Aagadu (2014)

Aagadu

After the major disappointment of missing 1-Nenokkadine, it felt as if it had been a very long time since I’d been able to indulge in the wonders of Mahesh on the big screen. As an added bonus Aagadu was being shown in my local cinema, the wonderful single-screened art deco Astor, which has the luxury of a dress circle and velveteen-couches for lounging while waiting to get into the auditorium. Plus the bonus of subtitles!

Going to the Astor is always an ‘experience’ and even more so for Mahesh.  There were massive posters with accompanying garlands, samosas for sale in the foyer, and even that rarest of things – allocated seating! Regular visitors to Telugu film nights in Melbourne will understand what revelation this was – no pushing and shoving to get in and try to find a seat that hasn’t been ‘saved’ by the first twenty people through the doors? Not this time! First night, first show and there was an orderly ticket collection queue, a leisurely stroll to your seat (with ushers!) and plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere with the sell-out crowd.

Aagadu

Aagadu sees Mahesh reunited with Dookudu director Srinu Vaitla, although the partnership doesn’t deliver such an entertaining film this time round.  Along with a number of familiar faces in similar roles, the usual mass themes pop up time and time again, so the plot feels tired even before it gets past the first half hour.  Still, it starts off well enough. Young Shankar is rescued from the streets by Police Inspector Raja Ram (Rajendra Prasad) who adopts him into his household based on Shankar’s non-tolerance approach to crime. Naturally this family relationship doesn’t last long, and Shankar is cast off by Raja Ram in suitably dramatic fashion after taking the blame for something he didn’t do.

Aagadu

Despite these early troubles Shankar follows in his adopted father’s footsteps and grows up to be ‘Encounter Shankar’; a man so feared that the mere mention of his name is enough to turn big, bad gangsters into quivering cowards.  As expected once he appears on-screen, Mahesh Babu throws villainous thugs around with gay abandon while indulging in snappy dialogues and keeping his uniform creases sharp. Mahesh is in his element here and it shows. He looks even more baby-faced than ever as he single-handedly beats various thugs into submission and revels in his indestructible super-cop persona.  Pretty similar to the way he did in Dookudu really.  The opposing gangsters have learnt nothing and still tend to attack one at a time (they can’t ever watch any movies or they would know better), and there are plenty of barrels, containers, and various other items for them to crash into. The outcome is always a forgone conclusion but it is the getting there that counts, and the action scenes are excellent.

Aagadu

Encounter Shankar is sent to Bokkapatnam, where crime lord Damodar (Sonu Sood) is terrorising the locals and keeping the police firmly under his own control. Sonu Sood seems a little off his game here and is never quite menacing enough to be the big bad movie villain needed to offset Mahesh’s heroic cop. An early attempt to give him a ‘quirk’ falls flat and apart from one or two moments of sneering he’s a bland and relatively innocuous character.  Srinu Vaitla seems determined to include as much humour as possible, but his inclusion of the gangsters into the comedy motif works against any possible build-up of menace and just isn’t particularly funny.  Even Damodar’s gangster lieutenants are roped in with Raghu Babu, Posani Krishna Murali and Prabhas Seenu dropping their initial villainous personae for dumb comedy routines that do nothing to help the story.

AagaduAagadu

There is more comedy in the form of M.S. Narayana who is reasonably amusing as a data broker, although the best comedy moments go to Mahesh as he befuddles the villains with reprises of his own movies.  These gangsters really don’t seem to get out to the cinema much!  The usual suspects turn up in the support cast including Nasser who seems wasted in a role as a mildly corrupt cop, while CinemaChaat favourite Ajay fares a little better in a more serious than usual role and Vennela Kishore has a reasonable role as Encounter Shankar’s main assistant.  Brahmi turns up late in the film and it says a lot that he is sorely needed to bring some relief into an otherwise dull and predictable second half.  He plays a broker who ends up as the fall guy for the police operation, but it’s really just the usual slapstick with the addition of a reasonably funny dance mix from recent films, although even that seems a copy of a similar scene from Dookudu.

Aagadu

Tamanna plays the love interest and starts off as a relatively feisty character that seems to have potential. Unfortunately it doesn’t last, and after she succumbs to Shankar’s trite dialogue she is rewarded by relegation to appearing only in the songs.  There is absolutely zero chemistry between Tamanna and Mahesh but she does get to wear some pretty skirts and twirl around mountains and deserts while Mahesh does some enigmatic walking, so it all works out OK in the end.  I liked the soundtrack and the catchy songs are all well-choreographed and pictured, often with some very enthusiastic backing dancers.  Shruti Haasan makes an appearance in a rather athletic item number which got just as many cheers as Mahesh’s entrance, but Bhel Puri has some of the best costumes.  The backing dancers get to morph from Marvin the Martian to Jack Sparrow while Mahesh sports his classic shirt and jacket combination, although I’m not so sure about his red number with go-faster white stripes.

