Gopala Gopala (2015)

film poster

Gopala Gopala, so good I watched it twice! Well, actually I would do that more often for more films if Melbourne had an extra show, which is what happened this week with Gopala Gopala. But it is a fun film and I enjoyed watching Venkatesh and Pawan Kaylan in their first movie together. I haven’t seen either the Hindi version of this movie, or the original Australian film that inspired both and that could be one of the reasons why I enjoyed Gopala Gopala as much as I did. I’ve read that this Telugu remake follows the original faithfully and as a result it may only be worth a watch if you haven’t seen OMG, or like me feel that Pawan Kalyan as God seems a more plausible choice than Akshay Kumar.

The Gopala of the title is a shopkeeper who decides to sue God when his insurance claim is rejected following an earthquake that has destroyed his livelihood. The insurance company representative points out that Gopala has signed the contract that lists (in small print) the exclusions for his insurance, including an ‘Act of God’ and since no-one else but God could have caused the earthquake, Gopala is out of luck and out of compensation. It’s a nice idea, even if the term act of god is a legal construct rather than anything remotely religious, but the film works on the premise that either God does not exist and therefore the insurance company has to pay, or God was responsible and the onus of care rests with his agents on Earth. Along the way the film questions the morality of the various religious orders and their representatives, but is clear throughout that despite Gopala’s own personal disbelief there is actually no question about the validity of God in any of his incarnations. It’s the charlatans and irrational customs that come up for criticism and the writers throw in some good questions about morality in general for later contemplation.

Venkatesh pitches his character perfectly as a non-believer who makes his living selling Hindu statues and religious artifacts even though he finds the rituals and superstitious involved in worship ridiculous. Just as much of a con in fact as his ordinary tap water masquerading as authentic water from the Ganges. His shady dealings aside, at heart Gopala is a compassionate man who is shown to indulge in random acts of kindness and generally feels some compassion for people less fortunate than himself. The problem here though is that his good deeds come across as rather contrived given the way they are somewhat haphazardly inserted into the narrative. However Venkatesh mixes his skepticism with obvious tolerance for his wife’s idiosyncrasies and his salesman has plenty of charm mixed in with his complaints, making Gopala a generally likeable character.

His wife however is Gopala’s polar opposite in all things religious. Meenakshi (Shriya Saran) prays to any and every possible God and shrine while falling for every piece of chicanery she sees during her devotions. I’ve mentioned before that Shriya seems to be better in roles that require her to have long hair, and she stays true to that judgement here, giving a good performance as a devoted wife and mother in every sense of the word. Although Shriya doesn’t have a lot of scope in her role, her presence does add grace and a human face to the otherwise random devotees who face Gopala’s scorn. Somewhere in the middle is Otthu (Krishnudu), Gopala’s assistant in his shop who prays to the gods and follows the rituals but is the one who suggests a religious trip to Varanasi will be the perfect time to stock up on cheap artifacts to sell at inflated prices back in Hyderabad. Krishnudu has good comedy timing but apart from funny early scenes he is also relegated to the sidelines once God appears to help Gopala in his quest for justice.

Ah, yes, God.

Gopala GopalaPawan Kalyan makes his grand entrance as Krishna just before the interval, and his presence immediately enriches the story and lifts the energy of the film. The reaction in Melbourne was loud and enthusiastic both times I saw Gopala Gopala, which somehow seems rather appropriate for the appearance of a deity, even if he doesn’t arrive with the classic blue skin and associated regalia I expected. The role suits Pawan Kalyan’s restrained delivery style when not in full action mode, and his Krishna is a little distant but very charismatic. As may be expected from a divine being he offers guidance rather than direct intervention and is often cryptic in his dialogue, although his explanation of why bad things happen to good people sounds like classical political spin. Gopala never asks any of the big questions (such as why just his shop was destroyed – would have been my first question. That and where do all the lost socks go?) but that makes the relationship between the two feel more genuine and does stay true to Gopala’s persistent disbelief in an all-powerful deity.

