Alluda Majaka

E.V.V Satyanarayana’s Alluda Majaka could have been an excellent film. There’s peak mullet Chiranjeevi, Ramya Krishna and Rambha so you know the dancing is taken care of, a big budget and adventurous designers. But the story by Posani Krishna Murali is uneven and the comedy interludes are sexist and sleazy even by 90s mass standards. However, look for gold and avert your eyes from the dirt and there are some rewards for your time.

The film opens with Seetharam (Chiranjeevi) being taken to his village in police custody so he can attend a religious festival. Then he’s off straight into a big chase and escape from the police, and it is vintage Chiru. But oh those horse stunts churn my stomach, and the infamous horse sliding under a truck stunt doubly so, even with the hopefully fake horse in one shot. But there is a glass bus. Who knew?

Then Seetharam forcibly marries Pappi (Ramya Krishnan) who is at her wedding ready to get hitched to someone else. And then he is back off to jail again. A lawyer (Giribabu) arrives and promptly shoots Seetharam and then himself in the arm, setting his client up for that crime too. The laywer needs to know why Seetharam has ruined a young girl’s life by marrying her against her will and right before he went back to jail. This triggers a long flashback.

Seetharam’s father was the village president and seemed to be benevolent and practical, much loved by the people. Pappi (Ramya) and Bobby (Rambha) arrive in the village to stay with their mother Vasundhara (Lakshmi) and uncle. They stir up all kinds of trouble and see themselves as above the law and certainly above the people. That does not sit well with Seetharam. Another rogue joins the fray when Peddaiah (Kota Srinivasa Rao) arrives with the plan to get one of the rich girls married to his NRI son Chinna (played by the may as well have been non-existent for all the impression he made Siva). Chinna falls for Seetharam’s dialogueless sister Malliswari (Ooha) and they are engaged. Vasundhara wants the groom for Pappi, Seetharam is delighted his sister will be married, and Peddaiah is determined to find a bride based on dowry and gain for himself. When Chinna goes back to the US for a few months, Vasundhara and Peddaiah pull out all the stops to break up the engagement. It is on for young and old and the unmarried young women are the pawns in the game. By the time we stagger to the conclusion, it’s a straight up battle involving an explosives factory and a jetty and if that doesn’t scream Masala Death Trap I don’t know what does.

I am uncomfortable with the value this film places on women being pure and subservient, but the strong women in the story are so horrible I can’t stand them either. It would have been more interesting if they were less insane and more simply independent. Lakshmi as Vasundhara is the true villain here. She is smart, manipulative, and greedy. But what is her greatest crime? Not wanting to live with her husband – the lawyer Sivaramakrishna who is defending Seetharam. Pappi and Bobby are brats and completely lack common sense or empathy. But. Do they deserve to be humiliated by having their bathing suits ripped off them mid swim? Does Pappi deserve to be married against her will to a man who has been sentenced to death? Does Bobby deserve to be humiliated by the accusation that she’d had accidental sex with her brother-in-law?

Does anyone deserve the outfits they wear in the songs?

Much of the comedy is sleazy and gross. Apart from trying to get Ramya and Rambha in compromising positions to teach them a lesson, one track includes Brahmi in drag and a long build up to a tacky rape joke. Then there’s the farcical nuptial night with power outage that leaves the three women uncertain if they’re the one who had relations with Seetharam. And that’s a whole other line of enquiry I prefer not to pursue. I read a review that mentioned Rambha had once said that Chiranjeevi had made the director drop some of the really vulgar scenes planned. My reaction was “Yay for Chiru!” and then a mind boggling moment as I pondered what had been too much considering what had been left in.

Things I did like include that nobody thought Pappi should have to live in a forced marriage (although killing the groom is not cool). Also when Malliswari fell pregnant to her absent fiancé most people, with one notable exception, nobody tried to punish her (except the baddies but that was not on moral grounds). And Vasundhara was a terrible person but she was well written as a villain and had a little bit more going on than most of the men on Team Bad. I quite liked the use of a rainbow slinky as gangster accessory too but that might be a sign I was running out of patience with everything else. And of course, there’s the reason I watched this in the first place. The decor. No!

CHIRU!!!

Thankfully Chiranjeevi is in great form despite the lamentable material. He fights, he speechifies, he emotes so vigorously even his hair is furious, he defies laws of physics and gravity, and he dances like there’s no tomorrow. And he does it all so well. The fight choreo is complex and includes loads of acrobatics which Chiru nails. And he gets to drive lots of different forms of transport which I feel Chiranjeevi enjoyed. He looks quite content trundling around on his tractor, then so devil may care on a jet ski.

