Nannaku Prematho

Nannaku Prematho treads the line between mass action shtick and a more restrained thriller. Sukumar is attentive to foreshadowing and resolving the things he sets up so it is all very satisfying. Note: I think I’ve avoided giving away most of the surprises, but this is not completely spoiler free.

Abhiram (Tarak) is the youngest son of Subramanyam (Rajendra Prasad), a successful enough NRI businessman. But all families have secrets and when Subramanyam is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he tells his three sons about his past. He was once even the even wealthier Ramesh Chandra Prasad, but was cheated by an associate who has gone on to become filthy rich and influential on a global scale. He wants those wrongs righted, and the lost wealth back, before he dies. The two older sons humour him but have no intention of paying anything more than lip service. Abhi is more action oriented and he decides to ruin Krishnamurthy (Jagapathi Babu) so his father can die in peace. He decides to throw everything he has at this, including emptying out the family bank accounts. And his method? Making Krishnamurthy’s daughter Divya (Rakul Preet Singh) fall for him so he can worm his way in to Krishnamurthy’s good books and then steal all the things. His brothers are not supportive after losing the family fortune twice, Divya is unimpressed when she rumbles him, but Abhi is undaunted.

Despite the premise that Abhi will use Divya the relationship that develops between them, as much as any relationships in this film are developed, is quite respectful and they seem to like each other. Sukumar falls back on the hero saving heroine from a completely unnecessary and gratuitous rape scenario but this is a big budget Telugu film and it’s not like they have the inclination to actually think about having the hero talk to a woman with a brain. When Abhi tries to get over losing Divya he doesn’t want her insulted or cheapened in any way, so he focusses his anger on her father. I like that he didn’t think less of her because of either how their relationship started or who she was related to. But I am not sure he really knew her all that well either. He knew what he wanted to know of her. A lot of the tension is really about misunderstanding. And when people do understand the situation or the motivation, they deal with it and it makes sense. Mostly. The character with minimal respect for Divya is her father.

Tarak is low key and solid in his 25th film, and manages to make the shift into heroic daring and action a seamless extension of Abhi’s character. It was well judged, and helped by some thoughtful plotting. Sure there was still some near certain death, and suspension of logic and laws of physics, but overall his challenges required brain as well as brawn. Abhi tries not to let extreme emotions sway his behaviour, but he isn’t dull. He has a sense of humour to go with his overweening confidence, treats his sidekicks like valued helpers most of the time, and Tarak has a nice rapport with his co-stars. I was really interested in how Abhi was going to solve the various challenges thrown in his way and very invested in seeing him win over the slimy Krishnamurthy. The action scenes seem like a breeze for Tarak, and he gets to strut his stuff in a few songs too.

Rakul Preet Singh has some fairly thin material as Divyanka, but manages to pull a decent performance out of it. She doesn’t simper, she looks Abhi straight in the eye and demands answers. It is nice to have an unapologetic and self-assured woman as the heroine. Divya was also given a little bit of space to be angry, be sad, be scared, get drunk, hang out with friends, and be a person in her own right. It’s not a ground breaking role, but I liked the performance and the hints of being more than just an accessory for the hero. Rakul Preet just turns up in the songs, does great face, and leaves most of the work to Tarak which suited me fine. She dressed appropriately for the part, wore stylish and sensible flat shoes which made me ridiculously happy, and only suffered a few dodgy outfits. I also liked that her conflict over her father heading for a collision with Abhi was somewhat resolved, albeit in a thrifty way.

Set in the UK and Spain the film’s style is urban and the characters well to do. It all looks crisp, well composed, and orderly. Tarak’s image as Abhi was a mildly dandified hipster about town, affluent and understated. But I laughed at the matching outfits all three sons wore in one critical scene. Otherwise the wardrobe team did well. I’ve been thinking about eyebrows a lot since I rewatched this.

Also interesting – I’ve never seen a plot hinge on a car full of guinea pigs before. The poor little buggers were thrown around a bit, which I find distressing. But the stupid science thing that had me rolling my eyes turned out to be a ruse so I’m glad that was not supposed to be a thing. The songs by Devi Sri Prasad are OK and are integrated well into the action.

The supporting cast is strong, even if they don’t always seem essential. Jagapathi Babu is in his element as the urbane, narcissistic, Krishnamurthy. How cool that he gave Abhi a swipe card to get into his office anytime without breaking in, he was so confident he would win. The way the story was fleshed out around the characters made sense in this world, and there were few false notes. Hooray for quietly competent Kate (Liza van der Smissen) in amongst the sidekicks. I was honestly puzzled by why Srinivas Avasarala was even in the film because I can’t recall his character doing anything necessary. Rajeev Kanakala does high emotion well, but his character was hampered by the lack of connection between some scenes. Rajendra Prasad isn’t in the film for long but his presence permeates everything.

I have a small gripe. The opening titles are over a badly animated approximation of a Rube Goldberg machine….Why not just build one instead of faking it? But the film is fairly well constructed, has decent internal logic, throws in a few elaborate surprises, and like a Goldberg machine everything lands where it should.

See this if you like a good mass film but often wish they made more sense, and for people mostly acting like grown-ups. 4 stars! (deductions for gratuitous rapeyness and imperilled guinea pigs).

