Rudhramadevi (2015)

Rudramadevi-Posters-2

If Rudhramadevi had been made in 1956 I’d have loved it, no question. But Gunasekhar struggles to realise his grand vision and the ripping story drags at times. The main cast give their all, but they can’t compensate for some poor directorial decisions and sloppy execution.

The first thing that hit me was the VFX. I thought it was maybe a deliberate stylistic choice as there are animated montages that look like a childs picture book. But it is just shonky quality, used too liberally, and with poor judgement. At least it distracted me from wondering what Marco Polo’s stuck on beard was made of. And why Marco Polo was in the film.

The story is so interesting this should have almost written itself. A girl is raised as a boy and keeps up the pretence to protect her kingdom for as long as she can. But Gunasekhar spends far too much time with the various enemies and uses loads of clunky “As you know Bob” exposition. I felt that there were some holes in the film and Gunasekhar was trying to paper over those gaps with other techniques including a Mega voiceover and a peasant who announced every new character with bio as well as voicing the people’s dissatisfaction with their rulers.

Anushka owns every frame she is in. She adjusts her posture and facial muscles so there is a clear distinction between Rudradeva and Rudhramadevi and is convincingly commanding. She has some weird darkening makeup on as a boy, but it does allow her to look stunningly radiant when she girls up.

Her closest female friends are Nithya Menen as her wife Muktamba and Catherine Tresa as The Other One Who doesn’t Wear Much, and there is a lightness and ease in the way Anushka moves as she drops the pretence and heavy armour undershirt to dance in the “Yay! I’m a girl” numbers. She did her damnedest in the tandav but while her expressions told a powerful story, her dancing was not as compelling. Rudhramadevi used Veerabhadra’s feelings for her to get him back on task, but she evinced far more concern about Muktamba’s reaction and wellbeing. That ruthlessness and emotional intelligence wasn’t really explored and I felt the film needed to reveal how she ruled, not just show a sequence of events.

 

I put that clip in just for some shirtless Rana. He looks so chuffed when he is prancing almost in time.

Rudramadevi-Rana Anushka

I knew a “Zorro” moment was nigh when Rudradeva wore a blue tunic done up with pink princess ribbons, and the gender reveal is a bit ho-hum. Veerabhadra took the whole “Dude, you’re not a dude” revelation quite well, all things considered. There is little sexual chemistry between Rudhramadevi and Veerabhadra, but the actors have a nice rapport, like childhood friends. I enjoyed moments like when Rana playfully tweaked Anushka’s nose as he said goodbye. While the writing skimmed the surface of characters emotional lives, the actors added their own flavour.

Gona Ganna Reddy (Bunny) and his horse seem to have ridden in from a different film; something more gothic perhaps or even a KPop music video (Jaejoong’s stylist may be moonlighting as a Telugu horse costume designer).  Bunny plays his character as unrelentingly dour and with one facial expression, but his one liners got the audience cheering. And he rarely blinks. It’s intense and unsettling after a while.

Rudrama Devi Posters

The support cast is huge. Hari Hara Devudu (Suman) and Murari Devudu (Aditya) are the Statler and Waldorf of villains. They sit back and critique everyone else but rarely do anything themselves, unless you count letting their allies die horrible deaths. Their brother Naga Devudu (Baba Sehgal) shows commendable willingness to really go for the snake theme. Nithya Menen is underutilized as Muktamba. I enjoyed her scenes with Anushka and thought her decision to respect the sacrifice and say nothing was interesting. This contrasted with the shouty peasants who just flat out refused to accept a woman, despite a rousing Prakash Raj girl power speech. Prakash Raj is in good form as Shiva Devaiah, the mastermind of the scheme that sees Rudhramadevi raised as the boy Rudradeva. Villain Mahadeva (Vikramjeet Virk) spends most of the film prancing atop a phallic tower made of polystyrene. Amusing, but you know a great hero or heroine deserves a genuinely scary bad guy and he is not the real deal no matter how many people he kills out of spite. Hamsa Nandini is slinky and duplicitous, the Bond girl of courtly spies.