The film does slow down a little in the second half when Gopala takes the assorted bunch of priests and swami’s to court but Mithun Chakraborthy, Posani Krishna Murali and Diksha Panth are all good in their respective roles as unethical leaders of their temples and organisations and the comedy helps to keep things moving along. Mithun as Leeladhara Swamy in particular has an impressive collection of idiosyncrasies although all three are so obviously corrupt and self-aggrandising that it seems hard to believe they would lower themselves to appear in court. Gopala is an equal opportunity plaintive and also summons representatives from the Muslim and Christian churches, while receiving help from lawyer Akbar Bhai (Murali Sharma) and determined opposition from Shankar Narayana (Ashish Vidyarthi) who has the unenviable task of representing the religious leaders. Interspersed with all the courtroom drama there are a number of songs by Anoop Rubens which are mainly fairly upbeat and fit into the narrative well. My favourite is a beautiful flute piece, but this runs a close second, particularly since it includes both Venkatesh and Pawan Kalyan dancing.

While Gopala Gopala is often rather simplistic with characters painted a little too black or white, Kishore Kumar Pardasany has made an entertaining movie that includes a discussion of superstition in religion without getting bogged down in dogma and matters of faith.   Pawan Kalyan and Venkatesh Daggubati have great chemistry and work well together while the rest of the cast provide excellent support and good comedy. This really was much better than I expected and is definitely well worth a watch – or two!

Bobbili Raja

bobbili raja dvd

Bobbili Raja had been enthusiastically recommended by so many Telugu film fans that while I wasn’t wildly enthused by the plot synopsis, I had to watch it. I think it might be a film best enjoyed with nostalgic fondness for your 10 year old self, but it was entertaining enough and certainly kept my attention. Another Adventure Without Subtitles, I probably made up most of the plot but it isn’t subtle and there is a lot going on so that wasn’t too much of a chore to keep up.

Bobbili Raja-The confrontation

The film is loosely divided into three sections. The first bit sets up conflict between power and money hungry Rajeshwari Devi (Vanisri), Minister for Forestry, and rival politician Gummadi and his sister. Rajeshwari plays dirty and when a lackey overhears that the sister Soundarya (?) is pregnant, she tries to shame the family publicly. It emerges that Soundarya is secretly married to Rajeshwari’s brother-in-law (?) and that just makes matters worse. When he comes home, he is somewhat accidentally killed. Then Soundarya  is almost raped and bayonets the corrupt policeman assaulting her.  She and her brother escape to the jungle where they live in secrecy. The baby Raja (Venkatesh) is born and raised in that distant jungle which can be reached easily by foot unless you prefer to use a helicopter, jeep or bike. Working as a jungle guide, if he works at all, Raja is hired to take the minister’s daughter Rani (Divya Bharti) on a hunting trip. They get separated from her group of squealing girlfriends and following encounters with wildlife, Ooga Booga Central Casting “Natives” and other perils, they fall in love.

Bobbili Raja-SnakeBobbili Raja-appreciation

Rani’s eyes certainly lit up at the sight of Raja handling an enormous snake. But her mother has other notions and separates the lovebirds. So Raja moves to town and sets about getting revenge for his family and getting his girl back.

The jungle adventure is heavily influenced by films like Romancing The Stone (think the mudslide with faceplant into the heroine’s crotch. Classy) along with Indiana Jones style adventures (I loved those films when I was young) and a dash of The Gods Must Be Crazy (a franchise I loathed then and now). The humour is hit and miss, sometimes offensive and racist, but Venkatesh is effortlessly likeable despite the material. Raja’s catchphrase is a cheery ‘Aiyo Aiyo Aiyiyooooo’ so there is opportunity for audience participation or perhaps a drinking game.

Bobbili Raja-Kangaroo

Raja deals with runaway cars (why does his jeep have a kangaroo painted on the door?), silly women and other forms of recalcitrant fauna and bad guys with aplomb.

Bobbili Raja-90s denimBobbili Raja-more 90s denim

Venkatesh has a leisurely way of moving, as though he knows the camera will have to wait for him so there is no need to look flustered. This works reasonably well in his fight scenes as they are not particularly realistic and often played for laughs.

