Rama Rama Re (2016)

D. Satya Prakash’s début film is a classic road movie about an escaped prisoner and the various characters he meets along this journey Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the film is the superb cinematography as each scene appears beautifully constructed with a keen eye for detail, despite most of the action occurring on a jeep travelling through a rather desolate countryside. Add a fascinating story with engaging characters in often surreal situations and Rama Rama Re becomes a road trip to remember.

The film starts with ‘Sandal’ Raja (Nataraj) escaping from prison. In a preview of how the film will unfold, the escape itself isn’t shown and instead the film shows us the prison guards arguing with some labourers about their pay for the day. When the alarm is raised, the prison commander is torn between watching his favourite soap opera on TV and rushing to start the hunt for the prisoner. The corruption of the jail is quickly replaced by hysterical news reports showing interviews with the prisoners and guards that reveal Raja was afraid of dying and escaped before he could be hanged. As the hunt continues, Raja’s picture is everywhere and a large reward of 10 lakh’s is offered for his capture. Meanwhile Raja is shown running, and running, and yet more running, while his beard and hair grow longer as he moves further and further away from civilisation.

Meanwhile army veteran Ramanna (K. Jayaram) is preparing his ancient jeep for a trip. He buys new jasmine to hang on the rear-view mirror which just happens to be wrapped in a newspaper with Raja’s mugshot (a recurring image that is central to the storyline). As Ramanna sets off he meets with a truck driver (Bhaskar Dev) who has broken down on the road. After rather reluctantly towing him to the nearest garage, Ramanna is persuaded to give the driver’s passenger a lift to the nearest town – a passenger who just happens to be Raja.

Shortly afterwards Ramanna picks up an eloping couple Dharma (Dharmanna Kadur) and Subbi (Bimbashri Ninasam) who hide in his jeep. The couple are being chased by various members of their respective families, who disprove of the inter-caste relationship. Dharma also recognises Raja and wants to claim the reward, but the pursuing families, a soldier (Sridhar) on leave on his way to be with his pregnant wife and a group of travelling musicians all conspire to make Raja’s recapture seem unlikely.

Throughout the journey the story briefly delves into issues such as caste, corruption and the limited healthcare available in rural locations. These are never allowed to implicitly interfere with the characters’ journey but are often the reason behind some of their choices and as such do have an impact. The relentless pursuit of Raja and the treatment of prisoners is also briefly touched on but the sensationalism of the media and need for reform are only part of the backdrop to the story.  The focus is on the journey and how each of the characters react to the various revelations and experiences along the way. All of them are flawed and none are particularly likeable which ensures that it is the journey and experience that is important rather than any particular character.

I particularly liked how Raja seems to have devolved as a result of his imprisonment and subsequent escape. He is like a trapped animal, only concerned with flight and doesn’t seem to have any real plan or final destination in mind. This is an excellent portrayal of a man so desperate to escape that everything else has become irrelevant. Nataraj doesn’t have much dialogue, and so it’s his facial expression and body language that are crucial to illustrate his thought processes and focus on escape above all else. I thought he was excellent in the role and that his portrayal of desperation was pretty much spot on.

The character of Dharma is initially incredibly irritating, although he embodies so many common traits that it’s hard not to smile at his various antics. His obsession with combing his hair is just one of these, and he does bring some light-heartedness into the film just when it starts to drag in the first half. The relationships between Dharma and Subbi is also interesting as he promises her the world but fails to deliver. However, Subbi seems to be completely aware of Dharma’s shortcomings and in some lovely pieces of writing does turn the tables rather nicely on him to make sure she gets what she wants. The contrast between the couple and their reluctant traveling companions is also used to good effect to accentuate each of their flaws as the journey progresses.

What I really love about this film is the perfection and attention to detail in each frame. There is so much to enjoy even in the shots of the landscape as the jeep travels through. The TV in the prison at the very start is surrounded by papers and files while the shelves are just as shambolic with files strewn everywhere. With just a few images cinematographer Lavith captures the disorganisation and carelessness of the prison officers perfectly.  I also love the precision of the bicycle with the water jug sitting in front just outside Ramanna’s house, and how this contrasts to the limited and out of focus shots of the interior. The countryside looks amazing, despite being devoid of life and during the journey it almost becomes a character itself, and certainly just as important. Just as precisely, the pictures of Raja in the newspapers are carefully repeated and contrasted to images of his current appearance although his travelling companions only seem to register the mugshot and the reward. It’s all perfectly put together as a visual feast that compliments the action beautifully. The soundtrack from Nobin Paul is excellent and the songs from Vasuki Vaibhav work well to keep the narrative moving.

Rama Rama Re does follow a classic journey template but the journey itself is unique. The story is allowed to develop at its own pace and the characters are quirky but plausible within the framework of the plot. Although the film does drag a little in the middle, the gorgeous images and wonderful characterisations overcome this slight lag, while the end is just as unusual and unexpected as the rest of the journey. This is a clever film, beautifully filmed with interesting characters and very well worth watching. 4 stars.

