Dookudu

Another Adventure Without Subtitles! Dookudu is the much awaited release for ‘Prince’ Mahesh Babu and we knew it would be huge. We arrived early for the 8.30pm show, which gave us the opportunity to watch the staff deal with the problem of getting the first show crowd out through the 700 or so people crowding into the small foyer. Once people emerged, the waiting audience clapped and cheered them like they were rockstars, and it was a very festive atmosphere. As one lady said  – why come to the cinema unless you’re going to have a good time?

It was about 10pm before the film finally started, not that anyone was complaining. There was plenty of cheering, accompanied by the sounds of tearing newspaper, as everyone got ready for Mahesh’s appearance.  There was discussion about whether there might be the odd flash of elbow (Yes there was, and even a glimpse of princely tummy) and just how many shirts can Mahesh Babu wear and still manage to fight? (There is apparently no limit to what Mahesh can do, or how many shirts he can wear.)

The film starts with politician Shankar Narayan (Prakash Raj) who is so well loved by the people that we know he’s heading for a gruesome end. Sure enough he’s attacked and left for dead by his rivals who include Kota Srinivasa Rao, Sayaji Shinde and various other Telugu film baddies. Somehow Shankar survives, in a coma and hidden in a secret location, and he finally comes round some years later to a changed world. His son Ajay (Mahesh) is a policeman rather than a politician as his father had planned, a number of his friends and colleagues are dead and the family have moved out of their old house. However the doctor instructs Ajay not to shock or distress his father in any way, for example by telling him the truth, as this will be bad.

Mahesh is introduced in full throttle action hero style, complete with title song. He takes on a room full of bad guys with nothing but his comic timing, guns and a whole lot of biffo.  Ajay is a super cop – invincible and fearless. He is also quite prepared to play outside the legal system if that is what it takes. After one such scene we did have a quick discussion about the omnipresent singlet under all the layers of shirts, and whether it was actually bulletproof. Whatever the reason, the bad guys consistently fail in their efforts to eliminate our hero, while he has no such issues dealing with them. Mahesh can convincingly portray a furious rage in a very low key acting style, and he is also more than capable of bantering dialogue with the comedy uncles. It’s a role tailor made for him, and while he wears his police uniform a little on the baggy side the character is a perfect fit.

Ajay does a deal with Brahmi who’s taken over their house and in the process convinces him that he’s taking part in a reality TV show which forms a large part of the comedy in the film. Ajay pretends to be a politician and keeps his life as a policeman secret from his father, while all the time plotting revenge on his fathers attackers. It’s no wonder Ajay is always on a short fuse – he must be exhausted from all the pretending. And the killing.

Ajay finds out through another investigation that mafia boss Nayak (Sonu Sood) was involved in the assault on Shankar. It looks at first as if Sonu is about to reprise his role in Ek Niranjan as the stylish and psychotic villain, but sadly his wardrobe fails to deliver. Despite the nice cravats and the random and occasional application of grey to his hair and moustache, Nayak is a subdued and fully clothed villain who just loves his little brother a bit too much.  We enjoyed the Sheila ki Jawani dance break and we think Sonu did too, but it was shortlived. Most of the posturing is left to his faithful sidekicks played by Ajay and Subbaraju. That’s fine with us since they’re both Cinema Chaat favourites and we did enjoy watching the satin shirted Subbaraju try to mime to his boss that Mahesh was really an undercover policeman. Oh for a pen when you need one…

Along the way, Ajay takes his gang of trusty colleagues to Turkey, apparently just so he can say ‘Operation Istanbul’ as there is no other discernible reason for the location. He meets Prashanthi (Samantha), a fashion designer and, unknown to him, daughter of his clownish boss (Nasser). While Ajay and Prashanthi have the usual confusions before falling in love there is no substance to Samantha’s role and she’s soon side lined. There is little chemistry between Samantha and Mahesh, maybe because they spend hardly any time together on screen. Samantha looks beautiful, and wears whatever the costume department have dreamed up. That seems to be her sole purpose in the film as she doesn’t actually do anything.

There was more comedy with M S Narayana and one very funny skit where he took off a number of films including Magadheera and Robot. A little comedy can go a long way, but here it was integrated into the main story and with Mahesh adding to the comedy dialogue there were parts that were very funny, even to us non-Telugu speakers. The rest of the audience were roaring with laughter throughout the speeches. Master Bharath put in an appearance too. Was he necessary? Probably not. And yes there were some unfortunate stereotypes masquerading as comedy, but for the most it was entertaining.

The supporting cast was very strong, if largely underutilised. Shafi, Tanikella Bharani and Sudha had little to do, and Satya Krishnan was given maybe one line of dialogue. It’s a big budget film when you can hire some of the best and then not do anything with them!

The action sequences are excellent, and it’s hard to go wrong with a good impaling. Sreenu Vaitla has come up with several ways of illustrating the ‘eye for an eye’ concept, all of them extremely gory. The camera work and special effects were great and added impact on top of the already impressive stunts. We enjoyed the flashes of lightning when Ajay was beating Nayak to a pulp, and the changes of tempo in the film speed that underpinned the dramatic tension.

The song picturisations were less successful, and the songs by S.S Thaman are not so memorable on their own. Mahesh can dance reasonably well so it was disappointing not to see more use being made of his skills, and we wondered who decided it was a good idea to give him Abhishek Bachchan’s choreography. Chulbuli Chulbuli was spectacular with plenty of feathers and some enthusiastic backing dancers, although clearly ‘inspired’ by Kilimanjaro. The nightclub song lacked a good item girl but made very good use of the male backing dancers, grinning madly in satin pants and ruffles,  and had a giant guitar shaped light-up floor so that was pleasing. We must also congratulate the set designer for the impressive selection of chandeliers and lamps, especially the chandelier in the hospital ward.

Dookudu has a charismatic hero in a strong if silly storyline, and it is a technically excellent film in the mass entertainment style. It might not be the greatest film ever made, but it was  really fun to watch, especially with the awesome Melbourne audience.

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