Yamadonga

And so we come to the third film in our “South Indian Cinema Induction Programme” – Yamadonga.
Yamadonga features enough gilt to dazzle even our well trained Bollywood eyes, demonic antics from Lord Yama and some fantastic and well choreographed fight scenes. This is a film from the same director as Magadheera, and SS Rajamouli certainly knows how to entertain. His stories are engaging and full of action. This is no exception!

Yamadonga also features NTR Jr, grandson of NTR and renowned as one of the best dancers in the business. NTR Jr although a fine figure of a man, somehow just does not look like a dancer despite his much vaunted weight loss and fitness regime of late. And then he just pulls some astonishing moves and we are left gasping and dumbfounded :‘how did he do that – that’s just not physically possible!’ His ability allows the choreographers to push their limits, and those of the poor backing dancers, in order to showcase the amazing technique of this star. His extensive classical dance training is evident in the balance and control he exhibits in both dance and fight choreography. He certainly seems to exemplify the current mould of South Indian Cinema leading men as an all dancing all fighting all action Hero.

The film starts with an amulet which has been blessed by Lord Narasimha and is given to the young Maheshwari, known as Mahi. She gives it to a boy she meets at the fair who appears to her as a prince on a flying horse when he rescues her from a broken merry-go-round. This is Raja, a thief even at this young age, who later tries to sell the amulet. On finding out it is worthless in monetary terms he throws it away, but it always makes its way back to him, in sometimes quite bizarre ways.

12 years later, the young girl is now treated as a servant by her grandfather’s family who have taken over the house and fortune left to her when he died. Raja is a con-artist and thief who stumbles across an attempt by Mahi’s family to eliminate her and assume total control of her fortune.

Raja and Mahi cross paths again when she is on the run from kidnappers (hired by her family) and mistakenly takes the dress Raja has been sent to steal. As he defends the dress (and incidentally Mahi) from the kidnappers, she once again sees a prince come to rescue her, but has no idea they have met before. Who else but Rajamouli would have his heroine hurtle around the street inside a gigantic wire ball, with the hero in pursuit battling goons, disrupting traffic and generally creating mayhem as he rescues her!

Raja tries to get rid of Mahi before he finds out that she is an heiress, whereupon he changes tactics and tries to ransom her to the family who really don’t want her back. Earlier, following a failed heist, Raja and his friend Sathi ended up drunkenly abusing Lord Yama, who overheard (of course he overheard – he’s a God!) took offence, and decided to arrange for Raja’s death. Once in Yamaloka (or Heaven as our subtitles call it) Raja manages to create havoc as he ends up in control of the realm. In order to get rid of him, Lord Yama has to return him to life. Things get even more complicated when Raja sees the truth and genuinely falls in love with Mahi, and Lord Yama comes to Earth to try and make Raja sin so that he will have to return to Heaven. There are many twists and turns with some great dancing and inspired fight scenes before Raja finally gets the girl and she gets her prince!

The movie does drag a little before the intermission when Raja is in Heaven. This whole sequence could have been shortened in our opinion without losing any of the story. However it does allow for a couple of great dance sequences and a chance for yet more gold and sparkle.

The dance scenes are a real highlight of this film. NTR Jr is a beautiful dancer and SS Rajamouli has made very good use of his talents. There is even a picturisation cleverly worked to look as if NTR and NTR Jr are dancing together– an awesome idea, sadly not fully realised due to some pretty clunky CGI work in a couple of spots. Rajamouli’s team make excellent use of modern technology with the sweeping camerawork adding to the sense of speed and movement in the dances.

SS Rajamouli’s love of CGI tigers is shown again in one of the best filmi hero entrances when the tiger transforms into NTR Jr!

The tiger/leopard/big cat of your choice theme is used throughout the film:

Heaven is wonderfully sparkly and golden, and you can imagine the artistic director just covering anything that didn’t move fast enough in gold paint. Lord Yama and Raja (when he is in Heaven) are fantastically costumed.

Priyamani as Mahi is beautifully moving as the girl badly treated by her abusive, grasping family and just joyous when she is falling in love with the oblivious Raja. She is an actress we will watch out for, after this and her pivotal performance in Ravanan. Mamta Mohandas makes the most of her role as the “other woman”, the scheming fence and loan shark Dhanalakshmi, and is great fun in scenes where Lord Yama assumes the form of Dhanalakshmi in order to tempt Raja. There are many clever visual and musical motifs recurring throughout the film, adding to the feeling of destiny at work.

