Bujjigadu

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Puri Jagannadh and Prabhas are a winning combination and while Bujjigaadu lacks the wardrobe excesses of EK Niranjan, it is a fun if ludicrous film.

Little Bujji and Chitti are neighbours in Vizag, inseparable until they have a fight. Bujji always does what Chitti says and she tells him to not speak to her for 12 years, after which she will marry him. He knows he can’t stay without wanting to talk to her so he runs away. Time passes, and Chitti’s family move away. Flash forward and we see our grown hero (Prabhas) beating up goons in Chennai. As evidence of his Tamilification, Bujji is a huge Rajinikanth fan, desperate to get to the FDFS of the Superstar’s latest film. And that leads handily to a corking tribute to the man himself.

Bujji returns to Vizag after 12 years, confident that Chitti will be there waiting. He is distracted and strays into a comedy subplot which results in some jail time. While in jail he is offered 1 crore if he breaks out and kills a man. After a moment of soul searching and confirmation the target was a bad guy, he accepts. After all, he needs money to marry Chitti. Meanwhile she has returned from studying overseas to look for Bujji, only to be sent away by his folks with a flea in her ear.

The pair cross paths, each unaware of the other’s identity. Bujji’s nom de crime is Rajinikanth and apart from knowing Chitti (Trisha) is in Hyderabad, he has few leads to go on. Eventually Bujji discovers that Chitti is the sister of Sivanna (Mohan Babu), the man he was paid to kill but has since befriended. Bujji has been living in her home all along. Sivanna asked Bujji to keep his true name a secret as he knew his little sis would leave home as soon as she found her childhood love. So Bujji agrees, albeit with some conditions.

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Hero and heroine under one roof with the erstwhile villain, more villains breathing down their necks, true love and secret identities…What could possibly go wrong?

Bujji and Chitti still imagine each other as they were in childhood, and their adult selves don’t really hit it off. I wondered how long they would last once they had to spend a lot more time together and the idea of a mutual destiny started to wear thin. Trisha plays Chitti as a little stuck-up, vain and intolerant, but still with some likeable characteristics. Good friend The Mahesh Fan once damned Trisha’s acting by saying she always looks a little more in love with herself than with her hero (Mahesh in that instance) and I tend to agree. Trisha and Prabhas do have an easy rapport but it never seems like a sizzling chemistry.  On the other hand, when Trisha looks at herself in a mirror, all bets are off.

Prabhas is immensely likeable, and despite his slightly dorky charm he can muster up a good death stare and punch dialogue when needed. Bujji is fairly easy going but he is a Telugu film hero so there were a few moments of brain melting ‘logic’ and chauvinism. His declaration that if Chitti said she loved him he would have to kill her because she could only ever love him and she didn’t know who him was so clearly would be guilty of cheating and thus deserve to die made me wish again that every film had a Tight Slap Administrator, and that it was me.

Mind you, Prabhas does get props for his Chihuahua wrangling skills.  And I love how much love Bujji has for Sivanna and his constant calling people Darling.

If we define love as mutual respect and affection with a dash of chemistry, then the strongest relationship in this story is between Bujji and Sivanna. Sivanna sits back to watch his goons take Bujji apart, but instead finds himself cradling his bloody opponent, shouting at him not to die because he loves him. Mohan Babu and Prabhas play off each other very well, and their characters seem more complex when they are together as they get down to the truth of things rather than just posturing.

Of the large supporting cast, MS Narayana is a standout as Bujji’s boozy, soft hearted dad. The scene where he recognised his runaway boy was sweet, and I really do like him in roles where he gets to act and not just be the butt of jokes. Sanjana plays Chitti’s sister Kangana and she is pretty and not completely terrible so I suppose she met the brief.

The villains are Machi Reddy (Kota Srinivasa Rao) and his two lions – Ajay and Supreet. House favourite Subbaraju is excellent as hapless third son Venkat , who seems a bit too sensible and not really hard-core enough for his dad. Sunil and Ali provide more than enough pointless comedy. Brahmaji is Sivanna’s hot headed sidekick. And Mumaith Khan does her thing as a welder/item girl.

