Gundello Godari

Gundello Godari

Gundello Godari is a step away from mass masala, going back to basics with a simple love story that evolves in quite a different way from the usual fare.  This is director Kumar Nagendra’s debut film and it’s loosely based on a novel by BVS Rama Rao, set around the real-life devastating floods in 1986.  Initially, newlyweds Malli and Chitra know nothing about each other, but as they battle through the Godavari floodwaters, they gradually learn about their respective troubled pasts.  The screenplay is a little patchy in places and the flood is frequently overly melodramatic, but good performances and beautiful music by Ilaiyaraaja make this a better than average watch.

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The story opens with the marriage of Malli (Aadhi) and Chitra (Lakshmi Manchu), although they barely acknowledge each other throughout the ceremony.  The first spark of interest occurs when the beautiful Sarala (Taapsee Pannu) gifts the groom with a golden ring, obviously with the intention of making his new bride jealous.  At that point, the sleazy Dhorababu (Ravi Babu) arrives and also has a present for the happy couple, this time a gold chain for the bride.  Lost in their thoughts, Chitra and Malli linger too long and get caught up in the flood waters as the rest of the village evacuates.  However, they end up cast adrift on a thatched roof together, just managing to stay afloat, and in the likelihood that they won’t survive, decide to discuss their past lives and exactly how Sarala and Dhorababu fit into the picture.

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The initial flood scenes are well integrated between the sets and some good CGI.  There are one or two moments of soggy model villages eroding with a trickle of water, but these are brief, and after all, who doesn’t like to see the traditional model village make an appearance.  The cinematography by M.R.Palanikumaar is excellent, with beautiful shots of the river, wildlife and surrounding countryside particularly during the flashback scenes.  These contrast with the fury of the river in full flood, and also highlight the difference between Malli and Chitra’s earlier lives and their current turmoil.  Predictable perhaps, but when the parallels are drawn this well with good imagery it’s hard to object.

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The first flashback deals with Malli and his undoing at the hands of his boss’s daughter.  Malli is a hard-working fisherman who has a good circle of friends, looks after his mother like all good boys should, and is saving up to buy his own boat.  He also tends to favour a string vest, but we shouldn’t hold that against him.

Kumar Nagendra captures the hopes and aspirations of a village fisherman perfectly and Aadhi is excellent in the role.  A boat race at a local fair epitomises Malli’s drive and determination to achieve what he wants, although the same fair brings him inadvertently to the attention of Sarala.  Despite her impending marriage, Sarala has no compunction in going after what she wants, and in this case what she wants is Malli!  Although she initially appears child-like as she threatens and cajoles Malli into taking her to the movies on her birthday, events become more sinister as Malli arrested by the local police on a spurious charge of brewing illicit alcohol.  Whether it’s Sarala or her father who is responsible, Malli ends up taking his frustration out on Sarala and gives her exactly what she wants in the process.  Sarala is an interesting and atypical character with her overt sexuality and brazen attempts to drag Malli into her bed.  Taapsee is good in the role, but her expression rarely varies, and although her knowing smirk is suitable a little more variation would have given her character more appeal.  Aadhi on the other hand does a fantastic job of capturing frustration, anger and even some lust in his dealings with Sarala and despite the nature of their relationship, there is plenty of emotion and sparkage between the two characters.

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After Malli’s story, Chitra’s explanation of past events is not as well written and her story tends to wander off track.  Chitra was adopted by Suri’s (Sundeep Kishan) parents as a child, but it’s not a happy family. Suri’s father Somaiah is a drunkard and his mother Rathamma works as a prostitute to keep the wolf from the door.  Chitra is in love with the adult Suri, but he’s a man more interested in his chickens, in particular fighting cocks, than in Chitra.  He also pays a little too much attention to the bangle seller Bangari (Suja Varunee) and all together there seems very little reason for Chitra to want to marry Suri.

It’s actually a little creepy since they were brought up together as brother and sister, but since there is minimal chemistry between the two actors this isn’t a major issue.  Sundeep Kishan is restrained but adequate in his role as Suri, and the character doesn’t have a lot of depth for Sundeep to work with.  The explanation for Dhorababu turning up at the wedding is also less convincing, but Lakshmi Manchu is good as the beleaguered Chitra, and her spirited defiance against the various calamities that befall her is heartening.

