Ammoru

Ammoru_Poster

Ammoru is a 1995 film combining mythology and religion with a family drama. Directed by Kodi Ramakrishna, strong performances, a well plotted story and well modulated pace ensure this never gets dull. I like the socio-fantasy and mythological genres and Ammoru has plenty of the elements I find interesting and entertaining.

Ammoru-Ramya Krishna 1Ammoru-Ramya Krishna 2

An entire village is praying to be saved from an illness when a mysterious lady approaches. A kindly woman offers her a meal and shelter after the stranger had been turned away from food dedicated to the deity. In return, the mystery woman makes an infusion of neem leaves and directs the village lady to sprinkle it in front of every house but, whatever she does, not to look back. The stranger will watch over the lady’s house until she returns. Of course she looks, and sees Ammoru in her full glory. Knowing that the goddess would leave the village at the conclusion of the task, the lady kills herself to avoid returning and Ammoru stays and becomes the resident deity. Some years later, the orphan Bhavani is in danger from rapacious Leelamma and her black magic practitioner son Gorakh. Bhavani stopped Gorakh from burying a young girl alive in a ritual to gain his wish so he was not a fan. Leelamma wanted to marry her own daughter off to wealthy Surya, but he married Bhavani to rescue her from Leelamma instigated humiliation. A lifelong devotee of Ammoru, Bhavani is protected time and time again by the goddess. But just when things are at their darkest, Bhavani sends her protector away and compels her not to return unless certain conditions are met.

Ramya Krishna dominates as Ammoru although her screen time is limited. Her appearance as the goddess is stunning. The make-up and special effects teams do a great job of making her beautiful yet terrifying, especially when her vengeful nature is stirred.

Also playing an aspect of Ammoru is Baby Sunayana – a preternaturally wise child with a high pitched creepy giggle. I did wonder why no one remarked upon the smoke, coloured lights and echoey vocal effects that often accompanied her, but that is a mere detail. She happily torments Bhavani’s enemies, rarely confronting them directly but making sure their plans go awry. As the little maid, Sunayana is playful but intense with expressive eyes. She conveys maturity and substance despite an unfortunately shrill voice and holds her own in some dramatic scenes with Soundarya.

Ammoru-blessings 1Ammoru-blessings 2

One scene I particularly like is when Ammoru invites her sister deities to attend a ceremonial lunch after Leelamma turned away the intended mortal guests. The goddesses looked matronly and regal and the interplay of everyday and supernatural was striking but not overemphasised. The film often points to a gulf between religious belief and day to day practice. Ammoru is a mother figure, but she is all for tough love. She rewards those who do right and who try to help themselves.

Ammoru-Soundarya as BhavaniAmmoru-wedding night

Soundarya delivers an accomplished performance as Bhavani. While the character is a bit dim at times, she has a backbone so there is ample range for the actress to do more than look winsome. She grows from a shy girl to a happy confident new bride who enjoys married life, but when Surya leaves for the USA her in-laws go on the attack. Her baby is targeted and her reputation is in tatters. Undermined and made to doubt her own sanity, Bhavani grows progressively weaker. But when Surya’s life is under direct threat Bhavani throws manners aside and demands Ammoru repay some of the devotion she has been given over the years.

Ammoru-Bhavani is tormentedAmmoru-Soundarya 2

Soundarya transforms from meek to angry and demanding without seeming a caricature. It is a pity that Soundarya died young as she had the ability to play such a range of characters and emotions that her career should have been long and interesting.

But this is by no means a feminist film. Men still rule the roost, with Surya (Suresh) casually disregarding Bhavani’s preferences and generally ordering people about regardless of whether he knew what was going on. He also demands proof before offering obeisance to heaven, which is unwise I think when dealing with a goddess who claims Durga and Yellamma among her names. A girl who is almost raped is told she has to marry the rapist as that is the only way to preserve her honour.

Ammoru-Creepy manAmmoru-what is she doing

The fact that her own mother set the attempt up but intended Bhavani to be the victim did quell a little of my outrage. As did the bizarre sight of the near victim mopping sweat off her attacker with her chunni. And his complaint that he had already raped two women that day so he was a bit tired. As she is a low caste orphan, no one except the old priest takes Bhavani’s situation seriously.

