Vinaya Vidheya Rama (2019)

vinaya vidheya rama

Boyapati Srinu specialises in films that are all action and little plot, but even by his standards Vinaya Vidheya Rama is a nonsensical mess. The film has zero logic and even less of a story than usual, along with a completely muddled-up timeline and ludicrously impossible situations. I don’t expect much logic from mass masala movies but I can appreciate their usually well-choreographed fight scenes, good music and memorable choreography, but even all of these fall significantly short in this overlong, systematic bloodbath of a film. A quick perusal of the plot (such as it is) makes it seem that Vinaya Vidheya Rama might fall into the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ category, but it misses this too by a mile, and not even the best efforts of Ram Charan can save the film from being anything other than a drearily predictable watch.

The opening scenes are also the best and since they almost make sense the film initially lulls you into a false sense of anticipation. Four orphans living on the railway in Vizag find a baby and on discovering he has been bitten by ants and also apparently has a head injury, they take the infant to a local hospital. Amazingly they’re allowed in, don’t have to wait and receive excellent care and attention from the attending medical staff with the eventual outcome that the doctor (Chalapathi Rao) adopts all five children. The four kids decide to send Rama to school while they raise the money to keep him there, but an early run-in with some child-napping thugs leads to the infant Rama disposing of the gang and vowing to send his brothers to school instead. This sounds ludicrous, but honestly, it’s far from being the most ridiculous idea in the film.

The brothers grow up and get married but creepily all continue to live together with their wives and assorted children. Only one of the brothers is ever called by name, and he’s also the only one who has any gainful employment, which might explain their unusual living arrangements. Bhuvan Kumar (Prasanth) is an election officer which brings him into contact with a warlord living in Bihar who objects to the government elections in his area. This necessitates the usual argy-bargy between the government officials, supporting police, local townsfolk and the generic thugs employed by Raja Bhai Munna (Vivek Oberoi) with the inevitable outcome that Rama (Ram Charan) has to head up north and save the day.

There is also a vague romance with Kiara Advani as an arranged marriage candidate. Boyapati Srinu tries to be topical by making her mother (Hema) a violent advocate for feminism but this falls completely flat and is at times actually quite nauseating while her husband (Prudhvi Raj) is portrayed as a hen-pecked loser who somehow stumbled into marriage. It’s not funny, it’s not even necessary for the story and the whole entirely pointless romance should have been left on the cutting room floor.

However, the romance is the basis for including the songs – mostly set as fantasy-dream sequence numbers. Although Charan dances up a storm, the female backing dancers are often out of time and incredibly stiff, which significantly detracts from his performance and makes these songs just as difficult to watch as the preposterous story. Devi Sri Prasad doesn’t break any new ground with the music either and the songs are mostly generic dance numbers that don’t leave much of an impression.

It doesn’t get any better. The story timeline keeps switching between pre- and post- Bhuvan going to Bihar and it’s frequently unclear just exactly when any particular scene is taking place. After a while I just ceased to care. Things get even more bizarre when Rama somehow manages to get from an airport in Gujarat to Bihar on top of a speeding train and then on horseback in less time than it takes for Raja Bhai Munna to threaten Rama’s brothers and their wives. That’s all the way across India in minutes standing on the top of a train and using a smartphone app for directions to the location of his brother’s phone. There’s always some suspension of disbelief required for any action movie but it’s a whole new dimension of disbelief that’s required for a Boyapati Srinu film!

Having arrived at his destination, Rama then proceeds to slaughter thugs like they were mosquitoes and claims to kill 300 men before finally being captured and imprisoned in a belt and chain affair that never looks as if it would be effective. There’s no doubt that Rama will win the day, but of course there has to be a lot more speeches and posturing before that happens – interestingly the best posturing comes from Bhuvan Kumar’s wife, Gayatri Devi (Sneha) whose determined defiance is more effective than all of Rama’s intense and overly dramatic speeches.

The fight scenes are brutal, bloody and in true Boyapati Srinu fashion, no object is unable to be used for impaling, dismemberment or general destruction. I have to admit that there are moments when the fight scenes threaten to be entertaining, but then they degenerate back into formulaic action that is dull because it’s been seen many, many times before.

