Rani Kasula Rangamma (1981)

I’m conflicted about this film. This was an Adventure Without Subtitles so I know there are some crucial dialogues I have missed but the action kind of speaks for itself. I’m going to go for a spoiler right off the bat as that sets the context for my thinking, and there are more spoilers to follow. And it’s a long read because I’m feeling ranty.

Sridevi gives an excellent performance and I really liked her character, the titular Rani Kasula Rangamma. Chiranjeevi excels in his negative role as he has the dramatic skill and isn’t reluctant to go there. Which brings me to my problem with the film.

What a horrible premise! The appropriate redress for rape is for the woman to marry her rapist. I know that the double standard of sexual propriety means that by surviving an assault she is ruined in the eyes of patriarchal society, and this was made in 1981. But it’s just revolting. And yet this is a really good film in so many ways, much more entertaining than it sounds when you know the plot, and with some decent surprises throughout. Director T.L.V Prasad keeps things moving along, with a tone midway between melodrama and thriller.

Rangamma (Sridevi) is a cheeky and quick witted village girl, confident she can look after herself, and well liked around the area. Seetanna (Nutan Prasad) has a crush on her and often daydreams about her reciprocating his feelings but that just leads to some terrible dancing.  Sukumar (Chiranjevi) and his camp friend, maybe meant to be a hijra, Kannayya (Rallapalli) turn up in the village. Kannayya goes and inspects farm workers and chooses a woman for Sukumar to rape. The deed is represented by a montage of a dove trying to escape from what looked like a stuffed hawk, but there is no ambiguity. He just goes home and has a conversation about marriage with his father (Kongara Jaggayya). Sukumar wants to enjoy life (and presumably, being a serial rapist) and says marriage has no meaning at all. His dad gives him A Look but says nothing.

Rangamma is frequently the object of unwanted male attention and has no qualms about fighting assailants and telling off a sleazy village elder (Allu Ramalingaiah) for planting wrong notions in Seetanna’s head. Sukumar and Kannayya spot her going to fetch water, and who wouldn’t find the sight of Sridevi frolicking in a river delightful. Sukumar makes numerous attempts to try and trap her. Eventually he takes a direct approach and corners her while she is alone in her own house. She puts up a hell of a fight but is bundled into the jeep and driven away, presumably so he could take his time. No hawk and dove montage here, the struggle looked far too real with both actors channelling strong emotions. Meanwhile Seetanna goes to her house to propose (I think) and sees the assault in progress. He catches up to the car but he gets knocked out, and Sukumar cheerfully gets on with his plan. Rangamma’s necklace seems to give her a sense of protection or a blessing, and she loses all fight when it is torn off. Afterwards Rangamma staggers out and picks up the thread Seetanna had brought for her. She demands Sukumar marry her now she has been ruined. He laughs at her naiveté, pushes her into a well, and leaves her for dead. Presumably he’ll be home in time for dinner with Daddy.

Sukumar’s dad hires a familiar looking young lady in a stylish western dress and hair do. When she takes a letter for Sukumar he freaks out at the sight of her but she calmly insists she is Roja, not this Rangamma person. He can’t leave her alone, and starts with his cat and mouse games trying to prove Roja is Rangamma. He’s not always on task though. He did sleaze on to Jayamalini x 2 after an item number. Eventually he takes a large sum of money to her apartment and seems to be either trying to buy her or make her leave. It doesn’t work as next thing you know, his dad is about to marry her.

Sukumar has a fit at the sight of her necklace and confronts her in front of everyone. Is she or is she not Rani Kasula Rangamma? Yes she bloody well is. He tries to tell his dad why she is unsuitable without incriminating himself but eventually he stumbles and she sees an opening. Rangamma tells him forcefully she will not let him weasel out of being responsible. And then his dad spills the beans – he knows all about what happened and has been plotting with Rangamma to reform Sukumar or at least make him marry her. And he does. Blergh! And she looks vaguely happy about it all. I get that she gains some social protection but…he’s an unrepentant serial rapist.

Sridevi is fantastic. She conveys a huge range of emotions from cheerful innocence through to vengeful anger and is always convincing and compelling. Rangamma is outspoken and articulate, never passive. Roja is a total contrast, her mild character and fashionable style designed to appeal to her rapist and throw him off guard. Their body language is usually very different but in scenes where Roja has had just about enough of all the useless men in the office cracking on to her, you suddenly see Rangamma in the set of her jaw or the way she positions her hands. I loved the casually wide eyed way she would play with Sukumar’s paranoia about her identity. There’s a scene where she gets to save Sukumar from a well, and her disdain and focus on the task plays beautifully off his panic and confused flailing.

