Jai Chiranjeeva

K Vijaya Bhaskar’s film is a rightfully neglected effort from the latter part of Chiranjeevi’s pre-hiatus career. While Chiru’s Megastar presence is always compelling, he can’t compensate for the desultory direction and derivative screenplay. On the upside, Arbaaz Khan makes Bhoomika look like a brilliant actor so she must be happy.

Pasupathi (Arbaaz Khan), obviously EVIL, steals a cargo ship to go to Mumbai. His henchman (Rahul Dev) is waiting there (again, obvious signs of EVIL). Pasupathi demonstrates a new fancy gun with computerised target tracking, and when Ramkoti (Jayaprakash Reddy) seems mildly disbelieving he shoots a child playing some distance away in the park. EVIL.

Meanwhile 40 something year old virgin Sathyanarayan Murthy (Chiranjeevi) comes to the big smoke to stay with his relatives. Some unfunny mistaken identity shenanigans result in sexual harassment, but it’s OK because he is filthy rich. Even a comedy fall from the roof involves heroics and mild sexual harassment (stopping a robbery, encouraging a couple to get it on, copping a feel of the one who will be One of The Ones). He continually crosses paths with Shailaja (Sameera Reddy) and of course sparks of all types fly. Sometimes literally.

After a big night Sathyanarayan passes out drunk and has a long flashback to the death of his much loved niece, Lavanya. She was a pushy little minx and, sadly, also the child murdered in Pasupathi’s gun demonstration. When Sathya learns that the doctor lied to him about Lavanya’s cause of death and colluded with the gang to prevent a police enquiry, things become more dangerous for everyone. Back in the present day, the doctor’s daughter Neelima (Bhoomika) becomes involved as she seeks justice for her dad who was killed to prevent further blabbing. She ends up in a fake marriage with Sathya so he can get a visa for the USA to go kill Pasupathy.

The film should be improbable but suspenseful, but almost everyone, including Sathya, seems go off task far too easily. For someone bent on revenge and believing he is on a mission from god, Sathya is easily distracted. There is always the opportunity to bust a move or rehabilitate a child beggar by telling her not to beg anymore because it just isn’t nice for a girl to do that. Chiru has to perform every style from slapstick to smack down and he is good, as he always is. But it’s more like a series of skits so the dramatic tension is lost, and Chiru has nothing to get his teeth into except the scenery. The songs by Mani Sharma are diverting and Chiranjeevi looks like he is having fun with the choreo. The action scenes are tailored to suit him and, despite being copied badly from films like the Bond and Die Hard franchises via Jackie Chan, they are a highlight. While it’s obvious he’d been living in a good paddock and wasn’t his svelte 80s self, he really goes for it.

However the attitudes are a bit 80s and it’s very vexing. Venu Madhav chases prostitutes and rejects one who is too dark. That was supposed to be funny. Shailu’s parents say they stopped her studying because she behaved like a boy – i.e. did what she liked. Shailu decides to stage a party and make Sathya pay for his insulting behaviour. Simple country lad Sathya has to be styled up as a parody of Chiru just to get in. Luckily pub = dancing. But his (drunk) song combines bhangra beats with a warning of how drinking and partying is not for nice young ladies and they should be careful not to make their parents cry with their modern ways. Neelu’s family pressure her to leave her father’s death alone and not cause embarrassment by looking for the truth.

The two girls are the only ones with a real sense of purpose. I quite liked Sameera Reddy. Shailu was not the most realistic character but Sameera has a robust energy that stood up well against Chiranjeevi’s presence and her dodgy wardrobe. She wasn’t afraid to go for it in the dances either. I didn’t necessarily agree with her decision making but I thought Shailu was articulate about what she wanted and where she drew the line. Bhoomika used both of her expressions, and despite having the potentially more substantial role she didn’t really make much of it. Neelu was tortured, threatened, kidnapped, her poor puppy Dandy was the victim of a Fatal Attraction bunny boiler scenario, and yet I barely remember anything about her. I have better recall of her bedroom furnishings, right down to the Australia shaped souvenir on her bedside table. Neelu has reservations but is won over by Sathya’s “revenge is better than happiness” speech. Plus he promised to only kill bad people. Shailu finds out Sathya intends to marry Neelu to get a USA visa but agrees because she loves him…and makes them have a church wedding as a Hindu ceremony is only for realsies. Points for actually having the discussion I guess.

