Yevadu (2014)

Yevadu

It’s unfortunate that Yevadu didn’t get a cinema release in Melbourne earlier this year, as I think it would be a better watch on the big screen with a fan audience. Vamsi Paidipally’s film takes the central concept from John Woo’s Face Off as a basis for his story, but other than that it’s a fairly standard mass revenge saga with plenty of associated mayhem. Charan plays the wronged Sathya, initially out for his own revenge, but then drawn into a different battle. The ideas are good, but the execution is flawed and Yevadu is no place for any rational thought. However if mindless entertainment with plenty of fights and some great dancing is what you are after, then it could definitely fit the bill.

Yevadu starts off well with Allu Arjun in the role of Sathya and Kajal Aggarwal as his fiancée Deepthi, although it’s rather a long set-up for the main story. Deepthi has been chosen by local Vizag Don Veeru Bhai (Rahul Dev) as the latest object of his desire, and saying no is apparently not a viable option. Veeru relies on intimidation and kidnapping his victims rather than natural charm, and while Sathya is happy to take on Veeru Bhai and his gang, Deepthi is rather more sensible and persuades her fiancé that it would be safer to leave Vizag. However Veeru Bhai’s brother (an enthusiastically vicious Ajay) and his merry band of gangsters catch up with the couple and Satya is left to die on the burning bus after Deepthi is murdered in front of his eyes. It’s a fairly brutal beginning but it neatly establishes the character of Satya as an angry and potentially violent man, but also one who is passionate and prepared to do anything for Deepthi.

Miraculously, Satya manages to survive, but is so badly burned that the only hope for his survival is some rather drastic surgery. Fast forward a few months and Sathya is heavily bandaged but recovering in a hospital. The big reveal is that he has been given a new face – amazingly without any scars, and has also managed to acquire a new body and a different voice to go with his altered look. Sathya (now Ram Charan) hasn’t become any more rational or any less angry however, and he runs away from miracle worker/ surgeon Dr Sharada to find Veeru Bhai and make him pay for Deepthi’s murder.

This part of the film almost makes sense, if you ignore the dodgy medicine and coloured contact lenses.  Charan portrays the part of a driven killer with plenty of maniacal determination that naturally follows on from the perpetually angry Sathya of the opening scenes. Sathya has lost everything he ever cared about and the only thing that matters is killing the men who murdered Deepthi, so a certain amount of focused aggression works well. However no amount of cleverly constructed vengeful violence can disguise the massive plot holes or complete lack of plausibility in much of the story.  Sathya somehow finds a change of clothes after leaving the hospital, as well as his motorbike and a camera, long before he goes back to his old flat where he might conceivably have picked such things up. That is, if they were still there after his months of recovery in hospital –  rather a stretch since everyone thought Sathya was dead. Thankfully there is plenty of great dancing to distract from the flimsy story.

Sathya does what any self-respecting Telugu hero would do and goes about taking his systematic revenge. Along the way there is some comedy with Brahmi and a very out of place looking Amy Jackson, but neither of these makes much impression and both serve mainly as a distraction for Veeru Bhai and his gang. Rahul Dev does plenty of sneering and lusting after various women, but after his initial introduction he’s not particularly impressive as a gangster. His gang aren’t ever shown indulging in any typical gang-like activities either, and there is no particular menace associated with any of the heavies. Ajay even sheds his violent persona and becomes part of the comedy, which suits him just as well but also dilutes any sense of threat from the villains.

Everything follows a straightforward and suitably vengeful path until the interval, when Vamsi Paidipally attempts to justify the face transplant idea and Sathya suddenly comes under attack from a different gang of thugs. It’s a change in direction, but that’s all as the film doesn’t become any more plausible or less over-dramatic, and there are just as many plot holes and inconsistencies.

While the disjointedness of the film is  odd, the problem I have with Yevadu lies more in the characterisation of Sathya. The story would be more convincing if there was a greater difference between the personalities of Charan (the original owner of the face) and Sathya, and additionally if each stayed true to those personalities throughout.  Sathya’s cold, controlled fury and drive to eliminate Deepthi killers to the exclusion of all else  suits the initial story, but much of that drive and anger vanish in the second half. While a certain loss of focus can be explained by the lack of a personal connection, Sathya becomes softer and too much like the character portrayed by Charan in flashback. Equally, although the character of Charan starts off as possibly a more intellectual character, as the story unfolds and he gets involved in fighting against the takeover of an area by a gang of thugs, Charan becomes just as cold and angry as Sathya. Keeping the two personalities more separate could have enhanced the idea of a changed face while the personality was still the same, but as it is Charan and Sathya are so similar that the change in face is almost irrelevant.

The second storyline is even more predictable and clichéd than the revenge story of the first half, although Vamsi Paidipally tries to compensate by increasing the volume of the background music and by repeating every significant shot at least three times. Subbaraju, Shashank and Kota Srinivasa Rao bring their usual competence to the roles of the villains but there isn’t anything novel about either their plans to bring a community to its knees or Charan/Satha’s attempts to foil their plans. The second half also suffers from a clunky romance with Shruti Haasan, which feels shallow and contrived after the intensity and passion of the earlier romance between Sathya and Deepthi.

In spite of my reservations about the characterisation and the relatively predictable second half, Yevadu is still a film that entertains. It’s all much larger than life, but the action scenes are well done and Sathya’s inventive methods of revenge are excellent. The various villains are mainly comical rather than particularly intimidating, although some of the minions are nicely evil, while the excessive over dramatisation is just fun! If you can leave logic behind, embrace the absurdity, and revel in revenge then Yevadu could be the perfect masala watch. 3 stars.

