Khaidi No 150

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I thought the original film (Kaththi) was mediocre so I had low expectations. And I was honestly happy at seeing Big Chiru on screen, my first ever Megastar FDFS, and the bonus of subtitles. The audience went nuts when Chiru’s foot first appeared. Apparently I am not the only one who takes a keen interest in Mega Footwear. And the screaming and paper throwing erupted at the start of every song and every fight. It felt so good to be among my people.

The story goes like this. Escaped convict Seenu (Chiranjeevi) witnesses an attempted hit on a stranger, Sankar (Chiranjeevi). He takes Sankar to hospital but swaps over their ID so he can remain free, assuming that the police will let the other man go once they realise the error. Seenu then impersonates Sankar, and acquires a nursing home full of old men from the village of Neeru. As he understand their story, and gets to watch a handy documentary on Sankar’s crusade against the evil corporates, Seenu takes up the fight as his own.

In many ways this is a perfect comeback vehicle for Chiranjeevi. The dual role and the breadth of the action means no matter what his fans want from him, they’re likely to get it. He delivers action, big speeches, garish outfits, and some of his trademark dance moves (the veena step!), all with minor modification to suit a gentleman of a certain age. And most of that is done in the initial prologue section. The dual role means he can play both mass and class aspects of the standard hero, and even asks Lakshmi (Kajal) which she prefers before telling her his name. Sankar wears brainy glasses (HOT. Just saying) where Seenu has a more flamboyant style. There are references both in the script and the background music to his previous films, some of them drawing roars of appreciation from a very vocal crowd. He has a sidekick (Ali), an enemy (Tarun Arora), a frenemy (Brahmanandam as Doberman), and many comedy uncles and familiar actors as supports, dependants, and thugs. He also has an irrelevant love interest. See? Everything!

I was wondering how they would deal with the age gap between Chiru and Kajal and the answer is that Seenu thinks Lakshmi is a childhood sweetheart, but then realises they just look alike. So I decided that young at heart Seenu always thinks of himself as that twenty-something dude about town rather than thinking we’d believe they were actually the same age. I really should be on the payroll to find far-fetched solutions to ill-conceived plot devices…And the fight scenes are grand and full of energy, even though Chiru has long since left his limber acrobatic years behind. The songs also work to cover over the years because they are more a platform for people to worship the Megastar not a display of romance. The lyrics are mostly about how great he is, the choreo is very peacock-esque as he and the backing dudes strut their stuff, and the ladies just wiggle when in shot.

“Ammadu lets do Kummudu” is probably the worst song I will hear this year but as soon as it was over I would have hit replay if I could have. It has all the visuals I could ask for – prancing, colourful outfits, bedazzled Mega-shoes, and a guest appearance by Charan. Father and son look so chuffed to be dancing together. The backing dancer costumes are a wonder throughout. From drapey chiffon to see through plastic jackets, you name it, they had to wear it.

Kajal’s character is irrelevant, and she can hardly dance, so I really paid little attention to her. However. In every song picturisation she wears extremely sensible walking shoes regardless of her dress. So I was mildly diverted and wondered if it was due to her height compared to Chiru, perhaps she had an injury and couldn’t wear the usual ugly strappy sandals, was it some kind of statement. I don’t know. I doubt that this is what she wants to be remembered for but it really is the most interesting thing about Lakshmi.

Farmer suicide is a real issue given pretty superficial treatment by V.V Vinayak, although I appreciate he tried to show the effects of the ever shortening media cycle on long running issues. But the main components of the story felt off kilter. Farming life was overly romanticised, described as a necessary fate, and condemned as too harsh, often in the same grand speech. The speech that got a really big response was one about people being forced out of their villages and having to take crappy jobs in the big cities to earn some money. But the film seemed adamant that people should stay on the land, which I think is a bit simplistic as country kids may want or need to pursue other careers and they should have those opportunities. Sankar was supposed to be a man of principle but didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond when offered a deal to let some thugs kill Seenu if they got him out of jail. It was OK to throw in a tasteless joke that Doberman (Brahmi) had raped 100 women. And Ali in drag is never necessary to any movie ever. And the Megastar presence really dominates so that the reliable and accomplished guys like Nasser had little opportunity to make much of their roles. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to anyone but Chiru!

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There are also some genuinely funny moments. I think my favourite was  when Posani Krishna Murali’s men all pretended to pick up phone calls as he was blustering and wandered off looking busy rather than face Seenu. Or maybe when Brahmi lost his religion during a huge fight scene. I also liked the thinking behind one fight scene that progressed through corporate thugs, oiled up baldy muscle men who looked like an angry pack of Maltesers, and finally the bad hair gang.

Lest you think I am completely superficial and only looked at the shoes, there was an interesting moment regarding justice in this film world. The judge (played by Naga Babu) says that if a single person kills that is murder, but if society kills it’s a revolution. It’s a problematic statement once you get thinking about the mob and riots but it did mean someone notionally good avoided jail time, and the person they killed was bad news anyway. No biggie.

