Donga (1985)

It’s 1985, one of the better hairstyle eras for Chiranjeevi, and director A Kodandarami Reddy is at the wheel with Chakravarthy’s funky soundtrack blaring. Donga is energetic, pure mass, and spits on the grave of anyone who ever said “less is more”.

Phani (Chiranjeevi) is a Robin Hood kind of thief who steals from the rich and pays off the debts of the poor. Phani’s father Chandrasekhar died of a filmi heart attack as a result of Kodandaramayya’s (Rao Gopal Rao) chicanery. Kodandaramayya is still going strong with his thieving and extortion schemes and has a slimy sidekick in Anjaneyulu (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) and a toadying servant Rama Subbaiah (Allu Ramalingaiah) plus a resident goon. As a good Telugu film hero, Phani is intent on avenging his family and getting his sister married well. He has a somewhat useful friend or sidekick in Ranga (Nutan Prasad) too. Phani falls for Kodandaramayya’s daughter Manjulatha (Radha) so you know the path to his revenge will be full of complications and spontaneous dance breaks. And that’s without the competition for apparently the only eligible man in town, Anjanayeulu’s son Rajesh (Raja).

Donga is full of action packed set pieces as Phani tricks and thieves his way across town. The fights are full of “Karate”, back flips, slo mo leaping, spin kicks and you name it. One of the things I love most about Chiru is that he just goes for it. It might be ridiculous, the outfits might be insane, but he does his best to stick that landing every time. Phani uses brains as well as brawn, phoning in a tip about undeclared cash to get an office raided by the tax department, and generally being smarter than the bad guys. I found this next bit a little confusing with no subtitles but I think Tax officer R Viswanath (Sridhar) wants to get his sister married well and needs money for her dowry. In the tangled finances in this small filmi world he ends up being cheated by Kodandaramayya who is robbed by Phani, compounding the problem of paying the debt. R Viswanath is found dead and once Phani realises what had happened with the money, that just adds to his drive for revenge.

Phani is of course irresistible to women. I don’t know anyone else who could rock the knitted singlet like he does, so he must have that je ne sais quoi. He steals Manjulatha’s little red car and then sets up a meeting to hand it back. For reasons that are not entirely clear but yet seem to make sense to Phani, he pranks her with this Thriller-iffic dance. Pump the volume up, warm up to avoid injury, move the furniture back a bit further than you think you need to (those lunge slides need some room) and have a go at this!

From the perspective of anywhere but 1985 Telugu film that is so bad it’s awesome. What were they thinking? “We’ve done a lot of Jackie Chan stuff so let’s mix it up a bit…Bond? No, done that to death. Death…Death. I know!” But it worked, she succumbed despite her father’s disapproval.

Radha and Chiru both look like they’re having fun with the daggy choreography. And Radha gets to do more than just sit and look pretty. The costume department really don’t do her many favours but she must have had a very high synthetic fabric tolerance. Manjulatha is often more articulate and decisive than I expected. She is harassed by a creep at the cinema so she belts him and tells him off. It was satisfying although clearly a punchline for a “women are bitches” joke. Despite the occasional toddler tantrum, she seems to make a lot of her own decisions and doesn’t seem to be a bad person despite her wealth and privilege.

Her dad spots her frolicking with Phani and maybe it is the enthusiastic prancing or that she starts wearing sarees, but he senses trouble and warns her off the mystery man. After the usual misunderstanding, tearful argument, unfortunate slapping incident, and some quality time with Phani’s mother, the deal is pretty well sealed. And Phani missed no opportunity to torment Kodandaramayya by showing off his relationship.

Phani goes to see Anajaneyulu but he has no luck in getting Viswanath’s debt reduced, so he says he will pay it all back himself. And goes to work in a quarry, maybe just because Chiru always wanted to try using a kanga. I would have thought stealing the money would be more practical given his skillset but whatever. Kodandaramayya sets up a cross country motorcycle race with significant prize money – and a great opportunity for his goons to erase Phani who is resplendent in canary yellow. Phani takes the dangerous job of laying explosives but the goon I call Coconut Machete tries to sabotage him. Somehow in all the biffo Phani realises that Kodandaramayya may have had more to do with Viswanath’s death than suspected. And in flashback Coconut Machete reveals it was not a suicide. BASTARDS! So of course Phani enters a dance competition and competes against Silk Smitha.

Look at him go! I love these bedazzled wrist guards and gaiters.

Phani is framed for murdering Silk, which is ridiculous. He’d already killed her on the dance floor. He goes on the run and it is on for young and old. I loved the car stunts and the fights, but right at the end the horse stunts, as usual, made me feel sick. What happens in the end? Does Phani triumph? You know the what, but the how is what matters!

Peak Chiru. Quality Radha.  Total mass. 4 stars!

