Choodalani Vundi

Time for some Chiru masala! Choodalani Vundi has a little bit of everything but mainly has a lot of Chiranjeevi. It’s very much his film the whole way through as he fights and dances his way through the streets of Hyderabad, Kolkata and even spends some time in the jungle. Since it’s an unsubtitled DVD I missed a lot of the humour, but could pick the comedy from the gleam in Chiru’s eyes and Soundarya’s excellent reactions. The usual suspects form the support cast as Brahmi and M.S. Narayana pop up to add some slapstick and Prakash Raj plays the villain of the story in a truly terrible wig. But be warned there is also a small child who is continually terrorised every time he appears on screen (which thankfully isn’t too often) and I just hope the child actor wasn’t scarred for life as a result. The film opens with Ramakrishna (Chiranjeevi) arriving in Kolkata. We know we are in Kolkata because there are trams, wonderful old Colonial style buildings and of course Howrah Bridge – we even get a song about it.

With the help of some friendly locals, Ramakrishna finds a chawl which has a few Telugu speaking inhabitants. The Ravindra apartments seem to be rather ineptly managed by Brahmi and M.S. Narayana and after some friendly banter, they rent out a room to Ramakrishna. However the room has the unfortunate problem of already being occupied by Padmavathi (Soundarya) and she’s not inclined to share. But with a little application of Ramakrishna’s charm, the two seem to reach an agreement and Ramakrishna is free to deal with the reason he came to Calcutta in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramakrishna seems to be looking for someone although he doesn’t seem to be having much success until the day a group of thugs come to shake down the chawl residents. In what seems a lucky break Ramakrishna recognitions one of the gang (Brahmaji) but despite some nifty moves doesn’t manage to catch him in a chase through the streets of Kolkata. That turns out to be rather unfortunate as Brahmaji comes back with a few more mates and in the resulting brawl Ramakrishna is seriously injured. Perfect time for a flashback then. Back in time, and presumably back in Andhra Pradesh, Ramakrishna spots Priya (Anjala Zaveri) on a train and naturally it’s love at first sight. She doesn’t seem to mind his attentions and when he stalks follows her to the next station even seems glad to see him.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not totally clear on why Priya suddenly ends up running down the platform with a gang of thugs chasing her at this point, but it probably doesn’t really matter. Naturally Ramakrishna is on hand to provide a rescue on the back of his trusty motorbike and Priya seems to have no worries about trusting a stalker she has only just met rather than the gang of what turn out to be her father’s men. Mahendra (Prakash Raj), the local don, has plans for his daughter and they quite definitely don’t involve Ramakrishna, so he packs a few SUV’s with machete waving thugs and sends them off in pursuit of Ramakrishna and Priya. This eventually leads to a wonderfully dramatic Thelma and Louise inspired leap from a cliff into the ocean which seems to dispose of our couple in a rather final fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhat surprisingly then, the next scene shows Ramakrishna and Priya living happily in the jungle with their young son, where they spend their days rescuing animals, swimming in their back-yard rock pool and socialising with the natives. There is some Lion King inspired cartoon animation as they sing and dance around the forest but that’s a clue that something bad is about to happen.

And I don’t just mean the animated dancing lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mahendra somehow manages to track the couple down (although how he even knew they were alive a mystery), and he turns up in a helicopter to take his daughter back. The action ramps up several notches as Ramakrishna tries to rescue first his wife, and then his son from the clutches of Mahendra. Ramakrishna is of course an unstoppable one-man army but Priya has some unexpected talents as well. Which do you think is faster – the speeding bullet or Priya?

I’ll give you a clue -it’s not the bullet!

Gunasekhar seems to have thrown almost everything into this film to make sure there is something for everyone. The cartoon characters almost fooled me into thinking it was even child friendly but the subsequent events quite definitely aren’t. But there are lots of chase sequences – on foot, motorbikes, cars, buses, jeeps and even a jeep vs truck chase although stealing a truck that is emblazoned with the words ‘danger – explosives’ does seem to be just asking for trouble and is perhaps just a little bit of overkill. The first half is beautifully shot around Kolkata and focuses on the lives of the people in the apartments. It feels warm and homely and Chiranjeevi and Soundarya have good chemistry in their scenes together. Although we later learn that Ramakrishna is a desperate man searching for his son, this part of the film seems very upbeat and generally happy.

