ABCD (Any Body Can Dance)

ABCD

I love this film!  I don’t care that it has a clichéd storyline and watching it feels a little like sitting through a marathon session of Fame episodes. I don’t care that for most of the cast acting is at the amateur end of the scale, while Kay Kay Menon and Ganesh Acharya take scenery chewing to an entirely new level.  ABCD is a movie about dance that really is all about dance. There are actual dancers for a start – people who can genuinely move and they get plenty of opportunity to showcase their skills. Plus Prabhu Deva – I don’t need anything more.

The story is one that occurs regularly in dance-based films.  Rich privileged kids versus the poor underdogs, so no prizes for guessing the final outcome. But Tushar Hiranandani’s screenplay adds in some back story for a few of the dancers featuring romance, drug addiction, parental oppression and a few other issues besides which helps make a connection with the young unknown cast. Although I say unknown, most of the dancers have competed in India’s dance competitions such as Dance India Dance, so I’m sure they are all well known within their home country, but they aren’t household names in Australia.

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Kay Kay Menon is Jehangir Khan, the owner of a successful dance company (JDC) which has just won the TV dance competition Dance Dil Se despite apparently not deserving first place.  JDC’s choreographer Vishnu (Prabhu Deva) is disappointed by the fixing of the competition, Jehangir’s attitude and by the introduction of a new choreographer from the US (Mario Fernando Aguilera) which also means he is out of a job (Not that the JDC dancers look terribly impressed with their new choreographer!).  But before he makes it back to Chennai, Vishnu spends a few days with his friend Gopi (Ganesh Acharya) where he watches a group of kids escaping from the police using their parkour skills and sees them dancing at the Ganpati festival.

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Seeing their potential, Vishnu decides to teach these kids dance for free, and such unimportant details such as how he is going to manage to survive without a paying job never really enter into the picture at all.  This set up for the rest of the story takes a long time, and there are a few too many drunken discussions on the roof of their building, but finally we do get back to the dancing.

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The rivalry between Jehangir and Vishnu is echoed in the initial stand-off between Rocky (Salman Yusuff Khan) and the more streetwise D (Dharmesh Yelande). Also eager to dance is Chandhu (Pumit J. Pathak) who has his own personal demons to overcome while other members of the group include Shaina (Noonin Naem Sha) a bar dancer, and eventually Rhea (Lauren Gottlieb), one of Jeghangir’s dancers who defects after Jhangir gets a little too close and personal at a rehearsal.

I was very impressed by Lauren Gottlieb who looks great dancing, but also manages very well with her spoken Hindi.  In fact she’s so good that I wasn’t sure at first if she had done her own dubbing, and she was much more understandable than Prabhu Deva. Her acting isn’t brilliant, but she’s as good as the rest of the cast, so she doesn’t stand out in that regard and I like that there isn’t any need for an explanation as to why a Westerner is dancing in the group. She’s just accepted as a dancer, and that’s it.

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Once Vishnu has assembled his group, he enters them into Dance Dil Se, despite his insider knowledge that the competition is rigged for JDC to win. Of course he also knows that things will be different this time! This is where the film gets much better with plenty of rehearsals, dance routines, and a fantastic solo from Prabhu Deva at a night club where he easily out dances everyone else.  It’s wonderful to watch, and even if some of the choreography isn’t quite to my taste, it’s hard not to be impressed by the dancers.

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While Jehangir plots and plans, his new choreographer turns the group into ballet dancers (interestingly Mario Fernando Aguilera actually runs a ballet school in Delhi in real life) and Vishnu’s group learn various life lessons while dealing with their own problems.  It’s more inspirational than the trite platitudes make it seem and culminates in this wonderful dance in the rain as the group try to keep their dance studio open and keep D dancing despite his father’s disapproval.

This was ‘India’s first 3-D dance movie’ but I watched it in a conventional theatre so can’t comment on the 3D effects, although I could tell that a number of the shots had been added in solely for that purpose.  The film is beautifully shot and the colours are amazingly clear and vibrant, even on the standard DVD.  The dancers are all excellent and have so much energy that it’s exhausting just watching. They do show a great commitment to costumes as well, but I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t actually perform in any of these outfits!