Heather says: This is another fantastic film from Rajamouli. He really does know how to tell a story! This is also a great showcase for NTR Jr who combines his awesome dancing skills with some very good acting.  In particular his comedy is very well executed, and between Raja, Lord Yama and Chitraguptudu (nicely played by Brahmi) the comedy is very well integrated into the story.  Mahi’s character was also beautifully and sympathetically played by Priyamani.  Despite playing a downtrodden character for most of the film, she managed to show Mahi as capable of fighting back, and was excellent in her scenes with NTR Jr.  Also a word of praise for Mamta Mohandas who really was a delight to watch and did a fantastic job as Lord Yama pretending to be Dhanalakshmi.  This was the first NTR Jr film I watched and he totally blew me away with his dancing.  Needless to say I now have seen most of his films!  Yamadonga does tend to drag a little in the middle when they are in heaven, but the glorious costumes somewhat make up for the slower pace.  Overall an excellent film and I give this 4 1/2 stars.

Temple says: Yamadonga is a very engaging film, despite the flaws in pacing. I watched it again recently with a friend and it still keeps my attention. One major distraction for me was, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, the appalling hairstyle of NTR Jr. I don’t mind the long hair, but if you’re going to straighten your hair, do it properly! And that includes the back of your head! Anyway – apart from the unfortunate 70s era blow-waved Tarak, the rest of the film looked brilliant. Heaven looked so sparkly and fancy and rather like a Faberge egg – it was gorgeous and the attention to detail was lovely. I enjoyed little touches like Yamadharmaraja handing his mace to two soldiers who immediately buckle under the weight, and the cavalcade of NTR avatars. I really liked the wardrobe for the leading ladies too – the colours and fabrics looked great and seemed really appropriate for each character. The songs were a highlight, particularly for the dancing. Priyamani made a fantastic effort to keep up with NTR Jr and her energy was so appealing. On the downside, I really didn’t like Ali’s character in this film, and found his “comedy” track to be irritating. He is my least favourite Telugu comedian at this stage – perhaps because his characters are often a bit sleazy or negative. The film loses a star from me because of the draggy midsection and the really stupid tribal statue skit. I give this 4 stars.

Arya 2

 

This is the second film in the ”South Indian Cinema Induction Programme” for our friends. MAGADHEERA (Step One) is a full out epic film that dazzles the senses, while Arya 2 on the other hand is on a more intimate, character driven scale. It also has many of the staples of a Telugu film used to great effect:

–          Creepy weird stalking = true love and you should be totally grateful to your stalker and love them back
–          The hero will fall in love with the heroine instantly on first seeing her.
–          Machetes are essential for any proper fight scene
–          No Telugu film is complete without Brahmi (it may indeed be a law that he must appear)
–          Totally awesome dancing.

The movie contains similar themes of one-sided love and stalking til you win as the earlier (and far inferior) film, Arya, but is not a sequel as such so you don’t need to see that to understand Arya 2.  The child Arya sacrifices his chance at leaving the orphanage when he wins a coin toss but lets his best friend Ajay be adopted. Years later Ajay reluctantly gives Arya a job after Arya rescues him from some thugs. Ajay tells him he must be the perfect employee and if anything untoward happens, Arya is out. He doesn’t think that Arya can manage this as his childhood friend is a drunken thug who has never managed to make anything of himself. However, Arya transforms himself into the stylish Mister Perfect and confounds Ajay’s expectation of a short-lived stint at honest employment.

Both fall in love with Geetha, played by Kajal Agarwal, and to show his true love Arya stalks her – of course!!  This totally freaks her out, especially since no-one will believe that the perfect Arya could do any of the things she is accusing him of.  It says enough that Brahmi plays the HR Director, so you can imagine the quality of staff counselling on offer! Finally she turns to Ajay to try and shake off Arya’s attentions, and announces that she will marry him.

Meanwhile her family, who are the local big-wigs in her village, want to marry her off to the son of their rivals in order to bring the two families together and stop all the bloodshed.  For various reasons, Arya goes to let her family know that she will only marry his good friend Ajay.  Along the way he manages to get married to her himself and his conflicts between doing the right thing for his best friend, his own desires and flaws and his total all encompassing love for the girl are brilliantly portrayed. How he tries to resolve all these dramas and achieve a happy resolution for all forms the second half of the film.

This is Allu Arjun’s movie all the way, and he does turn in one of his best performances to date as the psychopathic Arya.  Bunny manages to make all of this convincing as he swings from manic stalker and psychopath to tender lover and concerned friend and back again, all the while trying to make Geetha’s world as perfect as possible, be the ideal worker, solve the inter-family rivalry, and be true to his best friend.

