Babu Bangaram

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Maruthi has loaded the formulaic Babu Bangaram with lots of references and jokes that rely on Vekatesh’s earlier films and persona. But there are also some more fun and interesting supporting characters than you often get in a mass movie, and the silliness has a certain charm. And Venkatesh is just so likeable on screen that he gets away with it.

The film opens with a flashback. Ye Olden Venkatesh allows some whinging “Europeans” in a diverting selection of bad wigs to eat at his table, despite them being unwelcome in the country. He allows a pregnant woman to have surgery before himself despite being mid heart attack. So he dies a saint, revered as a truly unselfish man. Flash forward and Krishna (Venkatesh) is a policeman, with his grandfather’s soft heart as well as his looks. Indeed one of his subordinates calls him “the pity police”.

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After a hard day of beating up rowdies and then visiting them in hospital, Krishna is hanging out with his colleagues. He sees a woman in distress and is smitten by her integrity and her beauty, possibly in that order. Sailu (Nayanthara) is trying to keep her family together and financially viable in the absence of her father who is in hiding from crooked MLA Puchappa (Posani Krishna Murali) and his associate Mallesh Yadav (Sampath Raj). Krishna infiltrates her family in order to help solve her problem and to help himself find a wife.

Sailu sees through the machinations of her would be husband (Prudhviraj) and confronts him, making it clear that she is not interested nor is she stupid. She also says that Krishna has been helping her because of who he is and not because of an ulterior motive. Then she grabs Krishna by the wrist and drags him away. You go, girl! She’s a smart young woman, and her moments of annoyance, fear and anger are all quite proportionate to the stupidity and aggression of the men threatening her. When she finds that Krishna may not what seems she is equally firm in kicking him to the curb until he can prove his integrity.

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The film is most enjoyable when Krishna is off balance and trying to woo Sailu while also doing his job and being taunted by his friends. Once the cat and mouse game with the baddies becomes the focus in the second half, the story is more prosaic and by the numbers.

The Daggubati Dance Curse does manifest in Venkatesh, although I think it has hit peak (nadir?) with Rana. But in the final fight scene, is Maruthi really saying there are few things more frightening than Venkatesh in full dance mode? Brave. And maybe true. But funny nonetheless.

One of the things I always like about Venkatesh is that he works well in an ensemble, and seems quite generous in allowing the rest of the team to take some of the limelight. He has a nice rapport with Nayanthara and while the romance between Krishna and Sailu wasn’t one of sizzling chemistry, they seemed happy and compatible. The film revolves around Venkatesh and his film legacy and his is the titular Golden Boy. There are quotes and references to his earlier films that had the audience whooping and cheering, and even some I could catch. For example, Krishna constantly indicates his dismay and regret with a lilting “Ayyo Ayyo Ayayoooo”. There is also song dedicated to Venkatesh in which Venkatesh pays tribute to himself in a dance off with an energetic hijra. The action scenes are tailored to Krishna’s preference for minimal violence, which is also a kindly approach for a hero past his spring chicken years. More than anything, Venkatesh brings both solid acting and a sense of fun to the proceedings.

Nayanthara delivers a nicely judged performance. Sailu is annoyed by Krishna stalking her, but she starts to see that he may have his uses. Like carrying her groceries. Also she observes how he treats other people and that is a good indication he is a generous and kind man. Sailu had a filmi dilemma but a realistic approach to problem solving, and didn’t just rush into peril. I also liked that while Krishna believed he could give her a better life, she actually quite liked her life and just wanted the gang to leave her, her dad, and her sisters alone. She was articulate about boundaries and what was unacceptable behaviour. She was only a little bit too glam, and I liked her sensible but pretty wardrobe that mixed Indian and Western styles. Her pretend cello playing is abysmal though.

How many times have you wondered why the hero’s friends don’t tell him he’s delusional or suggest he may need to rethink his plans? Giridhar and Vennela Kishore are delightful as Krishna’s colleagues. Giridhar’s expressions are priceless and Vennela Kishore delivers his wry one-liners with a sense of glee, eyeballing Krishna to see how much more he could get away with. They still go along for the ride, but sometimes it seems they do that for their own amusement as much as because they are contractually obliged to be supportive.

All the usual suspects turn up in supporting roles. Despite the film having humour woven into the plot, comedy uncle Brahmi wedged himself into proceedings in a mercifully brief appearance as a dodgy magician. Sampath Raj and Posani Krishna Murali are over the top and yet I liked having criminals who had small, real world, achievable objectives. I don’t think the onsite violinists and guitarists were necessary, but all evil masterminds must have their Thing and it’s hard to build a good lair in a family home. Sampath Raj’s gang also has the best and most diverse collection of bad haircuts I’ve seen in ages.  And Brahmaji maintained an impressive level of anger at everything all the time.

