Vetagadu (1979)

Vetagadu

K. Raghavendra Rao’s 1979 film is a classic featuring N.T. Rama Rao and Sridevi in a mystery/romance full of stupendous seventies fashion and glorious home décor. Jandhyala’s story seems to have all the required elements but despite having 2 DVD copies of this film that say ‘with English subtitles’ neither my copies, nor the versions available on YT are subtitled, so I’m really just going with my interpretation of events. And there is a lot going on. As well as a jewellery theft, there is a murder, a feud between two rich families, some shenanigans in a tea plantation, a tribal village with a propensity for celebrating by dancing, a cosy villain’s lair and a convoluted plot to expose the criminals. N.T. Rama Rao looks a little old to be romping around the forest and fighting off the bad guys, but he does it with plenty of style while Sridevi is simply stunning as the heroine trying to find out what really happened to her mother. Apologies for the poor quality of the screencaps – in addition to no subtitles the DVD’s are of equally bad quality.

The film starts with Gayatri (Pushpalata) performing a musical interlude for her family, including her husband Ananda Bhupathi (Jaggayya) and young daughter Roja, at what seems to be a house-warming for their new palace. During her performance Gayatri wears a super-sparkly necklace which quickly attracts the attention of the palace’s steward, Sivananam (Rao Gopal Rao). Sivananam hatches a plot to steal the necklace that involves kidnapping Gayatri the next time she attends the temple. However, Gayatri manages to escape from her captors and runs into the forest where she meets Kalyana Gajapathi (Kanta Rao), a friend of the family who lives in the neighbouring palace. Kalyana Gajapathi attempts to fight the kidnappers but is killed in the struggle, while Gayatri manages to give her necklace to a local tribesman before the thugs catch up with her too.

The film moves to the present day where Ananda Bhupathi has moved back to the city after losing his wife, and the young Roja has grown up into Sridevi. Sivananam has taken over running the estate where he runs various shady businesses, including trafficking young women, with the help of his son Hari (Satyanarayana). As with all good villains, Sivananam has a lair, which judging by the fishy view, appears to be underwater and is furnished with the usual accoutrements including a handy trap door and convenient crocodile for disposing of recalcitrant girls. Hari wanders around the tea plantation, acting as a lord of the manner in his fancy suits with matching hat and flower, selecting the women he wants and disposing of them in his father’s business.

Sivananam has grand plans to marry Hari and Roja, which he puts into action when Roja visits for a hunting trip. However, he’s reckoned without Raja (N.T. Ramo Rao), the son of Kalyana Gajapathi and a hunter still living in his father’s old palace. Roja meets Raja on her way to the forest and immediately dislikes his rather sleazy approach to romance. After crashing into her car and harassing her on the train, Raja then follows the tried and true method of tormenting Roja and stalking her to make her fall in love with him, but to Roja’s credit this doesn’t seem to work. However, Raja’s heart is really in the right place and when he rescues Roja from a gang of thugs she changes her mind and the two can get down to some serious prancing.

One night Roja hears music coming from the old abandoned palace, and when Raja investigates he finds a masked man attacking a young woman in the building. Further investigation leads him to suspect something shady is going on, but it’s not until he rescues another young tribal woman and meets her father (Chalapathi Rao) that he starts to put everything together. Since he’s a man of good sense, he enlists Roja’s help with his investigations, and between them they discover the real story of what happened to Gayatri and her necklace.

Of course that’s not nearly enough drama, so added in is a feud between Ananda Bhupathi and Raja’s family as he believes Kalyana Gajapathi was behind the theft of the necklace and disappearance of his wife, resulting in his refusal to allow Roja to marry Raja. There’s also something about a little girl who was killed in a road accident, who I think was Raja’s sister, which may explain why his father was off hunting in the forest when Gayatri went missing. Or may not – I’m not clear exactly how her death fits into the rest of the story. Naturally there is a comedy track too and Nagesh and Allu Ramalingaiah ham it up between them in a feud over one of the women from the tea plantation. There is also a rather sad and toothless tiger who gets dragged into the mix and is supposedly part of the ‘comedy’, but for the most part Nagesh and Allu Ramalingaiah play well off each other even if their antics seem rather dated now.

