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.

Advertisements

K.G.F: Chapter 1

K.G.F: Chapter 1The first Kannada film I saw in a cinema was Ugramm, where I loved Prashanth Neel’s style and approach to story-telling, so it is reassuring that he has kept to a similar form for his latest epic KGF. The violence is bloody and excessive, the story ultra-masculine but with plenty of reference to the importance of mothers and the soundtrack is an important part of the film. But KGF has a grandeur and magnificence that comes with working with a larger budget and with a number of the Kannada industries top talent involved, KGF is an impressive venture indeed. There are a few issues, the lack of a decent female lead and some OTT and excessively dramatic dialogues for example, but Prashanth Neel has kept his eye firmly on the story, making KGF an excellent addition to the world of Kannada action cinema.

The film uses a framing device where TV journalist Deepa Hegde (Malavika Avinash) interviews ageing reporter Anand Ingalagi (Anant Nag) about his book, which was banned and burnt by the government of the time. Prime Minister Rimika Sen decreed that all mention of a certain ‘criminal’ should be wiped from history but Anand is prepared to share the story, although he jumps around in time which adds a non-linear aspect to the tale. In this way, Anand acts as a narrator of events, which span from 1951 to the present day and start with the seizure of land rich in gold by Suryavardhan (Ramesh Indira). Suryavardhan clears the land and establishes an illegal gold mine, worked by slaves and disguised as a limestone works. At the same time, local villager Saraswathi (Archana Jois) gives birth to a son she names Raja Krishappa Bairya who later becomes the infamous Rocky (Yash).

The story spans Rocky’s life from his birth to his infiltration of the mines in an attempt to assassinate Suryavardhan’s son Garuda (Ramachandra Raju). In between is the tale of Rocky’s rise to fame as a gangster in Mumbai and his desire to own ‘the world’ which eventually leads him into the gold mines. Along the way, Rocky has flashbacks to his childhood and to his mother’s words of advice which have helped to make him the man he has become. Since these are mainly words to make her son the richest and most aggressive man in India, they have stood Rocky well in his attempts to become the pre-eminent gangster in all of Mumbai. Rocky is a man who thinks nothing of killing anyone who stands in his way, often in the most bloody and gory ways possible. Luckily for our hero’s welfare, the thugs never manage to co-ordinate for more than two at a time to attack, and even when armed with guns they seem to forget how to aim to kill. However, I did appreciate stunt choreographer Anbariv’s goal of finding the most imaginative way to impale, garotte and otherwise dismember Rocky’s opponents – one of the best being with a handy anchor although Rocky’s prowess with a shovel was also superb!

Yash powers his way through his role as Rocky without ever demonstrating much emotion as the strong silent type who wades through rivers of gore to reach his objective. Although there are the flashbacks with his mother (featuring an excellent Anmol Vijay as the young Raja Krishnappa Bairya) and a rather uncharacteristic but brief romance with Reena (Srinidhi Shetty), for the most part Rocky is as stonyfaced as his nickname implies. However, to ensure that we know he’s not quite as much of a villain as his actions would suggest, Rocky is also shown to have a softer side, usually when faced with young mothers in extreme situations or when faced with gangs of poverty-stricken children. Nothing new or ground-breaking then, since this is typical Southern Indian hero behaviour, but it suits the character and storyline well, so there’s really no need to break the mould. 

The non-linearity of the story is one of its strengths and also works well to set up expectations for KGF:Part 2 as we are given tantalising glimpses into the next of Rocky’s adventures along with the puzzle of why the government decided to suppress his story with such assiduousness. Jumping around from the seventies (with flares and wide collars – love it!), where the action in the Kolar gold fields plays out, to adventures in Rocky’s youth explains much of his motivation and firmly establishes the other characters in the film. This is really helpful since there are multitudes of minor characters who are important to the story but who are all introduced quickly by Anand, making it difficult to remember who exactly is a gangster, who is a politician. And then decide if it even matters given they are all nasty pieces of work. This does allow for major complexity in Prashanth Neel’s world and he paints a grim picture indeed of corrupt politicians, lawless gangsters who have the police on their side and a poverty-stricken and joyless existence for the rest of the population. Into this dark world, it seems to make sense to inject some light by adding a romance, but the introduction of Reena with the usual stalking = love trope always feels like an add-on extra.

