Savyasachi

Savyasachi

I have a theory that Indian screenwriters search medical texts for the most bizarre sounding diseases which they then change out of almost all recognition, blend them together and then use this bizarre hybrid as the plot for a film. That might at least go some way to explaining why Vikram (Naga Chaitanya) is introduced as the surviving half of a ‘vanishing twin’ pregnancy, the inaccurate explanation of which is only one of the fantastical medical diagnoses described in the film. That may not have been a bad move if the idea of a separate parasitic twin living through his brother’s left hand was better explored, but Savyasachi doesn’t seem to know if it’s a romance, a thriller or a comedy about alien hand syndrome, and by the end I was no wiser either.

Naga Chaitanya does his best with a terrible script, Madhavan overacts like crazy and it’s not a good sign when the best characterisations come from Vennela Kishore, Bhumika Chawla (who is excellent as Vikram’s sister) and child actor Dishita Sehgal. The other major problem with Savyasachi is truly terrible subtitles which I would ascribe to using Google Translate except that there are many spelling errors. This makes it even more difficult to work out exactly what is going on, when even the actors don’t appear to have any idea. With so much wrong is there any reason to watch Savyasachi? Well, yes. The songs are good, the flash-back and family scenes in the first half are better realised, and even if Madhavan chews the scenery excessively his exploits as a villain are generally entertaining. So not terrible then and given the general incomprehensibility of the subtitles, probably a better watch if you understand more Telugu than I do.

Vikram is the surviving twin while his brother Aditya was ‘absorbed’ into Vikram during their mother’s ‘vanishing twin’ pregnancy. Aditya still lives on as a few neurones in Vikram’s brain and is able to express himself by independent movement of Vikram’s left hand. All this is described in detail by Vikram’s doctor (Rao Ramesh) and his mother Mahalakshmi (Kausalya) which is just as well as this mishmash of a number of different conditions does need a lot of explanation. However, apart from a habit of slapping buttocks and faces, Aditya doesn’t do much else until Vikram is threatened, when Vikram’s left hand suddenly develops uncanny spatial awareness and super-human reaction speed along with the ability to thrash innumerable villains. So, basically the usual hero ability to fight his way out of any given situation. Vikram even manages a bit of hero-style action himself, beating a group of students during a flashback scene at University, with his left hand tied behind his back. Just in case there was any suggestion that Vikram isn’t just as capable as his intangible twin.

The film starts with a bus crash that causes the death of everyone on board, apart from Vikram, and then promptly ignores this initial mystery for the entire rest of the first half. Instead, writer/director Chandoo Mondeti concentrates on developing a romance between Vikram and businesswoman Chitra (Nidhhi Agerwal), who has employed Vikram’s ad company Artihc to promote her company. Vikram is assisted in making his films by his best friend from school Kittu (Vennela Kishore) and Tenali (Satya) who are aware of Vikram’s ‘vanished’ twin and make allowances for the occasional bizarre behaviour of Vikram’s left hand.

Vikram and Chitra have a history together from their time in college which is shown in a series of flashback scenes. While at college, the two gradually begin a relationship, first as friends, but just as it seems to be developing into something more and Vikram was about to declare his love for Chitra, something happened and he vanished from college, never to be heard from again. Until rocking up to make an ad many years later. Despite this long separation, his sudden reappearance doesn’t generate too much reaction from Chitra, and after accepting Vikram’s rather lame excuses for dropping out of touch, the two rekindle their old romance. There isn’t much chemistry between Vikram and Chitra, but to be fair they don’t have many scenes with just the two of them together, and there is a fraction more sparkage in the college flashbacks. In fact, most of the actual romance happens during M.M. Keeravani’s catchy songs.

The first half also deals with Vikram’s relationship with his sister Siri (Bhumika Chawla) her husband (Bharath Reddy) and daughter Maha (Dishita Sehgal). This part of the film is better, and the family dynamic is well developed as Siri becomes annoyed and objects to Vikram spoiling Maha, allowing her to do whatever she wants, while at the same time appreciating the reasons behind her brother’s affection for her daughter. Bhumika Chawla is excellent as Siri, particularly in later scenes as her character has to deal with a considerable amount of complex emotion.

