Mirchi

Mirchi-Movie-PosterMirchi is a mass action romance revenge saga, offering few surprises in the story but with great casting and some solid performances. Writer/director Koratala Siva gets bogged down in a long flashback and loses the momentum a bit towards the second half, but generally moves along at a reasonable clip from fight to song to romance to fight and back again. Like many mass films, it starts light and fluffy but then the body count starts to rise so you do need to be a bit gore tolerant to fully enjoy Mirchi.

Jai (Prabhas) is an architect in Milan. He meets Manasa (Richa Gangopadhyay) and saves her from some thugs. They become friendly and he learns of her family – dominated by a violent assortment of men living in a big old house – and Jai decides to fix her life. Of course, Jai has an ulterior motive for wanting to reform her family, and that is revealed through a very long and detailed flashback. Jai is the son of Manasa’s family’s enemy, Deva (Sathyaraj). How can Jai reform her family, reclaim his place with his own estranged family, eliminate any enemies who refuse to comply and oh yes – what will happen to Manasa when he is reunited with his first love, Vennela (Anushka Shetty)?

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Prabhas is made for this kind of role. Jai is a nice guy, although of course he can kill evil doers with a single blow. Prabhas has such a likeable screen persona and the action scenes are well within his capability. He has nice chemistry with both leading ladies although as the story unfurls there is little ambiguity about who he would choose.  There is not a lot of complexity or nuance, but the role contains enough variety to give Prabhas a bit to work with. Jai does have to find a way that doesn’t totally rely on revenge and violence so there is a clear before and after in his character. One of the highlights is the slightly more prominent roles given to some supporting actors, and those scenes give Prabhas more scope for lighter moments. Jai’s relationship with his father is played out nicely too, showing the slightly more sympathetic side of the feud.

Favourite That Guy Subbaraju is Manasa’s brother. He is first seen pursuing some unfortunate bloke through college and delivering a serious beating. But Jai can see that apparently all he needed to give up his bullying ways was … discovering girls. Yes, Subbaraju got in touch with his sensitive side after dancing to Moves Like Jagger with the girl who fancied him. Who knew Maroon 5 was good for anything? But if that’s what it takes to get a good looking bloke to eschew dismemberment and take up flirting, well then I suppose that is not a bad thing. This dance outbreak also had the effect of making him dress better, pay his rent on time and generally improve his manners.  From then on he spends the rest of the film on the phone to the girl, very coy and giggly as he mouths what I can only assume are dialogues along the line of ‘no you hang up…no you…no you hang up first’ and the like. Silly but amusing, and nice to see him in a slightly different role.

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Richa has a one note character so there isn’t much she can do with Manasa, although she and Prabhas have nice rapport and that helps make the growing friendship between the characters more credible. Once the terribly long flashback starts, she is sidelined and pretty much disappears until the last couple of minutes. Anushka gets more investment from the screenplay as the feisty village belle Vennela. She sets her cap at Jai and he happily succumbs, colourful dance numbers and all. Until disaster strikes on their wedding day.

Sampath Raj has a prominent role as Manasa’s uncle, a nasty piece of work who bullies the entire household and believes he can heal his paralysed father by despatching selected enemies in front of him. Another That Guy, Adithya, plays Jai’s uncle, an old school type who believes in sorting out issues with a machete. Adithya doesn’t get the same opportunity to show off his acting range but he does get ample chance to flash a bit of leg. Supreet and Ajay make an appearance in the second half as muscle for Manasa’s family and the violence escalates towards a fairly brutal ending.

Sathyaraj and Nadhiya are good as Jai’s estranged parents and there are lots of other familiar faces. Brahmanandam does his usual thing and luckily has minimal screen time in the latter section of the film where comedy would have been misplaced. His scenes had the audience howling with laughter, but as this was another Adventure Without Subtitles that all went over my head. Satyam Rajesh, Raghu Babu and others do what they do in a film that relies on ‘types’ more than on characters.

The soundtrack is fun and the picturisations are sometimes spectacular (Darlingey and Mirchi in particular). Devi Sri Prasad seems to know his audience, and the crowd response to the songs was great. The choreographers generally concentrate on the possibilities afforded by Prabhas’ lanky frame and enormous wingspan.

