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.

Race Gurram (2014)

Race Gurram

Race Gurram was very nearly a non-starter in Melbourne, but at the 11th hour the distributors managed to find a venue and the race was on!  Better still, there were English subtitles – even for the songs – a first for Telugu cinema here in Melbourne, but hopefully not the last.  So, with a small but luxurious cinema, subtitles and the promise of Allu Arjun for just over 2 ½ hours, was the experience worth all the effort to get the film onscreen? Definitely!  Race Gurram is a mass entertainer that doesn’t break away from standard masala fare, but still manages to leave you laughing at the end.  That’s thanks mainly to strong performances from Bunny and Brahmi, while the usual suspects who make up the rest of the cast are a bit more hit and miss.

Apart from Allu Arjun’s introduction with a herd of horses and a few brief dialogues between our hero and the main villain, I’m not entirely sure why the film is called Race Gurram.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the race track, and instead is a tale of acrimony between two brothers, Ram (Shaam) and Lakshman (Allu Arjun).

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Ram is the elder and more sensible brother. He’s an ACP and is the standard morally upright policeman that Telugu films like to use as a sacrificial lamb.  Lakshman prefers to be called Lucky, because apparently it sounds ‘cooler’, which is probably enough of a clue to his feckless and irresponsible character.  The interactions between the two brothers are one of the strengths of the film and Shaam and Bunny make their exchanges seem natural and realistic.  Their arguments are just petty and immature enough to ring true, and when the situation escalates after a few more personal jibes, Lucky’s response is also in keeping with his personality. The way their relationship develops later in the film is also well handled, even if Lucky’s revelations before the interval do seem a little forced.   The tables are turned when Lucky finds out that someone else is targeting his brother and while it’s OK for Lucky to humiliate and fight with his brother, it’s not on if someone else tries to do the same.  It’s typical boy logic, but at least it gets Lucky on to the right side in the war against goon turned politician Shiva Reddy (Ravi Kishan).

Race Gurram

Shruti Haasan appears as Spandana, Lucky’s love interest, and at first seems to have an interesting role as a devotee of yoga who only shows her emotions on the inside.  But once she hooks up with Lucky, her usefulness to the plot seems to evaporate as her ability to emote increases, and she’s relegated to mainly appearing in the songs.  At least Shruti gets to actually dance rather than just pose and gyrate like Debi Dutta in the unimpressive opening number, and she does look great even if she doesn’t get to say much in the second half.

Another disappointment is Shiva Reddy and the whole plot against Ram and Lucky.  Although there are some good moments, overall Shiva Reddy is too much of a caricature villain to be properly offensive, and his machinations to become a minister are laughably inept. Ravi Krishnan never seems to get his teeth into the role, and mostly plays it for laughs with plenty of grimacing and sneering rather than any real maliciousness.  The knock-on effect is that the fight sequences don’t work as well as they should against such an ineffectual hoodlum and even throwing Mukesh Rishi in as Shiva Reddy’s somewhat nastier father doesn’t improve the situation. However, the usual suspects including Kota Srinivasa Rao, Posani Krishna Murali, Sayaji Shinde and even Prakash Raj as Spandana’s father all add enough to the mix to keep the action moving along well.

The second half introduces Brahmi as Kill-Bill Pandey, a name which does infer the usual dire slap-stick that Brahmi often relies on for comedy.  But such is not the case – Kill-Bill Pandey has great lines and an actual proper role in the story. And he’s really funny!  Seriously! Bunny and Brahmi work well together too, as Lucky comes to realise just what he has done by releasing Kill-Bill Pandey as head of a special police force on the unsuspecting Hyderabad public.  It makes for a much better ending than expected and has to be one of the best performances I’ve seen from Brahmi in recent times.

Race Gurram

I was expecting great things from the songs despite the fact that the soundtrack didn’t sound too special on first listen, and overall I wasn’t disappointed.  Apart from the first number which appeared out of nowhere without any particular point and had very little actual dancing by Bunny, the choreography was excellent.  Placement was generally odd and mostly there was no effort to place the songs within the storyline, but who really cares when it’s Bunny dancing? The stylish star looked, well, stylish, and as always his dancing was superb, particularly with Shruti Hassan in the larger group routines. Bunny always looks to be having such a good time when he’s dancing and his energy is incredibly infectious, so no matter how ridiculous the sudden appearance of Spandana and Lucky in the snow-covered fjords of Norway seemed, it was impossible not to enjoy the show.

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Race Gurram does suffer from a rather rambling screenplay, and at times the film gets bogged down with irrelevant odds and ends that taper off into nothing.  Apart from the feuding brothers, the family moments are a tad cloying and overdone, and a heavier hand with the editing wouldn’t have gone amiss.  However, Bunny and Brahmi together make for a surprisingly entertaining finale that was certainly well appreciated by the Melbourne crowd.   Well worth a watch for their combined antics

Race Gurram

Varudu (2010)

Varudu

It seems to be an appropriate time to celebrate all things Allu Arjun – recent wedding anniversary, 10 years in the movie business and his upcoming birthday – so I thought I’d take a look back at Varudu. Not one of his more successful films in terms of the box office, but still one of my favourites since it not only stars Bunny, but Arya (another favourite) turns up in one of the most ridiculously over dramatic roles that I’ve seen outside of eighties Bollywood. And yet, this is a good thing! The film is overly romantic and slow to get going with a ridiculous story and dreadfully pretentious dialogue, but despite all these obvious flaws there is still a lot to enjoy in Varudu.

