Idi Katha Kaadu (1979)

K Balachander’s 1979 movie is a remake of his own film, Avargal. Jayasudha and Kamal Hassan star and Chiranjeevi plays an important supporting role. It’s a sensitive and even handed look at relationships and standing up for yourself. The film is on YouTube without subtitles so bear with me as I have done my best to interpret what was going on.

Suhasini (Jayasudha) and Bharani (Sarath Babu) fall in love through a montage of the arts – he plays flute and she dances. They have a nice bond, he is laid back and she is very playful. But Bharani leaves town for work and he never replies to her letters. Sugunakar Rao (Chiranjeevi) moves in on Suhasini. He is superficially charming but once they are married he is controlling and abusive. In due course she leaves him and gets a divorce. He is clearly bitter but she leaves town to start her new life with their child. She finds an office job and makes new friends. Her coworker Janardhan/Johnny (Kamal Hassan) is particularly kind and considerate. He’s a ventriloquist so that set some alarm bells off because…just because. But Bharani is still on her mind. And now, he is just across the way as the apartment Johnny helps her find is right near his place. There is definite interest on both sides but she is more cautious and has a child now, and he lacks any sense of urgency and he has his friend Gayatri (Saritha) to consider too. And then Sugunakar Rao is back in the picture as Suhasini’s boss. He wants to reconcile and seems to have reformed. Suhasini has to decide what to do with her life.

I really enjoyed watching Jayasudha’s performance and Suhasini as a character. And on a very shallow note, her print sarees are wonderful too. She’s a lively young woman with a passion for dance and music, but she’s quite happy to get married sensibly because that’s what you do. When Sugunakar turns out to be a total arsehole, she does her best to tolerate him. But when he pushes her too far, she pushes back. In one scene she fantasises about stabbing him in the groin with his darts, and she does tell him to his face what she thinks of his behaviour. When she moves back to Chennai she seems to be accepted and liked in her new circles. Having a child isn’t a barrier to her getting a job and she makes the most of her new start. I got the impression Suhasini is not completely open about her situation but she certainly isn’t hanging on to her past. People, especially women, help each other in both big and small ways. Suhasini acquires a mysterious new maid (Leelavathi), actually her mother-in-law who had never met her.

Chiranjeevi is impressive as the horrible Sugunakar Rao. I think Chiru got on the bad side of the wardrobe team because those pants…He is charming but only as long as he gets his own way. He criticises Suhasini constantly and threatens her, smiling as he throws darts at her head or snarling as he tells her to give up dancing. One thing I always appreciate in these negative roles that Chiru took in his early career is that he doesn’t hold back on showing the full range of emotions, no matter how unlikeable or ugly. He is a fine dramatic actor under all the Megastar trappings. His mother (Leelavathi) finds out from a servant that the marriage was over and that Suhasini and their son were in another city. I couldn’t work out how he managed to keep everyone in the dark but I think he might have told her Suhasini was dead. Anyway, despite the filmi tradition that demands a Ma must support her boy, she is firmly in Team Suhasini and keeps working secretly for her daughter-in-law. That is how bad Sugunakar Rao is. He recognises mild and indecisive Bharani as a threat so he plants a seed that Bharani and Gayatri should marry. He belittles Johnny as he doesn’t compute the nice poor guy could be a rival. When he tries to ingratiate himself with Suhasini again he is almost believable as he clucks over her health and sends her fresh fruits. Almost.

Johnny (Kamal Hassan) has taken a shine to Suhasini too, although she only seems to have eyes for Bharani. Personally I’d pick the one who didn’t have a ventriloqusist dummy as his housemate. But Johnny is sweet and does things to make Suhasini happy without expecting any repayment – he finds her a flat, gets her movie tickets to a house full show, helps with work. He can’t articulate his feelings so he uses Junior to talk about his love. Of course, Suhasini treats it as a joke rather than a heartfelt confession. He’s well liked at work but a lonely soul underneath it all. Kamal Hassan isn’t challenged by the character except that the ventriloquism shtick calls on his physicality and control as he manipulates the doll while appearing to be oblivious to Junior’s shenanigans.