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Lady James Bond (1980)

There is very little written about this film. I can’t say I’m entirely surprised nobody wants this to grace their filmography. You may be delighted with the prospect of another Silk Smitha starring film, or perhaps just glad I watched it so you don’t have to. Check out this song!

That really is amazing. The hideous styling distracts from the lewd choreo which distracts from the hideous styling. It’s ingenious.

(You know, Chiru would have rocked that outfit. Just saying.) And while everyone is distracted, cat stroking villain Supreme’s Henchman 1 launches a kidnapping attempt!

The Professor has a folder of Important Research that is always in The Briefcase. It feels like everyone in the film is after The Briefcase at some stage. Luckily the government assigns Lady James Bond (Silk Smitha) to protect him. His daughter Indu’s boyfriend Kapil (Kapil Dev but not that Kapil Dev) is blackmailed into stealing The Briefcase. Apparently this is very bad for the country. Kapil lives in the equivalent of a lighthouse with a very long spiral staircase up to his lounge room, quite challenging for poor Indu trying to make a dramatic entrance and confront her deceitful fella. He admits to the theft, she pulls a gun, they struggle and she is both shot and falls out of a window. Lady J drops by to suss out the situation but Kapil sends her away.

And then – a blackface song.

Sadly for Lady J the baddies see right through her disguise and sadly for us we have to witness this at all. A rooftop fight shows off her latest horrible outfit complete with neoprene leg warmers AND arm warmers. She is chased, beaten, then maced. And the baddies run off. These people have no idea she still has half a movie to go and they are not yet safe. She is criticised by her commanding officer for being hopeless, either at her job or at disguises, I don’t know which. Either could be valid.

Undeterred by her lousy luck with disguises, 001 Lady James Bond pretends to be a food vendor and ends up drinking with Henchman 2. Finally an explanation for the ubiquitous black socks in skimpily clad dance numbers – it’s where she hides her pills! They spike each other’s drinks and this causes another terrible song. Lady James Bond recovers first, takes a hit of her special smelling salts and ransacks the house, finding The Briefcase. H2 seems to keep a hockey playing gang on retainer, or maybe they were just opportunistic thugs who play hockey in between assaulting women. Anyway, she has another epic fight on her hands as she runs the kilometres and kilometres to get from his house to the end of the driveway.

Lots of things happen but there doesn’t seem to be much to connect them all. There is a skanky item girl waiting for Nagendra in the lighthouse but just as the horror of that starts to settle, policemen are being garrotted and the director is under attack. Lucky for him Lady J doesn’t hold a grudge. I think she might resuscitate her boss by electrocuting herself on a desk lamp and passing the current through her hand to his body. That’s commitment. But the baddies are still after The Briefcase, which now has a new file in it. And Lady J has so much more high kicking and back flipping to do.

She rescues Nagendra from the gang, only to then be captured by “tribals”. Of course they strip off her snazzy purple jumpsuit and kit her out wearing the skin of a teddy bear, just for the sake of another skanky dance number. And then they tie her to a tree and leave her. There’s a theme with not finishing things off. People just leave Lady J and expect her not to come after them.

She wanders through the wilderness, again, and suddenly someone releases the hounds. She is taken to Supreme’s secret hideaway, more like a high school adventure camp or low budget theme park. Lady James Bond blows everything up, Suthivelu turns out to be both smart and useful, almost everybody else dies, and the baddies are taken away. But I still have no idea what they were up to.

So many men in this film “accidentally” kill the woman they say they love. And cry their teeny selfish hearts out about it. I’m not confident anyone in the film knows how to confirm people are actually dead either as they seem very reluctant to consider trying any form of treatment. But what goes around comes around, so…

Silk Smitha is actually pretty good. Despite the near constant gyno-cam and detour into sleaze at any and every opportunity, she is fun as the top secret agent. She is pleasant and professional with her charges, but can switch to a cold eyed rage when she is taking on the evil doers. She wears some hideous clothes, but as a skanky item specialist that wouldn’t have worried her. And the fancy agent gadgets were a triumph of imagination over budget and science. She uses her transmitter detecting boots to find a secret phone in a tree and uses another spy gadget aka a shirt button to disguise her voice. I think Silk carried on the legacy of ladies like Jyotilaxmi very well indeed. And all her snake dance appearances may have held her in good stead with Lady J’s trademark rolling away from trouble move.

My other favourite thing about the film was the prevalence of photo mural walls. Every house had at least one.

The excellent 4DK has written a much more thoughtful analysis of Lady James Bond.

Since this is, at least in English, almost undocumented I haven’t put names to many of the faces in the film. Feel free to leave a comment if you would like someone’s film legacy blighted by including their appearance in this.