Although the stunt dummies lack his panache. As usual Chiru dances like he’s having the time of his life strutting his stuff in some truly eye-searing looks. In an unfortunate plot diversion, Chiru also plays the Mega rich Mr Toyota. Rich, weird, and foreign, he’s a comedy uncle on heat. I’m not sure how his disguise as Mr Toyota was in any way convincing and I am not at all persuaded the film needed him despite the additional scope it gave to the costume team. It is such a shame this film is an over long and undigestable turkey because there is so much peak Megastar stuff.

2 stars. Only for Mega-completists.

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Majili

Majili

Shiva Nirvana’s Majili is a romance that feels oddly dated where the characters make some very strange choices, and the plot harks back to attitudes that might have seemed plausible 30 years ago. Naga Chaitanya plays a cricket player whose life is destroyed when he loses the girl of his dreams, while Samantha is the woman waiting patiently for him to notice her. The film is helped considerably by good performances from the main leads, but it’s the support cast of Posani Krishna Murali, Suhas and Rao Ramesh, who end up making the film more interesting than the story would suggest.

The film begins with Poorna (Naga Chaitanya) as a miserably grumpy cricket umpire who spends his night getting drunk in a specific hotel room. The story behind his descent into the bottle is told in flashback when he was a younger wannabe cricket player, and his father had just given him a year to work at making it into a career. Shortly after landing a place on the Vizag Railways team, Poorna meets Anshu (Divyansha Kaushik), the daughter of a navy officer based in the town and the two start a relationship. It’s a patchy affair right from the start as there is little chemistry between the couple and their social divide makes their meetings awkward and clumsy. That might have worked, except there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Anshu to prefer Poorna over anyone in her own social circle, and after he puts her into a situation where she is almost raped, Anshu’s continued desire to be with Poorna seems even less likely. Although Chaitanya tries his best, this is just another typical love story, with the usual parental opposition and a bad guy in the form of Bhushan (Subbaraju). Divyansha Kaushik is bland and unobjectionable, but the romance is all just too unlikely to make any impression, and the finale that ends with Poorna in a hotel room seems completely implausible and a whimpering end to a supposedly grandiose love affair.

Poorna’s subsequent descent into alcoholism and heartache-induced torpor is also overly extreme for such a lacklustre romance. He wallows in his misery and seems unable to find anything worthwhile to do with his time other than mourn the loss of his ‘one true love’. However, at some point in the intervening years he somehow manages to get married to Sravani (Samantha Akkineni) who puts up with his idleness, drunkenness and morose personality with completely unlikely composure. The story tries to make us believe that she always loved Poorna and is happy simply to be his wife, despite the cold shoulder treatment she receives and his total lack of support – either emotional or financial. In fact, it’s Sravani who supports the family with her job as a railway clerk since Poorna’s father (Rao Ramesh) has retired and Poorna is too busy being miserable.

Thankfully, despite her irritatingly subservient attitude, Samantha breathes life and energy into the film. Her interactions with her father (Posani Kirshna Murali) and Porna’s father (Rao Ramesh) are the perfect mixture of funny and sad, and here at last is the spark that was so sadly missing in the first half. Although Sravani’s attitude to her husband quickly becomes wearing, Samantha somehow manages to keep her character from being completely irritating and despite wanting to shake some sense into her, I felt that her rationale was at least constant and made sense from her character’s point of view. Poorna on the other hand was just a waste of space who didn’t take any of the many opportunities he had to turn his life around. The final piece in the puzzle that leads to Poorna’s redemption is lazy and poorly done, although again it’s Sravani who has the best of the generally weak dialogue and ends up as the only one who acts according to her established persona.

Posani Krishna Murali is brilliant as Sravani’s father and his comedy keeps the film from being totally subsumed in weepy tragedy. Rao Ramesh is also unfailingly sensible and brings some much-needed common sense, as does Suhas who shines in a small role as one of Poorna’s long-suffering friends. Subbaraju is totally wasted in the role of a small-town thug with a political agenda who has no significant part to play other than to be the ‘bad guy’ for Poorna to fight at regular intervals. This would have been a much better film without the usual Telugu commercial elements – removing the dull romance, repetitive fight scenes and glamourous song sequences and adding more of Sravani, her family and her story would have made for a more interesting film. Some explanation for Sravani’s ridiculously self-sacrificing attitude would have helped too other than the wishy-washy enduring love that is used.

Overall, Majili is disappointing. The story isn’t plausible and never comes together to form a coherent whole. The bittiness of the plot transfers to the characters, who also don’t always act in keeping with their role. There simply isn’t enough of the good parts – Samantha, Posani Krishna Murali – but instead far too much insipid romance. Gopi Sundar’s songs though are generally good and Vishnu Sharma’s cinematography captures the claustrophobic feel of the family well in the latter half of the film. I wanted to like this, I like Chaitanya and Samantha and perhaps as their first film together I expected a little too much. Worth watching for Samantha, the support cast and Chaitanya in the second half.