That weird clown song is completely unnecessary but when you have Kamal Hassan I suppose you’d be mad not to. And it lets him work off some energy that might have lead to overacting. His farewell scene with Suhasini was also unintentionally funny as he ran beside her train faster and for much longer than seemed possible, speechifying all the while.

Leelavathi and Sarath Babu are both good in their roles. But Bharani is so mild and understanding to the point of not seeming to care that he doesn’t give Suhasini any confidence and he kind of fades compared to Chiru and Kamal Hassan. Leelavathi’s Ma is an interesting woman who is prepared to believe evidence rather than continue to idolise her son. She makes decisions that are about how she wants to live her life and what she thinks is important. She’s a crier, but she gets things done. And she is the one to finally free Suhasini from her connection to her son.

Balachander uses some camera gimmicks and the ping pong analogy, and some shots are a little too composed to be natural, but generally the style of storytelling is low key and credible. Even the final comeuppance. Although I wish I understood the symbolism of the lion mask and the Mona Lisa. Oh well.

See this for some early career Megastar, a pared back and heartfelt performance from Kamal Hassan and a lovely role for Jayasudha. 4 stars!

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Toofan Rani (1985)

Toofan Rani-title

I’ve only been able to find this 1985 Hindi dub of the 1983 Telugu film Puli Debba, so I’ll keep referring to it as Toofan Rani. Actually, I have found this to be the case with a few Telugu B movies. For some reason the Hindi dubs have survived and are available online in reasonable condition, but finding an original is nigh on impossible. Why is this so? And forget subs. I had to make it all up as I went so please observe the usual Adventures Without Subtitles disclaimers that events may not have transpired exactly as I imagined.

K.S.R Doss has cobbled together another excellent masala entertainment chock full of his usual tricks, plus Silk Smitha, that guy Naresh who looks like someone else, Sarath Babu and assorted others, guns blazing, a handful of marbles, and some flashy karate moves. What is not to love? And Satyam’s soundtrack is funky and grungy, and just cheesy  and disco-fied enough.

Nalini and Manohar are childhood friends and spend a lot of time being dressed for school by their family retainers and frolicking in the sand dunes in their school clothes but don’t actually seem to go to school. Mahendra Chaudhury and his wife (Nalini’s parents) are murdered by a couple of goons who also set the house on fire to destroy the evidence. Side note – most of the victims have been instructed that the correct reaction to being shot is to throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care (jazz hands optional), so the death scenes can be strangely festive. The children are dispersed into the populace according to the Infant Distribution Laws of Masala Filmidom. Don’t worry if you miss this opening scene as it will be replayed several times.

Silk Smitha has the right confident physicality for Nalini, who is out to get revenge on the men who killed her parents and baby brother. Nalini has her childhood trauma flashbacks in lurid colour which may explain why her expression sometimes says migraine rather than revenge. But whether Silk is strutting her stuff in sparkly disco bike shorts or righting wrongs in a sensible khaki leather ensemble, she is ready for anything.

As she is in a film where anything can happen and frequently does, this is a very good thing. She even has to wear a saree. Killing is bad, but a heroine who looks at all the male posturing and just shrugs and takes control is good. I know I shouldn’t, but I cheered when Nalini shot someone. Naresh and Manohar were all for taking a punt on the court system but Nalini grabbed the gun and achieved her objective, refusing to be sidelined. And honestly if it had been left to the men, we’d still be chasing the baddies around the exploding hills.

Naresh is introduced at his college Karate championships in which he beats a variety of opponents with his Blue Steel approach to Karate. There is so much Karate face. It was almost as bad as actually watching Karate again. Naresh seems to be more than a bit of a narcissist. His house is full of huge pictures of himself in karate mode, including one above his bed. I was slightly sorry for Naresh as when he won the competition it sounded like only one guy bothered to clap, but maybe that was due to budget constraint in the sound department. Unbeknown to Naresh, Hariram who gave him the award was the guy who killed his parents and older sister. Do you see where this might be going?

Hariram’s daughter Archana likes Naresh. Unfortunately for the lovebirds his ma recognises Hariram and the match is OFF. Naresh broods in a most unbecoming fashion until she hits him with the truth. He then tells Archana and she tells her dad. No one really seems to understand the concept of oversharing. Hariram sends Uncle Fester to finish Naresh off. Karate ensues. In one excellent sequence Naresh kind of Harlem Globetrotters his way through a fight, using a book. Trouble is brewing!