I liked that she wore professionally appropriate gear for both her day jobs.

The fight scenes are campy and funny, with lots of flexing and posing by Prabhas. Every single breakable thing on set is utilised, and the sound effects team are given full rein on the biffo and squishy stabby noises. The finale took place on an abandoned film set so there were lots of fragile brick walls and stained glass windows, enough for everyone to have a go. Almost all the boys get to fly about either through wires or effects. I kind of love the moment when Bujji sets his foot on fire, all the better to kick the goons with. That’s commitment. I liked that Bujji could pour out his feelings in Tamil to Telugu people and in Telugu to Tamil friends and thus get to wallow in his woe while keeping his secrets. There were some zingy one liners and some mystifying subtitles, and that all adds to the fun.

The costume department made some interesting choices, and I applaud their application to the task of dressing the overseas backing dancers with only the materials commonly found in hotel rooms and budget clothing chains. And Prabhas takes denim in some unexpected directions. The songs are mostly fun (even if just for the outfits) and help you take a breather in between fight scenes.

Bujjigaadu has a hero who knows exactly how to hit all the right spots in a mass potboiler, and a director with a big budget and a sense of fun.  4 stars!

Mankatha

Mankatha

I missed Mankantha when I was in Chennai due to limited time and sold-out shows in my usual cinemas – which I guess was a good indication that the film would be worth seeing.  Venkat Prabhu’s fourth film does feature his usual crowd of young actors, but also stars Ajith Kumar in his fiftieth film – it’s all about the numbers!  Mankatha is an action thriller based around the theft of illegal gambling money and features so many twists and turns that at times it’s hard to keep up with just who’s double-crossing who.  Although there are a few leaps of faith required to fully engage with the plot, overall the pace of the action and an excellent performance from Ajith in a negative role make the film well worth a watch.

The story starts with Ajith as Police Officer Vinayak Mahadevan, landing onto the screen in a typical Tamil Hero entrance style (i.e. unlikely appearance from out of nowhere) to prevent what appears to be a corrupt police execution of smuggler Faizal (Aravind Akash).  The lines are blurred right from the start – is Vinayak a hero, fighting corruption and gambling despite being suspended from duty for saving Faizal, or does his drunkenness and casual infidelity  point to even bigger character flaws and a tendency to flout the rules for his own benefit?  Each subsequent scene makes the conundrum more difficult to solve, and this ambiguity runs throughout the action in the first half.  It’s not until much later in the film that Vinayak’s true character becomes apparent (or does it?) and his real motives are revealed.

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Then there is ‘Action King’ Arjun, who appears as Prithviraj, the head of a special task force entrusted with stamping out illegal gambling on cricket matches after the head of the anti-corruption squad Kamal Ekambaram (Subbu Panchu) commits suicide due to his own gambling debt.  However Kamal isn’t dead, but instead reappears as one of the investigative team, a detail which I kept expecting to have some relevance, but it never actually does.  Arjun is very OTT in his action scenes, made even funnier by his terrible floppy hair, but otherwise delivers  a generally straitlaced and relatively heroic portrayal of a senior police officer intent on stamping out gambling.

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Vinayak, one night stands aside, is in a relationship with Sanjana (Trisha), the daughter of Arumuha Chettiyar (Jayaprakash).  Chettiyar runs the illegal gambling network in Mumbai along with various other illegal activities, and he also just happens to be the man who employs Faizal.  Was this good planning by Vinayak, or just a coincidence?

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Since Vinayak apparently turns a blind eye to Chettiyar’s illegal activities the question then follows, is this all part of an undercover plan to infiltrate the gang and bring down Chettiyar or does Vinayak really not care about his potential father-in-law breaking the law beyond the opportunity to pocket a few bribes?  It’s hard to tell, as Ajith makes the most of his devastatingly cheeky grin and ever more crazy persona to keep everyone guessing his true motives.

