Godavari

Sekhar Kammula has become one of my favourite directors, always entertaining me with interesting observations and a satisfying story. In Godavari he deposits his characters and their relationship issues on a boat, adding a philosophical dog, a sideplot or two and some beautiful scenery to leaven the mix. I’m not totally convinced by all of the elements but I do really like this film.

This song sets up the main characters, and acts as the now familiar promotion clip for Andhra Pradesh.

Kamalinee Mukherjee is Seetha, a would-be fashion designer. She has nightmares about losing her independence and her close relationship with her parents after she marries. I liked Seetha’s spirit, and I really felt for her coming off a rejection from a groom her parents pressured her into accepting. That had to sting. Seetha is vain and bratty at times but she is funny, insecure and compassionate as well, and admits fault when she is wrong.

Sumanth is Sriram, an unassuming guy who wants to get into politics and make the world better. He reveals a manipulative side as he cons his way into appointments with party officials. Perhaps he is a precursor to Arjun Prasad from Leader? He isn’t as effective in his personal life however. Ram is inarticulate when he should speak up, and doesn’t really see things for how they are – he is lost in a vision of how it should be.

Raji (Neetu Chandra) is spoilt, silly, self centred and yet not totally unlikeable. Raji judges a relationship by the trappings of Valentines’ cards, fancy coffee shops and all the showy things, things that just never occur to Ram, and she uses this as an excuse to push him away. Her parents know Ram wants to marry her but refuse as his simply isn’t the best offer and they are quite honest with him about this. Perhaps they know their daughter better.

Ravi (Kamal Kamaraju) is a cashed up bully, making the most of his status in the IPS. He seems to have some notions of manners and decency underneath all the arrogance, but has done a marvellous job of burying his better side. I can’t say I liked him at all, but I did end up thinking he could be a good match for Raji if he got over himself a little.

All the characters are flawed, but not in a dramatically damaged way. They’re just a bunch of people who have good and bad points, and for the most part are quite unremarkable. I found them easy to relate to, even the unpleasant ones, as they were well rounded and I could imagine them having lives outside of the film setting.

The boat setting appealed to me for a number of reasons. Not only did it provide a great device for containing the characters and their interactions, it looked great. It had all sorts of strange little additions,extensions and even a tower of sorts. I thought it looked delightfully like something out of a Miyazaki film. Whoever did the set dressing did a fantastic job too. All the powers were invoked to keep the boat safe and sound.

The boat trip also allowed the supporting characters to have things to do other than hang around Ram and Seetha.There was a nice sense of energy as the ever reliable Tanikella Bharani (the captain) and others bustled around. I enjoyed their presence all the more as they contributed to the background life and colour of the film. Seetha’s parents and sister had their own stuff going on at home, and there was a real lived-in feel to their domestic scenes as well. The nominal villains Raji and Ravi had their own issues to deal with, and even in their smaller roles showed some growth.

It wouldn’t be a boat story without stowaways. Chinna is a poor kid who pursues a mystery man (OK, it was Ravi) who does him out of the balloons he sells.  Koti, a dog, decides for his own reasons to get out of town. When Koti sees Chinna pay his bribe, he has a flashback to Daana Veera Suura Karna and swears fealty to his new master. They team up and give us their points of view but also provide the catalyst for people to reveal their own character – are they charitable, curious, mean or oblivious to the boy and dog?

While I liked the idea of Koti and the voiceover (by Sekhar Kammula, and what a world weary creature with a 3am whiskey voice he sounded), I did not like the CGI dog. The real dog had ample charm and verve and I don’t see the animation was necessary. I kept hoping it wasn’t because the real dog became, er, unavailable after a boating mishap. For those of you who demand pirates, there was a fairly silly episode involving a fugitive and a night ambush but it only served to show that Ram is reliable and Ravi isn’t so I will move on.

There is no surprise in the romantic pairing of our waterborne humans as their journey to Bhadrachalam follows that of Ram and Sita. Our Ram and Seetha are attracted to each other but there are obstacles, both real and imagined. I really enjoyed their conversations and the way both Sumanth and Kamalini showed the growing intimacy and comfort they felt in each other’s company as well as the pressure of the potential relationship.

They did daft things, sure, but there was no sense of them being stupid or unpleasant people. Kammula uses a lot of voiceover monologues, and both actors did a good job of mirroring the inner voice with their expressions, ranging from funny to heartfelt. Sometimes I find a voiceover can leave me at a distance, but in this case it worked well enough and suited the introspective nature of the characters.

