Rx 100

Rx 100

There is an interesting story lurking behind all the violence and sex in Ajay Bhupathi’s directorial debut, but it’s frequently hidden behind a rambling approach and a lax attitude towards editing. The story of a young man driven to drugs and alcohol by the loss of his ‘one-true-love’ also leads to comparisons with Arjun Reddy and Devdas, but the village-based Rx 100 has none of the epic scale or attention to detail seen in these films. However, there are some good points and Ajay Bhupathi has made a real attempt to deliver something different, even if he does falter somewhat with the execution.

Rx 100 is basically a love story (although perhaps not quite as ‘incredible’ as advertised), with various diversions into standard masala-style village-based politics. Where the film takes a different route is in the development of the romance between Shiva (Kartikeya Gummakonda) and Indu (Payal Rajput), and the events that happen after the couple are separated by Indu’s father, Vishwanadham (Rao Ramesh). The first half sets up the background, introducing Shiva as a violent and unpredictable man who beats up one of Vishwanadham’s men in front of a remarkably unresponsive crowd in the local market. The police are reluctant to press charges despite Shiva’s reputation,although the inspector threatens action if Shiva’s guardian (Ramki) fails to control his excesses in future. Despite oddly being called Daddy by all the villagers, Shiva’s guardian is mostly well respected but politics and Shiva’s relationship with Indu have soured his friendship with Vishwanadham, leading to a general rivalry between the two men.

The film moves into flash-back mode to explain how Shiva ended up addicted to alcohol and cannabis, roaming around the village on an Rx 100 Yamaha bike threatening Vishwanadham’s men, destroying his property and generally interfering in his business as much as one drunk can. The flashback starts with Vishwanadham’s win in the local elections and the subsequent celebrations, which just happen to coincide with the return of Vishwanadham’s daughter Indu.

Shiva isn’t particularly impressed by Indu when she arrives back in the village after finishing her engineering degree, mostly because she is rude and disrespectful to her grandmother, but she’s also just not a particularly appealing character. Indu has a sophistication and modern taste in fashion that is completely at odds with her more traditional family, but it’s her approach to romance that really sets her apart. She sees Shiva shirtless during the celebration and instantly falls in lust, leading her to bully her way into his life and basically act like any typical Telugu filmi hero in order to gain his attention. While it’s refreshing to have the tables turned and the girl carry out the stalking, I wonder if it’s really likely that Shiva would be quite so innocent and naïve as he is portrayed here?

Indu teaches Shiva how to kiss, how to smoke and eventually how to have a full-blown love affair as she sneaks away from home and the two head out to the fields on Shiva’s trusty Rx 100. Sadly for the two lovers, their idyllic summer can’t last and just when Indu seems to be ready to speak to her father about the romance, Vishwanadham announces her marriage to an NRI from America. So far apart from the fairly explicit (for a Telugu film) sex scenes and the girl chasing the guy dynamic, the story seems to be following a well-trodden path.

However, it’s the fallout from what happens next that sets the story off on a completely unexpected trajectory, with Shiva spending the next three years pining for his lost love and attempting to seek revenge on her father after Indu leaves for the USA. When Indu finally does come home the revelations that follow alter life irrevocably for both families, ending with a shocking and mostly novel finale.

While the story picks up in the second half, sadly the execution never quite reaches the level needed to make Rx 100 compelling viewing. It’s a real mishmash of good and bad – often in the same scene. For example, when Shiva is dragged from the wedding, he is badly beaten up by Vishwanadham ‘s men and locked in a barn. While it’s refreshing to have a hero who doesn’t have the strength of a thousand men and who stays down after being realistically thrashed, the problem here is that after the first beating, the gang return and do it again. And again. While this may be a nod to the ‘real-life’ story supposedly portrayed by the film, it’s simply unnecessary at this point in the film, and simply drags out the scene for no gain in the story. The same problem occurs with the love-making scenes which seem to be more an opportunity for Kartieya to take his shirt off (again), and for Payal Rajput to show plenty of skin. It’s part of the story up to a point and then it just becomes gratuitous and voyeuristic. Also problematic is the climax which seems to absolve Shiva of responsibility for his excesses while blaming everyone else and generally Ajay Bhupathi tells the story as a flat narrative without much depth or insight into the characters behaviour.

What does work well is the relationship between Vishwanadham and Daddy, with the two veteran actors providing a solid backbone to the story. Both Ramesh Rao and Ramki fit perfectly into their roles and give the film some much needed structure and balance, while of the support cast, Lakshmam is notable in his role as Daddy’s right hand man. Payal Rajput too is excellent, and her portrayal of Indu as an opportunistic and callous personality with few redeeming features is well done. In particular her performance in the finale is fantastic and provides a good contrast to Kartikeya Gummakonda’s rather excessive scenery chewing. For the most part Kartikeya veers between a good representation of a rather naïve and gullible young man and an exaggerated idea of desperation. When he’s not overdoing the emotion, he’s good but dialling back on some of the excesses would have made for a more polished performance and overall a more entertaining film.

Other good points include a polished background score from Smaran and  enjoyable songs from Chaithan Bharadwaj along with excellent cinematography from Raam including some quirky shots that bring to mind Mysskin’s obsession with the view at floor-level. The novel approach to a love story is also a selling point, but there is too much dressing and not enough foundation to the story which reduces the impact. Rx 100 may not be an incredible love story, but it is interesting and if you can cope with the uneven delivery it does pay off in the end. If nothing else it leaves you wondering just what Ajay Bhupathi will come up with next.

 

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Agent Vinod (1977)

Agent Vinod

Aaah, the seventies!