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Meanwhile, Chettiyar’s henchman Sumanth (Vaibhav) is in cahoots with local Sub-Inspector Ganesh (Ashwin Kakumanu) and bar-owner Mahat (Mahat Raghavendra) to steal the gambling take from the IPL final.  Mahat ropes in his friend from home Prem (Premji Amaren) who just happens to be an IT expert as well as a terminal idiot.  A little of Premji’s humour here goes a long way and less really would have been better, but cleverly developed group dynamics and good performances from the rest of the gang help keep the story on track.  In due course, Vinayak finds out about the plot which just happens to coincide with his own plans to loot the money, and the conspirators end up joining together to steal $5 billion in US dollars.  While some of the heist details require a major suspension of disbelief, the rest of the story deviously pits everyone against each other with  betrayals, plot twists and unexpected revelations, which mean it’s necessary to concentrate and pay attention to work out just who is allied with who at any given time.

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While the guys get all of the action and pretty much all of the storyline, there is very little for Trisha and the other female characters to do.  Anjali has perhaps the next most realised role as Sumanth’s wife, but her only value is as a bargaining tool later in the story.  Andrea as Prithviraj’s wife and Lakshmi Rai have even less of a role, and almost all of the female roles could have been eliminated without making any real ripple in the story.  The songs are also mainly superfluous although the soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja does have a few memorable tracks.  This is probably the best choreographed, although the visual effects for Vaada Bin Laada are worth a look too (watch out for the plane on the wall that takes flight).

Ajith is definitely the star of the show in a negative role that must have been a hoot to play.  He spits venomous lines with great joie de vivre, throws in plenty of bleeped out profanity and his crazed megalomania is wonderful to behold.  He has great chemistry with Arjun and the two take control of every scene they are in.  However Vaibhav is also notable and the other cast members all provide solid performances.  While the focus is on the action there is also some nifty camera work from Sakthi Saravanan, including a great shot of some boys playing cricket in the slums while Vinayak chases down Sumanth.

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Mankatha is not the most convincing heist film, and it would definitely benefit from trimming some of the excess in the form of unnecessary songs and peripheral characters, but it succeeds in entertaining which after all is the main purpose of cinema.  I loved the twists and turns and appreciated Ajith’s excellent demonstration of just how to keep everyone guessing while Arjun tries his best to convince everyone that he is the hero.  It’s amusing and doesn’t take itself too seriously which makes for an enjoyable watch. 3 ½ stars.

Stalin (2006)

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When people complain that Telugu film directors lack creativity and too many movies are remakes, I’d like them to consider Stalin. It takes a certain amount of vision to translate a film like Pay It Forward into mass Telugu style, and to cast Chiranjeevi in a role originally played by Haley Joel Osment. Nice one AR Murugadoss!

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Stalin (named by his Communist dad) is an ex-Army major, living with his Ma (Sharada) and passing time by doing good deeds and protecting the defenceless. It’s a typical altruistic hero role, with Stalin using his strength to look after the people. After a string of events that undermine his faith in humanity, he devises a scheme.

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Instead of accepting thanks he will ask anyone he helps to help another three people and tell them to pay it forward. In this way, the whole country will be incited to activism. It doesn’t seem to take off and Stalin is bitterly disappointed that people simply don’t do anything but make excuses. However, in the background the movement slowly gains momentum.

That is all the good message-y stuff but I said this was mass. Stalin also battles a corrupt politician (Pradeep Rawat) and his crazy father-in-law (Prakash Raj) and their assorted lackeys. He is pursued by Chitra (Trisha) and nagged about marriage by his mother while trying to patch up the relationship between his Ma and estranged sister Jhansi (Khushboo) who married a Punjabi dude against said mother’s wishes. Add in assassinations, explosions, amputations and ‘only in films’ medicine. Phew!

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The message is heavy handed yet I can’t argue with most of the sentiments. The catalyst for Stalin’s formal implementation of good deeds is the suicide of a young girl who had lost both arms in an accident. Due to a series of mishaps she had no one to write an exam for her, something Stalin would have done but he was helping a blind student at a chemistry prac. She asked so many people for help and none would, so in despair she jumped off the roof. It was a bit out of character for a girl who fought so hard to get her education, but it made a point. People are often not deliberately bad, just lazy and thoughtless. Initially despondent, Stalin is inspired by a group of disabled kids who stop a race to allow a boy to get back up and then all finish together.

