Awe

Awe takes a crack at some familiar material, trying to deliver something new. And it is something new in the context of mainstream Telugu film, far from the usual mass hero driven shenanigans. But it reminded me of a couple of  Hollywood films, and Prasanth Varma is a bit heavy handed and clearly doesn’t want anyone to miss out on his cleverness. This was a film I wanted to love but I was left mildly underwhelmed.

SPOILER ALERT! I want to mention a couple of ideas the film plays with so I will have a few spoilers. But I will leave a few surprises.

Radha (Eesha Rebba) waits at a restaurant with her parents. They’re going to meet her partner, Krish, for the first time. Krish sounds like exactly what her parents wanted for Radha; a doctor, same caste, only child. But Krish is a woman (Nityha Menen). We jump into the story of Nala (Priyardarshi Pullikonda) a down on his luck man trying out for a job as a cook. He is clueless but luckily a wise talking fish (voiced by Nani) is there to help and a talking tree (voiced by Ravi Teja) is there because there weren’t enough comedy uncles in the cast. The episodes spool by. A precocious little girl Moksha (Kaitlyn) has a battle of magic and wits with a rude, overbearing magician (Murli Sharma). A doorman (Srinivas Avasarala) is building a time machine so he can go find his parents. But then the mysterious Parvathi (Devadarshini) arrives from the future to stop him. Mira (Regina Cassandra) is plotting a heist with her boyfriend, and the stress and the drugs she takes trigger interesting hallucinations or maybe something more sinister. In between the scene shifts to Kali (Kajal Aggarwal), a woman in obvious distress who is waiting for a sign.

The stories and their locations seem unrelated initially so the jumping around was a bit irritating as episodes terminate in a cliffhanger. As the film loops back to pick up the various stories the location and times merge into one quirky looking food court, and the characters start to be seen in each other’s worlds. The set design is kind of shoddy and obviously fake which also puzzled me at first. The morse code device looked like a prop from a low budget school play. But like Pizza, a lot of things make much more sense after a point. It’s a bit risky leaving things looking half baked until that clicks for the audience. If you miss all the hints it is spelled out by the end. The one dimensional characters also make more sense once you realise how they relate back to one particular person and how they colour the way the others are depicted.

Because the story is told in quite a gimmicky way I didn’t feel the actors were all able to rise above the material. Murli Sharma is trapped in a tedious story and not even his wild overacting could get him out of it. Priyadarshi didn’t really hit his stride until the latter part of his story. And no matter how I consider it, I can’t see how the fish and the tree fit into the overarching conceit of the film other than to get some more star names on the poster. Rohini was fun and still heartfelt as Radha’s mum, struggling not to let her disapproval break a vow of silence.. Regina Cassandra has presence and Mira is a challenging role in some respects, being an unlikeable and untrustworthy person. She seems like a misfit in the largely family friendly ensemble of characters but may be the most real.

Prasanth Varma was ambitious in his treatment of a film without a Hero. A bit of research on female psychology and gender would have helped enormously with the execution. Kajal was unusually sombre as Kali and did her best to show the confusion and pain of long term mental illness and emotional damage. Her character made one particular choice that didn’t ring true and a cursory Google would have told the writer to choose something else. But having a happy and openly lesbian couple is such a positive change in representation in Indian films, I can’t whinge too much. And good on Nithya Menen for giving Krish a go. She was cheeky, a bit irreverent, loved the ladies and all in all embraced her namesake as a role model. But Krish’s explanation of why Radha identified as gay was more driven by the plot than any nuanced analysis, overly simplistic but I think well intentioned. There is some truth in saying some women could reduce psychological issues if they spoke up about being assaulted and got help, but there was almost no consideration that the better solution is for men to stop raping women. Everything comes back to women having to save themselves.

It’s a good film but I wanted great. I saw the big reveal coming from a mile away, so I wanted more from the characterisation and the detail of living this life. See it and see what you think.

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Jyo Achyutananda

jyo-achyutananda-poster

The film opens with an awkward family photo session. The photographer tries to get the two boys to loosen up and stand closer together, and tries to get the mum to look mildly happy. And so we learn the brothers Achyuth (Nara Rohit) and Anand (Naga Shourya) had a falling out and the mother (Seetha) is grieving her recently deceased husband…Well, to be fair she spends the whole film looking tearful or giving people the stink eye. The tension continues at home as Achyuth reminds Anand of the disparity in their earnings and who is the head of the family.