The second half is less successful as Anjali Zaveri seems to spend a lot of time under waterfalls, seductively draping herself around pools, but otherwise doesn’t have much to do. The problem is that there just isn’t much substance to the romance between Ramakrishna and Priya. Their relationship moves very quickly from promising first glances at the train station to very domestic scenes of Ramakrishna chopping wood and Priya looking after a toddler. The romancing in between is confined to one song and those waterfall moments, none of which have much sparkage happening so it’s almost a relief when Mahendra turns up to steal Priya back.

 

 

 

 

 

Gunasekhar is much better with action and the various chase sequences and the fight scenes work well. The music by Mani Sharma is generally good and Chiru looks amazing in the songs. The best are those with Soundarya although the choice of backing dancers in this one does seem a little odd. Rather stocky men wearing Lycra cut-off tops with bare mid-riffs wouldn’t have been my choice, but luckily it’s hard to take my eyes off Chiru dancing so I can manage to ignore those wobbling hairy stomachs! (You have been warned!)

Prakash Raj seemed to be trying a little too hard to be evil at times but once past all the posturing his treatment of his daughter and grandson is suitably chilling and the climax scene with Chiru is excellent. Prakash Bad is always a treat to watch even with all the gun waving and declarations, and I did appreciate that when stressed he chose to sit right underneath a large chandelier rather than anywhere more plebeian. Such style!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choodalani Vundi is a by-the-numbers masala film. It has the requisite number of songs and fight scenes, and in between there is a mixture of comedy and romance as required by Telugu Filmi Masala Law. And that’s not such a bad thing. The various elements are woven together well and it’s an entertaining watch even if it doesn’t really break any new ground. Chiru is the drawcard, but the rest of the cast provide able support and the change of scenery to Kolkata is refreshing. Plus lots and lots of Chiru screentime! 3 ½ stars.

 

 

 

 

Sweta Naagu

Sweta Naagu was initially mentioned in a comment (thanks mm) and the idea of a film featuring a specially trained white snake was intriguing. Sadly though, it’s a fairly average snake movie that suffers from a surfeit of ideas which all muddle together to make a rather dull film. There are however a few good snakey moments and a rather memorable snake dance so it is worth adding in to the Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival.

The film starts with Madhumati (Soundarya) handing in her thesis on snakes to her professor. I have to say she wouldn’t get very far with her thesis at my university – where are the three bound copies with the title on the side – hm? At any rate Dr Parthasarathi seems very impressed by her work as she has investigated snakes as, well, snakes, rather than as mystical powerful beings.

Madhumati is very much the scientist, pouring scorn on her mother as she celebrates the Nagachaturthi festival and is dismissive of her mother’s ideals and beliefs. So naturally Madhumati is appalled when she sees a TV interview with Dr Parthasarathi, where he discusses his belief in the divinity of snakes. Shocked, she confronts him and demands an explanation. The best he can come up with though is a ‘personal versus professional opinion’ argument which is really rather weak. He does become more decisive later on, but the initial impression isn’t one of a confident and scholarly ophiologist. Instead he comes across as patronising and smug, and to add to his general ineptness, he can’t draw snakes!

Madhumati says that she will believe in the divinity of snakes only if she has hard evidence. So her professor tells her about the sacred texts called the Nagashastras which contain all the evidence she wants, although how he knows this is rather questionable since these Nagashastras are hidden somewhere in the Kollimalai forests and no-one who went looking has ever returned. Madhumati is on a quest though, and determines that she will be the one to find the Nagashastras and maybe get a better grade in her thesis as a result.

Once in the forest Madhumati is immediately and rather fortuitously captured by the tribe that have the Nagashastras in their keeping. They are snake worshippers and have a chief who believes in the power of animal print fabric.

The sacred texts are guarded by a snake which for some reason seems to approve of Madhumati despite her attempts to get her hands on the texts and her often stated belief that snakes are just reptiles. The guardian snake appears to Madhumati in human form to warn her that it is in her best interests to leave as soon as possible. We know from jenni’s excellent guide as soon as Madhumati opens the door that Vaasukhi is a snake since she has the required less clothing and oodles of eye make-up. However, just in case we were a bit slow to catch on (like Madhumati) the hair is a bit of a give away.