After all the family background and romance in the first half, the second half of the film totally shifts gear when Vikram returns from a trip to America to find his family has been targeted and his sister in hospital. Suddenly the pace picks up as Vikram struggles to find out who is attacking him, and what has happened to his family. Madhavan is rapidly identified as the villain here, but he plays Arun Raj with such cheerful bonhomie that it’s difficult to take him seriously. Arun also has an oddly weak reason for his behaviour that further undermines his villainous stature, so in the end I felt little investment in the outcome of their struggle. However, Arun does have uncanny ability to be able to find and follow Vikram which is explained by various cloning, cloaking and other electronic wizardry, which at least is slightly more probable than Vikram’s pop-up twin brother’s abilities.

Although the story struggles to keep everything moving forward together, the action sequences work well and there is plenty of energy in the confrontations between Vikram and Arun. While Vikram’s rogue left hand does take over for most of these scenes there is enough variety and challenge to keep them interesting, at least until Arun runs out of disposable henchmen to throw at Vikram. Chaitanya does well to keep his character even vaguely on track, but the uneven mix of comedy, action and paranormal doesn’t blend well, making Vikram appear like a fish out of water for much of the second half. Madhavan’s Arun is too one-dimensional to be anything other than a caricature and his scenery chewing plays into the cartoonish nature of the character. However, Arun is entertaining even if he doesn’t appear particularly villainous and the interactions with his servant (Thagubothu Ramesh) are amusing. On the other hand, Nidhhi Agerwal has little to do and really is just ‘the love interest’ while Vidyullekha Raman and Vennela Kisore play their usual type of characters proficiently and effectively.

I really liked Chandoo Mondeti’s previous film Karthikeya which had a much better mix of action and supernatural, but Savyasachi just doesn’t have a strong enough story and the various side-plots detract too much from the central action. This could have been a better film if the story had stuck to the idea of alien hand syndrome with a better realised villain or a more involved romance rather than trying to add both. This is one probably better watched on DVD or Netflix when you can forward past the slow and confusing set-up and get straight to the action.

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Rx 100

Rx 100

There is an interesting story lurking behind all the violence and sex in Ajay Bhupathi’s directorial debut, but it’s frequently hidden behind a rambling approach and a lax attitude towards editing. The story of a young man driven to drugs and alcohol by the loss of his ‘one-true-love’ also leads to comparisons with Arjun Reddy and Devdas, but the village-based Rx 100 has none of the epic scale or attention to detail seen in these films. However, there are some good points and Ajay Bhupathi has made a real attempt to deliver something different, even if he does falter somewhat with the execution.

Rx 100 is basically a love story (although perhaps not quite as ‘incredible’ as advertised), with various diversions into standard masala-style village-based politics. Where the film takes a different route is in the development of the romance between Shiva (Kartikeya Gummakonda) and Indu (Payal Rajput), and the events that happen after the couple are separated by Indu’s father, Vishwanadham (Rao Ramesh). The first half sets up the background, introducing Shiva as a violent and unpredictable man who beats up one of Vishwanadham’s men in front of a remarkably unresponsive crowd in the local market. The police are reluctant to press charges despite Shiva’s reputation,although the inspector threatens action if Shiva’s guardian (Ramki) fails to control his excesses in future. Despite oddly being called Daddy by all the villagers, Shiva’s guardian is mostly well respected but politics and Shiva’s relationship with Indu have soured his friendship with Vishwanadham, leading to a general rivalry between the two men.

The film moves into flash-back mode to explain how Shiva ended up addicted to alcohol and cannabis, roaming around the village on an Rx 100 Yamaha bike threatening Vishwanadham’s men, destroying his property and generally interfering in his business as much as one drunk can. The flashback starts with Vishwanadham’s win in the local elections and the subsequent celebrations, which just happen to coincide with the return of Vishwanadham’s daughter Indu.

Shiva isn’t particularly impressed by Indu when she arrives back in the village after finishing her engineering degree, mostly because she is rude and disrespectful to her grandmother, but she’s also just not a particularly appealing character. Indu has a sophistication and modern taste in fashion that is completely at odds with her more traditional family, but it’s her approach to romance that really sets her apart. She sees Shiva shirtless during the celebration and instantly falls in lust, leading her to bully her way into his life and basically act like any typical Telugu filmi hero in order to gain his attention. While it’s refreshing to have the tables turned and the girl carry out the stalking, I wonder if it’s really likely that Shiva would be quite so innocent and naïve as he is portrayed here?