The opening scenes have nothing much to do with the rest of the film with Nisha (Sneha Ullal) attempting a dreadful Dhoom2-style Aishwarya Rai impression while Bunny demonstrates his skills on a motorbike and then on the basketball court. At least the rain makes Bunny’s hair look great, but otherwise it’s a clichéd hero introduction that leads into a rather disappointing song.  This is after all a Bunny film, so my expectations for excellent choreography and great dance moves are high but the first song doesn’t make it in terms of either the music or the dancing.  Thankfully though, both pick up considerably later.

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VaruduVaruduThe first half of the film describes how Sandeep (Allu Arjun) wants a traditional arranged marriage even though the initial scenes show him happily helping out an elopement by his friends and complimenting his parents on their successful love marriage.  The dialogue wants us to believe that he has just never found the right woman, although women are flinging themselves at him all the time, but these first scenes make him appear as if he’s just having too good a time to settle down and commit to one person.  However moving overseas to start work is apparently the best time to decide to get married, so Sandy happily acquiesces to his family’s suggestion that he tie the knot before he goes.

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Not content with foisting the whole decision making process onto his parents, he then insists that he wants a full traditional 5 day wedding just like his grandparents, and has no desire to even see the girl is he is to marry. In fact he reminds me more of a sixteen year old girl with his declarations about love and excitement about a five day wedding rather than a mature and sensible man about to head off to start work in the US.  However this is the least ridiculous part of the story (really!) and the build up to the wedding is actually rather sweet.  Sandeep has a good relationship with his mother (Suhasini) and father (Ashish Vidyarthi) and their scenes together, and those with the rest of the family feel comfortable and generally realistic.  There is a brief appearance by Brahmi as Dilip Raja, a marriage broker, but otherwise Varudu is fairly comedy uncle free with only a brief appearance by Ali later during the wedding song.

The various wedding ceremonies, including the wonderfully colourful parade of the groom to the bride’s family, are pictured during a song.  It’s rather long, but definitely well worth a watch for an insight into the wedding preparations and rituals. Besides which there is possibly the best form of wedding transport and some great costumes in the crowd as everything gears up for the big day.

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The costumes and jewellery for the wedding scene are superb even though the scenery relies heavily on CGI.  We get to see the bride at the same time as Sandeep and although Deepthi (Bhanu Sri Mehra) doesn’t get very much screen-time (and even less dialogue), she does get some amazingly beautiful costumes. Although she is perhaps still just a little upstaged by Bunny in this song.

After all the romance and slow development of the first hour culminating in the the dream wedding, there is a sudden change of pace in the second half.   There is a disaster at the ceremony just before Sandeep ties the sacred thread and in the ensuing confusion the bride goes missing.  Within the space of 3 minutes there is classic hero-style running, a bike chase (kudos to the wardrobe department as Bunny never loses his wedding turban) and an exploding petrol truck.  It only gets more insane from here.

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Sandeep goes in search of Deepthi aided by the police force, but even with the top brass Comissioner Ahmed Khan (Nasser), Inspector Umesh Gupta (Brahmaji) and the Home Minister (Sayaji Shinde) involved they don’t appear to be making any headway.  Sandeep has more luck chasing random black cars and dodging truck drivers who seem to be on a mission to drive him off the hunt.  Finally his persistence pays off and there is a brief flashback to explain who has Deepthi and why.  Not that it makes any sense, particularly when this is the villain’s introduction.

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Arya is Diwaker, one half of the ‘Kings from Hell’ brothers, and completely immersed in his life of drama as he lives out his psychotic fantasies cheerily calling out his catchphrase ‘Evil Power’ at random moments to emphasize his craziness.  From his introduction the film careers even more off the rails as Arya hams it up for all he is worth as Diwaker and Sandeep declares his undying love for a girl he has barely met in some incredibly corny dialogue.  There are a few good moments though.  Sandeep proclaims (he doesn’t do anything as mundane as just speak by this stage) that Deepthi is his wife no matter what has happened to her during her ordeal.  It’s a more modern touch that makes Sandeep’s character more appealing, although the shocked reactions of the family are rather less attractive.  There are also some great chase sequences including some wonderful filmi medical magic and a ‘prisoner exchange’ on a bridge which allows director Gunasekhar to throw in lots of split screen moments.  The final showdown is completely over the top and utterly nonsensical, but since it involves a shirtless Bunny and Arya fighting on top of giant cooling towers I’m not complaining!

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New heroine Bhanu Sri Mehra doesn’t really get much of a chance to make an impact.  Her role is largely non-speaking and even when she does have something to say it tends to be a repetition of something Sandeep has earlier declaimed.  I do like that she made an attempt to fight back when abducted, but quite frankly I’m disappointed that in all her time locked in a room she hadn’t made any attempt to barricade the door or fashion a better weapon.  But at least she doesn’t just sit and whine and the make-up team did a good job making her look haggard after her experiences. The rest of the cast are all capable and do well in their roles, but ultimately the film is all about Bunny, and to a lesser extent Arya, so no-one else really gets much of a look in.

The music by Mani Sharma does improve after the first song and overall I like the soundtrack.  This song is my favourite, partly due to good choreography but also, who can resist random bouncing?  Plus I admire Bunny’s dedication in dancing even when he is injured, seen here with his hand in a rather excellently bedazzled cast.

Varadu is self-indulgent, unashamedly melodramatic and has massive plot holes big enough to swallow a small planetoid.  But despite that it’s heaps of fun and let’s be honest, I’m shallow enough to admit that Bunny and Arya are the major reasons why I enjoy this film.  I’d love to watch some out-takes as I’m quite sure they struggled to keep their faces straight for most of their scenes together.  I give Varudu 2 stars for the story but a full 5 stars for ensuring both Bunny and Arya spent as much time as possible without their shirts!