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!

Lakshyam

Lakshyam is a highly entertaining mishmash of romance, comedy, action, politics and family drama. It succeeds largely because of the casting – Jagapathi Babu, Gopichand and Anushka in particular do a fine job – and some skilful writing and direction that balance all the elements.

The film opens with a girl running away from her own wedding. She looks so pretty and pristine as she scoots off across town, eventually making a rendezvous with a bloody and battered man. I was intrigued by the look of happy pride on her face when he efficiently blew up a car, shot a policeman and then hopped on the back of her moped. I wondered how they got to this point, and what was going to happen next. With a bit of time travel, we get to the chronological start of the story. The film is very well constructed, and the flashback and current day sequences flow well. There are some pleasingly playful references to filmi clichés and the cast seem to enjoy the improbable shenanigans.

Anushka is Indu, a modern uppity type of college girl. She has a very specific list of demands for a prospective husband and seems to think it is perfectly reasonable to share this with a young child on the train. Pinky immediately decides to set Indu up with her uncle, Chandu. He has his own, very different, list of required qualities and even the kid knows it’s not likely to work.

Anushka is one of my favourite current day actresses (yes, actress not ‘heroine’), and she is quite good in this role. Her character has some silly and selfish moments, but underneath it she is a likeable young woman. At the very least she knows when to apologise for her mistakes, so she is not too bratty. Indu is a Telugu heroine so of course if anything goes wrong she is reliant on any and every man within 20 metres of her for help and a solution. But the helpless female act is balanced with Indu cheekily pretending to be a gangleader’s sister and using his name to get her own way. This leads her into conflict with the cool dude on campus, Chandu. So she calls her little train friend’s uncle to sort him out. Yes – Chandu again. So there is a romantic comedy of errors as Chandu takes on Chandu and tries to bluff his way through. The silliness is increased with Brahmi and Venu Madhav battling each other for control of the student canteen.

My reason for picking this film a while ago was that I hadn’t seen Gopichand in a lead role and I was curious. He does well and seems to be a good generalist in terms of Hero Skills. He can act a bit, dance a bit, fight a bit, and has an engaging onscreen presence. His introduction scene is vintage hero stuff – he is chained and dangling upside down in a police lockup. But with a single bound he frees himself and escapes to wreak havoc. The college romance scenes don’t work quite so well as the later more energetic action sequences but he and Anushka do have chemistry and he gets right into hamming it up. And let me applaud a song with a backup dancing Spiderman.There is not enough of it around.

Chandu and Indu eventually fall in love and actually tell each other so they then just have to deal with all the usual obstacles – telling his family, her disapproving dad, and of course a crazed psychopath who happens to be a mad inventor. Chandu also gets caught in the fallout of his brother’s activities. He is a man of action, and takes a direct approach to solving problems. Although I did like that he sometimes cowed his opponent just with a graphic description of what he would do, so had no need of the actual biffo. You can have your cake and eat it too – a non-violent solution that incorporates a violent fantasy sequence. Gopichand is well able to match the changing tone of the film from the fluffy  romance to the revenge driven action and drama.

Chandu’s brother is Inspector Bose – Jagapathi Babu. He is an honest, crusading policeman and of course is wildly unpopular with the underworld. Newly transferred to Hyderabad, Bose takes on Section Shankar, Indu’s ‘brother’, a thug protected by senior police. I like Jagapathi Babu and this role is a good fit for him. Bose is a cop but also a family man and has a competitive relationship with his brother and his journalist father (Kota Srinivasa Rao) so there is lots of scope for his offbeat style.

The brothers have different approaches but are not forced into a separation or battle for whose philosophy should win, and I really liked seeing that more natural sibling rivalry. They were great mates as well as brothers, and the family scenes were fun. Bose and his wife (Kalyani) have a very affectionate relationship, and it is a nice domestic environment. But Bose also has a kickarse side and Jagapathi Babu gets his own action sequences, including some excellent use of coconuts as both defense and offense. He is also the victim of one of the most elaborate assassination attempts I can recall seeing. I was muttering “What? He’s not dead – yet? What!” as the drama kept unfurling.

It’s interesting that once again the law is shown as helpless in the face of crime and they rely on people like Chandu to get things done. Dharmavarapu Subramanyam is cast as an honest cop, and his comedic skills are used to help the story as a bumbling but good guy. Even Ashish Vidyarthi as the DIG makes it clear that the police need to rely on subterfuge to even compete let alone succeed, so there is an oddly defeatist note to the brother’s battle with Section Shankar and his corrupt cop associate (Devaraj).

I was moderately alarmed when I read the long list of ‘comedy uncles’ in the cast, but Srivas and writers Gopimohan and M Rathnam do an excellent job of balancing the story elements and allowing a lot of the humour to emerge in a more natural style. Kota Srinivasa Rao is in good form as the newsman father who believes he might possibly be in charge of his household. Venu Madhav and Brahmi have a running battle which keeps them from bogging down the rest of the story, and when they do interact with the rest of the characters it is usually fun. And there are some amusing touches – a fixer for Section Shankar has gunfire as his ringtone, one rowdy knocks himself out in a fight, and there are lots of little reactions and one-liners that liven things up.

The song picturisations are nothing out of the ordinary and neither is Mani Sharma’s music, but they are executed and placed well. Anushka is not much of a dancer although she does give her dance performances some energy and excellent facial expressions. I would say Gopichand’s natural genre might be ‘uncle dance’ and he does it pretty well. He certainly looked like he had fun dancing, and it added another degree of contrast to his vengeful brother aspect. And he seemed quite unperturbed by some of the shirts bestowed upon him.

Lakshyam does strain the credibility muscles more than a few times, but it is such an entertaining and well paced effort that I just go with the flow. The cast are good and are given characters with a little bit more depth than I expected. There are convoluted schemes, a deathtrap, peculiar decision making – all the trappings of a good potboiler. The writing is clever and kept me smiling if not laughing out loud. And the baddies got their various comeuppances in suitable style. It was all quite satisfying.

Give it a go! 3 ½ stars.