Acharya (2022)

A movie starring both Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Mega Power Star Ram Charan was always going to be a ‘must watch’ film with the question being would it be as good as anticipated. The answer to that question is ‘sort of’ as Koratala Siva at least partially delivers with plenty of action and dancing featuring the two Mega Stars. But the story is less successful, following a predictable and rather pedestrian path. I still enjoyed the spectacle of father and son together on screen and with good choreography for both the songs and the action sequences, there is enough here to make Acharya a worthwhile trip to the cinema.

The film opens with a fairly long animated sequence explaining the history behind the twin villages of Dharmasthali and Padaghattam. At least I think that was what was happening, because the subtitles were difficult to follow and mostly didn’t make sense. But from what I could gather, the village of Dharmasthali developed after the goddess Gattamma came to Earth to defend the tribal people of Padaghattam. The villagers built a temple in her honour and continued to live a peaceful existence until the people of Dharmasthali became corrupted. In contrast the tribal village of Padaghattam still followed the traditional way of life, and still do today, producing ayurvedic medicines that they take across the river to Dharmasthali. However life is becoming more difficult for them as Dharmasthali becomes a hotbed of crime and violence and the goddess seems to be allowing her people to be attacked.

Excitingly for me, CinemaChaat favourite Ajay is playing the role of Vedanna, the leader of the Padaghattam people. Their belief in Dharma means that they are peaceful and won’t fight back when threatened, leaving them vulnerable to the corrupting influence of local bigwig Basava (Sonu Sood). I really enjoyed seeing Ajay in this more pacific role where he gets the chance to emote, conveying emotion using just his eyes and facial expressions instead of just being thug #1. I thought he was excellent here and kept smiling ecery time he appeared onscreen.

Basava is working with businessman and developer Rathod (Jisshu Sengupta) to mine the mineral resources of the region, mainly located in the virgin forest of Siddhavana. Rathod is vicious and nasty for no apparent reason, but Koratala Siva does at least give Basava a sort-of back story that involves a bad hairstyle and humiliation by the people of Padaghattam. He’s also a generally nasty character who enjoys inflicting terror and controlling everyone else around him. Basava has risen up to become the municipal chariman, which gives him control of Dharmasthali, although he still has a bad hairstyle which demonstrates that money isn’t everything as it hasn’t allowed him to find a better hairdresser.

Against the heightening tension between the temple and Basava’s thugs, a stranger arrives in town and sets up a carpenter business in Dharmasthali. Acharya (Chiranjeevi) at first seems to be a do-gooder who sets out to help the people affected by Basava’s greed, but it becomes clear that there is a deeper reason for his involvement. The second half reveals the story of Siddha (Ram Charan) and why Acharya is working to save the people of Padaghattam and Dharmasthali.

It’s a fairly standard story for SI cinema and Kortala Siva doesn’t add anything new to the tale. The hero arrives, the bad guy’s motivations are explained, and then they fight. Mix in a lot of discussion of Dharma, a dash of Temple festivals, Ayurvedic medicine and Naxalite freedom fighters and there you have it. The first half has gorgeous sets from production designer Suresh Selvarajan and cinematographer S Thirumavukkarasu makes the most of the sumptuous colours and beautiful scenery. I loved the first song  Laahe Laahe, featuring the stunning Sangeetha Krish, which bursts with colour and energy against the backdrop of the temple. And of course, add in Chiru dancing and it’s a total winner!

Siddha turns out to be the son of a Naxalite leader who was raised by the people of Padaghattam after his parents were killed. Acharya was tasked by Siddha’s father to raise his son in the movement and when Siddha is injured fighting against corruption in Dharmasthala it’s the perfect opportunity for him to go back to his roots. Ram Charan is excellent and his eyes are brilliantly expressive as he shows Siddha to be a true follower of Dharma. There are so many emotions conveyed between Siddha and Acharya just using their eyes that there is an entire section of the film that just focuses on their eyes for a good few minutes. I was in heaven! Although the story may be not be anything new, the interactions between Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi continually made me smile and lifted the energy of the film. 

The scenes where Ram Charan is dancing with Chiranjeevi are spectacular and feature plenty of Mega Star patented moves that Ram Charan performs under the approving eye of his dad. It’s really effective and I wanted to see more! The action sequences too are mostly well choreographed, apart from the finale which doesn’t work as well as the earlier pieces. In terms of spectacle and production, the film looks amazing and each set is obviously well designed and beautifully filmed. But essentially the film lacks depth. The reason for Acharya to be in Dharmasthala is revealed too late and so Chiranjeevi’s character lacks motivation for most of the first half. The second half is better and benefits from the interplay between Ram Charan and Chiru, but the finale could have been so much more if Kortala Siva had taken better care of his characters and thought more about Acharya’s motivation. 

Seasoned actors Nassar, Tanikella Bharani, Ravi Prakash and Vennela Kishore also put in an appearance and are all excellent in the type of roles they have played many, many times before. I’m not sure why Rathod’s main henchman Khilla (Shatru) had to have a deformity, but the bad guys are mostly faceless and evil because that’s what bad guys just are. Sonu Sood does his usual villain schtick effectively despite limited screentime and those dreadful wigs. But poor Pooja Hegde. After Beast I was hoping she would have a bigger role here, but she has even less to do here. Her character is mostly used as the reason for Acharya to explain Siddha’s history and apart from a song and a brief romance she barely appears in the film. 

