Muta Mestri

Muta Mestri is a masala film with a message, featuring Chiru with director A Kodandarami Reddy, and dialogues by the Paruchuri brothers. Overall the blend of ideas and drama and action is balanced. The action is full throttle, the dancing energetic, the ladies outfits are frequently hideous and the message is generally one I can get on board with. What works, works well but there are some heavy handed moments and a few assumptions around values that left me cold.

Chiranjeevi is the very patriotic Subhash Chandra Bose, the ‘Labour Contractor’ at a local market. He gets an excellent introduction when Sukkamma bets Brahmi a nudie run that the porters can’t unload waiting trucks in less than 10 minutes.

Whenever Bose arrives by bike, he just lets the bike careen off into the distance. It oozes confidence and a dash of silliness which is perfect for this role. Oh and she loses the bet.

The market is a harmonious community of men, women, Hindus and Muslims all working together. There are some statements to the effect of unity equalling strength.

Allu Ramalingaiah plays a teacher who educates the children about Independence, Gandhian principles and the like and regulars Brahmi and Ali lurk in the support cast too. It’s the India that should be, according to the vision of this film. Kasim is one of the more prominent support characters and he and his son are well liked. They celebrate their Hindu friends’ festivals and the Hindus respect and understand Muslim religious practice. Indeed, knowledge of prayer times sparks a crucial plot development towards the end of the film. Diversity is shown as beneficial, not just something to be tolerated.

Atma (Sharat Saxena) is the villain of the piece. He is more of an ascetic style of villain, believing he has a relationship with god that allows him room to negotiate indulgence for bad deeds. He wants to use the land the market is on for a new development. The market folks turn to Bose for help and he stages a non-violent protest outside Atma’s house.

Bose allies with MLA Sundaraiah and the CM (Gummadi) and eventually moves into politics – a position that Atma wanted for his son Dilip. Dilip is the kind of baddie who pulls up outside a school and plays loud crappy music to drown out the pure sweet sound of innocent school children singing the national anthem. And adding insult to injury, he then dances badly in the street. Obviously Bose wil deal with him severely.

Bose brings a direct and action oriented approach to politics. There is a great sequence of Bose being wheeled from one photo op to another with the emphasis on being seen to feed orphans or plant trees rather than actually doing it. Bose reprimands his advisors and starts making his own decisions based on what he sees as right. He upsets the applecart and the CM loves him for it, as do the people. This is a major theme in the story and there are recurring examples. The film also makes a point about the quality of people in politics, and the shift from people who wanted to change the world to those who just want to profit from it. People have a responsibility to try and fix things, not just leave them for someone else to clean up. For all the idealism Bose spouts, it’s a deeply cynical film.

Atma realises that the only way to hurt Bose is to attack his loved ones and discredit him. Bose realises that he can’t sort out Atma while he is part of the government. It is a similar idea to the cop/vigilante issue raised in other films. Justice is located outside of the legal system and good men can do illegal things as long as they are doing them for the ‘right’ reasons.

The action scenes are energetic and impressive, and Chiru is in excellent form. The fights are fast and athletic, and suit his character’s style. Actually, Bose has multiple fight styles and uses them to entertain people watching him belting the daylights out of the baddies. I liked Bose’s interactions with the other guys at the market and Chiru has a gleam in his eye when he gets into the rousing speeches. His dancing is excellent, and especially when he has the opportunity to go for it.  A lot of the comedy is Bose bumbling his way through the intricacies of political life, and the hassles of being a chick magnet so it isn’t too intrusive even if it is very silly. Chiranjeevi looks great in simple working attire, although he does veer into acid wash denim territory which is less pleasing. The song costumes are an outlet for the frustrated wardrobe team. I keep saying this, but Chiranjeevi is such an accomplished actor. He finds opportunities to give his character more depth and complexity than a mass film may require, making the overall result more engaging and credible.

There are some things I took issue with. Bose’s sister Jhansi gets home late from college and because he sees the neighbours watching, Bose slaps her. There is a tearful repentance that follows, and the upshot is that avoiding reputational damage is the responsibility of women. That scene will come back to haunt Bose in a major way but it left a bad taste in my mouth, especially when Jhansi basically apologised for making him feel the need to hit her. Grrrr. At the same time, Bujamma (Meena) is very forward in chasing Bose and there is no penalty for that. So his sister has to be perfect and virginal but he will marry who he chooses and think no less of her for trying to get her hands on him before the wedding. Sigh.

