Stalin (2006)

Stalin-Stalin Title

When people complain that Telugu film directors lack creativity and too many movies are remakes, I’d like them to consider Stalin. It takes a certain amount of vision to translate a film like Pay It Forward into mass Telugu style, and to cast Chiranjeevi in a role originally played by Haley Joel Osment. Nice one AR Murugadoss!

Stalin-Stalin arrives

Stalin (named by his Communist dad) is an ex-Army major, living with his Ma (Sharada) and passing time by doing good deeds and protecting the defenceless. It’s a typical altruistic hero role, with Stalin using his strength to look after the people. After a string of events that undermine his faith in humanity, he devises a scheme.

 

Instead of accepting thanks he will ask anyone he helps to help another three people and tell them to pay it forward. In this way, the whole country will be incited to activism. It doesn’t seem to take off and Stalin is bitterly disappointed that people simply don’t do anything but make excuses. However, in the background the movement slowly gains momentum.

That is all the good message-y stuff but I said this was mass. Stalin also battles a corrupt politician (Pradeep Rawat) and his crazy father-in-law (Prakash Raj) and their assorted lackeys. He is pursued by Chitra (Trisha) and nagged about marriage by his mother while trying to patch up the relationship between his Ma and estranged sister Jhansi (Khushboo) who married a Punjabi dude against said mother’s wishes. Add in assassinations, explosions, amputations and ‘only in films’ medicine. Phew!

Stalin-Helping at collegeStalin-at college

The message is heavy handed yet I can’t argue with most of the sentiments. The catalyst for Stalin’s formal implementation of good deeds is the suicide of a young girl who had lost both arms in an accident. Due to a series of mishaps she had no one to write an exam for her, something Stalin would have done but he was helping a blind student at a chemistry prac. She asked so many people for help and none would, so in despair she jumped off the roof. It was a bit out of character for a girl who fought so hard to get her education, but it made a point. People are often not deliberately bad, just lazy and thoughtless. Initially despondent, Stalin is inspired by a group of disabled kids who stop a race to allow a boy to get back up and then all finish together.

Stalin-School raceStalin-who is disadvantaged

Stalin ponders why people who have so much give so little. I don’t subscribe to the idea of the ‘inspirationally disadvantaged’ as I think people are people and having a physical disability doesn’t necessarily make for a particular personality type or behaviour, nor is it guaranteed to turn everyone around that person into saints. But I couldn’t help responding to the big delighted smiles of the little boys and the performances by the two college girls. I think English language mainstream films tend to either glamourize or overlook people who are different and I liked seeing real people, not actresses pretending to be blind and so on.

One thing that irritates me is the filmi convention that insists ordinary people need a hero to lead them on all points. Stalin is offered a chance to go back into the Army only to have Gopi (Sunil) insist that ‘the people’ need him to inspire them to do good deeds. Why demand someone else be your role model when you already know what you should do? That laziness in films that sees entire rural communities under the thumb of a handful of drunk and not very bright rowdies, and entire neighbourhoods stand by and watch someone be maltreated is so frustrating, especially when its only purpose is to make the hero a HERO. And even more so in a film about people power.

Stalin-fight 2Stalin-Chiranjeevi

It’s an uncomfortable blend at times but Chiranjeevi’s apparent sincerity in the cheesy scenes and unswerving self-belief in the big chest-beating moments holds it all together. The fight scenes rely mostly on editing and effects as Stalin allows his enemies to come to him for a beating so suit the slightly more mature Megastar.

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For a do-gooder he uses threats liberally. But he did once singlehandedly overcome an enemy army emplacement so it would pay to listen.

I was initially a bit uncomfortable with Chiru and Trisha as a couple. Stalin’s backstory makes it clear he is a fair bit older than her. The songs are mostly Chitra’s fantasy point of view so it worked better than expected as the cavorting was not his idea. Anyway, it’s Chiru! Mani Sharma’s songs are fun and so are the picturisations, especially the traditional hero arrival number which also incorporates a call to donate organs, blood and eyes for the betterment of society.

And apart from anything else the songs give the costume department an outlet for their experimental urges.

Stalin-Chitra and StalinStalin-Chitra and Jhansi

Trisha is adequate but Chitra could have been played by almost anyone. Perhaps it would have been better to cast someone who could swim as Chitra was allegedly a swimming champion. I think she won a trophy for most ridiculous dive off the blocks and 10 metre dogpaddle with gratuitous appearance in a swimsuit. She is silly and self-centred, another of those mysterious film heroines who only have children as friends and don’t seem to do anything other than be the heroine. Chitra is friends with Stalin’s sister. Jhansi is a pleasant and capable woman who has a good career and a loving family. Once Supreet and his rowdies start targeting people close to Stalin, personal strength goes out the window as all the ladies need him to set things to rights.

