Sneham Kosam

K.S Ravikumar’s film gives us double the Chiranjeevi in an outstanding dual role performance, and about three times the plot of a normal film. There is a lot going on in this convoluted tale of family strife and the meaning of friendship. The last 20 or 30 minutes alone has enough revenge, melodrama, blood, sweat, and tears for any average film. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

Chinnayya (Chiranjeevi) is the valued servant of the landlord Peddayya (Vijayakumar). Chinnayya is bossy and dramatic, as is the landlord. They have a warm relationship and the other servants enjoy their regular tiffs. Peddayya has cut off his daughter Gowri (Sithara) and son-in-law Peddabbayi (Prakash Raj) although it’s clear Gowri wants to reconcile and she tries over and over. When his youngest daughter Prabhavati (Meena) comes home, she also wants the family reunited but she has a different method in mind. She sets her cap at Chinnayya, and sets him up for an accusation of rape. Having kicked him out of the house her true feelings become clear. She blames him for the separation of her father and sister, and cannot stand to see him living comfortably in a home he ruined. And then Simhadri (also Chiru) returns after doing time for killing Prabha’s mother. Peddayya is delighted to see his old friend, the servants seem cautiously accepting, but both Chinnayya and the girls furiously reject him.

I love Chiranjeevi’s acting in both roles but I really do not like the decision making in this film. I don’t think there is a single significant life choice made that didn’t have me muttering “oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding”. Anyway, back to the plot. Simhadri took the blame for Lakshmi’s murder so as not to make Gowri the wife of a murderer. Because it is better to be married to a murderous weasel than it is to be divorced, widowed, or single? Eventually justice must be served and it is, in spades.

The Megastar stamp is all over the opening credits, but Chiru is in actor mode and delivers excellent characterisation as well as buckets of tears and adrenalin.

Chinnayya is a more typical hero role for him, and he breezes through the fights, the dances, and all the shenanigans. But there are emotional currents that run deep, and when Chinnayya confronts Prabha over her scheme to ruin him, Chiranjeevi blazes with fury.

Simhadri is both intensely lovable and kind of infuriating. He sacrifices everything for his landlord boss, everything, but never shows anger or resentment. I believed absolutely that Simhadri would do anything for his beloved friend and boss, but I didn’t need so much of the “he is our god-like benefactor, we’re nothing without him” hand-wringing over the master servant relationship. Regardless, Simhadri is such a vivid and quietly commanding presence. His feeling of guilt and responsibility was misplaced but achingly raw, and those Mega Eyes conveyed volumes. The scene where he had to sneak a glance at Chinnayya via a mirror just to see his son’s face could have been ridiculous but it works because of Chiranjeevi. I liked Chiranjeevi’s use of similar but subtly altered mannerisms and posture to convey both the resemblance and the differences. Chiru’s expression is softer and more world-weary as the father, and while Chinnayya is a chip off the old block he doesn’t have quite the same substance. And when you get Chiru emoting at Chiru, it’s just too too good.

While this is Chiranjeevi’s film, I liked that other characters were given some depth and development. Prabhavati is a bit of a nutter, and has minimal self-control when it comes to getting what she wants. She wants it NOW. Meena is screechy at times but when she needs to command attention, she does it despite all the macho chest beating going on around her. I found Prabhavati too neurotic and impulsive to be relatable but I felt the conviction in the performance. Her teary declaration that since she had no mother she wanted to be her sister’s daughter was both moving and mind-boggling. Her duplicity was breath-taking and audacious in execution. She was no passive victim, although she had been sadly misled. Meena’s rapport with Chiranjeevi was patchy but that was befitting this half fake half real love hate thing going on. They were a good match in terms of energy and commitment to the role, both in the fun scenes and the more intense moments.

And while I don’t concur with the sentiment that a man with laser eyes who can make another man’s head explode into flames is necessarily ideal husband material, her imagination was fertile and that can help a girl through some bad times.

Sithara starts out as a wet rag, crying all over the place, but in the flashbacks and the post revelation scenes she gives Gowri some spirit. Poor Gowri got a raw deal on pretty much everything. Her husband was a rat, her father disowned her for no good reason other than the rat, and she had no idea of the truth. But I liked that she kept trying to mend fences, even though she couldn’t work out what was really wrong. She was persistent and resilient. And finally, she chose doing the right thing over supporting her husband.

