Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi (2017)

Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi

Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi is a film about friendship that starts off well but unfortunately falls apart in the second half. Anupama Parameswaran is excellent as the love interest for both Abhi (Ram Pothineni) and Vasu (Sree Vishnu), but as soon as she disappears the film loses its way and heads deep into cliché territory before finally backtracking and ruining the most interesting development from the first half. The story starts with a good idea, but there’s simply not enough depth for a full 2 ½ hours of screenplay and by the time the film ends, the story has been stretched so thin, there are holes all over the place. The actors are good, the songs and dance sequences enjoyable and the scenery spectacular, but without any real substance to the story, Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi sadly doesn’t make a lasting impression.

The bromance here is between Abhi (Ram Pothineni) and Vasu (Sree Vishnu), and for the most part their relationship is dealt with well, although the final conclusion does appear rather more artificial and forced. Abhi and Vasu are both likeable characters and their friendship has a solid basis, starting from their time together in school. A young Vasu is able to break through Abhi’s misery on the anniversary of his mother’s death and as a result the two friends become inseparable despite the difference in their social status. They remain friends throughout college although the group broadens to include Sathish (Priyadarshi Pulikonda), Kishore (Kireeti Damaraju) and Sai. But by the time Sathish, Kishore and Sai are getting together to discuss Kishore’s wedding, Abhi and Vasu are nowhere to be seen. Abhi has been missing for 4 years and the friends haven’t spoken to Vasu for 2 years, so naturally there is a flashback sequence to see where it all went wrong.

It turns out that Abhi and Vasu both fell in love with the same girl, aspiring doctor Maha (Anupama Parameshwaran). Initially they approach this problem with the same levelheadedness they have shown all along and come up with a plan to let Maha know how they both feel – and then leave it up to her to decide. This seems a radical departure for a Telugu film, where female characters rarely seem to be allowed a mind of their own, but Kishore Tirumala allows Maha to have an opinion and make a choice based on what she knows about the two men.

Abhi has stayed in Vizag after college and spends his time playing guitar with his band and chilling with friends. He’s relaxed and fairly carefree while waiting for the results of his final exams which is a total contrast to Maha. She’s driven to succeed by her parents expectations and is completing her medical degree because it is what they expect her to do. What she really wants to do is sing, and since Abhi plays in a band what could be simpler than the two getting together?  At the same time, Vasu has gone back to his family who are friends with Maha’s parents. When Vasu meets and falls in love with Maha, it seems to be the perfect match for the two families, and even Maha seems fairly happy with the prospect.

Up to this point the film is good, if perhaps a little slow. And I liked the idea that the girl would get to choose, without any undue influence from either the two guys, their families or even her friends. But it’s after Maha makes her choice and Abhi and Vasu part company that the story starts to fizzle.

The second half sees the introduction of Maggie (Lavanya Tripathi) a ditzy and completely inept wedding planner. It’s amazing that she’s managed to get the guests together and book a venue given her financial woes, tendency to get drunk and general unawareness of what is going on. I think Maggie was supposed to be ‘fun’ and ‘modern’ to make her a contrast to Maha, but she’s simply not either of these, and ends up as a clichéd filmi airhead. This characterisation is incredibly frustrating after Kishore Tirumala starts with better realised characters and a more mature approach with Abhi, Vasu and Maha. It’s literally teeth gritting stuff to watch Maggie lurch from manufactured disaster to contrived mistake while her employee helpfully points out where she’s going wrong. The stand-off between Abhi and Vasu also veers more into rather more immature territory, but that is more plausible, since many quarrels do appear ridiculous and childish from the outside.

Ram is good as Abhi, although not even he can really make a man-band look appealing! Ram looks considerably younger in the second half when he sheds his heavy beard, but otherwise the somewhat subdued rock-star look suits him well. I like Abhi’s casual approach to life and his relaxed attitude combined with a genuinely caring persona, which makes for an interesting romance between Abhi and Maha. Ram and Anupama have good chemistry together too, and the romance, although slow to develop does feel genuine. Sree Vishnu is also good as the more serious of the two friends, although sensible Vasu really only appears once the friends have finished college. His character does work better earlier in the film when Vasu is less reserved and but overall the friendship is a believable relationship, and there is a genuine warmth between Abhi and Vasu. Sree does fade more into the background in the second half, but in compensation the other friends get more screen time which provides some desperately needed relief from the irritating Maggie! Lavanya Tripathi doesn’t get much chance to be anything other than annoying, but Anupama Parameswaran is lovely as Maha and does a good job at portraying the two quite different relationships.

The music from Devi Dri Prasad works well in the film, and the songs are well pictured with some excellent choreography, but the real stand-out is the excellent cinematography. Sameer Reddy beautifully captures the seascapes of Vizag and the lush scenery of Ooty which provide the main backdrops for the action.

Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi is the story of a reasonable and pleasant friendship between two reasonable and pleasant men that hits a few snags but is ultimately resolved in a reasonable and pleasant way. Despite the theme of conflict between best buddies, there is no real angst here which may be part of the problem, particularly as the film ends up drifting along to the inevitable conclusion. Good characters and an interesting idea are one thing, but Kishore Tirumala needed a sharper screenplay and a better way for his characters to solve their problems than a ditzy wedding planner. The friendship portrayed by Ram and Sree makes this one worth watching but be prepared for the irritating second half.

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Pandaga Chesko (2015)

Pandaga Chesko

This is the first film from ‘Energetic Star’ Ram that I’ve seen in the cinema, a fact that seemed surprising until I realised that Ram’s last film release was in 2013. I’m always wary with films billed as comedy, and Pandaga Chesko isn’t an exception to the rule that they should be approached with caution. However, surprisingly it isn’t Brahmi’s stale sleazy comedy that’s the biggest issue here, or the usual surfeit of comedy uncles with no real role in the story. Rather, the plot itself is tired, repetitive and well past it’s use by date. The story follows a young NRI’s return to India to attempt to reunite two families – sound familiar? Attarintiki Daredi, Govindudu Andarivadele and a whole host of other films have told this story before, and told it better. However Ram is personable and definitely energetic, although his performance and the best efforts of the support cast aren’t quite enough to save the film from being anything more than a one time watch for me.

Ram is Karthik, an NRI living in Portugal and a successful businessman running his own business. His success is enough to make him a candidate for marriage with Anushka (Sonal Chauhan) who is also a successful businesswoman although from her behaviour it seems barely conceivable that she could organise a two-ticket raffle let alone a business empire. But as her ability to play rugby to win a sports club presumably shows, she is a woman of hidden talents and a rather surprisingly slutty wardrobe for a business tycoon.

After Karthik and Anushka meet and decide that a merger would give them both the best chance to succeed in their respective businesses, Karthik learns of a complaint against his factory in India and heads off to fix the problem a month before his wedding. He’s also found out about a feud in his mother’s family, and despite not having shown any family feelings up until now, decides that while he is back in India he might as well sort out that little problem too.

However it’s not going to be as easy as Karthik thinks. For a start, no sooner does Karthik see Green Army founder and activist Divya (Rakul Preet Singh) than he falls in love with her. And the family feud proves to be tricky too, particularly when Karthik confuses the issue by including various other people pretending to be someone else. And muddying the waters further is Weekend Venkat Rao (Brahmi) sent to bring Karthik home for his wedding with Anushka but who spends his time indulging in cheap and nasty comedy instead.

Most of the comedy is in the dialogue so I didn’t find the film as funny as the rest of the audience, and since the physical humour mainly comes courtesy of Brahmi it’s generally crass and not particularly amusing. M S Narayana does have a small role but is generally not well used, while Abhimanyu Singh is reasonably funny in his role as a bumbling goonda in love with Divya. Divya and Karthik get some of the better comedy scenes too, although I don’t think all of it was actually supposed to be funny! They do make a likeable couple though and their scenes together are the most enjoyable part of the film.

The best performances come from the veterans in the cast including Jayaprakash, Sai Kumar, Raghu Babu and Pavitra Lokesh to name just a few of the large support crew. The feud between Karthik’s uncle and his erstwhile best friend is fairly standard fare but the actors give it their all and this part of the film works well. Rakul Preet Singh is good and has plenty of chemistry with Ram that serves their romance well, but Sonal Chauhan is a disaster in a role that doesn’t suit her and is badly written to boot. Ram doesn’t get much chance to show off his acting skills here either but he does well with what he is given – and if nothing else he does have good wardrobe choices and an energetic dance style. However even the choreography isn’t novel and although the songs from S Thaman are fine and generally well placed they don’t stand out as anything special.

Overall Pandaga Chesko does raise a few laughs but is let down by the disappointingly derivative and formulaic story. It’s frustrating since the film is well made with a great cast and generally good performances which do at least go some way towards making up for the tired plot. It’s not a terrible film, and it mainly works as a comedy, but it just needs a newer angle on a familiar tale and perhaps a few less comedy uncles. Worth watching for Ram and his energetic dance sequences, the romance scenes between Karthik and Divya and Arthur Wilson’s excellent cinematography.