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Remo is best known as choreographer and knows how to get the best shots of his dancers.  Including so many choreographers in the cast ensures that that the dancing is of a high standard, and pretty much any time there is music there is dancing. All the different dance groups that perform show just as much commitment to their routines and even JDC’s ballet routines are beautifully done.  The final dance off between JDC and Vishnu’s DDR is excellent with just about everything possible thrown in. If you don’t want to know who wins stop watching the clip below at 6 minutes 50 seconds.

High energy dancing, great routines and of course the amazing Prabhu Deva make ABCD a film which rises above the unoriginal story to provide entertainment for more than just dance enthusiasts. Don’t miss Saroj Khan in the end credits when she makes an appearance dancing with Prabhu Deva, Ganesh Acharya and Remo. It’s a perfect end to a film that really is all about the dancing. 4 stars.

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Thalapathi

Thalapathi was one of the first Tamil films I saw. It was before my ‘Southern Film Industry Addiction’, I barely knew who Rajnikanth was and had absolutely no idea about Mammootty. In fact I’d totally forgotten he was in this film until I rewatched it recently – thankfully I know much better now.

Written and directed by Mani Ratnam, Thalapathi is at heart much more of a masala film than his usual fare. It features most of the necessary ingredients: an abandoned child, perpetually teary mother, romance, brothers who don’t know they are related, the essential Amrish Puri as the villain and a significant article of clothing. Add to that plenty of action and fight scenes, great songs, and beautiful cinematography, plenty of classical references and it all adds up to a very full 2 and a half hours of cinema.

The film starts in black and white with a young unmarried girl giving birth during the festival of Bogi. The opening scenes of Kalyani’s rejection by an older woman and shots of the rural countryside serve to explain that her child has no future in such a traditional community. She puts the baby into a train in the hope that somehow someone else will give him a better life. These opening shots are some of the best in the film and it’s a shame that my copy of the DVD seems to have lost the original quality.

The colour kicks in with the year of 1987 when the baby has grown up to be Surya (Rajnikanth). He is a man with a firm belief in justice who is determined to help others in his community in any way he can. This often seems to be by beating senseless an offender and in the course of such action he ends up fatally injuring Ramana, one of Devaraj’s men. Enter Mammootty in a very well played role as the head of the local gang of rowdies, who initially threatens Surya with dire consequences if his man dies.

However when Devaraj finds out Ramana’s crimes, he arranges for Surya’s release from jail and tells him that his actions were right and just. I can’t say that I agree with his assessment but it makes Surya become his loyal Thalapathi and the two become inseparable. Lots of drama here, so time for a song break.

Surya’s charitable reputation helps to legitimise Devaraj’s rather more shady one and they soon rule the entire area, much to the displeasure of Devaraj’s rival Kalivardhan (a dubbed Amrish Puri). There is bad blood between these two and it’s inevitable that there will be a clash. However most of the story concerns Surya’s relationship with Devaraj and sadly Kalivardhan is only seen occasionally throughout the film. Amrish Puri in a really terrible pair of glasses isn’t as menacing as usual but manages to be evil enough just when it really counts.

In the course of his good works, Surya meets Subbu (Shobana), a Brahmin girl who falls in love with him. Perhaps it was the wolverine hair-style or the commanding way in which he demands her jewellery but she’s obviously quite smitten.

Her father wants nothing to do with a thug who has no idea who his parents were and rejects the match. In the middle of all this, Surya’s real mother ends up moving to the area when her legitimate son Arjun (Arvind Swamy) is appointed as a Collector. Kalyani has married a very understanding man who knows all about her first baby, although Arjun doesn’t know that he has an elder half-brother. The two brothers have a common sense of justice but in every other way are complete opposites. Arjun is a good and law-abiding man who is committed to cleaning up the town, although perhaps he should have started with the police corruption rather than take on the town rowdies. There are inevitable clashes between Surya, Devaraj and the police as Arjun tries to stop their version of law and justice in the town. And Kalivardhan is luring in the background adding in his malicious attempts to get rid of the pair as well. Finally the significant cloth comes to light but Surya refuses to give up his friendship with Devaraj despite discovering his brother.

