Jai Chiranjeeva

K Vijaya Bhaskar’s film is a rightfully neglected effort from the latter part of Chiranjeevi’s pre-hiatus career. While Chiru’s Megastar presence is always compelling, he can’t compensate for the desultory direction and derivative screenplay. On the upside, Arbaaz Khan makes Bhoomika look like a brilliant actor so she must be happy.

Pasupathi (Arbaaz Khan), obviously EVIL, steals a cargo ship to go to Mumbai. His henchman (Rahul Dev) is waiting there (again, obvious signs of EVIL). Pasupathi demonstrates a new fancy gun with computerised target tracking, and when Ramkoti (Jayaprakash Reddy) seems mildly disbelieving he shoots a child playing some distance away in the park. EVIL.

Meanwhile 40 something year old virgin Sathyanarayan Murthy (Chiranjeevi) comes to the big smoke to stay with his relatives. Some unfunny mistaken identity shenanigans result in sexual harassment, but it’s OK because he is filthy rich. Even a comedy fall from the roof involves heroics and mild sexual harassment (stopping a robbery, encouraging a couple to get it on, copping a feel of the one who will be One of The Ones). He continually crosses paths with Shailaja (Sameera Reddy) and of course sparks of all types fly. Sometimes literally.

After a big night Sathyanarayan passes out drunk and has a long flashback to the death of his much loved niece, Lavanya. She was a pushy little minx and, sadly, also the child murdered in Pasupathi’s gun demonstration. When Sathya learns that the doctor lied to him about Lavanya’s cause of death and colluded with the gang to prevent a police enquiry, things become more dangerous for everyone. Back in the present day, the doctor’s daughter Neelima (Bhoomika) becomes involved as she seeks justice for her dad who was killed to prevent further blabbing. She ends up in a fake marriage with Sathya so he can get a visa for the USA to go kill Pasupathy.

The film should be improbable but suspenseful, but almost everyone, including Sathya, seems go off task far too easily. For someone bent on revenge and believing he is on a mission from god, Sathya is easily distracted. There is always the opportunity to bust a move or rehabilitate a child beggar by telling her not to beg anymore because it just isn’t nice for a girl to do that. Chiru has to perform every style from slapstick to smack down and he is good, as he always is. But it’s more like a series of skits so the dramatic tension is lost, and Chiru has nothing to get his teeth into except the scenery. The songs by Mani Sharma are diverting and Chiranjeevi looks like he is having fun with the choreo. The action scenes are tailored to suit him and, despite being copied badly from films like the Bond and Die Hard franchises via Jackie Chan, they are a highlight. While it’s obvious he’d been living in a good paddock and wasn’t his svelte 80s self, he really goes for it.

However the attitudes are a bit 80s and it’s very vexing. Venu Madhav chases prostitutes and rejects one who is too dark. That was supposed to be funny. Shailu’s parents say they stopped her studying because she behaved like a boy – i.e. did what she liked. Shailu decides to stage a party and make Sathya pay for his insulting behaviour. Simple country lad Sathya has to be styled up as a parody of Chiru just to get in. Luckily pub = dancing. But his (drunk) song combines bhangra beats with a warning of how drinking and partying is not for nice young ladies and they should be careful not to make their parents cry with their modern ways. Neelu’s family pressure her to leave her father’s death alone and not cause embarrassment by looking for the truth.

The two girls are the only ones with a real sense of purpose. I quite liked Sameera Reddy. Shailu was not the most realistic character but Sameera has a robust energy that stood up well against Chiranjeevi’s presence and her dodgy wardrobe. She wasn’t afraid to go for it in the dances either. I didn’t necessarily agree with her decision making but I thought Shailu was articulate about what she wanted and where she drew the line. Bhoomika used both of her expressions, and despite having the potentially more substantial role she didn’t really make much of it. Neelu was tortured, threatened, kidnapped, her poor puppy Dandy was the victim of a Fatal Attraction bunny boiler scenario, and yet I barely remember anything about her. I have better recall of her bedroom furnishings, right down to the Australia shaped souvenir on her bedside table. Neelu has reservations but is won over by Sathya’s “revenge is better than happiness” speech. Plus he promised to only kill bad people. Shailu finds out Sathya intends to marry Neelu to get a USA visa but agrees because she loves him…and makes them have a church wedding as a Hindu ceremony is only for realsies. Points for actually having the discussion I guess.

Pasupathi likes to believe he is the puppet master but while all of his plans seems grandiose, the execution kind of fizzles out. I mean, it takes a miracle from god and Lavanya but eventually Sathya notices the building sized portrait of Pasupathi on the side of a skyscraper over the road and deduces that might be the top secret HQ he has been searching for. A bomb that took several minutes to describe and would supposedly vaporise a building only set fire to a small section of the car park. If I had been Arbaaz’s school careers counsellor I like to think I would have steered him away from “acting”. But since the rest of the baddies are played for cartoonish laughs, he does kind of fit in.