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While the flashback sequences provide some explanation of previous events, they do provoke more questions that are never answered.  There is no explanation of what happened to Malli after his interaction with Sarala, and more importantly no mention of whether or not he is working as a fisherman and able to support a wife given his previous dismissal by his erstwhile boss.  The arrangement of the wedding is never discussed and there is no reason given for these two strangers deciding to marry each other. Still, the developing relationship between the two is well handled, even though it is almost swamped at times by the drama of the flood, and both Aadhi and Laksmi Manchu are both very good in their respective roles.

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Ilaiyaraaja’s music is evocative of the time, although there are two rather oddly placed item numbers which don’t fit as well and don’t have any real place in the narrative.  Mumaith Khan features in one of these, while Suja Varunee does the honours in the second, but both feel as if they are just added in to try and appeal to a more mass audience and aren’t particularly well choreographed.  However, apart from the first song, these are the only two numbers which feature any dancing, since the rest are used to showcase the various relationships of the main characters.

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Gundello Godari is a brave attempt to take a different look at relationships and approach a love story in a more unusual way.  For the most part it works, although the second half could be tighter condensed to allow for a more detailed development of the relationship between the two main leads.  Worth watching for evocative imagery, good performances from Aadhi and Lakshmi Manchu and a bold characterisation from Taapsee.  3½ stars.

Gundello Godari

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Shor In The City

Shor in the City didn’t get a cinematic release in Melbourne, which was very disappointing to those of us who had been following updates on twitter. Good reviews, an interesting cast line up and compelling trailer meant that I got the DVD as soon as it was released, and watched it almost straight away. It’s a film that would look great on the big screen, with some beautiful shots of Mumbai and the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, but the storyline and excellent performances make it a very worthwhile DVD watch as well.

The film takes place over  Ganesh Chaturthi  and follows three stories which are not interlinked, although there is one character who is involved in all three. Interestingly the opening credits state that all the events in the film are inspired from newspaper articles, which at times made me wonder exactly what does get reported in Mumbai. It’s a slice of life in the city and seems to be a very realistic serving.

The first story centre around Tilak (Tusshar Kapoor) and his two friends Ramesh (Nikhil Dwivedi) and Mandook (Pitobash). While Tilak runs a business illegally copying and publishing books to sell at traffic intersections, his two friends seem to be mainly engaged in petty theft and other small crime. Tilak is also recently married and the relationship with his new wife Sapna is one of the standouts of the film. Their initial awkwardness around each other and the slow development of their relationship is very well portrayed. I would have to say that this is probably the best performance by Tusshar Kapoor that I have seen – I can’t remember much about him in other films, but he really impressed me here. Radhika Apte is excellent as Sapna and the chemistry between the two is develops realistically as their relationship evolves. This is the second time I’ve seen Radhika Apte (she was in Onir’s excellent I Am) and she shows her versatility here with a completely different but equally compelling performance.

 

 

 

 

The film follows the lives of the three friends as they kidnap a writer to steal his latest manuscript, try to get rid of some guns and a bomb that they have stolen and finally get involved in a bank robbery. Nikhil Dwivedi is totally crazy as Mandook and while he portrays the type of person that you would hope never to meet in real life, on-screen he is funny and infuriating in equal measures. Ramesh is somewhat overshadowed by the force that is Mandook, but the relationship between the three feels very natural and true to life. Whether it is riding around on a motorbike taking surreptitious pictures of girls or hanging out in a bar taking pictures of themselves writer/ directors Raj Nidimoru, Krishna D K and writer Sita Menon really seem to have got these three right.

 

 

 

 

The second story revolves around Abhay, an NRI from the USA who has come to Mumbai to set up a small business. His shock and incredulousness at the number and extent of the bribes he has to pay is understandable, but things take a much darker turn when a couple of extortionists – Premal (Zakir Hussain) and his boss Hemraj (Suresh Dubey) – turn up demanding he pay protection money. They threaten him and his new model girlfriend Sharmili (Preeti Desai) and his helplessness is compounded when he cannot get the answers he wants from the police. Sendhil Ramamurthy looks out of place enough to be perfect for this role. He is an American actor who has appeared in a number of TV shows, but I hadn’t ever seen him before so he fitted the part well for me. His attempts at Hindi before lapsing back into frustrated English are just brilliant and remind me so much of my attempts to communicate in India! The last part of his story is a little less believable but it’s still an engrossing watch.

