Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava

Trivikram’s Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava is a bit of a throwback to the factionist rowdy fests of yore, albeit with a bit of a difference. How much of a real difference though?

Veera Raghava Reddy (NTR Jr) returns to his village after studying abroad. His father Narappa Reddy (Naga Babu) is delighted to see his boy back at home although he is worried by a recent escalation in a decades old feud with Basi Reddy (Jagapathi Babu). Predictably enough they are ambushed on the drive home. What does a good son do when he is the heir to conflict? Is killing and mayhem the only way? Or can a Telugu mass film hero broker a lasting peace based on doing what is right for the people?

There was some character development for Raghava, if not for anyone else. It was good to see him learn from both experience and from wise counsel, and then apply those learnings. Raghava struggles with the community’s expectation that he will be a carbon copy of his father. NTR Jr is excellent and can show restraint and slow burning rage as well as going for the big emotional notes. We get to see Raghava in shock after a very traumatic incident, and his ensuing grief. He’s not superhuman although of course he has the usual kit of gravity bending tricks up his sleeve. This is a film where the hero is often seen simply sitting and thinking. He can dial a conflict down to a terse conversation as well as firing up at the villainous Basi Reddy. He has goals and makes his decisions in light of the objective. At key times people tell him that the man that prevents a war is a great man. Raghava also believes the man that wants peace has to have the strength to win a war. The hero must win, but maybe not in exactly the way usually predicted in this style of film.

Aravindha might be a bit princessy but as she says to Raghava, nobody is only what they appear to be. She tells him straight up what she expects from a partner. She also tells him women think hard about which man they will be best suited to while men see a pretty face, hound her ‘til she gives in, then leave her at home and bugger off to do whatever. When he considers the example of his own parents it makes him realise that he needs to change if he wants to be with Avi. He still decides to go win his war but promises once that is over, he will concentrate on her from that moment onwards. Which is a bit of an each way bet but as this film is kind of about compromise and negotiation it is fitting. Pooja Hegde is stunning, and while Avi is perfectly happy to get by on looks when it suits her, she has a sharp mind and a healthy dose of self-awareness. They have a nice rapport and I liked that the film took the time to show them talking, helping each other with little things, and feeling their feelings.

Jagapathi Babu is quite the villain de jour in Telugu films. I loathed Basi Reddy but kind of loved the boots and all commitment to making him despicable. There’s no subtlety in the character but the performance has some beautifully modulated beats and peaks that add an edge. Sunil was effective as the decent guy who helped Raghava out, mercifully not bogging the plot down in Comedy Uncle mode. Naresh and Srinivasa Reddy were tedious and time consuming. Rao Ramesh and Subhalekha Sudhakar added another element as the crafty career politicians who have drifted away from representing the people and were caught up in winning for the sake of winning. And many That Guys flew across the screen, bleeding, screaming, crying, and suffering for their art.

Eesha Rebba also had a tiny role with not much to say for herself, but her expressions were perfect for an irritated younger sister. Supriya Pathak and Sithara both deliver some strong dialogue on the folly of men indulging in constant bloodshed and who pays the price. Easwari Rao and Devayani play silent wives of warring men, but both can pack a punch without saying a word. Which is just as well since Trivikram silences them just at the moment when they should have been heard. It is telling that when the hero is delivering a big speech about what he learned from the women in his life that none of the women, who are all present, gets to speak for herself. So everyone ignored what the women said until the biggest baddest strongest man repeated their words, then everyone listened to him. Again, nice idea but didn’t quite land the execution.

I’m not saying this is a totally sensible version of a mass film. Who sets up a high security meeting complete with metal detector at the entrance and then leaves a nail gun lying around! The percussion of the BGM matched Tarak ferociously beating his opponents with sticks. And Trivikram gets Raghava’s shirt off in perfect mass style in the midst of raging carnage. The device by which Trivikram got Veera Raghava Reddy into Aravindha’s home as driver/bodyguard Raghava could only aspire to be called flimsy. And there are the usual 50 to 1 fighting odds when our hero takes on truckloads of armed rowdies and emerges with nary a blemish despite the unbridled enthusiasm of the Fake Blood Department.

