Jyo Achyutananda

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The film opens with an awkward family photo session. The photographer tries to get the two boys to loosen up and stand closer together, and tries to get the mum to look mildly happy. And so we learn the brothers Achyuth (Nara Rohit) and Anand (Naga Shourya) had a falling out and the mother (Seetha) is grieving her recently deceased husband…Well, to be fair she spends the whole film looking tearful or giving people the stink eye. The tension continues at home as Achyuth reminds Anand of the disparity in their earnings and who is the head of the family.

Through flashbacks we see the boys in happier, pre-moustache times. They sneak cigarettes and enjoy gossipy chat over snacks, and seem to be each other’s best friends. There is rivalry over the dumbest things but it is all pretty good natured. Until they both fall for the same girl. Jyosna, or Jyo (Regina Cassandra) is their new neighbour and commits the crime of being single and gorgeous. The boys fall over themselves to impress her, but she sees them only as friends. This does nothing to dampen their enthusiasm and they cut each other’s lunch with abandon. Anand is goofy and puppy like but Achyuth reveals a less likeable side of his persona, especially when he burns her passport to prevent her from leaving to study overseas. Yes. And then they blame her somehow for their father having a heart attack, assuming she told him that his sons were vile and that’s why he dropped dead. Jyo leaves with the support of her dad (a beautifully warm and understated Tanikella Bharani) and so that chapter closes. But the boys’ rivalry festers into something nastier over the years…and then Jyo comes back.

The way the story unfolds initially is lots of fun. Each brother tells his wife that it was the other brother who had a thing for Jyo and the detailed recounting is filled with little jibes. The brother who is acting out the story being told gets to do some excellent hamming and spout cheesy dialogue. Then we see the “real” version of all three becoming friends and indulging in a song montage all over Hyderabad.

Here’s another notable song moment.  Man stalks girl at market, girl tries to make him go away, man becomes more persistent, girl goes to the police who throw her back into the man’s arms and then join in the dance. It was an early inkling that I was going to have issues with this film.

The second half covers what happens after Jyo returns, and I found myself liking both brothers less and less. They rarely spared a thought for their wives other than to try and keep them away from Jyo. They didn’t even think that much about Jyo and what she wanted. They were too far gone in their chest-beating weenie-waving man games.

It seems men are the only people in the film, the women are just fixtures. Priya and Kalpana are mocked by their husbands’ machinations to get with Jyo and the lies they tell. The lines are funny and their acting is fine, but the characters are not given any respect and the audience isn’t expected to find a problem with that. In some ways Jyo is punished for her failure to like one of the boys. She has to deal with the aggravation and the obstacles put in her way, try and sort out her own life and relationships, and she even gets saddled with fixing Achyuth and Anand. In a film supposedly about love and relationships, it’s a shame so many of the relationships seem a bit toxic.

I loved the performances by Nara Rohit and Naga Shourya. Loved them. They looked perfect, their chemistry was fantastic, their comedy timing was spot on, and when they fought it felt like they really meant it. Their late night snuggles and gossip like an old married couple were very funny and they brought the complex dynamic in their relationship to life. It seemed effortless. I wish they’d been playing characters I could have loved as much. Anand was the least objectionable because I could see his behaviour was driven more by emotion and impulse in the moment, and by conditioning to kick back at his overbearing big brother. Achyuth was more calculating and deliberately set out to hurt Anand and to control Jyo. I’d be laughing at something silly he’d do or say and then recoiling at the next moment. For example, at a corporate tennis match he hit the ball into an opponent’s face and high-fived his partner. The writing of his mean spiritedness is excellent and the things he chooses to do are really hurtful. So it was quality work in terms of insight into a sibling rivalry. But there is no real penalty for him, or Anand, and they reconcile because they want to go back to the good old days.

Regina Cassandra is great as Jyosna. Despite occasionally being made to forget she has a brain, Jyo is a smart and independent woman who has ideas about her future and who should be in it. She is lively without being manic and I liked the way she shifted tone slightly depending on which of the brothers she was talking to. Jyo’s return and the subsequent scheme to set things back to rights was a bit muddled but I enjoyed all of her screen time. And I was chuffed when Nani showed up for her.

Srinivas Avasarala wrote and directed and shows his love of, and influences from, cinema. While the structure works and he handles the flashbacks quite well, he maybe lacked some confidence in his audience. Every joke is underscored with loud sound effects, there is a bit too much repetition in some scenes, and he hammers home the obvious points. Visually the film is pleasant but gets a bit cheesy in songs. I liked the parallels between present day and the past boys relationships and the ending was neatly done.

The audience was in stitches at some of the lines, so I missed a lot. But if all the jokes were on par with the English ones, then I don’t think it was a huge loss. Has anyone over the age of 9 ever said “I miss you from the heart of my bottom” and genuinely expected a laugh?