Vijayakumar as Peddayya is the other pillar of the drama. His petulance and dramatic flouncing is tempered by the respect and loyalty he shows his friend Simhadri and the boy Chinnayya. He genuinely treats Simhadri as a mate, scandalising his servant with hospitality and unselfconscious affection. There is not a lot of subtlety in the drama but Vijayakumar draws out some strong emotion, especially in his scenes with Chiru and with Sithara. I just couldn’t get past his willingness to let Simhadri take the fall, and also to lie to his daughter and then disown her partly because of that lie.

But his character solved most disputes with Simhadri with a song and a tickle fight so he’s not all bad.

Prakash Raj is so slimy and craven, I was itching to slap him and frequently booed as he weaselled his way around. He gives a great performance as a horrible person. Peddabbayi prefers to wheedle his way out of trouble but if that doesn’t work he flies into a rage. I’m glad they cast a good character actor in this role as if they’d gone for a comedy uncle villain, it would have sapped a lot of the energy from the quite exhausting climax.

The support cast is loaded up with comedy uncles but they are low key and their characters serve some purpose. Brahmanandam is effective as Prakash Raj’s nasty sidekick with minimal gratuitous comedy uncle shtick. MS Narayana, Babu Mohan, and Kota Srinivasa Rao are among the more heavily featured household staff and like Brahmi, are comparatively restrained. Nirmalamma is cheeky as Simhadri’s gambler mother. Sujatha makes an impression in her few scenes as the much loved and lamented Lakshmi. And poor whatsisname who played Chinnababu made it seem he may have taken after his older brother but was actually a decent boy, left devastated and jilted at the altar.

The film looks beautiful, and the few special effects are used wisely. And I think they employed all the camels in Rajasthan for one day. While it probably could do with a more assertive edit, I really enjoy almost every moment of the film. Unless I get too riled up about Simhadri assuring Gowri’s marriage to a homicidal mongrel and her father’s 15 year temper tantrum.

The Hindi dub is on YouTube with English subs, or you can do what I do and grab those subs for your Telugu copy and tinker with the timing because hearing another voice coming out of Chiru’s face is All Wrong. 4 ½ stars! (A tiny deduction for terrible decision making, and for the director’s cheesy guest appearance, another dodgy decision.)

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Big Boss (1995)

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I felt the need to end 2012 watching something with a quick and decisive approach to justice and guaranteed consequences for the baddies. Vijaya Bapineedu’s Big Boss delivers, albeit in a fairly slapdash manner, and is boosted by the presence of Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha in key roles. If you’re not a huge Chiru fan you could just watch the songs. Actually the opening titles almost tell the whole story. If you can tolerate plot holes, enjoy colourful dance numbers, or just like bad wigs and interior designs, this could be quite rewarding.

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Bavaraju Surendra, AKA Basu (Chiranjeevi), is an educated man who chooses revenge over a career. His father was murdered and his brother crippled in an incident many years ago, and Basu has not forgotten. Basu moves to the city to pursue his revenge. He ends up getting caught between opposing crime lords and is vigorously pursued by Roja who has set her cap at him.

Basu rents a room from a local widow (Madhavi) who is related to Roja (I never remember her character’s name). Living in this household allows Basu to see the injustices inflicted on residents of the area. He is the kind of guy who stands up for the defenceless and then berates them for letting one goon intimidate dozens of them. He has difficult relationships with his mother Thulasi (Sujatha) and sister Sumathi, and they don’t automatically accept he is right just because he is a bloke.

Chiru is mostly in action hero mode but the role does give him some sentimental moments with his ma, some silly mugging and slapstick with Roja and a bit of speechifying and social consciousness raising. It’s a tailor made package, right down to a running gag with Johnny (Ali) who believes Chiranjeevi is really Chiranjeevi.

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Thulasi reminds Basu of her dreams for the family, and won’t accept his decision to turn vigilante. When he takes her back to the old mansion she thanks him for returning her to the Hell she had escaped. Sujatha has little dialogue but a strong presence and her reactions and expressions are really effective. I wasn’t expecting a subtle filmi Ma but she is really lovely.

