Agnyaathavaasi

PosterDespite a stellar cast and a rocking soundtrack, Agynyaathavaasi turns out to be a rather disappointing watch. Trivikram takes an interesting plot and fills it chock full of masala, to the extent that the story of a son’s mission to exact vengeance on his father’s killers becomes lost in the morass of comedy, romance and OTT fight scenes. Nothing too much out of the ordinary for a Telugu film then you might think, but there is simply too much of everything here, making Agynyaathavaasi a clutter of confusion instead of the thrilling action film it could have been.

The story (when you can catch a glimpse of it) follows the exploits of Balasubramanyam (aka Abhishikth Bhargav aka Bala aka Abhi!) as he attempts to discover who murdered his father and brother, and then follow through to exact revenge. Abhi (Pawan Kalyan) has been raised in secrecy, allowing his younger half-brother to assume the role of heir to his father Vinda’s pharmaceutical empire. Vinda (Boman Irani) is notorious for always having a Plan B, hence the existence of Abhi who is rather oddly is his step-mother’s favourite, despite his exiled status. Indrani (Khushboo) suspects that her son and husband did not die accidental deaths, and calls Abhi back to discover which of the two aspirants to Vinda’s AB Company were responsible for the deed. Varma (Rao Ramesh) and Sharma (Murali Sharma) have been part of the company since its formation, but neither seem up to the challenge of running a multi-national organisation. Both actors do their best, but with poorly etched characters played mainly for comedic value it’s hard to see why they could ever be in the running as suspects for the murders.

Adding more unnecessary slapstick is Raghu Babu as a particularly sleazy office manager whose antics aren’t even remotely funny and who is completely superfluous to the plot. As too are Abhi’s side-kicks, who start off by offering technical support for his scheme to infiltrate the company but end up as a kind of enthusiastic group of cheer-leaders on the sidelines instead. These include Tanikella Bharani as Abhi’s uncle, Srinivasa Reddy and Abhishek Maharshi who all gasp, cringe and applaud at appropriate moments but otherwise have little to do as Abhi smoothly goes about his investigation without encountering too many problems.

Naturally there has to be a romance – so why not two? Anu Emmanuel and Keerthy Suresh are the two women Abhi uses as part of his schemes to discover the truth, which goes some way to explaining the mainly superficial nature of the relationships. Still it does mean a couple of songs and a quick jaunt to Bulgaria in between Abhi’s many fight scenes. Outside of this though, the two actors only appear as light relief in between beautifully staged but surprisingly dull fight scenes.

Normally the saving grace in these films is the performances of the actors, but almost everyone here, including Pawan Kalyan overact like crazy. The Powerstar doesn’t seem engaged with the screenplay at all for most of the film – not surprisingly perhaps, since I found it difficult to engage with too! There’s a bizarre scene where an insightful police officer (Sampath Raj) starts to postulate on who Abhi could possibly be, and manages to reconstruct the entire sequence of events without any clues, witnesses or evidence to back up his theory! It’s another example of needless frills that hinder the story. A flashback sequence would have worked much better and there was no need to add such speculation, particularly when the police officer involved reported that both Vinda and his son died by accident despite Vinda being shot in the head before he plunged to his death from a high-rise.

On the plus side, the music from Anirudh Ravichandler is excellent and suits both the action and romantic sections of the screenplay. The songs are also catchy, but for the most part don’t sit well within the screenplay and most seem to be added rather randomly. Despite this, the choreography is excellent and the locations beautifully filmed. Indeed, overall the cinematography is excellent with some stunning shots of Varanasi near the start of the film. I also liked the attempt to link Abhi’s story to parts of the Mahabharata and the story of Krishna, which helped to fill in some of the back-story that was glossed over rather quickly.

There are some terrific performances too in the midst of all the general scenery chewing. Boman Irani is good and Khushboo is notable in her return to the big screen as Abhi’s step-mother and Vinda’s widow. She’s compelling in her scenes and her understated performance stands out in the midst of all the other melodrama. Also very good is Aadhi Pinisetty as the main protagonist, Seetharam. He gets the balance between arrogant brat and murdering megalomaniac just right while looking dapper and well-groomed at every occasion. Despite only a short amount of screentime Aadhi is impressive and makes an excellent villain once again.