I don’t like the background score at all. It is too cheesy, and seemed to try too hard to be whimsical. But the actual songs are more attuned to the mood of the scenes, and subtitled, so I could at least appreciate a fraction of Veturi’s lyrics as well as K.M Radha Krishnan’s melodies and the beautiful scenery. There is little dancing in the film, and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to much of the story; but if I have a criticism of Sekhar Kammula it is his over use of the montage. Then I saw Sumanth dance and I thought well, yeah, montages have their place— but there has to be a limit.

The lyrics draw attention to the beauty of the river and the power of unseen forces in our lives. The river is a metaphor for the forces in life that nudge us hither and thither, and the power of chance meeting and parting. But this Ram and Seetha also show that you can fight the current when you want to and make your own way.

Finally, I give Godavari 3 and ½ stars. For those who think 3 and ½ is just plucked from the air , it goes like this – Points on for the convincing performances, points off for the animated animals, points back on for the real dog, more points on for a parrot asserting her independence, some points off for too many montages, and finally points on for the film being so pretty. Watch it for the beautiful balance of observational style with a fresh twist on the filmi clichés.

Heather says: I really like the way that instead of road movies, the Telugu film industry has river films which surely do a great job for the tourist industry. The river looks beautiful here and the Godavari boat is fantastic. I love the way it’s at least 3 boats joined together, one of which has fantastic wooden panels and just to add a little more space it’s also towing a raft behind. It looks like a great way to travel from Rajamunday to Bhadrachalam, although I suspect in reality it would be rather wet and cold. I do appreciate the way that in time-honoured fashion everyone jumped underneath big blue plastic tarpaulins when the rain started. I remember those well from travelling on the top of buses in India and Nepal!

The story of the romance between Ram and Seetha, both rejected by their prospective partners, is different enough from the usual to be interesting and I like the way that Ram had to deal with being in such close proximity to Raji and her fiancé Ravi for the duration of the boat trip. Kamalinee Mukherjee’s Seetha is beautiful and chirpy and I really liked her character from the beginning. Even her obsession with her beauty is funny rather than irritating and I feel that she stayed true to her independent nature throughout the story. Although Ram is initially a very pedestrian character with his idealistic ways and mooning over Raji, he becomes more likeable in his interactions with Seetha and the young balloon seller Chinna. Ram and Seetha’s gradual attraction as they argue is realistically handled and I think both Sumanth and Kamalinee Mukherjee are well cast in their roles here. The cook Pullamma is a great character and her indignation when she thinks Ram has given her brother money because he feels sorry for him is one of my favourite scenes. I like the way Sekhar Kammula’s points out that poor people have pride and dignity very well, particularly since there is so much emphasis in the story about altruistic behaviour being the ideal to aim for.

As well as another reason to dislike Ravi (and I’m not sure we needed quite so many), Chinna’s character adds some funny comedy. The CGI talking dog is strange and I agree with Temple that it wasn’t necessary. The talking dog idea was fine and the voice-overs were quite funny and used well but I think this could all have been done with the real dog,  rather than introducing the CGI. But it wasn’t too much of a distraction and the story of Chinna and Koti is well written into the main story.  The characters of Raji and Ravi are also more than just part of the backstory and I appreciate the way that all of the supporting cast are used to further develop the romance between Seetha and Ram, either by helping them or by adding more obstacles to their path.

There are a few things that confuse me. I’m not sure why the fortune-teller decides to jump into the river. I can’t work out if he’s just chasing his parrot or if his declaration to Rama is more significant. The fight scene also seems totally unnecessary and the whole storyline of Veeraiah didn’t add anything other than a chance for Ram to be a hero.

There is so much to enjoy in this film. the boat setting, the lead actors, the story and the support characters are all excellent. I love the songs as well, especially Tippalu Tappalu in the rain, and the shots of the river are beautiful. Godavari is a really entertaining film and I give it 4 stars.

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Sagara Sangamam

I had no luck finding a subtitled version of this film (legal or otherwise), which is a shame as I think that difficulty will stop a lot of people from watching. I’m not sure where Heather got her subtitled copy from. However this is the story of a dancer, often expressed in action rather than speech and many scenes required no further explanation.

The film uses a flashback structure so we actually meet the older Balu (Kamal Haasan) first. He is a disgruntled drunk and newspaper critic who, despite all his issues, demands a high standard for dance. He writes a scathing review of the latest dance sensation Sailaja (SP Sailaja), and rather than apologise when she confronts him, belittles her by showing her how it should be done.