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Roja has the most peculiar wardrobe. I think the outfits are meant to be ‘modern’ and also represent her mental age of 9. She is constantly reprimanded by her grandmother (Nirmalamma) for not being able to tell the difference between flower and leaf and she does indeed seem a bit dim. She is all over Basu like white on rice and he just finds her irritating if not insane. Who can blame him?

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Rarely do I agree with the filmi advice to pop on a sari and you’ll snag a husband, but it really was a relief to see the end of the fruit hat.

Despite the horrors of the costume designs, Roja is at her best in the songs when she escapes her character’s childish habit of squealing. I know this is a remake but it is lots of fun.

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Varadarajulu is a slimy nasty villain, played to the hilt by Kota Srinivasa Rao. With his effete mannerisms and terrible wig he should be comedic, but he has a sadistic streak and a psycho wife in coloured contacts. He is bad news. He killed his father and brother (Basu’s father) with the help of his wife. Ankineedu (Narra Venkateswara Rao) is more sympathetic as crooks go, but his adherence to the mafia code means he is not long for this world.

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The action scenes are many and bloody. The fights are heavily choreographed and while that makes them look less realistic, they are violent. Death takes many forms. If you’re on the wrong side it is Chiru and his trusty matches as he douses the baddies with petrol. The police are corrupt and so are the lawyers. If you can’t get your own justice, forget it.

In a recent discussion with Beth and Sujoy we agreed that none of us understand why people say there is no sex in Indian films. Sex and relationships are clearly a part of this story. Consensual sex between people who like each other is not treated harshly at all. In many films, Roja would have been marked as the bad girl based on her dress, her forwardness, her dream of climbing into bed with Basu (and then telling her grandmother all about it). Grandma seems to have been a bit wild in her youth too. When Madhavi’s blouse is deliberately torn, Ankineedu is furious at his son’s behaviour while Madhavi holds her head high. Varadarajulu’s wife uses sex to lure men into helping her, Sumathi chooses a marriage as a way of escaping what she sees as a useless family. Women behave in a range of different ways and with varying degrees of ‘niceness’, but they have clear goals and feel free to go for them. Only one of those women dies – and as a mini spoiler, it had more to do with being downright evil than expressing desire. Telugu films are hero-centric, but if you watch what is happening on the periphery, sometimes there are interesting things going on.

Mind you, I cannot be certain that generosity is deliberate. Basu’s youngest brother appears to regrow a lost leg late in the film.

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And at the time the father was killed, there were two kids and I don’t think Thulasi was pregnant so I have no explanation for Sumathi. Maybe they just forgot to kill off the bad girls. Details, boring details!

The songs are a viewing highlight, and Bappi Lahiri is quite restrained. The introductory song is Chiru as seen by his fans, and I think it was filmed at an actual Mega Birthday event. Nearly all the picturisations are from Roja’s point of view, and are her fantasies. Roja escaped a bizarre assault in which creepy cop Tanikella Bharani threw a bucket of water over her before tearing her ugly skirt off to reveal an even more hideous dress underneath. Her grandmother had to explain the significance of a rain song. So Roja launched into one of my favourite rain songs, and kindly imagined Chiru tearing his own shirt off. In her dream of crawling into Basu’s bed she tears her blouse.

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After a few double entendres, this song actually makes sense (except the chicken references). I can’t explain the little people or their outfits.

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This isn’t a film that rests on nuanced performances but apart from Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha, I have to say Ali was good. He played a character rather than doing comedy, and when I saw him tied up with a time bomb stuck to his chest, I was sorry. But he IS a comedy uncle so my tears were held at bay. Allu Ramalingaiah has a small role as a deaf yet singing policeman. Tanikella Bharani overacts like his life depends on it. Despite being cartoonish there is a nasty edge to his character although he does redeem himself a little at the end. The assorted That Guys all do their thing and succeeded in being so vile I cheered as each was dispatched.

The design teams were unfettered by practical considerations or good taste. Is that a kangaroo statue I spy?

And the costume team shared the love.

The climax fight took place in a masala death trap (complete with giant gas cooker thingie) and a godown filled with rooms of things that look cool when they break. Divine intervention, Megastar powers – whatever the reason, the bad guys got their just deserts.

