Goodachari (2018)

Goodachari is great when it’s good. Sashi Kiran Tikka keeps things flying along, and the film and cast looks amazing. Unfortunately the writing is not as compelling although there are some decent twists along the way.

Satya (Prakash Raj) and Vijay (Ravi Prakash) are on a secret mission that goes horribly wrong. Satya survives, and returns home only to have to tell his colleague’s son that his father will not be returning. Knowing that the kid has no family, Satya takes Gopi in. But then he starts training the boy to forget his previous life and name.

After 174 unsuccessful applications to join Indian intelligence services, grown up Gopi who is now called Arjun (Adivi Sesh) hits the jackpot on number 175. He is summoned to a secret office below a shop, and told he has been shortlisted as a potential agent of the elite Trinetra agency. He is mentored by Damodar (Anish Kuruvilla), mildly threatened by Nadiya (Supriya Yarlagadda), and immediately singled out as the other potential alpha male by Mohammad (Rakesh Varre) and Leena (Madhu Shalini) although she seems more receptive to his presence. Shaam (Vennela Kishore) is kind of the Q of this ensemble, fussing over people messing up his stuff and keeping a beady eye on everyone. Sameera (Sobhita Dhulipala) is Arjun’s neighbour and eventual girlfriend. But something goes horribly wrong and Arjun has to run from his own team and from the real enemy. How will he prove his innocence, and how is he going to live long enough to do that? As they say in all the classic Wikipedia plot summaries, “this forms rest of the story”.

Arjun is driven by emotion and poor impulse control rather than the cool lack of inhibition that makes someone like Bond such an efficient killer. I guess the sentimentality of the character was supposed to make him sympathetic and relatable. But I was left thinking he was just going to get all the good agents killed. The way to get Arjun to focus on a task is to hurt his feelings and make him want to prove you wrong. Adivi Sesh spends an inordinate amount of time welling up in tears as Arjun feels sorry for himself that he isn’t living up to his idealised dad. He rarely questions why and how he could make his own contribution, his sole motivation was to be like a man he barely knew. I kept wondering why someone who was so obviously not completely stable kept getting through the screening. And for an elite intelligence operative, he was as sharp as a bag of hair. A critical incident hinges on interpreting a 4 digit code and this film would have you think it takes a master linguist to do that. I reckon anyone who’s tried to use Outlook might have been up to scratch. I feel that with a bit more thought for the writing and more variation layered into the performance, perhaps a little more moral ambiguity and less self indulgent wallowing, Arjun could have been a great character.

It is always refreshing to see a Telugu film include women who act like adults, had day jobs that you actually saw them do, and who had their own agendas, and generally got things done. Sobhita Dhulipala is stunning to look at as Sameera but her character is more subtle than just a throwaway love interest. Her relationship with Arjun seems a bit convenient initially, but they have some good conversations and grow closer through that mutual understanding.  Supriya Yarlagadda’s Nadiya is a gun as a training officer and makes some hard calls in the field, acting coolly with authority and decision. Madhu Shalini was more of a token girl agent, but she kicks arse in some crucial scenes despite being ditzier than she should be.

Prakash Raj is in Prakash Dad mode here, playing Satya as a fiercely loving parent while still utterly cynical about people and their motivations. And rightly so. Satya’s ability to hide in plain sight while still being connected to his networks was extremely useful. Arjun could learn a thing or ten from Satya about thinking before he leaps. Damodar is Arjun’s workplace mentor and I quite enjoyed the range of exasperated expressions and side eye Anish Kuruvilla brought to the role.

I know the Indian context and history is different and some things will take on a different tone with a local audience. But in Australia it feels like every day there are more and more hateful commentators and media pundits taking potshots at Muslim Australians among other groups. I am weary of it, and struggle to imagine how it feels to be on the receiving end of such unrelenting negativity. So when the head terrorist Rana (Jagapathi Babu) is revealed, I was glad to see a good actor giving a well thought out performance and not just a eyeliner wearing caricature. Rana articulates the question about what made people call him a terrorist when he and Satya were using the same tactics. He also asks Arjun to consider whether he might see things differently if he had not been brainwashed by Satya. They are brief moments and only a couple of lines, but I appreciated seeing a little more inner life to the bad guy as well as the question of perspective.