Among the many interruptions to the big comeuppance there is a long comedy interlude with Brahmi. I kept shouting reminders they should be off doing revenge-y things but nobody seemed to care. Even on the way to find the baddies they had to stop for a dance break at a wedding. MS Narayana has a running gag appearance that does nothing but isn’t offensively awful. Sunil is Ramkoti’s useless son and while I find him likeable as an actor I kind of wished the death threats had come to fruition. Even Tanikella Bharani annoyed me with his turn as a travel agent. My Comedy Uncle Intolerance has not waned.

I don’t hate the film as there are enough bits and bobs that make it mildly entertaining, plus there’s Chiru. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but a Chiranjeevi completist. Watch the songs, you’ve seen the rest in one form or another. 2 ¾ stars!

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Simhadri

A story told in two parts, Simhadri is uneven. The things I love, I love. And the things I don’t, I really don’t. Rajamouli is always worth watching however, and it is kind of fun to look back at his earlier efforts even when the execution is a little laboured. Tarak is likeable enough, although his acting has improved greatly since 2003.

Simhadri (Tarak) is an orphan living in the household of Ram Bhupal Varma (Nasser) and his wife (Sangeetha). Simhadri is intensely loyal and has anger management issues, and his violence in service of the family is seen as endearing and almost a joke. Anyway, as they keep saying, it’s OK to kill or be killed if it is for the good of people. Tarak and Nasser have some nice badinage and their relationship does seem rock solid and a reasonable motivation for much of what follows. Simhadri is irresistible to women, especially Kasthuri (Ankitha), the daughter of the house. But he spends a lot of time and money with childlike Indu (Bhumika Chawla), and that becomes an issue when Kasthuri finds out. Apparently Simhadri’s style of beating people is medically identifiable and frequently lethal…Or at least that is what a visiting doctor from Kerala says happens when Singamalai beats someone up. But is Singamalai the same person as Simhadri? Why do truckloads of people with many and varied motivations turn up looking for him? Is he leading a double life?

Tarak gets one of the best hero entrance scenes ever, and a quite impractical yet very impressive weapon of choice. The action scenes are crunching and generally humourless, with varying degrees of gore. And he really is delightful in the songs where he is the bumblebee of dance – it seems he shouldn’t be able to move like that but look at him go!

M.M Keeravani’s soundtrack has a dreary orphan song, some cheesy duets, and offers Tarak a range of opportunities to bust a move. It even includes that romantic Indian classic – Cotton Eye Joe!

But Simhadri has to participate in comedy disease shenanigans, and wear some very unpleasant headbands not suited to the hamster-cheeked gent. The obligatory scenes paying homage to the senior NTR are a little overdone, as well as suffering from early 2000s technical limitations. Seeing the younger actors try to leverage their family name while appeasing the inherited fan base and also create their own image is quite interesting to me.

The relationship between Simhadri and Indu is troubling given her childlike mentality. The portrayal is a little flirtatious or at least uses filmi romance visuals which is creepy. Even Simhadri’s family immediately assume she is a prostitute, despite her little girl braids and outfits. And I was appalled by her horrible neighbours. Orphanism isn’t contagious! But despite all this rich material, that renowned wet dishrag of an actress Bhumika uses at most two three facial expressions. The relationship between Simhadri and Kasturi is equally perplexing, although for different reasons. Apparently the way to spark romance is to either scare a man or be scared in front of him. So dropping an ant down your bra and all the following shrieking and jiggling makes perfect sense then. I was kind of glad Ankitha is terrible in this as it would have been sad seeing a good actress enduring the stupidity of the script.

Despite his dubious interpretation of the female psyche, Rajamouli did win a few “you go girl!” points for casting Ramya Krishnan as an item girl.

I found it highly amusing that the song is pretty much along the theme of “do you want fries with that”. But seriously, I am so impressed she has managed such a long and varied career and has made some super films along the way.

The support cast is rich with talent and recognisable faces. Nasser is all reasonable and understanding until someone disagrees with him, then it is “my way or the highway”. He is a great foil for Tarak. Mukesh Rishi is vile and compelling as Bhai Sahib, the big bad gangster. Rahul Dev is slimy Nair, who sparks about an hour of graphic violence including rape and torturing children. Sharat Saxena is the ultimate useless policeman who abdicates all responsibility to the vigilantism of Simhadri. Bhanu Chander has a small but pivotal role that relies on him never making a sensible decision. All of these actors are good, but all their characters need at least one tight slap or maybe a whack with the fancy significant weapon. You know I am close to despair when I can say truthfully that Brahmi and his character is one of the highlights. I also liked Rallapalli and Ragini as Indu’s carers, and Hema as the cheeky maid and confidante to Kasturi.

While the pace is a bit draggy, Rajamouli shines in the action sequences where he uses creative visuals to heighten the drama. Simhadri leaps over the threshold and is then seen landing on the road on a motorcycle. When Simhadri takes on Nair’s gang the fight is intercut with a religious festival, reinforcing that he is doing godly work and getting the adrenaline flowing. The final fight scene has Tarak moving at normal speed but the rowdies in slomo, which was an effective treatment compared with just speeding it all up.

