Bhairava Dweepam

Bhairava Dweepam DVD

Released in 1994, Bhairava Dweepam is a lavish lolly coloured Telugu folk tale. Writer/director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao picked up a couple of awards and the film was both a commercial and critical success. Although I found it quite entertaining, there are a few things I couldn’t help but compare unfavourably with other similar films.

Bhairava-Dweepam-Vasundhara is rejected

The story is easy to follow, which was handy as I haven’t been able to find subtitles. Vasundhara (K.R Vijaya) had a baby, probably out of wedlock but certainly not to the liking of the royal family. When she takes her son to the prince, the father in question, she is turfed out into the stormy night. She has an accident in her small unstable boat and mother and child are separated. Vasundhara is taken in by a kindly hermit who also creates a magical (poorly trimmed fabric) flower that will thrive as long as her son is also alive.

The boy is adopted by a village leader and grows up to be Vijay (Balakrishna). The people rejoiced – except that baby in yellow. Vijay and his sidekick or adopted brother, (Mohan Babu), are out and about doing what boys in folktales do when they spy Padma (Roja). Vijay is instantly smitten and sets about finding his way into the palace to spend more time with her. Unbeknownst to Padma, an evil magician also has his sights set on her. Padma is rendered seriously ill by a spell and Vijay searches for a cure. Along the way he meets his mother but they don’t yet realise their connection. She gives him a protective amulet which comes in very handy. He discovers the nefarious plot and after much travail, confronts Bhairava to set things to rights.

The story is very similar to the gorgeous 1951 film, Patala Bhairavi. And that is where the comparisons start. Where Patala Bhairavi was stunning and NTR was effortlessly charismatic, Bhairava Dweepam is a bit less magical and Balakrishna is more workmanlike in constructing his performance. The special effects in 1994 have not moved on all that much from 1951. I did wonder what my 1994 self would have thought, but in 1994 I had already seen films like Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985). While there were some things about Legend I don’t care for (Tom Cruise for starters), it did look like a magical fairytale and the unicorns are beautiful. Compare and contrast these approaches to prosthetic horse makeup.

While I appreciate the spirit of making do, even if it does result in a grumpy looking horse with feathers stuck on, I was left a little underwhelmed. It was a mixed bag and often more amusing than enchanting.

There are other sequences involving a two headed rubber chicken dragon attacking the flying bed used to whisk Padma to the villain’s cave, some tiny miniature people who help Vijay obtain a magical necklace, a mirror monster in a peekaboo green rubber suit and so much more. It is kind of great but not really good. Ajooba-esque, perhaps. And there are some horse stunts that look horrible. One scene involved Vijay using a stick to trip horses, and not all of them looked like they were going to get up. I deducted Hero points from Vijay on seeing that tactic.

Balakrishna works harder than anyone else in the cast. Vijay is in almost every scene and usually throwing himself into a duel or bounding about rescuing the princess so this is a physically demanding role. If Balakrishna had been paid per leap he would have cleaned up. Vijay helps or liberates a number of magical beings along the way, and they give him valuable assistance in his quest. Balakrishna certainly has the confident swagger down pat even if his dancing is less than impressive. But making a film that is so similar to one of NTR’s acclaimed roles and trying to replicate his style is a big ask. I thought the same when I watched Sri Rama Rajyam. There is nothing wrong with his performance, but he doesn’t have the same expressive quality or panache and so comes off as less engaging. Tarak (NTR Jr) seems to take a slightly different tack by paying a tribute to his grandfather in his films but not trying to mimic him as closely. That allows for more individuality and he has developed a kind of everyman hero persona (with phenomenal dancing skills). Balakrishna is more closely tied to the legacy and so I find it hard to appreciate him as an individual actor, at least based on the handful of his films I’ve seen. Plus he will always be This Guy to me.

Roja is the love interest, Padma Devi. Padma is your standard damsel in occasional distress. She does nothing other than look sparkly, frolic with her handmaidens and wait to be rescued from Certain Death. Roja is pretty and lively, and she handles the numerous songs and dances easily. But I think she would have spent more time in hair and makeup than having to learn her few lines. I did wonder why, since Bhairava required a virgin for his spell, no one thought about how Padma could disqualify herself.

The supporting cast are all good without being outstanding. Rambha has one of the big musical numbers as Yakshini, the owner of both magical necklace and green mirror monster. Giri Babu and Subhalekha  Sudhakar play scheming brothers (and Vijay’s relatives) who not only depose their own father but have their eye on Padma’s kingdom as well.

K.R Vijaya is good as Vasundhara and she does get a couple of quite dramatic scenes, including a classic Nahiin Face Off with Balakrishna.