Pasupathi likes to believe he is the puppet master but while all of his plans seems grandiose, the execution kind of fizzles out. I mean, it takes a miracle from god and Lavanya but eventually Sathya notices the building sized portrait of Pasupathi on the side of a skyscraper over the road and deduces that might be the top secret HQ he has been searching for. A bomb that took several minutes to describe and would supposedly vaporise a building only set fire to a small section of the car park. If I had been Arbaaz’s school careers counsellor I like to think I would have steered him away from “acting”. But since the rest of the baddies are played for cartoonish laughs, he does kind of fit in.

Among the many interruptions to the big comeuppance there is a long comedy interlude with Brahmi. I kept shouting reminders they should be off doing revenge-y things but nobody seemed to care. Even on the way to find the baddies they had to stop for a dance break at a wedding. MS Narayana has a running gag appearance that does nothing but isn’t offensively awful. Sunil is Ramkoti’s useless son and while I find him likeable as an actor I kind of wished the death threats had come to fruition. Even Tanikella Bharani annoyed me with his turn as a travel agent. My Comedy Uncle Intolerance has not waned.

I don’t hate the film as there are enough bits and bobs that make it mildly entertaining, plus there’s Chiru. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but a Chiranjeevi completist. Watch the songs, you’ve seen the rest in one form or another. 2 ¾ stars!

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Autonagar Surya

Autonagar Surya

Deva Katta’s Autonagar Surya doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be and as a result ends up as a disappointing muddle.  There are elements of a message film with the ‘one man against the system’ storyline, but at the same time the film attempts a broader social commentary while following a standard mass entertainer formula – including the obligatory romance and fight scenes.   There is little of the subtlety Deva Katta brought to Prasthanam and the additions of Brahmi and Venu Madhav with a woeful comedy track certainly don’t help.  After watching the more recent Manam, where Chaitanya displayed improved acting maturity, it’s disappointing to watch his uneven performance here, particularly since the film focuses heavily on his character. In fact the best performances come from the support cast, including Surya’s group of friends and the assorted thugs and villains, but despite their best efforts they’re not enough to make Autonagar Surya more than a one time watch.

Autonagar Surya

The film starts off well enough – if a little on the violent side.  After an initial parade and explosion, where Chaitanya’s Surya is blasted into the sky like a cheap rocket, there is a flashback to explain who he is and how he got to be a human firework.  The young Surya is orphaned when an obnoxious thug detrains his parents when they try to intervene in a rape.  Surya ends up being brought up by his uncle (Sai Kumar) who has little time for the orphan as he thoroughly disapproved of his parent’s marriage, and Surya moves in with the auto mechanic opposite.  Cut to a few years later where Surya has grown up to develop an interest in all things mechanical and demonstrates an accompanying bad fashion sense.  Although to be fair, so do his friends too.  So far so good then, until he gets on the wrong side of the local union boss and ends up in jail for murder.

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This turns out to have been a blessing in disguise, since while in jail Surya manages to study for a degree in engineering.  On his release, after a seemingly short time (5 years for murder?), he pressures his friends into helping him build a battery powered car.  However the union is still in power and worse still, his uncle is now the elected president and still has no time for his nephew (not his niece as suggested by the subtitles!).  However Surya has the hope of the downtrodden and a powerful vocabulary on his side.  With the help of his friends he decides to tackle the union thugs, but despite all his speechifying and rhetoric he basically employs their dubious tactics of fighting, kidnap and intimidation to achieve his aims.

