Sarrainodu

Sarrainodu

If all you want in a movie is plenty of gory fight scenes and a couple of good tunes then Sarrainodu is probably the film for you. But on the other hand, if you prefer a cohesive story with an actual plotline, semi-plausible romance and an attempt at more than one-dimensional stock characters, then best to steer clear. The one saving grace in Sarrainodu is Allu Arjun, who manages to entertain even while playing a violent, psychopathic stalker who nonetheless is actually the hero.

Bunny is Gana, ex-military, although ‘ex-‘ exactly what is never specified in a general vagueness that afflicts every character.  Gana spends his days bashing up offenders his lawyer uncle Sripathi (Srikanth) has failed to bring to justice in court, much to the frustration of his father (Jayaprakash) who feels he should be doing something more worthwhile with his life. The rest of the family dramatics follow Telugu Mass Movie Formula No 1, with the addition of a comedy track featuring Gana’s sister-in-law (Vidyullekha Raman), a Tamilian obsessed to the point of mania with sambar and Brahmi as a philandering brother-in-law. Neither of the two comedy tracks is funny and Brahmi’s sleazy character is particularly off with little relevance to the rest of the film but then that’s nothing unusual for this type of film.

With some nice symmetry, while Gana is belting the living daylights out of gangsters to reclaim land they appropriated, uber-villain Vairam Dhanush (Aadhi) is cheerfully slaughtering villagers to grab their land for his pipeline project. Vairam likes the sound of his own voice and witters on about ‘background’ as if the concept may have some significance to the plot later on. Perhaps it was meant to, but since the background of neither Gana nor Vairam (or anyone else for that matter) is given anything more than a brief mention, Vairam’s insistence on the concept makes little sense.

As a villain, Aadhi has a good sneer and appears appropriately nasty, but his character is so one-dimensional that Vairam himself has very little impact. He’s evil purely for the sake of being evil and naturally (adhering to TMMFNo1) he’s rich and privileged with the Chief Minister as his father and a large criminal network at his beck and call. Aadhi tries hard to give Vairam some personality but he has little to work with and his villain pales beside the spectacle of Gana’s righteous fury.

Gana falls in love with Hansitha Reddy (Catherine Tresa), oddly cast as a very unlikely MLA, and decides to follow the usual path to true love (TMMFNo1 again) by stalking the girl until she falls for his charms. This is even less viable than usual given that as an MLA Hansitha has the wherewithal to send Gana about his business, but bizarrely she declares her love for him instead. The path to true love is not smooth however and there is a complication in the form of Maha Lakshmi (Rakul Preet Singh), who falls heavily for Gana when he rescues her from Vairam’s thugs. Sadly neither of the romances works well at any point in the film and there is zero chemistry between Bunny and his two leading ladies, probably due to a lack of screen time together and therefore little opportunity for any relationships to develop.

Bunny is on top form here and single-handedly manages to hold the film together despite the many flaws and gaping holes in the barely-there plot. Whether he’s fighting or dancing he looks amazingly fit, and effortlessly switches between his devotion to Hansitha and his uncontrollable fury when he sees injustice against the helpless. As always he looks awesome in the song sequences where every dance routine features excellent footwork, amazing energy and that trademark Bunny grin. S.S. Thaman’s songs are catchy and memorable too, and the choreography is well suited to showcase the stylish star. He gets to wear some incredibly bright and colourful costumes and fares rather better in the wardrobe department than Catherine Tresca and Rakul Preet Singh, who both suffer from the curse of inappropriately skimpy Western style costumes in the songs, although both look stunning for the rest of the film. Anjali has a better time of it with her guest appearance in the item song blockbuster – which I love for many reasons, not the least of which being that one of the backing dancers is totally rocking a cool pair of specs – you go girl!

The other aspect of Sarrainodu that works well is the action, with fight sequences that are well imagined and expertly staged despite being incredibly violent and completely over the top. Where else would you have a fight scene on roller blades for example, or a wonderful stand-off by the hero beating numerous thugs while the participants in Puli Kali leap energetically around the fight? Most of the action contains a lot of slow-motion, but this highlights the choreography and showcases the small vignettes in the background – the bystanders, a horse bucking as it runs past and the portentously displaced gravel with every one of Gana’s footsteps. And it’s just as well that the action sequences are good as there are a lot of them – Gana spends most of the film fighting in increasingly violent and bloody encounters, throwing thugs around like confetti at a wedding and inflicting maximum damage on Vairam’s crime empire.