Inspector Manohar (Sarath Babu) is now a grown up policeman, on the trail of a mysterious smuggler. He develops grave suspicions about Hariram Uncle’s revenue sources but has no idea his father was once a silver jacketed goon. Once his suspicions are finally aroused, he tries to investigate.

I could not fault Manohar’s enthusiasm for discovering whether his dad was faking paralysis but his methodology was a bit OTT, and potentially lethal. There is a vague romance between him and Nalini but it’s nothing to write home about, except they do seem to wear colour coordinated outfits. He doesn’t even twig that she is his childhood sweetheart until she tells him, and I’m not sure he should have been smiling goofily when she was about to do jail time. Maybe Manohar is just a bit rubbish at reading people

Doss pulls out all stops and throws in all the clichés from accidentally shooting your Ma, a significant birthmark, masala deathtraps, a concealed slide entrance into the lair, and skanky item stalwart Jayamalini dancing for “Arab” businessmen.

Hariram goes home from the club with that traditional filmi entertainment; the Man In The Boot. The man is allowed to escape from a well provisioned dungeon, with shirtless Simon now It as The Man In His Boot. If you were fleeing, wouldn’t you drop a stolen car off somewhere not outside your apartment? Luckily the apartment also houses Nalini! Even her boots are weaponised, and those powerful thighs can deliver a hell of a kick.

Simon attacks Nalini and in between bouts of acrobatic biffo in her stylish boudoir she tells him she is the surviving daughter of Mahendra Chaudhury and they are all In For It. He tells Hariram who tells the mysterious smuggler in the cave. Trouble is brewing! Again!

The finale is more exuberantly amusing than thrilling, but both Silk and Naresh backflip and ninja leap like crazy, there are explosions and dodgy disguises and the camera adds another layer of skewed perspectives and angles. And never forget those sensible wedge heeled weapon ready boots.

Toofan Rani-killer boots

I’m enormously fond of the Masala B Movie as they give a platform to the smaller stories and quirkier characters, all held together by the spirit of making it up as you go. Toofan Rani is loads of fun and I enjoyed seeing Silk carry a whole film rather than just do a typical bad girl dance and die. 3 stars!

47 Rojulu

47 Rojulu poster

K Balachander’s 1981 film 47 Rojulu is a study of domestic abuse, and I found it uncomfortable to watch. It’s melodramatic yet has a ring of realism, largely due to Jayaprada’s characterisation of Vaishali, and the often quite graphic violence. Chiranjeevi stars opposite in a negative role, and he doesn’t hold anything back.

47-Rojulu-Saritha

The story is told in flashback, through the device of a visiting actress (Saritha) who comes to talk to Vaishali as preparation for a film. I have only seen this in an unsubtitled print, and it is a dialogue heavy film, so at first I was a little confused by the flashback structure. However, the emotional tone and pitch of the drama comes through loud and clear and I had no trouble in following the main story.

Vaishali (Jayaprada) and her brother are coming home from seeing Shankarabharanam (I think) at the cinema when she sees a wedding taking place. Kumar (Chiranjeevi) is discussing marriage with his parents and next thing you know, he is getting married to Vaishali. All looks fine until after the ceremony when he gets the wedding photographer to give him the film, and exposes all the rolls. Why wouldn’t he want pictures of his wedding day? He seems quite keen on the wedding night and wasn’t forced into the marriage (apart from some gentle parental coercion). Also a little odd, he tests to see if she can speak English. Soon after the wedding they move to France.

At first things seem fine. Kumar shows off the house in the countryside outside Paris, and introduces his naïve bride to heating, sliding doors, supermarkets and televised sports. They live in a cosy modern flat on the ground floor, and a woman called Lucy lives upstairs.