 

 

 

 

I liked the contrasts in Abhay’s story. Firstly the contrast  between his work life; trying to set up a business, dealing with IT issues, dealing with his employees and the extortionists and then his more Western style life clubbing and shopping with his girlfriend. Again the story is very realistic and there is a moment where Sharmili spots a poster of herself and her reaction of – look there’s me! – is spot on. Then the contrasts between the noise of Ganesh Visarjan and the quiet of Abhay’s apartment, and of his initial excitement at being in Mumbai gradually changing as the realities of his situation kick in. But what really impressed me here was a scene where Abhay’s employee speaks to his wife on the phone about eating dinner with his boss just before Hemraj walks in. The detail about his phone conversation makes his employee a very real person and the distain with which he is subsequently treated serves to accentuate the viciousness of the extortionists. This attention to small details occurs throughout the film and I think this is why it feels true to life and works on a number of different levels.

 

 

 

 

The final story involves Sawan, a talented cricketer who is trying out for the under 22 team. He quickly realises that skill and talent are only going to get him so far, and that to get into the team he will need to bribe the selector. But he doesn’t have the kind of money it takes, and to add to his troubles his girlfriend Sejal (Girija Oak) is being pressured into a marriage by her family and is constantly asking for his help. The scenes between Sawan and Sejal again feel very realistic and their situation a common one. Judging by the number of couples in this scene at any rate!

 

 

 

 

I was very keen to see Sundeep Kishan here since he was excellent in his Telugu debut Prasthanam, and I wasn’t disappointed.   Sundeep is totally believable as Sawan and perfectly fits the role of the aspiring cricketer who knows enough about life to understand the selection bribery, but still wants to believe that the game is above such taints. At one point he says to his friend, ‘Have I been speaking in Telugu?’ which my subtitles rather strangely translate as, ‘What have I been saying all this time?’, but it did make me smile.  I liked the way he practices his game on the roof using a mirror and the natural rapport he has with his sister when she asks him to look after his nephew. His solution to his money crisis is rather drastic, but his attempts to deal with Sejal are the responses I can imagine any young man in his situation making and it’s all very believable.

Sawan’s friend Tipu is the one character who appears in all three threads of the film. He’s a ‘fixer’ who is responsible for organising crowds for demonstrations and riots, buying and selling of various commodities and many other illegal activities. Amit Mistry plays the role with plenty of humour and has a diverse collection of shirts.

The cinematography is excellent and Mumbai itself becomes another character in the film. We see a number of different sides to the city with shots from above and across the water as well as the loud and exuberant street scenes of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. The festival acts as an underlying beat and the crowds and noise press heavier and heavier as the film progresses.

 

 

 

 

The music is also excellent and fits well into the narrative. The opening number is suitably loud and brash, and Saibo is a beautifully sweet.  There are no big song and dance scenes which really weren’t necessary here and in fact would have totally derailed the story. The lack of an item number in the night club scene is very appreciatively noted!

The film is a great look at a slice of Mumbai life and the writers are to be congratulated on taking a number of stories and making them all work together so well. Each of the actors seems to fit their character and it’s one of those films where I keep noticing more and more clever detail on repeated viewing. The end is less successful in some respects although the final resolutions over the end credits are brilliant. Watch for some great performances, clever story writing and to find out why karma really is a bitch. 4 ½ stars.

