last venture, Dookudu – even including a similar convoluted scam as the comedy track.  Despite the air of déjà vu, there was still plenty to enjoy with well-choreographed action scenes, awesome dancing from Tarak and (judging from the audience response anyway) some entertaining dialogue.

Baadshah

The film opens with a voice-over from Mahesh Babu, who is the first of a number of guest artists to appear in the film, although there is a large and impressive support cast too.   Tarak is Baadshah, the son of gangster Ranjan (Mukesh Rishi) who successfully runs a casino in Macau.  Ranjan works for international crime lord Sadhu Bhai (Kelly Dorji) and the first half sets up the inevitable struggle between young upstart Baadshah and the established boss.  Sadhu Bhai does have a rather swish Asian inspired lair, with a very shiny black table but otherwise Kelly Dorji’s villain is fairly routine.  I do wish he would cut his hair though – it’s too wispy to be effective as an evil crime lord look!  Sadhu Bhai has the assistance of Crazy Robert (Ashish Vidardhi) and Violent Victor (Pradeep Rawal) who both do their best to eliminate Baadshah and his father which keeps the body count relatively high in the first half.  There is also some painfully bad violin playing, which even Kajal attempts to my horror!

Baadshah

Baadshaah ends up in Milan in time for the first excellent dance number, and this gives him the opportunity to meet Janaki (Kajal Agarwal).  After the usual misunderstandings – she thinks he’s trying to commit suicide while he fails to mention any of his gangster affiliations – the two get together for a romantic song in the snow.  This would have been much better without the addition of some dreadful female backing dancers who looked out of place and uncomfortable wearing jeans under their saris and clomping around in Ugg boots while sliding around in the snow.  They did make Kajal look like a professional dancer in comparison though, so perhaps that was the whole point?

Baadshah

Janaki just happens to be the daughter of the Commissioner of Police Jai Krishna Simha (Nasser) and once back in Hyderabad is supposed to be getting married to another police officer Aadi (Navadeep).  I’m not sure if Navadeep was trying to portray angry and forceful for his character here, but he didn’t make it past mildly petulant and mainly just looked as if he had smelt something bad.  Siddharth on the other hand puts in a good performance in his brief guest appearance as Baadshah’s brother.  By the start of the second half, not only does Baadshah have to deal with the threat of Sadhu Bhai and his evil plans to blow up most of India, but he also has to get rid of Aadi and deal with the police if he wants to get the girl.

Baadshah

While the comedy in the first half comes from M. S. Narayana as a spoof film director, Brahmi appears in the second half and his character Padmanabha Simha takes over the comedy proceedings, and most of the action as well. Although the humour was mainly dialogue based there was plenty that made me laugh even as a non-Telugu speaker.  The audience loved it judging by the response, but the biggest cheer of the night went to a dance by Janaki’s female relatives at the Sangeet ceremony.

Baadshah

The film depends heavily on Tarak’s screen presence and thankfully he delivers on every scene, whether it’s action, comedy or in the dance sequences, although he is somewhat side-lined by Brahmi in the second half.  It was great to see some better choreography, without so much emphasis on ‘trick’ steps, although the item numbers weren’t up to the same level.

Kajal is good as Janaki, but she looks almost subdued in a number of sensible outfits and I thought her make-up made her look tired.  However she did seem to get some good dialogue, and at least she had a meatier role than usual for a ‘love interest’ character.  The support actors in general were reprising roles they have done many times in the past although most didn’t have a lot to do.  I was delighted to see Ajay back on screen as a gang member, even if only for a short time!

Baadshah

Baadshah follows a predictable path, but it’s entertaining with plenty of variety and it’s not quite as gore-soaked as Dhammu or Oosaravelli.  I loved the action sequences and Tarak’s dancing was an absolute stand-out in the first half, but for me the second half dragged due to the more dialogue driven comedy scenes.  The film could also have done without two item numbers, neither of which were particularly impressive. But overall this was a fun film to watch and I’m looking forward to the DVD where I can work out all those references to old NTR films.