Veta (1986)

 

Veta DVD

Let me summarise the plot. It’s The Chiru of Monte Cristo.

A Kodandarami Reddy and the Paruchuri brothers transpose the Dumas classic to a pre-Independence India that still seems somewhat out of time. Maybe it’s all the ruffled shirts. Or lack of credible historical detail.

Pratap (Chiranjeevi) is an honest merchant seaman/maître d’, framed and sent to jail merely to protect the self-interest of others. His pre-incarceration outfits tend towards the Purple Rain era Prince influenced. Purple, ruffles, fancy boots, metallic mesh puffy sleeves. OK maybe that last one was purely the wardrobe team.

Saroja (Jayaprada) is related to, but not interested in relations with, Jairam (Mohan Sharma) an officer of the British Government. She loves Pratap and they do a lot of frolicking on the beach. Jairam leans on Bannerjee (Ranganath) to send Pratap to jail for the term of his natural life. Pratap tries to escape but is hunted down like a blindingly white trousered prancing thing. They truss him on the truck like a hood ornament or hunting trophy, and off he goes. Eventually Pratap hears sounds from the next cell. My note here reads “OMG he uses a broken cup to cut through solid rock. Of course.”

Mahendra Bhoopati (Kongara Jaggaiah) is the king next door, also in jail thanks to sleazy Jairam. He explains to still innocent Pratap who all had conspired to get him locked up. That lights a fire under Pratap and he vows revenge. He also promises to seek out the king’s daughter Jyotirmayi and restore her fortune and title. The map to the treasure is written in blood. Of course.

Pratap escapes and is rescued by quasi pirates who take him to the secret island location to find the treasure. There are so many plastic skulls…One pirate is eaten by cannibal tribesmen. But they bite off more than they can chew when they attack Pratap. Yes, I went there! Do note that if you are attacked by cannibals, it pays to have a cobra handy.

Many questions occurred to me throughout this episode, and I do not recall the same level of WTFery in the original text. How the hell did Mahendra Bhoopati get that huge trunk into this cave surrounded by all those perils? Did he have the cannibals installed later? How do Pratap’s clothes stay so white?

Pratap returns to civilisation as the mysterious Rana Pratap Kumar Varma. In a vague nod to realism, people do seem to recognise his face even if they talk themselves out of it. Saroja knows exactly who he is, even without the Significant Ring, but doesn’t tell her husband, the unlovely Jairam. Pratap is enraged at her faithlessness despite knowing she thought he was dead, and his anger makes him really bad at maths. Saroja has a young son and Pratap doesn’t even consider the kid could be his. Saroja tells him but he is too far into his rage to believe her. Jyotirmayi (Sumalatha) has feelings for Pratap but she can see he is not emotionally available. That doesn’t stop her from imagining him shaking his moneymaker in a tribal extravaganza.

My note here reads “OMG Pratap stabs Banerjee with his BARE HAND. His Red Right Hand!”

Veta-Pratap and Jyotirmayi

Eventually Pratap goes Rambo and takes his revenge. He is ably supported by the knife throwing Jyotirmayi and hampered by the clueless and obedient Saroja. The guns look super fake, Pratap survives being trampled by horses, it is all insane and exactly as expected. Even Jayaprada’s saree seems to have super protective properties as she did survive a rocket launcher attack unscathed. Once.

Chiranjeevi is more than up to the requirements of wearing outrageous outfits, chasing horses, prancing mightily, and emoting fiercely. He sounds so sincere in every big speech, and despite the silly trappings he does portray the darker side of Pratap’s character once he is set on revenge.

Jayaprada makes a stronger impression in the latter part of the film, when Pratap returns from the dead. She is no longer the demure young girl with horrible fashion sense. She has lived through loss and she knows what her priorities are. Her scenes with Chiranjeevi crackle with emotion and pain. I am often impressed by how good the good bits of a potboiler can be.

Sumalatha is world weary and a bit over it all as Jyotirmayi, and despite minimal dialogue and screen time she makes something of her character. And Jyotirmayi had excellent song costume imagination.

The song picturisations range from the usual cavorting on hillsides to more epic fantasies. Often the song picturisations are a heroine’s fantasy but in Veta Chiru dresses himself in his songs and his happy memories seem to consist of flinging himself around in ruffled shirts or the mindboggling Fauxgyptian oasis. In the Oh Rani song Jayaprada has to frolic in a wet white saree so Chiru frolics in snug white pants. Equality in action.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this film other than I’d watch it because of Chiranjeevi. It’s not exactly good but it is highly enjoyable and visually pleasing. I like both Jayaprada and Sumalatha and their characters do more than just wait and simper, and the Megastar is suitably over the top heroic. I was sitting there thinking to myself that the stunts were unusually human centric with nary an injured horse in sight and then in the last 7 minutes or so the horses started toppling. It’s just so wrenching to watch.

See this to round out your education in film adaptations of classic literature, to see a robust sample of ruffled shirts to inform your wardrobe choices, or just because you aren’t sure if I am exaggerating the WTFery or being unusually understated. 3 stars!

P.S The film is on Youtube with subtitles.