Gunasekhar’s massed set pieces lack richness. If you arrange a formation of extras with one or two carefully out of position people for randomness, but then use that same formation scores of times over it ends up looking ridiculous with the pattern repetition of those supposedly random bodies. A critical battle scene started with a cool idea – one army emerging in a serpent formation as their opponents attacked in an eagle formation. But it went on forever and looked far too fake. I was reminded of the similar but excellent lotus and arrow scene in Magadheera.

One of the few actors I could imagine would happily rappel down a structure (possibly without even checking there was a rope), Bunny was plagued with dodgy wire work. Anushka was also caught so that her feet didn’t quite hit the ground or was frozen in awkward and unconvincing poses in midair. Maybe it was supposed to look good in 3D but I can’t imagine it would. And too many fight scenes and chases were sped up to slapstick comedy pace.

There is abundant weird CGI, possibly a workaround for the 3D version, although I should have remembered the effects in Okkadu. For example, when a drawbridge is being lowered they faked the cogs and ropes too which you’d think would be doable and cheaper for real. The climax scene as Rudhramadevi and elephant bring doom upon her enemies should be thrilling but it is just opportunity to crank up the bad CGI. The use of CGI elephants seemed unnecessarily frequent especially when in many scenes there was no obvious risk of physical harm to an animal – why not use a real one? And there seemed to be a bit of tusk whitening done in post production that was distractingly odd.

A big shoutout to the helmet and armour department. No design was too silly or impractical for them to try. I really wish I could find a picture of Bunny’s Glomesh helmet from the final battle, but you will just have to make do with Rana’s special dressing up armour.

Despite the negatives I really appreciate seeing Anushka as the lead with so much screen time in an awesome story. Bunny and Rana bring more interest to their characters than the screenplay demands. I would have liked to see more relationship development generally, and especially between the ladies given the story is of a woman pretending to be a man. I really wish the film had been better executed as I can see what it might have been, and the gap between what was delivered and that potential is frustrating.

 

Andarivaadu

Andarivaadu Poster

Andarivaadu is another of Chiranjeevi’s dual role ventures, although this time he plays father and son who share a house so that adds a degree of difficulty for director Sreenu Vaitla.

But right from the bombastic opening credits it is clear that this is a Megastar film and all other people and events will be quite incidental. And I’m generally OK with that.

Siddharth (Chiru the Younger) decides that his widower dad Govindarajulu (Chiru the Elder) needs to be pulled into line and someone has to take on the task of looking after him. Govind must be the luckiest man alive as Siddhu forces him to marry Shanti (the stunning Tabu). Siddhu also has to settle down some day, and he becomes engaged to his wealthy girlfriend-by-insistence, Swetha (Rimi Sen). Of course things can’t run that smoothly in a Telugu film with such a big ticket star. Swetha’s dad Veerendra (Prakash Raj) has history with Govind he would rather forget, and Siddhu upsets a local crime lord. There is drama, dancing, action and moralising galore before anyone can call it a day.

Mildly surprising for a family-ish film, it opens with an item including rain, pole dancing, and finger sucking. The poor girls must have really struggled wearing their big clompy boots in the water. There is a faint attempt to weave the skanking into the plot as the water tankers have been diverted away from the colony and residents are left for days with no drinking water. Of course, only one man can sort this out. Sparks and a hitched up lunghi signal the arrival of THE HERO!

Govind is a sentimental bloke with a strong sense of family and justice. He adores his son and couldn’t stand to see him hurt in any way, and can’t even harm a slightly evil genius mouse. Chiranjeevi hedges his bets by also playing suave Siddhu, educated and apparently irresistible to all women.

Siddhu gets to wear more knitwear and his dance sequences are a riot of colour. Chiru in some ways tests the waters of being an ageing hero by playing the father, complete with last minute hair dye as he decides he needs to look a bit younger. But since Govind is still a roguish and salt of the earth man who solves all crises and defends the defenseless, he isn’t exactly turning his back on heroic hijinks.

A great benefit of two Chiranjeevi roles is a double up on the dancing and once again he has Lawrence on board as a choreographer. Chiru’s moves are not as sharp as back in the day but he seems thoroughly delighted to get down with his bad self, and his energy is undeniable.