Young Balu is a poor boy, dedicated to dance in many forms – and a purist. He wants to be successful but is held back by his dislike of the shallow sexified version of dance that is in demand (and is perhaps dismayed by the outfits).

Balu’s world is small. He has his mother, dance, and his friend Ragu (Sarath Babu). He also meets Madhavi (Jayaprada) who is wealthy and happy to be his patron. She gives him many opportunities, and becomes more than a sponsor in his eyes.

Each episode reveals something more of Balu’s character and how he came to be in his current situation. It’s a big challenge for a film maker, and in this instance it is handled beautifully by K. Vishwanath. The fragments fall together to make a cohesive story, and it is easy to follow the narrative.

Kamal Haasan is fantastic. Since we more or less know how the story ends before it begins, it really does require a great performance to keep a viewer engaged on the way to the foregone conclusion, and he delivers. Yes, there are some dubious wardrobe moments and bizarre posturing, but they were intentionally ridiculous, being Balu’s commentary on the commercialisation of dance. Balu dances his joy, pain and despair – he dances his heart out and it is hard to look away.

This is one of my all time favourite film dance sequences and I love it for its joyous emotion, simplicity and the brilliant editing. Despite his dedication to dance as a pure art form, Balu isn’t a total stick-in-the-mud. He adds some sweet comedic flourishes dancing with kitchen utensils, and plays up to his mother who dreams of seeing Balu on stage. Madhavi is impressed too!

Life seems set and success is just around the corner so naturally, I expected a tragedy. Because he is such a perfectionist and intolerant of things that don’t fit his vision, Balu is ill equipped to deal with setbacks. He falls into a bottle after losing his mother, missing his big dance debut and then learning that Madhavi is not free to return his love (she is married to a man who looked absolutely miserable in their wedding photos). His character frustrated me greatly. I could empathise with Balu, but I really wanted him to see sense and find a way to bend before he broke.

Sarath Babu’s role was small but he is a constant and reassuring presence and instilled Ragu with an air of integrity and generosity.  I’m not entirely sure why Ragu stuck by his friend as he seemed to give endlessly to an often ungrateful sod. There were lively glimpses of Balu’s character in a couple of scenes that made me believe in the friendship, and perhaps I missed a lot in the dialogues.

Madhavi tracks down her old friend and would be lover through the newspaper and Ragu. Her side of the story is also revealed through flashbacks. This episodic style seems apt as her love for Balu is revealed through her candid and perceptive snapshots of him long before either of them acknowledges any feelings. Jayaprada is lovely and manages to be light and funny as young Madhavi without being shrill or giggly, ably matching Kamal Haasan in the physical comedy.

She gives a sensitive portrayal of a woman who is tempted by a love she cannot act on and manages to be sympathetic despite having been, at best, deceptive by omission.

As it happens, she is Sailaja’s mother, and so Balu’s life turns back on itself as Madhavi secretly engages him as a dance teacher for the stylish but shallow girl.

The photograph motif is used a lot. One of the most moving examples is when Balu and Madhavi try to use the timer thingie to take a picture of themselves together. The photo fails and all that can be seen is a worried Madhavi and ghostlike blur of Balu. They joke that it wasn’t meant to be. Then when Madhavi departs with her husband, Balu takes and keeps a photo of the couple as a reminder to himself of what had to be. It’s one of the few pictures he takes; usually Madhavi was the one to give him beautifully composed portraits showing what he was to her.

Their reunion is full on filmi and yet simple as Madhavi confronts Balu while he is stinking drunk. Balu’s drunken cavorting avoids being a mockery of his dance despite being accessorised with a bottle, perhaps as it comes straight from his heart with no artifice. Madhavi lets Balu see her sadness and fear for him while he seems to give her an earful for not teaching Sailaja to be a better dancer. In so many ways, they haven’t changed a bit. Balu doesn’t know that Madhavi is a widow, and once more she struggles with the pressure of family against her desire to move forward with Balu in her life.

Sailaja is unhappy at this revelation about her mother’s past, but she should be practicing her dancing more than spying, and do a bit of growing up as well. Happily for her, she does come around to seeing the value in Balu’s teaching (which he does from a hospital bed). Her performance was probably the weakest for me in terms of acting, but her dance scenes with Kamal Haasan were much more satisfying. And SP Sailaja can sing, so she was certainly talented.

