Rakshasudu (1986)

Rakshasudu is all stops out mass from A Kodandarami Reddy. Chiru is The Nameless Hero, there are many people known by initials only, and you can’t go past his back up team of Nagababu, Suhasini, Radha and Sumalata. Evildoers beware!

A woman (Annapurna) goes into labour in an orphanage or children’s home. The unscrupulous owner (Allu Ramalingaiah) steals and sells her baby boy to a beggar who uses the kid to augment his begging routine. He is not a loving father figure, and physically abuses the child. The kid fights back, demanding to know where his real parents are, and one day finds himself sold and on the way to a mysterious island where he will work as a slave.

The nameless child grows up to be Chiranjeevi. In due course Chiru escapes the island, along with his bestie Simham (Nagendra babu) and an excellent dog. He goes to the orphanage and demands to know where his mother is. Allu Ramalingaiah asks for a large sum of money in return, and Chiru duly goes to steal it. But he is caught by wealthy JK (Rao Gopal Rao) and they make a deal. Chiru will terminate evil VR (Kannada Prabhakar) who owns the island where he was imprisoned, and JK will help him find his mother.

JK’s relative or assistant Vani (Sumalatha) is already on task regarding VR. She helps Chiru meet Shailu (Radha). Shailu is smitten immediately but he isn’t keen except that she is VR’s daughter. This opens up a whole new avenue of revenge for Chiru. He keeps an assignation with Shailu who sends a lot of mixed signals by bouncing on her bed and thrusting at him. What is he to make of it all? As soon as is decent, he is off to her dad’s place, presumably to announce he is out for vengeance and BTW about your daughter’s virginity…It doesn’t go down well with VR. But it is kind of amusing to watch the alpha male posturing backed up by handy photos. I would have been asking where the photographer was hiding but Shailu doesn’t care. She just wants Chiranjeevi. Poor Radha. She is doomed to be second fiddle, although she does her best to be unmissable. But Chiru is not all about being menacing and duplicitous.

Sumathi (Suhasini), a teacher, is dragged by a podgy Labrador to the river bank where she finds an injured Chiru. I have no idea how he got there, but I assume VR is responsible. Romance clearly starts to bloom as he convalesces, and her students find this a riveting spectator sport. Via flashback we see how VR killed her family when they were preparing to celebrate a festival. I think only Sumathi and her policeman brother Vijay (Rajendra Prasad) survived. Suhasini and Chiranjeevi seem to have good chemistry. In amongst all the wild shenanigans she looks like she is genuinely amused at some points but then I remember. Suhasini is a great actress.

Chiru is even more fired up for revenge now he knows who killed Sumathi’s family. He loves her and wants to start dishing out the comeuppances. But first he has to deal with Shailu and her incessant groping. While I don’t really like a lot of what his character does, especially when it comes to Shailu, I like the performance a lot. This role has the full Hero gamut from wisecracking to arse kicking and a whole lot of emo wallowing and shameless flirting. And random songs.

My notes here say: Song! Snow! Sleds!

There are so many flashbacks. Chiru recognises an old man in a photo in Sumathi’s album, and that sparks a memory of when he helped a Golden Labrador with a leg injury. His kindness was repaid in spades. When Chiru ends up high above the ground, strung up between two trees, the dog climbs a tree and crawls out along a branch to untie his human. What an anipal!

And maybe it’s the same dog who is delivering his love letters. Of course, the problem with sending your love letters by Labrador courier is that you may not be communicating with who you think you are. Chiru dreams of Sumathi but Shailu asserts herself in the song fantasies, perpetuating the love triangle that nobody is aware of. Yet.

Back in the island days, Chiru’s impressive high kicking fighting style wins the affection of VR’s lady friend, Jayamala. And that leads to the gladiator mini-skirt song.

Given the robes the slaves wear, the mini dress kind of makes sense as a glammed up version of his work uniform. So if nothing else I am grateful to the film for clearing that up. But Chiru is not to be hers. Of course he winds up in a Love Parallelogram. A Triangle is simply not Mega enough!

In the present day, Shailu sees Chiranjeevi with Sumathi, and her head splits into two with a nice montage happening where her brain should be. She is devastated.

The end of the film brings closure to many of these tangled relationships. Usually by killing one of the people involved. There is a classic Masala Death Trap, needlessly complex shenanigans, feats of improbable strength, red paint galore. Who will live happily ever after? And who will be crushed by the Mega-boots?

Not a classic but an excellent ripping yarn, a great cast, and all the things I expect from Chiru. 4 stars! (a bonus half a star for making sense of the mini skirt)

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Donga (1985)

It’s 1985, one of the better hairstyle eras for Chiranjeevi, and director A Kodandarami Reddy is at the wheel with Chakravarthy’s funky soundtrack blaring. Donga is energetic, pure mass, and spits on the grave of anyone who ever said “less is more”.