Overall Aagadu is disappointing, as Srinu Vaitla rehashes ideas from his previous movies and includes too much comedy and an excessive amount of punch dialogue in his formulaic screenplay.  The first half is entertaining enough, but the second half drags until the fast, final showdown which is over almost before it begins.  Mahesh is very watchable and almost manages to carry the entire film with his charismatic screen presence, but even his excellent performance and the best attempts of the rest of the cast aren’t enough to lift Aagadu above average. Best watched in a packed cinema with a large group of Mahesh fans, but in their absence, still worth watching for Mahesh, good action scenes at the start and the songs.

 

Temple says:

Aagadu is similar to other Mahesh films, particularly Dookudu, only longer and much less entertaining.

I found the first half quite dull as the slapstick and comedy uncles piled up and yet the plot never shifted gears.  The ‘comedy’ is broad and overstated – not Mahesh’s finest work. He can be very funny but Aagadu plods along, reusing the same shtick too many times, and Sankar lacks the sarcastic spark Mahesh has brought to other films (like Khaleja or The Businessman). The excessive punch dialogues were meant to be a running gag, but instead seemed a gratuitous reminder of how many other good films I could have been watching instead.  And it’s not an easy film for a new fan as the jokes are very Mahesh-centric, including a nice tribute to his dad, and would largely go over the head of anyone who wasn’t familiar with the oeuvre. The second half is more successful as Sankar FINALLY starts enacting his plans for revenge. Plus I quite enjoyed seeing Brahmi get slapped around. If I had to watch his tedious antics, I was glad to have the vicarious satisfaction of the tight slap.

Despite high production values the CGI work is often poor, both in execution and judgement, and breaks the effect of otherwise excellent action choreography. There is one scene where suddenly Sankar is CGI’d onto a tabletop during a fight and he may as well have been surrounded by a dotted line with a legend saying ‘cut here’. And the subtitles, much as I appreciate the effort, were a bit dodgy. ‘Frightended’ was a highlight, and anarchy had clearly swept through the personal pronoun department. Although I liked the description “Pant. Shirt. Shirt. Shirt.”as I think that is indeed how Mahesh dresses.

Well, at least the Astor has excellent choc-tops. And I hope that nice man The Mahesh Fan and I were talking to after the movie found his way to Doncaster.

 

Naayak

Naayak Poster

Naayak is an updated masala potboiler, action packed with colourful dance numbers and an improbable but entertaining enough story. The audience last night was mostly young couples and families. I did wonder yet again at the ability of children to sleep through anything. At the end of the film the dads left with a kid slung over one shoulder, dead to the world.

To summarise the story, with mild spoilers:

Naayak opens with four men being pursued through the streets and lanes of Kolkata, and eventually tied to a pillar in the forecourt of an ornate manor. Surrounded by approximately 4962 taxis with their headlights on, the men look doomed. But a mysterious figures glides through the darkness, and rescues them in a bloody fight involving lots of pointy objects and ornate axes. Who was he and why were they in trouble? That comes later. Charan is Charan AKA Cherry, a Hyderabadi IT dude. Through some Brahmi induced comedy complications, he meets the gangster Babji (Rahul Dev) and his pretty sister Madhu (Kajal). In the background, Cherry appears to be on a killing spree from Kolkata to Hyderabad. Babji sees Cherry shoot a senior police officer and starts asking questions about who Cherry really is. At the same time the police, led by Ashish Vidyarthi, are closing in. A trip to Haridwar and a chance encounter with a lookalike prompts a long flashback introducing Siddharth (Charan). Siddharth is on a mission of revenge following Pradeep Rawat’s criminal (and insane) treatment of workers in his chemical factory (and others). Siddharth has his own love interest in Amala Paul, and a tragic back story. To quote nearly every Telugu film reviewer ever, ‘how the hero triumphs over the villain forms the rest of the story’.

charan nayak

Charan has matured as an actor and his dialogue delivery has more authority. Perhaps that is because he seems really comfortable in the mass entertainer roles, and he certainly gets the style. Naayak is an updated version of the kind of films Chiranjeevi is known for. Action, dancing, flamboyant costumes, a dash of romance and a social message all add up to a good showcase for the young star. The fights are very stylised and rely on not always seamless wirework and effects. Sometimes the clunky visuals took away from the drama. Charan seems comfortable with the physicality of the fight scenes so he doesn’t let his characterisation lapse and that does help. There were few differences apparent between Cherry and Siddharth – Siddharth’s hair was a bit higher and his necklines a tad lower. But as the story turns on their similarity, that all worked nicely.