The direction, editing and visual styling are top notch and the action feels really dynamic. The fights are fast and full of aggression and Adivi Sesh is well up to the action choreo. There is a little too much shooting with total accuracy while looking the other way. It’s a boys own adventure idea of what cool looks like. There are some good spy gadgets and tech that bring a bit of quality and flair to Trinetra. The story is well constructed and there aren’t too many loose ends left. That might be a little bit of a drawback. I feel like this is being positioned as the start of a series and maybe some characters should have been allowed to survive into a potential sequel.

I guessed most of the plot twists and devices well in advance of the big reveal but perhaps I am just gifted like that. I didn’t spot one surprise at all and was thrilled to bits by how that played out. I was hooked the whole way through, and only found my mind wandering when anyone started on about their daddy issues. If you like high adrenalin action with a righteous (but slightly dim) hero, this is the film for you.

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Mahanati

Mahanati

Nag Ashwin’s Mahanati is a spellbinding biopic that celebrates the life of Savitri in sumptuous colour with haunting re-enactments of her most famous scenes. Keerthy Suresh invokes the magic of Savitri’s screen presence while Samantha ties it all together as a journalist researching the legendary actor’s life for a newspaper article. At just under three hours, the film still only scratches the surface of Savitri’s story, but with an impressive cast and convincing dialogue, Mahanati is a mesmerising look at one of the most successful film actors from the South.

The film opens with Savitri falling into a coma and being taken to a hospital whose bemused staff have no idea who they have just admitted. One year later, on the anniversary of her illness, journalist Madhura Vani (Samantha Akkineni) is given the task of writing about the film star for a short article in the newspaper. Vani is shy and frumpy, struggling to make her mark in the male-dominated profession of journalism and she is dismayed at what she thinks is a throw-away assignment. But once she starts speaking to the people who knew Savitri, Vani becomes intrigued by the star and her generous and compassionate personality. As she learns more, Vani draws inspiration from Savitri and becomes empowered to make changes in her own life and stand up for herself. This interweaving of Vani’s story into the life of Savitri is ingenious and allows Nag Ashwin to focus on the more positive aspects of Savitri’s legacy, although he doesn’t avoid the drama either.

The film shows Savitri’s early life after her father dies and her mother goes to live with relatives. Even as a child, Savitri was a force to be reckoned with. Her determination and will to succeed is demonstrated as she learns to dance despite the dance instructor telling her she lacks discipline and will not be able to master the skill. I loved these early scenes and the young actor playing the child Savitri who is a real find. She is full of life and totally charming with plenty of attitude – perfect for the role!

Savitri is shown taking part in theatrical shows under the supervision of her Uncle, K.V. Chowdary (Rajendra Prasad), and her abortive first trip to Chennai to become an actress is also depicted. This is beautifully done, with Savitri in full fan mode as she tries to get glimpses of her favourite actor Akkineni Nageswara Rao (Naga Chaitanya), and being almost totally oblivious to the man who takes her photo, Gemini Ganesan (Dulquer Salmaan).

Nag Ashwin doesn’t dwell too much on Savitri’s rich film history but focuses instead on the real-life drama of her marriage to Gemini Ganesan and subsequent estrangement from her uncle. Her iconic roles are shown in a montage and Keerthy Suresh does a fantastic job in re-creating these accurately, including a poignant song from Devadasu and the wonderful scene in Mayabazar where Savitri is playing Ghatotkacha impersonating Sasirekha.

I’ve been waiting for a film that showcases Keerthy’s talents as an actor, and finally she gets her moment to shine. She really is amazing here and completely nails a wide range of emotions. From the early bubbly and happily carefree girl all the way through to the devastated wife who turns to alcohol, Keerthy makes us live every moment and completely believe in her portrayal of a legendary actor. A standout is the moment when she learns Gemini Ganesan is already married and her dreams of romance turn to ashes. This, and her subsequent difficult decision to marry the man she loves despite everything are simply perfect, with none of the actors overplaying the emotion, but still managing to make the audience feel every heartache and each moment of elation.

