Acharya (2022)

A movie starring both Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Mega Power Star Ram Charan was always going to be a ‘must watch’ film with the question being would it be as good as anticipated. The answer to that question is ‘sort of’ as Koratala Siva at least partially delivers with plenty of action and dancing featuring the two Mega Stars. But the story is less successful, following a predictable and rather pedestrian path. I still enjoyed the spectacle of father and son together on screen and with good choreography for both the songs and the action sequences, there is enough here to make Acharya a worthwhile trip to the cinema.

The film opens with a fairly long animated sequence explaining the history behind the twin villages of Dharmasthali and Padaghattam. At least I think that was what was happening, because the subtitles were difficult to follow and mostly didn’t make sense. But from what I could gather, the village of Dharmasthali developed after the goddess Gattamma came to Earth to defend the tribal people of Padaghattam. The villagers built a temple in her honour and continued to live a peaceful existence until the people of Dharmasthali became corrupted. In contrast the tribal village of Padaghattam still followed the traditional way of life, and still do today, producing ayurvedic medicines that they take across the river to Dharmasthali. However life is becoming more difficult for them as Dharmasthali becomes a hotbed of crime and violence and the goddess seems to be allowing her people to be attacked.

Excitingly for me, CinemaChaat favourite Ajay is playing the role of Vedanna, the leader of the Padaghattam people. Their belief in Dharma means that they are peaceful and won’t fight back when threatened, leaving them vulnerable to the corrupting influence of local bigwig Basava (Sonu Sood). I really enjoyed seeing Ajay in this more pacific role where he gets the chance to emote, conveying emotion using just his eyes and facial expressions instead of just being thug #1. I thought he was excellent here and kept smiling ecery time he appeared onscreen.

Basava is working with businessman and developer Rathod (Jisshu Sengupta) to mine the mineral resources of the region, mainly located in the virgin forest of Siddhavana. Rathod is vicious and nasty for no apparent reason, but Koratala Siva does at least give Basava a sort-of back story that involves a bad hairstyle and humiliation by the people of Padaghattam. He’s also a generally nasty character who enjoys inflicting terror and controlling everyone else around him. Basava has risen up to become the municipal chariman, which gives him control of Dharmasthali, although he still has a bad hairstyle which demonstrates that money isn’t everything as it hasn’t allowed him to find a better hairdresser.

Against the heightening tension between the temple and Basava’s thugs, a stranger arrives in town and sets up a carpenter business in Dharmasthali. Acharya (Chiranjeevi) at first seems to be a do-gooder who sets out to help the people affected by Basava’s greed, but it becomes clear that there is a deeper reason for his involvement. The second half reveals the story of Siddha (Ram Charan) and why Acharya is working to save the people of Padaghattam and Dharmasthali.

It’s a fairly standard story for SI cinema and Kortala Siva doesn’t add anything new to the tale. The hero arrives, the bad guy’s motivations are explained, and then they fight. Mix in a lot of discussion of Dharma, a dash of Temple festivals, Ayurvedic medicine and Naxalite freedom fighters and there you have it. The first half has gorgeous sets from production designer Suresh Selvarajan and cinematographer S Thirumavukkarasu makes the most of the sumptuous colours and beautiful scenery. I loved the first song  Laahe Laahe, featuring the stunning Sangeetha Krish, which bursts with colour and energy against the backdrop of the temple. And of course, add in Chiru dancing and it’s a total winner!

Siddha turns out to be the son of a Naxalite leader who was raised by the people of Padaghattam after his parents were killed. Acharya was tasked by Siddha’s father to raise his son in the movement and when Siddha is injured fighting against corruption in Dharmasthala it’s the perfect opportunity for him to go back to his roots. Ram Charan is excellent and his eyes are brilliantly expressive as he shows Siddha to be a true follower of Dharma. There are so many emotions conveyed between Siddha and Acharya just using their eyes that there is an entire section of the film that just focuses on their eyes for a good few minutes. I was in heaven! Although the story may be not be anything new, the interactions between Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi continually made me smile and lifted the energy of the film. 

The scenes where Ram Charan is dancing with Chiranjeevi are spectacular and feature plenty of Mega Star patented moves that Ram Charan performs under the approving eye of his dad. It’s really effective and I wanted to see more! The action sequences too are mostly well choreographed, apart from the finale which doesn’t work as well as the earlier pieces. In terms of spectacle and production, the film looks amazing and each set is obviously well designed and beautifully filmed. But essentially the film lacks depth. The reason for Acharya to be in Dharmasthala is revealed too late and so Chiranjeevi’s character lacks motivation for most of the first half. The second half is better and benefits from the interplay between Ram Charan and Chiru, but the finale could have been so much more if Kortala Siva had taken better care of his characters and thought more about Acharya’s motivation. 

