Duvvada Jagannadham (2017)

In his latest release Harish Shankar sticks closely to the standard formula for Telugu hero-centric films, which makes Duvvada Jagannadham rather less exciting than it could have been. There is hardly any suspense and few surprises as the hero flexes his muscles, obliterates the bad guys and romances the heroine while recouping lost money for the victims of a property scam. What makes it watchable are the excellent performances from Allu Arjun, Rao Ramesh and Subbaraju who add life and energy to an otherwise pedestrian plot. The story might be plodding along, but the cast give it their all, and with many other veteran performers including Murali Sharma and Posani Krishna Murali, and some good songs, DJ ends up as a reasonable timepass.

The story opens with a young Duvvada Jagannadham Sastry picking up a gun and executing a gang of thugs who attack policeman Purushottham (Murali Sharma) in his local market. Not content with his body count so far, he then turns the gun on a suspected rapist in the police station and shoots him too. Bizarrely the police officer in question rapidly recovers from his previously incapacitating wound and then doesn’t bat an eyelid at the young multiple murderer, instead enlisting him as a vigilante in his never-ending war against crime. Because of course there is nothing abnormal about a young boy killing in cold blood (and also being a fantastic shot) – not in this film at any rate.

Moving quickly among to the present day and Duvvada Jagannadham (Allu Arjun), aka Sastry is a Brahmin priest who runs an all-vegetarian catering business in Vijayawada along with various members of his family. Sastry is devout, speaks in very precise Telugu and is passionate about his cooking, although he doesn’t take life too seriously as demonstrated by a recurring joke about using asafoetida in tamarind rice. Bunny is good here, particularly with the comedy scenes and dialogue, while the trio of Sastry, his father (Tanikella Bharani) and uncle (Chandramohan) make a good team as they feed the hungry hordes of wedding guests around Vijayawada.

However, when Sastry answers his phone he becomes a totally different person – his posture is different, his voice deeper and the language less classical. Going by the name of DJ, Sastry’s alter ego is still a vigilante killer working for Purushottham eliminating criminals permanently from the streets of Hyderabad. DJ is super stylish and ultra cool, which ensures that Bunny remains ‘the stylish star’ despite spending much of the film in more traditional attire. Naturally DJ is also an accomplished killer, although quite where he learnt his skills is as much of a mystery as his motivation to cleanse Hyderabad of all criminals. The action scenes here are all beautifully choreographed by Ram Lakshman and Bunny carries out the various impalings, defenestrations and executions as smoothly and effortlessly as he performs his dance routines, and with just as much style. Sadly, there isn’t much else to the character of DJ beyond the dapper surface and efficient bloodshed. There is no rationale behind why his character is driven to such violence, particularly since he has been raised as a priest and generally seems to be a kind-hearted and benevolent priest at that. There is a brief comment by his father at the start, questioning why his son has so much rage, but this is not explored at all, and of course Sastry never shows any sign of the explosive ferocity that is characteristic of DJ.

Naturally there is also a heroine, and as might be expected from the formulaic plot, Pooja Hegde’s presence is completely superfluous to the story with her only purpose seemingly to be to appear in as many skimpy costumes as possible and dance in a few songs. The brazen character of Pooja seems unlikely to appeal to the traditionally minded Sastry, and although her designer credentials might interest DJ, her nasty, childish behaviour when they first meet is unlikely to impress. The camera spends more time focused on Pooja’s navel than on her face and it’s a shame that the only real emotion she gets a chance to display is when she’s shopping in Abu Dhabi – her excitement here is the only genuine moment her character has throughout the entire film. Still, she does look stunning, and has good chemistry with Bunny in the songs, but it’s a shame that she has no opportunity to do anything more.

DJ becomes personally involved in the case of a property scam where the real criminal Royyala Naidu (Rao Ramesh) hides behind a proxy (played by Prabhakar). Royyala’s son Chintu (Subbaraju) also becomes involved when Royyala conspires with Pooja’s father Minister Kusuman (Posani Krishna Murali) to marry their respective children. Subbaraju is excellent as a crook with an unusual idiosyncrasy, particularly in the final showdown with DJ and Royyala.

Throughout the film Bunny excels with his comedic dialogue as Sastry and does a good job of keeping the two sides of his character quite separate and different. As always his dancing is superb on every level and I did appreciate his collection of sparkly sneakers in various colours too. Devi Sri Prasad’s songs are good, although the song sequences aren’t connected to the plot of the film and seem to be simply added in as part of the standard formula – “fight scene/ family scene/ romantic moment/ song”, and repeat. However, the dance sequences add in energy and give Pooja and Sastry/DJ a chance to develop their romance that otherwise appears rather lacklustre.

Duvvada Jagannadham is disappointing, but the action sequences are impressive, the songs are excellent and Bunny is always watchable. There are some good dialogues that were well appreciated by the audience here in Melbourne, and the comedy with Bunny, Vennela Kishore as his cousin Vighneswara Sastry and the rest of the family is generally pretty funny. The major issue here is the formulaic plot and uninspiring screenplay that feels dull despite the good performances from the cast. However it’s not all bad and there are some scenes that work very well, it’s just that it doesn’t all gel together as it should. Worth watching for Bunny, the songs and the action, just don’t expect too much from the plot.

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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.

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.