Ammoru-the bad guysAmmoru-evil schemes

Rami Reddy plays the vile Gorakh with uninhibited nastiness. He is driven by overwhelming greed for wealth and power, and uses black magic as a means to that end. He is protected by an evil spirit and believes he is invincible. He was certainly hard to get rid of, surviving many a setback including having his head set alight. His mother Leelamma (Vadivukkarasi), despite having no paranormal tendencies, is even worse. She knows exactly what she is doing and feels no compunction at belittling and torturing Bhavani in an elaborate scheme to separate her from Suresh. While the baddies planning skills are a bit suspect there is no doubt about their commitment. Kallu Chidambaram is a hapless and occasionally demonically possessed servant and Babu Mohan rounds out the family.

The soundtrack is also very effective (despite that child’s playback singer’s voice). This isn’t a big song and dance film, the music is used mostly to create or enhance the atmosphere.

Ammoru-effects

The production design is great and the village scenes are pretty but not too sanitised. The effects used for Ammoru’s interventions and her manifestations are surprisingly good for 1995. Some scenes look a bit cut and paste but the effects budget was used wisely for the big impact moments. I think it helps that the things depicted are not just everyday objects and incidents, so artistic leeway is available for how power is illustrated.

While I don’t like some of the plot points, Ammoru compensates with excellent actresses given room to shine, and strong visuals that help tell the story. The story is gripping at times and while I could guess at the ending, I didn’t see all the twists and turns coming. Highly recommended. 4 ½ stars!

Advertisements

Kshana Kshanam

RGV’s Kshana Kshanam opens with an intense robbery and chase that takes place in the dark of night. There is no dialogue in this episode, the visuals and the very dramatic score tell the story. Finally one bad guy kills another bad guy and takes the money… So far so good as my DVD doesn’t have subtitles. From this point on, I am making things up.

Satya (Sri Devi) works in an office, struggles with over sleeping, has a nosy neighbour, and seems to have her life sorted. Satya unknowingly picks up the left-luggage receipt for the robbery loot. When things go wrong for her, Sri Devi is excellent at showing her fraying nerves and building fear as well as a gritty determination. There’s a bit of crying and whining, but Satya retains some dignity (despite the wardrobe in some songs) and is a likeable girl who is way out of her comfort zone and trying desperately to get back to her old life. Sri Devi’s expressions and timing are brilliant, often very funny, and she conveys so much with her simple gestures and reactions. I like her so much as a feisty heroine.

Paresh Rawal is the villain Nayar. It was his gang that did the break and enter, and his man who has double crossed them all and taken off with the loot. Nayar is on the traitor’s trail, and will stop at nothing even if he has to kill his entire gang one by one. He is a psychopath who can sweetly ask his victim to tell the truth even as he is snapping the guy’s fingers. It’s an over the top performance (he has a high pitched giggle, a love of filmi tunes and a mad eyed stare) but Nayar is genuinely scary when it counts.

Nayar and the gang pursue Satya, and RGV really does know how to ratchet up the tension in the pursuit. A rowdy follows Satya to her apartment and is injured when she defends herself. He is finished off by an unseen colleague and Satya believes she killed him. She decides to run.

And runs into Chandu (Venkatesh). He is a thief, an occasional police impersonator, but smart and fundamentally decent within his own moral code. Chandu uses Satya to escape the police he thinks have come for him, and they go on the lam. They team up since everyone else is chasing them, although it takes some time for them to work out why. I really loved the sight of Sri Devi in the midst of the motorcycle chase demurely sitting sidesaddle behind Venky as he sped through the traffic! Venkatesh is convincing as both the charming trickster and the gutsy hero. He has a boyish quality that suits the lighter scenes and he attacks the action scenes with conviction. His mullet seems to adopt more or less volume depending on his mood.

They escape into the jungle. Chandu shows his decency by not looking up Satya’s skirt and she shows her city girl ways by freaking out at absolutely everything. Chandu looks concerned then perplexed and finally amused as Satya calls on God, bemoans her fate and worries about being killed by tigers.

He doesn’t bully or belittle her, but he can laugh at the situation. Each allows the other actor to shine, and it makes the romance seem more natural as they have low key but convincing chemistry. I also liked seeing that as the film progressed Satya used her initiative in taking the next steps in the relationship. It’s a nice element to balance the darker suspense storyline.

Satya is overcome by the beauty of the landscape and trills a song, only to be asked to sing something more ‘mass’. Naturally this leads to:

A fabulous way to maintain a covert presence, I’m sure. I like Venky’s lawn bowls hat. And I love the male backing dancers who really make it their own.