The design department certainly went for it. Their philosophy could be summed up as ‘all the colours, all the time’. Vijay has an extensive wardrobe of gaudy leggings and tunics, nicely accessorised with an array of ornate boots and matching wristbands. I was particularly impressed with the outfit that had canary boots to match the yellow terry-towelling trim and headband. Perfect for the active hero! Roja is very glittery, as are her attendants. Bhairava’s island cave lair is more impressive from the outside but he does have more than the usual number of talking statues so that was something. There are comedy demons that help Vijay, and they look like something straight out of the kindergarten dress up box.

Bhairava Dweepam is entertaining enough, but having seen it twice now I don’t think I’d invest the time on watching it again. See it for a relatively recent take on the folkloric blockbuster and for the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the cast. 3 stars! (But if you’re a diehard fan of Ajooba, add an extra star!)

Bhairava-Dweepam-Rabbit

Also – I love this production house emblem.

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Subhalekha

Once again, dodgy VCD quality and no subtitles mean that I have probably made up a lot of the story. But it is the characters (and actors) who made Subhalekha so enjoyable for me, not just the plot.

It’s a K. Viswanath film, so there is a message. In this case it is dowry, shown in this film as an outdated and bad practice. This is illustrated through montages of newspaper stories as well as incidents in the story. He targets men in particular castes and professions and their demands for a high price, particularly when they have no financial need. But he doesn’t go completely filmi and say love is all you need. Arranged marriage is not the issue – it’s the financial pressure of high dowry demands that can cause massive debt and stress on families. The relationships in the film develop in a believable way (well, most of them), and it seems that the marriages based on mutual respect and affection will probably work out. There is also some very nice character based humour to enliven the story, and I really enjoyed it.

Murthi (Chiranjeevi) is a waiter at a big hotel. He is naturally helpful and generous but not a push over. Unless the one menacing him is a dog. I’ve noticed something in a few Telugu films now – the overdubbing of animals by what is clearly a guy in a studio saying ‘Raaargh’. But don’t take my word for it.

Chiru dances his way to safety, catching the eye of Rao (Arun), an industrialist staying at the hotel. As a result, Rao casts Murthi as the hero of an advert for Allwyn fridges. This clip shows Chiru’s experiments in various classical dance styles, and is that ad within the film.

I like the exuberance, the vague attempt at accuracy and the expression on Chiru’s face throughout. I just love watching him dance. I laughed a lot in one scene when a lady in the bank started babbling over the ‘lovely, beautiful, wonderful’ Allwyn Hero when he came in to cash a cheque.

That would be me! And I’d totally buy that fridge.

Murthi exudes music and energy, singing his way through the day and even using song as conversation. He seems to be reasonably educated and working as a waiter was probably not his dream, but he does it well and picks up on opportunities. He deals with family problems, negotiates corrupt officialdom and is an everyman. Chiranjeevi gives Murthi a genial and easy going charm, with glimpses of the pride and self confidence that keep him going. That earnest vulnerability is worlds away from the mass hero style, and so endearing.

Also in the bank and checking Murthi out is Sujatha (Sumalatha). She is a serious young lady, a college lecturer, not a glossy glam heroine. She is due to be married to Mohan (Girish). The wedding negotiations stall over dowry. Her intended is from a rich family and has no need of money. Her father is forced to agree to the price, but Sujatha delivers a dressing down to prospective father-in-law Adisseshaya (Kaikala Satyanarayana) and the marriage is off. I really liked Sumalatha in Khaidi and she is impressive in this role too.  While being primped for her meeting with Mohan she brushes off her sister saying she wants to be what she is. Sujatha is resourceful, copes with setbacks and sometimes needs help, and is never a doormat. She and Chiranjeevi make a good couple, and I really liked their little disagreements and playful scenes.

Sujatha is sacked from her job and her parents throw her out when they decide she is having an affair with Murthi. Murthi is delighted she stood up for herself against the politician who refused to help his family. So he helps her find accommodation and they live in an idyllic version of poverty, with him acting as Sujatha’s household help. After insulting Adisseshaya, Murthi also loses his job, copping a beating along the way. Murthi uses his connections with Rao to get them both jobs – they never just give up. He might look after Sujatha, but she is an independent woman with her own earnings and a sense of worth. Murthi wants to see her settled, so approaches Rao who agrees to marry Sujatha. All this despite me knowing that Murthi loves her and she loves him. But I had faith it would all be set to rights.