I wanted to like Vinaya Vidheya Rama because a film this silly should be entertaining, but for every fleeting moment that worked, there were hundreds of others that just didn’t. Apart from Rama, none of the characters are anything other than a brief sketch and to add to the tedium, all of Rama’s brothers (Aryan Rajesh, Ravi Varma and Madhunandan) spend the entire film talking about how amazingly wonderful he is. Vivek Oberoi’s villain says and does the usual things along with his army of ineffectual thugs, and while in general Vivek is fine as a bad guy, the character is so loosely drawn that there is never anything juicy enough for him to really get his teeth into.

Despite all the explosions, fights and general mayhem, Vinaya Vidheya Rama is surprisingly unexciting, made even more tedious by the unrelenting vagueness of the story. It’s a shame because there are the odd moments of light – the four young kids are good at the beginning, and the wardrobe department has done a good job styling Charan for the songs. But at the end of the day it’s not enough and even for fans this one is a tough watch.

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Pudhupettai (2006)

Pudhupettai

Pudhupettai is Selvaraghavan’s ode to gangster life, telling the story of the rise and fall of Kokki Kumar in the slums of Chennai. It’s brutal and violent, and for the most part Selva doesn’t give his ‘hero’ any redeeming features making this a departure from most other Tamil gangster flicks. At the end of the day, the only real priority for Kumar is himself and trying to keep himself alive, which reflects the film’s tagline ‘survival of the fittest’. The film is shot almost like a documentary, following the wandering path of Kumar’s life rather than having a distinct narrative, and it’s this realism and attention to the details of the characters and their harsh lives that makes Pudhupettai such a fascinating watch.

The film opens with Kokki Kumar (Dhanush) in jail. He seems disorientated, perhaps mentally ill, as he shouts out for anyone who might be listening to him. These opening shots feature Kumar in green with contrasting red light from outside the cell, further isolating him and accentuating his odd behaviour. This colour scheme replicates throughout the film, maybe to illustrate Kumar’s almost split personality but it’s also used to highlight important moments in his life. It’s part of how Selva pulls the story together, using images and brief vignettes rather than long drawn out scenes to develop his characters.

The film then moves to a flashback of Kumar’s early life in the slums of Pudhupettai. He seems a typical young man as flirts with girls and is chastised by his mother for dancing in the streets rather than hurrying off to school. However, violence is never far away. His father is violently abusive and finally one night Kumar returns to find his mother has been murdered by his father. Fearing for his own life, Kumar flees onto the streets to try to make his own way in the world.

He’s not terribly successful at this and eventually turns to begging in the streets where he is accidentally picked up by the police during a raid on drug sellers operating under local thug Anbu (Bala Singh). Anbu’s men take Kumar under their wing and introduce him to their boss, managing to secure him a spot in their gang. Interestingly, Vijay Sethupathi has a small role here as one of the gang, and there are a few other familiar faces including Aadukalam Murugadoss who also pop up in the background.

Kumar gradually learns how to be a gangster and there is some good humour worked into the scenes where he learns how to use a machete and case the scene before a crime. He also has a mean temper and when backed into a corner by a rival gang lead by Murthy (Prudhviraj) he fights back, killing Murthy’s brother and turning Murthy into an enemy for life. The film follows Kumar as he meets and falls in love with prostitute Krishnaveni (Sneha) and subsequently takes over the area from Anbu after killing his former boss in a dispute over his treatment of Krishnaveni.

Kumar has grand ambitions and with the gang behind him he takes Anbu’s place working for corrupt politician Thamizhselvan (Azhagam Perumal). The body count rises as Thamizhselvan commissions murders and Kumar steadily makes inroads into Murthy’s territory. But then Kumar sees Selvi (Sonia Agarwal), the sister of his main henchman Mani, and he falls instantly in lust. Forgetting Krishnaveni he marries Selvi instead of the real groom at her wedding and immediately has another enemy out for his blood. Mani joins forces with Murthy and the two conspire to bring Kumar down.

This is the seedy side of gangster life and Selva shows the grubby political deals and bloody in-fighting between the rival gangs as something to be expected, rather than as exceptions to the rule. No-one comes out of this looking good and Kumar in particular is not a nice man. At first there seems to be some attempt to explain Kumar’s violent tendencies on his early experiences, but during a drinking session with the gang one night, it’s revealed that everyone has a similar story. It’s even a source of entertainment for the gang as they each tell their stories of abuse and murder and decide who has the funniest story.