Agynyaathavaasi is simply too uneven to be anything other than a one-time watch. Although there is a good basic storyline, the added fluff and masala buries it too deep and not even the excellent production values can keep it from sinking under all that weight. Although Khushboo and Aadhi along with Anirudh’s music and V. Manikandan’s cinematography are worth seeing, this is really a film best for fans only.

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Pandaga Chesko (2015)

Pandaga Chesko

This is the first film from ‘Energetic Star’ Ram that I’ve seen in the cinema, a fact that seemed surprising until I realised that Ram’s last film release was in 2013. I’m always wary with films billed as comedy, and Pandaga Chesko isn’t an exception to the rule that they should be approached with caution. However, surprisingly it isn’t Brahmi’s stale sleazy comedy that’s the biggest issue here, or the usual surfeit of comedy uncles with no real role in the story. Rather, the plot itself is tired, repetitive and well past it’s use by date. The story follows a young NRI’s return to India to attempt to reunite two families – sound familiar? Attarintiki Daredi, Govindudu Andarivadele and a whole host of other films have told this story before, and told it better. However Ram is personable and definitely energetic, although his performance and the best efforts of the support cast aren’t quite enough to save the film from being anything more than a one time watch for me.

Ram is Karthik, an NRI living in Portugal and a successful businessman running his own business. His success is enough to make him a candidate for marriage with Anushka (Sonal Chauhan) who is also a successful businesswoman although from her behaviour it seems barely conceivable that she could organise a two-ticket raffle let alone a business empire. But as her ability to play rugby to win a sports club presumably shows, she is a woman of hidden talents and a rather surprisingly slutty wardrobe for a business tycoon.

After Karthik and Anushka meet and decide that a merger would give them both the best chance to succeed in their respective businesses, Karthik learns of a complaint against his factory in India and heads off to fix the problem a month before his wedding. He’s also found out about a feud in his mother’s family, and despite not having shown any family feelings up until now, decides that while he is back in India he might as well sort out that little problem too.

However it’s not going to be as easy as Karthik thinks. For a start, no sooner does Karthik see Green Army founder and activist Divya (Rakul Preet Singh) than he falls in love with her. And the family feud proves to be tricky too, particularly when Karthik confuses the issue by including various other people pretending to be someone else. And muddying the waters further is Weekend Venkat Rao (Brahmi) sent to bring Karthik home for his wedding with Anushka but who spends his time indulging in cheap and nasty comedy instead.

Most of the comedy is in the dialogue so I didn’t find the film as funny as the rest of the audience, and since the physical humour mainly comes courtesy of Brahmi it’s generally crass and not particularly amusing. M S Narayana does have a small role but is generally not well used, while Abhimanyu Singh is reasonably funny in his role as a bumbling goonda in love with Divya. Divya and Karthik get some of the better comedy scenes too, although I don’t think all of it was actually supposed to be funny! They do make a likeable couple though and their scenes together are the most enjoyable part of the film.

The best performances come from the veterans in the cast including Jayaprakash, Sai Kumar, Raghu Babu and Pavitra Lokesh to name just a few of the large support crew. The feud between Karthik’s uncle and his erstwhile best friend is fairly standard fare but the actors give it their all and this part of the film works well. Rakul Preet Singh is good and has plenty of chemistry with Ram that serves their romance well, but Sonal Chauhan is a disaster in a role that doesn’t suit her and is badly written to boot. Ram doesn’t get much chance to show off his acting skills here either but he does well with what he is given – and if nothing else he does have good wardrobe choices and an energetic dance style. However even the choreography isn’t novel and although the songs from S Thaman are fine and generally well placed they don’t stand out as anything special.

Overall Pandaga Chesko does raise a few laughs but is let down by the disappointingly derivative and formulaic story. It’s frustrating since the film is well made with a great cast and generally good performances which do at least go some way towards making up for the tired plot. It’s not a terrible film, and it mainly works as a comedy, but it just needs a newer angle on a familiar tale and perhaps a few less comedy uncles. Worth watching for Ram and his energetic dance sequences, the romance scenes between Karthik and Divya and Arthur Wilson’s excellent cinematography.