It isn’t just the central couple that have their moments. Sujatha’s sister Lakshmi (Tulasi) is an impulsive and extroverted girl. She spots the ultra groovy Murali (‘Subhalekha’ Sudhakar), Adisseshaya’s other son – really, how could you miss him in those trousers? She is smitten and he cannot resist. They are mostly a comedy diversion, but since their antics are actually moving the plot along I quite liked them. Plus Murali’s dance moves are just hilarious (as is the decor in his room). Even though the sight of him made me giggle, Murali is a strong willed young man and sticks to his guns. Murali and Lakshmi conspire to prove a point and sort their families out, showing surprising sneakiness. I dither between thinking they are perfect for each other and wondering what will happen when disco dies or their hormones settle. But I enjoyed most of their scenes and thought they both had fun with their characters.

Mohan –the original groom for Sujatha – also has a surprise for his dad. While everyone was running around like headless chickens, he went and got married to Murthi’s sister. He did what he thought was right, and avoided his father’s veto by not asking for permission. The younger generation in the film are educated and have opportunities, so they are able to challenge outmoded practices.

The film is firmly anchored in realism and there is very little glamour or fancy apart from the characters’ own mild daydreams. The houses, workplaces and clothes all seem appropriate and not too new. There are nice interior details, and someone in the hotel had a thing for feature walls. The humour is integrated into the story and characters and there is little pointless comedic shtick. When Murthi returns to his village, he sees a line of people outside his home, and suspects something bad has happened. But they are only lining up for food his grandmother (Nirmalamma) is giving out. The scene unfolds beautifully with tears, overacting, and laughs, showing Murthi at home and his relationship with his family. Rallapalli and Allu Ramalingaiah have smallish roles but provide good foils for Murali and Murthi. I really liked the way the story plays out, and how the different characters all come back into the picture at the end.

KV Mahadevan’s music is pleasant. I never wanted to fast forward through the songs but I really can’t recall any individual melodies. This is not a big song and dance type of movie and the music does match the story and mood. I can only assume the lyrics also reflected what was going on.

This is such a restrained and well judged film I had to check again that it was indeed the same director that made the far less sensible Aapathbandhavudu! The last few minutes lost me a little as the story was resolved by booming voiceover while the action continued. I would have preferred letting the characters do the talking, but it is a satisfying film.

See it for a nicely balanced romance with a social message and of course for the excellent Chiranjeevi. 4 ½ stars! (A small deduction for the dire picture quality which annoyed me greatly).

Heather says:

Right from the very opening scene Subhalekha is a mesmerising film and surely only Chiranjeevi could make a small incident with a dog into such an entrancing piece of cinema. The story flows smoothly from one scene to the other and despite my very poor quality VCD copy, the quality of the film editing stands out. It’s very disappointing that Subhalekha isn’t available with subtitles, as although the basic story is relatively easy to follow, I am sure that I missed so much from not understanding the dialogues. There are quite a few long speeches where, although the general idea comes across due to the way the character speaks, it’s very frustrating not to know the details, especially since everything points to the dialogues being well written.

Chiranjeevi is excellent as the faithful and kind-hearted Murthi but Sumalatha puts in just as strong a performance. I found her scenes when she defies her prospective father in law gripping, despite the fact that I didn’t understanding a word! As much as I enjoyed the developing relationship between Murthi and Sujatha, the romance between Sujatha’s younger sister Lakshmi and Mohan’s brother Murali was easier to understand and probably for that reason their interactions were some of my favourite moments in the film. With his snazzy clothes and the huge over-sized glasses, so typical of the times, ‘Subhalekha’ Sudhakar was perfect in his role as the hip and trendy younger brother, and Tulasi was lovely as the rather feisty and adventurous Lakshmi. I also appreciated the quarrels between Murali and his father, and the declarative way Murali ended every argument with “I love her!” made me grin every time. I enjoyed all of the songs in this film, but my favourite was one pictured on Lakshmi and Murali as they cavorted around on the beach. It was only just overshadowed by Chiru’s excellent fridge advertising which was brilliant but not quite long enough for me. Just a little Chiru classical dance is never enough and I wanted more!

Films with a social message can often end up with too much preaching and not enough actual story, but that certainly isn’t the case here. The characters all seem to have genuine reasons for acting the way they do, even Adisseshaya is following convention rather than just being difficult and greedy (although of course he is that too), and it is all feels true to life. I do wish though that more discussions in real life could be held in the form of song in the way that Murthi communicates here.

This is such an excellent film that I am amazed it hasn’t been restored and re-released with subtitles. Despite the often poor quality of the VCD, Subhalekha is well worth a watch for some great performances and a well told story. Plus of course no-one does shy and bashful as well as Chiru! 4 ½ stars.