Charan’s dancing was such a highlight, especially in the very Chiru-ish Laaila O Laaila which I wanted to be replayed again right away, and Naayak which is just so pretty and colourful.

Naayak Kajal in gold pants

Kajal was very likeable. Madhu is more ‘girl next door in glamourous dress-ups’ than total glamour doll, and she often had a cheeky glint in her eye. The costume designers were reasonably kind to her, with only a brief foray into shiny metallic pants. She cannot dance to save her life, so the choreographers wisely decided to go for stunning locations plus giving Charan all the actual steps and telling Kajal to either shake her butt or heave her chest.

Naayak Charan and Kajal dance

I tell a lie – in one song she had to point one hand skywards and walk, which must have been challenging.

Naayak Kajal and Charan dance

But she looks like she has fun, and she and Charan goofed around flirting rather than worrying so much about the steps.

Amala Paul made little impression apart from looking very pretty. Her role is small but she does get a couple of visually spectacular songs. Unfortunately the costume designers never really considered the implications of dancing with your hair down and wearing a chiffon sari on undulating terrain in Iceland in a stiff breeze so she didn’t always looks graceful.

Charan and Amala dance

Naayak Amala and her shoes

Particularly not as she wore brown Ugg boots  with a green sari and black shoes with bright blue laces with her diaphanous black sari during one song. Kajal wore leggings under her short shorts but apart from being greyish and a bit baggy around the knees, they weren’t as peculiar. I’m all for actresses dressing appropriately for the climate, and for workplace safety, but it was odd.

Rahul Dev is Babji, and he plays a more sympathetic gangster than his usual psycho villain. Indeed, there is quite a sweet bromance developing between him and Cherry until things start to get crazy. Raghu Babu and Jayaprakash Reddy are on comedy duty in his gang and, judging by the audience reaction, knocked it out of the park. MS Narayana is a drunk lip reading expert and his timing and droll expressions are really quite amusing. (As was the misspelled ‘Drinking is injurious to your HEATLH’ warning.) Brahmi has an actual character to play. When he can be dissuaded from just repeating his usual shtick he is so much more bearable. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of his scenes when normally I would be sighing so either I’ve had a head injury or he was good. Dev Gill made an appearance as a psycho baddie with impressive (that’s not the right word but they are very in your face) moobs.

Naayak Charan and Amala

SS Thaman’s music is OK but sounds like every other film. You know, there’s the upbeat hero song, the item (featuring Charmme), the duet, the other duet, the remake of a better song. Nothing wrong with it, but I sit here now and I can picture the sets and the fancy costumes, but can’t recall the music as clearly. One thing I loved in Charmme’s item was Siddharth imaging joining in. His cheesy expressions and Chiru-esque mannerisms were really amusing. That was all his own character’s vision so I liked that glimpse of his inner life.

Despite this being an adventure without subtitles the only thing I feel I really missed was the comedy dialogue. People around me were weeping with laughter and a couple of guys said it is one of the funniest films they’d seen in ages. I’ll be buying the DVD regardless, and am interested to see how well that laugh riot translates. I liked spotting the Pawan Kalyan and Chiranjeevi references in the visuals and dialogues and was pleased to see Shah Rukh smirking from the back of a Significant Magazine.

See it if you like films with clearly defined heroes and villains, action, drama, colour and movement. You’ll need some tolerance for dismemberments, gore and a lot of comedy uncles but it pays off with an explosive climax.

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum

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Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum is complex, controlled, visually beautiful and highly entertaining. Taking themes ranging from corruption, environmental vandalism and the disenfranchisement of the poor to Telugu film standards of revenge and justice, director Krish keeps it all in hand, gathering momentum to the dramatic showdown.

B Tech Babu (Rana) is an actor in his grandfather’s traditional Surabhi theatre troupe, performing devotional plays as well as ones based on old films and stories. (I was delighted to recognise bits of Patala Bhairavi)  He is planning to leave the theatre and go work in the US. But Subramanyam (Kota Srinivasa Rao) dies and Babu feels compelled to ensure his final play is staged at a fair in Bellary. Devika (Nayantara) is in the region filming an expose of land grabs and illegal mining practices. She interviews workers and tracks down rural folks displaced from their lands. Boy meets girl, he is smitten, she is annoyed, but they both keep on with their work and their romantic relationship is a minor facet of the story. Their connection grows as they are thrown together under an external threat. Redappa (Milind Gunaji) is the villain of the piece. His goons threaten the theatre company and he is out to prevent any interference in his mining business so has his sights on Devika. He has a deeper tie to Babu than is initially apparent and his relationship to all the various players is gradually revealed.