One for the Chiru fans. 3 ½  stars (extra for the dancing)

Bheema

Bheema centres on the key players in a gang and their interactions with rivals and police in Chennai. It’s quite a sanitised version of the criminal underworld, and little detail  is revealed about the nature of how these guys make a living. But it has two fantastic actors at the forefront, a delightful bromance, and a focus on characters that makes the who and why of the story more interesting than the what.

Chinna (Prakash Raj) is the local hard man. He started small in a small town and has risen to become one of the biggest crimelords in Chennai. His business dealings are never overtly discussed but he is presented as a ‘good’ gangster. He looks after the defenceless, his guys don’t attack women and children, and he plays by ‘the code’. Prakash Raj is perfectly cast. He makes Chinna likeable, roguish, aggressive and menacing by turns. Chinna is under threat from an old associate (Raghuvaran) and has an uneasy and crumbling detente with the local police. Things are getting tougher, but he is not one to back down. There is a lot more to the character than just being a figurehead, and I liked the glimpses into Chinna’s past, his conversations with old advisors, his wife, even the police, that showed different facets. He thought through the consequences, he reacted emotionally to some situations and I could understand the loyalty Chinna inspired because he seemed real yet powerful. I always enjoy seeing Prakash Raj in a more substantial role, and this is one of my favourites.

Sekar (Vikram) is an enigmatic figure, shadowing Chinna and despatching his enemies before Chinna can. The reason for his obsession eventually emerges via flashback, and it reinforces the notion that justice is not delivered by the law, and what makes a man is the ability to beat the living daylights out of another man. Sekar believes in instant justice, delivered as he sees fit. Even the police in Bheema argue that they can’t operate with the constraints of bureaucracy and low budgets, and have to break the rules to achieve what they see as justice. Sekar is given the name Bheema by the police in recognition of his strength and his role in Chinna’s life.

Sekar’s sole ambition was to one day join Chinna, his role model for strength and justice and a more satisfying father figure than his ineffectual policeman dad. I’ve often wondered why characters stick with their gangleader and don’t just leg it when things get crazy. Writer Sujatha provides a backstory and motivation that gives more to these guys than just being the good baddies. Vikram switches effortlessly from the full throttle action sequences to gazing mistily at Chinna or quarrelling with Shalu, and his physicality suits the invincible Sekar. Vikram’s rapport with Prakash Raj is one of my favourite things about the film and they play off each other very well.

It’s a man’s world, and sometimes in unexpected ways. Vikram steals the focus from the item girl in this song, and Prakash Raj is the one to be almost upskirted.

What sets Bheema apart from other grim gangster fairytales is characters having a life, or at least ideas, outside of the job. Chinna was in love with Padma but they drifted apart. Sekar, ever the loyal lieutenant, reunites them.

Prakash Raj does some delightfully girly fidgeting and stammering, and can’t hide either his happiness or trepidation at marrying his old flame.

Padma (Lakshmi Gopalaswamy) is gorgeous and her scenes with Chinna have a warmth and maturity that suits the slightly older lovebirds. They talk about the risks of her being part of his life, and she is firm in her assertion that she has no illusions. I found the dialogue rather flowery but the emotions came through and they seemed to have a deep mutual affection. He talks to Padma about Sekar, since Sekar is like family and Padma is in charge of the household. She and Chinna make fun of Sekar when they find out he is turning into a gooey romantic wittering about flowers, and their playful banter is another glimpse into the relationship.

Sekar loses his focus on being a thug when he starts to think of love and  Shalini (Trisha). He knows that his priorities have shifted and he can’t rely on himself to be as focussed, fearless and impulsive as he once was.  Chinna lets Sekar go, in a scene more like a breakup than an exit interview.

Unfortunately, Shalini (Trisha) is stupid and irritating for almost all her time in the story. I’m not sure why Indian film heroines characterise innocence by appearing to be dim-witted but Shalu is dumb as a box of rocks and about as interesting. Sekar falls through the roof into her courtyard one night, landing on her. Because of this, she decides he is the one, manufacturing reasons to be near him and imagining they share likes and dislikes based on absolutely no evidence. I did find her stalking Sekar mildly amusing just because it is a bit of turning the tables, but that was all I could see in her favour until quite late in the piece.