Of course she gets to dance. I preferred the happy, carefree, folky numbers because the Indian clothing was much more flattering for her. But the 80s side by side prancing in a park was entertaining too, especially as you can see that back in those days Chiranjeevi had to work at keeping up with her.

Does that logo on his trackie jacket look a bit phallic? Life would be so much easier if all the potential rapists wore a badge. Chiranjeevi plays Sukumar as a devil in his own right but with a façade of filial respect when at home. He will still smoke and drink (and rape) but never in front of Daddy. It would have been very easy for this to be a caricature but Sukumar really starts to lose his marbles once he sees Roja. He doesn’t ever show any remorse for his crimes, but fear of being exposed drives him to try and prove Roja must be Rangamma. He doesn’t seem to have any friends but Kannayya, maybe because they are both outsiders in terms of what gets them off versus societal norms. He is vile but plausible and sometimes charming. And when he decides he might quite fancy Roja anyway, it is both understandable because she is lovely, and completely disgusting because has already raped and murdered her. Technically Chiru is in a supporting role but he dominates his scenes, unless Sridevi is there. Then it’s a nicely judged blend of dramatic tension and sheer charisma that also helped give these two characters depth.

This is probably a film for Sridevi or Chiranjeevi completists. I might have been slightly happier if the final shot was of him in jail, not getting married. The themes and some values are so very far from what I find acceptable, but it’s well made and well written and with great actors. 3 ½ stars!

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Subhalekha

Once again, dodgy VCD quality and no subtitles mean that I have probably made up a lot of the story. But it is the characters (and actors) who made Subhalekha so enjoyable for me, not just the plot.

It’s a K. Viswanath film, so there is a message. In this case it is dowry, shown in this film as an outdated and bad practice. This is illustrated through montages of newspaper stories as well as incidents in the story. He targets men in particular castes and professions and their demands for a high price, particularly when they have no financial need. But he doesn’t go completely filmi and say love is all you need. Arranged marriage is not the issue – it’s the financial pressure of high dowry demands that can cause massive debt and stress on families. The relationships in the film develop in a believable way (well, most of them), and it seems that the marriages based on mutual respect and affection will probably work out. There is also some very nice character based humour to enliven the story, and I really enjoyed it.

Murthi (Chiranjeevi) is a waiter at a big hotel. He is naturally helpful and generous but not a push over. Unless the one menacing him is a dog. I’ve noticed something in a few Telugu films now – the overdubbing of animals by what is clearly a guy in a studio saying ‘Raaargh’. But don’t take my word for it.

Chiru dances his way to safety, catching the eye of Rao (Arun), an industrialist staying at the hotel. As a result, Rao casts Murthi as the hero of an advert for Allwyn fridges. This clip shows Chiru’s experiments in various classical dance styles, and is that ad within the film.

I like the exuberance, the vague attempt at accuracy and the expression on Chiru’s face throughout. I just love watching him dance. I laughed a lot in one scene when a lady in the bank started babbling over the ‘lovely, beautiful, wonderful’ Allwyn Hero when he came in to cash a cheque.

That would be me! And I’d totally buy that fridge.

Murthi exudes music and energy, singing his way through the day and even using song as conversation. He seems to be reasonably educated and working as a waiter was probably not his dream, but he does it well and picks up on opportunities. He deals with family problems, negotiates corrupt officialdom and is an everyman. Chiranjeevi gives Murthi a genial and easy going charm, with glimpses of the pride and self confidence that keep him going. That earnest vulnerability is worlds away from the mass hero style, and so endearing.

Also in the bank and checking Murthi out is Sujatha (Sumalatha). She is a serious young lady, a college lecturer, not a glossy glam heroine. She is due to be married to Mohan (Girish). The wedding negotiations stall over dowry. Her intended is from a rich family and has no need of money. Her father is forced to agree to the price, but Sujatha delivers a dressing down to prospective father-in-law Adisseshaya (Kaikala Satyanarayana) and the marriage is off. I really liked Sumalatha in Khaidi and she is impressive in this role too.  While being primped for her meeting with Mohan she brushes off her sister saying she wants to be what she is. Sujatha is resourceful, copes with setbacks and sometimes needs help, and is never a doormat. She and Chiranjeevi make a good couple, and I really liked their little disagreements and playful scenes.