Reena is the daughter of Rajendra Desai (Laxman), one of Suryavardhan’s accomplices in the goldmine and as such she is portrayed as arrogant and heedless of the general population. Rocky sees her and is instantly smitten, following up his initial advances with some terribly cheesy dialogue while Reena does her best to let him know she isn’t interested. Until she sees his compassionate side, which is apparently enough to change her mind. Sigh. Srinidhi Shetty doesn’t have enough screen time to make any impression, but for the most part she too is fairly dour, grim-faced and like Rocky, prone to making declarative speeches. Rocky doesn’t have much dialogue at all, but when he does speak it’s generally overly dramatic and interspersed with plenty of threats and promises of violence. Even the minor characters rarely seem to speak normally to each other and instead there are bold announcements of bravery and threats of violence that do start to wear after a while. The narrative from Anand is in stark contrast and is more minimalistic and factual although this is occasionally confusing when characters are only briefly mentioned once.

Ravi Basrur and Tanishk Bagchi provide the music which suits the atmosphere of the film well. There is one introductory dance number with Yash which is appropriately exhilarating and an oddly placed dance number with Tamannaah, but for the most part the songs are used to help drive the narrative forward. Along with the soundtrack, they succeed in adding emotion and suspense to the film, and unlike Ugramm the music here is kept to a reasonable volume. Cinematographer Bhuvan Gowda keeps the film to grey and dark tones, and doesn’t have much opportunity to vary the colour palette, although scenes in the mine and at a temple ceremony are beautifully done to add red tones to the darkness. Kudos to the fashion designers for recreating the seventies in a relatively subdued fashion and not dressing the characters in ridiculous costumes. The sets and clothes are set in the right time period but not ostentatiously so, and as such don’t take away from the action unfolding onscreen. Thanks to the distributors for ensuring reasonably good subtitles, although the white text was often obscured by the background. Still very grateful to have Kannada films subtitled – even the songs!

KGF is basically another gangster action drama, but what lifts it above the rest is the sheer scale and complexity of the narrative along with standout performances from Yash and the literal cast of hundreds that add depth and texture to the plot. Be warned that the film is incredibly violent, and the fight scenes are frequent, fast and furious but they do fit the story and act to showcase a world that is brutal and uncaring. The story points out that power is the only thing that matters and Rocky’s power is that of his fists. Throughout, it’s those with power who dictate events, and Rocky is determined to control the gold and therefore the money, giving him all the power in the world. There is a lot to take in with the story but the mixture of fast-paced action and slower framing narrative works well to bring it all together. Overall Prashanth Neel has crafted a good story, told it well and pictured it beautifully to draw out the desolation and despair of the gold fields, and the gritty underworld in Mumbai. After all the excitement of Chapter 1, I’m definitely looking forward to Chapter 2!

KGF

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

Baahubali-2-Poster

In the lead up to possibly the biggest Telugu film release this year, the question I wanted to know wasn’t so much, ‘why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?’, but rather, was Baahubali 2 going to be worth the wait? And the answer has to be a resounding yes! Rajamouli breathes new life into the traditional story of sibling rivalry and dynastic disputes, ensuring that The Conclusion is every bit as exciting as The Beginning. There is the same epic scale, fantastical scenery and gravity-defying action sequences plus plenty of Prabhas and Rana in fine flexing form. Best of all, this time round Anushka gets to prove that’s she’s just as much of a warrior as the guys and she completely kicks butt as the beautiful princess Devasena.

Rajamouli’s commitment to blood and gore starts right from the opening credits where a number of key events from the first film are loving re-created as CGI ceramic statues – including a torso and detached head with spiralling blood. You just know it’s going to be spectacular when even the opening credits have such exquisite attention to detail – and it just keeps on getting better.

