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!

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Goonda (1984)

goonda

A sophisticated archaeological dig uncovers a priceless idol. Numerous criminal gangs swoop to claim the prize, and the title of Best Gang Ever.

There are men in red shirts v men in white pants v overgrown scouts in khaki.  And then a relatively svelte man in black ninjas his way onto the scene – cartwheeling and backflipping like he’d just invented acrobatics. Who could it be?!?

Chiranjeevi teams up with A Kodandarami Reddy again for a mass film with a few little tweaks on the standard formula. There are multiple identities, daring deeds, family histrionics, a significant mole, and a lot of prancing around in parks.

Kalidas (Chiranjeevi) is the up and coming star of a crime gang. Kali is confident and quite happy with his lot which seems to include Mohini (Silk Smitha), the chief’s daughter. He has a fearsome reputation, a tight perm, and blue contacts. He represents the meritocracy while the leader’s nephew Kasi prefers nepotism to ensure his career progression. He and Kali have an excellent and yet not very good at all blindfolded fight to the (almost) death which I found oddly compelling and quietly soporific.

The lair is a cave with odds and ends of lounge furniture picked up on hard rubbish collection day. And despite being top secret and underground, apparently anything that goes on is clearly audible in Kali’s lounge room. A series of unfortunate events triggered by the jealous Kasi sees Kali leave gang life to go straight.

Kali rebrands himself as Raja a pop singer with much better hair, and coincidentally meets SP Anand (Satyanarayana Kaikala) on a train. Cue flashback and the genial policeman is Raja’s father, back when he was a little boy called Ravi.

Goonda-tragedy

Ravi was involved in an accident resulting in a neighbour losing his sight, and his furious dad chased him down the road firing warning shots over his head. So I can kind of understand the kid being terrified of his father catching up with him. Raja saves SP Anand from goons sent to kill him, and SP Anand makes Raja stay in his home. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Raja gets a job at the nightclub owned by baddie Kasiram (Allu Ramalingaiah), where Jaya (his childhood intended played by Radha) sings. I do enjoy a bit of disco yoga classical fusion.

I am less in love with Chiru’s wardrobe, which seems to be sourced from the ladies floral blouse department.

While growing closer to Raja, Jaya reveals her intense hatred of Ravi, the child who destroyed her family. Raja decides he has to win her love as his new self, and fix everyone else’s life into the bargain. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Thankfully Raja likes to get his shirt off, so Jaya recognises the Significant Mole. After some angst and a little bit of PR from the gossipy doctor, she and Raja resolve their differences. Love arrives differently for us all. Sometimes it is wearing a Blondie t-shirt.

Raja decides to secretly protect his dad, although he still won’t tell his family who he is. But Dharmaraju has tracked down Kasi, a witness to Raja’s past. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Raja utilises his old Kalidas skills to get the money for Jaya to settle a debt, and he is the anonymous benefactor behind a sudden offer of an eye transplant to restore her dad’s vision. Raja’s fighting style is as flamboyant and flexible as ever, so the action scenes are loads of fun. There is an excellent train sequence where it is clearly Chiru himself (at least for most of the time), leaping from carriage to carriage and flinging his opponents to the winds.

As is often the case in Telugu films, justice is not clear cut and may reside outside of the legal system. SP Anand has to deal with the consequences of his temper, both in the past and now he knows his son has returned. And Raja has to pay for Kalidas’ actions. I liked that no one really escaped from themselves. It’s a good way to mesh a family drama with a revenge motif.

The multiple identities give Chiru a good excuse to switch up the wardrobe options and he imbues each character with a different emotional tone. Kali is never conflicted about being a crook, and his change of lifestyle was more to please his father figure. He certainly managed to heal his wounded heart in record time. Poor Mohini – forgotten in just one dance sequence. Raja has firm views on Jaya’s brother Srinu being a wastrel and tells him he has no right to eat if he doesn’t earn his own way. Which is interesting in light of his criminal past but maybe he saw that as honest work, and better than taking money from a WOMAN. The horror! His views on the role of women are typical of the age and genre, but he does understand why Jaya mistrusts him and that he needs to give her evidence before she would change her mind.  And despite his love for his estranged family, Ravi also sees that his father was very unfair. He doesn’t examine his own decision to jump off a bridge too closely, but you can’t have dazzling insights into everything.

Jaya has a bit of backbone, and Radha always has good chemistry with Chiru. When she realised who Raja was, she was furious and articulate in rejecting him. And when she changed her views, she was again articulate and clear in what she wanted to happen with their relationship. She is a typical filmi heroine but I could respect that she was making some of her own decisions. The wardrobe team do torment her in some dance sequences, and I suspect they even repurposed Kali’s perm wig. In a way she is the character that triggers Raja into action. He could have made do with seeing his family occasionally under the guise of friendship, but he fell for Jaya and so he had to do something to gain her trust and affection.

Allu Ramalingaiah and Rao Gopal Rao are the muddling but nasty crims who run the club and there is an ongoing subplot of both stupidity and cruelty at their behest. There is also a large cast of supporting goondas, many of whom seemed most animated in their death scenes. Satyanarayana Kailkala and Annapoorna do what they have done so very many times as Ravi/Kali/Raja’s parents. Silk Smitha’s role was small but she did get to wear some fabulous sequinned shorts so she made an impression.

Despite being full mass formula, Goonda is a bit more low key and contemplative than some of Chiru’s other hits. The music and choreography is a bit lacklustre, especially considering that Chiranjeevi and Radha were no slouches in the dance department. The set design and costumes also show the spirit of making do. I think they spent all the big bucks on the train. See this for truth, justice, and two kinds of Chiru! 4 stars!