It then seems as if there may be some compassion in Kumar when he fights Anbu for Krishnaveni’s freedom, but this doesn’t ever seem to be a grand passion or even much of a love story at all, and Kumar tends to treat Krishnaveni more as a possession rather than a lover. He’s able to completely ignore her when he sees Selvi and isn’t at all bothered by Krishnaveni’s attempt to leave him, until she announces that she is pregnant. That of course makes all the difference, and this is the one part of the film where Kumar genuinely seems to care for someone else. The birth of his son is a momentous event in his life, which makes his son’s loss later in the film more effective than expected.

There are signs that Kumar might be a better man than first appears when he takes on cases where the local people have been affected by corruption and crime after overthrowing Anbu. But this appearance of trying to help the poor turns out to be just an easy way to develop a power base and get support – something that Kumar needs if he wants to further his political ambitions and make a name for himself. I love how each time Kumar seems to be acting more responsibly it’s shown to be just another way to make sure he comes out on top. The pragmatism and cunning he shows seem to be reasonable requirements for someone who aspires to be a top politician, while the extreme violence and disregard for human life explain why Kumar makes such a good gangster.

Throughout, Dhanush is excellent despite a tendency to overact in the prison scenes where he has to explain his story directly to the audience. His transformation from a scared adolescent to a violent and cold-blooded criminal is brilliantly achieved, and his tendency to become completely feral when he loses his temper gives the character a chilling authenticity. Here is someone with few morals, who decides what they want and then goes ahead and takes it without worrying about the consequences or the possible price. Sneha does a fantastic job with the character of Krishnaveni and gives her dignity and grace despite her profession and her association with the gang. Krishnaveni seems to genuinely love Kumar, although some of this may be gratitude for helping her escape the brothel, but she brings some normalcy into the storyline and provides a good contrast to all the violence. She’s not completely innocent either and her entrapment of Kumar by mentioning her pregnancy after he marries Selvi is a clever twist, as is Selvi’s nasty dig when she points out that Kumar can’t be sure that the baby is his. It all rings true and despite the buckets of blood and excessive use of knives (check out Kumar’s impressive machete storage cupboard!) this doesn’t seem to be too fantastical a story. The characters all seem plausible too, particularly in the way they let their petty squabbles and problems spill over to affect the whole area.

The rest of the cast are uniformly good too – Sonia Agarwal has less to do than Sneha but she is excellent as the reluctant bride, while Azhagam Perumal has so many backflips that it’s a wonder he can work out which way to look at the camera. Clever writing and good dialogue ensure that everyone has a role to play while the good performances mean it all flows beautifully.

The film is enhanced by excellent cinematography from Arvind Krishna, who makes Chennai look stunningly beautiful one moment and then grimly ugly, just as Selva juxtaposes Kumar’s dreams with the harsh reality of life as a gangster. The songs and background music by Yuvan Shankar Raja also suit the film well with the songs seamlessly flowing into the dialogue and some hauntingly beautiful instrumentals.

At almost 3 hours Pudhupettai is a long film and at times it does tend to drift into indulgent territory, but then it’s so well made that it’s hard to complain. This is a film that seems to get better and better with repeated viewings as more of the story becomes clear. As with most Selvaraghavan’s films, the subject matter is dark and his characters flawed, but the subject matter here suits this type of delivery and as a whole the film works very well indeed. Not one for the squeamish given the preponderance of edged weapons and gory bloodshed but for anyone who enjoys a gangster film, this is one of the best. 4½ stars.

Son of Satyamurthy

Son of Satyamurthy

After their previous success with Julayi, Allu Arjun and Trivikram are back together again with Son of Satyamurthy. The film features appearances from Ali, Brahmi and most of the Telugu film industry stalwarts, but despite the plethora of comedy uncles, it strives for a more serious tone and is a more traditional family drama. Bunny puts in a restrained performance compared to his earlier films, and it appears that Trivikram has concentrated on character development rather than glitzy glamour and full-on action of most Telugu cinema. The storyline has plenty of potential and I loved the inclusion of villains who are not wholly evil but have the capacity for reformation, but there are a few misses. The film is undermined by the inclusion of a few unnecessary characters that reduce the overall impact and at times the sheer number of protagonists threatens to drown the main storyline. However the central theme of a young man determined to stick to his father’s principles stands strong and Bunny does a fantastic job in a more serious role than usual.

S/o Satyamurthy

Prakash Raj is Satyamurthy; a rich man who is happy to lend money to all and sundry without judgement or seemingly any expectation of repayment. He has strong principles and his values have been absorbed by his family even if they don’t always agree with his open-handed policies. And perhaps they had a point, since Satyamurthy’s sudden death reveals a large amount of debt. The family lose their affluent lifestyle and downsize their house, possessions and expectations when Satyamurthy’s son, Viraj Anand (Allu Arjun), refuses to default on the loans and insists on doing the right thing – as his father would have wanted.