Temple says:

Shor In The City isn’t totally successful in my book, but it is a lot to ask that all the stories succeed equally- and they don’t. Most of the let down is in Sendhil Ramamurthy’s storyline. It’s just too pat. He is the perfect NRI having the perfectly frustrating and confronting return to India, meets the perfect model girlfriend on arrival, lives in the perfect apartment with the perfect luxe lifestyle, suffers the perfect stereotypical rip-off and commits the perfect crime in payback. For me, it lacks the subtlety and emotional hook of the other characters’ stories, and I just didn’t buy it completely. I have to confess, I think he is very decorative but a pretty ordinary actor. I sat through the truly awful “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife” which is a very unfunny ‘comedy’ in which Sendhil played one of the leads so I was predisposed to feeling a tad jaundiced. But I think his character and performance also suffer in the comparison to the other two guys. Sundeep Kishan is perfect casting as Sawan with his mix of confidence and self doubt that made him choose unwisely at times. Sundeep seems very natural and his timing and rapport with the other actors feels really spontaneous. I was amazed by Tusshar Kapoor who was sweet and awkward and fun as Tilak. I’d never rated him much as an actor but this was a really moving performance in a role that has great range but also needs a lot of restraint. His scenes with his brand new wife were beautifully judged, and his excitement about books and reading (baffling to his sidekicks) was totally endearing. I liked the way Sawan and Tilak provided a nice contrast and tension with the good boy maybe going bad, and the bad boy who decides to change directions.

It’s a very pleasing film on a visual level and does convey the manic bustle and also the quiet reflective corners of Mumbai. The use of locations was great and it added a buzz to the scenes out in the streets, as well as the intimate domesticity up on rooftops and balconies as characters looked out on the sprawling city. Ganesh imagery is everywhere, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tilak is able to move on after catching the benign gaze of the god who removes obstacles. It’s a fast paced film that looks and sounds great. The writing is good, and the story is rarely dull. There is a little too much coincidence and some heavy handed visuals but overall I like it a lot.  3/12 stars.

Leader and Prasthanam

 

Politics, corruption and family dysfunction provide a fertile ground for film-makers and while they are not top of the list for us to view, there have been some interesting films made on these topics. There has been a lot of talk about both Leader and Prasthanam taking an innovative approach to these themes but we found each conventional in both their story and structure. Both make reference to land and mineral rights disputes, but the films aren’t really about the issues as much as they are about relationships and power. Because of the parallels and contrasts we decided to discuss them together. For the sake of simplicity, as well as being in keeping with the films’ focus, we are also concentrating on the main story and will skim over the subplots.

Leader is the debut film for actor Rana Daggubati, and is written and directed by Sekhar Kammula. That’s some seriously good pedigree and the production values reflect this. The story has more in common with Frank Capra’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington than any gritty political thriller but where Jimmy Stewart oozed heart, there is a hard manipulative core to Arjun Prasad (Rana Dagubbati). Arjun has money and is reckoned a man among men (CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Harvard graduate, tall, fine head of hair, looks good with or without a shirt, you know the deal). Despite his aim of rehabilitating the tarnished image of his murdered father through eliminating corruption and caste discrimination, Arjun immediately takes to his father’s methods.

He genuinely seems to believe the ends justify his means. Personal relationships are bought and sold and, while he does care for the people he is using, he will sacrifice anyone for his greater goal. Things come to a head after some emotional incidents, and despite some soul searching Arjun fails to change his strategy and continues to use any means at his disposal.  After a picturesque montage of Rana’s excellent enigmatic walking, he sets forth to rally the masses and triumph over his rivals. Characters appear along Arjun’s journey, some ready to give him wise advice and some there to set obstacles in his path.

But he is a hero in a fable where everything seems to be in shades of grey. The tacit support for bribery and corruption as legitimate techniques is hard to swallow, as well as the disregard for anything that might get in the way of making history take a kindly view of the dead CM. Arjun’s treatment of two women who have feelings for him is cruel, and reminds us that the heart of this story is ice cold.

Rana’s performance was difficult to assess. In some scenes he appeared quite deadpan and almost wooden but we believe that was due to the character keeping his cards close to his chest and not wanting to give any clues to his opponents. He is physically imposing and looked the part of the young man on the up and up. Some highly emotional scenes were underplayed and very moving. In scenes that required him to be lighter, more open, and even flirtatious, he was quite appealing so we think it was a combination of his inexperience and the director’s choices that made some episodes appear a bit awkward.

There is nothing more to say about the plot – it succumbed to all the clichés and ended exactly as you might expect. But it is an interesting attempt to look expectations of justice and idealism, and transpose that into a political fantasy. The supporting cast were uniformly good, particularly Harsha Vardan as the secretary Ali and Richa Gangopadhyay as the love interest Archana. Priya Anand’s character Rathna was really short changed with some silly dialogues and behaviour but she made a strong impression in her time on screen and certainly injected a lot of energy into her scenes.