Stalin-SharadaStalin-wedding planning

Sharada is great as the widowed mother who seems to have raised the kids alone. She is fiercely proud of Stalin and equally strong in her rejection of Jhansi who married an outsider. Some of her scenes are broad comedy, as she schemes with the dodgy priest (Brahmi) to marry Stalin off to a beautiful girl, any beautiful girl. I’d often wondered about the thinking behind ‘I Wanna Spiderman’ and it turns out a comedy uncle is to blame. This is Brahmi’s fantasy which perhaps explains the costumes. Or not.

Stalin-Prakash Raj

Prakash Raj is excellent as Muddu Krishnayya, a self-described Jekyll and Hyde. Even when Muddu Krishnayya starts to really lose his marbles he stays on task, although he does over-explain his plans which diminishes the likelihood of success.

Stalin-SupreetStalin-totally understandable

The support cast is familiar in faces and functions. Subbaraju makes a fleeting appearance as a creepy rapey guy, literally flying across screen following a heroic punch never to be seen again. Supreet does the villainous heavy lifting, earning an excellent comeuppance at Stalin’s hands. Mukesh Rishi and Brahmaji are Stalin’s Army comrades who come to help save the day when Stalin is under siege. Harsha Vardhan and Sunil are Stalin’s main comedy sidekicks. Everyone does their thing and does it pretty well.

This is not exactly a family friendly film due to the violence, but it is not as empty as many mass films are since all the biffo and mayhem is for the good of Society. The story ends on a high note but getting there took some doing. It’s worth a watch for late career Chiru still in full possession of his famed charisma, and for the curiosity value of the loose remake. 3 stars!

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Kondaveeti Donga

One of the indicators of an excellent masala film is when I could pick holes in it but just don’t want to. Kondaveeti Donga sees Chiranjeevi teaming up again with director A Kodandarami Reddy in a story by Yandamoori Veerendranath and the result is glorious. It’s so good I want to share every little detail and yet give nothing away so you can enjoy it as it happens. The first 15 minutes is pure breathless insanity and then the film really takes off.

Raja (Chiranjeevi) is a graduate returning to his village home. That might explain why the subtitles say ‘coz. He’s so modern and citified. Raja is an orphan, adopted by village strongman Satyanarayana Kaikala. The local people funded his education, and he is back to repay them by working to make their lives better. He finds a mysterious tiger reservation has annexed the prime farming land, and the villagers are all in debt to bigwig Rao Gopal Rao and his creepy son Narasimham (Mohan Babu). Raja tries to fight for their rights in the courts but fails. He so disappoints the villagers that one of them drops dead in the court room, adding to the guilt trip. Raja decides he must deliver justice since the law won’t, even though the illiterate villagers were clearly swindled. Inspired by an old story his adoptive father used to tell, Raja becomes the Kondaveeti Donga!

Raja declaims some cracking dialogues and bowls the ladies and bad guys over at every turn. It is a brilliant role for Chiru as it needs his swagger and charisma to make the larger than life Kondaveeti Donga come to life and he makes the most of the less action driven scenes. He wears a nice sheer face mask which fails to disguise him at all, charging around the countryside on his white horse and accompanied by his trusty dog.

There are excellent fight scenes, one including tree dwelling ninjas, tigermen and a man with very long metal arms, and a great sequence on a speeding train.

There is romance, dancing and eccentric wardrobe as the ladies live out their fantasies in songs with the obliging Raja. He is a decent bloke who genuinely cares about his adoptive family and friends. Even as he surrendered to the police, he took time to give his dog and horse a little goodbye cuddle. Awwwww.  And they deserve a hug.

The dog is particularly useful as he not only disguises himself as the Kondaveeti Donga on horseback, he also saves his friend the horse from near certain death. There is only one horse stunt that made me cover my eyes so extra points for that too.

In case Chiru as Zorro isn’t enough to tempt you (what are you – nuts?!?) there is so much more.

Amrish Puri as an evil mystic with an excellent lair. The symbolism is quite eclectic. The beak on that peacock drawbridge must have been heavily reinforced as it hits the ground with a satisfying thunk. The lair is one of those that can only be reached by water, a long arduous trek or ride, or maybe a brisk walk from the office. There are some geographical inconsistencies that put me in mind of Howl’s Moving Castle. Gadra also has a crocodile pit AND cage full of bloodthirsty cheetahs, and still finds time for his day job.