Logically, the film begins where we ended last time, with Kattappa (Sathyaraj) relating the story of his father to Mahendra Baahubali (Prabhas). Straight away we’re swept back into the flashback and the conundrum of who will rule Mahishmati – Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) or Bhallala Deva (Rana Daggubati)? Although at the end of Part 1 Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan) declared that Amarendra would be King, Bhallala is still plotting and scheming along with his father Bijjaladeva (Nasser) ensuring that the path to the throne is likely to be littered with dead bodies. Once Amarendra leaves for a whistle-stop tour of the kingdom before his coronation, the way is clear for Bhallala to plan his brother’s downfall and even if the story is relatively predictable, it’s how we get to that final betrayal that really matters.

On his tour, Amarendra travels through the vassal kingdom of Kuntala where he meets Devasena for the first time and falls in love. The romance is beautifully developed, from the moment when Amarendra sees Devasena wielding a sword and is completely smitten, to a sequence where, in the middle of a battle, he teaches her how to fire multiple arrows at the same time. It all unfolds very naturally with little of the sexism of the previous film – this is a more equal partnership and both treat it as such right from the beginning. Anushka is completely mesmerising as Devasena and has as much arrogance and belief in her own self-worth as Sivagami, ensuring that the two have some powerful clashes that almost outdo the fights on the battlefield. Here is all the back story we wanted that explains how Devasena could survive for those 25 years chained in front of the palace with her all-consuming desire for revenge. My favourite part is Devasena’s reaction to Bhallala’s sleazy commander-in-chief when he harasses the women at a temple. She believes in swift and pertinent justice, which got a huge cheer from the cinema and totally won me over to her side for the rest of the film.

Ramya Krishnan is wonderfully regal as Sivagami, ruling in declarative sentences and still disinclined to believe that her son could possibly be evil. Rajamouli gives Sivagami the chance to show a little maternal guilt over her clear preference for her nephew over her own child, making her seem just a little more human. Later, she has doubts and struggles to reconcile her perception of Amarendra as the ‘perfect prince’ with his combative stance when he dares to question her decisions about Devasena. Some of her choices seemed a little unlikely when compared to the wily and competent ruler from Part 1, but factoring in her determination to uphold the law and the universal truth that a mother tends to believe her child, her decisions are within the realm of possibility at least.

Another big plus is CinemaChaat favourite Subbaraju as Kumara Varma, Devasena’s cousin. Although his character is initially played for laughs, there is a serious side too, as despite not being a fighter or showing any signs of a courageous heart, under Amarendra’s influence he finds the strength to fight back when necessary. In Rajamouli’s world, heroism is infectious and it’s not just the god-like heroes with super-human endurance who can make a difference, ordinary people can stand up and fight too. The theme continues when the film moves back to the present day, although not so well-defined, but it’s good to see a move away from a completely hero-centric storyline and more substantiative support characters.

I adore Prabhas and he is completely amazing in both roles here. As Amarendra he is fierce and combative, but also shows off his comedic skills along with a more romantic side to his character when he meets Devasena. The fight scenes are superb and I like that Amarendra has a handy, portable, travelling axe that is more effective than expected – it’s also a nice contrast to Bhallala Deva’s more ostentatious lawnmower of death and massive telescopic mace. Amarendra also shows commitment to science and engineering, taking the first steps to introduce Mahishmati to an industrial age with various contraptions he builds. Some of these are more practical than others, but obviously the skill is genetic since his son comes up with some similarly inventive ideas when faced with the challenge of attacking the city walls back in the present day. There is plenty of shirtless flexing too, although Prabhas mostly keeps his chest under wraps until later in the second half when he has to compete with Rana!

Of course, the strength of any hero is only as good as the villain he faces and Rana is excellent as the devious and amoral Bhallala. This time he is more obviously evil and deliberately choses the nastiest method he can to undermine Amarendra’s reputation with his mother. He’s also still a magnificent warrior, and the final battle scene with Mahendra in the present day is powerful and compelling as the two slug it out in front of the massive golden statue.