The action relies a little more on nifty camera work than on Chiru flinging himself about but he does a lot of wire work that adds both comedic underscoring and dramatic impact to those scenes. There are some days when the skinny double worked as there are obvious changes in physique in some scenes requiring both Chirus.

Siddhu meets Swetha when she suckers him into pretending to be her boyfriend so she can save face as she has told her friends they’re together. She is introduced through a series of closeups of her butt, her waist and her chest and that is about it for character development. Rimi Sen does little but pout and swish her hair around, although even that exceeds the minimum requirements for a Telugu film heroine. Swetha reflects her father’s belief that wealth is the same as worth. Veerendra tells Govind that he will allow the marriage only because Swetha loves Siddhu and only on condition that Govind not be part of his son’s life at all. Cue noble idiocy as Govind tries to do what he always does, sacrificing his own happiness for his son. And then even more idiocy as Swetha tries to make Govind and Siddhu pay for insulting her father.

Shanti is working as a Hindi teacher and has been running her family household. For some reason she says yes, perhaps because Govind is so honest about all his flaws in an attempt to put her off marrying him. She seems fond of him but does register that he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Tabu’s role is frustrating. Early on Shanti seems competent, a little bit judgemental as she listens to the sheer nonsense her husband is spewing out, but fond of him and his moustache.

I do love ‘the moustache song’, as I call it.

But later on she loses the scope for the fun expressions and signs of character that made Shanti so appealing. It is a waste of a good actress, but Tabu does what she can to give Shanti some more depth. I liked her rapport with Chiranjeevi and they look good in their dances. In some scenes Tabu looked like she was genuinely trying not to laugh and that actually helped me see Shanti as someone with firm views of her own, even if she didn’t always articulate them. And on a really shallow note, she wears some beautiful sarees.

I am perfectly fine with Govind and Satti Pahlwan (Pradeep Rawat) kicking the living suitcases out of each other, but casual domestic violence is harder to take as entertainment. Govind slaps Shanti (even though he knew she had done nothing wrong) and Shanti dissolves into tearful joy at his acknowledgement that he had slapped her for no reason at all. Grrrrrr! Swetha gets slapped around a bit towards the end of the film but she and Sunil (as an annoying comedy cousin) were just so horrible and scheming that I can almost empathise. Lots of people slap Brahmi but, to be completely honest, nowhere near enough for my liking. I’m a little conflicted.

The climax of the film is not really concerned with the emotional coming of age of two men. There is still the matter of revenge to be thwarted, wrongs to be righted, and the greatest love of all: Will Govind and Ganesh the rat, finally acknowledge their friendship?

Chiranjeevi is showing his age but he also shows why his career has legs. See this for a silly and generally good-hearted action packed family romantic comedy. 3 ½ stars!

Andarivaadu-Ganesh

O Kadhal Kanmani

O Kadhal Kanmani

Mani Ratnam’s latest film is a modern take on romance that works primarily due to the charisma and energy of the two main leads. Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen breathe life into their respective roles as an ambitious game developer and an aspiring architect in Mumbai, and are helped along with excellent support from Prakash Raj and Leela Sampson. The romance is light and breezy for much of the first half, but the film falters a little in the second when events seem a little too contrived. However the relationship is sweet and beautifully developed, the characters are engaging and the ‘feel good’ factor is high making OK Kanmani simply a very watchable romance that lets you leave the theatre with a smile.

The film is set in Mumbai and Aadi (Dulquer Salmaan) immediately wins support for developing a new game set in Mumbai and made specifically with the denizens of that city in mind. I do like a good idea for the opening titles and OK Kanmani has an excellent start with the credits shown over an animation based on Aadi’s game.  Aadi’s initial enthusiasm is a bit of a worry, but he soon settles down to show his zest for life balanced with genuine care and compassion when he moves in as a lodger with Ganapathy (Prakash Raj) and his wife Bhavani (Leela Samson). Initially Ganapathy allows Aadi to move in under sufferance and presents him with a confronting list of rules and conditions. However Ganapathy’s gruff exterior hides a softer heart and it’s not long before Aadi comes to respect Ganapathy and appreciate the love and tenderness he shows for his ailing wife. The relationship between Ganapathy and Bhavani is the central core of the film and becomes the yardstick against which Aadi and Tara (Nithya Menen), and ultimately the audience, measure the strength of their own relationship.