Prasthanam starts in an independent art house style before the much more conventional end. What begins as a dissection of a bitter dysfunctional family and the play of personal agendas in the public arena devolves into a gore fest with some badly placed songs.  Sharwanand plays Mitra, the ‘good’ son of an assassinated father, who seems to be the anointed one in his family’s dynasty. After his father’s murder, Mitra’s mother is married off to Loknatham (Sai Kumar) her husband’s adopted brother. The family relocates to the city but remain involved in politics and factionalism.

What really brought the story to life was the dazzling performance by Sundeep Kishan as jealous psycho step-brother Chinna – a substance abuser with a violent streak and a penchant for face paint. His character is a human train wreck: monstrous yet compellingly watchable as he ricochets from self pity to rage to scheming.

We differ in our opinion on Sharwanand’s acting but do agree he was one of the weaker elements of the film. The brothers are, on the face of it, totally dissimilar but both are driven by their notion of family and status. As the film progresses, the calculating intelligence and loyalty of Mitra is challenged over and over by the animal aggression of Chinna until the bloody and confronting climax. Mitra discovers that his brother and step-father are far more alike than he suspected and nobody wins as he ultimately takes up the same tactics as his family.

Visually the style of Deva Katta’s Prasthanam is both darkly real and annoyingly gimmicky with a reliance on clever angles and effects like blood spattering the camera lens. The songs in the first half are well integrated into the story and maintain a consistent style with the rest of the film.

It seems that someone panicked after watching the first half as there are several songs wedged at random into the second part of the film. Not only do they fail to match the narrative at all, but the placement of the picturisations is jarringly inept which contrasts with the more considered style of the earlier songs. [Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, we have just been told that songs were added for the DVD that were not in the theatrical release of the film. That still doesn’t explain the random placement, but it does help explain to us why reviews didn’t mention such a glaring flaw. Thanks for the explanation!]

Despite the much messier and grittier environment Prasthanam is as much a fiction as Leader is – but as Dolce and Namak pointed out, this family saga is inspired by Cain and Abel.

There is some attempt to inject humour, which is both misplaced and clumsy: one comedic sidekick character declares he will have to go commit a couple of rapes to get more respect, and has this remark met with sarcastic mirth. It was disappointing considering the intelligence behind the writing in general, and wedging the obligatory not so funny comedy track into a film with serious pretensions seemed odd.

As with Leader, the female characters provide an excuse for much of the action without having significant roles in the film. Both films rely on coincidence at crucial points, and the strain on our credulity diminished the impact of some key scenes.

Both leading men play outsiders. Arjun Prasad is the affluent, privileged, NRI son of a corrupt man, and we see Hyderabad and India through his eyes —mostly from boardrooms, restaurants and resorts. He does a lot of brooding and walking, often seeing without being seen as he floats through the ‘real world’. He says he is going to wake up the apathetic youth, and seems to be a symbol of the young cashed up generation in that respect.

Mitra is an unwitting outsider in his own family, but he is intimately involved in the workings of the political games. His world view is far more grounded in a village mentality and his vision of India is much less about air con and fancy cars and more about family and cash flow. This world view shatters when he discovers the truth about his father and step-father.

The soundtracks are forgettable, and apart from the really bad picturisations in Prasthanam, the songs had little impact. The lyrics in both films were quite significant in terms of the story but it just seemed to be a bit overstated at times.  And as for the naff English lyrics in the final ‘Leader’ song … Neither film really required much in the way of dancing and, while Sharwanand gave it a go, Rana stuck to his enigmatic walking.

Ultimately both films fall back into the familiar heroic narrative arc, one tragic and one triumphant. Both are fairly satisfying stories and generally well made films, but neither really departs from the predictable path.

Temple says: I found both films quite watchable and engaging, but both have flaws that prevent me from saying I totally enjoyed them. I don’t think they are really attempting anything different in either film as it’s the same old story of corruption and tangled family loyalties, just with modern urban backdrops.

