Gentleman (2016)

 

Gentleman_posterFans of the duplicate hero genre will not be surprised by the plot developments in Mohan Krishna Indraganti’s Gentleman, but it is an enjoyable film with some very good performances. Unfortunately the trailer doesn’t do the film justice. But here it is.

Aiswarya and Catherine meet on an international flight heading back to Hyderabad. In a stilted “hey I know how we can fill in the time” scene, the ladies decide to tell each other about the men in their lives.

Cathy tells her self-described cinematic story of meeting Gowtham, and falling head over heels. Now, Gowtham is the typical filmi hero stalkerish won’t take no for an answer guy, but Catherine sends him encouraging signals. Their dates are actually very cute, they have fun together, and they do seem to genuinely like each other. She had to leave him to go do a VFX course in the UK, and can’t wait to see him again.

Aiswarya tells Cathy about her perfect fiancé Jai. Where Catherine and Gowtham were endearingly real, Jai and Aiswarya are annoying, privileged and clueless. They can get in the sea. They go on a roadtrip for two days, and ostentatiously leave all their money in their checked baggage. Aiswarya makes up rules about not working or trading things for money and not calling home. This is to test them and their compatibility. So they whinge the whole way to their destination, except for a brief break for Rajnikanth impressions, and take advantage of the hospitality of poorer locals. In one of many brilliant decisions, Jai feeds Aiswarya magic mushrooms then freaks out when the hallucinogens kick in. Finally they decide they must be each other’s soulmates because really, who else could stand either of them?

Imagine Catherine’s surprise when she sees her new bestie walk up to Gowtham’s double at the airport. And imagine her shock when she goes to Gowtham’s home only to be told he was killed in an accident. Was there a connection between Gowtham and Jai? Was Gowtham’s death really an accident? What does her friend Aishu really know about the man she is going to marry? And now imagine the rest of the story! Or, just wait until the end when two characters do an awesomely committed bit of “As you know Bob” exposition and explain the entire plot for the convenience of an eavesdropping character and anyone in the audience who hasn’t worked it out.

Gentleman-Catherine and Gowtham

Niveda Thomas is fantastic as Catherine. Her acting is quite natural, and she has a healthy realistic beauty. Her chemistry with Nani was great, whether he was playing her boyfriend or the suspiciously perfect man going to marry her rich friend. When she started to question Jai’s integrity she took action herself and was as rational as someone so invested in the outcome could be. I also have to give some credit to whoever styled her for choosing a wardrobe that a normal young woman would wear instead of having her teeter around in high heels and higher skirts. Niveda has screen presence beyond what I’d expect for a 21 year old woman in an industry not known for developing actresses beyond their cup size.

Gentleman_Jai and Aiswarya

Surabhi was less impressive as Aiswarya, but that was likely due to the limitations of the character. Aishu was ignorant of the suspicions about her fiancé so was mostly the bubbly happy bride to be. She certainly looked the part of a pampered girl with an optimistic nature, and her scenes with Nani were generally good (if nauseating).

Nani’s characters developed from different directions. Gowtham was a bit of a pest who revealed his heart of gold as Cathy got to know him, while Jai started sweet and considerate, then revealed more of his ruthless side. Nani is always likeable, but he managed to make Jai creepily perfect so that everything he did after a certain point became suspicious, regardless of how innocuous it was. Even his 70s cop show blow wave seemed to indicate menace. Gowtham seemed less calculating, more of a take it as it comes kind of guy, and a bit glib. Gowtham’s fight scenes were very tongue in cheek and entertaining, which suits Nani to a T.

Sreemukhi is Nitya, a straight talking journalist who takes an interest in Jai’s business dealings and seeks Catherine out to help confirm her suspicions. They had a nice dynamic and it was good seeing another sane career woman in the ensemble. Srinivas Avasarala is good as Vamsi, Jai’s suspiciously agreeable cousin who doesn’t seem to mind being ignored continuously in favour of the golden boy. Vennela Kishore was amusing as highly strung work supervisor and Youtube legend. Tanikella Bharani has a small role as Jai’s uncle Mohan. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it gig so maybe he was just doing a favour for a mate. Vinay Varma is Catherine’s creepy uncle David, and I shed no tears for his character. This film was very smart in how it showed their relationship and Catherine’s reaction without getting into voyeuristic rapeyness. It was all wrong, and no more needed to be said. Rohini played Gowtham’s mum, and every time I see her on screen I just love her. Her acting is excellent, and she and Nani still had the rapport that I loved so much in Ala Modalaindi.