After running into Nayar in the jungle, they realise that Satya has something besides her good looks to make all these men pursue her. And I have to say, no one made any effort to be stealthy so I was not surprised Nayar found them, only at how long it took.  Chandu beats up the baddies, Inspector Yadav (Rami Reddy) and his police stumble onto the path and in the mayhem Chandu and Satya escape by stealing Nayar’s car.

Once back in the city they encounter Brahmi and do a spot of comedy shopping. Then the plan is to break into Satya’s apartment to retrieve the receipt. The break in was both suspenseful and slapstick, with cops and rowdies running up and down stairs, and Satya and Chandu narrowly evading all parties. The adversity really brings out their song and dance side, as there are several musical interludes which are mostly fun. I do have an issue with Chandu – THIS is how he dresses in his wealth fantasy song.

Sri Devi sang on the track but I don’t recommend you seek it out. It’s an aural and visual assault.

Satya wants to turn the receipt over to the police, Chandu wants to keep it, but once again Nayar’s gang are too close for comfort. Finally Chandu goes to collect the loot but nothing is that simple. The ending is impressively action packed and people get what they deserve.

Kshana Kshanam is visually compelling. The fast edits and angles in dramatic scenes created a sense of urgency and menace. There are cameras mounted in and under cars and on motorbikes which added a feeling of speed and the panic of the chase. The background score throughout is very dramatic and while it often helps set the mood, sometimes it was distracting. Think heavy percussion and strings, occasional 80s power guitar and a dash of jaunty brass. Some scenes relied on ambient sounds from the background action, others had just the score, some had a blend of both and the transitions could be abrupt. The sound was a bit off at times – one rowdy ran across a floor and sounded like 4 people tap dancing, and everyone seemed to have the same soles on their shoes. It was odd in a film that was so accomplished on a visual level and had such a well crafted story. The MM Keeravani songs are hit and miss, but generally fun to watch although the dancing is suspect at times. There is a definite sense of time inside the story, and I wondered how much of it was shot in sequence (songs aside) as it felt as though the scenes were really unfolding one after another.

I’m not a diehard RGV fan as I find when he is good he is very very good, but you know, then there’s RGV ki Aag. See this for a great cast in a well told story with a deft balance of action, humour and suspense. It certainly lived up to the title, as every second counted. 4 stars!

Heather says: I really love this film. It combines suspense and action with just enough romance and has the benefit of two very attractive leads. RGV keeps it simple and as a result the story moves along well and despite the lack of subtitles it’s compelling viewing. This is probably because the romance is left to take a back seat through most of the film, and the focus is firmly on the action. Both Sridevi and Venkatesh are equally important in these action scenes and Sridevi is no useless hand-wringing heroine but is quite capable of making her own decisions, disastrous at times though they may be.

There are some great lighting contrasts in the film which also frequently add to the atmosphere of menace. The opening scenes heighten the expectation of what is to follow as the lighting is dim and no-one’s face is totally clear. When RGV finally moves to introduce Satya, the change to bright light and the intimacy of her bedroom completely alters the mood. This introduction also serves to accentuate the difference in circumstance later on when Satya ends up sleeping rough in the jungle. It really doesn’t take long before Satya’s initial confusion and fear change to a determination to fight back and I think this is a very natural reaction for her character and also suits Sridevi very well.

Sridevi is absolutely gorgeous here and perfect in her characterisation. She is excellent as the scared girl on the run and even better as she sets out to solve the puzzle of why everyone is after her. The romance with Chandu also grows very naturally throughout the course of their adventure and there is good chemistry between Sridevi and Venkatesh. While I think Venkatesh is very good in his portrayal of the happy go lucky thief who gets pulled along for the ride, I do think he is somewhat overshadowed by Sridevi in their scenes together. However he is excellent during the fights and action sequences and looks good in the songs too, although his mullet is a little distracting at times. At least I can put this and his rather variable wardrobe down to the fact that this was filmed in the early 90’s which does explain a lot. Paresh Rawal is great as the villain and is totally over the top in his psychotic shifts from raving bad guy to being scared of heights and pushing his henchmen into danger first. Plus he has a great moustache. The only downside to this film is the lack of subtitles. I’ve been told that the dialogue is very good as well, so it’s a real shame that I haven’t been able to track down a subtitled copy, although I may have to eventually succumb to the Hindi dubbed version. Thanksto KB for the recommendation. 4 ½ stars from me.