Sarileru Neekevvaru

Anil Ravipudi’s latest film Sarileru Neekevvaru is an odd mix of action and comedy that individually are fine but which don’t gel together particularly well. On the plus side, Mahesh Babu is excellent, Vijayashanti is an absolute standout and Prakash Raj is back to doing what he does best as a nasty and vindictive villain. It’s an entertaining film but for me could have been better if Anil Ravipudi had stuck to just one idea and made 2 movies instead. 

The film opens with Bharati (Vijayashanti) establishing her no-nonsense persona by slapping a drunk and obnoxious student in her class before moving northwards to introduce Major Ajay Krishna (Mahesh Babu), a bomb disposal expert in the army. After setting a rather somber tone with Ajay in front of the Indian flag, the film takes an abrupt turn into comedy as Ajay is called to defuse a bomb but insists on his side-kick Shiv Prasad (Rajendra Prasad) brewing him a cup of coffee first. Then just as quickly things turn serious again as Ajay shoots the bomber dead after a short chase through the streets. It’s this jerky transition between comedy and action that makes it difficult to connect with the film as the emotional changes are too sudden to be anything other than jarring, even though each works well for that particular scene.

Bharati’s son Ajay is also a soldier in Major Ajay’s team, but when he is seriously injured in action, Major Ajay goes to visit Bharati to try and break the news sometime during her daughter’s wedding. This is another scene that doesn’t sit well, as it seems quite unlikely that this would actually happen in real life, given that there was no need to keep the incident secret. It also seemed an unlikely use of resources to send a bomb expert away to a wedding when his talents were so clearly needed by the army. It’s obvious at this stage where the film is going to go since Major Ajay is an orphan, but the whole set-up is too filmi and contrived to fit naturally into the story.

On the train the film switches back into comedy as Ajay meets Samskruthi (Rashmika Mandanna) and her crazy family. Samskruthi is desperate not to marry her father’s choice of a groom and enlists her two sisters and her mother (Sangeetha Krish) in every more ridiculous schemes to find an alternate husband. Most of this is laugh-out-loud funny, but some portions are simply inappropriate and not at all amusing – there is nothing funny about rape or domestic violence for instance. However I enjoyed watching the heroine stalk the hero for a change, even if it is clumsily set up. Rashmika is good in these comedy sequences, but I kept wishing that I just wish that Samskruthi had been less of a loosu ponnu caricature and had more to do than just chase after Ajay. I’ve seen Rashmika in a few films now and she is an excellent actress so it’s a real shame that she doesn’t have more to do here, especially in the second half. The best comedy actually comes from Sangeetha as Samskruthi’s mother. She has some of the funniest facial expressions and excellent comedic timing throughout, even making her oft-repeated line about being married off at 14 years of age much funnier that it really should be.

It is odd that Samskruthi is such a poorly realised character since Anil Ravipudi proves he can write a good female role with Bharati. Vijayashanti is superb here and her defiance of MLA Nagendra Reddy (Prakash Raj) is very well written. I really like how she is a strong and confident woman who has managed to raise her family, maintain a farm and teach medicine as a single parent. Her confrontations with Nagendra Reddy work well, and her gradual adoption of Ajay seems plausible given her overall character. It’s good to see someone other than the hero get the chance to fight back, and even though she then relies on Ajay to ‘rescue’ her, Bharati still gets stuck in when she needs to. 

There are a number of brief appearances from CinemaChaat favourites including Ajay as one of Nagendra Reddy’s thugs, and Subbaraju as Crime Branch Koti; an investigator who becomes involved when a number of murders are discovered relating to Nagendra Reddy. Rao Ramesh appears as Samskruthi’s long suffering father and Jayaprakash Reddy is excellent as Nagendra Reddy’s father who has very clear ideas about how to get rid of any opposition. The mix of comedy and action works better in the scenes with Prakash Raj and his various thugs, although there is still the odd serious note that appears to break the flow of the film. Part of this harks back to Ajay being in the army, and he repeatedly brings up the fact that soldiers are at the border defending the country against attack, while politicians feather their nests and don’t look after the people they are meant to represent. It’s a fair point, but I don’t think comparing the army to the politicians works as well as Anil Ravipudi may have wished. I can see what he’s getting at, but I don’t think that bringing the army into the discussion is necessary to point out why Nagendra Reddy and his counterparts are bad men.