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Sticking to the formula, there is a romance between Surya and his uncle’s daughter Siri (Samantha).  Samantha looks beautiful and has a couple of good scenes where she gets to explore her comedic side, but mostly she has frustratingly little to do. The love story is really only an excuse for a couple of forgettable songs with dull choreography and is dealt the death knell by a distinct lack of chemistry between Chaitanya and Samantha.  They seem to be more like best mates rather than lovers, and that probably would have made a more believable storyline too.

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There are many fight scenes, particularly in the second half, which tend to be on the grisly side with plenty of spouting blood and the odd limb or two flying around.  The graphic fights seem to be at odds with Surya’s more intellectual dialogue relating to the human condition and it just doesn’t add up that such a technical and generally rational genius should also be a competent and vicious fighter. Chaitanya also doesn’t quite look the part, as he seems too young, and just not angry enough to be the classic ‘angry young man’ that I think Deva Katta wants to portray. Generally there is an overall lack of passion which makes Surya’s revolutionary speeches and rabble rousing dialogues fall somewhat flat.  It’s so frustrating when Naga Chaitanya has demonstrated that he can be much better than this.  At least the union thugs all know exactly what they are doing and why, so the various atrocities carried out by the gang fit more easily into the mass formula.  Ajay is particularly effective as one of the main villains, and it’s good to see him in a more protracted role.  Jayaprakash Reddy is a little too subdued, but is otherwise fine and Madhu impresses as an exceptionally evil mayor.

Autonagar Surya

While the first half shows some interesting potential, the second half drags and shows Surya to be just as vindictive and violent as the thugs he is trying to replace.  The good ideas introduced at the beginning seem to be submerged beneath repetitive fights, numerous references to RGV’s Shiva, and oddly placed songs.  Maybe I expected too much from Deva Katta after Prasthanam, but Autonagar Surya doesn’t come close to his previous film, despite the good ideas at the start.  Overall Autonagar Surya is disappointing on many levels, although does warrant a look for the excellent support cast and some impressive sets.

Athidhi

I liked this film the first time I saw it, but rewatching for this review it didn’t make quite the same impact.  However I still enjoyed the Mahesh/Amrita Rao combination and both actors do what they can in what’s essentially an over-blown and excessively dramatic story.  There isn’t too much comedy which makes it a little more appealing, and although it’s fairly dark and quite violent in parts, it’s all much too over the top to take seriously.  There is good chemistry between the lead pair and a suitably maniacal villain who refers to himself in the third person but be prepared for a lot of fake blood (even some that’s CGI), plenty of gunfights and a number of plots points that require major suspension of disbelief.

The film starts with some cute child actors who play the young Mahesh and Amrita.  Chhotu is an orphan who gets the fairly standard ‘Indian filmi orphan abuse’ from all and sundry while still managing to have ideals and a reasonable wardrobe.  One day while selling balloons, he gives one to a young girl leaving school even though she hasn’t got any money but promises to pay him the next day. Later, she gives him an umbrella which makes a big impression since it seems no-one has ever given Chhotu anything before.  After he stops their car and warns the young Amrita’s parents about a wash-out in the road ahead, they decide to take him home and begin to adopt him into their family.

They give the young boy the name Athidhi as he is their ‘guest’, but when the parents are gunned down by a psychotic thief one night, it’s Athidhi who gets the blame for the double murder.  Because of course that makes sense!

Athidhi is sentenced to 13 years in jail, and after his release devotes his time to finding the real killer. He’s also determined to find Amrita and make sure she’s happy but is hampered in both his endeavours by a major lack of information about both the identity of the murderer and the location of Amrita.  On the plus side he does have a picture of the killer since the thief left a wallet containing his photograph behind at the scene of the crime, but there are no other clues.  In between popping in and out of jail for his hooligan-like tendencies, beating up various thugs and trying to track down a killer, Athidhi manages to find time to run a coffee shop near the Red Fort, although he doesn’t seem to actually spend much time there.

Mahesh has a different look here with long floppy hair and seems to be permanently standing in the path of a wind machine dialled up to max.  Unless he’s in the rain that is, which does vastly improve the hair.  The overall effect is to make him even more baby-faced than usual and there are even a few dialogues which make reference to his innocent appearance.  But we know better.

