Chanakya Sapatham (1986)

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One of a half dozen films K Raghavendra Rao churned out in 1986 (including the awesome Kondaveeti Donga), Chanakya Sapatham again pairs Chiranjeevi with Vijayashanti in a ripping yarn of smugglers, flight attendants and the Indian Customs department. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Chanakya Sapatham a neglected masala masterpiece but I do think it deserves some love.

Shashi or Sasirekha (Vijayashanti) is a flight attendant, unwittingly caught up in a smuggling operation by BOB CHRISTO! Bob, with his trademark poor judgement, hides a pouch of diamonds in her blouse (no, I don’t know how she didn’t notice) and when he  tries to get it back, Shashi puts up a decent fight and Chanakya (Chiranjeevi) leaps to the rescue. It’s like the finale of Doodh Ka Karz only with flying Chiru instead of snakes.

Naturally Shashi is swept off her feet by the dashing customs officer in his very snug uniform. They fall in love through a Kodak moment and product placement. Oh the visual metaphors.

Rana (Rao Gopal Rao) is the main villain. Bless the Paruchuri brothers for going to the trouble of trying to think of vaguely sane reasons for him to do some things, and then make him explain himself. It was unnecessary but greatly appreciated.  Rana’s chief henchman Ranga is a flamboyantly unpleasant creature and Rana’s son is a nasty piece of work. The son (Sudhakar) works for the airline, or at least owns a uniform, and was in on the smuggling but hasn’t quite got the wattage to do much off his own bat. They have little depth of character, so I was pleased to see they have that nice tricolour chandelier in their house, and I think I also recognise the stuffed tiger and the mysterious beep boop machine from previous outings.

Rana runs a Natural Health Remedy Centre. I liked the apparent lift and shift substitution of ‘karate school’ for ‘yoga school’ as a background for some of the fight scenes.

Chanakya is hot on Rana’s trail, but frustrated at every turn by the sleazy businessman’s connections and ability to weasel out of any trap. But how do they not see Chiru in surveillance mode? His pants are so blindingly white.

Both Shashi and Chanakya are close to their families.

Shashi’s sister Savitri was married but due to dowry issues (Shashi was robbed on the way home from the bank), the in-laws turned her out. Financial pressures are causing strife at home, and Shashi is the only one who seems to have a chance of fixing things. The baddies have their eye on her as a way to get to Chanakya, and offer her a smuggling job that would pay for Savitri’s dowry and put the family back on an even keel. She traps the smugglers and gets a reward which she intends to use to pay the outstanding dowry and get her sister settled.

Chanakya’s family are close and affectionate, and I liked their domestic scenes. There are so few times when an older married couple get to show an affectionate or playful  side, and I really liked those moments between Kaikala Satyanarayana and Annapurna. Chanakya is the only child and, of course, the centre of his parents universe. When Rana sets Nagarjuna up to be arrested as a smuggler Chanakya is bent on revenge and justice, which may actually be more or less the same thing in this instance.

Chanakya and Sasirekha are united by their mutual attraction and also the mission to shut Rana down. I liked that they were both smart, both tried to take care of things themselves, but could accept or even ask for help when they had to. Chanakya understood her reservations and made an effort to address her concerns quite plainly to avoid further tension.

The relationship development  was all quite sensible (for a film) as well as providing fuel for some excellent  concepts for Chakravarthy’s songs.  Apart from the usual hillside prancing, the songs take place around a giant camera, a plane made of flowers with dancers dressed as airplanes, and in and out of a tray of photo developing chemicals, or even just surrounded by neon tube lights.

Yes, this is a movie that embraces the technology of 1986. And Shashi generally looks fine (for 80s filmi fashion), even in the more imaginative sequences. Vijayashanti demonstrates she has nailed the saree run with hair toss. My biggest disappointment was Chiru’s footwear which was less than spectacular and relied heavily on the monotone ankle boot. But I rarely enjoy product placement as much as I did in this film – well done Luma Lamps people, well done.

Vijayashanti is always a pleasure to watch, and I like her rapport with Chiru. They’re well matched in the choreography, and neither of them lacks energy or commitment to the role. Shashi is smart and while she wants to sort things out herself, she appreciates Chanakya’s sincerity in wanting to help her and considers his offer rationally. I liked that he had to put his cards on the table before she would accept his gift and they didn’t play silly games. Also, this is a remarkably non-rapey film for 80s mass. The villains stay on task and when they threaten Shashi it is because they need her to do something for them, not run around screaming.

 

I liked the very specific design and fit-out for some action scenes. I would never have thought to create a factory full of…exploding ice…but it came up a treat. I always enjoy a good fight in a factory full of stuff that is only there for the hell of it. More exploding ice! A statue! Things in barrels! A luge run! And a later fight on the beach uses swings. So fun! There is more than a nod to Jackie Chan and the Hong Kong school in some of the fight choreography and Chiru has the right attitude to carry it all off – he milks those bendy iron bars and flying kicks for all they’re worth, and then some.

The earlier action scenes are funny but still a bit exciting. The finale starts out with an unfortunate tendency to Comedy before the drama and action ramps up again.