Sharada as a vengeful woman with exacting standards in machete purchasing. I love Sharada’s intensity and she has an elegance that shines through.  Like Chiru, she can inject a bit of quality into the drama and shenanigans in even the silliest script. Sambhavi is strong, resourceful and driven by a thirst for revenge. She has an iron will that even Gadra cannot overcome and she does an excellent ‘death stare’ that is almost on par with Amrish Puri.

Vijayashanti plays an undercover policewoman who poses as a snake charmer to uncover illegal activities. Srilekha is tough, has tunnel vision when it comes to the law, and is not afraid of conflict. Vijayashanti is great in this kind of role, being pretty and feisty and often very funny. Srilekha doesn’t quite join the dots and see that she is out to arrest Raja, perhaps being too distracted by his charm and laid back dance moves. Srilekha changes, most noticeably when she swaps her snug police uniform for pretty sarees. Ah, the influence of True Love!

Radha  is lovely as her sister Srikanya. Now Srikanya is a gynaecologist according to the subtitles, but she seems to perform general bullet removal surgery as well as tracking down the reason for so many villagers dying of anaemia (hint – they were literally paying a debt with their own blood). In many respects she is the opposite of her sister; reserved, soft-hearted and girly. But Srikanya is intelligent and independent in her career, so she isn’t just a piece of fluff. She falls instantly and hard for the thief, seeing him as a saviour.

Thanks to a bindi with extra stickum, she works out Raja is the mysterious Kondaveeti Donga. She keeps his secret even from her family as she believes in his cause, and despite being the softer of the sisters she holds her ground under threat. When medical fakery is needed, Srikanya is cool in a crisis.

Despite being an unashamedly masala potboiler, there is some nice depth to the ‘good’ characters. Some key supporting characters find forgiveness and a kind of peace. There is a love triangle between Raja, Srilekha and Srikanya. Most of the romancing is confined to the songs which are usually a depiction of the girls’ fantasies.  The drama develops between the two ladies, with one oblivious and one heartbroken and all too aware, the romance adding another tension to their already opposing views.  Their close sibling bond and strong personalities informed their behaviour not just the love for an irresistible hero.

Nagendra Babu plays an enigmatic loner who wanders the wood in search of unseen justice (that’s what he says). Brahmanandam has a small role and Allu Ramalingaiah plays the crooked subordinate to the bad guys. Most of the humour comes from Chiru and Vijayashanti and the naff rapey jokes are left to Mohan Babu and the bad guys. There are lots of small details and symbols scattered through the film and I really enjoyed that extra dimension.

And there were some subtitles that kept me thinking. Often thinking WTF? but thinking nonetheless.

Ilayaraja’s soundtrack is excellent. There is a heroic ‘look out evil-doers’ anthem, some romantic duets and a couple of upbeat sparkly costumed numbers. Something for all occasions!

 

This film has everything I want in masala entertainment. The casting is perfect with Chiru at his mass best, the story rattles along, the action is crazy, and the songs are highly entertaining. 5 stars!

Adavi Donga

Adavi Donga is difficult to really capture in mere words. As I watched it, I kept wondering if Chiranjeevi was already the Megastar, because this is not the kind of film that I imagine would really enhance an actor’s reputation. This was an adventure without subtitles, but the visuals speak volumes. My  copy is a dodgy quality VCD so my images will not do it justice, but I have sourced some short clips to help bring Adavi Donga to life. No dear reader, don’t thank me yet!

Sharada, always so elegant and striking, is Vasundhara. She opposes the local bad guy, animal poacher and underpayer of vegetable growers, Rao Gopal Rao, and his idiot son.

He is slimey and not always just in the comedic manner you might expect from the wigs.

 

Look at what happened to the last person who crossed him! And consider the well appointed lair and excellent lighting effects. He also has a gang of brightly attired poachers, and Allu Ramalingaiah as a shady advisor and factotum.

Rao Gopal Rao frames Vasundhara’s husband for murder, and at the dramatic height of that incident, she stashes her recently tattooed infant son in the forest fully intending to come back when it is safe.  Unfortunately for her, the lad is discovered and adopted by an elephant and taken into the jungle.

I was delighted to find that the jungle was populated by lots of exciting animals like tigers, lion cubs, monkeys, antelope, peacocks and… fluffy white bunnies.

 

Some things made me question where the rabbits fit into the food chain. They had no protective camouflage or colouring – Stupidity or fearlessness? Were they just a convenient snack for local carnivores or something more sinister?