Donga (1985)

It’s 1985, one of the better hairstyle eras for Chiranjeevi, and director A Kodandarami Reddy is at the wheel with Chakravarthy’s funky soundtrack blaring. Donga is energetic, pure mass, and spits on the grave of anyone who ever said “less is more”.

Phani (Chiranjeevi) is a Robin Hood kind of thief who steals from the rich and pays off the debts of the poor. Phani’s father Chandrasekhar died of a filmi heart attack as a result of Kodandaramayya’s (Rao Gopal Rao) chicanery. Kodandaramayya is still going strong with his thieving and extortion schemes and has a slimy sidekick in Anjaneyulu (Gollapudi Maruthi Rao) and a toadying servant Rama Subbaiah (Allu Ramalingaiah) plus a resident goon. As a good Telugu film hero, Phani is intent on avenging his family and getting his sister married well. He has a somewhat useful friend or sidekick in Ranga (Nutan Prasad) too. Phani falls for Kodandaramayya’s daughter Manjulatha (Radha) so you know the path to his revenge will be full of complications and spontaneous dance breaks. And that’s without the competition for apparently the only eligible man in town, Anjanayeulu’s son Rajesh (Raja).

Donga is full of action packed set pieces as Phani tricks and thieves his way across town. The fights are full of “Karate”, back flips, slo mo leaping, spin kicks and you name it. One of the things I love most about Chiru is that he just goes for it. It might be ridiculous, the outfits might be insane, but he does his best to stick that landing every time. Phani uses brains as well as brawn, phoning in a tip about undeclared cash to get an office raided by the tax department, and generally being smarter than the bad guys. I found this next bit a little confusing with no subtitles but I think Tax officer R Viswanath (Sridhar) wants to get his sister married well and needs money for her dowry. In the tangled finances in this small filmi world he ends up being cheated by Kodandaramayya who is robbed by Phani, compounding the problem of paying the debt. R Viswanath is found dead and once Phani realises what had happened with the money, that just adds to his drive for revenge.

Phani is of course irresistible to women. I don’t know anyone else who could rock the knitted singlet like he does, so he must have that je ne sais quoi. He steals Manjulatha’s little red car and then sets up a meeting to hand it back. For reasons that are not entirely clear but yet seem to make sense to Phani, he pranks her with this Thriller-iffic dance. Pump the volume up, warm up to avoid injury, move the furniture back a bit further than you think you need to (those lunge slides need some room) and have a go at this!

From the perspective of anywhere but 1985 Telugu film that is so bad it’s awesome. What were they thinking? “We’ve done a lot of Jackie Chan stuff so let’s mix it up a bit…Bond? No, done that to death. Death…Death. I know!” But it worked, she succumbed despite her father’s disapproval.

Radha and Chiru both look like they’re having fun with the daggy choreography. And Radha gets to do more than just sit and look pretty. The costume department really don’t do her many favours but she must have had a very high synthetic fabric tolerance. Manjulatha is often more articulate and decisive than I expected. She is harassed by a creep at the cinema so she belts him and tells him off. It was satisfying although clearly a punchline for a “women are bitches” joke. Despite the occasional toddler tantrum, she seems to make a lot of her own decisions and doesn’t seem to be a bad person despite her wealth and privilege.

Her dad spots her frolicking with Phani and maybe it is the enthusiastic prancing or that she starts wearing sarees, but he senses trouble and warns her off the mystery man. After the usual misunderstanding, tearful argument, unfortunate slapping incident, and some quality time with Phani’s mother, the deal is pretty well sealed. And Phani missed no opportunity to torment Kodandaramayya by showing off his relationship.

Phani goes to see Anajaneyulu but he has no luck in getting Viswanath’s debt reduced, so he says he will pay it all back himself. And goes to work in a quarry, maybe just because Chiru always wanted to try using a kanga. I would have thought stealing the money would be more practical given his skillset but whatever. Kodandaramayya sets up a cross country motorcycle race with significant prize money – and a great opportunity for his goons to erase Phani who is resplendent in canary yellow. Phani takes the dangerous job of laying explosives but the goon I call Coconut Machete tries to sabotage him. Somehow in all the biffo Phani realises that Kodandaramayya may have had more to do with Viswanath’s death than suspected. And in flashback Coconut Machete reveals it was not a suicide. BASTARDS! So of course Phani enters a dance competition and competes against Silk Smitha.

Look at him go! I love these bedazzled wrist guards and gaiters.

Phani is framed for murdering Silk, which is ridiculous. He’d already killed her on the dance floor. He goes on the run and it is on for young and old. I loved the car stunts and the fights, but right at the end the horse stunts, as usual, made me feel sick. What happens in the end? Does Phani triumph? You know the what, but the how is what matters!

Peak Chiru. Quality Radha.  Total mass. 4 stars!