Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (2019)

Surender Reddy’s history inspired epic is indeed epic. The sets are impressive, the set pieces are huge, the cast includes almost everyone working in Telugu films plus some ring-ins. And to top it off, Chiranjeevi. Very few things will compel me to see a movie at 7am. Chiru is one of those things.

It’s hard when you want to cram a lot of exposition into a ripping yarn, and Reddy fumbles the pace. Pawan Kalyan narrates,  Anushka Shetty makes a welcome yet probably unnecessary cameo as Rani Lakshmibai, using the story of Narasimha Reddy (Chiranjeevi) to inspire her outnumbered troops. And eventually we get to the main event – Narasimha Reddy, all grown up and ready to rumble. From there the remainder of the first half is about the local battle against Jackson, a sadistic white supremacist. The second half has to regain momentum for the final conflict with the even more revolting Cochrane, wearer of bad hats and owner of a mysterious black panther just to ram home his villainous leanings. Along the way Narasimha Reddy is mentored by his guru, supported and challenged by his peers, and adored by all women. But he is always hated by the Brits and he returns their enmity in spades. The film jumps around visually and looks amazing, the geography is frequently mystifying, but the narrative is dead linear and predictable. With lots of repetition for the people who decide to make important phone calls or switch seats several times during the movie.

Reddy does some things to perfection, and he gives Chiranjeevi some impressive hero entrances. He balanced the spiritual and the legendary heroic aspects along with the Megastar obligation to provide something familiar yet extraordinary with each return. But there are also some poor directorial choices and I really do have to get this off my chest now. I know this is a ye olden days film, I know they made some gestures towards historical accuracy….but no dancing?!? Chiranjeevi NOT DANCING AT ALL?!! Seriously. Walking around and pointing during a song is not enough. Could he not get his folky festival appropriate groove on with his people just once? Some of the fire twirling guys looked understandably nervous so maybe they could have used some Megastar spark instead.

 

Surender Reddy uses tight closeups on Chiranjeevi’s face as Narasimha Reddy absorbs news or prepares to roar inspiration or threats. Chiru goes all in, whether he is comforting a child or dismembering an enemy. It’s all about that commitment and the Mega charisma that makes you believe that people would follow him into a war, believing he is a chosen one. The action scenes allow him to kill in varied ways and with great gusto, busting out the athleticism and grace we don’t get to see in a dance (yes, I’m bitter about it). I especially enjoyed Jackson’s comeuppance as it drew upon earlier skills demonstrated so there was a pleasing blend of “oh, of course!” and WTFery. Despite being at a 7am show there was vocal appreciation of the gore and creative ways of killing. The special effects around the actors and stunt performers in the war and fight scenes worked pretty well, but some other effects were a bit amateurish and made what should have been impactful look silly. That was a blessing in parts, as if the CGI was better a couple of scenes would have been seriously traumatising.

The wig department is there for Chiru every step of the way. He has his fluffy Romance Hair, and two variants of Action Hair (one with man bun, one without). His outfits are detailed but not overwhelming or fussy, and avoid the period costume trap of looking like he’s been upholstered rather than tailored. He sported a nicely woven war sandal so I was pleased to see some appropriately statement footwear too.

Nayanthara had the clumpy eyelashes of a perpetual crier while Tamannaah had perfect eyelashes for flirting or murderous rages. And there’s about all the character development you get. Both actresses deliver what they can, but all the women in this story are required to do is support and/or sacrifice. Tamannaah plays a dancer but mostly sings, exhorting people to join the rebellion. She has a lovely, very sad, scene that made me sad because there was no room in the film for her acting ability. Nayanthara plays Sidhamma as shy and hopelessly worshipping her man. Again, she added some delicate touches to her characterisation but that may have been professional pride because I suspect the direction was “Stand there. Then go stand there. And cry.”