Seasoned actors Nassar, Tanikella Bharani, Ravi Prakash and Vennela Kishore also put in an appearance and are all excellent in the type of roles they have played many, many times before. I’m not sure why Rathod’s main henchman Khilla (Shatru) had to have a deformity, but the bad guys are mostly faceless and evil because that’s what bad guys just are. Sonu Sood does his usual villain schtick effectively despite limited screentime and those dreadful wigs. But poor Pooja Hegde. After Beast I was hoping she would have a bigger role here, but she has even less to do here. Her character is mostly used as the reason for Acharya to explain Siddha’s history and apart from a song and a brief romance she barely appears in the film. 

I did enjoy Acharya and loved watching Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi together on screen. It’s unfortunate that the story doesn’t deliver the same emotional impact, but the songs from Mani Sharma are good, the action well choreographed and the dancing awesome! The worst part of the film is the subtitles which appeared to have been translated literally, and then misspelled (golry instead of glory, their instead of there – seriously did no-one check?) so that I was actually better trying to decipher the Telugu from my very limited vocabulary rather than rely on the subs. For a film with otherwise high production values, it seems such a shame to be let down so badly internationally for something like bad subtitles. So is Acharya worth watching – absolutely! Sit back, enjoy the performances and revel in the pairing of Mega Star Chiranjeevi and Mega Power Star Ram Charan.

Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya

Swaroop RSJ’s 2019 film is a neo-noir style comedy mystery that is a departure from the more usual fare from the Telugu film industry. I haven’t seen many Telugu films at all that involve detective investigations, and very few that combine comedy and suspense so effectively. Naveen Polishetty is excellent in the titular role while Shruti Sharma makes a great sidekick and best of all, there is no dodgy romance to muddy the waters. I really enjoyed this film, despite a few plot holes, and the mix of comedy and serious investigation make Agent Sai Srinivas Athreya well worth a watch.

Sai Srinivasa Athreya (Naveen Polishetty) goes by the name Agent and runs the Fatima Bureau of Investigation or FBI for short. For Agent, being a detective is all about the look and the attitude, despite running his business from a small office in the market area of Nellore. He’s teaching the ropes to new recruit Sneha (Shruti Sharma) which mostly consists of asking her to watch a series of classic detective movies and discussing famous literary detectives such as his hero, Sherlock Holmes. Also involved in his instructions are to always carry a take-away coffee cup (actual coffee is optional) and to dress with style and panache. Agent interprets this by wearing a waistcoat, an overcoat and sporting a fedora which do at least serve to make him stand out from the crowd.

Agent’s actual detective work consists of small cases and barging in unwanted on police investigations, which earns him the ire of the local officers and ends up with him being forcefully ejected from crime scenes. However, when his friend Sirish (Chanakya Tejas) tells him about unidentified bodies being found alongside railway tracks, Agent has a whiff of a case that he can really sink his teeth into. The only problem being that the police arrest him on suspicion of the murder when they find him at the site of a recently discovered body. During his night in jail, Agent speaks to an old man, Maruthi Rao, who tells him about his daughter who was raped and murdered. The police aren’t showing any interest in the case and Agent vows to find Vasudha’s killer. Agent assigns Sneha to follow the more dangerous looking of two suspects, while he himself shadows Ajay (Sandeep Raj) but when both Harsha (Vinu Varma) and Ajay turn up murdered, Agent is once again prime suspect for the police. Along with a fellow private detective Bobby (Suhas), Agent slowly starts to unravel the case, which ties into the railway bodies mystery and even has connections to his own personal life. With the police determined to blame Agent for the murders, it’s a race against time to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the crime.

The film works primarily due to Naveen Polishetty’s portrayal of the fast-talking and slick detective at the centre of the story. The comedy scenes are excellent, and he gets the delivery just right for maximum impact almost every time. He’s just as good though in the moments when he does have to show more emotion and for the most part, he gets the mix of over confidence and vulnerability just right. I also liked the no-nonsense relationship he has with Sneha and really appreciate that Swaroop didn’t go with the obvious and add a romance between the two. Their working relationship is well written and the mix of Agent’s brilliance and Sneha’s down to earth practicality serves the story well. The support cast are all fine but have little depth, apart from Krishneswara Rao who is adept and adding mystery to his role as Maruthi Rao.

One of the only issues I have with the film is that we are told everything, often in great detail as Agent describes every scene and what each clue means. It would have been less overwhelming to show a little more and tell less, which could also have been used to give the most significant moments more impact. There are many, many twists and turns in the tale which does make it interesting, but since they occur at break-neck speed, by the time I could process the information and make the link back through the various characters, Agent was already on to the next twist. I really wanted Swaroop to slow down some of these scenes and draw out the revelations a little more, particularly when the film started to delve into the shady operators who prey on their victims’ superstitions and beliefs. 

Despite the uneven pacing, the story itself is well put together and the twists are unexpected and cleverly integrated into the narrative. Sunny Kurapati makes sure the film looks good and Mark K Robin’s background score suits the mix of action and more cerebral detective work. It comes down to a good story, a clever mix of action and comedy and two great lead characters who work well together. So good in fact, that I really hope they put together a sequel! A very different film from the Telugu film industry and one well worth catching now that it is available online. 4 stars.