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.

Takkari Donga

Made back in the day when Mahesh Babu was more baby-faced than baby-faced killer, Takkari Donga is a cowboy treasure quest featuring a map, a secret ‘diamond valley’, plus some bad acting and worse outfits courtesy of Bipasha Basu and Lisa Ray. Oh Mahesh. You’ve come a long way!

The Mahesh Fan prompted me to watch this film some time ago (“It’s Mahesh! In chaps!!”). As I often do, I ignored her. She sent me the link to watch it with subs on YouTube. Again, I somehow managed to ignore that (“It’s Mahesh! In chaps!! And there’s venom sucking!!!”). Finally she turned up at my house with a DVD made up of all those YouTube clips cobbled together. Resistance was futile. And she was right – it does feature Mahesh in chaps, and there is indeed venom sucking. I don’t think they are the most compelling reasons to watch a film, but I was quite amused by the sheer silliness that has diamonds harvested like fruit and a bit of skanked up boot-scooting. I watched it ages ago with Beth and Amrita and they found it tedious. But I say there is (fools) gold in them thar hills.

It’s a pastiche, maybe more along the lines of the Trinity series than a purported remake of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The music is a good match as Mani Sharma veers from Marlboro Country anthemic to cheesy songs. There is also a fair dollop of ‘sad trombone’, Addams Family finger snaps and samples from other Hollywood soundtracks. The camera work is often lovely and there is good use of aerial shots that help capture the grandeur of stunning scenery. It’s loaded with cowboy film standards – a saloon brawl, pratfalls, gun twirling and enigmatic galloping. There is a rickety bridge, TNT, smart horses and dumb humans. All the clichés, lovingly filmed for our enjoyment. Plus lions.

Mahesh Babu is Raja, the titular ‘Tricky Thief’. Raja has a tragic backstory that featured his family, a tiny white puppy and villain of the piece Shaka at his most sadistic. He’s an enigma. I mean, where does a man who is essentially homeless keep that extensive hat collection?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raja’s bullets pack an extra punch as several opponents are literally blown away with a single bullet, flying out of shot thanks to some enthusiastic wire work. But he also deals with an epic rope bridge confrontation simply scaring the bad guy silly by wobbling the bridge so it’s not all guns and blood spatter. I could empathise with the creepy Dega in that scene. A friend did that to me every single time we crossed a bridge in Nepal and he always found it amusing to see me ricocheting past yaks and backpackers as I fled into the distance.

Of course, the bridge HAS To break eventually but the villain is actually sent to his death by a fluffy white dog. Excellent! And then Mahesh rescues the dog so he is doubly heroic and the music agrees. I do like a good dog assisted comeuppance.

Panasa (Bipasha) makes her entrance pretending to be blind in order to rob Raja who had just robbed a train. Raja pursues her to get his booty (the money – I’m talking about the money). Despite Mahesh making loads of noise and lighting up a cigarette she persists in pretending she has no idea he is there which makes for a nicely gratuitous bath scene. She falls for Raja but to no avail, as he seems immune to her charms as amply signalled by her snug fitting leather pants.

Lisa Ray is Bhuvana, the girl destined to marry a man with exceptional qualities and a significant mole on his thigh. She sets off on a perilous journey to her uncle’s house with Raja as her paid guard, but really she is all about checking him for that mole. Lisa got a gratuitous bath scene as well as the venom sucking scene so I feel the film maker’s objectives were clear.

There is a vague love triangle as Panasa chases Raja who is sort of keen on Bhuvana who hates Raja but we know that won’t last. Panasa is a piece of work, conspiring with her sidekick (Tanikella Bharani with comedy moustache) to get Bhuvana kidnapped by the horrible Dega who likes his women to be unwilling and temporary guests.

The humour is very slapstick, uneven and only intermittently funny. Sometimes things do work well. I liked the way Raja would scoot into frame during the Chukkallo Chandrude song and shoot people to emphasise the beat. And if you ever wanted to see Mahesh weaponise a bra – wish granted.

Rahul Dev is the villain Shaka. He is obsessed with finding the map that Veeru (Ashok K Kumar) escaped with. 18 years of looking and time has not mellowed his disposition. I can’t help but think that if he had actually looked for the diamond valley rather than the man with the map he may have got there all by himself. Shaka has an unfortunate tendency to let his victims die before they speak so he is eternally frustrated. He is a sadistic psychopath and appears to own just one outfit. He has a significant scar but I think his nose is just so hypnotic it takes a while for Raja to notice the fateful mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the plot is not really worth discussing in detail. Either you’ll enjoy the story unfolding or you won’t care. It’s set in a non specific time and place using Western tropes including a Texas Rangers Sheriff badge alongside piles of chilli drying in the sun mixed with tacky plasticky photo frames and vile synthetic fabrics. The design team had some fun with the map and subsequent clues and the diamond mine is quite astonishing.

I was quite concerned when I realised there would be lots of horse scenes as frequently the stunts in films are horrifying and it is obvious that some animals would have been severely injured (at best). Takkari Donga relies mostly on the horse chase and equine acting so there was nothing that had me ready to cover my eyes. The fluffy white dog seems to have mysterious powers of teleportation. He generally trots along after the drama waiting for a chance to save Raja so that was also quite stress-free.

Jayant Paranji did go on to make the excellent Shankar Dada MBBS and Teen Maar, and we all know Mahesh’s star continues to rise so clearly this film was not the career ending move it might have been. The choreography is uninspired despite a credit for Saroj Khan (among others). Make sure you watch right to the end for a special appearance by Superstar Krishna and for the blooper reel. 3 stars just for the so bad it’s good-ness!