Despite what you may think based on that selection of images, Prabhas largely escaped the worst efforts of the blind costume designer, apart from one inexplicable t-shirt with braces attached. And there is an unwavering commitment to ugly acid wash denim throughout. But I do have to ask – the Keytar? Really design team? What were you thinking.

Mirchi is a good formulaic timepass. It has a good cast delivering the minimal requirements of the script, along with well structured action and song sequences. If you’re a fan of Prabhas or the mass action genre, it’s well worth a watch.  Plus  if you like medical moments only possible in Indian films, then this is for you.

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Darling

Darling

My motivation for watching Darling was less in the expectation of experiencing an enthralling story (although I always live in hope) and much more based on being a Prabhas fan – which in hindsight was the right attitude to take.  Although the underlying themes of friendship and father-son relationships are reasonably well dealt with, the romance between the two leads follows a fairly dull and predictable path despite the attempt at a twist at the interval.  However Prabhas and Kajal are both entertaining to watch in spite of the inevitability of the storyline and for a romantic comedy, what it lacks in passion it more than makes up for in the humour.  Especially since for a change, the comedy is part and parcel of the story rather than a separate unfunny and irrelevant track.  Best of all, there is not even a sniff of Ali or Brahmi anywhere in the proceedings. There is plenty of Prabhas instead and really, that’s enough right there to make this a film worth watching!

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Prabhas is Prabha (why not just stick with Prabhas I wonder?), who is the devoted son of a loving father Hanumanthu (Prabhu).  The film opens with the last day of Hanumanthu’s time at college and the pledge of all the friends to meet up every 5 or 10 years to renew their friendship.  This opening section is all shot in black and white and the lack of colour ensures this section features some of the most conservative and tasteful outfits the men wear for the entire film, despite the fact that it’s set in the eighties.

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These reunions give the various families a chance to get to know each other too, and a young Prabha is smitten by Vishwanath’s daughter, Nandini.  However before love gets a chance to bloom, Nandini and her family move to Switzerland while Prabha grows up to celebrate his own last day at college with a similarly dedicated group of friends.  Although rather than vowing to meet up every few years, Prabha’s friends seem to be permanently welded to his side since they all come along for Hanumanthu’s latest big college reunion.  They all also play in a band together and seem to share Prabha’s (lack of) fashion sense (the manband!), although perhaps there is a rule that states if you are performing in a band scarves are obligatory.  The first half involves a side trip to Switzerland where amazingly everyone seems to speak Telugu, although given Dharmavarapu Subramanyam’s pronouncements that may not be quite so surprising.

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Prabha is hopeful that a meeting with Nandini will be enough to restart their love story, but there is a minor complication in the form of Nisha (Shradha Das in a very brief cameo) who is in love with Prabha.  Her father (Mukesh Rishi) is a local don and he is determined to ensure that his daughter gets whatever she wants even if that means forcing Prabha at gunpoint to marry his daughter.  Despite his threatening persona, Mukesh Rishi mainly plays his character for laughs and it’s fun to see him in this type of role blending mayhem with merriment and revealing a surprisingly sensitive soul.

While the main feature of the film is the romance between Prabha and Nandini, the relationships between the various older men are actually more interesting and appear more genuine.  Sure they’re cheesy, over-simplified and even a little too dramatic at times, but these moments give the film some much needed warmth.

DarlingDarling Stalwarts including Aahuthi Prasad, Chandra Mohan, Dharmavarapu Subrahmanyam and M. S. Narayana all work together naturally, so that they really do all seem to be old friends catching up over a few glasses of whiskey and a cricket match.  The relationship between Prabha and his father is also nicely portrayed and both Prabhas and Prabhu bring a realistic camaraderie to their interactions.  In fact throughout Prabhas is effortlessly charming despite the succession of ridiculously baggy and shapeless t-shirts he wears.  Nothing seems to fit and he’s much too tall to look anything but scruffy in wide-necked and voluminous shirts – plus the dual layered hats, inexplicable scarves and worn-off-one-shoulder bespangled jacket.