Sujatha is sacked from her job and her parents throw her out when they decide she is having an affair with Murthi. Murthi is delighted she stood up for herself against the politician who refused to help his family. So he helps her find accommodation and they live in an idyllic version of poverty, with him acting as Sujatha’s household help. After insulting Adisseshaya, Murthi also loses his job, copping a beating along the way. Murthi uses his connections with Rao to get them both jobs – they never just give up. He might look after Sujatha, but she is an independent woman with her own earnings and a sense of worth. Murthi wants to see her settled, so approaches Rao who agrees to marry Sujatha. All this despite me knowing that Murthi loves her and she loves him. But I had faith it would all be set to rights.

It isn’t just the central couple that have their moments. Sujatha’s sister Lakshmi (Tulasi) is an impulsive and extroverted girl. She spots the ultra groovy Murali (‘Subhalekha’ Sudhakar), Adisseshaya’s other son – really, how could you miss him in those trousers? She is smitten and he cannot resist. They are mostly a comedy diversion, but since their antics are actually moving the plot along I quite liked them. Plus Murali’s dance moves are just hilarious (as is the decor in his room). Even though the sight of him made me giggle, Murali is a strong willed young man and sticks to his guns. Murali and Lakshmi conspire to prove a point and sort their families out, showing surprising sneakiness. I dither between thinking they are perfect for each other and wondering what will happen when disco dies or their hormones settle. But I enjoyed most of their scenes and thought they both had fun with their characters.

Mohan –the original groom for Sujatha – also has a surprise for his dad. While everyone was running around like headless chickens, he went and got married to Murthi’s sister. He did what he thought was right, and avoided his father’s veto by not asking for permission. The younger generation in the film are educated and have opportunities, so they are able to challenge outmoded practices.

The film is firmly anchored in realism and there is very little glamour or fancy apart from the characters’ own mild daydreams. The houses, workplaces and clothes all seem appropriate and not too new. There are nice interior details, and someone in the hotel had a thing for feature walls. The humour is integrated into the story and characters and there is little pointless comedic shtick. When Murthi returns to his village, he sees a line of people outside his home, and suspects something bad has happened. But they are only lining up for food his grandmother (Nirmalamma) is giving out. The scene unfolds beautifully with tears, overacting, and laughs, showing Murthi at home and his relationship with his family. Rallapalli and Allu Ramalingaiah have smallish roles but provide good foils for Murali and Murthi. I really liked the way the story plays out, and how the different characters all come back into the picture at the end.

KV Mahadevan’s music is pleasant. I never wanted to fast forward through the songs but I really can’t recall any individual melodies. This is not a big song and dance type of movie and the music does match the story and mood. I can only assume the lyrics also reflected what was going on.

This is such a restrained and well judged film I had to check again that it was indeed the same director that made the far less sensible Aapathbandhavudu! The last few minutes lost me a little as the story was resolved by booming voiceover while the action continued. I would have preferred letting the characters do the talking, but it is a satisfying film.

See it for a nicely balanced romance with a social message and of course for the excellent Chiranjeevi. 4 ½ stars! (A small deduction for the dire picture quality which annoyed me greatly).

Heather says:

Right from the very opening scene Subhalekha is a mesmerising film and surely only Chiranjeevi could make a small incident with a dog into such an entrancing piece of cinema. The story flows smoothly from one scene to the other and despite my very poor quality VCD copy, the quality of the film editing stands out. It’s very disappointing that Subhalekha isn’t available with subtitles, as although the basic story is relatively easy to follow, I am sure that I missed so much from not understanding the dialogues. There are quite a few long speeches where, although the general idea comes across due to the way the character speaks, it’s very frustrating not to know the details, especially since everything points to the dialogues being well written.

Chiranjeevi is excellent as the faithful and kind-hearted Murthi but Sumalatha puts in just as strong a performance. I found her scenes when she defies her prospective father in law gripping, despite the fact that I didn’t understanding a word! As much as I enjoyed the developing relationship between Murthi and Sujatha, the romance between Sujatha’s younger sister Lakshmi and Mohan’s brother Murali was easier to understand and probably for that reason their interactions were some of my favourite moments in the film. With his snazzy clothes and the huge over-sized glasses, so typical of the times, ‘Subhalekha’ Sudhakar was perfect in his role as the hip and trendy younger brother, and Tulasi was lovely as the rather feisty and adventurous Lakshmi. I also appreciated the quarrels between Murali and his father, and the declarative way Murali ended every argument with “I love her!” made me grin every time. I enjoyed all of the songs in this film, but my favourite was one pictured on Lakshmi and Murali as they cavorted around on the beach. It was only just overshadowed by Chiru’s excellent fridge advertising which was brilliant but not quite long enough for me. Just a little Chiru classical dance is never enough and I wanted more!