Dhammu

I’d been warned to pick up my ticket early for Dhammu and although I wasn’t expecting a big crowd given the response to NTR Jr’s last few ventures, I did dutifully turn up before the suggested start time. And the guys on the door were right. By the time the film was ready to roll, the cinema was totally packed, which meant a very loud and enthusiastic response to Tarak’s explosive entrance on screen. Despite a few issues with the sound and difficulties getting the second reel of the movie to play, the audience maintained their enthusiasm which helped turn a run-of-the-mill mass masala film into an entertaining Friday night ‘adventure without subtitles’.

Dhammu starts with a flashback, setting up the story and explaining the rivalry between two families in a rural village. Within the first few moments there is a decapitation followed by various scenes of death and dismemberment so it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t going to be a fluffy romance despite the promise of two heroines on the poster. The two families seem determined to use the Kilkenny cat principle of conquest and it’s not long before the remnants of Suman’s family are reduced to living under the yoke of Nasser’s sadistic thugs. Once the scene is set, the film jumps to the present day and Tarak enters via a suitably ridiculous leap from a window onto a black 4WD. This is the first of many such black 4WD’s that gave their lives during the making of this film, so be prepared for crashes, inexplicable explosions and general vehicular destruction often for no apparent reason other than the director seemed to feel that it was time for another car (or 3) to meet an untimely end.

Tarak plays Ramachandra, an orphan who is against violence although that’s not entirely obvious since he’s beating up bad guys single-handedly from his first appearance on screen. OK, so he does fight with his hands behind his back and shows a reluctance to actually kill anyone, but at first I took that to be a novel trick fighting technique just because it looks good.

Ramachandra meets and instantly falls in love with Satya (Trisha) and after some initial very mild reluctance she seems to reciprocate. But it looks as if the romance, brief as it is, seems doomed to failure since Satya’s father (Subhalekha Sudhakar) wants her to marry a rich guy. Trisha looks lovely in some beautiful traditional outfits, but apart from looking pretty and the odd dance routine she has very little to do. The appearance of Karthika as the second heroine seems totally redundant as she gets even less screen time than Trisha and the attempt to create some rivalry falls flat.  Karthika also has so much collagen pumped into her lips that it looks as if they might burst at any moment while she’s speaking and this is incredibly distracting, particularly since I think she looked much better and prettier in Ko.

Both Trisha and Karthika look very stiff in the Neelo Undi Dhammu song and their awkwardness seems to increase in direct proportion to the shortness of their skirts. They both do much better in the songs where they are wearing more traditional outfits and the choreography seems to suit them better too. Tarak is on excellent form in all of the dance routines and although the songs by M.M. Keeravani aren’t particularly memorable the choreography is less fixed on trick moves and more on coordinated steps which look very slick. The only exception is the song Ruler which has little dancing and lots of CGI which looks rather out of place compared to the rest of the film.

By some means Ramachandra’s friend (Ali) learns of a rich family looking for a son to adopt and Ramachandra promptly applies to become a member of the Vasireddy family, adopting the name Vijayadwaja Sri Simha. However it’s not long before he discovers the drawbacks, namely being expected to resolve the feud between the two warring families once and for all as well as dealing with his entire extended family.

The fight scenes are the best part of Dhammu which is fortunate because there are quite a few. Tarak is often shown in slow-motion leaping and pouncing like his adopted family mascot of a lion and it works well. Mostly the fight sequences are totally over the top and unrealistic but they are expertly choreographed by Ram-Lakshman and look fantastic. People ricochet off cars, buildings and other people if they don’t happen to hit anything else in the way, or bounce off the ground in totally gravity defying ways which most of the audience seemed to find as entertaining as I did. There are lots of declarative speeches in between the various bouts of mayhem which generally went down well too, although there were a few scenes where they slow the pace considerably and it takes a while to pick up again.

The supporting cast are all well known actors and generally do justice to their roles. Kota Srinivasa Rao is familiar as the aging patriarch, while Tanikella Bharani, Suman and Sampath Raj all appear in small roles. Nasser is good as the slightly psychotic head of the opposing family and he also sports a wild and strange moustache which looks incredibly impractical. Ali is fairly inoffensive as Vijay’s friend and he got plenty of laughs from the audience, although his comedy did seem rather muted. Brahmi pops up for a few scenes but I couldn’t work out exactly what his role was in the Vasireddy family and he had very little impact. Venu Thottempudi also makes an appearance as a member of the Vasireddy family and was good in a brief but important appearance.

Overall Dhammu has nothing new to offer and relies heavily on NTR Jr to make the most of an overused storyline with standard masala ingredients. There are plenty of good moments and NTR Jr puts in an impressive performance but there isn’t anything to make this film stand out from other similar action movies in his filmography. It’s not brilliant but it works well enough as a mass entertainer, especially with an appreciative audience and I’d recommend watching at least once for Tarak, his dancing and some excellent fight scenes!