What helps Vetagadu immensely is the mystery-based storyline and the enthusiasm and energy of the leads. Rao Gopal Rao is good as the villain of the piece with a generally benevolent air as he plots and plans his way through various schemes. Satyanarayana is also excellent as his son, with all his affectations which he drops easily once he’s involved in a fight scene. There’s a particularly good moment where he swaps shoes during an item song to pick up some diamonds and has to carry off the disruption to his perfectly matched outfit. I do like his style!

But the real stars are NTR and particularly Sridevi who manages to make her romance with the ageing superstar reasonably believable. NTR helps things along by some energetic fight sequences and a number of good dance numbers including this one in the tribal village where he imagines Roja and himself as the lead dancers.

Sridevi is simply stunning and has plenty of scope to demonstrate the full range of her acting skills Her initial comedy scenes with Raja are good, and I definitely think she gets the upper hand even though she does eventually succumb to Raja’s charms, or at least his ability to get them out of a sticky situation. Roja also gets a chance to turn detective as she partners up with Raja to find out what happened to her mother and the heirloom necklace, vamping it up and flirting with Hari as well as schmoozing up to Sivananam. She’s also gorgeous in the dance sequences and manages to carry off the various ruffles and seventies fashion (even a crocheted dress) with plenty of style. NTR does well to keep up with her, and he’s excellent in scenes where he is chasing down the answers to the puzzle of his father’s disappearance and the mystery of the missing necklace.

Although the finale, where Raja attempts a disguise to fool Sivananam and Hari doesn’t work quite as well, the rest of the story is a good mix of romance and action, just the way a masala should be. I would love to see this properly restored with English subtitles but until then, this was an enjoyable watch, even without understanding the dialogue– worth it for Sridevi, N.T. Rama Rao and Chakravarthy’s catchy dance numbers. 3½ stars.

 

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Gudachari No. 1 (1983)

Goodachari No 1-title

 

Special agent Kumar (who has a liking for statement lamps) is sent to investigate a Top Secret thing. He is killed, takes a very long time to die (from being beaten, shot, stabbed and overacting), and his wife is shocked into a coma after hiding the secret evidence.

His bestie Vijay (Chiranjeevi), AKA Number 1, is sent to investigate and arrives in a cloud of ladies. A gang of rowdies with evil laughs and nice manners try to abduct him en route to town. Chiru is a nattily dressed beige blur as he kicks the bejesus out of them. Then they politely submit to questioning, only to be mown down by gunfire. “Oh My Goodness” says Vijay. “WTF?” said I.

The things he eventually looks in to include, but are not limited to: a deadly pickle factory, Silk Smitha, poison tipped gloves, a fake priest, golden Cybermen in fancy Ye Olden Robot outfits, and a super villain with gold teeth. “WTF?” said I.

Of course Vijay needs to have his wits and his fists of fury ever at the ready. But he also needs love. He meets Latha (Radhika) at the airport as she is in mid tantrum. She seems unimpressed so he tells her he is a professional killer and to keep her mouth shut, oh and to keep the flower he gave her. Then sits next to her on the flight and tells her he is actually an international hijacker. But it becomes evident that Vijay is a lonely character who may not know how to interact with people who are not dead, trying to kill him, or trying to shag him. He doesn’t even have a comedy sidekick of his own. He eventually declares his affection, although Latha demurs. So he says if I can throw this grape into your mouth it proves you love me. Subtitles could probably only make that scene worse. “No really, WTF?” said I.

Chiranjeevi is the obvious casting choice for a film that needs swag and a gleefully uninhibited enthusiasm for the arts of Dance and Mayhem. Vijay is formidable in everything but his romantic relationships, and Kodi Ramakrishna just kept throwing more and more crazy stuff into the mix. There is an abundance of pompous speeches, gadgetry, freecycled Bond scenes, silly disguises, and more, and Chiru takes it all in stride. Every time I thought surely they will run out of stuff, there was more stuff. And more Chiru.

That is not just a voyeuristic moment for viewers to perve at Chiranjeevi in booty shorts. No. That was A Clue that he may have yogic abilities that could come in handy if he were to be, oh let’s say, buried alive. It’s important to always be checking him out watching attentively.