Boyapati Srinu adds almost every possible masala ingredient in this mish-mash of a film, but fails to provide a coherent plot or any rationale to his characters. I love a good mass entertainer – I don’t expect great character development or logic and realism in the plot, but there does need to be an actual plot and some sort of reason for the antagonism between the hero and the villain.Sarrainodu does not succeed by any of those criteria and yet I still enjoyed the film. The fight scenes are excellent, the dance sequences well worth watching and Allu Arjun puts in a magnificent performance that just about manages to overcome all the flaws in the film. One for the fans sure, but if you’re a fan this is Bunny at his best and that’s all that’s needed.

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Pandaga Chesko (2015)

Pandaga Chesko

This is the first film from ‘Energetic Star’ Ram that I’ve seen in the cinema, a fact that seemed surprising until I realised that Ram’s last film release was in 2013. I’m always wary with films billed as comedy, and Pandaga Chesko isn’t an exception to the rule that they should be approached with caution. However, surprisingly it isn’t Brahmi’s stale sleazy comedy that’s the biggest issue here, or the usual surfeit of comedy uncles with no real role in the story. Rather, the plot itself is tired, repetitive and well past it’s use by date. The story follows a young NRI’s return to India to attempt to reunite two families – sound familiar? Attarintiki Daredi, Govindudu Andarivadele and a whole host of other films have told this story before, and told it better. However Ram is personable and definitely energetic, although his performance and the best efforts of the support cast aren’t quite enough to save the film from being anything more than a one time watch for me.

Ram is Karthik, an NRI living in Portugal and a successful businessman running his own business. His success is enough to make him a candidate for marriage with Anushka (Sonal Chauhan) who is also a successful businesswoman although from her behaviour it seems barely conceivable that she could organise a two-ticket raffle let alone a business empire. But as her ability to play rugby to win a sports club presumably shows, she is a woman of hidden talents and a rather surprisingly slutty wardrobe for a business tycoon.

After Karthik and Anushka meet and decide that a merger would give them both the best chance to succeed in their respective businesses, Karthik learns of a complaint against his factory in India and heads off to fix the problem a month before his wedding. He’s also found out about a feud in his mother’s family, and despite not having shown any family feelings up until now, decides that while he is back in India he might as well sort out that little problem too.

However it’s not going to be as easy as Karthik thinks. For a start, no sooner does Karthik see Green Army founder and activist Divya (Rakul Preet Singh) than he falls in love with her. And the family feud proves to be tricky too, particularly when Karthik confuses the issue by including various other people pretending to be someone else. And muddying the waters further is Weekend Venkat Rao (Brahmi) sent to bring Karthik home for his wedding with Anushka but who spends his time indulging in cheap and nasty comedy instead.

Most of the comedy is in the dialogue so I didn’t find the film as funny as the rest of the audience, and since the physical humour mainly comes courtesy of Brahmi it’s generally crass and not particularly amusing. M S Narayana does have a small role but is generally not well used, while Abhimanyu Singh is reasonably funny in his role as a bumbling goonda in love with Divya. Divya and Karthik get some of the better comedy scenes too, although I don’t think all of it was actually supposed to be funny! They do make a likeable couple though and their scenes together are the most enjoyable part of the film.

The best performances come from the veterans in the cast including Jayaprakash, Sai Kumar, Raghu Babu and Pavitra Lokesh to name just a few of the large support crew. The feud between Karthik’s uncle and his erstwhile best friend is fairly standard fare but the actors give it their all and this part of the film works well. Rakul Preet Singh is good and has plenty of chemistry with Ram that serves their romance well, but Sonal Chauhan is a disaster in a role that doesn’t suit her and is badly written to boot. Ram doesn’t get much chance to show off his acting skills here either but he does well with what he is given – and if nothing else he does have good wardrobe choices and an energetic dance style. However even the choreography isn’t novel and although the songs from S Thaman are fine and generally well placed they don’t stand out as anything special.

Overall Pandaga Chesko does raise a few laughs but is let down by the disappointingly derivative and formulaic story. It’s frustrating since the film is well made with a great cast and generally good performances which do at least go some way towards making up for the tired plot. It’s not a terrible film, and it mainly works as a comedy, but it just needs a newer angle on a familiar tale and perhaps a few less comedy uncles. Worth watching for Ram and his energetic dance sequences, the romance scenes between Karthik and Divya and Arthur Wilson’s excellent cinematography.

Gouravam

Gouravam-poster

Radha Mohan’s Gouravam is a thoughtful film. Revolving around the mysterious disappearance of the hero’s friend, it is unfortunately undermined by some clumsy plotting and suspension of logic by key characters at pivotal times. But it is visually lovely and a different kind of heroic journey than I expect from mainstream Telugu cinema so I found the time passed pleasantly enough.