Indu teaches Shiva how to kiss, how to smoke and eventually how to have a full-blown love affair as she sneaks away from home and the two head out to the fields on Shiva’s trusty Rx 100. Sadly for the two lovers, their idyllic summer can’t last and just when Indu seems to be ready to speak to her father about the romance, Vishwanadham announces her marriage to an NRI from America. So far apart from the fairly explicit (for a Telugu film) sex scenes and the girl chasing the guy dynamic, the story seems to be following a well-trodden path.

However, it’s the fallout from what happens next that sets the story off on a completely unexpected trajectory, with Shiva spending the next three years pining for his lost love and attempting to seek revenge on her father after Indu leaves for the USA. When Indu finally does come home the revelations that follow alter life irrevocably for both families, ending with a shocking and mostly novel finale.

While the story picks up in the second half, sadly the execution never quite reaches the level needed to make Rx 100 compelling viewing. It’s a real mishmash of good and bad – often in the same scene. For example, when Shiva is dragged from the wedding, he is badly beaten up by Vishwanadham ‘s men and locked in a barn. While it’s refreshing to have a hero who doesn’t have the strength of a thousand men and who stays down after being realistically thrashed, the problem here is that after the first beating, the gang return and do it again. And again. While this may be a nod to the ‘real-life’ story supposedly portrayed by the film, it’s simply unnecessary at this point in the film, and simply drags out the scene for no gain in the story. The same problem occurs with the love-making scenes which seem to be more an opportunity for Kartieya to take his shirt off (again), and for Payal Rajput to show plenty of skin. It’s part of the story up to a point and then it just becomes gratuitous and voyeuristic. Also problematic is the climax which seems to absolve Shiva of responsibility for his excesses while blaming everyone else and generally Ajay Bhupathi tells the story as a flat narrative without much depth or insight into the characters behaviour.

What does work well is the relationship between Vishwanadham and Daddy, with the two veteran actors providing a solid backbone to the story. Both Ramesh Rao and Ramki fit perfectly into their roles and give the film some much needed structure and balance, while of the support cast, Lakshmam is notable in his role as Daddy’s right hand man. Payal Rajput too is excellent, and her portrayal of Indu as an opportunistic and callous personality with few redeeming features is well done. In particular her performance in the finale is fantastic and provides a good contrast to Kartikeya Gummakonda’s rather excessive scenery chewing. For the most part Kartikeya veers between a good representation of a rather naïve and gullible young man and an exaggerated idea of desperation. When he’s not overdoing the emotion, he’s good but dialling back on some of the excesses would have made for a more polished performance and overall a more entertaining film.

Other good points include a polished background score from Smaran and  enjoyable songs from Chaithan Bharadwaj along with excellent cinematography from Raam including some quirky shots that bring to mind Mysskin’s obsession with the view at floor-level. The novel approach to a love story is also a selling point, but there is too much dressing and not enough foundation to the story which reduces the impact. Rx 100 may not be an incredible love story, but it is interesting and if you can cope with the uneven delivery it does pay off in the end. If nothing else it leaves you wondering just what Ajay Bhupathi will come up with next.

 

Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India (2018)

Naa Peru Surya

After writing a couple of hits for Telugu cinema, Vakkantham Vamsi has moved into directing his own screenplay with the release of Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India. However, despite an excellent opening scene, the film quickly loses momentum and is let down by poor story development and lack-lustre dialogue, most notably between the hero and his estranged father. The bones of the story are there, but Vamsi tries to mix in too much masala in the form of a dodgy crime boss and a rather limp romance, that dilute down what could have been an excellent coming of age movie. It’s still entertaining though, mainly due to an outstanding performance from Allu Arjun, while there are some excellent action and dance sequences that almost make up for the jumbled storyline.

Bunny is Surya, an army officer with more than a few anger management issues. This leads him into trouble, although to be fair the two incidences where he loses his temper in the opening scene are reasonably justified. It’s more that the magnitude of his response is well above what would be considered ‘normal’ and that’s what ends up being his downfall. After an incident with a terrorist leads to his dismissal from the army, his only shot at redemption is to get a letter signed by eminent psychologist Dr Rama Krishna Raju (Arjun Sarja) certifying that Surya has conquered his anger issues. The problem is that Dr Rama is actually Surya’s father, although the two haven’t spoken since Surya walked out when he was 16 years of age. Surya has been raised and supported by his ‘uncle’ Rao Ramesh, who has sponsored his recruitment into the army and manages to persuade his commander, Colonel Sanjay Shrivastav (Boman Irani) to give Surya one last chance.