Will Khaidi No 150 make a fan of anyone who isn’t? Probably not. Does any of that matter if you are a fan? No way!

Pssst  – Make sure you stay for the end credits for some glimpses of the famous visitors on set, and Lawrence closely monitoring a dance and giving someone the stinkeye.

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Dhruva (2016)

dhruva

Dhruva is a reasonably faithful remake of 2015 Tamil film Thani Oruvan that benefits from Arvind Swamy reprising his role as the villain of the story. Dhruva is definitely slicker and glossier than the original, but the story is essentially the same although the emphasis is even more on the two main characters than in Thani Oruvan. Thankfully both Ram Charan and Arvind Swamy are excellent and the cat and mouse game between the two makes Dhruva an entertaining and worthwhile watch.

The film is a thriller that follows the attempts of a young and righteous police officer, to track down and catch one of three über criminals. Dhruva (Ram Charan) believes that if he locks up the kingpin of any criminal organisation this will immediately impact on 100 petty criminals and be more effective than tackling each street thug individually. It doesn’t take long before he discovers that his three possible targets each themselves are controlled by an even bigger villain – Siddharth Abhimanyu (Arvind Swamy). Siddharth is a respected scientist, recipient of a Padma Shri award and all round respected businessman so Dhruva has to somehow find convincing enough evidence to send Siddharth to jail for his crimes.

In the original film Dhruva was helped by his close friends who all formed a posse to fight crime together while they were in training college. However their role in the story here has been reduced and although the friends are still there, they have less to do in the hunt for Siddharth.  Goutham (Navdeep) is the only one who has been kept fairly true to the original, but without the detail of their friendship as background, his character is less effective. This also has an impact on the characterisation of Dhruva who appears more isolated and less of a leader as a result, making his assumption of control of a crime task force immediately after his graduation rather less credible.

Another casualty of the re-write is Ishika (Rakul Preet Singh) whose character has even less to do than Nayantara in the Tamil version. Ishika is a victim of love at first sight when she sees Dhruva, and she pursues him relentlessly, knowing that in a Telugu film eventually her persistence will be paid off by Dhruva finally accepting her love – rather than arrest for stalking, which would be the most probable outcome in real life. Although she is a forensic specialist, this is barely mentioned in the film, and Ishika has little involvement in the search for evidence against Siddharth. Where Nayantara’s Mahima had useful ideas and forced her way into the investigation, Ishika is limited to appearing only as the romantic interest. However Rakul Preet Singh does a good enough job in this role and has reasonable chemistry with Ram Charan, which at least makes the scene where Dhruva finally does admit his feelings one of the better moments in the film.

The film is all about Dhruva and his developing relationship with Siddharth and Ram Charan is excellent as the obsessed police officer, determined to track down Siddharth no matter what it takes. He certainly looks the part, easily demonstrated since Surender Reddy is an equal opportunity director who ensures that for every shot where Rakul Preet Singh appears in a bikini there is a shot of Charan without his shirt. No complaints here!  While Ram Charan expertly channels his inner Salman Khan, he also does a good job of portraying the more cerebral side to his character and his monologues where he describes his theories about the local criminals are well delivered. He’s even better when Siddharth’s tactics begin to hit home and Dhruva begins to doubt himself as he loses Goutham and his every move is known by Siddharth even before he makes it. This gradual erosion of his self-confidence is well depicted and Charan gets the emotions across effectively while still maintaining his tough cop persona.

However, as in Thani Oruvan the real star of the film is Aravind Swamy, who is perfectly evil as the amoral and unscrupulous Siddharth. His callously dismissive way of ordering the execution of anyone from mere bystanders to major players in his plots is wonderfully chilling and his appreciation of a worthwhile enemy in Dhruva just adds more menace to his character. I think he is even better here than in Thani Oruvan, or perhaps it’s because there is less focus on the other criminals and his added screen time lets him play nasty more effectively. Posani Krishna Murali does well as Siddharth’s bumbling politician father and the contrast between the clever but absolutely evil son and his unaware and totally inept father is simply brilliant and works just as well here as in the original.

The story stands up well to the remake in Telugu, even if shifting the focus even more onto the two lead characters does make for a less believable plot. Ram Charan is suitably heroic and the only disappointment is that there is little opportunity for him to show off his dancing skills. The music from Hiphop Tamizha is fine but not as memorable as his Tamil soundtrack, and the songs occasionally seem rather oddly placed, particularly in the second half. Still, the picturisations are good, and the scenery for Choosa Choosa stunning. Neethoney has the best dance moves though.

Dhruva is a good remake of an excellent film and definitely well worth a watch. Ram Charan takes on the role of a dedicated police officer, but one with more flaws than a usual Telugu hero and performs his part admirably. Arvind Swamy is perfect as his nemesis while the psychological cat and mouse game between the two is beautifully played out. Mohan Raja is credited with the original storyline and Surender Reddy has aptly modified the plot to give a slick and entertaining thriller. One to catch in the cinema if you can.

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.