The good bits are good, the actors are great, but the film left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe this would improve with the benefit of subtitles but whatever it is that raised my hackles would still be there. It’s a shame. I’d love to see more low-key relationship driven films coming out of the Telugu industry, but not ones that idolise a load of male wish fulfilment BS. (Note: I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with the film Love Actually so I’ve got form in this genre)

Goli Soda

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Goli Soda is a masala movie with a difference – there is the usual mixture of action, comedy and romance, but this time the protagonists are four adolescents from Koyambedu market in Chennai and the action mainly takes place within the confines of the marketplace. The four are all orphans who have grown up in Koyambedu and Goli Soda follows their struggle to discover their own identities and what happens when their livelihood and self-respect is threatened. While the scale of the story may be small, the theme of teenagers trying to fit in and develop their own self-worth is universal, even if most don’t have to face quite the same obstacles or start with quite so little. S.D. Vijay Milton’s film has engaging characters and an interesting and rather different story to tell, making Goli Soda well worth a watch.

Saetu (Sree Raam), Kuttimani (Murugesh), Pulli (Kishore) and Sitthappa (Pakoda Pandi) are all friends who live and work together in the market. They unload produce during the early hours of the morning, working for Aachi (Sujatha Sivakumar) who pays them according to the amount of bags they have carried into her business. The boys live rough in the market and spend the rest of their time running amuck, ogling the local girls on their way to school and wasting time with market porter Manthiravan (Imman Annachi). The relationship between the four is well depicted with the expected amount of teasing and banter in any group of young men, but there is also plenty of support for each other and together they form a tightly knit family. This is perfectly illustrated when they all share the same ‘best’ t-shirt to wear as they wave at their chosen girl from the safety of the building roof. Regardless of the fact that none of the girls can probably see exactly what they are wearing, they swap the t-shirt so that each feels he looks his best with the limited resources they have. It’s a brief moment but shows their easy camaraderie and how much they rely on each other.

When Aachi finds out that one of the girls they are chasing is her own daughter Yamini (Chandhini) she convinces the four that they ned to do something more with their lives and approaches market kingpin Naidu (Madhusudhan Rao) for a loan. Naidu gives them the use of an unused godown which the boys turn into a small restaurant, named Aachi’s mess in honour of their mentor. They are surprisingly successful too, and take everything very seriously, even down to selecting the right covering for their makeshift tables. They’re helped in their endeavours by Aachi and Yamini and also by Vanmathi (Seetha) another friend who has her own share of problems but manages to take a glass half full approach to life. However Vanmathi is quite committed to her philosophy of one plant, one flower in relationships and only being willing to help if it is definitely true love and not just time-pass!

Problems arise when Naidu’s brother-in-law Mayil (Vijay Murugan) starts to frequent Aachi’s mess, demanding alcohol and non-veg dishes, even spending the night there with his cronies. The subsequent fall-out when the boys turn on Mayil threatens Naidu’s hold over the market and it seems as if Saetu, Kuttimani, Pulli and Sitthappa will lose everything, including possibly their lives as they battle to hold on to the little they have. Aachi, Yamini and Vanmathi are also all affected and in a departure from the normal masala formula, the two girls end up taking part in the fights with Naidu’s men and help the boys in their campaign to regain their restaurant.

What Goli Soda does is take the usual masala issues of bad guys vs good guy and translate them into the world of four adolescents. Instead of land grabbing politicians and gangsters we get petty criminals who take over the boys’ space and take away their sense of self in the process. That space is important as it’s the first Saetu, Kuttimani, Pulli and Sitthappa have had that is theirs to do with as they please – or at least as much as they can in a rented shop. Their insistence on choosing the tablecloths and making tables and benches for the restaurant becomes significant as it’s the first time they have ever had any say in their surroundings. The restaurant becomes their space and defines how they appear to the rest of the market – they are no longer simply nameless coolies, but instead are Aachi’s mess boys.  The successful business confers a sense of self-worth they did not have before and makes each someone rather than just another orphan. Loss of their space means they are back to being nothing – and that’s not something they are going to let happen if at all possible.

The film has a number of fight scenes where the four adolescents take on Mayil and his gang. This could have been ridiculously unbelievable, although perhaps not any more so than in the usual mass film where the hero is able to fling villains around without too much effort, but the choreography here is better than that. There is a lot of slapping and basic survival tactics which makes it seem less incredible that the boys could take on grown men and not suffer horrendous injuries, while the casual brutality of the gang seems plausible. The story overall works as the boys are all typical young men with the usual wants and desires – new clothes to look cool in front of the girls for example, but they also have a sense of responsibility which comes from having something which is theirs alone. All the young actors are fantastic in their roles and each is completely believable – even down to the blubbering and pleading when they are first faced with the prospect of being beaten up by Mayil and his gang. Sujatha Sivakumar is also excellent in her role as Aachi, giving the boys a constant in their lives and imbuing discipline without losing their respect.

Although it’s a simple story, Goli Soda packs a lot into 2 hours. All the masala elements are there, but trimmed of any excess to suit the younger protagonists, making for a neat and crisp narrative that easily pulls the viewer into the world of Koyambedu market. The dialogue is fun, snappy and suits the characters while the documentary-style of the camera makes the scenes in the market feel very natural. Goli Soda is something just a little bit different and recommended viewing for a movie with a message that avoids being preachy or overly sentimental. 4 stars.