Although there is plenty of action in the film, the main focus is on the relationship between Surya and Devaraj. Mani Ratnam has based it on the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana from the Mahabharata and there are a number of references to this story throughout the film. It starts out with Devaraj as the leader and Surya as the faithful follower, but as their friendship develops they each begin to change the other and the dynamic between the two has altered by the final scenes. Both Rajnikanth and Mammootty are both excellent and work well together to bring their friendship to life. It’s mainly in the little touches, such as the way they only have to look at each other to acknowledge their next venture.

Surya’s relationships with his mother, Subbu and others are important to the overall story but his character is defined by his strong sense of justice and unwavering support of Devaraj, no matter what. Even when Devaraj persuades him to marry Ramana’s widow Padma, Surya is unable to say no. Rajni has plenty of action scenes and is exuberant in these, but he also makes the most of his more dramatic moments. So much is conveyed in one particularly memorable scene in the temple, where both Suyra and Kalyani both look yearningly towards a train as they hear the distant whistle. They are both standing close together but neither have any idea who the other is and their obvious sadness is all the more poignant as a result.

Mammootty is more restrained in his role as Devaraj relies more on fear and his entourage rather than actual physical violence. He has Surya for all of that after all. His portrayal of the more corrupt and devious Devaraj is excellent and he brings a real sense of authority to the character. The other members of the cast are all very good in their supporting roles, especially Srividya who is convincing as the mother who can never forget the child she lost. I was surprised that she had told her husband about her first baby, but Jai Sankar brought a lot of compassion to his role as Arjun’s father and was very credible as a supportive husband and father.

The other standout feature of the film is the music by Ilaiyaraja. The sad Chinna Thayaval is beautiful and recurs as background music throughout the film. The other songs are all upbeat with some great dancing and I wasn’t surprised to see that Prabhu Deva was one of the choreographers.  The rather different Sundari Kannal is interspersed with some Samurai action and seems to be a tribute to director Akira Kurosawa. I haven’t included it here as it is very long and I’m a little concerned about the horses in some of the fight sequences but Rajni in a top knot is definitely worth a look.

The only issue I have with this film is that it is very violent in parts. The first fight scene with Ramana and the episodes of police torture are quite graphic and go on just a bit too long for me. But to counter that, the two leads are fantastic and really at their best, the music is beautiful and memorable, and it’s a very well told story. 4 stars.

Temple says: I like watching earlier Rajni films (and this is the 90s) as it reminds me just how good an actor he is, legend status aside. I have recently watched Darna Veera Suura Karna, so the story was fresh in my mind and I think this translation to modern gang empires was very effective. Deva and Surya are full of certainty and righteous power, and stride through the landscape looking larger than life. Mammootty and Rajni are brilliant and play off each other so well, and that’s a good thing as other elements of the story are underdone. Deva’s gang members were just a vague presence, and I don’t think I recall any of their names. They were just there for contrast and to portray Deva’s court of followers. The female characters are strong in concept but weak in presence apart from a couple of key scenes. Shobana was lovely as Subbu, which is all that was required of her,  and Bhanupriya gave an excellent and near silent performance as Padma. Srividya was good but her character was quite static and she didn’t do much more than weep so I was left wanting to see more from a woman who clearly had a complex situation to navigate. I admired Santosh Sivan’s artistry as he used light and camera angles to create a feeling that these men were almost forces of nature, and the landscapes were stunning. The fight scenes in the rain were lovingly filmed to capture the beauty of the splashing water and the bodies were more of a method of breaking the trajectory of the showers than the object of the scene. I don’t think it’s an overly violent film as many of the gory scenes are shown as aftermath rather than explicit or graphic scenes of how people got into that state. What was explicit was also shown to have consequences so it isn’t mindless violence either. It all fit into the relationship of Deva and his general with their warlike mentality. I don’t love the soundtrack, but I do like it well enough and thought most of the slower songs were excellent. I was ready to stick a fork in my ear at the umpteenth reprise of Chinna Thayaval but I blame Mani Ratnam for that as it was just relentless and overused. It’s a great action infused tale of loyalty and conflict, it looks stunning, and it features two of the best actors working in Indian cinema. 4 stars from me!