The upbeat songs were most successful in their picturisations. Peniviti was made unintentionally funny with all the stringed instrumentalists getting soggy in the rain. Tarak is amazingly talented and looks like he is having a ball when the music kicks in and he can go for it. Pooja Hegde doesn’t really try and keep up with him but she puts a lot of energy into Reddy Ikkada Soodu and does some excellent face.

There are some minor similarities with the recent Rangasthalam, like the setting and a hero who takes on a sociopathic Jagapathi Babu character. Unfortunately one also seems to be the dodgy subtitles.  Is gizzard curry really a sign of love? What are cooling glasses and when should one wear them? Does administering Celine really cure a fever? How much chaos is required before your shirt buttons pop off? Ladies, would you be carried away by a man who says he looks like a sword with a moustache? It’s sad to see scrimping on something like the subs which shouldn’t be an afterthought, and would help capitalise on the success of other Telugu films with new markets.

Trivikram has tested the water for a new kind of hero but ultimately falls back on the old standards. Tarak is really coming into his own as an actor and makes the most of the range he’s given here, and the female ensemble cast was exceptional. See it if you like epic revengey films and have a high tolerance for gore.

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Sneham Kosam

K.S Ravikumar’s film gives us double the Chiranjeevi in an outstanding dual role performance, and about three times the plot of a normal film. There is a lot going on in this convoluted tale of family strife and the meaning of friendship. The last 20 or 30 minutes alone has enough revenge, melodrama, blood, sweat, and tears for any average film. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

Chinnayya (Chiranjeevi) is the valued servant of the landlord Peddayya (Vijayakumar). Chinnayya is bossy and dramatic, as is the landlord. They have a warm relationship and the other servants enjoy their regular tiffs. Peddayya has cut off his daughter Gowri (Sithara) and son-in-law Peddabbayi (Prakash Raj) although it’s clear Gowri wants to reconcile and she tries over and over. When his youngest daughter Prabhavati (Meena) comes home, she also wants the family reunited but she has a different method in mind. She sets her cap at Chinnayya, and sets him up for an accusation of rape. Having kicked him out of the house her true feelings become clear. She blames him for the separation of her father and sister, and cannot stand to see him living comfortably in a home he ruined. And then Simhadri (also Chiru) returns after doing time for killing Prabha’s mother. Peddayya is delighted to see his old friend, the servants seem cautiously accepting, but both Chinnayya and the girls furiously reject him.

I love Chiranjeevi’s acting in both roles but I really do not like the decision making in this film. I don’t think there is a single significant life choice made that didn’t have me muttering “oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding”. Anyway, back to the plot. Simhadri took the blame for Lakshmi’s murder so as not to make Gowri the wife of a murderer. Because it is better to be married to a murderous weasel than it is to be divorced, widowed, or single? Eventually justice must be served and it is, in spades.

The Megastar stamp is all over the opening credits, but Chiru is in actor mode and delivers excellent characterisation as well as buckets of tears and adrenalin.

Chinnayya is a more typical hero role for him, and he breezes through the fights, the dances, and all the shenanigans. But there are emotional currents that run deep, and when Chinnayya confronts Prabha over her scheme to ruin him, Chiranjeevi blazes with fury.

Simhadri is both intensely lovable and kind of infuriating. He sacrifices everything for his landlord boss, everything, but never shows anger or resentment. I believed absolutely that Simhadri would do anything for his beloved friend and boss, but I didn’t need so much of the “he is our god-like benefactor, we’re nothing without him” hand-wringing over the master servant relationship. Regardless, Simhadri is such a vivid and quietly commanding presence. His feeling of guilt and responsibility was misplaced but achingly raw, and those Mega Eyes conveyed volumes. The scene where he had to sneak a glance at Chinnayya via a mirror just to see his son’s face could have been ridiculous but it works because of Chiranjeevi. I liked Chiranjeevi’s use of similar but subtly altered mannerisms and posture to convey both the resemblance and the differences. Chiru’s expression is softer and more world-weary as the father, and while Chinnayya is a chip off the old block he doesn’t have quite the same substance. And when you get Chiru emoting at Chiru, it’s just too too good.