Ghibran’s soundtrack leans a bit too much to the cheesy ballads, but he ticks all the required elements off. The song picturisations are also cheesy, sometimes in a good way. But the more up tempo songs work a bit better as they provide a different texture and contrast to the rest of the film.

This screening had subtitles, which makes life easier for me. And the subtitle team may also have been doing their bit for the drama. In one action scene Krishna lays into his foes, leaving them dripping with what they assume is blood. But it isn’t – he’s such a softie!- it’s pomegranate juice, as he had been thumping them with a bag of fruit. Not content with that the subs explained it as “promo granite”. Now that would have hurt!

This isn’t a great movie, but it’s more entertaining and a bit smarter in some aspects than I was expecting, especially in the first half. And for a mass action romance it is quite restrained in depictions of violence, and I laughed out loud a few times. It’s all nicely packaged for the Venkatesh fans, but even if you aren’t hardcore target audience you could do worse than watch this for a timepass.

 

Gopala Gopala (2015)

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Gopala Gopala, so good I watched it twice! Well, actually I would do that more often for more films if Melbourne had an extra show, which is what happened this week with Gopala Gopala. But it is a fun film and I enjoyed watching Venkatesh and Pawan Kaylan in their first movie together. I haven’t seen either the Hindi version of this movie, or the original Australian film that inspired both and that could be one of the reasons why I enjoyed Gopala Gopala as much as I did. I’ve read that this Telugu remake follows the original faithfully and as a result it may only be worth a watch if you haven’t seen OMG, or like me feel that Pawan Kalyan as God seems a more plausible choice than Akshay Kumar.

The Gopala of the title is a shopkeeper who decides to sue God when his insurance claim is rejected following an earthquake that has destroyed his livelihood. The insurance company representative points out that Gopala has signed the contract that lists (in small print) the exclusions for his insurance, including an ‘Act of God’ and since no-one else but God could have caused the earthquake, Gopala is out of luck and out of compensation. It’s a nice idea, even if the term act of god is a legal construct rather than anything remotely religious, but the film works on the premise that either God does not exist and therefore the insurance company has to pay, or God was responsible and the onus of care rests with his agents on Earth. Along the way the film questions the morality of the various religious orders and their representatives, but is clear throughout that despite Gopala’s own personal disbelief there is actually no question about the validity of God in any of his incarnations. It’s the charlatans and irrational customs that come up for criticism and the writers throw in some good questions about morality in general for later contemplation.

Venkatesh pitches his character perfectly as a non-believer who makes his living selling Hindu statues and religious artifacts even though he finds the rituals and superstitious involved in worship ridiculous. Just as much of a con in fact as his ordinary tap water masquerading as authentic water from the Ganges. His shady dealings aside, at heart Gopala is a compassionate man who is shown to indulge in random acts of kindness and generally feels some compassion for people less fortunate than himself. The problem here though is that his good deeds come across as rather contrived given the way they are somewhat haphazardly inserted into the narrative. However Venkatesh mixes his skepticism with obvious tolerance for his wife’s idiosyncrasies and his salesman has plenty of charm mixed in with his complaints, making Gopala a generally likeable character.

His wife however is Gopala’s polar opposite in all things religious. Meenakshi (Shriya Saran) prays to any and every possible God and shrine while falling for every piece of chicanery she sees during her devotions. I’ve mentioned before that Shriya seems to be better in roles that require her to have long hair, and she stays true to that judgement here, giving a good performance as a devoted wife and mother in every sense of the word. Although Shriya doesn’t have a lot of scope in her role, her presence does add grace and a human face to the otherwise random devotees who face Gopala’s scorn. Somewhere in the middle is Otthu (Krishnudu), Gopala’s assistant in his shop who prays to the gods and follows the rituals but is the one who suggests a religious trip to Varanasi will be the perfect time to stock up on cheap artifacts to sell at inflated prices back in Hyderabad. Krishnudu has good comedy timing but apart from funny early scenes he is also relegated to the sidelines once God appears to help Gopala in his quest for justice.

Ah, yes, God.

Gopala GopalaPawan Kalyan makes his grand entrance as Krishna just before the interval, and his presence immediately enriches the story and lifts the energy of the film. The reaction in Melbourne was loud and enthusiastic both times I saw Gopala Gopala, which somehow seems rather appropriate for the appearance of a deity, even if he doesn’t arrive with the classic blue skin and associated regalia I expected. The role suits Pawan Kalyan’s restrained delivery style when not in full action mode, and his Krishna is a little distant but very charismatic. As may be expected from a divine being he offers guidance rather than direct intervention and is often cryptic in his dialogue, although his explanation of why bad things happen to good people sounds like classical political spin. Gopala never asks any of the big questions (such as why just his shop was destroyed – would have been my first question. That and where do all the lost socks go?) but that makes the relationship between the two feel more genuine and does stay true to Gopala’s persistent disbelief in an all-powerful deity.