Latha (Radhika) is an interesting character in some respects but Radhika could, and maybe did, play this kind of role in her sleep. Latha is largely sidelined in favour of robots and explosions, and the good old values of 1983 that insist a girl should apologise for causing a man to sexually harass her. A bit further down the track she actually enjoys the opportunity to get her mitts on Disguised Vijay even as she complains about the beastly foreigner who has taken up residence. But she is smart, she has the comedy sidekick (another punishment?) so she is ahead of the hero on that score, and she was investigating the self-proclaimed international criminal herself. She is also the villain’s niece (maybe) but she doesn’t seem to let that get in the way, and indeed uses that relationship to help smuggle Vijay in to the Pickle Plant of Pestilence.

Vijay is sent to stay in hideously disturbing room 111 at Hotel 7, and (Laila) Silk Smitha “introduces” herself. I did like his booby trapped suitcase and was kind of hoping it contained a snake. To summarise the scene, they get busy. But before she can, er, finish him off Vijay’s contact (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) interrupts and Laila runs off to get ready for her next attempt.

But alas, Laila has but a brief moment in the limelight. Maybe it was payback for the completely unnecessary animal testing.

Govind Rao (Rao Gopal Rao) is the baddy, running his top secret chemical warfare facility in the guise of his pickle empire. The façade on the factory looks about as real as any of the trappings of his business.  But he does have serious pickle sales graphs and other business related stuff. Also – he is the father of the comedy sidekick/halfwit so the man had his very own, very real, problems.

One of his problems is a cranky boss. Supreme comes and goes standing up in a little boat, across a misty subterranean lake, rather like the Phantom of the Opera’s bookmaker. Where Govind Rao is organised and a bit unimaginative, Supreme really embraces the overly elaborate scheme, the signature look, and psychedelic lighting. And he certainly ignored key points on the Evil Overlord checklist.

The comedy is often sexist or racist, and quite distasteful but seems to occur only in short bursts. There is the way Vijay torments the woman he loves and thinks it is hilarious, the racial stereotypes, and a really bad bird related comedy interlude with a guy whose headdress contains traumatised and maybe dead budgies. It’s a relief to get back to the serious business of “which Bond film was that lifted from?” with a bit of “WTF?”

Goodachari No 1-Bambi and Thumper

Answer – It’s Bambi and Thumper! From Diamonds are Forever! And there is a coffin stunt from You Only Live Twice.

The gadgetry is quite something, and ranges from a simple dart in a wire loop made from an old coat-hanger, to full body robot costumes, and lots of coloured smoke bombs. They tried. They really really tried.

Chakravarthy’s songs are nothing outstanding but they do provide a less violent form of hijinks, and Chiranjeevi just goes for it.

You know you’re onto a winner when the DVD menu has Chiru in disguises. Goodachari No. 1 is uneven, and I’d fast forward through the alleged comedy on a rewatch, but what it lacks in sense it make up for with energy. See it for early peak Chiru and for the gleeful “that’ll do” approach to a DIY spy caper. 3 stars!

Goonda (1984)

goonda

A sophisticated archaeological dig uncovers a priceless idol. Numerous criminal gangs swoop to claim the prize, and the title of Best Gang Ever.

There are men in red shirts v men in white pants v overgrown scouts in khaki.  And then a relatively svelte man in black ninjas his way onto the scene – cartwheeling and backflipping like he’d just invented acrobatics. Who could it be?!?

Chiranjeevi teams up with A Kodandarami Reddy again for a mass film with a few little tweaks on the standard formula. There are multiple identities, daring deeds, family histrionics, a significant mole, and a lot of prancing around in parks.

Kalidas (Chiranjeevi) is the up and coming star of a crime gang. Kali is confident and quite happy with his lot which seems to include Mohini (Silk Smitha), the chief’s daughter. He has a fearsome reputation, a tight perm, and blue contacts. He represents the meritocracy while the leader’s nephew Kasi prefers nepotism to ensure his career progression. He and Kali have an excellent and yet not very good at all blindfolded fight to the (almost) death which I found oddly compelling and quietly soporific.

The lair is a cave with odds and ends of lounge furniture picked up on hard rubbish collection day. And despite being top secret and underground, apparently anything that goes on is clearly audible in Kali’s lounge room. A series of unfortunate events triggered by the jealous Kasi sees Kali leave gang life to go straight.