The structure of the story is solid, and the characters seem believable. The Illaiyaraaja soundtrack is integrated into the drama and the dances reveal so much of the characters’ inner lives they are essential to the film, not just a pleasant addition. The dance practice and performance scenes are filmed beautifully.  I can’t comment on the lyrics by Veturi or the dialogues co-written by K. Vishwanath and Jandhyala (who wrote dialogues for Aaradhana) as I just made up what I thought was happening in some scenes.

The ending is over the top but despite all the silly trappings the leads keep it (mostly) restrained to let their characters’ emotions shine through. If nothing else grabs you, this film captures some exceptional dance performances. I wish I could fully appreciate the characterisations, as I did feel disconnected at times due to my lack of language skills, but it wasn’t a huge issue.

I give Sagara Sangamam 4 ½ stars.

Heather says: This is such a beautiful film and although I keep returning to it time and time again to watch the incredible dance scenes, there is so much more to enjoy in this film. To start with the dancing, there probably isn’t anyone other than Kamal Hassan who could manage to make it all look so effortless. The classical dance scenes are superb, and even the contemporary song (with that truly hideous yellow suit) is well added in to showcase his skills. Jayaprada is beautiful in her dance scenes and S P Sailaja is excellent, but it’s still Kamal Hassan who draws my eye each time. I absolutely love the dance scene in the kitchen which is fresh, spontaneous and makes such good use of the setting.

Leaving aside the amazing dancing, this is a really well told story. An alcoholic ‘hero’ is unusual and, since I work in the field, I like that it’s a useful public health message as well. The romance between Balu and Madhavi develops slowly and naturally considering their joint love of the arts and despite the difference in their social standing. The use of photography to link the story together is cleverly done and every image adds a little more to the story. Sarath Babu is excellent as Balu’s long suffering friend, and his generosity provides a stark contrast to Balu’s increasing selfishness as he beomes dependant on the demon drink. However Raghu is not a perfect saint either since he doesn’t scruple to use Balu’s guilt against him as a way to blackmail his friend into teaching the spoilt brat Sailaja. Of course it’s all for Balu’s own good and the fact that he gets treatment for his sick wife Sumathi is a bonus. All of the supporting cast is excellent here and K. Vishwanath develops their characters in enough detail to make their actions understandable and relevant.

I really like the way each flashback occurs when something which is happening in the present triggers a memory of a past event by one of the characters. It seems very natural and helps to link the past and the present. The film is very much about the arts: Raghu is a writer and poet, Madhavi is a singer and Balu’s dream that they all perform together seems a natural extension of their friendship. It’s also an excuse to have some beautiful songs and once again Illayaraja provides music that I love and I just wish I knew what the lyrics meant.  There are a few things I don’t enjoy quite so much. There are some really ridiculous co-incidences and the last few scenes are overly melodramatic. But then again this is a film from the eighties and we all know that wasn’t a time for restraint! This is a 5 star film for me.

Yamudiki Mogudu

Yamudiki Mogudu was made in 1988 which may explain some of the costume choices or, then again, maybe not! Whatever the reason the wardrobe guys seem to have had the time of their lives and the costumes used in the songs here are fabulous. Our DVD came with a breezy alert stating  “Regret Poor Quality”. It turns out that was not useful life advice or a comment on the film, but a warning that the picture quality was a bit dodgy so we regret the poor screencaps.

But what about the movie … Well this is another Chiru film which manages to fit in plenty of action, drama, fight scenes, obligatory machetes, preposterous moustaches and hairstyles, romances with two heroines, a double role of sorts and plenty of singing and dancing.  And at 147 minutes  the pace is cracking, with never a dull moment.

We meet Chiru first as Kali, a thief with a heart of gold who robs, steals and works as a mercenary in order to help fund his brothers education, support his family and generally look after the inhabitantsof the slum area where he lives.  On one occasion he is called to the mansion of Kailasham, to be punished for daring to steal from the magnate, when his daughter looks out of a window and spies Kali fighting off her father’s goons in true hero style. Of course, like us, Radha falls instantly in love with the dashing Kali and grabs her video camera to rush down and immortalise the action.

Her love is reciprocated and Radha’s  father is appalled when he sees photographs of the two of them together.  These photographs are from a dream sequence song so we’re not quite sure about the science that made this possible.

