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.

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Dhruva (2016)

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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.

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.