In an odd addition, Vennela Kishore plays Viraj’s older brother who is incapacitated by his father’s death, but as his character is played mainly for laughs (which are never very funny and don’t add anything to the story), there doesn’t seem to be any real need for his inclusion. Similarly, Ali appears as Parandhamayya, some sort of assistant to Viraj in his new job, who is another character who could have been omitted without losing too much from the story. I rarely find Ali’s brand of comedy funny but here he is less slapstick than usual and generally rather muted, so while I can’t see much point to his character at least he is tolerable and occasionally amusing.

Although businessman Sambasiva Rao (Rajendra Prasad) blackballs Viraj, a friend helps by giving Viraj a job as a wedding event manager. Viraj is dumped by his own fiancée when loss of his fortune makes him less desirable as a husband, and naturally his first event is the marriage of his ex, Pallavi (Adah Sharma). This makes Viraj deal with his loss of wealth and prestige fairly early on in the film and also reinforces the contrast between his own morals and those of Pallavi’s rich but dishonest father (Rao Ramesh). In classic filmi style, Viraj manages to reconcile the various family members and in the course of events falls in love with one of the wedding guests. M.S. Narayana appears in his final film appearance here, and it is bitter-sweet to see him in one of his classic drunken uncle roles, especially when his role fits well into the storyline.

Bunny’s Viraj is a sensible and responsible young man and he does a great job of making his character principled without becoming preachy or overly moralistic. The only misstep is his tendency to invoke stories of Hindu Gods that sounds a little odd coming from someone who hadn’t previously demonstrated any evidence of a virtuous attitude. It would have made more sense to me if he’d quoted his father instead, but perhaps that is due to my lack of Telugu and reliance on the subtitles which may not have been too accurate – going by the atrocious spelling as a general guide to overall quality!

Subbalakshmi, aka Sameera (Samantha) is the wedding guest that Viraj takes a fancy to, and to her credit she immediately realises that Viraj is a keeper. In a move away from standard filmi heroines, Sameera is introduced holding a drink and a cigarette, and for some reason she is also a diabetic, although there didn’t seem to be any particular point to this other than as a brief comedy scene. I generally like Trivikram’s approach to his heroines, but he seems to lose interest once he moves on to the action and sadly Samantha disappears for much of the second half. However she is excellent in her role and has great onscreen chemistry with Arjun.  The couple look good together in the songs too, which pepper the first half and allow Bunny to demonstrate why he truly is the ‘stylish star’. There is some annoying hair discontinuity, but since the worst bouffy hair only appears in the songs it’s actually no bad thing that Bunny’s hair length is shorter for the rest of the film.

Rajendra Prasad and Upendra are the other standout performers and they both help bring the film to life. Much of the comedy is between Rajendra and Bunny, and is much funnier than the specific comedy threads with Brahmi and Ali. The two bounce lines off each other to good effect and are really much better than any of the assorted comedy uncles who fall flat in comparison. Upendra appears as the villain of the piece, and is as vicious and violent as required (per Telugu standard bad guy guidelines) but shows a different side when dealing with his wife and sister. He’s an interesting character and Upendra is excellent in the role, switching from demonic goggle-eyed evil one moment to concerned husband the next, but with so much else going on his role isn’t developed as much as I would like. Sneha is also very good as his sweet and serene wife, but Nithya Menen seems a little wasted in her role as a rival for Viraj’s affections. That’s a shame too as her character starts off well with an interesting plan of attack but it’s lost in the hodge-podge of action and Brahmi comedy that makes up the rest of the film.

There is a lot going on in Son of Satyamurthy and it does evoke films of yesteryear with the convoluted storyline, sheer number of characters and focus on honour, values and moral principles. The songs from Devi Sri Prasad aren’t too memorable, but they are well choreographed and smoothly flow into the storyline. Bunny dances better than ever and also looks amazing with Peter Hein’s fight choreography. Interestingly the fights aren’t as brutal and violent as usual (there is a hose as a weapon for instance), but the wirework and acrobatics are outstanding and very effective. I really enjoyed Son of Satyamurthy and although it would have benefitted from fewer characters and less formulaic comedy it’s an entertaining story with some excellent performances. Well worth seeing on the big screen to really appreciate Bunny’s dancing if you can.