The film does slow down a little in the second half when Gopala takes the assorted bunch of priests and swami’s to court but Mithun Chakraborthy, Posani Krishna Murali and Diksha Panth are all good in their respective roles as unethical leaders of their temples and organisations and the comedy helps to keep things moving along. Mithun as Leeladhara Swamy in particular has an impressive collection of idiosyncrasies although all three are so obviously corrupt and self-aggrandising that it seems hard to believe they would lower themselves to appear in court. Gopala is an equal opportunity plaintive and also summons representatives from the Muslim and Christian churches, while receiving help from lawyer Akbar Bhai (Murali Sharma) and determined opposition from Shankar Narayana (Ashish Vidyarthi) who has the unenviable task of representing the religious leaders. Interspersed with all the courtroom drama there are a number of songs by Anoop Rubens which are mainly fairly upbeat and fit into the narrative well. My favourite is a beautiful flute piece, but this runs a close second, particularly since it includes both Venkatesh and Pawan Kalyan dancing.

While Gopala Gopala is often rather simplistic with characters painted a little too black or white, Kishore Kumar Pardasany has made an entertaining movie that includes a discussion of superstition in religion without getting bogged down in dogma and matters of faith.   Pawan Kalyan and Venkatesh Daggubati have great chemistry and work well together while the rest of the cast provide excellent support and good comedy. This really was much better than I expected and is definitely well worth a watch – or two!

1 Nenokkadine

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I love Sukumar’s Arya 2, I think Mahesh is a very good actor, the story had been talked up and the budget was huge with lots of big sets and fancy locations. Unfortunately 1 Nenokkadine is more like two films thrown together than a cohesive whole  – one a complex psychological thriller and one a mass shoot ‘em up blow ‘em up. I can’t avoid one big spoiler although I don’t want to discuss the plot in much detail. But ultimately Sukumar fails to fully capitalise on either the big idea or the big star.

Note: I didn’t get to see this in a cinema as the screen caught fire at the first show and that was that! (No one was hurt.) Since I tried to see this legally but was prevented by an act of god, I wasn’t conflicted about using more dubious means available until the DVD releases.

Anyway. What to believe when the hero is an unreliable narrator? This should have been an interesting conundrum but unfortunately 1 Nenokkadine is full of holes and the direction is clunky.

Gautam (Mahesh) is a rockstar. He is prone to nightmares and constantly on guard against the men who killed his parents and want to finish him off. When Gautam sees one of the men in the audience of his show, he takes off initially in fear but then in pursuit and kills the guy. Gautam turns himself in to the police, clearly disturbed but aware he has done something wrong. He was chased by Sameera, apparently some kind of production staff on the show who is also a journalist and squealy fangirl. She films the fatal encounter and reveals the truth about Gautam – he was hallucinating the whole thing. There was no other man, no fight and no stabbing.  Gautam’s backstory finally emerges when he ingeniously tracks down Nasser who says he was a cab driver 20 years ago…And that sends them off to London and the high adrenalin second half of the film. And yet once again, nothing is as it seems.

Mahesh is very good and his dramatic scenes really do have urgency, conveying  Gautam’s pain and frustration. The scenes where Gautam is hanging on by a thread, fighting his inner demons, are so well acted but often undermined by the direction. Mahesh can do a lot with silence and minimal histrionics but Sukumar lays on tricky visuals where he could have just let the performance breathe. There is zero chemistry with Kriti Sanon, and their romance was of the desultory insta-love variety, an obligatory element. A hero with integration disorder opens up a lot of possibilities for turning mass film tropes inside out. But there is little logic, and so much bad filmi medicine, that the mental illness almost becomes irrelevant. Gautam is a man who cannot trust anyone and is out for personal revenge. Now he learns he cannot trust himself. How had he functioned for the last 20 odd years if he was prone to such vivid and realistic delusions? Why had no one around him noticed anything odd given he had ‘killed’ before? There was no reason for him to be a rockstar other than as a change of image for Mahesh, so why not have more fun with the new career? And it takes everyone far too long to unravel the screamingly obvious Significant Clue.