The film itself is well put together with fantastic action sequences while Mahesh looks fighting fit and appropriately athletic throughout. The comedy sequences too are well put together, and it’s mainly the melding of these components that seems to have been skipped. Sarileru Neekevvaru works as a better than average Mahesh movie thanks to the strong supporting cast and a reasonable storyline, but it could have been just that little bit better if either the comedy had been toned down or the action made less heavy-handed. It’s still a worthwhile watch and worth it for Mahesh, Vijayashanti and Prakash Raj.

Dear Comrade

The opening scenes of Dear Comrade hark back to Vijay Deverakonda’s previous film, Arjun Reddy, but as events unfold it turns out that this is a completely different kind of film. Dear Comrade is a romantic drama that starts off with a love story, but ends up tackling sexual harassment, aiming to shed some light on why women may decide against reporting the crime. While this may make the film sound like heavy going, it’s actually quite the opposite as writer/director Bharath Kamma adds plenty of light-hearted moments along with the sad, while Justin Prabhakaran provides an excellent soundtrack that even means we get to see Vijay Deverakonda dance. There is a lot going on in this film and it’s inevitable that it doesn’t all work, but there is still plenty here to both entertain and hopefully to spark some discussion, even if the message is sometimes obscured behind rather more standard Telugu action fare.

The film starts with a drunk and seemingly demented Bobby (Vijay Deverakonda) desperately trying to get in touch with his ex, Lilly (Rashmika Mandanna). It’s a role Vijay has played many times in the past, but before he becomes too much of a caricature, the film moves into flashback to explain Bobby’s history. Moving back to his student days, Bobby is seen as an impulsive and reactive student union leader who firmly believes that you have to fight to get what you want in life. He’s impetuous and hot-headed with a tendency to argue with his fists just as much as with rhetoric, a stance that makes him unpopular with his college principal and the police but a good friend to have on your side. These revolutionary tendencies are apparently due to his grandfather (Charuhasan) who teaches Bobby what it means to be a comrade. Sure, Bobby fights for what he believes is right, but also mainly because it seems to be something he enjoys doing.

Bobby meets Lilly when her family visit the house next door for her cousin Jaya’s (Shruti Ramachandran) wedding. A nice touch comes from Bobby previously having a crush on Jaya when the two were children, which gives a camaraderie between the two that continues through and has an impact in the second half. This time though it’s Lilly that Bobby starts to develop feelings for, and I love how the tables are turned and it’s Bobby who stares wistfully out of a window while Lilly is (almost) completely oblivious to his presence. The romance is slow to develop, but once it does, there is magic in every moment the two spend together, helped by Justin Prabhakaran’s evocative music. It’s not all smooth sailing though as Lilly has reasons for being wary of someone who gets into as many fights as Bobby, while Bobby can’t figure out if Lilly really likes him or just has her own agenda.

There are some very satisfying moments in this first half, such as the way Bobby finds out that Lilly is a State level cricket player and how his group of friends change their attitude from patronising to respectful once they discover she really can play. It’s nicely done to point out the prejudice without ever feeling spiteful or overly feminist. Lilly’s attitude to Bobby is refreshingly honest and the two have wonderful chemistry together that ensures their romance feels plausibly real. When the breakdown occurs between the two characters it develops organically as Lilly finds she cannot cope with someone so angry and violent, while Bobby can’t understand why she won’t stand up and believe in him as much as he believes in her. Vijay Deverakonda and Rashmika Mandanna were excellent in Geetha Govindam, and they work just as well together here, although in the second half the attention moves more to Rashmika as her character has to face some major challenges in her career.