Films with a social message can often end up with too much preaching and not enough actual story, but that certainly isn’t the case here. The characters all seem to have genuine reasons for acting the way they do, even Adisseshaya is following convention rather than just being difficult and greedy (although of course he is that too), and it is all feels true to life. I do wish though that more discussions in real life could be held in the form of song in the way that Murthi communicates here.

This is such an excellent film that I am amazed it hasn’t been restored and re-released with subtitles. Despite the often poor quality of the VCD, Subhalekha is well worth a watch for some great performances and a well told story. Plus of course no-one does shy and bashful as well as Chiru! 4 ½ stars.

 

Hanuman Junction

I’m not usually a fan of slapstick comedy in any language, but despite the entire complement of comedy uncles and plenty of farce, I really enjoyed Hanuman Junction. The story is nothing new but it’s entertaining and well told, with some good performances from the main cast. Although not all the comedy works, there is enough that does to make this a funny film and there is plenty of drama and the usual fisticuffs to add in to the mix. It’s actually a remake of the Malayalam film Thenkasipattanam which may be partly why it’s one of the better comedies I’ve seen.

The story follows two young orphans Krishna and Dasu who, along with Dasu’s little sister Devi, enterprisingly set up a business together in Hanuman Junction. However the seeds of a life long feud are sown when their fledgling shop is destroyed on the orders of local boss Devudayya (Jaya Prakash Reddy). On the advice of their mentor, the two decide to fight back and over the next 15 years graduate as fully qualified thugs themselves. By means of their fists and general belligerence they manage to depose Devudayya and rule over Hanuman Junction while running a successful carrier business – JD and Company.

For Krishna (Arjun Sarja) and Dasu (Jagapathi Babu) nothing matters more than the other’s happiness and the two have a fine bromance together which rather disturbingly involves wearing matching outfits a lot of the time. Krishna is the more likeable brother and Arjun has plenty of charm as seen before in Sri Anjaneyam. Jagapathi Babu is fine as Dasu but seems a little more stilted in comparison. His character is also darker than Krishna’s and without that lighter mood he often appears to be little more than a plain thug. They both resort to fighting to resolve every little issue, often appearing to go out looking for confrontations. However the two work together well and show that it’s necessary to keep your buddy with you at all times when fighting – even if you have to get your friend out of a hospital bed and carry him on your back to the fight!

Enter Sathru (Venu Thottempudi), a new manager for KD and Company who has designs on Devi (Vijayalakshmi) and a novel approach to winning her hand. After stalking Devi through her years at college (which we know is a sure sign of true love), Sathru has a plan to civilise the two brothers in the hope that this will impress Devi enough to marry him. Devi seems to have been worn down by Sathru’s perseverance or perhaps it’s just that she hopes his plan to calm her brothers down will actually work since she’s not impressed at all by their rowdy ways. Sathru’s idea involves getting the two brothers married as he thinks that a wife and children will act as soothing influences, or at least not give them any time to go out fighting which is probably more likely. I liked Venu in Gopi Gopika Godavri but his character is a bit more hit and miss here. Sathru is played strictly for laughs and the comedy relies very heavily on him getting slapped around by everyone. From time to time this is mildly amusing but his hapless scheming is much funnier and works better, especially later in the film.

Sathru doesn’t have to work very hard to find a candidate for Krishna’s wife. Meenakshi (Sneha) is Devudayya’s adopted daughter and she has had an understanding with Krishna since they were kids. But while Krishna is happy to let their relationship evolve slowly, not wanting to let her relationship to Devudayya upset Dasu, Meenakshi is keen to get her man and is not averse to taking matters into her own hands. I’m not very sure what a good day of butterfly romancing is, but Meenakshi is determined to have one.

Luckily for Sathru’s plans, the two brothers’ inept handling of a festival results in singer Sangeetha (Laya) being thrown out of her uncle’s house. As Devi decrees that Sangeetha can stay with her until she decides what she wants to do next that gives Dasu a potential bride and Sathru plots to get the two together. But nothing goes to plan as Sangeetha declares her love for Krishna and Dasu mistakenly thinks that Meenakshi has been selected as a suitable wife for him. More great lyrics in this song!