Kriti Sanon’s Sameera takes about half the film to find her feet, partly because she is a fairly ordinary actress and partly due to the patchy writing. Sameera lies, confuses Gautam, and finally says she is doing it all to cure him because she loves him. Yeah, whatever.  And the idea that if you love someone you have to believe them takes no account of mental illness which by definition means a person may struggle to have awareness or control of their thoughts and resulting actions. I would normally complain about drugging the heroine but I was as ready as Gautam to have a break from her.  Luckily one day Sameera recalls she is a journalist and so should be capable of thinking and research. Maybe she found her brain when she swapped handbags. She starts to put together the attacks on her, the men following Gautam, things, and links it back to the underworld don (Kelly Dorjee).

Comedy rears its ugly head as Gulab Singh (Posani Krishna Murali as a London based Sikh taxi driver) is tasked with facilitating Gautam’s revenge logistics. Pradeep Rawat, Kelly Dorjee and Nasser are the main supporting actors and deliver their usual reliable standard of performances.

The songs are an interruption and do nothing for the plot. Kriti Sanon prances about in micro shorts all the time so Aww Tuzo Mogh Kortha wasn’t an excuse for a skinshow, although she did also get some guitar fondling into her repertoire. The English lyrics are horribly cheesy, especially for You’re My Love, and nobody seems to be having fun. But don’t take my word for it.

Mahesh has very similar choreo for every song so that was a bit lacklustre too.

Peter Hein puts all the right elements into the action scenes but repetition and sluggish editing sap the energy. How could a chase involving jet skis, boats, a parasail and hydro jet packs be tedious? There are also some things that are glossed over (e.g escaping from an underwater car) where they either lacked budget or an idea of how to extricate the hero from his impending doom. Sukumar is trying for a psychological edge but replaying a shot of Kelly Dorjee throwing a can into a bin multiple times to show Gautam thinking of using the rubbish as physical evidence is just painful.

The locations are used well, and the film looks beautiful. There are some really nice touches that add style and even humour. Mahesh’s son Gautham appears as young Gautam (those ears! Instantly recognisable).The threat of Indian fans forming a mob is enough to get the police to rethink keeping Gautam in jail, but then everything else functions as though the Belfast police are identical to the Andhra police so what is the point of that cultural in-joke? It’s all very disjointed and seems to have been written by committee. Oh but Nasser’s flashback wig is a doozy. I think it is the poorer cousin of The Wig from Shakti. And for the hardcore  Mahesh fans, yes he does a shower scene so you will see naked upper back. The glimpses of princely elbow are now old hat so no need to mention there are approximately 437 of those throughout the film. I think our friend The Mahesh Fan would approve of the brainy specs. Oh you want proof?

In a good psychological thriller once the twist is revealed the story should be enriched, and the viewer should be able to re-interpret scenes with their new knowledge. I think films like The Prestige and even Sixth Sense did that extremely well. Sukumar couldn’t make his own mind up about the film he was making so ended up with an overly long muddle that wouldn’t completely satisfy either full-on Mahesh fans or the psycho-drama audience.

A schizophrenic film about schizophrenia. 3 stars (mostly for Mahesh).

Heather says:

I enjoyed this film despite a few fairly obvious plot holes and a relative lack of logic at times. Most exciting for me were the scenes shot in Northern Ireland since this is where I grew up and, Game of Thrones aside, it’s rare that I get to see my home country on screen. There was something slightly surreal about watching Mahesh Babu run across Carrick-a-rede bridge, past Scrabo tower and wander through the streets of Whitehead, particularly when you know just how far apart those places are in reality! That aside, there is much to enjoy in Nenokkadine. Mahesh is in ultra-brooding mode with his fierce intensity somehow out of place for a supposed rock star. That’s probably my main question – why make him a rock star? Where are his security people and minions to run and pander to his every whim – if he’s as famous as implied here then he does seem to travel very light. His performance however is excellent and as the story unfolds it becomes ever more believable that he has a mental illness with his intense and chilly stare.

Apart from the scenes in Northern Ireland (which I have now forced my entire family to watch) I love when a frog hops away from the fight and the action sequence in the bathroom is fantastic.  Peter Hein comes through again! Thankfully there is no annoying separate comedy track to detract from the thriller nature of the story and although the romance wasn’t particularly well realised at least it did give a respite from all the brooding. Nenokkadine is a good attempt at a rather more psychological thriller and while parts of the story are familiar at times, overall I do like the way Sukumar thinks. I love his tendency to make his heroes somewhat damaged and their flaws make them more interesting (Arya 2 is still my all time favourite Telugu film) but at least for this film I would have liked him to branch out a little more from Telugu formula and ditch the songs. I know that’s odd coming from me, since I usually want more songs, but dance numbers just don’t work particularly well in a thriller, and here the tension falters every time the action is disrupted by a song. However, I still did enjoy Nenokkadine and I’d recommend it as a rather more sophisticated thriller from Sukumar and for the excellent performance from Mahesh. 4 stars.