Simhadri

A story told in two parts, Simhadri is uneven. The things I love, I love. And the things I don’t, I really don’t. Rajamouli is always worth watching however, and it is kind of fun to look back at his earlier efforts even when the execution is a little laboured. Tarak is likeable enough, although his acting has improved greatly since 2003.

Simhadri (Tarak) is an orphan living in the household of Ram Bhupal Varma (Nasser) and his wife (Sangeetha). Simhadri is intensely loyal and has anger management issues, and his violence in service of the family is seen as endearing and almost a joke. Anyway, as they keep saying, it’s OK to kill or be killed if it is for the good of people. Tarak and Nasser have some nice badinage and their relationship does seem rock solid and a reasonable motivation for much of what follows. Simhadri is irresistible to women, especially Kasthuri (Ankitha), the daughter of the house. But he spends a lot of time and money with childlike Indu (Bhumika Chawla), and that becomes an issue when Kasthuri finds out. Apparently Simhadri’s style of beating people is medically identifiable and frequently lethal…Or at least that is what a visiting doctor from Kerala says happens when Singamalai beats someone up. But is Singamalai the same person as Simhadri? Why do truckloads of people with many and varied motivations turn up looking for him? Is he leading a double life?

Tarak gets one of the best hero entrance scenes ever, and a quite impractical yet very impressive weapon of choice. The action scenes are crunching and generally humourless, with varying degrees of gore. And he really is delightful in the songs where he is the bumblebee of dance – it seems he shouldn’t be able to move like that but look at him go!

M.M Keeravani’s soundtrack has a dreary orphan song, some cheesy duets, and offers Tarak a range of opportunities to bust a move. It even includes that romantic Indian classic – Cotton Eye Joe!

But Simhadri has to participate in comedy disease shenanigans, and wear some very unpleasant headbands not suited to the hamster-cheeked gent. The obligatory scenes paying homage to the senior NTR are a little overdone, as well as suffering from early 2000s technical limitations. Seeing the younger actors try to leverage their family name while appeasing the inherited fan base and also create their own image is quite interesting to me.

The relationship between Simhadri and Indu is troubling given her childlike mentality. The portrayal is a little flirtatious or at least uses filmi romance visuals which is creepy. Even Simhadri’s family immediately assume she is a prostitute, despite her little girl braids and outfits. And I was appalled by her horrible neighbours. Orphanism isn’t contagious! But despite all this rich material, that renowned wet dishrag of an actress Bhumika uses at most two three facial expressions. The relationship between Simhadri and Kasturi is equally perplexing, although for different reasons. Apparently the way to spark romance is to either scare a man or be scared in front of him. So dropping an ant down your bra and all the following shrieking and jiggling makes perfect sense then. I was kind of glad Ankitha is terrible in this as it would have been sad seeing a good actress enduring the stupidity of the script.

Despite his dubious interpretation of the female psyche, Rajamouli did win a few “you go girl!” points for casting Ramya Krishnan as an item girl.

I found it highly amusing that the song is pretty much along the theme of “do you want fries with that”. But seriously, I am so impressed she has managed such a long and varied career and has made some super films along the way.

The support cast is rich with talent and recognisable faces. Nasser is all reasonable and understanding until someone disagrees with him, then it is “my way or the highway”. He is a great foil for Tarak. Mukesh Rishi is vile and compelling as Bhai Sahib, the big bad gangster. Rahul Dev is slimy Nair, who sparks about an hour of graphic violence including rape and torturing children. Sharat Saxena is the ultimate useless policeman who abdicates all responsibility to the vigilantism of Simhadri. Bhanu Chander has a small but pivotal role that relies on him never making a sensible decision. All of these actors are good, but all their characters need at least one tight slap or maybe a whack with the fancy significant weapon. You know I am close to despair when I can say truthfully that Brahmi and his character is one of the highlights. I also liked Rallapalli and Ragini as Indu’s carers, and Hema as the cheeky maid and confidante to Kasturi.

While the pace is a bit draggy, Rajamouli shines in the action sequences where he uses creative visuals to heighten the drama. Simhadri leaps over the threshold and is then seen landing on the road on a motorcycle. When Simhadri takes on Nair’s gang the fight is intercut with a religious festival, reinforcing that he is doing godly work and getting the adrenaline flowing. The final fight scene has Tarak moving at normal speed but the rowdies in slomo, which was an effective treatment compared with just speeding it all up.

There are some issues with the story, but this is not one to overthink the plot. I mean I can think of several other and better ways to solve the old “bomb in the suitcase” problem…but who wants the sensible masala version?

See this for all the mass tricks, a hero on his way to becoming a genuine star, and a director who backs himself to be playful with the big ticket elements. 3 ½ stars!