 

Dhammu

I’d been warned to pick up my ticket early for Dhammu and although I wasn’t expecting a big crowd given the response to NTR Jr’s last few ventures, I did dutifully turn up before the suggested start time. And the guys on the door were right. By the time the film was ready to roll, the cinema was totally packed, which meant a very loud and enthusiastic response to Tarak’s explosive entrance on screen. Despite a few issues with the sound and difficulties getting the second reel of the movie to play, the audience maintained their enthusiasm which helped turn a run-of-the-mill mass masala film into an entertaining Friday night ‘adventure without subtitles’.

Dhammu starts with a flashback, setting up the story and explaining the rivalry between two families in a rural village. Within the first few moments there is a decapitation followed by various scenes of death and dismemberment so it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t going to be a fluffy romance despite the promise of two heroines on the poster. The two families seem determined to use the Kilkenny cat principle of conquest and it’s not long before the remnants of Suman’s family are reduced to living under the yoke of Nasser’s sadistic thugs. Once the scene is set, the film jumps to the present day and Tarak enters via a suitably ridiculous leap from a window onto a black 4WD. This is the first of many such black 4WD’s that gave their lives during the making of this film, so be prepared for crashes, inexplicable explosions and general vehicular destruction often for no apparent reason other than the director seemed to feel that it was time for another car (or 3) to meet an untimely end.

Tarak plays Ramachandra, an orphan who is against violence although that’s not entirely obvious since he’s beating up bad guys single-handedly from his first appearance on screen. OK, so he does fight with his hands behind his back and shows a reluctance to actually kill anyone, but at first I took that to be a novel trick fighting technique just because it looks good.

Ramachandra meets and instantly falls in love with Satya (Trisha) and after some initial very mild reluctance she seems to reciprocate. But it looks as if the romance, brief as it is, seems doomed to failure since Satya’s father (Subhalekha Sudhakar) wants her to marry a rich guy. Trisha looks lovely in some beautiful traditional outfits, but apart from looking pretty and the odd dance routine she has very little to do. The appearance of Karthika as the second heroine seems totally redundant as she gets even less screen time than Trisha and the attempt to create some rivalry falls flat.  Karthika also has so much collagen pumped into her lips that it looks as if they might burst at any moment while she’s speaking and this is incredibly distracting, particularly since I think she looked much better and prettier in Ko.

Both Trisha and Karthika look very stiff in the Neelo Undi Dhammu song and their awkwardness seems to increase in direct proportion to the shortness of their skirts. They both do much better in the songs where they are wearing more traditional outfits and the choreography seems to suit them better too. Tarak is on excellent form in all of the dance routines and although the songs by M.M. Keeravani aren’t particularly memorable the choreography is less fixed on trick moves and more on coordinated steps which look very slick. The only exception is the song Ruler which has little dancing and lots of CGI which looks rather out of place compared to the rest of the film.

By some means Ramachandra’s friend (Ali) learns of a rich family looking for a son to adopt and Ramachandra promptly applies to become a member of the Vasireddy family, adopting the name Vijayadwaja Sri Simha. However it’s not long before he discovers the drawbacks, namely being expected to resolve the feud between the two warring families once and for all as well as dealing with his entire extended family.

The fight scenes are the best part of Dhammu which is fortunate because there are quite a few. Tarak is often shown in slow-motion leaping and pouncing like his adopted family mascot of a lion and it works well. Mostly the fight sequences are totally over the top and unrealistic but they are expertly choreographed by Ram-Lakshman and look fantastic. People ricochet off cars, buildings and other people if they don’t happen to hit anything else in the way, or bounce off the ground in totally gravity defying ways which most of the audience seemed to find as entertaining as I did. There are lots of declarative speeches in between the various bouts of mayhem which generally went down well too, although there were a few scenes where they slow the pace considerably and it takes a while to pick up again.

The supporting cast are all well known actors and generally do justice to their roles. Kota Srinivasa Rao is familiar as the aging patriarch, while Tanikella Bharani, Suman and Sampath Raj all appear in small roles. Nasser is good as the slightly psychotic head of the opposing family and he also sports a wild and strange moustache which looks incredibly impractical. Ali is fairly inoffensive as Vijay’s friend and he got plenty of laughs from the audience, although his comedy did seem rather muted. Brahmi pops up for a few scenes but I couldn’t work out exactly what his role was in the Vasireddy family and he had very little impact. Venu Thottempudi also makes an appearance as a member of the Vasireddy family and was good in a brief but important appearance.

Overall Dhammu has nothing new to offer and relies heavily on NTR Jr to make the most of an overused storyline with standard masala ingredients. There are plenty of good moments and NTR Jr puts in an impressive performance but there isn’t anything to make this film stand out from other similar action movies in his filmography. It’s not brilliant but it works well enough as a mass entertainer, especially with an appreciative audience and I’d recommend watching at least once for Tarak, his dancing and some excellent fight scenes!