Through flashbacks we see the boys in happier, pre-moustache times. They sneak cigarettes and enjoy gossipy chat over snacks, and seem to be each other’s best friends. There is rivalry over the dumbest things but it is all pretty good natured. Until they both fall for the same girl. Jyosna, or Jyo (Regina Cassandra) is their new neighbour and commits the crime of being single and gorgeous. The boys fall over themselves to impress her, but she sees them only as friends. This does nothing to dampen their enthusiasm and they cut each other’s lunch with abandon. Anand is goofy and puppy like but Achyuth reveals a less likeable side of his persona, especially when he burns her passport to prevent her from leaving to study overseas. Yes. And then they blame her somehow for their father having a heart attack, assuming she told him that his sons were vile and that’s why he dropped dead. Jyo leaves with the support of her dad (a beautifully warm and understated Tanikella Bharani) and so that chapter closes. But the boys’ rivalry festers into something nastier over the years…and then Jyo comes back.

The way the story unfolds initially is lots of fun. Each brother tells his wife that it was the other brother who had a thing for Jyo and the detailed recounting is filled with little jibes. The brother who is acting out the story being told gets to do some excellent hamming and spout cheesy dialogue. Then we see the “real” version of all three becoming friends and indulging in a song montage all over Hyderabad.

Here’s another notable song moment.  Man stalks girl at market, girl tries to make him go away, man becomes more persistent, girl goes to the police who throw her back into the man’s arms and then join in the dance. It was an early inkling that I was going to have issues with this film.

The second half covers what happens after Jyo returns, and I found myself liking both brothers less and less. They rarely spared a thought for their wives other than to try and keep them away from Jyo. They didn’t even think that much about Jyo and what she wanted. They were too far gone in their chest-beating weenie-waving man games.

It seems men are the only people in the film, the women are just fixtures. Priya and Kalpana are mocked by their husbands’ machinations to get with Jyo and the lies they tell. The lines are funny and their acting is fine, but the characters are not given any respect and the audience isn’t expected to find a problem with that. In some ways Jyo is punished for her failure to like one of the boys. She has to deal with the aggravation and the obstacles put in her way, try and sort out her own life and relationships, and she even gets saddled with fixing Achyuth and Anand. In a film supposedly about love and relationships, it’s a shame so many of the relationships seem a bit toxic.

I loved the performances by Nara Rohit and Naga Shourya. Loved them. They looked perfect, their chemistry was fantastic, their comedy timing was spot on, and when they fought it felt like they really meant it. Their late night snuggles and gossip like an old married couple were very funny and they brought the complex dynamic in their relationship to life. It seemed effortless. I wish they’d been playing characters I could have loved as much. Anand was the least objectionable because I could see his behaviour was driven more by emotion and impulse in the moment, and by conditioning to kick back at his overbearing big brother. Achyuth was more calculating and deliberately set out to hurt Anand and to control Jyo. I’d be laughing at something silly he’d do or say and then recoiling at the next moment. For example, at a corporate tennis match he hit the ball into an opponent’s face and high-fived his partner. The writing of his mean spiritedness is excellent and the things he chooses to do are really hurtful. So it was quality work in terms of insight into a sibling rivalry. But there is no real penalty for him, or Anand, and they reconcile because they want to go back to the good old days.

Regina Cassandra is great as Jyosna. Despite occasionally being made to forget she has a brain, Jyo is a smart and independent woman who has ideas about her future and who should be in it. She is lively without being manic and I liked the way she shifted tone slightly depending on which of the brothers she was talking to. Jyo’s return and the subsequent scheme to set things back to rights was a bit muddled but I enjoyed all of her screen time. And I was chuffed when Nani showed up for her.

Srinivas Avasarala wrote and directed and shows his love of, and influences from, cinema. While the structure works and he handles the flashbacks quite well, he maybe lacked some confidence in his audience. Every joke is underscored with loud sound effects, there is a bit too much repetition in some scenes, and he hammers home the obvious points. Visually the film is pleasant but gets a bit cheesy in songs. I liked the parallels between present day and the past boys relationships and the ending was neatly done.

The audience was in stitches at some of the lines, so I missed a lot. But if all the jokes were on par with the English ones, then I don’t think it was a huge loss. Has anyone over the age of 9 ever said “I miss you from the heart of my bottom” and genuinely expected a laugh?