There is great potential here, but the basic story of Surya’s road to redemption is almost lost behind the subplot of conflict with gangster Challa (R Sarathkumar) his son (Thakur Anoop Singh) and henchmen, Pradeep Rawat and Harish Uthaman. While these scenes are well filmed with great action sequences, Surya’s anger management plans languish in poorly constructed scenes with his father. Where there should have been crackling tension between Surya and Dr Rama there is instead uncomfortable chat that doesn’t come close to developing any kind of relationship between the two men. Granted the premise is that Dr Rama has completely shut Surya out of his life, and Surya will do absolutely anything to get back into his beloved army, but their interactions are so cold and clumsy that they become meaningless. What I wanted was tension and some level of self-realisation from Dr Rama and Surya, but instead there is just Surya’s anger, represented by discordant background music, and a manufactured conflict between Surya and Challa’s son that he needs to ignore if Surya is to go 21 days without fighting.

Oh yes – that’s the other odd plot point. If Surya can demonstrate no angry outbursts in 21 days he will apparently have conquered his problem. This sounds like a google-based plan of anger management and not the evidence-based behavioural therapy expected from a University based psychology professor, but by this point it’s not one of the most far-fetched ideas in the film.

Also problematical is Surya’s romance with Varsha (Anu Emmanuel). Anyone faced with the kind of anger towards them displayed by Surya would start running and not look back, so Varsha’s continued interest in Surya is hard to fathom, especially when she has zero chemistry with Bunny (and how is this even possible?). The romance makes little sense and doesn’t fit into Surya’s self-inflicted isolation shown in earlier scenes when he single-mindedly pursues his goal to be stationed at the border. Anu Emmanuel has little to do other than look glamorous and ‘stand by her man’ at the appropriate point in proceedings. All of which she does competently but it’s another disappointingly pointless heroine role that adds little to the main story. Another wasted character is Surya’s mother, who doesn’t fit at all well into the narrative and fluctuates between apparently not recognising her son and extreme anger at his absence for all these years.

Despite the shortcomings with the screenplay, what does work here is the character of Surya and his struggles to conform. Surya does manage to control his anger but it’s at the expense of his own self-worth and Bunny gets that inner conflict across perfectly. He shows the enthusiasm and fire that drives Surya to be the best soldier he can be, along with Surya’s passion for his country and makes it seem completely natural. Even better are the later scenes where Surya has to come to terms with the compromises he has made to try and meet his 21 days target. What the dialogue doesn’t manage to get across is plain to see on Surya’s face and in his body language. It really is one of the best performances I’ve seen from Allu Arjun and he completely gets under the skin of his character, dour and driven, with only the songs showing his normal cheeky grin. The support cast are all competent and do as much as they can with their limited roles. Thakur Anoop Singh makes the most impact and is impressive in the action scenes, while Vennela Kishore does manage to sneak in some comedy. It’s great to see Arjun Sarja back onscreen but disappointing that he has so little to do here.

The action sequences are excellent and choreographed to make Surya’s one-man army seem plausible, particularly when intercut with scenes of his army training. Naturally no-one can stop Surya when he’s angry, but the action is well put together and Bunny makes it all look effortless. The songs are generally good too, although the first two have little dancing – which surely is a crime in an Allu Arjun film. However just as I thought that, Lover also, Fighter also started with some great moves and awesome tricks with a cap. Bunny interchanges between ultra-classy and gangsta-wannabe in this song, but when it’s right, no-one does stylish like Allu Arjun!

Vakkantham Vamsi tries to include ideas about the evolution of home-grown terrorists but this is overly simplified and has little impact. I was expecting plenty of patriotism and Naa Peru Surya has a surfeit of flag waving and speeches about a United India that feel contrived, but inevitable in any film that mentions the army. If Vamsi had stuck to a straight-forward story about one man’s redemption this would have been an excellent film. However as it stands, with the additions of a gangster storyline, romance and failed family relationships, Naa Peru Surya has too many threads vying for attention and doesn’t do justice to any of them. Worth watching for Bunny, Arjun Sarja, who does a good job with his limited dialogue, and the dance sequences – just don’t expect too much from the story.