Kailasham conspires with his onetime enemy Kota Kondappa (Kota Srinivasa Rao with a flamboyant moustache), and his repulsive son Chantibabu  to destroy Kali. This will allow Chantibabu to marry Radha and put a stop to the depredations Kali is making into the business of the two conspirators.  They have been the ones employing him to steal, but logic doesn’t play a big role here.  They assassinate Kali on his wedding day, at which point Kali is taken to hell.  Kali argues with Lord Yama (Satyanarayana) about his early demise, and gains the assistance of Vichitra Gupta (Velu) who points out the rather serious error made by Chitra Gupta (Allu Ramalingaiah). Lord Yama does some quick thinking to get rid of this loud and irritating human who has dared to tap dance, rock and roll and even disco (yes, really)  in a range of amazing costumes with the heavenly apsara played by Ambika.

Kali’s body has been cremated meaning he cannot simply return to his old life. Lord Yama  shows Kali three other men who look identical to him, and who are each about to die. Kali can choose to inhabit one of their bodies once they are dead, and in this way return to Earth.

Since he has no other options he takes on the body and thus the life of Balu, a rather pitiful man who has been beaten down into the life of a servant by his free-loading uncle.

Although Kali isn’t supposed to remember his former life, he does know that he is no servant and proceeds to turn his new family upside down. Balu assumes control of the family fortune, frees his mother from kitchen drudgery and spends time with his girlfriend Gauri (Vijayasanthi).  His uncle really should have known as soon as that steely eyed stare fell on him that his easy living days were well and truly over!

Of course we know this can’t last, and events conspire so that Kali does regain memory of his former life.

We finally get to a resolution where the bad guys lose, the good guys win and Kali/Balu has to somehow reconcile his relationships with both women.  Kali appeals to Lord Yama to help sort out his marital problem.  Surely he should have realised that Lord Yama was perhaps a bit unreliable in his decision making?

Chiru is his usual wonderfully athletic and energetic self as Kali and the songs were obviously choreographed to show off his dancing style.  While the inspiration for the costumes is anyone’s guess, the backdrop in the many songs is equally bizarre and colourful and we love it!  Radha initially plays it straight as the spoilt and indulged daughter, but once she falls in love she is vivacious and energised and does a really good job of keeping up with Chiru in their songs together.  She even manages to look comfortable in all the ruches and ruffles of her costumes.  Vijayasanthi is beautiful as the feisty Gauri and we thought she had made it through the costume department almost unscathed until she emerged, draped in pearls, from a clam shell. Then we saw Chiru had also been clam shelled. The design department on this film really made it their own!

The film was written by Satyanand and directed by Ravi Raja Pinisetty. The fight scenes are well choreographed and flow nicely with the action sequences.  The best comedy is in the scenes with Chiru, Lord Yama,Chitragupta and Vichitragupta.  The character of Chantibabu initially is fairly repulsive as he tries to rape Radha to ensure that she will have no choice other than to marry him, but he very quickly becomes a figure of ridicule.  Most of the remaining comedy subplot revolves around the relationship between Kota and Kailasham and is not particularly funny, although Kota’s untameable hair is.  The real reason to watch it is Chiranjeevi, of course, and the fabulous song picturisations based on the compositions by Raj-Koti and lyricist Veturi.

Heather says: This is one of my favourite Chiru films and I think one of his best performances. The fight scenes are well choreographed, and the dancing is superb, when you can take your eye off the costumes that it! Any film that includes Lord Yama will appeal to me, as I like the opportunity it gives to make the impossible happen, and it usually means plenty of mayhem. I also like the bumbling conspirators and their vacillating between being enemies and friends. Both Radha and Vijayasanthi are lovely in this and do well to hold their own against Chiru in his energetic performance. Its such a shame the set and costume designers don’t get credited as their work in this film is truly outstanding. I did also like the glowing skull eyes in hell and horns on the demons that were very floppy when they danced! But of course Chiru is the reason to watch this film, and the Megastar really delivers. 4 1/2 stars from me.

Temple says: This is so very entertaining, and if you haven’t seen a Chiranjeevi film before I think this is a great place to start. The songs and costumes are brilliant and completely over the top, while still being linked in to the story. I liked that there was some sort of discussion about the whole taking over someone else’s body idea. Kali not only had his self-preservation instinct but felt protective towards the displaced soul and wanted to somehow repair things for Balu. All the performances are good, with Vijayasanthi and Radha being both decorative and memorable. But it really is Chiru’s film, and the film succeeds in keeping my attention through all the plot permutations because he gives it his all. He is fun as Kali and quite pathetic as Balu, and gets to show some dramatic range even while pummelling the bad guys. Like Heather, I always enjoy an appearance by Yama in a film as it usually means lots of sparkly gold and a dance number. My expectations were met, and then some! I’m an unashamed Chiru fan, and I really loved this film. 4 and 1/2 stars from me.