It is a little complicated but I felt I followed most of the plot despite this being another Adventure Without Subtitles. I had to really concentrate on who was who, and was completely taken in by one of the plot twists until the truth was revealed. I saw this with two friends – one who dislikes seeing unsubtitled films and the other had only seen one other Telugu film – and they both found it hard going. The audience were whistling, cheering and laughing at a lot of the dialogue, real belly laughs at that, so I am looking forward to seeing this with subtitles. Hopefully the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.

KVJ backstage Babu

I think this is easily Rana’s best performance to date. When Babu’s grandfather died, there was no weeping and chest beating but a definite sadness and quiet loss. There are lighter moments and some glimpses of vulnerability as well as the heroics. Rana’s dialogue delivery and the costumes for the plays within the movie were lots of fun.

KVJ Babu takes a break

He switched between young lad about town and theatrical mode with ease. I got a sense of the character’s struggle with tradition and his fundamental sense of fair play. The fight scenes were excellent and Krish knew how to use his hero to best effect. All Rana did in one sequence was stand suddenly and the audience cheered madly as the bad guy’s knee and hip joints popped and crunched. Plus Rana has Toes of Death.

Despite his ability to carry off a choreographed fight Rana cannot do the same for the other kind of choreography. He can execute dance steps but has no timing at all. The editing was very kind, and it largely worked in Ranga Marthanda, but his shortcomings were all too evident. I wonder if now Charan and Bunny are married, they don’t have time to coach their mate. Poor Rana. But he has an excellent heroic run and he is very tall. My rowing coach used to say to me whenever I had had a disastrous training session ‘you can learn technique but you can’t learn height’.

KVJ Devika at work

Nayantara is glammed up with false lashes and shiny perfect hair, but Devika is primarily focussed on her film and the cause she hopes to help. She has some contact with the CBI and I am not sure whether they were using her to get evidence or she was informing to them. There is a tough side to her and she doesn’t just sit back and wait for the men to sort things out.

Nayantara and Rana

There is no chemistry between Babu and Devika at first as the interest is on his side and he got her offside by acting like an idiot, but it does develop. Devika described Babu to her mother on the phone but that was based on him just being in front of her and looking good so I think she was giving her mum a wishlist rather than declaring an interest. Regardless, the romance is not necessary to make the story development make sense as the characters have other motives for their actions. Nayantara conveyed a sense of purpose and resilience often lacking in filmi heroines.

KVJ Venkatesh Sameera and Rana

The music sounded too familiar at times so I wondered if Mani Sharma had recycled some of his other work. The songs pop up all over the place but they provide a timeout from the action or explain important theories like ‘media is a circus’. If you have ever wondered what Rana would look like as a dwarf, on stilts, or wearing a lilac sequinned cowboy hat ‘Spicy Spicy Girl’ will provide answers. And they solved his dancing issues by getting him to flex to the beat. Venkatesh made a guest appearance in a fun item number with Sameera Reddy and the audience went nuts. The second item was not strictly necessary (are they ever?) but Hazel Keech was just dire. Oh for the love of Helen –  hire a girl who can dance!

KVJ Theatre Company

This is such a beautiful production. Backstage glimpses of the theatre company are dominated by jewel tones, gilding and rich fabrics in honeyed light while the town scenes are sun bleached with harsh shadows. The fairground lights and shapes were used effectively without being overwhelming. The contrast between the forest and the mines could not be more pointed.  People were dressed appropriate to their characters and apart from the songs, the costume team only got away with one lurid shirt – Redappa’s main enforcer wore a fetching mauve satin with shiny spots. A special shout out to whoever designed the theatre costumes for Rana – his Narasimha look was quite something.

KVJ Rana as Narasimha

A lot of the violence was directed at mouths – people had their tongues cut out, their lips pulled at, were forced to swallow boiling water. It was disturbing at times but seemed to be a literal representation of power silencing the poor and unrepresented. The action scenes use a lot of wire work and different film techniques to heighten the drama. The climax fight merges the symbolism of Narasimha with the film hero style in extravagant and memorable fashion.

The support cast includes Brahmi in a pointless gig as a rival actor, Satyam Rajesh and Raghu Babu as members of Subramanyam’s troupe, Murali Krishna Posani as a comedy taxi driver, Adithya as Babu’s murdered father, Murli Sharma in a pivotal role and many others. I liked seeing Krish’s attention to detail in the background scenes. The Surabhi company members were often seen repairing costumes or organising props and makeup and it felt like a working theatre group.

I found Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum immensely satisfying and never dull. Krish balances dialogue driven and action scenes, and draws out the themes to make a cohesive and substantial narrative. Rana excels as the modern hero with traditional inspirations and Nayantara was appealing as a heroine with a brain. This is one of my favourite films in 2012.  I’m crossing my fingers the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.