With this sign of favour from the local goddess, Madhumati is able to stay and continue her attempts to steal the Nagashastras. As a bit of a diversion, there is a strange tradition in the village that for any man to marry a woman he has to be able to beat her in a wrestling match. This gives us the only fight scenes in the film which are between local girl Chevandi and her suitors. Chief among these is Singam who finally does succumb to her kicks and body slams, recovering in time to be able to get married. This involves a ceremony at the Nagashetram where we first get to see the white snake as it blesses the happy couple.

After the party a swami shows up and determines to prove to Madhumati that her belief in practicality and facts is misplaced despite her total rejection of him. He brings the white snake to him with his powers and Madhumati is suitably impressed. However as she steps out of his sacred circle, the snake suddenly turns and spits blue venom at her, which sets a small tree on fire. This rather disturbs her, although it seems to be more the personal attack that she is shocked by rather than incendiary venom. We learn by flashback that in a previous life, Madhumati killed a snake and the white snake now wants revenge. The swami gives her a sacred thread to protect her from utter calamity, which sounds rather useful until, as events unfold, we realise that perhaps his idea of utter calamity isn’t quite the same as Madhumati’s.

After trying to set her on fire, the snake next tries to woo Madhumati and turns up in a dream sequence/snake dance ‘item number’ as a Freddie Mercury clone in tight white singlet and red track-pants before changing into gold lame and black pleather. We know he is the snake as he has blue contact lenses and iridescent clothing as, but he’s just not very snake-like otherwise. The backing dancers however show great dedication to the art of the snake dance and are actually pretty good if not totally co-ordinated.

Before the dream sequence can lead to anything untoward, Madhumati is called back to the city. Here, the snake starts to truly plot revenge, appearing to her in the guise of her fiancée and popping up in unlikely places around the house. Since this leads to Madhumati crying and yelling ‘snake!’ every few minutes her family eventually take her to see a psychiatrist. His useful diagnosis is that she will be fine if she gets married and has something else to think about. Can it get any more ridiculous? Yes – at this point the white snake gate crashes the engagement and ends up killing Madhumati’s pet dog, while Pravin’s family disown him for allying himself with a woman who doesn’t believe in the divinity of snakes. As a final stroke of genius, the professor organises a conference where Madhumati can tell the world about her experiences and reveal the true nature of snakes – as spelt out below.

Snake are however vindictive, vengeful and able to impersonate anyone, so the white snake is able to totally derail the conference. There is then no other option but for Madhumati and her family to head back to the forest and find the helpful swami to solve the problem once and for all.

There are just too many ideas in here and as a result the plot gets messy and confusing. Writer Lalla Devi seems to want to add in as many snake film clichés as possible and it just doesn’t work. If the film had stuck to either a single reason for snake revenge or a science vs. divinity plot it might have made more sense, but the combination just doesn’t have a clear path to follow.

Soundarya is the best thing about the film, and she really works hard to make her character as convincing as possible. Abbas plays the role of Soundarya’s fiancée Pravin and is good when he actually has something to do. But his character has only a very small role and he tends to be overshadowed by Soundarya when they are on screen together. Jaya Prakash is fine as the village chief and seems to enjoy his role while Sarath Babu does what he can with the rather stupid professor.

There are some good lines in the film about science and divinity but they get obscured by the muddle of a plot. Also annoying and totally unnecessary is a comedy track involving the family cook and a thief who stole the cook’s money. This does at least provide a reason for Madhumati to have an escort to the forest but otherwise is just distracting. There is also a comedy scene with Brahmi during the snake conference which again doesn’t add anything to the plot and could very easily have been skipped. The side story with the romance between Chevandi and Singam is one which does work relatively well, but gets cut short, again to accommodate yet more unfunny comedy. The romance between Madhumati and Pravin is also skipped over very quickly and more detail of their relationship would have helped to explain why he was willing to defy his family over her. If only they’d concentrated more on the human relationships of the main characters and less on the comedy side-kicks this would have been a much more engaging film.

The effects generally work and the final face off between the white snake and the village snake goddess is a reasonable conclusion, although it’s still just a bit dull. The white snake is unusual though and it’s a nice change to have a snake seeking revenge as a man. Sweta Naagu gets 2 ½ stars, mainly for Soundarya and the white cobra.