Special mention of his goldfish – despite being worried for its safety the whole way through the movie, thankfully all was well in the end.  We choose not to consider the fluctuations in appearance of the goldfish, and decided it was just occasional use of a stunt fish rather than multiple goldfishes. Indeed the goldfish had a vital role to play, apart from the obvious one  demonstrating that Arya really was a good person at heart because he took care of a goldfish!

The added touch of Arya administering first aid to the thugs while he was beating them was genius!  He wasn’t wantonly violent – just teaching them a lesson. This was picked up again in another fabulous fight scene involving a bus and a trail of ambulances.

Other plus points of this film are Kajal Agarwal, who is just beautiful and feisty enough to make a very attractive heroine.  Her evolution from hating Arya and trying to ruin him to understanding his motivation and problems was believable. The scenes where she realised Ajay might not be the man she believed him to be were effective and not overplayed. The addition of Subbu (played by Ajay) as her third prospective bridegroom, the son of the opposing gang-leader, was an unexpected bonus as this actor is another favourite.  The Sholay tinged bromance between the characters played by Ajay and Bunny was both hilarious and touching, and more than a little twisted.

In fact the only downside, and it is small, is the character of Ajay, played by Navdeep in the movie.   Despite the  back-story showing how young Arya manipulated situations to ensure they stayed close, little of this was referenced again in later scenes, except by Arya who genuinely seemed to care about their shared past, albeit in his warped way. Ajay seemed just mean and spineless as he tried to throw Arya to the wolves and come away with the girl and without the burden of his “best friend”.  We really never care about Navdeep’s Ajay at all, despite the potential for us to see him as a victim of an unstable relationship or as the villain of the piece. Navdeep also didn’t turn in a particular inspiring performance, and it really felt as if he was sleep-walking through the role.

The soundtrack and choreography are excellent, and months later we are still listening to the songs on high rotation. Neither of us quite understand who came up with the reverse-worm move in “My Love Is Gone”, or why, but they all seem very proud of it, and it clearly took some doing! The muted colour palette in the city scenes gives the boy-meets-girl story a fresh and modern look, and the monochrome costumes for Arya are quite a remove from the usual bling-is-more Telugu hero style.

The cinematography and editing are brilliant, and the dance and fight sequences look fantastic. For those who like a colourful village wedding, machetes, moustaches and skanky item girl, these essential elements are abundant once the story relocates to Rayalaseema.

Heather says: Arya 2 is my favourite Telugu movie.  It just has absolutely everything.  Action, drama, comedy, Allu Arjun (who just happens to be my favourite Telugu actor), brilliant dancing and a really well plotted and paced story.  The lead actors shine in this film, and Sukumar’s direction is just fabulous throughout.  I agree with Temple that the small details and personality quirks shown throughout really raise this film above other ‘stalking as love’ films I’ve seen.  The only quibble I have is with Ajay who was just too one-dimensional, but since he was only there to showcase how selfish and narrow minded he was compared to the big hearted Arya, this wasn’t too much of an issue.  I love the music in this film, the dancing is just incredible, although trying to copy the dance moves in “My Love has Gone” has caused some minor injuries in our dance group.  I would therefore advise watching with some caution and the ‘please don’t try this at home’ warning should apply! This film makes me laugh, cry, sigh over Arya, shout at the screen, and even gasp every time at the climax even though I’ve watched it many, many times.  Just perfect – 5 stars!

Temple says: When I started watching Hindi films, I saw a lot of early SRK films where he played the stuttering stalking psycho that you couldn’t help but love, but who dies in a hail of bullets. Arya 2 reminded me a little of those films, but with the added bonus that the very attractive anti-hero survives, and gets the girl. Hurrah!! But I will add, I only barrack for the stalkers and psychos in films, not in real life.  Small details in the direction really made this film perfect for me – Arya putting his glasses back on so he could see his dream sequence clearly, the goldfish, the tiny jail for frogs, Bunny’s excellent moments of pure mayhem when Arya broke through the surface of Mister Perfect and the recurring musical and sound effect motifs. Oh – and a heroine entrance featuring an umbrella hat. Haven’t seen one of those in ages! I really have no criticism of Arya 2. I love the story development, it has all the action and brilliant dancing I want, and the comedy was actually funny. Allu Arjun just shone in this role, and is a delight from start to finish. I’m sure it was considered quite risky to make this film as it isn’t a standard heroic role, and the character is manipulative and unhinged right to the end, and not something a lot of young actors would venture. A huge thank you to the producers, director and writer and all the cast for making something so quirky and fun. Of course this gets 5 stars from me!