Dulquer Salmaan is also a perfect choice for the ultimate romantic actor of the time; Gemini Ganesan. He has plenty of charm and when he sets out to woo Savitri, she doesn’t stand a chance! Their romance sparkles on screen and Dulquer is just as convincing when he portrays Gemini Ganesan’s jealousy at his wife’s success and subsequent alcoholism. The story is told from Savitri’s viewpoint, so Dulquer has less screen time after Savitri finds out about his affairs, but throughout it’s an excellent performance that makes the drama and emotion behind their relationship very real.

The secondary story of Madhura Vani and her struggle to be accepted as a serious journalist is well integrated into the main plot. Nag Ashwin uses Vani to introduce key witnesses to events in Savitri’s life that allow the film to move back into flashback. But is also emphasises the importance of Savitri as a role model and inspiration, while Samantha’s success over the other, male reporters is an important step for Telugu cinema. Here is a film that has a female lead who isn’t defined by her romance with a male character and who is allowed to have a personality and story of her own. Although there is a romance (with Vijay Devarakonda in a very bad wig), it’s very much part of Vani’s own story and important mainly as a way for her to assert her independence from her father’s plans.

There is a plethora of other actors who appear in cameo roles as various screen legends of the time. Just a few are Mohan Babu as S.V. Ranga Rao, Prakash Raj as director/producer Aluri Chakrapani and Krish appearing as K.V. Reddy. It’s a real who’s who of Telugu/Tamil cinema of the time and I was inspired to read up on some of these directors and producers whose names I recognised when I left the cinema. Mickey J. Meyer’s music fits the film perfectly too and Dani Sanchez-Lopez does an excellent job with the cinematography. The effects team have managed to recreate Chennai in the fifties and the costume department deserve special mention for the wonderful outfits worn by Keerthy and Dulquer. The end credits juxtapose shots of Savitri with those of Keerthy in the same film role and the resemblance really is astonishing.

Overall there is fantastic attention to detail for both the scenes in the early eighties and Chennai in the fifties that ensure the film feels authentic, although I did sympathise with Samantha and her selection of ruffled shirts and long skirts. Everything about the film seems to have been well researched and the sets dressed to add plenty of authentic flavour. Including the film segments in black and white also adds to the whole period feel of the film and emphasises just how much impact Savitri had at the time. I also have to comment on the excellent subtitles by Rekhs that ensured the drama of each scene was well conveyed. After the last few Telugu films I’ve watched where literal translations have made a mockery of important scenes it is such a relief to have proper idiomatic English that makes sense and doesn’t detract from the dialogue. Until I can learn Telugu (a vain hope given my lack of success with Tamil) Rekhs subtitles are the next best thing to understanding the dialogue myself and I always cheer when I see ‘Subtitles by Rekhs’ appear on screen.

Mahanati is an excellent dramatisation of the life of one of South India’s best known and well-loved actors. I don’t know enough about the details of Savitri’s history to comment on its accuracy but from all I have read, Nag Ashwin has captured the essence of Savitri’s story while Keerthy Suresh has brought her memory to vivid life. It’s ultimately a sad story but also a lovely tribute to Savitri and a reminder of what a wonderful actor she was. Mahanati is a real treat for fans of both classic and contemporary Telugu cinema – don’t miss it!

Bharat Ane Nenu

Koratala Siva and Mahesh Babu team up for this smart political thriller. It’s a good looking film with a fairly solid story, but you’ll need to turn your logic-meter off, or even inside out, at times. And not just for the gravity defying action scenes.

Bharat (Mahesh) is a perennial student in a London populated by white people with bizarre accents. He is on his 5th university degree, and has no immediate plans to stop studying. He is smart and curious, but might lack a bit of focus or motivation. Called home after the sudden death of his politician father (R Sarathkumar), Bharat is inveigled into taking up the apparently hereditary role of CM by his dad’s friend and colleague Varadarajulu (Prakash Raj). But while Bharat may be clueless about local Andhra Pradesh issues, he’s very rules driven and task focussed and likes to act decisively. He will bring back the FEAR, RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY (caps courtesy of the subtitles team) that he thinks society needs. And that sets him on a collision course with pretty much everyone in politics.

