Kondaveeti Donga

One of the indicators of an excellent masala film is when I could pick holes in it but just don’t want to. Kondaveeti Donga sees Chiranjeevi teaming up again with director A Kodandarami Reddy in a story by Yandamoori Veerendranath and the result is glorious. It’s so good I want to share every little detail and yet give nothing away so you can enjoy it as it happens. The first 15 minutes is pure breathless insanity and then the film really takes off.

Raja (Chiranjeevi) is a graduate returning to his village home. That might explain why the subtitles say ‘coz. He’s so modern and citified. Raja is an orphan, adopted by village strongman Satyanarayana Kaikala. The local people funded his education, and he is back to repay them by working to make their lives better. He finds a mysterious tiger reservation has annexed the prime farming land, and the villagers are all in debt to bigwig Rao Gopal Rao and his creepy son Narasimham (Mohan Babu). Raja tries to fight for their rights in the courts but fails. He so disappoints the villagers that one of them drops dead in the court room, adding to the guilt trip. Raja decides he must deliver justice since the law won’t, even though the illiterate villagers were clearly swindled. Inspired by an old story his adoptive father used to tell, Raja becomes the Kondaveeti Donga!

Raja declaims some cracking dialogues and bowls the ladies and bad guys over at every turn. It is a brilliant role for Chiru as it needs his swagger and charisma to make the larger than life Kondaveeti Donga come to life and he makes the most of the less action driven scenes. He wears a nice sheer face mask which fails to disguise him at all, charging around the countryside on his white horse and accompanied by his trusty dog.

There are excellent fight scenes, one including tree dwelling ninjas, tigermen and a man with very long metal arms, and a great sequence on a speeding train.

There is romance, dancing and eccentric wardrobe as the ladies live out their fantasies in songs with the obliging Raja. He is a decent bloke who genuinely cares about his adoptive family and friends. Even as he surrendered to the police, he took time to give his dog and horse a little goodbye cuddle. Awwwww.  And they deserve a hug.

The dog is particularly useful as he not only disguises himself as the Kondaveeti Donga on horseback, he also saves his friend the horse from near certain death. There is only one horse stunt that made me cover my eyes so extra points for that too.

In case Chiru as Zorro isn’t enough to tempt you (what are you – nuts?!?) there is so much more.

Amrish Puri as an evil mystic with an excellent lair. The symbolism is quite eclectic. The beak on that peacock drawbridge must have been heavily reinforced as it hits the ground with a satisfying thunk. The lair is one of those that can only be reached by water, a long arduous trek or ride, or maybe a brisk walk from the office. There are some geographical inconsistencies that put me in mind of Howl’s Moving Castle. Gadra also has a crocodile pit AND cage full of bloodthirsty cheetahs, and still finds time for his day job.

Sharada as a vengeful woman with exacting standards in machete purchasing. I love Sharada’s intensity and she has an elegance that shines through.  Like Chiru, she can inject a bit of quality into the drama and shenanigans in even the silliest script. Sambhavi is strong, resourceful and driven by a thirst for revenge. She has an iron will that even Gadra cannot overcome and she does an excellent ‘death stare’ that is almost on par with Amrish Puri.

Vijayashanti plays an undercover policewoman who poses as a snake charmer to uncover illegal activities. Srilekha is tough, has tunnel vision when it comes to the law, and is not afraid of conflict. Vijayashanti is great in this kind of role, being pretty and feisty and often very funny. Srilekha doesn’t quite join the dots and see that she is out to arrest Raja, perhaps being too distracted by his charm and laid back dance moves. Srilekha changes, most noticeably when she swaps her snug police uniform for pretty sarees. Ah, the influence of True Love!

Radha  is lovely as her sister Srikanya. Now Srikanya is a gynaecologist according to the subtitles, but she seems to perform general bullet removal surgery as well as tracking down the reason for so many villagers dying of anaemia (hint – they were literally paying a debt with their own blood). In many respects she is the opposite of her sister; reserved, soft-hearted and girly. But Srikanya is intelligent and independent in her career, so she isn’t just a piece of fluff. She falls instantly and hard for the thief, seeing him as a saviour.

Thanks to a bindi with extra stickum, she works out Raja is the mysterious Kondaveeti Donga. She keeps his secret even from her family as she believes in his cause, and despite being the softer of the sisters she holds her ground under threat. When medical fakery is needed, Srikanya is cool in a crisis.

Despite being an unashamedly masala potboiler, there is some nice depth to the ‘good’ characters. Some key supporting characters find forgiveness and a kind of peace. There is a love triangle between Raja, Srilekha and Srikanya. Most of the romancing is confined to the songs which are usually a depiction of the girls’ fantasies.  The drama develops between the two ladies, with one oblivious and one heartbroken and all too aware, the romance adding another tension to their already opposing views.  Their close sibling bond and strong personalities informed their behaviour not just the love for an irresistible hero.

Nagendra Babu plays an enigmatic loner who wanders the wood in search of unseen justice (that’s what he says). Brahmanandam has a small role and Allu Ramalingaiah plays the crooked subordinate to the bad guys. Most of the humour comes from Chiru and Vijayashanti and the naff rapey jokes are left to Mohan Babu and the bad guys. There are lots of small details and symbols scattered through the film and I really enjoyed that extra dimension.