All of the females in the film are given short shrift. Bujamma is, as Bose repeatedly tells her, loud, crass and stinks of fried food from her snack stall. She keeps trying to transform herself to be more like what he wants but cannot change her nature. Some of it is quite funny, as in a challenge to stay silent for 24 hours, but some of the dialogues are just plain mean. Meena is pretty and lively enough as Bujamma although her performance is a bit grating. Kalpana (Roja) is Bose’s secretary, and as Bujamma sees her the main rival for Bose. Roja doesn’t get much to do apart from stand around and look decorative although she is afflicted with ‘comedy’. Brahmi decides to help Bujamma keep Bose and Kalpana apart by telling Kalpana that after six…she’d better watch out.

Despite that excellent piece of advice, it’s a stupid and unnecessary diversion as Kalpana keeps fantasising about Bose’s possible sexual advances and fainting all over the place.  Although it did lead to this song:

She seems to think that was a nightmare. Ahem. (Note – if you want the film on DVD, the Moser Baer DVD doesn’t include that song but the EVP one does.) Koti’s music is not particularly memorable but the picturisations and costumes made an impression. If that isn’t enough costume WTFery for you, please be my guest:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite an escape plan that uses a detailed model, Bose catches up and Atma and Dilip are dealt with in excellent and elaborate style.

If ‘cross-country arse-kicking’ was an Olympic event, Bose would have taken gold (and possibly also silver and bronze). Justice is done, at least for some.

It’s an entertaining enough film, but not quite enough to make me want to watch it too often. There is some substance lurking under the cheese, but I have issues with the treatment of Jhansi in a film that was otherwise very positive about equality and community. See it for Chiru’s dancing, the outfits and the come-uppances. 3 ½ stars.

Duplicate (1998)

If not for the presence of Shah Rukh Khan I probably would have avoided Duplicate, since I’m not a fan of slapstick comedy and usually detest buffoonish characters. But despite all the farce I totally loved it, although even though I’ve now watched it multiple times, I’m still not entirely sure why it appeals to me so much. Of course Shah Rukh in a double role is enough to explain at least some of the attraction, but no matter how many times I watch Duplicate I still find it funny even though I know the plot is preposterous and the end completely ridiculous. It all comes down to the charm of the lead couple and an excellent supporting cast who manage to hold the film together, keeping it genuinely entertaining the whole way through. Plus there isn’t even a whiff of Johnny Lever which is always a win in any Hindi comedy as far as I’m concerned!

Shah Rukh plays the dual roles of Bablu Chaudary – a rather gormless and naïve chef, and his duplicate in appearance Manu Dada – a vicious gangster out for revenge on his former partners in crime. He keeps the two characters totally separate and it’s always very clear who he is at any time in the film.

Bablu is the son of a Punjabi wrestler and since he has no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps he is a severe disappointment to his mother (Farida Jalal). Bablu comes across as the lovechild of Frank Spencer and Norman Wisdom as he indulges in pratfalls and causes general mayhem when he goes for a job interview at a posh hotel. Despite all the face-pulling and foolish grins, Bablu isn’t quite as stupid as he looks and gets the job after proving he can whip up a rather un-Japanese looking Japanese meal in 20 minutes while dancing with various vegetables and duly impressing the banquet manager Sonia Kapoor (Juhi Chawla) with his multi-tasking skills. It’s quite silly but rather engaging at the same time.

This initial attraction between Bablu and Sonia develops into a romance that isn’t quite as creepy as it might have been given Bablu’s essentially child-like nature and Sonia’s more mature outlook on life. Although she is appalled when his secret fantasy is to feed his bride potato dumplings on their wedding night, they do seem to reach an understanding during the songs. Sadly Juhi’s character seems to have been cursed with the worst shoe costume designer ever as she appears in a number of terrible ankle boots throughout most of this, but otherwise it’s a very cute song and there are some good shots of Prague in the background.

While Bablu is getting to know his boss, Manu escapes from jail although why he is wearing nifty pleather pants accessorised with circa 80’s Madonna-style jewellery for his jail-break is a total mystery. Manu is on the trail of his previous accomplices who set him up for his jail time and then absconded with all the loot from their criminal activities. The gang includes Dhingra (Sharat Saxena), Gappa (Rana Jung Bahadur) and Gulshan Grover as Shalaku – the man who rather significantly does not have a death line on his hand. They are an incredibly inept gang of criminals and seem totally unable to recognise Manu when he turns up to kill each of them. Of course he is a man of mystery and a master of disguise, at least according to the equally inept police team who are out to catch Manu and send him back to jail.