There are some odd inconsistencies in Bharat’s logic at times and it felt like there was an often unacknowledged conflict or contradiction in the film between what he stood for and what he did. Bharat left home to go live with friends in the UK when he was just a kid. He stayed away for years, but he still remembers his mother telling him stories about duty and doing the right thing (underscored by her death when he broke a promise so….). He seemed happy to follow his own whims while abroad and had no firm plans. However Hyderabad traffic sets him ablaze with indignation. He’s a true believer, fighting to see his vision brought to life, and at odds with the career politicians who feather their own nests. A benevolent dictator is still a dictator so I found it interesting that apparently I was supposed to see this as democratic representation of the will of the people. He was never elected, just chosen first by calculating party men and then by public acclaim. And the film shows that acclaim can turn very quickly to scorn. I really did like that in what could have been a clichéd scene of people coming to the Hero to rid their village of a problem, he turned the tables and asked why they didn’t save themselves. It’s a tired trope that needs to be retired or examined, and having Bharat say he would support people but they had to get off their butts and do something to help themselves was excellent. He sees a girl at a bus stop every morning and has no qualms about using state resources to get her number, but he does ask for her consent at key junctures so there is that. He asks why the roads have to be closed for his ministerial convoy but again, no issue with taking over an entire restaurant so he can have a coffee date with Vasumathi. There’s a bit of “don’t do as I do, do as I say” in Bharat.

Mahesh is convincing as the driven reformer who wants to remind people of the rule of law, and he can carry off the grand speeches. Bharat starts out using his intelligence and will, but at a point his awesome fighting skillz surface. It’s fitting that at the moment he went from protagonist to Hero, he was surrounded by swirling movie tickets just like the paper thrown by a cinema audience to greet a hero’s entrance. The action scenes are highly stylised, relying on Mahesh’s ability to stare down the camera while sauntering past wearing a baddie as a backpack. I laughed loudly and alone at that visual! Koratala Siva knows exactly what he is doing with the mass tropes and with his actor. I don’t think there is anything in the role that challenged Mahesh’s abilities but he gives a committed and smartly layered performance. For those who rely on me for other insights about layering, yes he wears t-shirts and even flashes his knees. I suspect in one scene that he might have had two white t-shirts stitched together to avoid any hint of transparency. But it’s modern, minimal layer Mahesh in terms of wardrobe.

Kiara Advani is Vassu, the object of the CM’s affections. While Vasumathi is interchangeable with just about every other newbie Telugu film heroine, she is vaguely intelligent and has a life. She obviously likes Bharat, but is nervous because of his position and just because she’s a middle class girl. Her giving him a stick on moustache was a stroke of genius. Seeing Bharat happily at one with the crowds on their low key dates because of his dodgy mo was very funny. Unfortunately after a promising start, Vassu loses all agency as soon as men start on about their own honour. I’m neither here nor there as far as Kiara Advani is concerned. She is fine but there’s so little to the character that I couldn’t say she brought anything unique to the role either. Her outfits were boho student in daily life but the songs are where the costume department run amok.

The Devi Sri Prasad soundtrack is full of tracks that sound like other tracks, and the lyrics are loaded with dubious English rhyming nonsense. Perhaps I am being harsh and Vasumathi likes to be called “my lovely harmonica”! Mahesh’s prime dancing days are a thing of the past, I think, so the choreography was largely of the walking and pointing variety. The big set number Vachadayyo Saami is a standout mostly for the colour and spectacle (which includes the aforementioned knees).

The supporting ensemble is full of competent actors, well cast, and most with a bit of depth or development to their characters. Prakash Raj is excellent as the avuncular Varadarajulu, completely believable as the long time friend and frenemy. Anish Kuruvilla, house favourite occasional director/That Guy, plays a slightly slimy but not unlikeable Chief Secretary caught between the party and the CM. He gets to give his appalled expression a good workout, along with a bit of side eye. Brahmaji is the CMs assistant and like most people dragged along in Bharat’s wake he alternates between flustered and tickled pink at the goings on. Another favourite That Guy, Ajay, has a small but sensible role too. And I was very pleased to see good old Mukhtar (Mukhtar Khan) was not forgotten after one pivotal and quite brutal scene. Bharat might be swept away by the public but the continuity and attention to detail and people was there, as befits his character and this film.

If you like the idea of a well-acted, well directed, and more violent story somewhat along the lines of Mr Smith Goes to Washington but with dodgy subtitles do see Bharat Ane Nenu!