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Stalin ponders why people who have so much give so little. I don’t subscribe to the idea of the ‘inspirationally disadvantaged’ as I think people are people and having a physical disability doesn’t necessarily make for a particular personality type or behaviour, nor is it guaranteed to turn everyone around that person into saints. But I couldn’t help responding to the big delighted smiles of the little boys and the performances by the two college girls. I think English language mainstream films tend to either glamourize or overlook people who are different and I liked seeing real people, not actresses pretending to be blind and so on.

One thing that irritates me is the filmi convention that insists ordinary people need a hero to lead them on all points. Stalin is offered a chance to go back into the Army only to have Gopi (Sunil) insist that ‘the people’ need him to inspire them to do good deeds. Why demand someone else be your role model when you already know what you should do? That laziness in films that sees entire rural communities under the thumb of a handful of drunk and not very bright rowdies, and entire neighbourhoods stand by and watch someone be maltreated is so frustrating, especially when its only purpose is to make the hero a HERO. And even more so in a film about people power.

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It’s an uncomfortable blend at times but Chiranjeevi’s apparent sincerity in the cheesy scenes and unswerving self-belief in the big chest-beating moments holds it all together. The fight scenes rely mostly on editing and effects as Stalin allows his enemies to come to him for a beating so suit the slightly more mature Megastar.

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For a do-gooder he uses threats liberally. But he did once singlehandedly overcome an enemy army emplacement so it would pay to listen.

I was initially a bit uncomfortable with Chiru and Trisha as a couple. Stalin’s backstory makes it clear he is a fair bit older than her. The songs are mostly Chitra’s fantasy point of view so it worked better than expected as the cavorting was not his idea. Anyway, it’s Chiru! Mani Sharma’s songs are fun and so are the picturisations, especially the traditional hero arrival number which also incorporates a call to donate organs, blood and eyes for the betterment of society.

And apart from anything else the songs give the costume department an outlet for their experimental urges.

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Trisha is adequate but Chitra could have been played by almost anyone. Perhaps it would have been better to cast someone who could swim as Chitra was allegedly a swimming champion. I think she won a trophy for most ridiculous dive off the blocks and 10 metre dogpaddle with gratuitous appearance in a swimsuit. She is silly and self-centred, another of those mysterious film heroines who only have children as friends and don’t seem to do anything other than be the heroine. Chitra is friends with Stalin’s sister. Jhansi is a pleasant and capable woman who has a good career and a loving family. Once Supreet and his rowdies start targeting people close to Stalin, personal strength goes out the window as all the ladies need him to set things to rights.

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Sharada is great as the widowed mother who seems to have raised the kids alone. She is fiercely proud of Stalin and equally strong in her rejection of Jhansi who married an outsider. Some of her scenes are broad comedy, as she schemes with the dodgy priest (Brahmi) to marry Stalin off to a beautiful girl, any beautiful girl. I’d often wondered about the thinking behind ‘I Wanna Spiderman’ and it turns out a comedy uncle is to blame. This is Brahmi’s fantasy which perhaps explains the costumes. Or not.

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Prakash Raj is excellent as Muddu Krishnayya, a self-described Jekyll and Hyde. Even when Muddu Krishnayya starts to really lose his marbles he stays on task, although he does over-explain his plans which diminishes the likelihood of success.

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The support cast is familiar in faces and functions. Subbaraju makes a fleeting appearance as a creepy rapey guy, literally flying across screen following a heroic punch never to be seen again. Supreet does the villainous heavy lifting, earning an excellent comeuppance at Stalin’s hands. Mukesh Rishi and Brahmaji are Stalin’s Army comrades who come to help save the day when Stalin is under siege. Harsha Vardhan and Sunil are Stalin’s main comedy sidekicks. Everyone does their thing and does it pretty well.

This is not exactly a family friendly film due to the violence, but it is not as empty as many mass films are since all the biffo and mayhem is for the good of Society. The story ends on a high note but getting there took some doing. It’s worth a watch for late career Chiru still in full possession of his famed charisma, and for the curiosity value of the loose remake. 3 stars!

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