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham is the début film for Sai Dharam Tej and as to be expected for the launch of Tollywood’s latest hero, it’s a mass action adventure with plenty of comedy and a smidgeon of romance. Although there is a fine and distinguished support cast, the camera focuses mainly on the latest member of the mega family to make an appearance on the big screen, and Sai Dharam Tej succeeds in holding attention centre stage for the 2 hours and 12 minutes screen time.  Chiru’s nephew has inherited the mega-family dancing genes and more than a little of his uncle’s charisma, although for most of the film he reminds me of a Labrador puppy, boisterous, exuberant, and just needing a little bit more time to grow into his personality. It’s not an outstanding movie, but it’s perfectly fine for a debut, and director A.S. Ravi Kumar Chowdary delivers an entertaining hero-centric story that does have a few unexpected twists along the way.

The film begins in fairly traditional mode with two politicians, Gangaprasad (Sayaji Sjinde) and Prabhakar (Prakash Raj), vying with each other for the position of Chief Minister.  Gangaprasad is outed as corrupt by investigative journalist Shafi (Shafi), who seems content to announce such major news on an apparently relatively small TV network. Perhaps that is why Gangaprasad feels that no-one is likely to notice if Shafi disappears immediately after these revelations, and sends his tame thugs to dispose of the journalist and his wife. How could anyone be suspicious of the politician involved, if the journalist revealing corruption goes missing immediately after said revelations? Hm. Gangaprasad also orders the death of Siri (Regina Cassandra), which is the threat that starts the politician’s eventual downfall, although the reasons why her death is necessary aren’t explained until later in the story.

Maisamma (Jagapathi Babu), the rowdy sheeter (according to the subtitles – I have no idea what a rowdy sheeter actually is, but it seemed an adequate description) charged with carrying out these orders receives a visit from Seenu (Sai Dharam Tej) who asks to be killed by the gang. The explanation involves a flashback to the story of the romance between Siri and Seenu, but despite that being the ostensible reason for the whole charade, the romance is given short shrift overall. There is very little chemistry between the two actors, probably because in true college romance formula, Siri initially can’t stand Seenu and it takes some time for their relationship to develop. Once a couple, they also don’t spend much time together at all; not even in the songs, which are focused more on showcasing Sai Dharam Tej and his undeniable skills in that area. Needless to say, although he’s a rowdy with a penchant for dealing in death, Maisamma is reluctant to kill by polite request, and demands an explanation which forms a large part of the rest of the first half.

The tone of the story is set early on when Seenu breaks into dance to illustrate his romance with Seenu and the gang of rowdies join in. I loved this, partly because there is nothing more amusing than watching big tough guys try to dance, but also because they all look as if they are really enjoying themselves. So good to see these guys do more than just hang around looking grim and then being beaten into a pulp by the hero. The comedy continues with Maisamma’s right hand man, Raghu Babu who along with Prabhas Sreenu and Ahuti Prasad, provides most of the humour for the film. No sign of Brahmi or Ali, thankfully, and the comedy feels much fresher as a result, even though it’s mostly the usual slapstick and innuendo. Sathya Krishna is excellent and very funny in a small role as Raghu Babu’s wife, and demonstrates just why I think she deserves larger roles in more films.

The second half does drag a little as Seenu manipulates everyone into doing what he needs them to do, but overall it’s funny and there is just enough action to keep the film moving in the right direction. Part of the lull may be because the first three songs are over quickly in the first half, and of the remaining two, one is used over a fight scene. That does work well and is clever use of the track, but does mean there is less peppy dancing later in the film. However Jagapathi Babu and the rest of the support cast are excellent as they try to chase down Seenu and Siri, and along with Sai Dharam’s Tej’s enthusiasm the lulls are temporary.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the film is that Seenu isn’t a hero with amazing fighting skills, although he can fight when he has to, but rather he relies on his wits to get him out of trouble. Although his manipulations get ever more unrealistic and the comedy becomes improbable, Seenu has enough charm to carry it off. His dancing to Anoop Rubens excellent soundtrack is an advantage, and although he isn’t quite as smooth as his cousins, Sai Dharam Tej is definitely someone to look out for in the future. Regina Cassandra is also very good in a role that doesn’t give her too much scope, but she showcases a wide range of emotions effectively and looks to be capable of more. With an entertaining storyline, excellent support cast and likeable hero Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham is worth catching in the cinema for some good choreography and more than a few laughs.