Everything changes after the interval when Bobby heads off to find himself and hopefully lose his memories of Lilly while doing so. As in all Indian films, a journey of discovery means a motorbike and a trip to Ladakh, but that does mean awesome scenery so I’m not going to complain. But while Bobby has been off recording nature and trying to control his impulsive side, Lilly has had major problems in her life. Unfortunately, the film only shows these briefly once Bobby comes back into her life and Bobby’s actions as he literally kidnaps Lilly from the hospital where she has been recovering don’t seem plausible at all. But just when it seems that Bobby may be the cure Lilly needed to recover, the film takes another turn and we learn the reason behind Lilly’s departure from her promising cricket career.

What does work well here is the portrayal of Lilly’s reluctance to pursue any action against the cricket selector Ramesh Rao (Raj Arjun) who sexually, physically and mentally harassed her. The pressures of family, embarrassment and shame are all clearly portrayed as is the inevitable media reaction and appalling treatment received by Lilly and her family as they try to avoid the storm Bobby creates when he learns the truth. Bharath Kamma completely changes the direction of the film and suddenly the focus is on Lilly and her reluctance to bring any of the harassment out into the open. Bobby’s lack of understanding about why Lilly won’t fight and his frustration and anger is perfectly shown here and this is what makes Dear Comrade such an interesting film. There are few Telugu films that show the consequences of reporting harassment so clearly, and even if Lilly’s experience isn’t quite as bad as what can actually happen in real life, it does at least give some idea of the sort of courage that is needed to go ahead with any accusation of this nature.

For me this is Rashmika Mandanna’s film through and through and she is excellent in a role that requires her to be non-confrontational and frightened. Her reactions are mostly what would be expected of anyone from a similar background put into the same situation, and although I really wanted her to fight back, I could totally understand why she wouldn’t even try. She really gets into the heart and soul of the character and I love how she doesn’t see bobby as her salvation, but instead as the person who just makes her miserable with his demands. In a film industry where the hero isn’t allowed to ever be anything other than the perfect partner, it’s so refreshing to see Vijay Deverakonda take backstage and be exactly what Lilly doesn’t need instead.

On one hand this is a film that deals with relationships and the consequences when one partner thrives on violent confrontations while the other tries as hard as possible to avoid conflicts of any kind. On the other hand, Dear Comrade deals with sexual harassment and the routine abuse that women have to deal with day in and day out. It is a rather male slanted view, but perhaps that’s what is needed to reach the people who need to understand the fear and powerlessness that comes with this type of abuse. At least with the presence of Vijay Deverakonda, well-staged fight scenes and a sizzling romance, there is a good chance that more people will be watching. This was so much better than I expected and despite a few mis-steps and missed opportunities, this is one of my favourite Telugu films this year. Highly recommended.

Geetha Govindam (2018)

Geetha Govindam

Parasuram’s Geetha Govindam takes a while to get going, but once it’s up and running, this romantic comedy is better than expected, mostly due to the excellent performances from Vijay Deverakonda and Rashmika Mandanna. It also helps that the heroine is a strong character who doesn’t get repeatedly shunted aside by the hero, and that the story takes an alternative approach to the usual stalker plot. Add in some catchy songs, another good performance from Rahul Ramakrishna, and Geetha Govindam is definitely well worth a watch.

The film starts with Vijay Govind (Vijay Deverakonda) relating the story of his romance to a passer-by (Nithya Menen) as she waits for her car to be repaired. This seem to be a rather outdated way to introduce the story, but there is a reason for Nithya’s character, although that isn’t clear until the very end of the film. However, instead of diving right into the story, there is a prolonged and rather slow introduction that sets up Vijay’s character. For the most part he’s a fairly typical young bloke who enjoys hanging out and drinking with his friends, but Vijay also has a rather idealised view of marriage that makes him appear naïve and innocent. That doesn’t stop him following a girl and staging a mock fight scene in an attempt to make her fall for him, but he’s also flustered by the amorous advances of one of his students at the local college where he teaches. Vijay also has a bad habit of listening to his friend Krishna (Rahul Ramakrishna) who has a rather more direct approach to women and acts as the devil on Vijay’s shoulder, enticing him into bad decisions. The angel on Vijay’s other shoulder is his father (Naga Babu) who has brought him up to respect women and act responsibly. The question here is which voice Vijay will follow when he sees Geetha (Rashmika Mandanna) in a temple and is instantly attracted.