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Prabhas seems to have been lumbered with a stylist that hates him, and in a complete reversal of normal, Kajal is the one who gets to wear much more reasonable outfits.  There are a few misses, after all this is Tollywood where apparently giving someone fairy wings means they are wearing a ‘holy dress’, but overall Kajal looks fantastic.  She also puts in a convincing performance although it would perhaps have made the story a little more interesting if there had been a difference in character between the dream Nadini of the first half, and the real Nandini in the second half.   Kajal throws herself into the dancing, and apart from one bizarre attempt at what I think was supposed to be Bharatanatyam (what were they thinking!!) the choreographer has stuck to her strengths and put her enthusiasm to good use.  There is plenty of hip shaking and arm waving but less actual dancing, so she looks more co-ordinated than usual.  The choreography is a little less successful for Prabhas, but then again I may just have been distracted by those hideous outfits.  This is a beautifully shot song that features the scenery of Switzerland morphing into Hyderabad and also some beautiful CGI scenes of snow, along with some of the better outfits worn by Prabhas.

Added in to the mix is an attempted suicide by Nisha which infuriated me (completely unnecessary), a side story involving Hanumanthu’s adopted father and brother and a rival for Nandini’s affections in the form of Appala Naidu’s son Rishi (Santosh).  There are a limited number of fight scenes but with Peter Hein choreographing, they all look good and generally fit into the flow of the film.  The music by G. V. Prakash is unremarkable but Andrew’s cinematography makes the most of the settings in Switzerland – if only the costumes had matched.

Overall Darling is a film that’s not too taxing to watch and is certainly less gory and more family friendly than the recent Rebel.  Director A. Karunakaran ensures good performances from all but a sharper story would have made for a better film.  Worth it for Prabhas, Kajal and the gang of older actors who looked to be having a great time. 3 stars.

Billa (2009)

Billa is a remake of Billa (Tamil) which is a remake of an earlier Rajnikanth film of the same name which is a remake of the Amitabh Bachchan classic Don (Salim-Javed are credited for the original story). I’ve seen all of them, plus the more recent Hindi Don starring Shah Rukh, so I didn’t expect the unexpected and largely this is faithful to those predecessors. Meher Ramesh adheres to Telugu film conventions requiring happy endings and righteous heroes so there are a few changes. I enjoyed the total disregard of inconvenient logic and budgetary challenges. It is a modern, slick film with a dash of B movie and the spirit of making do for the sake of entertainment.

Prabhas plays the title role of Billa – a gangster with a puzzling penchant for black satin and three piece suits. In the tropics. No wonder he was always so irritable. The chafing must have been a nightmare.

Billa works for ‘Devil’ and seems to be a model employee. He is out to eliminate the competition and stay ahead of the law while selling arms, drugs and who knows what else to villains all over South-East Asia. He lives a luxurious lifestyle on his private island where he continues to overdress for the beach.

He is a cranky intolerant man, and Prabhas does well to be so unlikeable and dour. I did like Billa’s catchphrase ‘Trust no one. Kill anyone. Be only one”. It was a bit reminiscent of Highlander.

The English dialogues were often very funny though I am not sure the level of cliché was intended.  The subtitle team made their mark too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prabhas also plays Ranga – a naive thief and layabout who has a heart of gold. Ranga is Billa’s duplicate and when Billa is out of circulation, the police use Ranga to infiltrate the gang. This role is a better fit for Prabhas as his likeable goofy side is given more rein and he is more expressive.

Ranga is sympathetic without being overly complex. Prabhas gets an opportunity to play up the confusion as Ranga impersonates Billa but his characterisations are so broad that there is no ambiguity at all.

Ranga has a far more colourful inner life than Billa, so that allowed for some variation in the song treatments.

Subbaraju makes an all too short appearance as Vikram, the gang member who tries to leave Billa for love.

Once I realised he was marked for death I was a bit sad. But I cheered up when Hansika (his love interest) was hit by a truck. Seriously – casting Hansika for the role requiring a seductive dance? What were they thinking? Her costumes don’t help; a floor length evening dress (for clubbing, of course) is replaced with cut-off denim shorts and an oversized jumper. It was all quite daft and compared to Helen … well. Say no more.

Vikram’s sister Maya (Anushka) goes undercover to avenge her brother and his flattened fiancée.