And there were some subtitles that kept me thinking. Often thinking WTF? but thinking nonetheless.

Ilayaraja’s soundtrack is excellent. There is a heroic ‘look out evil-doers’ anthem, some romantic duets and a couple of upbeat sparkly costumed numbers. Something for all occasions!


This film has everything I want in masala entertainment. The casting is perfect with Chiru at his mass best, the story rattles along, the action is crazy, and the songs are highly entertaining. 5 stars!

Sangarshana (1983)

I like a good socialist masala film. Sangarshana has surprisingly long interludes of sensible decision making and logical plot progression, plus loads of dancing and a very good cast. It’s highly entertaining and while the plot is fairly basic, it’s more rounded out than I expected. Lest that all sound a bit too straightforward, there are mysterious mute women, children separated at birth, a comic sideplot that hinges on romantic sabotage, family dramas, medical emergencies, flying somersaults, fight scenes and a bit of conflict resolution through disco.

Dilip (Chiranjeevi) returns from America to live with his wealthy industrialist dad (Satyanarayana Kaikala). He is a nice enough guy but used to the easy life, and can’t really understand the struggle of workers in his family factory. He believes his dad is a good guy and that the workers should trust him and remember their station in life. Eventually Dilip comes to realise that his father is more interested in money than in the means by which he obtains it. To make matters worse, the local site manager (Rao Gopal Rao) reneges on offers of compensation for injured employees and overacts wildly.

My post grad studies were in Industrial Relations and I can confidently state that I never encountered that reaction to a workplace accident in any of the cases I studied.

Dilip renews his relationship with his childhood friends Shivam (Sivakrishna) and Radha (Vijayashanti) and their father, the supervisor Mr Krishnamurthy (Gummadi).

When he isn’t prancing about reminiscing with Radha, lifelong snappy dresser Dilip is prancing about romancing Rekha (Nalini) the daughter of his dad’s local business manager. Life is all twirling around on hilltops and dancing around trees. But then other issues start to take over. Shivam starts a union and tries to get fairer conditions for the other workers. Some of his demands seemed a bit out there (workers compensations is fine, but three months bonus?), and fights the good fight. Unionisation is not ideal for the owners as regulation and systems may bring their smuggling sideline to light, and they certainly don’t want to reduce their profits.

Once Dilip realises the extent of the illegal activities and his father’s role in the shady doings, things start to get nasty. He is thrown out of home, his relationship with Rekha is threatened as her father coerces her to give up Dilip, and there is much drinking and crying.

When Dilip is framed for Shivam’s murder, Chiru dials up the heroics as he becomes a furious young man and makes his enemies sorry they ever crossed that line.

Chiranjeevi is very good as the showy Dilip who brings back expensive gifts and spouts some terrible English dialogues. He manages to be vain and likeable and the transition from easy confidence to anger and hurt betrayal is excellent. He is deliberately cheesy in some romantic scenes, adding a comic spark,  but brings genuine warmth and pathos when it is needed.

Oh those outfits make me weep, especially the poor backing dancers. But look at Chiru go! He dances up a storm and is handy in a fight. No wonder the ladies are lining up!

Sivakrishna has one expression for 80% of the film but since he plays an angry young man that works well enough. Allu Ramalingaiah is Varahamurthy, the comedy religious advisor who abets Rao Gopal Rao in his schemes. Varahamurthy has his own ideas about marrying his son Chalpai off to rich and lovely Rekha, while Chalpai has the hots for a voluptuous local girl. Those shenanigans constitute the comedy side plot and aren’t quite as painful as they might have been, although I did forward through most of it on a re-watch. Annapurna plays the mysterious mute woman who holds the key to a tangled family saga. Her revelations relieve Dilip of his sense of familial loyalty, and make him determined to bring his father and cohorts to justice.

Vijayashanti is beautiful as simple village girl Radha. She loves Dilip and has a fair number of song induced fantasies about their love. But she is a sensible and nice girl who doesn’t let romantic notions carry her away. Radha is committed to her family and to doing the right thing, and doesn’t hesitate to call Dilip on his weakness when he is wallowing in drunkenness. When she sees that rich Rekha is more Dilip’s type Radha has a talk to herself and decides she has to move on. See? Sensible.

Nalini gets less emotional range but more hideous fashionable outfits as Rekha. Rekha is pretty, a bit spoilt, but once she decides Dilip is The One, she doesn’t back away without putting up a fight. Literally – check her out in this clip.

Nalini is good but didn’t make as strong an impression as Vijayashanti despite the biffo.

K Chakravarthy provided a range of songs that suited the mood and the characters. Radha and Dilip have more traditional duets while Rekha gets a more Westernised treatment. The choreography is energetic and certainly suits Chiru who gives it his all.

I love watching that song. It comes at a high point in the story and what I really enjoy is the slightly ragged energy that makes it look like people were having fun dancing and not just thinking about it as a scene.   