I did enjoy Acharya and loved watching Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi together on screen. It’s unfortunate that the story doesn’t deliver the same emotional impact, but the songs from Mani Sharma are good, the action well choreographed and the dancing awesome! The worst part of the film is the subtitles which appeared to have been translated literally, and then misspelled (golry instead of glory, their instead of there – seriously did no-one check?) so that I was actually better trying to decipher the Telugu from my very limited vocabulary rather than rely on the subs. For a film with otherwise high production values, it seems such a shame to be let down so badly internationally for something like bad subtitles. So is Acharya worth watching – absolutely! Sit back, enjoy the performances and revel in the pairing of Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Mega Power Star Ram Charan.

Taxiwaala (2018)

Taxiwaala

Rahul Sankrityan’s Taxiwaala is a supernatural comedy based around a taxi driver’s relationship with his car – which turns out to have a few more extras than he bargained for. The film has plenty of laughs, mixed in with a smattering of uncanny moments and just enough to jump scares to keep it interesting, although it does start to falter a little in the second half. Thankfully Vijay Devarakonda, Madhunandan and Vishnu Oi make an excellent team, helping to keep the film on track as it attempts to veer off down a number of side alleys. Their top-notch performances and a well written story ensure Taxiwaala is entertaining, even if it does end with an overly sentimental finale.

The film starts with a few set-up scenes to introduce the concept of a haunted car and it doesn’t really take off until Shiva (Vijay Devarakonda) arrives at his uncle’s garage in Hyderabad, looking for work. His uncle Babai (Madhunandan) runs the garage along with his apprentice (Vishnu Oi) called Hollywood because of his interest in American films. Babai suggests a number of jobs for Shiva, but since all of these involve major effort for little reward, Shiva struggles to stay in any of them longer than a day. So when an advert for taxi drivers goes up on a billboard near the garage, it seems like the answer to Shiva’s problems. Except that he needs a car… and he doesn’t have any money…

Luckily for Shiva his brother (Ravi Prakash) and sister-in-law (Kalyani) come to his rescue and raise the money he needs. With his limited funds, Shiva doesn’t have much choice, but is overjoyed when a broker finds him a vintage Contessa car at the right price. Even though the owner Raghu Ram (Sijju Menon) seems dodgy, and we already know that the car has given its previous owner some issues, Shiva is ecstatic with his purchase and takes time to fully restore the vintage car before starting work as a taxi driver. Although Shiva does well as a taxi driver, it doesn’t take long for the true nature of his car to make itself known and Shiva has to decide if the risk is worth the reward. It’s not as simple as just giving up either, since Shiva is paying for his sister-in-law’s vital medical treatment now that he is in a position to pay his brother back.

What works really well here is the character of Shiva and his petrol-head fuelled love of his car. It’s easy to understand how he falls heads over heels for the vintage automobile at first sight and why it becomes such an integral part of his life so quickly. His girlfriend Anu even comments that she takes second place to the car, and that is very definitely true. Vijay Devakonda has plenty of charisma and he turns it on full for much of this film, endearing himself to his passengers and ultimately the audience too as he comes to grips with working as a taxi driver and dealing with customers. Vijay has great comedic timing and uses it to good effect throughout the film so that his actions come across as totally spontaneous, which is a hard thing to get right. Madheenandan and Vishnu Oi are also hilarious and writer Saikumar Reddy has done an excellent job with the dialogues which really are laugh-out-loud funny. Adding a more traditional comedy actor can completely change the tone of a film and move the comedy focus away from the action, however here Chammak Chandra enhances the story in his support role without taking anything away from the main leads. Also, a major plus is the fact that his comedy comes through dialogue rather than slapstick and his involvement is kept in context with the main action.

Newcomer Priyanka Jawalkar plays the role of Anu, a taxi passenger who ends up in a relationship with Shiva after he behaves chivalrously when she is very drunk one night. After the initial meeting, Priyanka has very little to do here, the entire romance is pretty much all contained in one song, and she doesn’t have much chemistry with Vijay so it’s hard to say too much about her capabilities. However she’s fine with what she has to work with and it will be interesting to see her in a more central role. Malavika Nair has a little more to do as Sisira Bharadwaj and there is an extended flashback in the second half that explains her story. She still doesn’t have enough screen time to make much of an impact but her performance is competent even if I didn’t quite buy into the reasoning behind her choices. The flashback involves Yamuna as Sisira’s mother, Shijju as her stepfather and Ravi Varma as a paranormal professor who explains the concept of astral projection, all of which means that the flashback is rather too long. While the length means it detracts somewhat from the main story, it does provide a neat explanation for everything that has happened so far and sets up the finale reasonably well.

Overall the film looks good and the special effects are well done, especially those centered on the car. The jump scares are genuinely unexpected and mostly tied in with some comedy which works really well. Jakes Bejoy’s music also fits the mood, particularly the background score, and the songs themselves are reasonably catchy. Sujith Sarang provides excellent cinematography and the action is all well choreographed and suits the characterisation of Shiva. There are no big all out fight scenes, but instead plenty of small action scenes, the most impressive of which require Vijay to act against the car. It’s to his credit that he makes these believable with his reactions. Rekhs and her team (credited for a change!) do a magnificent job ensuring that the subtitles make sense in English, and they have also subtitled the written captions, which are so often forgotten in films. I love the yellow font too, which is so much more visible and easier to read than white.

The only real issues here are the long diversions in the second half to explain the supernatural element and a rather schmaltzy finale which all happens a little too easily for me. For the most part the story moves along well and although there are some obvious plot holes I think that is to be expected when talking about something so unrealistic. The best part of the film is undoubtedly the comedy but with great performances and a well written story, Taxiwaala is definitely another hit for Vijay Devarakonda. It’s clear he’s going places too – last night’s Melbourne show was the first Telugu film in a long time that played to a full cinema and the film had an appreciative reception. This is one definitely worth catching on the big screen to get the full impact of the special effects and really appreciate the comedy.

 

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.