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Pasivadi Pranam

Pasivadi Pranam

I watched Pasivadi Pranam with high expectations since Kodandarami Reddy directed many of Chiranjeevi’s best films including my favourites Challenge and Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu, while story writer Fazil was also responsible for the excellent Manichitrathazhu. The film is a remake of Poovinnu Puthiya Poonthennal with Mamootty but as I haven’t been able to track down a copy of the original Malayalam film, it seems quite reasonable to settle in with Chiranjeevi and Vijayashanti instead.  And well worth it too – with Raghuvaran as the villain and with plenty of good songs including a breakdance (below!) Pasivadi Pranam is a great way to celebrate Megabirthday 2015.

The story starts with a rather horrific murder, witnessed by the victim’s wife and young child as Sundaran (Prasad Babu) is stabbed by Ranjit (Babu Antony) under the direction of his boss Chakravarty (Raghuvaran). Intriguingly Ranjit is dressed entirely in white – surely not the best colour to wear when preparing to stab someone, and then rather randomly he pulls on a red hat before carefully removing it a few moments later when he attacks Sundaran. One of those delightfully random moments that I wish had some deeper meaning – but doesn’t!

Despite murdering Sundaran almost right outside his front door, Ranjit and Chakravarthy are shocked and appalled to realise their crime has been seen and Charavarty sends Ranjit to get rid of the two witnesses; Sundaran’s wife Lakshmi (Rajyalakshmi) and their son (Baby Sujitha). Although Ranjit manages to kill Lakshmi, her son has a better developed survival sense and manages to escape. Initially he does quite well, hopping on a bus and heading far away from the chase, but eventually he falls asleep at the side of the road. And that’s where drunken bar owner Madhu (Chiranjeevi) finds him later.

Madhu apparently has a death wish – illustrated by a fight in the bar he owns and perhaps rather more riskily by gate-crashing an exercise class and joining in with the ladies in leotards. Despite his attempts to commit suicide by aerobicise, Madhu has a kind heart and he stops his car when he sees the small boy asleep at the side of the road. After a half-hearted attempt to locate the boy’s parents fails, Madhu decides to take the child home with him and call him Raja. The next day however he discovers that Raja has been born deaf and consequently is also dumb; reasons which the consulting doctor suggests may have been the reason for Raja’s abandonment by the side of the road. Madhu isn’t convinced though since Raja seems to be trying to tell him something, although he can’t quite work out the message.

Madhu has a sad past which is explained later in the film but initially there are just cryptic references to November 18th and a psychedelic green and red image of a spinning woman that appears onscreen.

A flashback sequence explains that Madhu’s wife Lakshmi (Sumalatha) was killed on their wedding day, and after that tragic event Madhu has turned to drinking himself into oblivion most nights. He tells himself not to get too close to Raja, but seems to immediately forget this instruction and starts treating the boy as if he was his own son. Sujitha is very cute as Raja and is also great at remembering the character isn’t supposed to be able to talk. It’s an impressive performance from the young actor and she has an excellent rapport with Chiranjeevi throughout the film.

While out buying toys for Raja, Madhu meets Geeta (Vijayashanti), and after the initial altercation when Raja breaks a model Taj Mahal, Geeta seems quite taken with the pair. She starts stalking Madhu, turning up at his house and inviting him round to visit. Much of the comedy is based on Geeta’s pursuit of Madhu and his rather ineffectual attempts to rebut her advances until he rather dramatically announces that he is a ‘married bachelor’.

At the same time as the romance is going on, Ranjit is still trying to follow Chakravarthy’s commands and get rid of Raja. However he misses numerous opportunities and is eventually soundly beaten by Madhu once Raja wakes him from his drunken stupor. This turns out to be the last straw and Madhu renounces the demon drink so that he can take proper care of Raja. The attempts on Raja’s life clue Madhu in that there is more going on than just an abandoned child and he starts trying to piece together Raja’s past. At the same time, Geeta’s father decides to reconcile with his estranged daughter (you guessed it) Lakshmi and finds her mysteriously missing. This in turn gets the police involved and after various mix-ups and tense moments, finally Madhu discovers the truth.

Although Pasivadi Pranam is a fairly straight forward story, there is a good mix of drama, suspense and comedy which all add up to a cracking good tale. Fazil knows how to keep an audience glued to the screen and even the interjection of songs and some comedy with Vijayashanti’s character doesn’t derail the tension. The songs are fun with the occasional odd fashion choice (gloves and a sari?) but I do appreciate the sensible footwear for snowy conditions. I love the backing dancers outfits in this song too – they turn from dull and drab to a glorious blue so simply and the effect is marvellous.

Chiranjeevi is excellent as a lonely man, ridden by guilt who wants nothing more than to be left alone to wallow in his misery. His gradual transformation at the hands of a small boy is beautifully done and the addition of a love interest in Geetha helps add some light hearted fun and stops the story from being too dark. Vijayashanti has plenty of infectious energy and I get the feeling she enjoyed turning the tables on Chiru, being the stalker rather than the stalkee for a change. The two have wonderful chemistry together and their comedy scenes also work well, although Raja steals the show when he does an impersonation of Geeta which is simply perfect!  The villains of the piece are also better realised than usual and are suitably creepy rather than all out vicious thugs, while Babu Antony is genuinely sinister as he skulks along in the shadows.

Pasivadi Pranam illustrates just how good a film can be when it starts off with a proper (and good) storyline.  Add excellent performances, appropriate dialogue and generally well placed songs and it all adds up to an entertaining film that’s well worth a watch. 4 stars.

 

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.