Jebu Donga (1987)

Jebu-Donga-Title

While Jebu Donga may not be the most deep and meaningful film of 1987 (or indeed any other year), it does have a slightly different approach to the Mass Hero as well as sufficient quantity and variety of dances and explosions to keep me amused.

Chiranjeevi is Chitti the pickpocket, happily fleecing the rich, helping some of the deserving poor and indulging his love of disguises. Bhanupriya is his rival in petty thieving, and has an equally strong commitment to the dress-ups and convoluted schemes. Satyanarayana Kaikala and Maruthirao Gollapudi are the not as bumbling as they seem CBI officers who need to get a spy into Raghuvaran’s gang. And Radha is a woman of mystery. The police decide to use the unwitting Chiru as a distraction, feeding the crooks a fake top secret file that names him as Special Agent Chakrapani. While he goes about his daily crimes, the crooks are after him and the cops are watching the shenanigans. But eventually things come to a proper masala conclusion, albeit one with a couple of surprises.

While Telugu mass films are all about the hero, one of the things I enjoy most about Jebu Donga is that Chiru’s character is not as much in control as he thinks he is. He reacts to the confusing succession of attacks and rescues but has no idea why some things are happening. He tries to beat Bhanupriya’s character to a heist but ends up losing his trousers – don’t panic, it is all quite family friendly. Radha appears as a woman from Chakrapani’s past and Chitti is unable to say no to her. And the police manipulate him so easily. He does have to do his bit to save everyone at the end of the film, but he is not the usual know-it-all lone hero.

Chiranjeevi makes the most of his role, adding a dash of levity to the fight scenes as well as flirting up a storm. I looked over my notes from watching the film and at one point I have just written “Jeep! Whips! Leaping!”  Chitti is a good person apart from being a thief, and he helps out where he can. One of his robberies even helped a reluctant bride escape an unwanted marriage. He has what might be a sister and younger brother (Shanmukha Srinivas) as well as his mother to provide for, and pretends to them that he is a labourer doing honest work. The songs are a real highlight, and not always just for the outfits. I love Rajaloo Rajalakshmi where Chiru steals Bhanupriya’s clothes while she is bathing.

His dancing is uninhibited and cheeky (even including a bit of snake style), and once she finds something to wear she dishes it up in equal measure.

I’m not so sure about his wardrobe choices. The double denim and highpants are a symptom of the late 80s but I really do not get the sleeveless skivvy.

Bhanupriya’s character is a bit ditzy although she exhibits competence in her chosen field of cons and theft.  While Chiru is relatively plainly dressed, she wears some outrageous outfits and more than holds her own in the dances. I’m not sure how she is related to Chitti but when she falls for him it feels more as though they have been meant for each other for a while but are only now admitting there is an attraction. And where many a filmi heroine has to be rescued, she does her share of saving him too. She knows she is smart and sees no reason to let the slightly dim but charming Chitti overrule her.

Radha’s character is the real secret agent. I think she tells Chitti that he is a perfect lookalike for the deceased Chakrapani and he cannot resist her helpless female act. He should have been alerted when her dream sequence song turned up looking like this! She is smart, runs her own operation although her dad is one of the CBI officers using Chiru, and she has firm views on what needs to be done. Like Bhanupriya, she will accept help but she doesn’t always wait around for it to materialise.

All good heroes need a bad villain. Raghuavaran is the sleazy Peter, the main man who runs operations  for the completely insane Kannada Prabhakar. I always like a bit of megalomaniacal set design and sadly that is where Jebu Donga fails me. Peter lives in a respectably glossy mansion decorated with portraits of himself and masses of horrible modern sculptures while the bad guy HQ is a simple rustic camp. Not quite up to the Mogambo gold standard despite the impressive commitment to training shown by the minions. Most of the thugs wear that pale blue or mauve, but there are special colour coded sets as well as some plain clothes goons. Satyanarayana and Gollapudi are actually lots of fun as the police masterminds. They amble around, two portly middle aged gents who giggle like school girls as they watch the drama ebb and flow around their hapless helper. They also have some odd little flashbacks to what I think are Gollapudi’s terrible ideas for going undercover.

Chakravarthy’s soundtrack  borrows from Mr India, Michael Jackson and who knows what else. It’s all great fun, largely due to the enthusiasm of Chiranjeevi and Bhanupriya. And for once, the ladies get the sequins and lycra while Chiru dresses relatively conservatively.

I always have reasonable expectations of a Chiranjeevi/A Kodandarami Reddy film. There will be heroics, fights, dances, romance, eyeball melting colour and movement and almost no traces of logic. Jebu Donga delivers and shows Chiru in a more comedic, blundering hero role. Chitti may be a bit thick but Chiru knows exactly what he is doing and how to wring maximum entertainment from his material. The movie is available on YouTube. If you’re wondering, I deliberately chose the upload with the most offensive watermarks. Dear Reader, if you know anyone at that poxy company, please gently slap some sense, or at least some shame at defacing a film, into them.  Well worth seeing for the excellent cast and the frothy material. 3 ½ stars!

I will leave you with a Megabirthday Masala Multiple Choice Quiz. Please examine the following image.

Jebu-Donga-Quiz

Which of the following happens next?

  1. Evil Overlord makes crippled dance-obsessed Shanmukha Srinivas dance (a bit like Basanti in Sholay)
  2. Chiru, tied up and dangling in mid-air, escapes by breaking the trees from which he is dangling
  3. A Ma is terrorised by being given an unwanted haircut
  4. Radha kicks the bejesus out of about 47 bad guys
  5. Someone is so determined to detonate a bomb that he sets himself on fire and rolls across a clearing to ignite the fuse
  6. What do you mean which of the following? That’s a rookie question. All of the above, of course!