Bobbili Raja-Raja in action

He does minimal dancing, partly due to the limited choreography, and generally relies on his characterisation rather than say, his burlesque chair dancing skills.

Bobbili Raja-Family argumentBobbili Raja-Rani and Raja

Rani is not my favourite filmi heroine but I do think Divya Bharti did quite well with what is often a shrill, silly character. Rani did rise to the occasion when she had to, although I was dismayed when I found myself almost cheering her suicide attempt as at least she did SOMETHING for herself that didn’t just involve shrieking “do you know who I am?” (She had  some help from an enthusiastic red paint wielding assistant.) Her outfits were what I have come to expect from 90s Telugu films. But seriously ladies, when your mum asked what teenaged you and your boyfriend/self-declared husband got up to last night would any of you answer like this?

Maybe the mini Europe set provided some distraction from difficult questions. But so much of writhing and moaning. Tsk tsk tsk. The mood gets darker once Raja announces himself as Rani’s husband, escalating the conflict with Rajeshwari and co, and Divya does show a different side of her character to match that. She was so very young when she made this. Her performance was quite impressive when you look at the calibre of the rest of the cast and realise she wasn’t overshadowed.

Vanisri’s role is the most prominent of the supporting cast, and she is the true villain of the piece. She devises needlessly elaborate schemes and has the men in the family scared witless. I am not sure about the thinking behind her eyeliner technique.

Her husband (Kaikala Satyanarayana) is a kindly man, but never directly confronts her so his goodness is moot. He seems to be waiting for Raja to deliver the comeuppance. Kota Srinivasa Rao plays her brother and well, apple…tree… Brahmanandam plays a comedy policeman and Babu Mohan is another comedy bad guy. So much ‘comedy’.

The song picturisations must have had a decent budget, and as with all good mass films there is something for everyone whether your tastes run to Filmi Tribal or random European street dancing. Illayaraja’s music matches well with the cartoonish style of action and adds to the lightheartedness. On the subject of cartoons:

There are many things that amused me. I almost look forward to seeing some familiar “faces” in the array of taxidermy but the duck was a surprise. There are lots of scenes with animals, including some comedy elephants. I was concerned about the big cats as they seemed stressed but watching the end credits I was reassured a little that they were still quite feisty. Apart from the animals, the jungle is also inhabited by one or more people obsessed with digging pits and trenches.

Bobbili Raja-Snakes alive

There are loads of stunts and fights and dramatic incidents as Raja takes on his reluctant mother-in-law and her lackeys. The climax of the film takes place on a hijacked train. Exciting! But just in case that isn’t enough, director B Gopal added a lion! And if THAT isn’t enough, snakes! Snakes on a train! It was almost enough to overcome the rather weak (but family friendly) ending. And that approach probably sums up the whole film – throw enough stuff at the audience and they’re bound to like some of it.

See this for Venkatesh, the fun if silly songs and the full throttle approach to mass entertainment that just tips the low-gore scale.

3 1/2  stars!

Suresh Productions has kindly made the film available on YouTube if you’re interested.

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu

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Set mostly in a beautiful rural location, and with Mahesh Babu and Venkatesh starring as brothers, this could have been a great feelgood movie. Writer/director Srikanth Addala has crafted a picturesque and sentimental family oriented film. Unfortunately he neglected to provide anything by way of drama and the brothers are unlikeable. It was very disappointing to see so much potential go to waste.

It’s a charming film to look at.  I loved the heroes’ introduction; everything from the composition of shots to the clever editing and the choreography that featured Venkatesh and some great random street dancing was so appealing. Unfortunately it was downhill from there as Venkatesh and Mahesh play entitled manchildren who exist at the centre of their own and all other universes.