Then one day Kumar is chatting to someone in French and introduces Vaishali as his sister. Hmmmm. Of course she has no idea as she speaks only Telugu. It is clearly a lie when he says Lucy (Anne Patricia) is just a friend. There is an awkward dinner, with Lucy completely unaware Vaishali is married to Kumar and with Vaishali confused by who this woman is and why she acts so familiar with her husband. Lucy seems happily oblivious although she does realise Vaishali isn’t comfortable around her. And then one day Vaishali, overwhelmed by her unease and distrust, searches Lucy’s apartment and finds a wedding photo – of Kumar and Lucy.

If Vaishali asks any questions about their domestic situation, Kumar puts her down so she will feel ignorant and shut up. He cuts her off from any other Indian people in the area, and he is her only source of information. She loses her confidence, she feels stupid and disgraced, and she has no one other than Kumar. When she does a runner to Paris by herself, Kumar drags her home and burns her hand on a hotplate as punishment. It’s quite sad that Lucy tries to comfort her ill ‘sister-in-law’ when she is unwittingly part of the problem. Jayaprada does a great job of showing the changing emotions and moods of the abused wife. She really likes Kumar and her marriage when he is in a good mood, and Vaishali seems to excuse his early outbursts by blaming herself or thinks it is just because he is tired or stressed. Her growing realisation that she is in trouble and that her marriage is a sham is sad to watch.

Kumar does spend quite a lot of time with Vaishali (he doesn’t have a job as such) and seems affectionate and caring. They do the tourist thing around Paris, enjoying the sights and making fun of some fashionable locals. How he thinks he can keep hiding the truth is beyond me.  Kumar justifies and rationalises – he sees no reason why he can’t have it all, and no compunction about hurting either of the women.  He has an impulsive warmth which can be appealing, but that can swiftly turn to rage and brutality. His behaviour escalates from verbal nagging and bullying to physically attacking Vaishali.

In one sickening scene of what is essentially marital rape, he withholds her letter from home to coerce her into having sex. And when Vaishali falls pregnant he starts to really lose the plot as he sees his perfect life crumble. He seems to insist on a termination and certainly there is no baby later in the film, although how and if it was her choice isn’t revealed as far as I can tell. Chiranjeevi gives a strong and complex characterisation of a loathsome man. I certainly didn’t find the Chiru Mega appeal made the situation any more palatable, but his layered performance allowed me to empathise more with Vaishali’s disillusionment as she came to terms with the deception.

Some isolated and precarious locations seem intended to convey fear or dread, and I was certainly yelling at Vaishali to be careful, especially in one rooftop scene. Kumar abandons her in a forest at one stage, and tears the mangalsutra from her neck before leaving her in a park on another occasion. He uses her isolation and the unfamiliar surroundings to reinforce her caged existence. He also takes her to see a show of an ‘adult’ nature (to the Pink Panther theme music – how saucy) to prove his point that love and sex were different in France, but she is utterly repulsed by the spectacle. The cosy apartment that she loved on first sight becomes a prison.

The drama is almost claustrophobic as it all takes place in Vaishali and Kumar’s tiny world, so the support cast is small. Sarath Babu arrives late in the piece as Telugu speaking Dr Shankar, who becomes aware of Vaishali’s predicament. Ramaprabha is a petty thief who is hated by the wardrobe department and who gets Shankar involved in the situation. The plot manipulations required to get them into position don’t really stack up, but I was relieved to see Sarath Babu regardless. There is something very salt of the earth and reliable about him in these secondary good dude roles. And I was happy  that once Ramaprabha’s character understood Vaishali’s situation, she reached out to help. Anne Patricia is not the best actress ever, but I felt sympathy for Lucy and was glad to see how her storyline played out.

Some things didn’t quite fit with the realism of the initial set up. Who travels with an electric hotplate or element just on the chance they will want to burn their spare wife? The songs added nothing to the narrative development so I would have left them out, or kept them as background. And the final chase was dramatic but didn’t make much sense, logistically speaking.

47-Rojulu-not interested

Lest this all sound too grim, back in the present day Saritha asks about the doctor, sparking an outburst from Vaishali. It seems she feels marriage is not essential for a good life.  Hear, hear!

This is a difficult film for me to watch as I find the subject repugnant and to be honest, I prefer a Chiru I can cheer for. I do appreciate the nuanced and sympathetic but not sentimental portrayal of women and relationships. 4 stars!