Rowdy Alludu

There are few things we like more than a Chiru movie, unless of course it’s a double role Chiru movie! Rowdy Alludu features Chiranjeevi taking on two classic characters; the smooth and suave businessman Kalyan and the strong, streetwise auto driver Johnny.  Add to this a dash of romance, intrigue, dastardly deeds and plenty of action and you have the perfect masala mix.

The movie starts with the above statement (which we took as A Sign) and there are a number of sections where there seem to be missing scenes as the action appears to skip. We really hope that there is someone in Hyderabad collecting and restoring, or at least preserving, all of these older films as quite a few we have watched recently have a similar problem.

Kalyan arrives back from the USA to take over the family hotel business from his ailing father and naive brother-in-law. With the help of his father’s trusted employee Mr Madhavayya (Raogopalrao) he discovers irregularities in the accounts and it’s not long before he has a few suspects in mind.

However, before he can investigate further, the whole family heads off to Ooty for a holiday. This seems to be an excuse for the wardrobe department to go mad buying a natty selection of sweaters for Chiru. Meanwhile, the fraudsters make efforts to cover their tracks and enlist the help of their partner in crime, the cat owning axe-murderer and construction contractor, Ranjit Kumar.

On a trip to Bombay, Venkat Raidu (Kota Srinivasa Rao) and Papi Kundalu (Allu Ramalingaiah) find Johnny, an auto driver who is the exact duplicate of Kalyan. They hatch a plot to get rid of their boss, put Johnny in his place and then take over the company.

Never one to resist a beautiful woman, Johnny dances up a storm to a bonus Bappi Lahiri song with the amazing Disco Shanti. Despite the fact that this was a film released in 1991, Disco Shanti’s outfit looks to have been stolen from Sam Fox circa the mid eighties. Luckily they are in fine form, and more than ready to take on the dubious choreography and make it their own. This may be the song that taught young Charan how to handle a fire hose.

Kalyan is in love with Madhavayya’s daughter Sita (Shobana) who has the good sense to be a lawyer. This comes in very handy later on when the hapless Kalyan is accused of murder and thrown into jail. Rekha (Divya Bharti), the daughter of Venkat Raidu, hatches a scheme to marry Kalyan. Rekha does genuinely seem to love Kalyan but her father just sees the marriage as a way to control his nephew and the company. Naturally when she throws herself at Johnny thinking he is Kalyan, Johnny is delighted while Venkat Raidu desperately tries to separate the two.

Shobana doesn’t get much screen time at all, although she does make a lovely pairing with Chiru. Most of the romance is provided by the interactions of Johnny and Rekha, relying heavily on comedy, mistaken identity and innuendo. Divya Bharti throws herself at Chiru with wild enthusiasm  and really, who can blame her.

The success of the film rests on the portrayal of the two characters by Chiru. He exudes class and style as Kalyan and is also convincingly vulnerable when his family is attacked.  Johnny is as rough and tough as they come and Chiru makes him a different character in every respect. Kalyan has a blow-waved mullet and neatly pressed trousers, Johnny has a more exuberant moustache and prefers the timeless plaid and denim combo. Johnny’s attempts to impersonate Kalyan are laughable, but since he is supposed to convince everyone that Kalyan has become crazy that works perfectly. A very youthful and bald-spot free Brahmi makes an appearance as the psychiatrist enlisted to pronounce Kalyan insane, but most of the comedy falls to Chiru as Johnny and he does an excellent job.  The two fraudulent employees also ham it up with their inept schemes and it’s left to Ranjit Kumar and his henchman to provide the real menace.