Sharada is left alone and angry. Vasundhara is a strong woman with a vengeful streak tempered by her principles. Her policeman brother, played by Kongara Jaggaiah, refuses to believe that her husband is innocent and doesn’t seem too fussed about the lost baby. Of course the boy grows up to become Chiranjeevi, a Tarzan character with a wardrobe comprising several loincloths and an array of matching sandals, who lives completely unnoticed in the not very distant jungle.

Radha has some strange ideas about jungle appropriate attire, although I guess pleather would be fairly hardy as fabrics go.

The poacher gang try to kidnap her, possibly in an attempt to force her to marry the idiot son. But Chiru cannot resist the piercing shriek of a maiden in distress and comes to her aid. She flees, leaving her cassette recorder behind. And that changes everything. I liked that the elephant mother seems appalled to find her human child dancing to some random disco rubbish. Sadly the damage has been done and Chiru goes in search of the pretty lady. This choice leads him into a world of floral curtains and scary reflections.

 

Radha certainly liked what she saw. The yodelling over Chiru’s arrival in this song is quite marvellous. Someone took their Tarzan tribute seriously.

Radha staged another incident to attract Chiru’s attention. She didn’t count on being chased into the jaws of a crocodile by a lethargic tiger, and of course Chiru arrives in the nick of time having been alerted by her robust screaming. I do like a good crocodile wrestling scene! He takes her to his treehouse and she seems to recover quite quickly considering her leg had been gnawed half off. But why didn’t Radha seem to notice the rabbits hopping all around her?

Chiru’s treehouse had an elephant operated elevator which at first surprised me – I mean, Tarzan needing a lift? How many city gals did he bring home? But then I realised the lift was possibly for the benefit of the bunnies who were sharing the penthouse treehouse with Chiru. Did the elephants have their own interpretation of bunny rug? What was their purpose? How on earth did the rabbits persuade so many creatures to do their bidding? Why do I care ?

Chiranjeevi’s idea of flirting with Radha is amusing rather than smouldering. He steals her bra, covers himself in a leopard skin and crawls around growling, gets his monkey to take a Polaroid of Radha while she is changing clothes and generally behaves like a hormonal teenager.

The romance between Chiru and Radha draws the attention of Rao Gopal Rao. His machinations place Chiru in danger, which allows for some excellent vine-swinging, and the elephants intervene to go find Sharada and reintroduce her to her son. Quite why it took so many years to do this is not clear, but maybe they just weren’t ready for him to leave home. It took Radha, resplendent in pleather pedal pushers, to reunite the family with a clever visual demonstration of the parent child relationship.

 

They quickly adjusted to this new family dynamic and the elephants helped Sharada break Chiru out of police custody. She is a very resourceful woman.

After a bit of divine intervention and maternal coaching, Chiru becomes Kalidasu. He starts wearing suits and accessorising with scarves. He also quickly develops an amazing mastery of rhetoric. Sharada imbues him with her own strong principles and he is the perfect son.

 

She is still crusading against the poaching and other villainous goings on. I liked the villains lair, apparently accessible only via secret rail tunnel, or the truck loading bay. Despite all the secrecy, Sharada and the local ‘tribe’ seem to be able to wander in as they please.

 

Naturally the bad guys refuse to be warned off by Sharada or by Chiru. He is outraged at seeing his former jungle friends sold for skins and tusks, although he was no tree-hugging conservationist  in his previous jungle existence. An assassin is sent to kill him. This role, if not the outfit, would have been perfect for Bob Christo. Please pay particular attention to the Wolverine style claws made from apple peelers.

Other pleasing details include the abundance of  fake ‘taxidermy’ in the villain’s house. What were they thinking?

The commitment to that theme continues into a song.

The songs (music by Chakravarthy) are kind of fabulous and completely excruciating.

The final showdown takes place in the villain’s lair and poor Chiru is faced with a terrible dilemma. Rescue his recently freed father from this?

Or save his mother from this?

And how to help anyone when he is trapped? And with evil henchmen tearing his clothes off?!? Oh the humanity!

 

Director K Raghavendra Rao wraps things up neatly, if not terribly sensibly, and there is excellent utilisation of the elephants. There is so much fabulous wardrobe, a ridiculous plot that merrily disregards any inconvenient logic, and very appealing performances by Chiranjeevi and Sharada. A must see for Tarzan fans, Chiru fans, rabbit fans and anyone who ever wanted to know which sandals go best with a loincloth. While not a great film, this is So Bad It’s Really Very Good.  3 stars!