After a less than auspicious start, Vijay’s luck turns when he’s travelling home for his sister’s engagement and Geetha ends up on the same bus. Unfortunately for Vijay, Geetha still isn’t in the slightest bit interested and when he starts to talk to her on the bus she shuts him down immediately, calling him out for asking stupid questions. I love this interaction as Geetha demonstrates she won’t take any nonsense from Vijay and that she is quite able to stand up for herself.  A partial softening on her stance as the journey goes on, is abruptly banished when Vijay does something stupid, egged on by the drunken ramblings of his friend Krishna. From here, things go seriously downhill, made even worse when it turns out that Geetha’s brother Phaneendra (Subbaraju) is engaged to be married to Govind’s sister (Mouryani). Geetha wants her brother to avenge her honour and Phaneendra is out for blood while Vijay’s father asserts that he would literally die if Vijay ever did anything to smirch his reputation. Vijay now has a serious problem on his hands. Worse still, he has to rely on Geetha not revealing the true story, when she has every reason to shame Vijay in front of his family.  To add to his woes, Vijay and Geetha are tasked with delivering the invitations and doing all the shopping for the wedding, which throws them together repeatedly back in Hyderabad.

Geetha thinks that Vijay is an irresponsible womaniser and sees evidence of his debauchery everywhere. Vijay on the other hand is desperate to prove that he’s actually a nice guy and that everything that happened was an accident. This gives plenty of opportunity for some excellent comedy but still allows the point to be made that Geetha has every right to be angry and upset – a point which Vijay also acknowledges. His continual ‘Madam’ and ‘sorry’ are used to good effect as is his claim that he did not mean it wantedly (I think the subtitles meant wantonly which would make more sense!).

The friction between Vijay and Geetha works well due to excellent chemistry between the two actors. Rashmika is perfect as an angry young woman who sees no reason to believe anything her brother-in-law-to-be says and her responses to his protestations of innocence are delivered with just the right amount of distain. Rashmika is just as good here as she was in Kirik Party with the added bonus that she is onscreen for the entire film here. Naturally she does start to fall for Vijay – with all that charm and a very cute smile, it would be hard to resist, but Rashmika ensures her characters change of heart is kept convincing and reasonably plausible. Even if all it takes is 1 explanation and a song.

Vijay Deverakonda completely sheds his Arjun Reddy persona and totally owns the film as a man desperate to redeem himself in the eyes of the girl he really likes while making sure he doesn’t incur the wrath of her brother or jeopardise his sister’s wedding. There is some excellent comedy here as Vijay wriggles and grovels, willing to try almost anything to prove to Geetha that he’s not the man she thinks he is. While it’s impressive that Parasuram manages to take a fairly standard character and bring something new to the story, Vijay really takes on all of his characters failings and makes them believable. There is really no rational explanation why the nice and well brought up Vijay would do some of the things suggested by Krishna, but Vijay Deverakonda makes it seem not only plausible but perfectly logical nonetheless.

While the relationship between Geetha and Vijay is well done, there are a few misses in the film too. Vennela Kishore pops up as a potential bridegroom for Geetha, but his character is oddly written and doesn’t fit well into the rest of the story. The slow introduction is also an issue and there are a few scenes that are just too unlikely to work. These end up as distractions rather than adding to the story, and as a result some of the second half feels overly long and drawn out. Adding Nithya Menon’s character to a frame narrative is also an odd choice and really not necessary while a few of the other characters, Ravi Prakash’s police officer for example, don’t add anything to the plot either.

Overall Geetha Govindam is funny and entertaining, while the romance is just different enough to keep the story interesting Gopi Sundar’s music is well incorporated into the film and the songs are catchy and well choreographed to show the two leads to advantage. Worth watching for Vijay’s charm and Rashmika’s confidence which make this one of the better Telugu romantic films of the year so far.