Saturday Night Fever had a dorky fun feel, with the main cast doing enthusiastically uncoordinated dancing that helped gloss over the song’s lack of freshness. Mani Sharma’s songs are standard formulaic film fare, and most add little either visually or musically. The engagement song at Aiswarya’s house (Dintaka Dintaka) was nice mostly for seeing the character actors get their moment in the spotlight.

I liked the use of graphic novel style effects in some early scenes but that seemed to go by the wayside later on in favour of standard dodgy looking breaking glass VFX and the like. Odd considering Catherine’s career, they didn’t seem to invest in getting that right.

While I was overjoyed to have subtitles, there were some silly errors in them. Broachers for brochures, one excellent instance of comma for coma, and my favourite – missionary for masonry (as in, the reinforcing rod is embedded in the missionary masonry). It did deflate a very tense scene.

See this for a complex and yet fast moving plot carried by Nani’s rock solid skills, and Niveda Thomas’ excellent heroine who does stuff that won’t make you facepalm all through the film.

Brahmotsavam (2016)

Brahmotsavam

Srikanth Addala’s Brahmotsavam is a real mishmash of a film, where random family scene follows random family scene with the emphasis on feel-good values and upbeat emotions rather than anything inconvenient like a storyline. This is one film where the subtitles didn’t seem to help at all and much of the dialogue made absolutely no sense, but a few other audience members explained that not only were the subtitles inaccurate, but that the script was fairly random too and they were just as confused. It doesn’t help that most of the characters don’t have actual names but are called brother, brother-in-law or sister-in-law (and there are a lot of them), making Brahmotsavam less of a celebration and more of a memory test. Mahesh is always watchable and the strong cast are all charismatic, but with nothing much actually happening over more than two and a half hours, Brahmotsavam is sadly uninspiring.

The film starts with a family celebration, which I think was a wedding but could have been almost anything – maybe just breakfast – given the families propensity for breaking into song and dance at any moment.  Whatever the occasion, Sathyaraj likes to ensure that the whole family celebrate it together – that’s all his brothers, their wives, children and his brother-in-law Rao Ramesh. Everyone is sickeningly happy all the time except for Rao Ramesh who suffers from intense (but understandable) familiyitis and resents Sathyaraj’s success with the paint factory he runs. Naturally everyone in the family works at the paint factory when they’re not singing and dancing around the family home, and they’re all deliriously happy to be working there too. It’s actually a little odd to see Mahesh in such ultra-happy family mode for most of the film, but when he sheds the happy and has to show a range of emotions he really is excellent. More of this would have made for a better and more enjoyable film.

Just to add to his individuality a small animated figure appears to speak to Rao Ramesh any time he is particularly exasperated with his brother-in-law. Since most of the time this imaginary figure berates him for his lack of appreciation for Sathyaraj and the family gatherings this has the effect of making Rao Ramesh even more miserable and less willing to participate. After the first 15minutes I was totally on Rao Ramesh’s side and could completely understand how the continual en masse family gatherings could very easily make anyone want to run screaming for the hills as fast as possible. Rao Ramesh is much more tolerant however and manages to last almost until the second half before he snaps and leaves the family group.

As part of the celebrations, Kajal arrives from Australia for a few months and her father decides it would an excellent idea if she stayed with Sathyaraj and his family rather than spend the time with her own relatives. She’s gorgeous and confident, and Mahesh is smitten the moment he sets eyes on her. However, since she lives in Australia where the accepted practice if you like someone is to tell them you’re interested, Kajal is rather taken aback by someone staring relentlessly at her at every available opportunity without speaking. Living in the same house makes it ridiculously easy for Mahesh to stalk Kajal without appearing to do so but after a few uncomfortable moments Kajal seems intrigued by her silent admirer. The romance progresses as expected but despite Mahesh and Kajal seeming to get on well together, Kajal decides that she wants more from life than to be the wife of a paint manufacturer and decides to move on. She has ambition and is prepared to sacrifice what’s basically a holiday romance for her in order to ensure her dreams come true. I like this assertiveness in her character and Kajal is appropriately confident in the role, while still remaining respectful to the family and her father. It’s a good performance and I like this more mature and sensible Kajal.