The gang of chieftains are largely undifferentiated, but a few make more substantial contributions. Mukesh Rishi got no love from the wig department so the hat team went all out for him. Brahmaji does his usual furious faces. Ravi Kishan got an economy wig and no moral compass to speak of. Jagapathi Babu is quietly compelling as Veera Reddy, a believer grappling with the consequences of betrayal. My favourite was Sudeep’s Avuku Raju. He dripped disdain, his silent reactions were anywhere from menacing to hilarious, and his frenemy dynamic with Narasimha Reddy was absolutely beautiful. The biggest supporting cast cheer was for Vijay Sethupathi as Tamil leader, Raja Paandi. Amitabh Bachchan as the lugubrious Guru Gosayi Venkanna got no response at all. I actually disliked his character. Mentoring is one thing but being a manipulative puppet master is something else.

The European actors range from adequate to terrible. It doesn’t require great subtlety to be a despicable cartoonish villain, so the patchy acting and clunky dialogues didn’t bother me too much. I did like that the film doesn’t pussy-foot around the British attitude that dark skinned people were inferior, and that nobody pretended the conflict was about anything but money and resources. The patriotic aspects of Narasimha Reddy’s fight got a great response from the audience and we all enjoyed seeing the white guys get what was coming to them.

The subtitles are largely OK but there are some strange errors. The subs express asking for forgiveness or offering an apology as asking for an apology regardless of context, which was confusing. Some things were overly literal and not meaningful. I particularly liked the subtitles that explained an accomplishment as “He is a great man. He has mastered the art of holding his breath in water”. Greatness may await us all, friends! And whoever was on spell checking left us with gems like “Your’s Sincerly”. Such a big budget film, and so little respect for the dialogues. Sigh.

Yes, there’s a story. Yes, there’s some History. Yes, there is a huge cast. Yes, it’s a film on a massive scale. And yet it all rests on Chiranjeevi. He delivers so much of the success of the film but can’t quite overcome the flaws. One to see on the big screen if you can, just to appreciate the grandeur, the guyliner, and the wigs.

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Dhruva (2016)

dhruva

Dhruva is a reasonably faithful remake of 2015 Tamil film Thani Oruvan that benefits from Arvind Swamy reprising his role as the villain of the story. Dhruva is definitely slicker and glossier than the original, but the story is essentially the same although the emphasis is even more on the two main characters than in Thani Oruvan. Thankfully both Ram Charan and Arvind Swamy are excellent and the cat and mouse game between the two makes Dhruva an entertaining and worthwhile watch.

The film is a thriller that follows the attempts of a young and righteous police officer, to track down and catch one of three über criminals. Dhruva (Ram Charan) believes that if he locks up the kingpin of any criminal organisation this will immediately impact on 100 petty criminals and be more effective than tackling each street thug individually. It doesn’t take long before he discovers that his three possible targets each themselves are controlled by an even bigger villain – Siddharth Abhimanyu (Arvind Swamy). Siddharth is a respected scientist, recipient of a Padma Shri award and all round respected businessman so Dhruva has to somehow find convincing enough evidence to send Siddharth to jail for his crimes.

In the original film Dhruva was helped by his close friends who all formed a posse to fight crime together while they were in training college. However their role in the story here has been reduced and although the friends are still there, they have less to do in the hunt for Siddharth.  Goutham (Navdeep) is the only one who has been kept fairly true to the original, but without the detail of their friendship as background, his character is less effective. This also has an impact on the characterisation of Dhruva who appears more isolated and less of a leader as a result, making his assumption of control of a crime task force immediately after his graduation rather less credible.

Another casualty of the re-write is Ishika (Rakul Preet Singh) whose character has even less to do than Nayantara in the Tamil version. Ishika is a victim of love at first sight when she sees Dhruva, and she pursues him relentlessly, knowing that in a Telugu film eventually her persistence will be paid off by Dhruva finally accepting her love – rather than arrest for stalking, which would be the most probable outcome in real life. Although she is a forensic specialist, this is barely mentioned in the film, and Ishika has little involvement in the search for evidence against Siddharth. Where Nayantara’s Mahima had useful ideas and forced her way into the investigation, Ishika is limited to appearing only as the romantic interest. However Rakul Preet Singh does a good enough job in this role and has reasonable chemistry with Ram Charan, which at least makes the scene where Dhruva finally does admit his feelings one of the better moments in the film.