I could have done without most of the last 30 minutes, well maybe except for the bit where Chanakya rocked up not only in disguise but in a lotus submarine. But then the movie redeemed itself with what may be the best use of a wheely board and improvised ski poles since Shashi Kapoor in Duniya Meri Jeb Mein.

Vijayashanti and Chiranjeevi are a delightful on screen pair, and while Chanakya Sapatham doesn’t break new ground it does what it does so very well. 4 stars!

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Raja Vikramarka

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Chiranjeevi stars as Raja Vikramarka in this modern day mass flavoured fairytale. Written by Satyanand, the story borrows a few scenes from Coming to America, but Ravi Raja Pinisetty makes it his own with lashing of Telugu film staples (family drama, revenge, convoluted assassination plots etc). There are fabulous costumes and great songs too. Another Adventure Without Subtitles, this is a fun celebration of the Megastar mass hero in a film designed to entertain and not tax the thinking bit of your brain too much.

Raja Vikramarka wakes up in his palace. His feet are guided into his bedazzled fluffy slippers. Gorgeous handmaidens brush his teeth and generously hop into the 12 person bubble bath to scrub his back. His thoughtful servant shows him deep fried snacks but only lets him eat cucumber and carrots.

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His parents (Jayanthi and Satyanarayana Kaikala) arrange a betrothal to a pretty princess with no brain. But he wants more, dammit! Raja runs away from home with his trusty friend and sidekick (Brahmanandam).

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I cannot express how much I love that he runs away by public bus, and in that outfit.

Once in the big city, Raja and Brahmi settle in with the common people. Raja finds lodgings in a guesthouse and swishes around majestically in his silky robes. He attracts the attention of thief Maya (Radhika) who soon parts him from his briefcase full of cash. Forced to toil as a mechanic, Raja meets the elegant Rekha (Amala Akkineni) and becomes her bodyguard. He also becomes her would be assassin as he accepts the job of hitman in order to send the attempts awry and protect her. Hijinks ensue as Chiru turns the tables and nearly kills the bad guys with multiple attempts gone wrong. But what of his kingdom? And with 2 women in determined pursuit, who gets the guy?

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This is the kind of role Chiranjeevi could do in his sleep, but he gives a funny and energised performance despite the thin material. I was a bit sad when his princely outfits made way for 90s denim, but there was an improvement in the hair so I guess that was something. Raja is a dancer, a fighter, a lover and a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drinking.

His antics gave Chiranjeevi lots of opportunity for playful comedic shtick and more intense action. I can’t say Raja struck me as a particularly interesting character but if you want a Megastar sampler, this role has a bit of everything. He had good chemistry with both his leading ladies.

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Amala Akkineni is a striking looking woman, and has an air of maturity that suits independent and educated Rekha. Her character is attracted to Raja and she spends rather a lot of time fantasising about him, whether he is pouncing on her as she rests or infiltrating her dreams as a snake.

Her dance style is odd. She is very strong and flexible but not particularly musical so doesn’t always look quite right. I love the fight scene where Rekha is part prop, part weapon and part accomplice in Raja’s hands as he sees off some hired rowdies.

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She exudes confidence and is utterly not interested in, or fazed by, medium grade villain Kiriti (Sudhakar) although will happily use him when it suits. Rekha often does the sensible thing when she is in trouble and I liked that she could be the hot chick without being the dumb chick.

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Radhika is such a good actress. She is wasted in Maya’s caricature of a thief, but she rises above the worst efforts of the wig and wardrobe double team.

Why did they hate her so? While most of her scenes are broad comedy as she picks pockets and cons people, like Chiranjeevi she adds a little more quality than the film demands. She’s not much of a dancer but she performs her songs with heaps of energy and expression. Maya is a bad girl but when it counts she does the right thing. Radhika was fierce when her character confronted the really bad guys and made a fairly ridiculous scene moving and dramatic.

It is a quite amusing film, but the highlight for me was the Raj Koti soundtrack and the picturisations which are lots of fun. The costume department must have been on overtime as they had to provide glitzy royalty, modern stylish Raja and a bit of filmi song fantasy attire.

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This style is what I like to call Mughal-e-WTF.

There is some playfulness in the action too. Maya’s accomplice dances to Chiranjeevi hits as she picks pockets in the crowd, Raja has a fight with a rather sturdily built man in a ninja suit and stops to adjust his beret before taking on the next masked assailant, Rekha and Raja play Frisbee before a romantic duet, and there is a classic Masala Death Trap in the finale.

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Plus an evil henchman who will not die and another one who spontaneously combusts. This film is never dull.

Unfortunately it does contain the old “marry a woman off to the man who assaulted her and everyone’s honour will be preserved” chestnut but luckily Laxmi seems to make Kiriti behave better so hopefully her life was more than being a victim of his idiocy. I know it’s only a silly old film but that gets my goat every time.

The supporting cast is full of familiar faces – Rao Gopal Rao, Allu Ramalingaiah, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Gollapudi Maruthi Rao and Narayana Rao make up the numbers.

See this for a good timepass with enjoyable songs and lots of dancing. Or just see it for Chiranjeevi in all his mass hero glory. Either way you get a bonus snake dance! 3 ½ stars, just for the sheer entertainment.

The film is available on Youtube with no subtitles if you’re keen.

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