The final conclusion in the present day is fairly short and seems somewhat rushed with little dialogue or preparation before Baahubali heads off to tackle Bhallala. Disappointingly, Avanthika (Tamannaah) only has a very brief appearance during the final battle and no significant interaction with Baahubali at all. I like the symmetry between the start and the end of the film with Devasena’s fire-walk for justice, but I would have preferred a little less flashback and more of Baahubali’s reaction to his origins before the final battle. That battle is awesome, but also seems to finish rather abruptly, so I’m hoping (probably in vain) that we might perhaps get a Baahubali 3 that does delve into the relationships of the present day a little more.

I enjoyed M.M Keervani’s music, although I was too caught up in the visuals and catching the subtitles to really appreciate the full scope. However Hamsa Naava and Dandaalayyaa are both beautiful on the big screen and I loved the martial theme of Saahore Baahubali.

The visuals are stunning and although the CGI isn’t as slick as a HW production, it still looks amazing due to the sheer scale of the images. Although there may not be a waterfall this time, instead there is a beautiful palace in Kuntala, a stunning boat that turns into a flying swan surrounded by cloud horses and a totally epic coronation where a cast of thousands almost bring down the palace with their enthusiasm for Baahubali. The action too is on a grandiose scale. Aside from the titanic battles, Amarendra Baahubali surfs on the back of cows with flaming horns, rides on an elephant and fights almost without even looking at his opponents. It’s truly epic, particularly when combined  with the uplifting themes that justice will prevail and real courage comes from those who believe in truth. With amazing ability to draw you so completely into his world, Rajamouli delivers another enthralling story that needs to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate his vision. Don’t miss it!

Temple says:

Well, now we know where all those engineering grads with filmi connections end up…They built the kingdom and weaponry of Baahubali 2!

The thing I have long admired about Rajamouli is that even when I know what is going to happen, he crafts the drama and visuals so beautifully that I still care enough to be on the edge of my seat. It was a big ask to follow up the cliffhanger of the first film and not lose the dramatic propulsion to the finale and largely, he nailed it. There are some draggy bits but they weren’t actually dull so I didn’t mind having a bit of leisure to admire the design and occasional flourishes of whimsy. Finally, a director who gets how and when to use a swan boat (even if it looks like a top heavy chicken), and what a fantasy sequence can look like when you don’t try and make it all from painted polystyrene! I do wish they’d done something about Nasser’s rubber chicken claw hand though.

Prabhas is a delight, giving his characters both gentle goodness and a steely core, with the bonus of excellent nonchalant posing. Rana makes Bhalla a despicable and venomous man, but not completely incomprehensible in his motivation. I liked their dynamic together, and they just go all in on the fight scenes. Anushka is one of my favourites and I was so excited to see her character given some depth and competency, as well as all the usual accoutrements of a kickarse heroine. I think Prabhas can evince chemistry with anything or anyone, but Anushka gave Devasena such a liveliness that their scenes crackled with life. I actually didn’t mind that Tamannaah only appeared to kill a few baddies at the end. Based on the first film, she just didn’t stand up to Anushka or Ramya Krishnan and Avantika wasn’t integral to this part of the epic. I was glad she reappeared as a warrior though, not simpering in a sari. Subbaraju did a bit of simpering and flouncing so I guess he made up for that, with his OTT posturing settling into a more genuine will to do the right thing. And what is not to admire about Ramya Krishnan, who has been a charismatic and slightly terrifying presence in films for so long. She is amazing and Sivagami is a great fit for her.

Despite all the Ye Olden trappings, this is a pure masala film. The classic themes of family, orphans, loss, justice being separate from law, duty, and insta-love are all there. Rajamouli knows these conventions and tropes and he is so deft at throwing them into new and glittering configurations. He coaxed some truly epic characterisations out of his modern day urban kid actors, and allowed some of the old hands to shine. Yes there is some dodgy CGI and yes some actors are less impressive than others but it just works. Trust me.

Don’t nit pick. See it on the biggest screen you can. Enjoy!