While this is Chiranjeevi’s film, I liked that other characters were given some depth and development. Prabhavati is a bit of a nutter, and has minimal self-control when it comes to getting what she wants. She wants it NOW. Meena is screechy at times but when she needs to command attention, she does it despite all the macho chest beating going on around her. I found Prabhavati too neurotic and impulsive to be relatable but I felt the conviction in the performance. Her teary declaration that since she had no mother she wanted to be her sister’s daughter was both moving and mind-boggling. Her duplicity was breath-taking and audacious in execution. She was no passive victim, although she had been sadly misled. Meena’s rapport with Chiranjeevi was patchy but that was befitting this half fake half real love hate thing going on. They were a good match in terms of energy and commitment to the role, both in the fun scenes and the more intense moments.

And while I don’t concur with the sentiment that a man with laser eyes who can make another man’s head explode into flames is necessarily ideal husband material, her imagination was fertile and that can help a girl through some bad times.

Sithara starts out as a wet rag, crying all over the place, but in the flashbacks and the post revelation scenes she gives Gowri some spirit. Poor Gowri got a raw deal on pretty much everything. Her husband was a rat, her father disowned her for no good reason other than the rat, and she had no idea of the truth. But I liked that she kept trying to mend fences, even though she couldn’t work out what was really wrong. She was persistent and resilient. And finally, she chose doing the right thing over supporting her husband.

Vijayakumar as Peddayya is the other pillar of the drama. His petulance and dramatic flouncing is tempered by the respect and loyalty he shows his friend Simhadri and the boy Chinnayya. He genuinely treats Simhadri as a mate, scandalising his servant with hospitality and unselfconscious affection. There is not a lot of subtlety in the drama but Vijayakumar draws out some strong emotion, especially in his scenes with Chiru and with Sithara. I just couldn’t get past his willingness to let Simhadri take the fall, and also to lie to his daughter and then disown her partly because of that lie.

But his character solved most disputes with Simhadri with a song and a tickle fight so he’s not all bad.

Prakash Raj is so slimy and craven, I was itching to slap him and frequently booed as he weaselled his way around. He gives a great performance as a horrible person. Peddabbayi prefers to wheedle his way out of trouble but if that doesn’t work he flies into a rage. I’m glad they cast a good character actor in this role as if they’d gone for a comedy uncle villain, it would have sapped a lot of the energy from the quite exhausting climax.

The support cast is loaded up with comedy uncles but they are low key and their characters serve some purpose. Brahmanandam is effective as Prakash Raj’s nasty sidekick with minimal gratuitous comedy uncle shtick. MS Narayana, Babu Mohan, and Kota Srinivasa Rao are among the more heavily featured household staff and like Brahmi, are comparatively restrained. Nirmalamma is cheeky as Simhadri’s gambler mother. Sujatha makes an impression in her few scenes as the much loved and lamented Lakshmi. And poor whatsisname who played Chinnababu made it seem he may have taken after his older brother but was actually a decent boy, left devastated and jilted at the altar.

The film looks beautiful, and the few special effects are used wisely. And I think they employed all the camels in Rajasthan for one day. While it probably could do with a more assertive edit, I really enjoy almost every moment of the film. Unless I get too riled up about Simhadri assuring Gowri’s marriage to a homicidal mongrel and her father’s 15 year temper tantrum.

The Hindi dub is on YouTube with English subs, or you can do what I do and grab those subs for your Telugu copy and tinker with the timing because hearing another voice coming out of Chiru’s face is All Wrong. 4 ½ stars! (A tiny deduction for terrible decision making, and for the director’s cheesy guest appearance, another dodgy decision.)