In the middle of all this farce, Davudayya is trying to win back control of Hanuman Junction and destroy the two brothers once and for all.  There are more fight scenes, plenty of melodrama and the comedy of errors becomes more and more convoluted with the only sure thing being that Krishna and Dasu are more devoted to each other than to any of their prospective brides.

It’s all wonderfully silly and there are some genuinely funny moments and good one-liners. Every single possible Telugu comedian seems to have been roped in, but their roles are kept to a minimum which keeps their antics under control. Brahmi is in good form as Sangeetha’s uncle and Kovai Sarala goes totally over the top as her disapproving aunt. Ali, LB Sriram and MS Narayana do their usual thing but in a more restrained manner which makes them reasonably amusing and I didn’t find it necessary to use the FF button at all.  There is one protracted skit involving a comedy cow which overstays its welcome, but otherwise I found most of the confusion between the prospective couples quite funny. The comedy works for me as the underlying story itself is amusing and the slapstick and comedy uncles are just window dressing rather than the main event.

While Arjun and Jagapati Babu have reasonably well-developed roles, the women overall are given much less to do. Meenakshi is the best of the female roles and Sneha makes the most of her irrepressible and mischievous character. Sadly even her role is reduced in the second half of the film but her interactions with Dasu are among the funnier moments. Laya is very restricted in a role that doesn’t require her to do anything other than generally mope around while Devi appears on-screen even less.

The songs don’t stand out in any way, but I do like the choreography and the picturisation which seems to suit the village style of the film. the choreography is credited to Lawrence and Dinesh which perhaps explains the exuberant quality of some of the steps. Suresh Peters apparently reprised the music from his Malayalam soundtrack and apart from some rather odd lyrics the songs fit well into the main narrative. I love the way this song seems to have been filmed with a group of locals who just happened to be standing around with nothing better to do one day so were rounded up for this clip. Plus there is some excellent uncle dancing from Arjun and Jagapathi Babu.

As I‘ve written before, comedy is the hardest genre to understand in a foreign language and I’m sure that I missed a lot of the references here even without the added issue of dodgy  subtitles. But Hanuman Junction is still a funny film and so far tops my list of good Telugu comedies – not that it’s a very long list! I think it’s worth a watch for Arjun and Sneha and for an updated version of the Sholay-style friendship between Krishna and Dasu. You can always FF past all the really stupid slapstick. 3½ stars.

Temple says:

I loathed almost every second of this excruciatingly unfunny and stupid film. I’ve been on quite strong painkillers for a week and I watched this for a second time in the hopes that it would improve under the influence, but no.

The director seems to think that if someone falling over and landing with their head in a bucket once is genius, how hilarious will it be if they do it over and over? And then applies that logic to EVERYTHING. Slapstick can be really funny, and so can running gags, but this film is so heavy handed and witless I just groaned. Normally I’m all for two men in a cow suit, but even that was belaboured and went on and on and on. There was too much repetition and overuse of standard jokes, pratfalls and sight gags, so even the mildly amusing stuff lost its appeal very quickly.

None of the actors impressed me, and I was disappointed to see Jagapathi Babu and Arjun wasted in such unlikeable roles. Krishna and Dasu’s relationship was straight out of the tin labelled ‘generic brand filmi bromances’, and I found it very unengaging.  Arjun as Krishna has almost no personality until very close to the end of the road, and by then I was over it. Jagapathi Babu’s Dasu is an aggressive alcoholic bully with few saving graces, and yet is supposed to be a sympathetic character. His ‘romantic’ dilemmas were not well developed  (‘Oh you love my brother,  so then I pick HER’ is about the sum of his emotional journey), and his reactions seem all out of proportion. The romances are not well developed and none of them convinced me in the slightest that it was genuine attachment and not a sense of entitlement or something,  so I couldn’t care less about the outcome. Although I was pleased to see Sneha in actual clothes (not skanky item apparel) and looking quite pretty for a change. There was little effort placed into writing the story or making any of the characters more than caricatures, so the actors were at a disadvantage from the get go. It’s just a mish mash of brawls and bad jokes, with a big bucket of sentiment thrown in for the climax.

Watch the songs for a bit of colour and movement and avoid the rest. Luckily? the film is on youtube with subs so I didn’t have to buy another DVD that ends up as a drinks coaster or bird scarer. I’d still like those hours of my life back though. I suppose I have to give a rating … 1/2 a star – just for the song picturisations which are mildly diverting.