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Vikramarkudu

Vikramarkudu centres on ASP Vikram Singh Rathore (Ravi Teja) and his attempts to bring rural crimelord Bavuji and his evil brother Titla (Ajay) to justice. Needing to go into hiding, Vikram schemes to have his young daughter left with unknowing duplicate Athili Sathibabu (also Ravi Teja), a conman conned into caring for the child. The now familiar theme of justice being outside of the law is at the fore as even the police cannot rely on the legal system. There is suspense as the bad guys get closer and the two lookalikes cross paths in a series of action packed episodes. SS Rajamouli knows how to get a story up on screen and make it look amazing but he doesn’t have the best material to work with here. Vikramarkudu is a bit less satisfying than it should have been.

The major problem for me is the first section which sets up a very unconvincing love at first sight romance between Sathibabu and Neeru (Anushka Shetty). She acts giggly and flirty and he is sleazy and grabby. I struggle to believe Neeru would be smitten by Sathibabu. I can believe she might fall for him over time, but on sight? It wouldn’t have taken much to come up with a better story for her, but apparently no one could be bothered. Apart from the unfortunate giggling and the attempt to be a minx, Neeru was quite likeable but then she disappears until the end of the film. While it wasn’t much of an acting challenge at first (except maybe for having to gaze lustfully at Ravi Teja) Anushka did at least look like she was having fun in the songs. She got a bit more to work with later in the film, but the heroine was not pivotal to the story.

Ravi Teja is a good actor and created two very distinct characters while playing up their similarities so that while I was never confused, I could believe that the other characters might be. He gave the policeman a serious demeanour that was almost out of place in the mass madness.

The action scenes look great and Ravi Teja is up to the challenge of the scuffling, bruising fights. But most of the story is about Sathibabu whose notion of romance is slapstick sleaze.

I have a fear of Anil Kapoor’s back hair which dates from seeing Janbaaz. Oh, the rolling in the hay scene was so disturbing even without the straw woven into Anil’s furry pelt. I had post traumatic flashbacks when I saw Ravi get his shirt off with no warning.

Brahmanandam and Sathibabu live in a house they had furnished from various stolen items. It was neatly quirky, and might have been better suited to college aged guys but the set designers had fun. Ravi Teja has an upbeat energy which is very effective in the dances and he looks like he enjoys the dreaded comedy scenes. Their conman shtick was mildly amusing and I liked some of their schemes, but the heavy handed and repetitive dialogue especially by Brahmi became annoying. And I just don’t think sleazy puns and groping equates to humour.

There was more to Sathibabu than I initially expected. He was coerced into caring for a little girl (Baby Neha) who was convinced he was her father. I liked the developing affection between Sathibabu and the little girl. It didn’t seem that he was won over because she was cutesy but because he started to appreciate she was a little human being and had her own fears and likes that he could relate to. And from that initial moment of empathy came a protective affection that was endearing. It also meant that he was more invested in helping Vikram and sorting out the villains when the time came.

The bad guys play for cartoon effect but there was an edge of darker violence to some of these scenes. Bavuji is a stock baddie who leers and shouts and does a pretty good mad eye. Ajay as Titla is more striking and not just because of his height and aura of evil. He leads a gang who were possibly involved in the trial run for Magadheera costumes, and is armed with what looks like a kind of blunderbuss and a cross bow.

Ajay has the right amount of menace and silliness and he plays it to the hilt. Munna (Amit Kumar), Bavuji’s son, is flamboyantly bad but opts for a comedic approach which masks his calculating nastiness.

Their crimes include abducting women from the village for sex and killing anyone who stands up to them. Rajamouli doesn’t soften these scenes at all and, while it does make payback more cathartic, it is dark. Mind you, they still know how to party:

The supporting cast of good guys do well with the patchy script. Inspector Mahanti (Rajeev Kanakala), paralysed when they abduct his wife Pramila, is an example of what happens when good men stand by and do nothing.  Yet again I found myself wondering about how a handful of psychos can dominate a population of hundreds. His wife and kids make a strong impression and I cheered and cheered in one of her scenes. Prakash Raj makes a very small appearance as a DCP but gets to use his misty eyed Gaze of Blossomimg Bromance to good effect.  Ruthika is a tough policewoman who is handy in a fight and that is treated as kind of unremarkable which I liked. She just does her job. It didn’t stop the writers inflicting some ‘comedy’ on her though. She is drugged by Brahmi which causes a sound effect of whinnying like a horse and the terrible side effect of fancying Sathibabu. The only good thing I can say is that this song happens:

The MM Keeravani songs are fun and they provided a battlefield between the choreographers and the costume team. There is a pleasing commitment to metallic pants and that makes me happy.

The costumes are a highlight and Ravi Teja’s trousers often make a statement. Anushka seemed to get the more experimental designer but she didn’t seem too fazed. I suppose that is a benefit of knowing you could wear a hessian sack and still look stunning.

There is some excellent Only In Films Medicine I must mention. I bet you didn’t know that a temporary cure for an aneurysm is running cold water over your head.

I struggled with Vikramarkudu at first as I couldn’t see the story going anywhere and I didn’t care less about the lead pair. Once the revenge story started to dominate, the pace picked up and I found the film much more satisfying. There was some tension and characters started to become more fleshed out once the common enemy was in play. While the content and situations are unrealistic, the impact of the dramatic and action oriented scenes was surprisingly strong. By the end, as Ravi Teja made those baddies sorry they had ever been born, I cheered and laughed and occasionally winced. As for the resolution, well I question some of the logic but you know what they say; all’s well that ends well. 3 stars!