Phani (Chiranjeevi) is a Robin Hood kind of thief who steals from the rich and pays off the debts of the poor. Phani’s father Chandrasekhar died of a filmi heart attack as a result of Kodandaramayya’s (Rao Gopal Rao) chicanery. Kodandaramayya is still going strong with his thieving and extortion schemes and has a slimy sidekick in Anjaneyulu (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) and a toadying servant Rama Subbaiah (Allu Ramalingaiah) plus a resident goon. As a good Telugu film hero, Phani is intent on avenging his family and getting his sister married well. He has a somewhat useful friend or sidekick in Ranga (Nutan Prasad) too. Phani falls for Kodandaramayya’s daughter Manjulatha (Radha) so you know the path to his revenge will be full of complications and spontaneous dance breaks. And that’s without the competition for apparently the only eligible man in town, Anjanayeulu’s son Rajesh (Raja).

Donga is full of action packed set pieces as Phani tricks and thieves his way across town. The fights are full of “Karate”, back flips, slo mo leaping, spin kicks and you name it. One of the things I love most about Chiru is that he just goes for it. It might be ridiculous, the outfits might be insane, but he does his best to stick that landing every time. Phani uses brains as well as brawn, phoning in a tip about undeclared cash to get an office raided by the tax department, and generally being smarter than the bad guys. I found this next bit a little confusing with no subtitles but I think Tax officer R Viswanath (Sridhar) wants to get his sister married well and needs money for her dowry. In the tangled finances in this small filmi world he ends up being cheated by Kodandaramayya who is robbed by Phani, compounding the problem of paying the debt. R Viswanath is found dead and once Phani realises what had happened with the money, that just adds to his drive for revenge.

Phani is of course irresistible to women. I don’t know anyone else who could rock the knitted singlet like he does, so he must have that je ne sais quoi. He steals Manjulatha’s little red car and then sets up a meeting to hand it back. For reasons that are not entirely clear but yet seem to make sense to Phani, he pranks her with this Thriller-iffic dance. Pump the volume up, warm up to avoid injury, move the furniture back a bit further than you think you need to (those lunge slides need some room) and have a go at this!

From the perspective of anywhere but 1985 Telugu film that is so bad it’s awesome. What were they thinking? “We’ve done a lot of Jackie Chan stuff so let’s mix it up a bit…Bond? No, done that to death. Death…Death. I know!” But it worked, she succumbed despite her father’s disapproval.

Radha and Chiru both look like they’re having fun with the daggy choreography. And Radha gets to do more than just sit and look pretty. The costume department really don’t do her many favours but she must have had a very high synthetic fabric tolerance. Manjulatha is often more articulate and decisive than I expected. She is harassed by a creep at the cinema so she belts him and tells him off. It was satisfying although clearly a punchline for a “women are bitches” joke. Despite the occasional toddler tantrum, she seems to make a lot of her own decisions and doesn’t seem to be a bad person despite her wealth and privilege.

Her dad spots her frolicking with Phani and maybe it is the enthusiastic prancing or that she starts wearing sarees, but he senses trouble and warns her off the mystery man. After the usual misunderstanding, tearful argument, unfortunate slapping incident, and some quality time with Phani’s mother, the deal is pretty well sealed. And Phani missed no opportunity to torment Kodandaramayya by showing off his relationship.

Phani goes to see Anajaneyulu but he has no luck in getting Viswanath’s debt reduced, so he says he will pay it all back himself. And goes to work in a quarry, maybe just because Chiru always wanted to try using a kanga. I would have thought stealing the money would be more practical given his skillset but whatever. Kodandaramayya sets up a cross country motorcycle race with significant prize money – and a great opportunity for his goons to erase Phani who is resplendent in canary yellow. Phani takes the dangerous job of laying explosives but the goon I call Coconut Machete tries to sabotage him. Somehow in all the biffo Phani realises that Kodandaramayya may have had more to do with Viswanath’s death than suspected. And in flashback Coconut Machete reveals it was not a suicide. BASTARDS! So of course Phani enters a dance competition and competes against Silk Smitha.

Look at him go! I love these bedazzled wrist guards and gaiters.

Phani is framed for murdering Silk, which is ridiculous. He’d already killed her on the dance floor. He goes on the run and it is on for young and old. I loved the car stunts and the fights, but right at the end the horse stunts, as usual, made me feel sick. What happens in the end? Does Phani triumph? You know the what, but the how is what matters!

Peak Chiru. Quality Radha.  Total mass. 4 stars!

Lankeswarudu

Lankeswarudu Poster

Who could resist a film synopsis that says “Apart from crime Shankar is also a good dancer and he teaches dancing too”? Certainly not me and especially not when it stars Chiranjeevi. But Dasari Narayana Rao delivers little except for a solid performance from the Megastar and some diverting song picturisations in this lethargic stagger through a bunch of Hollywood “inspired” set pieces.