The songs are mainly featured on Chiru and Divya Bharti and are upbeat as expected from Bappi Lahiri, with some interesting choreography by Prabhu Deva among others. There is one romantic song with Shobana in Switzerland which is quite subdued choreographically, but still contains potentially scarring images of mouth to mouth grape transfer technique. Chiru and Divya have an interesting encounter with some rather obvious symbolism of melting candles, dripping wax and a lot more besides. And we would love to know what the meaning was behind poor Divya getting hit in the face with suspended fruit.  More fruit! There was a theme here, but we just don’t know why. The costume designers also seem to have gone crazy in the local DIY store for some of the outfits and must be applauded for their belief that almost anything can be used as a headdress.

We enjoyed the scene in the hospital when Kalyan’s father’s heart beats in Morse code. There doesn’t appear to be any reason for this but is one really needed? Did it say anything significant? Are there any Telugu Morse Code experts out there? Johnny is obviously a man of steel as he is able to emerge from a coma and go straight into a major fight without so much as needing a bandage change.

We know that the story doesn’t have to make sense, but the police do seem to be particularly inept On learning that Kalyan has been arrested and  subsequently escaped, Johnny promptly flies back to Hyderabad. Surely the police would have been deployed at the airport looking for the escaped felon Kalyan? And since Kalyan and Johnny were identical it seems likely that the police might just have spotted Johnny returning to the city of his crimes. Perhaps they were looking for someone escaping from Hyderabad rather than entering the city so he was able to sneak in while their backs were turned.  Or are we over-thinking this?

Chiranjeevi is in his element and much of the film’s appeal lies with him, but his co-stars all turn in excellent performances to make this very entertaining. There is so much packed into this film with plenty of twists, plots and counter plots making it chock-full of masala goodness.

Temple says: This is not my favourite Chiru film, but it is very entertaining. All the requisite elements are there – fighting, flirting, bad denim, a sobbing mother, songs and multiple double-crosses. The comedy track is well integrated into the main story, and both Allu Ramalingaiah and Kota Srinivasa Rao make the most of their characters. Brahmi’s appearance is forgettable as he really doesn’t do much apart from fulfill what seems to be a law that he must appear. Divya Bharti plays an airhead and manages to be likeable enough but between her squeals and the wardrobe excesses, I was a bit over her character in a very short time. Shobana has less screen time but makes a stronger impression for me, as she down played a lot of her scenes and gave Sita a bit of presence. She might not have gotten a big dance number, but seeing what the costume team did to Divya, that may not be something she regrets. Chiru manages the characterisations of Johnny and Kalyan very well, and aside from obvious styling changes, his facial expressions and enunciation help keep the two roles quite distinct. It’s a fun film, if not a great one, and the songs are certainly memorable! I give this 3 and 1/2 stars.

Heather says: Perhaps it was the return to Telugu Masala after a month of watching only Tamil movies, or maybe just because it’s twice as much Chiru, but I really enjoyed this film. The songs were particularly entertaining although I’m not sure if I can say that’s because of the dancing or just due to the unbridled enthusiasm of the wardrobe department! This was one of the films that made Divya Bharti a star in the south but I found her a little too loud and over-excitable. I thought Shobana’s performance was superior and it’s a shame she didn’t have more screen time. The film however belongs to Chiru and he separated his two characters very well, with differences in speech, posture and attitude clearly defining Kalyan and Johnny. I did appreciate the tasteful sweater collection used by Kalyan compared to the more garish choices often seen in Hindi films of the same period. The bumbling conspirators Venkat Raidu and Papi Kundalu are inept and amusing, while their partner in crime Ranjit Kumar seems to be an amalgamation of a number of classic James Bond baddies. Overall the story works well and the various twists and turns are satisfactorily dealt with to make this a fun watch. 4 stars from me!

HELP!

Our good friend Memsaab is trying to identify a particular function room and hotel swimming pool that feature in a lot of Hindi films. So imagine my delight when I saw The Pool in this film!

But I still have no idea which hotel it was at. Do you? Surely that distinctive wall decoration (on the right of the picture) has to ring a bell with someone. Please let us know! Temple