There are some issues with the story, but this is not one to overthink the plot. I mean I can think of several other and better ways to solve the old “bomb in the suitcase” problem…but who wants the sensible masala version?

See this for all the mass tricks, a hero on his way to becoming a genuine star, and a director who backs himself to be playful with the big ticket elements. 3 ½ stars!

Simhadri-last word

Vedalam (2015)

Vedalam

Vedalam opens with a woeful assassination attempt in Milan where a team of supposedly crack soldiers are trying to rid the world of top Tamil crime boss Ratna Bhai (Rahul Dev) and end up failing miserably. It’s not a good start, and what makes it so terrible is a mixture of the ridiculousness of the scenario, bad dubbing, bad acting and a nonsensical dénouement. Thankfully though, with the exception of a few comedy scenes, the rest of Vedalam is miles better than the opening few minutes would suggest and Ajith scores another hit – mainly due to the force of his personality and considerable charisma on-screen. Siva adds special effects, a good story and plenty of action to make Vedalam an entertaining watch despite the dodgy start.

As an antidote to the opening scene, the film immediately moves to Kolkata and Rajendran as local gangster Kolkata Kaali. Rajendran is one of my favourite actors and I love that he’s moving more into comedy alongside his usual gangster roles. He is very funny here as he menaces and then befriends new arrival to the city Ganesh (Ajith Kumar) and his sister Thamizh (Lakshmi Menon). Thamizh is applying to study in a prestigious art college in the city and Ganesh appears as the perfect older brother – supportive and encouraging in every way, while maintaining an unruffled and happily smiling exterior no matter what the circumstances.  While Thamizh gets accepted into the art college, Ganesh manages to get a job driving a taxi, despite not speaking a word of Bengali or knowing anything about the city – sounds like your typical taxi driver really!

Siva adds more humour with Soori as the manager of the taxi company, but his brand of comedy only works part of the time and it reaches a nadir when the tired out trope of philandering husband is rolled out yet again. Shruti Haasan also shows up in a comedy role as an unscrupulous lawyer, Swetha, who ends up with a grudge against Ganesh. None of her intense overacting in her initial scenes is funny and her wardrobe choices are equally atrocious, but her character does have a few redeeming moments later on in the film. In one of those typical film coincidences, Swetha’s brother Arjun (Ashwin Kakumanu) falls in love with Thamizh which adds romance into the film and gives Ganesh the opportunity to deliver a good ‘big brother’ speech about women’s safety. It’s a shame that such a good message about how stalking ≠ love and men should respect women is immediately followed by a song featuring Shruti and backing dancers in skimpy outfits and terrible choreography, but at least the speech did get a cheer in Melbourne.

Just before the break Ganesh reveals his true persona, first in an excellent fight scene and then in a genuinely frightening exchange with Swetha that sets up a flashback sequence in the second half. All of the smiling and the ‘always cheery’ disposition starts to grate by then, so the switch to bad-ass fighter Ganesh (aka Vedalam) comes as a welcome change. No-one does the switch from happy smile to scary psychotic grimace as well as Ajith – it really is disturbing and Siva uses the transformation sparingly but to very good effect throughout the film.

The reason for Ganesh’s outburst of violence goes back to the gangster seen in the opening scene. Ratna Bhai and his two brothers Abhinay (Kabir Duhan Singh) and Aniket (Aniket Chouhan) control the skin trade out of India amongst various other criminal activities and Ganesh has come up against them in the past. The flash-back sequence is well done, generating an emotional reason for Ganesh to seek revenge but without becoming overly sentimental or clichéd. The villains do what villains in these films usually do, while there is really never any doubt that Ganesh will defeat them all in the end. However the lead up to the final fight scene is very well written with a few good surprises to build the suspense. The last fight is also brilliantly done and the film is worth watching for this last sequence alone.

Anirudh’s music is good and fits the screenplay well, with Aaluma Doluma standing out as the best track.  The background score is occasionally distractingly loud, but I like the theme and it suits the schizophrenic nature of Ajith’s character. Mostly the songs are well pictured too apart from the previously mentioned ‘Don’t You Mess With Me’, which really deserved better and isn’t helped by the skanky choreography. Technically the film is slick and well-edited with good effects and novel fight choreography. There isn’t too much blood and gore either, although it’s always surprising how quickly the bad guys run out of bullets and resort to fist fights when they really should know better!

Vedalam is Ajith’s film all the way and he does a superb job as a dangerous and scary man while still conveying kindness and sympathy in the scenes with Thamizh. The support cast are all just that – support for Ajith, but Lakshmi Menon is good as his oblivious sister while Sudha and Thambi Ramaiah make an impression in their small roles in the flashback sequence.  Vedalam isn’t a perfect film, the comedy isn’t great and the villains are standard caricatures with predictable habits, but Ajith is very watchable and the story works well with some unexpected twists, especially at the end.  Worth watching for Ajith and the excellent final fight scene – plus Rajendran of course!