Manchild 1 (Venkatesh) is fired from his job by a surly Kota Srinivasa Rao. It seemed that M1 was sacked because he was late or lazy or just rude and off he went in a cloud of indignation. Manchild 2 (Mahesh) was irresistible to women (The Mahesh Fan agrees) and constantly told these poor girls why they were not good enough for the likes of him. M2 is sarcastic, cranky, often funny, but the humour is mean-spirited in tone. M2 does tell M1 he needs to improve his attitude but neither man really thinks the problem is with them, it is always someone else.

Prakash Raj is introduced wandering around the village smiling benignly upon all he sees. He is a kind of a ‘simple man is a holy man’, and is totally absent from, and oblivious to, his sons’ lives. Prakash Raj phones it in, and added nothing to the film. Again – what a waste!

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu Mahesh and Venkatesh

The family of mother, grandmother, sister and cousin devote themselves to running the household while M1 and M2 devote themselves to self-pity and lounging around until the next meal. Seeta (the cousin, played by Anjali) has her eye on M1 but he is oblivious because of course she should always be there to wait on him hand and foot. The boys’ sister Radha is married to a relative of M1’s former boss who looks down on Prakash Raj as a bit of a country bumpkin or something. There are tensions between the families, but a little compromise or swallowing of over-inflated pride by the boys could easily have de-escalated all that. There is a romance thread for M2 with Geeta (Samantha), also related to the ‘enemy’ family. Samantha got a really cute introduction song and dance and then all she had to do was make puppy eyes at M2 for the rest of the film. M1 and M2 fall out over Samantha as M1 is peeved at his little brother canoodling with the ‘enemy’. Much emo brooding ensues – a whole song montage worth – and neither considers compromise or conversation. They’d rather feel hard done by and betrayed.

I thought the first hour or so was just establishing the scene and people, and there would be some plot or character development. No. It is all ‘slice of life’ and watching these two sooky boys. In what is supposed to be the dramatic high point, things are eventually patched up but really – who cares? Two brats decide they’re on speaking terms again. Hurrah.

seethamma-vakitlo-sirimalle-chettu-not sulking

I really like both Mahesh and Venkatesh and they are very accomplished actors. I liked watching them together (especially when they weren’t sulking) and I enjoyed some of their scenes at home with the family. Mahesh fans will enjoy the occasional wardrobe malfunction that resulted when his modesty singlet rode up exposing the princely tummy.

Had there been a more engaging or credible story I might have been more sympathetic. The interview panel at GOOGLE asked M2 why he couldn’t smile from the heart – so he had a hissy fit and walked out. Who thinks that was a good idea? And who believes that is a legitimate interview question? M2 had a nice relationship with his grandmother, very playful and annoying, but loving. Why not set that conversation with his gran, not via product placement? M1 was very half-hearted in getting a new job. Why not show him as someone who lost their job through redundancy or something so we could empathise with his bitterness, rather than him just being a temperamental diva? Why not show him having to learn and grow like a real person? Why not show a threat to the family home or something that might compel the boys to get over themselves? Anything! In an action mass type film it doesn’t matter as much whether the hero is likeable because he exists to deliver victory and he does what it takes to win. In a character piece where there is no mitigating threat or transformative incident, there is nothing to dilute the boorishness.

Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu AnjaliSeethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu Samantha

The supporting actresses (including Jayasudha as the long suffering Ma) were good, all of them creating distinct characters and often funny. I would have liked to see more of them.

I liked the songs (by Mickey J Meyer) but in a film with little plot, more spectacle could have stopped me checking my watch. They could have included more big set pieces instead of wasting a good cast on montage after montage. Venkatesh and Anjali got the better of the duets in terms of choreography while Mahesh and Samantha scored the fancy foreign location. I suppose that (and splitting the heroic rescue 50/50) is how you keep two big name heroes happy.

The audience lapped it all up. The ladies seemed to laugh more at the family scenes, while the boys clearly thought these guys were legends. Normally after such a dialogue heavy film I would be keen to get the DVD and see what I missed. But I don’t think there is anything to gain from the aggravation of knowing exactly how objectionable they were. Oh this could have been so much better. Watch the songs and enjoy the pretty, but avoid the tedious glorification of the manchild!