Luckily for Mahesh, Samantha turns up in slightly manic friendly overdrive mode and the pair set off pair set off around India in the search for Mahesh’s roots. One of the first family members he meets is the hapless Vennela Kishore and the couple decide to drag him along with them on their road trip. It seems strangely unnecessary but at least Vennela Kishore and Samantha speak to each other which does help to make sense of the second half. Samantha is just a little too zany to be convincing but her energy does help lift the second half. The problem here is a lack of definition for her role and a fluffy backstory that does little to establish her character.

The biggest issue with Brahmotsavam is the addition of too many random scenes which are only peripherally connected to the main ‘plot’ (such as it is) and don’t serve any purpose. For example, at one point Mahesh and his parents are talking by video connection to his sister in the UK. His mum is showing off various sarees while Mahesh teases his sister and the talk finally comes round to how much they miss her and wish she was there. Big family moment – lots of tears, virtual hugs and emotion. And then that’s it – she’s never mentioned again. So much of the film starts with an apparent purpose and then fizzles out without ever going anywhere, making it difficult to work out what (if anything) is relevant.

The first half is also very song heavy with most of the songs coming one after another with little reprieve, including one where Mahesh and his backing dancers frantically try to get insects out of their clothes. That is definitely one of the high points and got the most cheers from the fans in the audience, but possibly not for the choreography. The second half settles down to a standard road trip and there are fewer songs which makes this part of the film flow more smoothly. It’s still a series of random encounters, but at least that does fit in more with the idea of a journey to find yourself while Samantha keeps everything moving along nicely.

There are a few positives to the film. The songs by Mickey J Meyer are good if oddly placed, and Gopi Sundar’s background music is generally effective and not too intrusive. The film looks beautiful and R Rathnavelu’s cinematography captures the warmth of the family home and the stunning landscapes as Mahesh and Samantha travel around India. All the main leads are fine, if somewhat incomprehensible for much of the film, and Mahesh certainly delivers in terms of emotion but the star of the show is undoubtedly Rao Ramesh with his grumpy and often bewildered demeanour. However, the lack of a comprehensible storyline and the random pointlessness of many scenes means that Brahmotsavam is probably best enjoyed on DVD where it’s possible to skip the vague dialogue, watch the songs and admire the beautiful scenery without worrying about the deficiencies in the story.

Goonda (1984)

goonda

A sophisticated archaeological dig uncovers a priceless idol. Numerous criminal gangs swoop to claim the prize, and the title of Best Gang Ever.

There are men in red shirts v men in white pants v overgrown scouts in khaki.  And then a relatively svelte man in black ninjas his way onto the scene – cartwheeling and backflipping like he’d just invented acrobatics. Who could it be?!?

Chiranjeevi teams up with A Kodandarami Reddy again for a mass film with a few little tweaks on the standard formula. There are multiple identities, daring deeds, family histrionics, a significant mole, and a lot of prancing around in parks.

Kalidas (Chiranjeevi) is the up and coming star of a crime gang. Kali is confident and quite happy with his lot which seems to include Mohini (Silk Smitha), the chief’s daughter. He has a fearsome reputation, a tight perm, and blue contacts. He represents the meritocracy while the leader’s nephew Kasi prefers nepotism to ensure his career progression. He and Kali have an excellent and yet not very good at all blindfolded fight to the (almost) death which I found oddly compelling and quietly soporific.

The lair is a cave with odds and ends of lounge furniture picked up on hard rubbish collection day. And despite being top secret and underground, apparently anything that goes on is clearly audible in Kali’s lounge room. A series of unfortunate events triggered by the jealous Kasi sees Kali leave gang life to go straight.

Kali rebrands himself as Raja a pop singer with much better hair, and coincidentally meets SP Anand (Satyanarayana Kaikala) on a train. Cue flashback and the genial policeman is Raja’s father, back when he was a little boy called Ravi.