Rich city boy Arjun is sent to rural SM Palli by his dad, ostensibly to inspect a factory or something. His college friend Shankar lives in that region, but Arjun finds out that Shankar eloped with the landlord’s daughter some 6 months ago and hasn’t been seen since. Arjun soon realises that the rural idyll isn’t that idyllic once you scratch the surface. He goes back to SM Palli to find Shankar. No one will tell him what happened, but with help of his friend Venky (Sricharan) and lovely young lawyer with a social conscience Yamini (Yami Gautam) Arjun keeps digging. Rather than being a conventional lone vigilante hero, Arjun draws on social media and his friendship networks by the busload as he mobilises The Youth. Prakash Raj is Pasupathy, the landlord whose daughter allegedly eloped with Shankar. His brothers (played by Harish and Brahmaji) are a looming menace, trying to send the young outsider back to Hyderabad. The Establishment vs The Youth plays out as you might expect but there are some twists. How Arjun deals with this is surprising for a Telugu film as he does not dismember anyone. He uses the courts, the media, public attention and even the usually useless police.

There are red herrings and characters who turn up to highlight significant moments. A young boy, possibly autistic, is a constant presence as he draws everything he sees. The plot is partly a mystery and unfortunately there are some miscalculations. It was blindingly obvious that there was a witness and there were other early indicators of who could shed some light. The pace was a bit slow with respect to the dramatic development, but the leisurely tempo did work well with the rural setting. I’ll skip over most of the plot to avoid spoilers but overall the incidents mostly made sense, just the way things unfurled was a bit iffy.

It is a very pretty film to look at. Arjun and The Youth stay in a very colourful and neat tent city in the countryside, the village is picturesque, houses are beautiful and seem lived in. Things are keenly observed by the camera if not the characters, so I found I was often more engaged in just looking at details.

gouravam-yami-and-sirish

As the latest Mega Boy to take to the screen, Sirish has chosen an unconventional story. However his hero intro is pure formula. Arjun runs, swims, prays, pouts, kicks the bejesus out of his trainer and – ladies take note – he cooks. What a paragon. The comparisons with his older brother Bunny are unavoidable but naming the character Arjun and filming in what excitable people on Twitter tell me is his brother’s weekender house probably indicates Sirish couldn’t care less. In terms of his acting, he is much more effective in the dialogue driven scenes than when he is required to emote silently. He also looks a little awkward and posed when he has to do nothing in a scene.

gouravam-Yami Gautam

The story would have been more balanced if Arjun was more integrated into an ensemble. Yamini and Venky were pushed aside to accommodate the herocentric approach.  It would have been nice to see more of them, even the little romantic thread with Venky trying to woo Yamini, to give them more substance. Venky dropped everything to go with Arjun, Yamini devoted time and effort to helping and not just because she fancied Arjun. I was pleased to see Yami Gautam playing a quietly assertive young woman with none of the airheaded silliness so common to the Indian filmi heroine.

Gouravam-Prakash Raj and brothers

The supporting cast outside of the The Youth are more successful in blending their performances and they do create some really intense scenes. Prakash Raj has little screen time but huge impact. Pavitra Lokesh who played his wife and Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli as his daughter in law were good but that household was all about the menfolk. Harish and Brahmaji were villainous and menacing, and over powered Sirish in most of their scenes together. LB Sriram was effective as Shankar’s bewildered and frail father and Nasser did his usual thing.

True to the more realistic style, there were only a couple of songs (by SS Thaman). I enjoyed the picturisation for Chetinundhi Mannu Thesi most as it used the countryside beautifully and I liked the pleasantly random looking backing dancers. Especially the three dudes who popped up out of the lake for a chorus. No one really dances much in Gouravam and Sirish looks like he is concentrating but not struggling so that might be a good sign. I hope he has the Mega Dance Gene.

I opted to see the Telugu version of Gouravam for a couple of reasons. Of all the languages I don’t speak, Telugu is a little easier for me to pick out the random words I know so an unsubtitled film is a challenge but not unappealing. Prakash Raj took the very commercial and audience friendly step of making the film available online on a pay per view basis where there was no distribution agreement in place. Hurrah! The Tamil version was on in cinemas here but the hit and miss distribution by the local Telugu film guys means I’m never really sure of seeing any new Telugu films unless they star a top hero. And frankly, since ticket prices for Telugu films are now up over $AUD23 I want to be reasonably assured of getting my money’s worth! So shelling out a fiver and watching Gouravam from the comfort of my living room was a good deal, and I think it’s a great way to expand the audience for less mass oriented films.