Srimanthudu (2015)

Srimanthudu

Mahesh Babu’s latest is a commercial masala movie that manages to fit in some better than expected moments while still remaining true to its mass roots. Writer/director Koratala Siva has penned a good story and although the film could have done with some snappier editing and less one-sided fight scenes, overall Srimanthudu is an entertaining watch. Along with Mahesh Babu and Shruti Haasan, the film features a cast of thousands with almost every Telugu actor appearing at least briefly on-screen, but for a wonder there is only Ali as the mandatory comedy uncle and even he has a very truncated role. That alone makes it a step above the usual fare, and with Mahesh at his charismatic best and some great songs, Srimanthudu is well worth a trip to the cinema.

Mahesh plays Harsha, son of a millionaire businessman and the heir to both the company and his father’s fortune. However that’s not what Harsha wants and he refuses to conform and take over the business despite his father’s continual gentle pressure. The scenes between Harsha and his father Ravikanth (Jagapathi Babu) are a little clunky, but the sentiment hits at the right level with Harsha treating his father with respect despite disagreeing with him on almost every topic. Although Ravikanth is very much a family man, he is cold and distant with no interest in anything outside his millions, while Harsha is diametrically opposite, more interested in his father’s employees and their ambitions. Harsha isn’t totally adverse to those millions though and they do come in handy whenever he needs some cash for his various schemes.

When driving his mother (Sukanya) and sister to the temple one morning, Harsha sees Charu (Shruti Haasan) outside her hostel and drives round the block a few times to get a better look. Luckily for Harsha, Charu also turns out to be cousin to his friend Apparao (Vennela Kishore) and she turns up at his birthday party. She’s beautiful and quirky but her biggest draw for Harsha is that she’s studying rural development at college – something that sounds just his cup of tea. Naturally Harsha enrolls in the same course and while Charu is initially rather disheartened to discover that Harsha is really there to study and not just stalking her, romance does blossom between the two.

As Harsha is falling in love and discovering his true calling, the film jumps to a small rural village where a school has collapsed and Narayana (Rajendra Prasad) is running around with a permanent expression of dismay as tragedy after tragedy occurs. Head villain Sasi (Sampath Raj) and his team of muscle men are slowly sucking the life from the village as their beer factory uses up all the water, and Narayana is doing his best to halt the decline as families leave the village and farmers commit suicide. Sasi is also in league with his brother, Minister Venkat Rathnam (Mukesh Rishi), whose son Radha (Harish Uthaman) is threatening Harsha’s father, so it’s inevitable that Harsha will get involved and use his new knowledge of rural development to save the day. Along with his excellent skills in dishoom of course!

Multi-layer Mahesh has shed his multi layers for Srimanthudu and he mainly appears in a single shirt or elbow baring T-shirt, although the biggest cheers went to his appearance in a knee-baring lungi. He is a one-man unstoppable army and the fight scenes are more comical than exciting as Harsha dispatches any and all comers with ease. There is one fight scene at a wedding function which is cleverly choreographed, but the rest are a montage of villains hitting the ground and bouncing wildly in all directions while Harsha has no difficulty lifting men twice his size over his head and flinging them into the dirt. No one manages to even lay a finger on him until it becomes necessary for the plot, and even then it’s during a shady ambush where Harsha still comes out on top. It’s mayhem, but it’s Mahesh mayhem and I loved every minute!

Shruti Haasan has a role with some substance and she’s generally good as Charu, even managing to hold her own against the star power of Mahesh. It’s good to have a heroine who doesn’t fade into obscurity as soon as the action ramps up, and Charu’s character does have enough depth to move beyond the romance track. The love story itself is well blended into the village make-over story line, while Mahesh and Shruti have good chemistry together adding a touch of plausibility. Shruti also has some lovely outfits, although she does fall foul of the costume designers in the Charuseela song. Seriously, no explanation is possible for the studded shoes, while the female choreography just adds insult to injury. The other songs are all much better with Poorna appearing in the first Rama Rama song, while Shruti gets to strut her stuff in the rest. The music by Sri Devi Prasad is catchy and the choreography generally very good – I loved a brief flash-mob style interlude in the bangle market during one of the songs while Dhimmathirigae bursts onto the screen in a riot of colour and is just as awesome as this teaser suggests.

The accomplished support cast is excellent although with so many good actors quite a few seem underused. I would have liked to see more of Subbaraju, who briefly appears as one of Harsha’s relatives with a spiritual disposition, while Rahul Ravindran has a potentially interesting role as a rival for Harsha that sadly isn’t expanded any further. However Jagapathi Babu and Rajendra Prasad have better developed characters that allow shades of grey while Mukesh Rishi and Sampath Raj are just as black and despicable as such villains need to be.

Srimanthudu may not be a perfect film, but it is a welcome return to form for Mahesh and infinitely better than last year’s Aagadu. The film is a tad overlong and somewhat slow to get going in the second half, but at least Koratala Siva avoids any suggestion of appearing preachy by keeping the attention focused on Mahesh rather than the development work he is doing in the village. Nothing to complain about there! Mahesh is excellent throughout and with a story different enough to maintain interest and great performances all round, Srimanthudu is one of the better films I’ve seen this year. Recommended for Mahesh, Shruti Haasan and those crazy fight scenes.

