R…Rajkumar (2013)

R...Rajkumar

Prabhu Dheva (where did the extra ‘h’ come from?), the dance guru, directing Shahid Kapoor, one of the few Hindi actors who can dance – surely that has to be a good thing?

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Well… the premise is there, but in delivery R…Rajkumar is not as good as expected.  While the dancing is excellent (and it is fantastic to see a director make full use of Shahid’s talents in that respect), there are a few too many distasteful misogynistic moments to make this film anything other than just OK.  Shahid makes a reasonable attempt at masala served southern style, and his goofy shirts, dreadful hair and love struck Romeo are entertaining if somewhat reminiscent of Siddharth in Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana.  Although Shahid does his best, the story is standard fare, and adheres strictly to the usual Telugu formula complete with cartoonish fight scenes and ineffectual heroine.  It’s such a shame when all the ingredients are there to make a much better film, if only a little more thought had gone into the screenplay.

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Romeo Rajkumar turns up in a small town where two rival gangs are battling for control of the opium trade, managing to arrive just at the right time to save Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha) from a stray bullet. Simultaneously he falls deeply in love with her after just one brief glance – so deeply in fact, that the mere sight of his ‘lollipop’ (gah!) is enough to halt him in his tracks.   And I do mean completely stop – no matter what – even when taking part in an assassination or when driving the getaway car after another attack on a rival gang. Much hilarious comedy ensues. Well, to be fair, it is funny the first time or two, but it just gets repeated a few too many times.

Rajkumar signs up with Shivraj (Sonu Sood) and soon becomes one of his top men in the fight against rival gang boss Parmar (Ashish Vidyarthi) becoming good friends with Qamar Ali (Mukul Dev) in the process.  The first half is full of outrageous shirts, bad hair and some amazing dance moves from Shahid along with a brief appearance from Prabhu Deva himself.

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But while Shahid is blowing kisses and generally making an idiot of himself, there are darker scenes such as an apparent rape in the police station which is treated as an everyday occurrence and not worthy of further mention.  Further threats of violence and rape against the heroine are also treated as comedy and while some of the lewd dialogue is funny, most is offensive rather than comical.

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Sonakshi Sinha starts off as a feisty village girl with great attitude as she beats up a gang of louts who dare to wolf-whistle at her and her friends. She berates Rajkumar for his unwanted attentions repeatedly, until she manages to overcome her aversion to eighties hair and loud shirts and decides that maybe Rajkumar isn’t so bad after all. But that’s the end of any personality for Chanda, who rapidly becomes vapid and useless, totally unable to defend herself against her uncle and his plans for her marriage, and completely helpless in the face of Shivraj’s attempts to seduce her. It’s a role Sonaskshi Sinha has done many times in the past but she has less conviction in her character here, and it shows.  There is no energy in her performance and zero chemistry with her co-star which makes me wonder why Prabhu Deva didn’t pick someone like Trisha or even Charme Kaur (who turns up in a song) who surely would have brought more oomph to the role.

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Equally disappointing is Sonu Sood who is less menacing and more buffoonish than expected as a gang boss.  Ashish Vidyarthi is even more of a caricature as his rival, while Asrani is actually rather restrained in his role as spiritual advisor to Shivraj.  It’s bitter sweet to see Srihari appear here as the über villain Ajit Taaka, in one of his last appearances.  Generally he’s fine in spite of a rather unconvincing storyline and one rather bizarre scene where he appears gyrating with some bikini clad women on top of a hotel in (supposedly) Hong Kong. Best to just ignore and move along – when did masala ever have to make sense?

What does work well in the film are the songs by Pritam.  Prabhu Deva does an excellent job with the choreography, as for example here in Saree Ke Fall Sa where he uses the backing dancers and a few basic props to good effect.  The only exception is the last item song with Ragini Dwivedi and Scarlett Wilson which is shambolic with much less of a southern feel.

While the film initially feels like a series of short comedy sketches, everything slows down in the second half and becomes a little more serious with more fight scenes and fewer songs.  The inevitable final showdown is good, although I don’t think Shahid is quite as convincing in ‘back-from-the-edge-of-death’ recoveries as, for example, Shahrukh in Chennai Express, which does make the last fight scene funnier than I think it was meant to be. The film could definitely do with fewer rape references, and a more socially responsible hero would have made for less uncomfortable viewing.  Still, Shahid puts in a good performance and seeing him dance up a storm southern style, makes R…Rajkumar worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights I expected.

R...Rajkumar

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Cameraman Gangatho Rambabu

CGRCameraman Gangatho Rambabu sees Puri Jagannadh teaming up again with Powerstar Pawan Kalyan for a tale about one man’s crusade against corrupt politicians with a little help from sidekick Cameraman Ganga.  I first saw CGR in the cinema without subtitles, but since the audience seemed to be appreciative of the dialogue I thought it might improve the film if I could understand what was being said.  And to some extent the DVD subtitles do help, although they also serve to highlight the silliness of the female lead character and a general condescension towards women throughout the story which is less enjoyable.  CGR is a straightforward good guy vs. bad guys story which relies on the Power Star’s presence to keep the action ticking along, but there are a few good fight scenes and some well written interactions between Pawan Kalyan and Prakash Raj in their respective roles which make it worth a watch.