Anushka is not exactly wasted in this role but despite being a strong personality, Maya is not all that integral to the action. The swimming pool has a more important role as it is the means of getting the heroines into their skimpiest outfits. Maya vies with Lisa (Namitha) for Billa’s attention and there is more chemistry, albeit toxic, between the ladies than there is with the hero.

I liked that Lisa was allowed to fight to get rid of her competition, and surprised to see that her repertoire included a fencing bout.

The action scenes by Stun Siva (what a great name!) are a blend of impressive fight choreography and some quite lame stunts. I could see the inspiration for a few scenes was directly lifted from Farhan Akhtar’s Don (2006) but it felt as though they got to the location, realised they didn’t have the budget or know-how and just went for it anyway. Prabhas seemed much more at home in the high adrenalin action scenes than with the dialogues he was given as Billa. The action scenes are sometimes quite creative.

Every good hero/anti-hero needs a good villain and Kelly Dorjee’s character Rashid is flamboyant and slightly unhinged. Krishnamraju (Prabhas’ uncle) is the dedicated policeman after Billa, and gives a nicely balanced performance. Adithya is a cop under suspicion of collaborating with the baddies and is effective and understated. Rehman is Dharmendra, the Interpol agent in charge of hunting down Billa. The supporting gang members are a mixed bag, including Supreet as Ranjith, Billa’s 2IC. Ali has a significant role that is not a comedy distraction. He is a good character actor so I wish he would do more roles that contribute to the story instead of distracting from it.

The music by Mani Sharma is disappointing despite being closely linked to the drama. It was all quite uninspired and only the performers and costumes made any of the picturisations very memorable. Anushka isn’t a very enthusiastic or accomplished dancer so I found the work-arounds in this clip quite amusing.

The costume designers had a fine time and the look developed for Billa and gang was quite consistent and fitted the overall visual flavour.

Namitha and Anushka seemed to have clothes designed by a 20 year old boy with raging hormones but they wore it all well. I have to say that if I am to be afflicted with half naked skanks swanning around, it is nice to see more curvy and natural shapes than a stick insect with implants. But was it necessary? What do you think. To be fair, there was a lot of shirtless Prabhas on display so there was almost equal opportunity for eye candy regardless of your interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite apart from the endless parade of shiny suits, I lost count of the montages of sour-faced Billa flexing and/or staring enigmatically.

I found Billa very entertaining. I pretty much knew where the story was going, but I liked the spirited and fast paced dash through all the shenanigans. Prabhas is in good form, the support cast do well with their material and the film looks great. It was a fun timepass and watching it again recently, I enjoyed it all over again. 3 ½ stars!

Heather says: Faran Aktar’s  Don is one of my favourite Hindi films which may be one of the reasons why I couldn’t appreciate this Telugu version. The opening scenes where Billa does his stuff as the king-pin of the drug organisation were painful to watch as the actors indulged in some of the most stilted acting and dialogue delivery that I’ve ever seen. Billa’s English phrases, in particular his ‘Can, can’ were dreadful and made him sound like a total idiot, while it was hard to watch Prabhas impersonate a chunk of wood when he’s normally a much better actor. It wasn’t just the terrible direction in this section that didn’t work for me, since the stunts and effects were just as bad. It appeared as if Meher Ramesh thought that a film about gangsters needed plenty of fast cars, helicopters and motorbikes, which I agree is not a bad idea, but then couldn’t work out how to use them in the story. So we ended up with completely implausible situations which seemed contrived just so that another over the top stunt could be stuck into the screenplay. And for goodness sake, if Billa was trying to escape in a Ferrari there is no way that anyone would have been able to keep up!  Plus it’s not exactly the best car for an unobtrusive getaway, but I guess that really wasn’t the point. Thank heavens for Subbaraju who did help me get through the first few scenes, along with Hansika as a comedy side-plot, since I couldn’t do anything but laugh at her character.

The film picked up immensely once Prabhas was allowed to exert his natural charm as Ranga, and despite the continuing forays into pointless special effects it was much more entertaining. I enjoyed Ali’s role for a change, and Anuskha and the other supporting actors were all good enough to keep their characters interesting. I just wish Billa had been less of an escapee from a Goth fashion parade (clichéd model personality included) and more of a vicious but possibly more interesting killer. 2 ½ stars.