The film is all about Dhruva and his developing relationship with Siddharth and Ram Charan is excellent as the obsessed police officer, determined to track down Siddharth no matter what it takes. He certainly looks the part, easily demonstrated since Surender Reddy is an equal opportunity director who ensures that for every shot where Rakul Preet Singh appears in a bikini there is a shot of Charan without his shirt. No complaints here!  While Ram Charan expertly channels his inner Salman Khan, he also does a good job of portraying the more cerebral side to his character and his monologues where he describes his theories about the local criminals are well delivered. He’s even better when Siddharth’s tactics begin to hit home and Dhruva begins to doubt himself as he loses Goutham and his every move is known by Siddharth even before he makes it. This gradual erosion of his self-confidence is well depicted and Charan gets the emotions across effectively while still maintaining his tough cop persona.

However, as in Thani Oruvan the real star of the film is Aravind Swamy, who is perfectly evil as the amoral and unscrupulous Siddharth. His callously dismissive way of ordering the execution of anyone from mere bystanders to major players in his plots is wonderfully chilling and his appreciation of a worthwhile enemy in Dhruva just adds more menace to his character. I think he is even better here than in Thani Oruvan, or perhaps it’s because there is less focus on the other criminals and his added screen time lets him play nasty more effectively. Posani Krishna Murali does well as Siddharth’s bumbling politician father and the contrast between the clever but absolutely evil son and his unaware and totally inept father is simply brilliant and works just as well here as in the original.

The story stands up well to the remake in Telugu, even if shifting the focus even more onto the two lead characters does make for a less believable plot. Ram Charan is suitably heroic and the only disappointment is that there is little opportunity for him to show off his dancing skills. The music from Hiphop Tamizha is fine but not as memorable as his Tamil soundtrack, and the songs occasionally seem rather oddly placed, particularly in the second half. Still, the picturisations are good, and the scenery for Choosa Choosa stunning. Neethoney has the best dance moves though.

Dhruva is a good remake of an excellent film and definitely well worth a watch. Ram Charan takes on the role of a dedicated police officer, but one with more flaws than a usual Telugu hero and performs his part admirably. Arvind Swamy is perfect as his nemesis while the psychological cat and mouse game between the two is beautifully played out. Mohan Raja is credited with the original storyline and Surender Reddy has aptly modified the plot to give a slick and entertaining thriller. One to catch in the cinema if you can.

Athidhi

I liked this film the first time I saw it, but rewatching for this review it didn’t make quite the same impact.  However I still enjoyed the Mahesh/Amrita Rao combination and both actors do what they can in what’s essentially an over-blown and excessively dramatic story.  There isn’t too much comedy which makes it a little more appealing, and although it’s fairly dark and quite violent in parts, it’s all much too over the top to take seriously.  There is good chemistry between the lead pair and a suitably maniacal villain who refers to himself in the third person but be prepared for a lot of fake blood (even some that’s CGI), plenty of gunfights and a number of plots points that require major suspension of disbelief.

The film starts with some cute child actors who play the young Mahesh and Amrita.  Chhotu is an orphan who gets the fairly standard ‘Indian filmi orphan abuse’ from all and sundry while still managing to have ideals and a reasonable wardrobe.  One day while selling balloons, he gives one to a young girl leaving school even though she hasn’t got any money but promises to pay him the next day. Later, she gives him an umbrella which makes a big impression since it seems no-one has ever given Chhotu anything before.  After he stops their car and warns the young Amrita’s parents about a wash-out in the road ahead, they decide to take him home and begin to adopt him into their family.

They give the young boy the name Athidhi as he is their ‘guest’, but when the parents are gunned down by a psychotic thief one night, it’s Athidhi who gets the blame for the double murder.  Because of course that makes sense!

Athidhi is sentenced to 13 years in jail, and after his release devotes his time to finding the real killer. He’s also determined to find Amrita and make sure she’s happy but is hampered in both his endeavours by a major lack of information about both the identity of the murderer and the location of Amrita.  On the plus side he does have a picture of the killer since the thief left a wallet containing his photograph behind at the scene of the crime, but there are no other clues.  In between popping in and out of jail for his hooligan-like tendencies, beating up various thugs and trying to track down a killer, Athidhi manages to find time to run a coffee shop near the Red Fort, although he doesn’t seem to actually spend much time there.