It’s a film that goes beyond So Bad It’s Good and dives into Almost Endearingly Awful. I can mostly overlook the sleaze of the times and appreciate Silk doing her thing and Lady James Bond triumphing over the men, despite the men, without the men. Maybe 1 star for effort, 2 ½ stars for WTFery and entertainment. If you’d like to share your thoughts, just speak into the flowers!

Khaidi No 786

 

What a way to kick off Megabirthday2017!

Vijaya Bapineedu’s film opens with married woman Radha (Bhanupriya) going on a journey that clearly makes her sad, which cuts to a defiant Gopi (Chiranjeevi) under interrogation at the police station. Gopi is taken to the office and something makes him so mad he actually flips a table. Then he beats everyone up, has a few choice words for the key players, and gets back into his cell. The film then moves to a long flashback, explaining who Gopi is and how he came to be in the lock-up.

Radha is the daughter of local bigwig and furry suited villain Surya Chandra Rao (Kota Srinivasa Rao). One day Gopi refuses to let her car pass his cart, and she swears vengeance. Clearly the only way this can end is in True Love.

Chiranjeevi and Bhanupriya have good chemistry, and that is tested through a long series of clashes that Radha never really wins. She goes to learn music from Gopi with the intent of punishing him for blocking the road. She storms off insulting everyone, so Gopi goes to teach her a lesson…by lassoing her car then forcing her to dance in what might be a choreographed rape threat. So she tries to run over him and kills his harmonium. So he beats her car up, egged on by the children she almost ran over too. She slaps a kid, and that is Just Too Much. But when she frames Gopi for rape, she gets the whip hand. Literally.

In turn he whips a marriage chain out of nowhere and marries her very much against her will, and as payback. Despite their relationship being adversarial at the start, Radha gives as good as she gets, at least verbally. Eventually Gopi weakens, and finally Radha has her way with him. And Radha’s song fantasies are the worst dressed by far, so there is perhaps an element of payback. At the jail she steals a few moments with him and OMG his smouldering glance is enough to trigger a hideous hat-fest of a song. Love it! She is also the one who initiates the physical relationship, so I felt that they achieved a healthier balance in their dynamic over time.

But Radha’s dad sets up a thug to kill Gopi, and after the attempt fails Asirayya (Mohan Babu) convinces Surya Chandra Rao to kill the henchman and set Gopi up for the murder.  Just as well Gopi is a one man justice seeking machine with a very bad temper!

Chiru gets to show off his athleticism in the fight scenes, throwing himself and his opponents around with verve. I like that Chiru remembers to act while fighting, so Gopi’s motivation and level of fury is always apparent. The action scenes cover a lot of ground and use lots of props, a very entertaining combination. My favourite fight was with the That Guy who wore boots so fancy I was not surprised Chiru would fight him.

There is minimal romance in the dramatic scenes, but plenty of emotion. I liked Gopi’s relationship with his family as the guys seemed affectionate and supportive of each other. But when he was angry – helpfully indicated by scenes of crashing waves – look out!

Bhanupriya is excellent as potentially unlikeable Radha. She was never beaten into submission but came around to the realisation that her dad wasn’t all that while Gopi was rather fine. Radha seemed comfortable making her own decisions, and was resolute when telling her creepy dad that Gopi was her only family and to leave her be. She remained strong through Gopi’s incarceration, even though clearly stressed and saddened by events. When his grandmother (Annapoorna) is killed, Radha is the one who colludes with Silk Smitha to get him to the funeral to light the pyre. The wardrobe department had a go at her in the songs, but she looks beautiful and elegant in her sarees. And when she faces off with her enemies, I definitely got the feeling Gopi was not the only tough nut in the family.

Silk Smitha is great as a good bad girl with an inexplicable thing for Satyanarayana Kaikala and a resourceful approach to life. I mean…of all the men in this film who I might want to get naked, he is not one. In one scene Radha is seeing a lawyer and I don’t know what he says but she starts seeing flashes of Silk which turns into this hideous song where she dances for the baddies and fondles a lot of fish.

The song is also a cover for Gopi’s family to get into villain HQ, although Asirayya sees through the unfortunate blackface disguises. And that is not even the silliest thing that happens.

The support actors generally have a reason for their existence. Satyanarayana Kaikala is funny and avuncular, Nutan Prasad and Allu Ramalingaiah are there for comedic shenanigans and heart. They even have a nice little “I’m Spartacus!” scene in an attempt to buy Gopi some time. Kota Srinivasa Rao chews the scenery and Mohan Babu is slimy and opportunistic. But you know, crocodiles aren’t that fussy about their food.

This is a highly entertaining and a perfect vehicle for Chiru and for Bhanupriya. There’s little you couldn’t predict but a few things you might not expect. And while there is a bit of clueless comedy, there is more collaboration and support when it counts. And crocodiles. 4 stars!