Chennai 600028

Chennai 600028

The opening moments of Venkat Prabhu’s debut film seem to be setting the scene for a retelling of West Side Story, with two rival cricket teams called the Sharks and the Rockets replacing the American street gangs. But surprisingly the rivalry between the two teams isn’t the focus of the story at all. It’s smarter than that. Yes, there is plenty of cricket and even some cross-team rivalry, but Chennai 600028 mainly follows the different players from the Sharks team for one year, with all the highs and lows you’d expect in any character drama. Essentially, it’s a story about an everyday group of friends, connected by locality and a passion for their cricket team.  None of the actors were well known at the time, and they all fit easily into the roles of regular guys, some of whom have jobs and some of who are still at college, but who all hang around together to play gully cricket. With some clever dialogue and good situational comedy, Venkat Prabhu ensures that despite a rather rambling storyline, the film has plenty of laughs and enough memorable characters to make the film an entertaining watch.

The Sharks team live in the Chennai area of the title and are introduced one by one by a narrator who describes them by their cricket skills; although generally some other identifying characteristic is also given. This is incredibly useful as there are 10 named team members and it’s very easy to lose track initially of just who is who and where they fit into the team. The film starts off with the defeat of the Sharks for the fourth time by the Rockets, mainly due to a dismal performance from supposed ‘all-rounder’ but actually terrible player and tail-ender Seenu (Premji Amaran). He’s the bumbling fumbler who cannot take a catch to save his life, but is generally loud and obnoxiously cheery despite his limited cricketing talents. Premji is a little more restrained here than in later films such as Goa, and he’s mostly funny thanks mainly to a good rapport with the other characters and some witty and well written dialogue. I didn’t know that Premji was also a musician, and he is responsible for the background score as well as one of the songs – pretty impressive!

Along with their most recent defeat, the Sharks players all have their own problems, although lack of money is the most regular feature in their discussions. The money is for their regular drinking sessions, which allows them to sit and talk about life, cricket and women, which eventually leads back to money, of course! It all fits in well with their various personalities and since the characters are all engaging and seem to fit well into their roles it comes across as a genuine look at life in the area. Plus we get this song, which perfectly captures the group of friends out drinking and having a good time. This is also a fun song.

Things change when Rocket team member Raghu (Jai) moves into the Visalatchi Thottam area with his family. Raghu feels that his world has come to an end, nicely illustrated by some excellent histrionics in the bathroom, and this does indeed seem to be possible given his initial reception by the locals. He’s looked on with suspicion and to add to his woes, his old team are too far away for Raghu to make it to regular practices, meaning he’s left out of their line-up for matches.

Raghu is one of the central characters for the story and Jai is excellent here in his first main role. His initial arrival into the new area is hilarious, and in just a few scenes he imbues Rahgu with plenty of charm and appeal, making his eventual acceptance into the rival team seem more plausible. His resemblance to Vijay is also part of the comedy, but best of all are his scenes with Karthik (Shiva Sundaram) starting from when a fight seems inevitable. Karthik is in love with Selvi (Vijayalakshmi) who is the sister of Karthik’s teammate Pazhani (Nithin Sathya) and therefore, for some obscure reason, off limits. Raghu’s father on the other hand is friendly with Selvi and Pazhani’s father, so inevitably Raghu is often seem chatting to someone who does at least acknowledge his existence. Karthik has some wonderful lovelorn expressions as he sees his rival on the field appear to become his rival in love and the interactions between the two potential adversaries are very well done.

Aravind (Aravind Akash) is also in love with a wealthy girl Swetha (Kristine Zedek) who regularly comes in to the coffee shop where he works. This is a rather more implausible romance, which is made more unlikely by the couple mainly only appearing together in song. These romantic songs also slow down the pace of the film and seem somewhat out of place in an otherwise more realistic and upbeat film.  Aravind is fine in his role as part of the cricket team and amusing as a guy in love but Kristine has very little to do and doesn’t impress in her few moments on screen.

There is a side plot involving Karthik’s brother Guna (Sampath Raj) but mainly the action revolves around the team members, their relationships with each other and their ambition to finally win the Radio Mirchi Cup.  There are no standout heroes, just a regular group of mates and that’s what appeals most about the film. Venkat Prabhu has captured plenty of camaraderie, but included discord and division to spice up the story and the blend is just about perfect. The cricket scenes are nicely placed in the film too – not too many, but enough to keep focus on the team rather than on just the individuals.  The commentary is also excellent (although that just might be my subtitles) and reflects the general standard of cricket commentary the world over!

Chennai 600028 is an excellent début and a good indication of what to expect from Venkat Prabhu as he uses most of the same ingredients (and often the same actors) in his subsequent films such as Saroja, Goa and Mankatha. Mainly Chennai 600028 is a film about people, their lives and their dreams, and only after those details are fully realised is a story superimposed on top.   It works because of the very ordinariness of the characters – these are guys that can be seen on every patch of ground, anywhere it’s possible to set up stumps and standing around on every street in Chennai. That is the charm of the movie. Recommended for excellent performances, witty dialogue and a film that  captures the intensity and ubiquitousness  of street cricket in India.  4 stars.