Mahesh has a different look here with long floppy hair and seems to be permanently standing in the path of a wind machine dialled up to max.  Unless he’s in the rain that is, which does vastly improve the hair.  The overall effect is to make him even more baby-faced than usual and there are even a few dialogues which make reference to his innocent appearance.  But we know better.

And it doesn’t take long – the first fight scene comes after straight after Athidhi is released from jail again, and has Ganni (Subbaraju) and his gang as the recipients of some fairly typical Mahesh mayhem.  That leads straight into the first song, which seems to have been heavily inspired by Mad Max and features some fight style choreography which didn’t appeal at first but it’s grown on me.

Meanwhile the young Amrita has grown up to be Amrita Rao, studying art at college in Delhi and generally seems fairly content.  She’s polite and well-mannered on the outside, but inside her own mind is much feistier and has moments of fantasy where she imagines herself as a Matrix-style super-woman.  However her inner hero gets her into trouble when she takes on a gang of drug dealers who chase her into the path of an oncoming vehicle.  In the aftermath Athidhi performs some lifesaving mouth to mouth, although not quite in the approved St John’s Ambulance style, and as an afterthought he also beats up the drug dealers.  Amrita is pretty happy about the whole experience despite her near death and stalks Athidhi since after all we know that’s the way to show true love – right?

There’s a long and fairly pointless sequence with the dreadfully styled and characterised Danny Bhai (Ashish Vidyarthi) and eventually Athidhi finds out that Amrita is the girl he knew as a child.  But she’s already left for Hyderabad where she lives with the home minister (Nasser) and his family who are her aunt and uncle.  So the action moves to Hyderabad where Athidhi foils various plots to kill Amrita and her cousin Aishwarya (Baby Anni), including one by Danny Bhai that leads to Athidhi discovering the identity of the man who killed Amrita’s parents.  And as chance would have it, Hyderabad is being terrorised by this same killer, who now goes by the name of Khaizer and is running a child kidnapping ring.  To add more murk to the mix, Special Officer Ajit Shastri (Murli Sharma) has been brought in from Delhi to catch the gang and making sure he doesn’t succeed, Kota Srinivasa Rao does his usual corrupt politician thing.

So, will Amrita discover who Athdhi really is, will Athdhi discover who Khaizer really is, and will somebody finally cut Athidhi’s increasingly bouffy layered hair?!  It takes another couple of hours and quite a few twists and turns until we finally realise that no-one is ever going to successfully wield scissors anywhere near Mahesh. Oh, and there is finally resolution  to the rest of the plot too.

The story does have some good points but each is strung out for so long that the whole film drags.  It could easily have been cut by at least half an hour which would have made it a tighter and more thrilling movie.  The plot twists are good, although derivative, but again take far too long to reveal, and the final climax is marred by some bad CGI effects.  Although there is plenty of action it’s mostly gun fights which are less satisfying to watch.  The fight scenes, while often well-choreographed by Stun Shiva, are interrupted by too much slo-mo which really just reveals that no-one actually ever does hit anyone.  The lighting is really variable as sometimes it was excellent, for example at a number of scenes at the Red Fort, and yet at other times everyone appeared to have lizard skin and jaundice.  I’m sure the effect was meant to be very stylish but instead it just looked like the levels were completely wrong.  Brahmi, Sunil and Venu Madhav appear for some short comedy scenes but otherwise it’s fairly relentless death and destruction.

The music by Mani Sharma is catchy and I really like the soundtrack, but the picturisations don’t work very well and the songs appear oddly inserted into the narrative.  Malaika Arora pops up in a typically sleazy item song and the choreography generally seems under par for a Mahesh film – especially with someone like Amrita Rao who can dance. This song features an even more multilayered than usual Mahesh (plus the hair – which by this stage even features in the choreography), while someone in the costume department obviously had a grudge against Amrita.  It’s a good song though, and I enjoy watching the reactions of people in the background as they stop and stare.

While I think there is more here than just a film for Mahesh fans it’s probably best to watch with the remote to FF past some of the interminably long expositions by the villain. Generally performances are good but the film is let down by the mish-mash of a story and lack of editing.  I still give it 3 stars though, mainly for Mahesh and Amrita and for the bonus presence of both Subbaraju and Ajay  which always boosts any film for me!