Tara is working as an architect in Mumbai but has plans to attend university in Paris to further her training. Refreshingly she has no desire to get married, although she bases this on the failure of her parent’s marriage rather than anything more radical. However she has dreams and desires that are personal goals to achieve and she doesn’t base her worth on her marriage prospects. Aadi too has no desire to get married but does want a relationship with Tara, at least until she moves to Paris and he realises his dream of moving to the USA. Again, in contrast to most SI love stories, there is no stalking required here. Tara likes what she sees of Aadi and is happy to have a relationship with him until she leaves – no strings attached, just two people enjoying each other’s company.

Mani Ratnam is careful to show that the relationship not a one-sided affair, and that Aadi and Tara have an equal attraction to each another. Both characters have reasons to act as they do, and the equal development of both the hero and the heroine is a welcome departure from many recent films with their expendable and interchangeable heroines. In addition, both Tara and Aadi have a fairly casual attitude to their romance and it’s fantastic to have a female character that isn’t afraid of declaring her desires just as loudly as her male counterpart, and act on them too. Aside from giving both characters equal voices in the romance, Mani Ratnam also perfectly captures the delight and excitement of the early stages of their affair; helped along by the excellent on-screen chemistry shared by the two actors.

Aadi and Tara are independent and both are living away from their families, which gives them the freedom and opportunity to live as they please. They decide to move in together, and given the shortage of housing in Mumbai and the fact that Tara lives in a women’s hostel that means that they have to beard the lion in his den and face Ganapathy. However Ganapathy’s initial objections are overcome by the delight he sees on Bhanvani’s face when Tara sings with her, and as easily as that he agrees to the arrangement.  Naturally Aadi’s brother and Tara’s mother are appalled when they learn of the relationship and find out that the couple are living together. The couple also have to deal with the looming separation as Aadi gets his chance to move to the States and Tara’s date to start University is finalised. Weaving through their struggles is the example set by Bhavani and Ganapathy – proof that perhaps love can be enough.

Both Nithya Menen and Dulquer Salmaan are excellent and fit easily into their roles. Dulquer is a good fit for an enthusiastic but respectful young professional and there is no hint of the obsessive man-child more often seen in Indian romances. Nithya is perfect as the fiercely independent and strong-willed architect and provides a good partner for her co-star without straying into overly glamorous heroine territory. However Prakash Raj is the absolute star performer here and he easily steals the show every time he is on-screen. His facial expressions convey more than the dialogue and he has an easy rapport with Nithya and Dulquer while maintaining a perfect relationship with his onscreen wife. Leela Sampson is also superb and completely nails the quiet confusion required from her character while still maintaining her dignity. The scenes between Ganapathy and Bhavani are some of the most moving I’ve seen in recent times and are a good counterpart to the happiness and excitement of Tara and Aadi’s relationship. This second romance is what lifts the film above most love stories and compensates immensely for the somewhat disappointing end to the film. At least for me.

Spoiler alert – stop now if you don’t want to know how the romance ends and skip down to after the next images.

 

What is disappointing is that the film suggests that Aadi and Tara can only be faithful to each other and maintain their long distance relationship if they are married. I find the assumption that they would drift apart without that commitment a slap in the face for all the wonderful development of their romance that has gone before. I cannot see how marriage is the answer to their problem when they could have done exactly the same thing without getting married and probably had the same outcome – especially when the rest of the film does so well at banishing stereotypes and conventional attitudes. It’s a small point, but one that I found annoying given that it seemed so unnecessary – I have more faith and belief in the characters than it appears their creator does, although I did wonder if this was perhaps just a way to get past the censors given the live-in relationship portrayed – food for thought!

End of spoiler!

Aside from my minor quibble about the end of the story, OK Kanmani is a beautiful romance that perfectly develops a balanced relationship and deals with many of the trials and tribulations of modern life for a young couple. The characters are believable, the situations generally realistic and the performances exemplary from the entire cast. Add in the upbeat and catchy soundtrack from A.R. Rahman and O Kadhal Kanmani is definitely a film I recommend and one I will watch again and again.  Just wonderful!