Once Sekar succumbs, Vikram and Trisha generate some chemistry and that made their relationship seem vaguely plausible. I liked that they had playful but still intimate scenes together as things developed, and it helped make up for the brain-dead start.

Chinna is a surprisingly sentimental old school don and sometimes that works against him, as he plays by rules others are starting to disregard. Sekar idolises Chinna and can’t abandon his old boss but feels compelled to take Shalini away. Once the other players sense weakness in Chinna, they start closing in. How will it all work out?

There are indicators. Shafi is in the support cast in Chinna’s gang. And Shafi does tend to play characters that bite the hand that feeds them. Also, I have developed a theory. In the imaginary Tamil Film Writing School in my mind, the compulsory class on ‘Ways to End a Film – Traditional (aka Everyone Dies (Rape Optional)’ is well attended. The final elective class ‘Ways to End a Film – Creative Writing (aka ‘No Rape, No Murder – stop being so lazy and think of something else’) falls the day after the big end of year dinner and people are either too hungover or they’ve already got enough credits to graduate, so most students don’t go. Thus there is generally one ending for a Tamil film, regardless.

I quite like the songs by Harris Jayaraj, but the picturisations of the romantic duets seem to exist mostly as a safe channel for the wardrobe department to vent their creativity.

The support cast includes so many reliable character players but the focus isn’t on them and I barely paid any heed to Ashish Vidyarthi, Tanikella Bharani, Shafi, or Raghuvaran among others. Chinna and Sekar dominate the story and Prakash Raj and Vikram likewise dominate the performances.

Linguswamy has directed an action packed film that doesn’t feel hurried or slapdash, and it is very satisfying to a point. The ending was a disappointment and yet almost exactly what I expected. The action scenes are typically excellent as is standard for this genre. There were some nice little extras – when Sekar belted a group of guys with a metal pipe, they chimed like bells as they dropped. The editing is good and the quick cuts and occasional use of effects enhance the sense of urgency or disorientation. It’s a very competent film and a pleasure to watch.

If you’re lukewarm on the South Indian gangster genre, this could be well worth a look. It has better than usual characterisations, some excellent performances and good production values. And one of the best filmi bromances. 3 ½ stars!

Heather says: I’m a fan of Tamil gangster films and usually enjoy anything by N. Linguswamy, but Bheema was rather disappointing all round. Instead of the usual well-developed storyline and strong characterisation I expect from such an accomplished director, Bheema staggers from fight scene to overdone fight scene without any real justification for the characters acting in the way they do. Rahguvaran is ineffectual as the ‘evil’ don Periyavar and his feud with ‘gangster with a concious’ Chinna seems clichéd and unimaginative. The second part of the film which concentrates on the new Police Commissioner and his vendetta against the gangs is more convincing but still seems formulaic and just not that interesting. The relationship between Chinna’s new lieutenant Sekar and the rest of the gang could have been made into something more exciting but instead it’s thrown in towards the end to try and spice up the climax. Something which only works to a limited extent. However, it’s good to see that Shafi continues his quest to always play the smarmy, self-satisfied sycophant and he does his usual thing here as one of Chinna’s men to good effect.

Despite the issues I have with the story, Bheema is saved to some extent by the excellent performances from Prakash Raj and Vikram who both breathe life into the film. I agree with Temple that their camaraderie feels very genuine and the interactions between the two do much to make up for the dreariness of the plot. Vikram’s character is very much the strong silent type and he does a good job with the rather dour Sekar, but Prakash Raj steals the show as the gangster with a heart. His romance is perfectly played and he brings out a human side to Chinna making him much more than just another world-weary gangster. Despite his good performance, Vikram looks rather over muscled here and I confess that I prefer him in more character driven roles such as in Pithamagan and Kasi where he has more range to work with. The one-man indestructible army of Sekar was just a little bit too much to take, especially with the distracting musical sound effects and overly loud soundtrack during the fight scenes.   The implausible relationship between Shalini and Sekar was another disappointment and the two never felt comfortable together –  odd, considering the considerable chemistry the two actors shared in Saamy. In fact there is much more sparkle between Chinna and Sekar!

Bheema does have a good soundtrack and there are moments where the film starts to grab your attention, but sadly they’re just not sustained. Worth watching once for Vikram and Prakash Raj but that’s all. 2 ½ stars.