Leader is the more successful film for me, as it is has an internal logic and the characters behave in a way that is consistent with their prior behaviour. As my friend Jenni The Mahesh Fan often says, the Dr Phil test for predicting future behaviour is based on past behaviour. So while Arjun Prasad is not a likeable person, the character acts in a way that accords with his previous behaviours. Even when he temporarily leaves politics, he manipulates that hiatus to eliminate an issue that couldn’t be resolved by legal means. So unlike Heather, I never thought he had ‘gone good’. I believed he was just manipulating the situation again which seemed in keeping with his actions to date. The film has a more cohesive story and builds to a cliched yet satisfactory conclusion. I don’t like the film, as I find its inherent message quite repugnant, but it does work as a piece of drama and once again Sekhar Kammula has told his story in an engaging and slightly offbeat way. Apart from some dodgy green screen effects, the visuals are really effective. I give Leader 4 stars for being a well made, quality film, but I hate the values it seems to promote.

Prasthanam was more entertaining on some levels, and yet a lot less satisfying overall. As the film moved away from the conflict between the brothers and became more about Mitra and Loknatham the wheels started to fall off. Sharwanand just didn’t make Mitra believable and his performance was weakest of the whole cast. He was fine in the lighter or more conversational scenes, but anything requiring extreme emotion fell flat. It didn’t help that many of the veteran actors around him were chewing the scenery for all they were worth, or that he was acting opposite Sundeep Kishan who just owned the screen whenever Chinna was around. There is something curiously immobile about Sharwanand’s face, and in all the scenes where I wasn’t hooked by his lack of emoting I found myself wondering  if he had already started to hit the Botox. The final scenes between Mitra and Loknath were just so tear-sodden and emotional and didn’t ring true for me. I thought the very last moments of Sai Kumar surrounded by a multitude of  his mirrored reflection was so much more real and powerful than all the snivelling as it showed what he really believed in. It’s very engaging to a point, but then the climax of the film just doesn’t work for me and the really silly handling of the songs threw the dramatic second half off kilter. I give Prasthanam 3 stars.

The women in both films are basically irrelevant to the plot. They are only there as mothers or potential wives and even when it seemed they would play a bigger role, it just didn’t eventuate. The actresses in these roles were all good, but the roles were on the margins of the heroic tales being told.  So while it was disappointing to see this happen yet again, it did at least allow for most of the focus to be on the core story.

Heather says: I enjoyed both these films, and despite a few irritating features which detract a little from the final overall impression, Leader and Prasthanam are very well worth watching.  I think that both are genuine attempts to step outside of the usual Masala fare, and within their limits are interesting stories, told well and with sincerity.

Leader for me was made by Rana’s performance, particularly considering this is his first film. However I really didn’t like his character at all!  Arjun is just as corrupt and manipulative as the other politicians around him.  Although I did sympathise initially as he possibly started with good intentions (I’m not convinced though), this very quickly changed as he began lying to everyone. After the interval where I suspect we were supposed to get behind Arjun and his campaign for the popular vote, I just found his deceitful attitude too much.  His attitude to the women in his life is another point against him, and I really didn’t want him to get the girl in the end.  But I think that to generate that response required some good acting which Rana delivered – as did the rest of the cast who are all excellent.  The lack of depth in the female characters stories was disappointing, and I don’t think a journalist could have been side-lined so easily – but this was fictional after all! Despite not liking the character and finding the whole story just too improbable, I still enjoyed the film.  Leader gets 3 ½ stars from me

Prasthanam for me was a more enjoyable story.  I do like a good villain, and Sundeep excelled in this role.  Sharwanand really appears wooden in comparison, and although I am not as critical of his acting as Temple, he doesn’t do his character justice here.  The biggest problem I have with Prasthanam is the strange song picturisations and their placement in the second half.  They just aren’t necessary and detract from the pace and mood of the film.  I liked the soundtrack on first hearing and found it a disappointment to see the songs on screen.  The female roles, although still small, seem to be better realised in this film but the struggle between the two brothers and the machinations of Sai Kumar’s character are the definite highlights.  The escalation of violence towards the end becomes improbable, and the conclusion is somewhat weak,  but despite these flaws the film kept my attention throughout.  Again all the supporting cast were very good, and I really liked the cinematography in the opening scenes.  Without the songs and the comedy track this could have been an excellent film.  As it is, I think it’s still very good and gets 4 stars from me.