The good bits are good, the actors are great, but the film left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe this would improve with the benefit of subtitles but whatever it is that raised my hackles would still be there. It’s a shame. I’d love to see more low-key relationship driven films coming out of the Telugu industry, but not ones that idolise a load of male wish fulfilment BS. (Note: I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with the film Love Actually so I’ve got form in this genre)

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham is the début film for Sai Dharam Tej and as to be expected for the launch of Tollywood’s latest hero, it’s a mass action adventure with plenty of comedy and a smidgeon of romance. Although there is a fine and distinguished support cast, the camera focuses mainly on the latest member of the mega family to make an appearance on the big screen, and Sai Dharam Tej succeeds in holding attention centre stage for the 2 hours and 12 minutes screen time.  Chiru’s nephew has inherited the mega-family dancing genes and more than a little of his uncle’s charisma, although for most of the film he reminds me of a Labrador puppy, boisterous, exuberant, and just needing a little bit more time to grow into his personality. It’s not an outstanding movie, but it’s perfectly fine for a debut, and director A.S. Ravi Kumar Chowdary delivers an entertaining hero-centric story that does have a few unexpected twists along the way.

The film begins in fairly traditional mode with two politicians, Gangaprasad (Sayaji Sjinde) and Prabhakar (Prakash Raj), vying with each other for the position of Chief Minister.  Gangaprasad is outed as corrupt by investigative journalist Shafi (Shafi), who seems content to announce such major news on an apparently relatively small TV network. Perhaps that is why Gangaprasad feels that no-one is likely to notice if Shafi disappears immediately after these revelations, and sends his tame thugs to dispose of the journalist and his wife. How could anyone be suspicious of the politician involved, if the journalist revealing corruption goes missing immediately after said revelations? Hm. Gangaprasad also orders the death of Siri (Regina Cassandra), which is the threat that starts the politician’s eventual downfall, although the reasons why her death is necessary aren’t explained until later in the story.

Maisamma (Jagapathi Babu), the rowdy sheeter (according to the subtitles – I have no idea what a rowdy sheeter actually is, but it seemed an adequate description) charged with carrying out these orders receives a visit from Seenu (Sai Dharam Tej) who asks to be killed by the gang. The explanation involves a flashback to the story of the romance between Siri and Seenu, but despite that being the ostensible reason for the whole charade, the romance is given short shrift overall. There is very little chemistry between the two actors, probably because in true college romance formula, Siri initially can’t stand Seenu and it takes some time for their relationship to develop. Once a couple, they also don’t spend much time together at all; not even in the songs, which are focused more on showcasing Sai Dharam Tej and his undeniable skills in that area. Needless to say, although he’s a rowdy with a penchant for dealing in death, Maisamma is reluctant to kill by polite request, and demands an explanation which forms a large part of the rest of the first half.

The tone of the story is set early on when Seenu breaks into dance to illustrate his romance with Seenu and the gang of rowdies join in. I loved this, partly because there is nothing more amusing than watching big tough guys try to dance, but also because they all look as if they are really enjoying themselves. So good to see these guys do more than just hang around looking grim and then being beaten into a pulp by the hero. The comedy continues with Maisamma’s right hand man, Raghu Babu who along with Prabhas Sreenu and Ahuti Prasad, provides most of the humour for the film. No sign of Brahmi or Ali, thankfully, and the comedy feels much fresher as a result, even though it’s mostly the usual slapstick and innuendo. Sathya Krishna is excellent and very funny in a small role as Raghu Babu’s wife, and demonstrates just why I think she deserves larger roles in more films.

The second half does drag a little as Seenu manipulates everyone into doing what he needs them to do, but overall it’s funny and there is just enough action to keep the film moving in the right direction. Part of the lull may be because the first three songs are over quickly in the first half, and of the remaining two, one is used over a fight scene. That does work well and is clever use of the track, but does mean there is less peppy dancing later in the film. However Jagapathi Babu and the rest of the support cast are excellent as they try to chase down Seenu and Siri, and along with Sai Dharam’s Tej’s enthusiasm the lulls are temporary.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the film is that Seenu isn’t a hero with amazing fighting skills, although he can fight when he has to, but rather he relies on his wits to get him out of trouble. Although his manipulations get ever more unrealistic and the comedy becomes improbable, Seenu has enough charm to carry it off. His dancing to Anoop Rubens excellent soundtrack is an advantage, and although he isn’t quite as smooth as his cousins, Sai Dharam Tej is definitely someone to look out for in the future. Regina Cassandra is also very good in a role that doesn’t give her too much scope, but she showcases a wide range of emotions effectively and looks to be capable of more. With an entertaining storyline, excellent support cast and likeable hero Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham is worth catching in the cinema for some good choreography and more than a few laughs.