Jai Lava Kusa

Jai Lava Kusa poster

NTR’s latest film takes the main masala ingredient of separated siblings as its theme, and weaves a standard tale of betrayal, revenge and political aspirations with plenty of fight scenes, the odd romantic moment and an exposé of bad parenting. Tarak plays three separate roles in the film, and to his credit he does differentiate all three characters well, particularly given their completely identical appearance by the end. However, with the exception of the child actor (?actors?) three versions of NTR means that no-one else gets a look in and the story suffers as a result. But if all you want is 2 ½ hours of mindless entertainment with big music numbers, even bigger fight scenes and plenty of Tarak, then Jai Lava Kusa ticks all the boxes.

The film starts with three identical triplets who are brought up by their uncle after their mother dies. I couldn’t work out if the same child actor plays all three or if K.S. Ravindra just happened to get three really similar kids (which seems more likely). Whichever it is, he (they) are excellent, particularly in the portrayal of the young Jai. The young actors here set up the interactions between the triplets which will go on to shape their adult characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed their frank portrayal of emotion and demonstration of just how nasty kids can be. At the same time, Posani Krishna Murali as their uncle and guardian shows exactly how not to deal with a child who has a speech impediment and generally fails at being a parental figure. The triplets perform on stage in mythological dramas but while Lava and Kusa are big stars, Jai is denied the same success by his stammer. Not content with ridiculing and humiliating Jai, his uncle also beats him which starts to take its toll, leading to Jai’s suitably theatrical response that leaves all three brothers separated and thinking the others are dead.

Moving forward a few years and Kusa (NTR Jr) has become a thief with a terrible haircut and a hopeless sidekick who soon fades into the background. A car accident reunites Kusa with his long-lost brother Lava, but here there is no need here for amulets, significant songs or other filmi contrivances since the two know each other immediately given that they are identical. Lava (also NTR Jr) is a mild-mannered bank manager with a crush on his marriage broker and after a haircut (thank goodness!) Kusa and Lava embark on a scheme of impersonation to let Kusa sort out problems in the bank while Lava attempts to woo Priya (Raashi Khanna). A scene about the impact of monetisation is excellent here, but for the most part there are some terrible clichés in this part of the film. Hamsa Nandini has a truly awful role as a vamp in the bank while the story itself is pedestrian and treads very familiar ground. What does work is the difference Tarak manages to create between the two brothers, despite looking identical. He keeps the personalities and the voice tone different, while the effects used to let the two brothers appear together work well

The second half is much better as Lava and Kusa find out what happened to the final brother, Jai (NTR Jr). While he still stammers, Jai has become the leader of a gang of thugs and goes by the name of Ravana, with all the symbolism that implies. Jai is totally different from the other two brothers and Tarak plays him with a brooding intensity that overpowers Lava and Kusa whenever they are together. It’s a fantastic performance and works to lift the second part of the film as Jai, in his guise of Ravana, terrorises a village with his gang. With his nifty retrievable axe on a chain Ravana deals out death on a daily basis, but needs a total image revamp when he decides to pursue a political career and win over the heart of Simran (Nivetha Thomas). There is also a plot thread that introduces a rival for Ravana in the form of Sarkar (Ronit Roy) to ensure that there are enough fight scenes and general mayhem for the film finale, while having three versions of Jai running around allows for some comedy to stop the film drowning in too much gore. The film doesn’t ever aspire to any kind of realism so the over the top fight scenes fit right in, and the lack of any appropriate authoritarian response to the excessive bloodshed seems perfectly logical. But it’s the more negative character of Jai that dominates and with plenty of melodrama and a deep voice, Tarak ensures that this is the character you remember at the end of the film.

This being an NTR Jr film there are big song and dance numbers which generally have little to do with the actual story, but which look fantastic on the big screen. Tamannah turns up in an item song, which was better than expected, and for the most part the songs are inoffensive and the dancing is first class. However they tend to appear out of nowhere and do act as distractions for the main storyline.

With all the focus being on the three brothers, there is little room for anything else. Ronit Roy’s character is a standard Telugu villain without any differentiating characteristics, while Harish Uthaman and Brahmaji pop up in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them roles. The other support characters only appear briefly to explain what happened to the brothers as they were growing up and both Raashi Khanna and Nivetha Thomas are under-utilised in roles that have minimal character development. This really is all about NTR Jr and his ability to successfully pull off a triple role with three very different characters. From that perspective the film is a huge success – Tarak is very impressive as Jai and makes me wish he appeared in more negative character roles, given how well he does here. It’s NTR Jr’s film all the way and he carries it easily with impressive performances in all three roles. It’s just a pity that the story doesn’t come together as strongly or leave such an impression. Worth watching for Tarak and for the whole visual spectacle, just don’t expect too much from the plot.