CGRCGRCGRCGRRambabu (Pawan Kalyan) is a mechanic who has superhero tendencies to fight crime, a large mural of Che Guevara on his apartment wall and an idealistic view of a utopian world which he tries to make reality.  To that end he races off to beat wrongdoers into submission whenever he hears of injustice or petty crime on the news and provides assistance to widows, orphaned children and marginalised members of society whether they want it or not. Rambabu’s determination to break up a fight between two rival student groups leads him to feature on the news himself and brings him to the attention of cameraman Ganga (Tamannah).  After a brief meeting, Ganga decides that Rambabu would be perfect as a journalist and despite a conspicuous lack of any training, her station head agrees wholeheartedly giving Rambabu carte blanche to do whatever he wants as a reporter on the news channel.

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Inevitably this brings him into conflict with politician Jawahar Naidu (Kota Srinivasa Rao) who is prepared to do anything to win back the role of Chief Minister from the incumbent Chandrasekhara Reddy (Nasser).  This looks promising, but since both politicians are one-dimensional caricatures of absolute black and white they end up as rather ineffective characters.  Jawahar Naidu is evil with no redeeming features, prepared to murder, lie and cheat his way back into power while Chandrasekhara Reddy is painted as the perfect CM who is kind, compassionate and honest although at one stage he does confess to an ambition to hang onto his top spot.  Added in to the mix is Jawahar’s equally amoral son Rana (Prakash Raj) who takes over his father’s manifesto when Jawahar suffers paralysis and has to withdraw from active campaigning.  The real battle is the one that develops between Rana and Rambabu and the scenes between these two are generally the best in the film.  Prakash Raj is excellent as he sneers and schemes his way to political success and Pawan Kaylan is zealous and righteous in appropriate amounts as he counters Rana’s various plots.

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Tanikella Bharani also puts in an impressive performance as Jawahar’s brother-in-law and right hand man. He is obsequious and just a little bit creepy as he fawns over Jawahar while making sure that self-preservation is still his number one policy. I also have to mention the excellent décor in Jawahar’s house which was beautiful and made a welcome contrast to his bombastic, over-emotional and over-acted speeches.

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What don’t work as well are the interactions between Rambabu and his various work colleagues including Cameraman Ganga.  Although Ganga has equal billing on the title, in reality the character is only peripherally involved with the action of the story, and her main role is in a rather clunky romance with Rambabu.  Ganga is bratty and immature and her hearty attempts to appear as a “woman in a male dominated career” are unimpressive and implausible.  Her reaction to her rival Smitha (Gabriela Bertante) is also rather too ingenuous although I like Ganga’s accusation that Smitha is a snake.  Smitha does show a number of snaky characteristics but sadly that’s as far as any possible naga connection goes.

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 Smitha is the owner of a rival TV station who snaps Rambabu up when Jawahar forces him out of the news channel. Although I liked the overall idea of Smitha’s character and was hoping for a sharp, slightly unethical businesswoman to add another layer to the plot, the execution failed miserably and Smitha’s character was wasted as basically another love interest.

Ali appears as the head of social interest at the TV channel and there are some inane attempts at comedy which fall very flat.  Later comedy scenes with Brahmi are better, although the placement of some of these seems odd as they break into the action and slow down the film momentum just when it begins to take off in the second half.   The music by Mani Sharma is also nothing special but isn’t helped by lacklustre choreography.  Scarlett Wilson appears in a forgettable item number while the other songs are mainly pictured on Tamannah and Pawan Kalyan.  However this one featuring Gabriela is a little more interesting, since she does get to wear a large hat which seems to fit rather well with the giant mushrooms in the background and I think does help reinforce the snake connection.

The opening titles over news reels of various marches, speeches and events suggests that CGR will be a political thriller, but instead it’s a standard mass movie which doesn’t manage to break out of the usual mould.  There are some good ideas in here but the film needed better editing as it’s too long with too many irrelevant side issues which detract from the main story.  The inability of corrupt politicians Jawahar and Rana to make effective comebacks when questioned by Rambabu feels very contrived since surely politicians should be excellent wordsmiths – or at the very least have PR people who can write their speeches and stop them from speaking out of turn, while Nasser’s Chandrasekhara Reddy is improbably perfect .  The characterisation of Ganga is also irritating and Tamannah is capable of much better than this overacted and disappointing performance from her.

Cameraman Gangatho Rambabu works as a mass masala film, not as a political message movie despite Rambabu socialistic tendencies,  and as such the performances by Pawan Kalyan and Prakash Raj ensure that it’s entertaining enough for a one-time watch. It just could have been so much better. 3 stars.

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