Goonda-tragedy

Ravi was involved in an accident resulting in a neighbour losing his sight, and his furious dad chased him down the road firing warning shots over his head. So I can kind of understand the kid being terrified of his father catching up with him. Raja saves SP Anand from goons sent to kill him, and SP Anand makes Raja stay in his home. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Raja gets a job at the nightclub owned by baddie Kasiram (Allu Ramalingaiah), where Jaya (his childhood intended played by Radha) sings. I do enjoy a bit of disco yoga classical fusion.

I am less in love with Chiru’s wardrobe, which seems to be sourced from the ladies floral blouse department.

While growing closer to Raja, Jaya reveals her intense hatred of Ravi, the child who destroyed her family. Raja decides he has to win her love as his new self, and fix everyone else’s life into the bargain. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Thankfully Raja likes to get his shirt off, so Jaya recognises the Significant Mole. After some angst and a little bit of PR from the gossipy doctor, she and Raja resolve their differences. Love arrives differently for us all. Sometimes it is wearing a Blondie t-shirt.

Raja decides to secretly protect his dad, although he still won’t tell his family who he is. But Dharmaraju has tracked down Kasi, a witness to Raja’s past. Will they ever recognise him? Will he tell them? Will they overcome evildoers and lively happily ever after?

Raja utilises his old Kalidas skills to get the money for Jaya to settle a debt, and he is the anonymous benefactor behind a sudden offer of an eye transplant to restore her dad’s vision. Raja’s fighting style is as flamboyant and flexible as ever, so the action scenes are loads of fun. There is an excellent train sequence where it is clearly Chiru himself (at least for most of the time), leaping from carriage to carriage and flinging his opponents to the winds.

As is often the case in Telugu films, justice is not clear cut and may reside outside of the legal system. SP Anand has to deal with the consequences of his temper, both in the past and now he knows his son has returned. And Raja has to pay for Kalidas’ actions. I liked that no one really escaped from themselves. It’s a good way to mesh a family drama with a revenge motif.

The multiple identities give Chiru a good excuse to switch up the wardrobe options and he imbues each character with a different emotional tone. Kali is never conflicted about being a crook, and his change of lifestyle was more to please his father figure. He certainly managed to heal his wounded heart in record time. Poor Mohini – forgotten in just one dance sequence. Raja has firm views on Jaya’s brother Srinu being a wastrel and tells him he has no right to eat if he doesn’t earn his own way. Which is interesting in light of his criminal past but maybe he saw that as honest work, and better than taking money from a WOMAN. The horror! His views on the role of women are typical of the age and genre, but he does understand why Jaya mistrusts him and that he needs to give her evidence before she would change her mind.  And despite his love for his estranged family, Ravi also sees that his father was very unfair. He doesn’t examine his own decision to jump off a bridge too closely, but you can’t have dazzling insights into everything.

Jaya has a bit of backbone, and Radha always has good chemistry with Chiru. When she realised who Raja was, she was furious and articulate in rejecting him. And when she changed her views, she was again articulate and clear in what she wanted to happen with their relationship. She is a typical filmi heroine but I could respect that she was making some of her own decisions. The wardrobe team do torment her in some dance sequences, and I suspect they even repurposed Kali’s perm wig. In a way she is the character that triggers Raja into action. He could have made do with seeing his family occasionally under the guise of friendship, but he fell for Jaya and so he had to do something to gain her trust and affection.

Allu Ramalingaiah and Rao Gopal Rao are the muddling but nasty crims who run the club and there is an ongoing subplot of both stupidity and cruelty at their behest. There is also a large cast of supporting goondas, many of whom seemed most animated in their death scenes. Satyanarayana Kailkala and Annapoorna do what they have done so very many times as Ravi/Kali/Raja’s parents. Silk Smitha’s role was small but she did get to wear some fabulous sequinned shorts so she made an impression.

Despite being full mass formula, Goonda is a bit more low key and contemplative than some of Chiru’s other hits. The music and choreography is a bit lacklustre, especially considering that Chiranjeevi and Radha were no slouches in the dance department. The set design and costumes also show the spirit of making do. I think they spent all the big bucks on the train. See this for truth, justice, and two kinds of Chiru! 4 stars!