MAGADHEERA!

Where to start? Well, after reading this awesome review by the always interesting Post-Punk Cinema Club we knew we  HAD to see this film. Hindi cinema has been disappointing of late for those of us who love full throttle all singing all dancing all biffo masala films, and we both sensed this may just hit the spot. Months of googling, emailing, staring forlornly at shop shelves here (and by Heather when in Chennai) was finally put to rest with the DVD release! Yay! We rejoiced, and we ordered quick smart (shameless plug for the excellent Raj and Bhavani DVD).  A select viewing audience was assembled (including  two Mumbai born Hindi speakers and hardcore filmi fans) and we settled in. Only to find out Heather had cheated and watched it on her own. This might have destroyed our friendship but it did have the benefit of allowing her to lunge across the couch and announce “This is VERY SIGNIFICANT!” at relevant points of the film. We are still friends.

OMG. What a ride this film was!

From the heart-string-tuggingly beautiful opening scenes to the joyous end credits, we lapped it up. We have a charismatic young hero with hair that loves a wind machine , a despicable but well accessorised villain, a heroine with some common sense but not much to do, dancing, music, explosions, swords, horses, tigers and ye olden days. And an elephant!

The story spans 400 years or so and tells of Kala Bhairava (played by Ram Charan)and his love for Princess Mithravinda (played by Kajal Aggarwal). Through the machinations of the despicable villain, Rana Dev Billa, the young couple die before they ever get their love lives sorted out and so their story is incomplete. Jump forward 400 years, and who could it be exploding off the screen riding his motorcycle through the clouds? Yes. Harsha aka Bhairava is back and that can only mean one thing. Two plus hours of getting the girl and triumphing over the forces of evil!

Mumaith Khan and her powerful chest in an unintentional(?) Baywatch Jiggle Run tribute is perhaps a sign that this is going to be one for the boys.

But the item girls are overshadowed by Ram Charan’s awesome dancing and so the eye candy quotient seems to be there for all.

One of the major disappointments in recent Hindi films is the boring montage instead of a proper multi-costumed spangly dance. Thankfully, Tollywood seems to still have a commitment to the kind of entertainment that we love. We did ponder whether it was the actors who can dance so well that makes this possible or are the actors who can’t dance so well just overlooked and never blight the viewers eye? MAGADHEERA takes full advantage of excellent backing dancers and a hero with a thoroughbred pedigree. We loved seeing Chiru turn up in his special appearance, maybe almost as much as these guys did!

In fact, we both loved MAGADHEERA so much, it has become the first step in our South Indian Cinema Induction programme. Guests are required to watch MAGADHEERA (snacks and chaat provided of course) and later they must discuss the strange allure of the Southern Hero Ishtyle. Phase 2 of the programme will be revealed in coming weeks…

Suitably inspired by David and Margaret “At The Movies”:

Heather says: Lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!  Or rather horses, tigers and (an) elephant!  This movie really has everything,  and manages to tell a rather overused storyline in such an inspired way.  There is enough comedy without it being obtrusive and annoying as I’ve found can be the case in Indian cinema.  Meanwhile the drama quotient is high, performances excellent with great casting and very good use of CGI. The dancing was awesome and technical enough to appease even those of us channeling Jason Coleman from SYTYCD.  Good guys win, bad guys don’t (eventually) and there is plenty of mayhem and blood shed in the process .  And the final song over the end credits is the best ever!!    Loved it so much I watched it 3 times in as many days, and still feel a week isn’t complete without just a little MAGADHEERA in it somewhere.  This is a full five star movie.

Temple says: What I loved about this film is the wide eyed serious commitment to the truth of the story, with no irony or raised eyebrows to undermine the impact. I had a discussion with a good friend about this – she felt it was a bit too testosterone laden and serious to be palatable as a viewer and she wanted some sign of irony. I love the all out all in drama and while there is some unintentional humour, I reckon I was laughing with the film and not at it most of the time. As a viewer I want to get swept up and dragged along by a film, I want to cheer the good guys and hiss at the baddies, I want to try and dance along and have the songs stuck in my head for ages.  I can honestly say MAGADHEERA delivers all this and more! If the number of times we paused the DVD to look at each other and just marvel at the stunts, the drama, the sheer fun is any indication, this is a classic! Go watch it if you haven’t already. Seriously – go now! I give this five stars!