Simhadri-last word

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Aaj Ka Goonda Raj

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Aaj Ka Goonda Raj is a Hindi remake of Chiranjeevi’s Telugu blockbuster, Gang Leader. The dishoom sound effects are quite subdued by Telugu standards but Chiru’s hair is even bigger than a regulation police hat and he goes all out in the action and dances.

Raja (Chiranjeevi) is an unemployed specimen and lives with his grandmother (Dina Pathak), brothers Ravi (Raj Babbar) and Amar (Parikshit Sahni), and Amar’s wife (Sudha). He dreams of being Robin Hood, but is more likely to get into a scuffle with the police on the way to the disco than righting any larger scale wrongs.

Admire his awesome moves, even as you may recoil at the sweat flicking and floor humping. Plus bonus Ravi Teja!

Raja takes a job to evict a squatter – Shalu (Meenakshi Sheshadri). She turns up at his house spinning a sob story, looking to move in. His family turn on him of course and take Shalu’s side, or at least feel they need to protect a poor defenceless girl all alone in the world blah blah blah.

Raja agrees to go to jail over a car accident to protect the driver, a father trying to marry his daughter off. Or something. He gets paid for the time served and the cash helps Golden Boy Ravi take the exams for whatever he wants to be. The father (Satish Shah) is actually the jailer. Oh so filmi. Raja is treated well while he is a jailbird. Except that they let Shalu in to see him as she says she is his wife so I think they failed in their duty of care towards him, although I admire her persistence and the power of her imagination. Who says Mass films are simplistic? I get conflicted all over the place.

Reluctant hero and pushy heroine can be very amusing or not at all, and this is a bit too slapstick for my taste. But once Shalu stops just obsessing about Raja she gets a lot more interesting and Meenakshi seems more comfortable in the role. She and Chiru have nice chemistry and Meenakshi certainly gives him a run for his money in the songs and in the drama.

Raja can’t win as he is criticised for not working and then berated when he does. His family love him but despair of him ever getting his life sorted out. He occasionally impersonates his deceased grandfather who ostensibly appears to ask Grandma to go easy on the boy. It’s all silly but the family are there for each other when it counts.

Amar sees something he shouldn’t and villain Tejpal (Prem Chopra) has him eliminated. Tejpal’s pet police officer Saxena (Dalip Tahil) has been trying to get Raja out of the way for most of the film, and finally marries his sister Ritu (Geetha) to Ravi. She is tasked with tearing the brothers asunder, but sorely underestimates the power of filmi bro-dom and the effect on her own psyche of being around decent human beings.

Finally Tejpal and his weirdo sidekick (a very creepy Sharat Saxena) stage a fatal accident using Raja’s taxi, and his friends. Raja goes to trial and is devastated to see what happened to his poor harmless mates.

Raja escapes, thanks to Shalu driving the getaway car and looking striking in huge puffy yellow sleeves. She tells him her sad story of how Tejpal killed her mother and then she shoots Raja’s handcuffs off. Most of Raja’s family are useful in a fight and Shalu gets in there, boots and all too. No one waits for Raja when they can do something for themselves, so the final confrontation is epic and random and had me cheering them all on. I do love a needlessly complex plan and the film obliges.

Apart from the murdering aspect (because it is wrong, even when Chiru is doing it), I liked that Raja simply stepped back and let Shalu deal with Tejpal. He didn’t take her revenge from her or make his own need for justice more important than hers. And anyway, he had Saxena so there was plenty of vengeance to go round.

Despite all the death and mayhem, it’s quite a cheerful and upbeat film for the most part. The songs are not as good as Gang Leader but they are filmed well and I can never be unhappy with Chiru dancing on giant props.

Aaj Ka Goonda Raj-Dragon

Side note: This wall decoration is in several Telugu films and now turns up here. Was it a common item in that day, or did some poor set dresser lug it around from house to house?

This was Chiranjeevi’s second Hindi film. It is hardly a stretch for Chiru but might have been a bit confronting for the mainstream Hindi film audiences of the day. I mean, he can actually dance. Mithun would have been spewing to have his moves put to shame so easily. And the action is energetic and athletic and a bit brutal although there is less fake blood than I recall in the original. It’s a good vehicle for him as it retains the mass flavour of the original and his heroics need no tweaking to be transplanted to Bombay. Sadly, I don’t think Bollywood was ready for this jelly. And that is their loss, as there was a golden opportunity for less of this:

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And more of this:

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See this for a ripping yarn of family and revenge, Chiranjeevi at possibly peak mullet, and Meenakshi as a feisty heroine. Then go watch Gang Leader! 3 ½ stars!