Manu dresses in drag as part of his plan to get past security and eliminate Dhingra. I have to say that although Shah Rukh does make a particularly ugly woman, he is disturbingly convincing as he dances provocatively before whipping off his wig and revealing his true persona. It’s a classic scene and it’s made even better by the wonderful decor in the background.

It’s inevitable that the police find Bablu and mistake him for Manu which starts off a chain of mistaken identity that Manu uses to his advantage. But Manu makes a mistake when he captures Bablu’s mother as this forces Bablu to take action. Bablu decides to impersonate Manu to get his mother back from the gangster’s clutches and while his attempts to mimic Manu’s menacing persona fall far short of the real thing, he does manage to convince Mnau’s girlfriend Lily (Sonali Bendre) and Manu’s gang. This leads to a totally crazy song where Sonia is out with Manu, thinking he is Bablu, while Bablu does his best to avoid Lily’s attentions. I’ll just point out that Karan Johar was responsible for Shah Rukh’s costumes and leave it at that since I think that explains it all.

The confusion gets more and more ridiculous but Shah Rukh keeps it easy to decipher whether we’re watching Bablu pretending to be Manu or Manu pretending to be Bablu, even if the police, Shalaku and his cronies, Sonia and Lily can’t manage to work it out. Although Shah Rukh overplays both characters it works in the film since it’s all totally over the top and silly. Watching Bablu (pretending to be Manu) and Shalaku battle it out in a bathtub (thankfully) full of bubbles and squeaky toys should have been absurd but instead it’s hilarious.

The supporting cast are all excellent and Farida Jalal is perfect as Bablu’s mother. Her loud and overbearing personality make it seem quite understandable that she would have a son as foolish as Bablu and her rapport with her son comes across clearly. Sonali Bendre is also well cast as the sexy girlfriend Lily, and ably portrays her obvious attraction to bad boy Manu warring with her common sense. Lily is quite aware that Manu takes her for granted and only wants her for one thing, but she still can’t help herself and is irrestibly drawn towards him. Shah Rukh also manages to convey an aura of dangerous desire even though Manu really is quite repulsive with his repetitive tongue flicks and strange sneers.  There is so much detail in Shah Rukh’s performance that it does take a few viewings to fully appreciate every nuance. I love the way that Manu uses a burning TV set to light his cigarette as he leaves the scene of one of his crimes, and also snags some chicken from the table on the way out while Bablu lets every emotion show in his expression, exactly like a small child.

Juhi Chawla is one of my favourite actresses and she is simply wonderful here. I’m not sure how she manages to keep a straight face through some of Shah Rukh’s more insane moments, but she plays Sonia as quite a serious career woman with a tendency to lecture in English. Although I do prefer her romance with Shah Rukh in Yes Boss they still make a sweet couple here. This is my favourite song from the film and I love the way Bablu changes his expression as he looks from Lily to Sonia and also manages to totally change his posture and body language – brilliant!

Apart from the great performances, there are plenty of small touches that make this film appealing. Bablu lives in a very colourful house with a wonderfully brightly painted bathroom and some very groovy pictures on the walls while Manu’s garage has lots of cheery graffiti. The songs by Anu Malik are memorable and the picturisations are all well done with Farah Khan being responsible for the excellent choreography which of course suits Shah Rukh perfectly. Monish Bahl pops up in a small but important role as the hotel manager Ravi Lamba, and Tiku Talsania is very funny in his brief appearance as the bumbling Inspector Thakur. Kajol also appears briefly in a blink and you’ll miss it guest appearance which I didn’t even notice amongst all the other craziness the first time I watched the film. Although there is plenty of slapstick it is used well and there is plenty of comedy in the dialogue and the situations to help stop the film from becoming too farcical – at least until the end. But really, I think it’s Shah Rukh’s performance and his ability to make his characters so appealing despite their flaws that really make this such a watchable film. I can’t say that it’s good because it does have a nonsensical plot and everyone is overacting like crazy. But it is entertaining, it does make me laugh and it’s a film I can watch over and over again without having to resort to the FF button. 4 stars.

SP Parasuram

My DVD collection has grown more through whim and serendipity than any clear acquisition strategy, and I don’t always come up with gold. This is not a quality film. It probably should be something I refer to as a guilty pleasure, but I feel no guilt! I just love it for its stars, the songs, the outfits, the action, the insane plot twists and the sheer style.