And it doesn’t take long – the first fight scene comes after straight after Athidhi is released from jail again, and has Ganni (Subbaraju) and his gang as the recipients of some fairly typical Mahesh mayhem.  That leads straight into the first song, which seems to have been heavily inspired by Mad Max and features some fight style choreography which didn’t appeal at first but it’s grown on me.

Meanwhile the young Amrita has grown up to be Amrita Rao, studying art at college in Delhi and generally seems fairly content.  She’s polite and well-mannered on the outside, but inside her own mind is much feistier and has moments of fantasy where she imagines herself as a Matrix-style super-woman.  However her inner hero gets her into trouble when she takes on a gang of drug dealers who chase her into the path of an oncoming vehicle.  In the aftermath Athidhi performs some lifesaving mouth to mouth, although not quite in the approved St John’s Ambulance style, and as an afterthought he also beats up the drug dealers.  Amrita is pretty happy about the whole experience despite her near death and stalks Athidhi since after all we know that’s the way to show true love – right?

There’s a long and fairly pointless sequence with the dreadfully styled and characterised Danny Bhai (Ashish Vidyarthi) and eventually Athidhi finds out that Amrita is the girl he knew as a child.  But she’s already left for Hyderabad where she lives with the home minister (Nasser) and his family who are her aunt and uncle.  So the action moves to Hyderabad where Athidhi foils various plots to kill Amrita and her cousin Aishwarya (Baby Anni), including one by Danny Bhai that leads to Athidhi discovering the identity of the man who killed Amrita’s parents.  And as chance would have it, Hyderabad is being terrorised by this same killer, who now goes by the name of Khaizer and is running a child kidnapping ring.  To add more murk to the mix, Special Officer Ajit Shastri (Murli Sharma) has been brought in from Delhi to catch the gang and making sure he doesn’t succeed, Kota Srinivasa Rao does his usual corrupt politician thing.

So, will Amrita discover who Athdhi really is, will Athdhi discover who Khaizer really is, and will somebody finally cut Athidhi’s increasingly bouffy layered hair?!  It takes another couple of hours and quite a few twists and turns until we finally realise that no-one is ever going to successfully wield scissors anywhere near Mahesh. Oh, and there is finally resolution  to the rest of the plot too.

The story does have some good points but each is strung out for so long that the whole film drags.  It could easily have been cut by at least half an hour which would have made it a tighter and more thrilling movie.  The plot twists are good, although derivative, but again take far too long to reveal, and the final climax is marred by some bad CGI effects.  Although there is plenty of action it’s mostly gun fights which are less satisfying to watch.  The fight scenes, while often well-choreographed by Stun Shiva, are interrupted by too much slo-mo which really just reveals that no-one actually ever does hit anyone.  The lighting is really variable as sometimes it was excellent, for example at a number of scenes at the Red Fort, and yet at other times everyone appeared to have lizard skin and jaundice.  I’m sure the effect was meant to be very stylish but instead it just looked like the levels were completely wrong.  Brahmi, Sunil and Venu Madhav appear for some short comedy scenes but otherwise it’s fairly relentless death and destruction.

The music by Mani Sharma is catchy and I really like the soundtrack, but the picturisations don’t work very well and the songs appear oddly inserted into the narrative.  Malaika Arora pops up in a typically sleazy item song and the choreography generally seems under par for a Mahesh film – especially with someone like Amrita Rao who can dance. This song features an even more multilayered than usual Mahesh (plus the hair – which by this stage even features in the choreography), while someone in the costume department obviously had a grudge against Amrita.  It’s a good song though, and I enjoy watching the reactions of people in the background as they stop and stare.

While I think there is more here than just a film for Mahesh fans it’s probably best to watch with the remote to FF past some of the interminably long expositions by the villain. Generally performances are good but the film is let down by the mish-mash of a story and lack of editing.  I still give it 3 stars though, mainly for Mahesh and Amrita and for the bonus presence of both Subbaraju and Ajay  which always boosts any film for me!