A time of flares, large floppy hats, the always delightful Helen, and wonderfully cheesy Bollywood.

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A time when Mahendra Sandhu played the original Agent Vinod, long before Saif Ali Khan donned the same nom de guerre and secret agent mantle.  And did it with much more flair (and flares)!  Agent Vinod draws heavily on the 007 franchise, even including a sidekick by the name of James Bond, but despite its derivative nature it’s still lots of fun with plenty of gadgets, glamorous women, car chases and the obligatory secret hideaway.  Mahendra Sandhu is quintessentially smooth and suave as Agent Vinod, although his habit of introducing himself as ‘Agent’ Vinod does rather give his profession away.  As an added bonus there are strong female performances by Asha Sachdev, Rehana Sultan and Jayshree T, as well as the divine Helen in a role that requires more than her appearance in an item number.  Sadly I only have an un-subtitled VCD copy of this film which means I may have missed some subtleties of the plot (if there were any!), and I do apologise for the poor quality of the pictures.

Agent Vinod is a spy film, so of course there has to be an evil organisation plotting world domination of some description, and the film starts with the kidnaping of renowned scientist Mr Saxena (Nasir Hussain) by the Scorpion group. The Scorpion organisation plan to sell his secrets to the rest of the world for mega bucks, or maybe it’s to force him to create a secret formula for something that they can bottle and sell for mega bucks.

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Both seem equally plausible and maybe it’s a combination of both, but whatever the reason, Chief Scorpion Madanal (Iftekhar) and his gang of thugs find that Saxena won’t be coerced by the fear of death, but he might just be persuaded if his daughter is threatened instead.  To this end, the group sets out to kidnap Anju Saxena (Asha Sachdev) but she manages to elude her rather inept kidnappers and instead disguises herself as a taxi driver in an attempt to find her father.

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At the same time, another secret agent Zarina (Rehana Sultan) has foiled an attempt by Madanal and his thugs to blow up a train, managing to take pictures of the main gang members before they spot her and give chase.  Zarina is an ace secret agent, and she escapes pursuit, hides the photographic film and climbs down the side of a building – all in high heels too – before she’s finally captured by the gang.  Zarina is my hero.  She escapes from Madanal not once, but twice, including by climbing up against the water being pumped into her cell to drown her – go Zarina! Her best moment comes when she uses a handy robot to beat up one of the gang members and to be honest I think she’s a much better secret agent than Vinod!

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However, the film is titled Agent Vinod not Agent Zarina, and finally the threat to National Security means that there is only one man for the job.  Agent Vinod is recalled from his frolicking in the sun with a bevy of beautiful maidens and charged with finding Saxena and his daughter, as well as hopefully finding out what has happened to Zarina.  Finding Anju Saxena turns out to be relatively simple, although initially she suspects him of involvement in her father’s disappearance.  This leads to an excellent cat and mouse song between the two where Anju tries to get Vinod drunk to make him reveal her father’s whereabouts.

As any good secret agent knows, the key to foiling villains is a bunch of cool gadgets, so Agent Vinod picks up an assortment of disguised bombs, tracking devices, a distinctive golden gun and of course his specially modified car.  He’s also well prepared in the event of a stake-out, making sure to have his trusty flask along.  I was also impressed to see that despite the reckless nature of the car chases, Agent Vinod was careful to fasten his seat-belt before driving with reckless abandon along Indian country roads.  Note the dapper white suit too!

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The discovery of Zarina’s resourcefully hidden photographs point Agent Vinod in the right direction although Lovelina (Helen) attempts to lead him astray, although her backing dancers might just dazzle him enough all by themselves.

Luckily for Agent Vinod, the Scorpion organisation falls into the trap of so many evil, secret gangs by requiring its agents to wear the mark of the scorpion, making them easily identifiable.  However, perhaps as compensation, the gang have cool walkie-talkie’s in the form of scorpions and they have a classic hidden lair on a remote island.  Although this isn’t as opulent as might be expected, it does feature a giant opening mouth on the wall as a rather obvious ‘spy-hole’, and there are plenty of traps and creative ‘death’ rooms to make it acceptable as an evil hide-out.

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Agent Vinod is helped by the hapless James Bond (Jagdeep), aka Chandu who appears at odd moments with some generally vacuous slap-stick. I don’t find Jagdeep’s comedy amusing here, and the comedy scenes often seemed disjointed and out of step with the rest of the film, although part of that may be due to the lack of subtitles. However his character improves in the second half of the film when he romances the gypsy girl Jayshree T.  This also gives the film one of the best songs, when the gypsy girl and Anju team up for a comic dance to distract the gang and try to throw them off Agent Vinod’s trail.

There are yet more nods to the  James Bond films including an elaborate mirrored room on a rather small boat, and of course the identity of the shadowy figure behind the Scorpion organisation has to be revealed before Agent Vinod and Anju can sail away into the sunset. K.N.Singh makes an appearance as the Head of the Secret Service, Leena Das has a lovely dance number as one of the Scorpion agents and Pinchoo Kapoor is excellent as Vinod’s uncle/ mentor.  The cast all throw themselves into the general mayhem, with only Agent Vinod staying cool and calm throughout.  But with this selection of outfits, who can blame him for his air of suave sophistication?

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While the writing team of Khalid Narvi and Girish have borrowed heavily from 007, the underlying story is entertaining in its own right with a solid cast who all put in credible performances.  The music by Raam Laxman is excellent and Deepak Bahry has kept everything moving along.  It’s fun, engaging and definitely worth watching even if it’s just to count the number of Bond references. I really enjoyed this Agent Vinod and wish they had made a sequel!  3 ½ stars.