The villain of the piece (played by Sharat Saxena) makes, of all things, snuff films. I really wasn’t expecting that.

We have two girls drugged and abducted (one raped, both murdered), a confrontation between police and the murderer/rapist/blue film talent (Mahesh Anand seen  here in his fluffy pink dressing gown) and a further show down between SP Parasuram (Chiranjeevi) and Mahesh Anand resulting in the criminal being rendered comatose before the onlookers send Chiru on his way with a polite round of applause and he revs them up about social justice and eliminating corruption. That takes care of the first breathless 10 minutes. And the level of happenings rarely drops for the rest of the film.

SP Ram Parasuram is the righteous cop with a wicked temper, and our hero. Sri Devi is Kumari, a petty con artist and thief. When Kumari is arrested, she spins a colourful tale to escape her cell. Luckily for us, the design team were on fire when they came up with this!

Ram lives with his father, brother and sister in a fabulously decorated mansion and seems to be the bossy one in the family. Kumari breaks in to steal from her persecutor, and perhaps to get an eyeful of this:

Her outfits are also quite eyecatching.

I love this song mostly because I get to see Chiru wearing a Koala print jumper. Maybe he was thinking about his Australian fan base or maybe it’s all the wardrobe guy could find.  The ankle boots, black socks and high baggy pants are not so pleasing, but it was the 90s…And Sri Devi didn’t fare any better.

The romance and action intersect when the blue film gang kidnap Kumari who escapes and runs into the only man she can trust. She can identify the gang so there is a lot of interest in shutting her up. A murder attempt renders her blind and temporarily safe as a blind woman is not perceived as a threat. If only they knew as much as I do about incredible filmi medicine they wouldn’t be so sanguine! What with providing security and seeing her and her orphans, Chiru falls under Sri Devi’s spell and they marry. It’s a quick process, as she is still bandaged around her head on the wedding day.

There are double crosses and betrayals all over the place, and a hefty dollop of tension as characters come so close to their doom and yet don’t quite succumb. A corrupt subordinate with a grudge (Devaraj as the sleazy Rayappa) gains advancement and Ram has to put duty ahead of personal desire. His trials don’t end there, but our hero is indomitable, using his precise manners as a weapon. Chiru almost draws blood just with the word ‘Sir’. Circumstances are manipulated to humiliate and undermine him but Parasuram never falters in his dedication although his temper is put to the test. There is some joy in his life as his marriage to Kumari is clearly happy and loving. But joy can be turned to pain and of course the baddies have another shot at eliminating the one witness that could potentially destroy them.

A poisoning attempt (spoiler – it’s unsuccessful), miraculous surgery and a the presence of a gang member in the household keep the drama dialled up to HIGH.

There is also a fabulous dishooming with a shoe when Parasuram is pushed too far. The final blood sweat and tear soaked bone-snapping showdown involves a runaway train and an impressive array of stuntmen flying through the air crying ‘Heeeaaaargh’. So much happens in this film!

I love Chiranjeevi and Sri Devi so seeing them together is just wonderful. I have no idea if they got along in real life, but they make a beautiful screen couple. The songs look fabulous and they both have such verve in their dancing. The relationship between Parasuram and Kumari is very affectionate and warm, and they are a lot of fun in some of their romantic and domestic scenes. The Paruchuri brothers dialogues strike the right note for this couple. Chiru is just the perfect hero for this kind of film and once again he gives an energised and committed performance. He plays the dramatic scenes with authority but also dives into the silliness in the dance scenes with some outrageous flirting faces. Sri Devi does much more than sit around and look pretty as she also enacts some pivotal scenes. She has great expression in her face and body language and the emotional range of Kumari’s character gives her ample opportunity to show off all her skills. Her charisma more than stands up to Chiru’s and the story feels quite balanced and the characters more fleshed out for having two strong performers at the core.

Brahmi occupies an unnecessary comedy sideplot but doesn’t take up too much time that could be better spent. The supporting cast do the needful, and Devaraj was certainly successful in being sleazy and hateful. Allu Ramalingaiah has a small role as a comedy policeman, and makes an impression in a fun scene with Sri Devi. I’ve seen more of Mahesh Anand than I wanted to (you only got the screencap WITH the dressing gown) but he was very effective as a bad bad man.

The MM Keeravani soundtrack suits the mood and stands up to the onslaught of visual delights. The production values are all up there on screen in stars, sequins and stunts.

This is a film that requires you to strap yourself in and just go with it. I love it and give it 4 and ½ stars!