Kali rebrands himself as Raja a pop singer with much better hair, and coincidentally meets SP Anand (Satyanarayana Kaikala) on a train. Cue flashback and the genial policeman is Raja’s father, back when he was a little boy called Ravi.

Goonda-tragedy

Ravi was involved in an accident resulting in a neighbour losing his sight, and his furious dad chased him down the road firing warning shots over his head. So I can kind of understand the kid being terrified of his father catching up with him. Raja saves SP Anand from goons sent to kill him, and SP Anand makes Raja stay in his home. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Raja gets a job at the nightclub owned by baddie Kasiram (Allu Ramalingaiah), where Jaya (his childhood intended played by Radha) sings. I do enjoy a bit of disco yoga classical fusion.

I am less in love with Chiru’s wardrobe, which seems to be sourced from the ladies floral blouse department.

While growing closer to Raja, Jaya reveals her intense hatred of Ravi, the child who destroyed her family. Raja decides he has to win her love as his new self, and fix everyone else’s life into the bargain. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Thankfully Raja likes to get his shirt off, so Jaya recognises the Significant Mole. After some angst and a little bit of PR from the gossipy doctor, she and Raja resolve their differences. Love arrives differently for us all. Sometimes it is wearing a Blondie t-shirt.

Raja decides to secretly protect his dad, although he still won’t tell his family who he is. But Dharmaraju has tracked down Kasi, a witness to Raja’s past. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Raja utilises his old Kalidas skills to get the money for Jaya to settle a debt, and he is the anonymous benefactor behind a sudden offer of an eye transplant to restore her dad’s vision. Raja’s fighting style is as flamboyant and flexible as ever, so the action scenes are loads of fun. There is an excellent train sequence where it is clearly Chiru himself (at least for most of the time), leaping from carriage to carriage and flinging his opponents to the winds.

As is often the case in Telugu films, justice is not clear cut and may reside outside of the legal system. SP Anand has to deal with the consequences of his temper, both in the past and now he knows his son has returned. And Raja has to pay for Kalidas’ actions. I liked that no one really escaped from themselves. It’s a good way to mesh a family drama with a revenge motif.

The multiple identities give Chiru a good excuse to switch up the wardrobe options and he imbues each character with a different emotional tone. Kali is never conflicted about being a crook, and his change of lifestyle was more to please his father figure. He certainly managed to heal his wounded heart in record time. Poor Mohini – forgotten in just one dance sequence. Raja has firm views on Jaya’s brother Srinu being a wastrel and tells him he has no right to eat if he doesn’t earn his own way. Which is interesting in light of his criminal past but maybe he saw that as honest work, and better than taking money from a WOMAN. The horror! His views on the role of women are typical of the age and genre, but he does understand why Jaya mistrusts him and that he needs to give her evidence before she would change her mind.  And despite his love for his estranged family, Ravi also sees that his father was very unfair. He doesn’t examine his own decision to jump off a bridge too closely, but you can’t have dazzling insights into everything.

Jaya has a bit of backbone, and Radha always has good chemistry with Chiru. When she realised who Raja was, she was furious and articulate in rejecting him. And when she changed her views, she was again articulate and clear in what she wanted to happen with their relationship. She is a typical filmi heroine but I could respect that she was making some of her own decisions. The wardrobe team do torment her in some dance sequences, and I suspect they even repurposed Kali’s perm wig. In a way she is the character that triggers Raja into action. He could have made do with seeing his family occasionally under the guise of friendship, but he fell for Jaya and so he had to do something to gain her trust and affection.

Allu Ramalingaiah and Rao Gopal Rao are the muddling but nasty crims who run the club and there is an ongoing subplot of both stupidity and cruelty at their behest. There is also a large cast of supporting goondas, many of whom seemed most animated in their death scenes. Satyanarayana Kailkala and Annapoorna do what they have done so very many times as Ravi/Kali/Raja’s parents. Silk Smitha’s role was small but she did get to wear some fabulous sequinned shorts so she made an impression.

Despite being full mass formula, Goonda is a bit more low key and contemplative than some of Chiru’s other hits. The music and choreography is a bit lacklustre, especially considering that Chiranjeevi and Radha were no slouches in the dance department. The set design and costumes also show the spirit of making do. I think they spent all the big bucks on the train. See this for truth, justice, and two kinds of Chiru! 4 stars!