Siva and his sister Swapna are washed up on a beach. Alone in the world, the boy tries to make a living through odd jobbing and petty theft, eventually falling in with a gang. The siblings acquire a new brother, Kalyan, when his mother is killed saving the little girl. Ma put his hand in Siva’s hand and there you go. Adoption formalities completed. The kid who plays little orphan Kalyan is quite terrible at crying.

Thankfully we leap forward in time. Chiranjeevi enters casually taking his leopard for a stroll. After a recruitment process featuring Bob Christo and a pack of goondas he becomes Shankar, the right hand man of crimelord Dada (Satyanarana Kaikala). Dada already has two left hands in flashy dresser Mohan Babu and snake venom imbibing Raghuvaran.

When not preoccupied with his criminal activities, Shankar is also Siva and he is a dance god. Radha plays his love interest with a lot of “I just escaped from a high security psychiatric facility. Don’t you love ruffles?!?” She fantasises her way onto the stage by way of introduction and wears a spectacular array of fug. I think she either has a speech impediment or doesn’t speak Telugu, but all that ‘comedy’ went over my head, especially on fast forward. He signs an autograph on her arm because that’s not unhinged at all. And thus are their formalities completed and she will be his one true love whenever he gets around to it.

Kalyan has grown up to be a droopy looking guy (Kalyan Chakravarthy Nandamuri). Siva pays for him to take an exam or do something and next thing you know, Kali is a wilted figure in khaki. He’s joined the police, all funded by his brother’s secret criminal life. I just can’t warm to either the character or the actor so found my eye-rolling muscles got a workout during his scenes. Siva finally notices that his sister Swapna (Revathy) and Kalyan are quite handsy, and after a few tantrums on all sides he gets them married.

Things seem to be going well until Kali interrupts Siva’s dance class to tell him he is onto a big gang. I love how unconvinced the other guys seem by all the lycra. Then ensues some cat and mouse with the sidekicks setting Siva up and Kali trying to catch him. Siva is stuck in the middle trying to set things right by the victims and keep himself out of his brother’s way and both boys try and hide their dissent from the sister.

Kali confronts Siva with one of the best worst lines “Mr Siva you can break dance but you can’t break my sense”. Swapna and Kali move out, breaking Siva’s brotherly heart. Raghuvaran and Mohan Babu attack villagers who worship Shankar as a god, enraging him and upping the stakes.

Kali has a genius idea – get Swapna to fake her death and Siva will surely return for the funeral. Siva sees through this ruse but unfortunately for all concerned Kali is rubbish at working out drug dosage. Swapna dies just so her brother and husband can have one more big speech moment.

There are two distinct images for Chiranjeevi – the good big bro Siva and the metal studded baddie with leopard. He doesn’t have to do much more than swagger but as always Chiru just lends a little more authenticity to his dialogues than the film may demand. One thing I did see in this film that is usually glossed over was the Megasock. Admittedly they looked more like circulation stockings but it was good to see them out from the shadows of the Megaboots. And when most heroes would hit the bottle and settle for a pity party, Chiru gets his West Side Story on and manages to make it quite something.

And I have a theory about the costumes for this film. I think they drew lots and the actors took it in turns to raid the dress up box.

Chiru looks positively sedate except for the plunging necklines to indicate his Badness, Mahesh looks more like a porn star or maybe they just ran out of shirts, Mohan Babu looks like he is off to guest star in Miami Vice The Musical, and Radha seems to have stolen some of Chiru’s old dance outfits, especially in this song.

Radha’s character has very little to do in terms of the plot, but she sneaks her way into the film through the songs and her character’s robust fantasy life.

This does leave her at the mercy of the wardrobe department but she’s a trooper and doesn’t bat a false eyelash at any of the excesses. Revathy is also short changed and does little but gaze adoringly at her brother and sigh at her husband’s rhetoric.

I spotted the dragon wall decoration again, and suspect someone’s teenage daughter might be missing some kitten posters which turned up in the gang lair.

The action scenes are entertaining and explosive but most lack the manic energy they need to be more than run of the mill. Having said that, Chiru spin kicks and hee-yahs like there is no tomorrow so that was pleasing. I was also impressed by Raghuvaran’s venom based strategy, especially when he licked a horse and it dropped dead. Obviously not a good outcome for the horse, but so much more effective than the usual finicky filmi snake “could bite won’t bite” dithering. I have mild concerns for the leopard but admired her resourcefulness and loyalty. Nagendra Babu features in the build up to the climax confrontation. There are double crosses and gore galore. And the finale is very Die Hard, right down to Chiru’s white singlet.

Lankeswarudu does enough to be worth a watch, but doesn’t rate high on my list of Mega Favourites. See it for fun of spotting references to other films, the unintentional hilarity of the songs picturisations, and of course for Chiru. 3 stars!