Jersey (2019)

I managed to see Jersey in the cinema when it first released in April last year, but I’ve been waiting to watch it again and until recently I hadn’t been able to find it anywhere online. However, it’s now available on YT in a Hindi dub, which although not ideal is good enough to remind me of what I enjoyed the first time round, so finally, here are my thoughts on the film.

Jersey tells the story of a cricketer, Arjun (Nani) and his struggles to succeed at his chosen profession, but the film is more than the usual under-dog sports story. The film also explores relationships, the challenges associated with becoming an elite sportsperson later in life and more broadly looks at second chances. At the ripe old age of 36, Arjun has a wife, a young son and bills to pay, which is what initially sparks his return to competition cricket. Once he gets back into the game though, his passion for cricket takes over, but there are numerous obstacles to his success. Not the least of these is the question of whether Arjun has the physical stamina to be a professional cricketer at an age when most are contemplating retirement.

This isn’t a film where you have to know a lot about cricket or even enjoy watching the game to fully engage with the film. While the cricket sequences are beautifully, and realistically shot, the film is more about the passion Arjun has for the game and how this affects his relationships with everyone around him. To understand Arjun’s story there is a flash-back sequence to 1986, which shows him as a confident and successful cricketer at the top of his game. Life is going well, he’s in love with Sarah (Shraddha Srinath) and is on track to win a place in the India team. But when his place is taken by someone with better connections and a larger bribe, the disappointment shatters Arjun’s world and despite his coach Murthy (Sathyaraj) urging him to try again next year, Arjun vows to leave the sport for good.

Ten years later, Arjun is in financial strife due to an enforced absence from work from a union related issue. His wife is frustrated and angry with his disinterest and general apathy for life, while his son Nani (an excellent Ronit Kamra) is pestering him for an Indian cricket jersey for his upcoming birthday. Without cricket Arjun has lost his zeal for life and without a career and unable to provide for his family, his world has become very bleak indeed. Desperate to please his son, Arjun plays a charity match but still doesn’t manage to raise enough money for his son’s birthday present. But once he starts playing, despite his age and various set-backs, Arjun is determined to make his comeback as a successful cricketer.

This is a very human story, and writer/director Gowtham Tinnanuri fills Jersey with heart and emotion while still keeping events moving along. The two components, the cricketing journey and the various relationships, complement each other well and the film benefits from Nani’s superb performance as Arjun. Initially he’s impetuous and brash – a typical young man who has the world at his feet and knows it. Later, he completely captures the heartache and depression that comes with Arjun’s failures in life and contrasts this with the passion and excitement that comes with his second chance at success. What stands out is just how believable he is in the role and how quickly Nani pulls the audience into his world. There is a moment where the older Arjun learns he has made the Hyderabad team and his celebration as an older player is a perfect contrast with his exuberance as a younger player. It’s also a pointed comparison between the older Arjun being selected and the younger not making it into the India team. I also liked the way the relationship between Ramya (Sanusha) and up and coming cricketer Nandan Reddy (Viswant Duddumpudi) mirrors the earlier romance between Arjun and Sarah and provides another link between the events of 1996 and 1986.

Central to the story is Arjun’s relationship with his son. The jersey of the film title is the India shirt that Nani wants for his birthday, but which is much too expensive for Arjun to buy.  Ronit Kamra is excellent in the role of Arjun’s son and there is such good rapport between him and Nani. This feels like a true father/son relationship and there is plenty of warmth and emotion in every interaction. Nani’s hero worship of his father is the only positive part of Arjun’s world and it’s beautiful to watch Arjun develop as a father in response to his son’s expectations. The flip side is the father/son relationship between Arjun and his coach Murthy, who has always acted more like a father to him. Both relationships are well written and expertly performed by all involved and I enjoyed finding the similarities and the differences in both relationships.

Also pivotal to the story is Arjun’s wife Sarah and Shraddha Srinath is excellent in the role. Her portrayal is realistic, particularly when faced with a husband who seems unable to do even the smallest of tasks around the home. She perfectly captures the exasperation and hurt of dealing with someone she loves who appears to be self-destructing before her eyes without ever seeing that she is struggling to cope as well. It’s such a true to life scenario and Shraddha gets all those complicated emotions across in her performance. The romance is also sweet and nicely developed although there is a fight sequence between Arjun and his fellow teammates about Sarah which does seem rather pointless and unnecessary. 

While the story of Arjun’s comeback works well and the various emotional rollercoaster moments follow a reasonably predictable beat, the end has a twist that just doesn’t seem to fit well into the rest of the story. I found this to be a jarring note in an otherwise well-written story that really wasn’t necessary. Like any sports film, the overcoming of adversity is enough in its own right, and when added to the well developed relationships here, nothing else was really required, and in fact the twist detracts rather than adds to the story. But that’s a small grumble in an otherwise very enjoyable movie. I really like this film and wish it was more readily available as I’d happily watch it again. Although I might skip the very end. 4 ½ stars.