Gharana Mogudu (1992)

Gharana Mogudu

Gharana Mogudu is a step back in time to the Nineties, although it seems more like the Eighties considering the costumes and general shenanigans. The songs deliver the costumes and as for general shenanigans, there is Uma Devi (Nagma) – a boss from hell who plots a marriage with her factory’s union leader to get her revenge for his popularity and force him to fall into line.  Naturally since the union leader is Chiranjeevi, Uma Devi’s plans are never going to work out the way she wants, but there is a lot of entertainment in watching her attempts.  Nagma is wonderfully arrogant and egotistic in a role that lets her be as nasty as possible, but still look stunning as she efficiently crushes anyone who dares to oppose her management style.  Chiranjeevi’s Raju is naturally the complete opposite, kind-hearted and generous, but just as stubborn and quite determined to stand up for his rights and those of his fellow workers.  Of course he also dances up a storm and dishooms when and where required making Gharana Mogudu an excellent celebration of all things Megastar and perfect for this year’s Megabirthday celebrations.

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Before we can get to Uma Devi and her hazardous factory in Hyderabad, Raju is introduced as the dock worker to turn to in a crisis – even if that crisis is getting beaten up at an illegal fight betting ring.  Naturally Raju wins the subsequent show-down but finds that the money he won has vanished – cue the excellent Bangaru Kodi Petta (which was remixed and re-imagined for Rajamouli’s awesome Magadheera ) with Disco Shanti running off with the betting money.

When his mother (Shubha) has a stroke, Raju leaves Vizag and the joys of waterfront employment and heads home to Hyderabad.  After arriving in the city, Raju fortuitously saves local businessman Bapineedu (Raogopal Rao), from a gang of thugs and as a reward is given the opportunity to work in his family factory. This sounds too good to be true, and of course it is, since Bapineedu and the family business are both actually run by his daughter – the boss from hell. Uma Devi has no interest in her workers except as a means to increase profit and make her the top tax payer in India (her ultimate ambition apparently).  She has the union rep firmly under her thumb to ensure that there are no strikes despite her heavy handed treatment and is prone to petulant displays of temper if her will is crossed.  I’m not sure if it’s one of her petty cruelties to make her secretary Bhavani (Vani Viswanath) wear such odd outfits to work but in her own time Bhavani looks much more appropriately dressed, so I have my suspicions, particularly when Uma Devi appears so co-ordinated.

 

Uma Devi is just as bad at dealing with people on a personal level and the thugs who attacked her father were actually sent by Ranganayakulu (Kaikala Satyanarayana) after Uma Devi turned down a marriage proposal from his son (Sharat Saxena).  Ranganayakulu and his son are the main villains of the piece and while their response to a marriage refusal may seem a little over the top, to be fair Uma Devi is annoying enough that wiping her from the face of the planet doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

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Uma Devi’s plan to marry Raju also disrupts the course of true love as Raju and Bhavani embark on an office romance after they meet each other on the way to work. A bicycle ride in the rain leads to this excellent song, with Vani Viswanath keeping up with Chiranjeevi in the dance stakes despite his tendency to attack her with a bicycle – I really did want Bhavanai to dispose of Uma Devi and run away with Raju after this song!

Sadly Bhavani is much too sweet to be a murderer, so Uma Devi goes ahead with her plan and Raju ends up moving into Bapineedu’s massive mansion with his new bride.  The house is incredible, with statuary everywhere and a huge central imposing staircase, but none of that fazes Raju who continues to work on the shop floor and fight for workers’ rights.

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Now at this point you might think that Raju’s morals and basic decency might start to have an effect on Uma Devi and make her realise the error of her ways, but she’s still just as unpleasant as ever and it takes a drunken night and a lungi dance before she even begins to appear remotely bearable.  Before then there are plenty of great confrontations between Uma Devi and Raju, shifty scheming from Ranganayakulu and Uma Devi’s manager Sarangapani (Ahuti Prasad) and plenty of those fantastic costumes to enjoy.

Chiru is dashing and very much the mega star as he mixes romance, compassion, ethical principles and his stance on workers’ rights with great dancing and action sequences.  Pretty much everything gets mixed into the film and Chiranjeevi really is awesome no matter what he is doing! Nagma is delightfully vile and holds her own against Chiru keeping the focus of the film on Uma Devi and her machinations, while the plots of Ranganayakulu etc are totally overshadowed by her stormy relationship with Raju. She’s almost the classic Disney villainess and it seems obligatory to boo and hiss whenever she appears and naturally cheer for Chiranjeevi and Bhavani. Yes, even when watching on DVD in the comfort of your own living room.

Along with all the drama there is room for some comedy too – Brahmi pops up but unfortunately makes little impression without the benefit of subtitles.  However the rest of the humour is based on interactions between Raju and the other characters, and being more situational comes across better. It’s a true masala film and although the plot is ridiculous and the characterisations over the top, Gharana Mogudu is still completely entertaining.  Excellent performances, great songs and plenty of Megastar style make this definitely one to watch. 4 stars.

Chiranjeevi