Mirchi

Mirchi-Movie-PosterMirchi is a mass action romance revenge saga, offering few surprises in the story but with great casting and some solid performances. Writer/director Koratala Siva gets bogged down in a long flashback and loses the momentum a bit towards the second half, but generally moves along at a reasonable clip from fight to song to romance to fight and back again. Like many mass films, it starts light and fluffy but then the body count starts to rise so you do need to be a bit gore tolerant to fully enjoy Mirchi.

Jai (Prabhas) is an architect in Milan. He meets Manasa (Richa Gangopadhyay) and saves her from some thugs. They become friendly and he learns of her family – dominated by a violent assortment of men living in a big old house – and Jai decides to fix her life. Of course, Jai has an ulterior motive for wanting to reform her family, and that is revealed through a very long and detailed flashback. Jai is the son of Manasa’s family’s enemy, Deva (Sathyaraj). How can Jai reform her family, reclaim his place with his own estranged family, eliminate any enemies who refuse to comply and oh yes – what will happen to Manasa when he is reunited with his first love, Vennela (Anushka Shetty)?

mirchi_movie_prabhas dancersprabhas-mirchi

Prabhas is made for this kind of role. Jai is a nice guy, although of course he can kill evil doers with a single blow. Prabhas has such a likeable screen persona and the action scenes are well within his capability. He has nice chemistry with both leading ladies although as the story unfurls there is little ambiguity about who he would choose.  There is not a lot of complexity or nuance, but the role contains enough variety to give Prabhas a bit to work with. Jai does have to find a way that doesn’t totally rely on revenge and violence so there is a clear before and after in his character. One of the highlights is the slightly more prominent roles given to some supporting actors, and those scenes give Prabhas more scope for lighter moments. Jai’s relationship with his father is played out nicely too, showing the slightly more sympathetic side of the feud.

Favourite That Guy Subbaraju is Manasa’s brother. He is first seen pursuing some unfortunate bloke through college and delivering a serious beating. But Jai can see that apparently all he needed to give up his bullying ways was … discovering girls. Yes, Subbaraju got in touch with his sensitive side after dancing to Moves Like Jagger with the girl who fancied him. Who knew Maroon 5 was good for anything? But if that’s what it takes to get a good looking bloke to eschew dismemberment and take up flirting, well then I suppose that is not a bad thing. This dance outbreak also had the effect of making him dress better, pay his rent on time and generally improve his manners.  From then on he spends the rest of the film on the phone to the girl, very coy and giggly as he mouths what I can only assume are dialogues along the line of ‘no you hang up…no you…no you hang up first’ and the like. Silly but amusing, and nice to see him in a slightly different role.

Mirchi-Jai and Manasa

Richa has a one note character so there isn’t much she can do with Manasa, although she and Prabhas have nice rapport and that helps make the growing friendship between the characters more credible. Once the terribly long flashback starts, she is sidelined and pretty much disappears until the last couple of minutes. Anushka gets more investment from the screenplay as the feisty village belle Vennela. She sets her cap at Jai and he happily succumbs, colourful dance numbers and all. Until disaster strikes on their wedding day.

Sampath Raj has a prominent role as Manasa’s uncle, a nasty piece of work who bullies the entire household and believes he can heal his paralysed father by despatching selected enemies in front of him. Another That Guy, Adithya, plays Jai’s uncle, an old school type who believes in sorting out issues with a machete. Adithya doesn’t get the same opportunity to show off his acting range but he does get ample chance to flash a bit of leg. Supreet and Ajay make an appearance in the second half as muscle for Manasa’s family and the violence escalates towards a fairly brutal ending.

Sathyaraj and Nadhiya are good as Jai’s estranged parents and there are lots of other familiar faces. Brahmanandam does his usual thing and luckily has minimal screen time in the latter section of the film where comedy would have been misplaced. His scenes had the audience howling with laughter, but as this was another Adventure Without Subtitles that all went over my head. Satyam Rajesh, Raghu Babu and others do what they do in a film that relies on ‘types’ more than on characters.

The soundtrack is fun and the picturisations are sometimes spectacular (Darlingey and Mirchi in particular). Devi Sri Prasad seems to know his audience, and the crowd response to the songs was great. The choreographers generally concentrate on the possibilities afforded by Prabhas’ lanky frame and enormous wingspan.

Despite what you may think based on that selection of images, Prabhas largely escaped the worst efforts of the blind costume designer, apart from one inexplicable t-shirt with braces attached. And there is an unwavering commitment to ugly acid wash denim throughout. But I do have to ask – the Keytar? Really design team? What were you thinking.

Mirchi is a good formulaic timepass. It has a good cast delivering the minimal requirements of the script, along with well structured action and song sequences. If you’re a fan of Prabhas or the mass action genre, it’s well worth a watch.  Plus  if you like medical moments only possible in Indian films, then this is for you.