The interior sets are quite fabulous. Someone on the team decided that more is more in some cases, and I enjoyed playing ‘name that knick knack’ or ‘spot the repo old master’. The dedication to clashing patterns is also quite noticeable.

The western costumes are very 80s while the rowdies dress like a blind costume designer’s hippie fantasy.

One of my few quibbles with the film is that, as a result of what I assume is slacking off by the footwear team, Dilip often wore a pair of quite drab brown ankle boots that just didn’t go with his outfits.

The plot is quite cohesive and the lead characters are engaging.  Occupational health and safety, security for families of workers, a fair go and collective bargaining are things I have an interest in, so while this is very filmi it does throw some ideas around. Issues are explored in conversations, but nothing too heavy. The actors deliver good performances with the right balance of craziness and heart. Director K Murali Mohana Rao keeps things moving along and the story plays to Chiranjeevi’s strengths. 4 stars!


Rudranetra is silly masala fun that starts from the assumption that more is more. Drawing on Gunmaster G9 more than Bond, it gallops along in dazzling and hilarious style.

Chiranjeevi stars as Agent Netra who saves the world from evil, but does nothing to rid us of lycra and lurex. There are multiple villains and heroines, silly catchphrases, overcomplicated schemes, foreign locations, strange gadgets, horrific outfits and memorable design. This was another Adventure Without Subtitles but who needs words when this visual assault is coming at you?

Agent Netra (Chiru) investigates a shady businessman (Rao Gopal Rao) whose real business is in creating some kind of drug. Netra is killed in a confrontation with the next crimelord up the foodchain, Mr Kyun (Raghuvan). Agent Prathima (Vijayashanti) takes over and vows to solve the case for her lost love. She visits some associated bad guy (Nutan Prasad), and finds Yadgiri, a Netra lookalike, working in his home. She persuades Yadgiri to pretend to be Netra. Despite wearing a stealthy red and gold ensemble she is captured and taken to an underwater drug manufacturing plant guarded by men in Michael Jackson Thriller suits. I’m not sure but I think Netra was never really dead and was pretending to be Yadgiri who pretends to be Netra. It really doesn’t matter, as Chiru rescues Prathima very stylishly.

They try get to Rao Gopal Rao through his eldest daughter Rekha. Unfortunately, some pictures get swapped and Chiru acidentally sets his sights on the younger daughter – Hansalekha (Radha), who had obviously incurred the wrath of the costume designer. He decides to sweep her off her feet, and frankly who can blame her for giving in quick smart. Well, I have some doubts about a man who shoots you with a suction-capped arrow and love letter that looks like it was written by an 8 year old with her ‘My Little Pony’ crayons.

Which is the perfect style for Lekha. There is no respite from her horrible outfits until she mistakenly thinks she is pregnant (to Netra) and starts wearing sarees. Netra breaks up with Lekha and pursues Rekha but to no avail. It turned out poor Rekha was not the villain’s real daughter and he was just using her as a human guinea pig for his drug testing. He really is bad! And who but an evil man would order a child fired out of a circus cannon? (OK I admit, that idea does have some appeal, but I wouldn’t actually do it.) A daring trapeze rescue and fight by Netra ensues. What with one thing and another Netra finds his way to the top villain, Mr Kyun’s dad – Black Eagle!

Will Netra save the world? Will someone save Radha from the vengeful costume designer?

Well, you can’t have everything.

Any film with Chiru playing a triple role will get my attention. Especially when his idea of secret agent work attire is this:

Poor poor Radha. I shall let the pictures tell that story.


Vijayashanti gets a slightly better everyday wardrobe but doesn’t get away without a few feathers and sequins. Generally Prathima is the smarter more resourceful female, and can hold her own in a carefully choreographed fight.

The villains have truckloads of style.

Rao Gopal Rao firmly believes in world domination and colour matched lurex shoes for all his ensembles. His lair is more functional than iconic, in keeping with his pragmatic and cold blooded style. He even kills his not-really daughter Rekha once she is of no use.

Then there is Mr Kyun whose catchphrase is ‘Mr Kyun is always a question to yoooooooou’. He is a bit disappointing visually, but makes up for it with cheesy English dialogue and being pure evil.

Black Eagle is confused. Why else would he be in a dragon themed lair? Accessorising with snakes?

Perhaps this outfit is intended to make him more Eagle-y, despite the boa as boa.

His catchphrase varies from ‘Black Eagles loves you’ to ‘Black Eagle hates this’. You know you’re on a winner when the villain talks about himself in the third person. His minions look like Lego men and are about as handy in a fight.

It also makes for excellent espion-tertainment when the gadgets are abundant. Black Eagle has a ‘death bell’, which has a disco floor, and two dragons that bong the ‘bell’, which kills the prisoner (unless the prisoner is Netra). Black Eagle and Mr Kyun have built a rocket to launch their killer bees or lethal gas or drugs (there is evidence pointing to all as a possibility) but neglected to acquire the “destruction gadget lock” so that created a delay. There are fake planes, underwater lairs, exploding guns and lots of cool stuff along the way before we get to the top secret circus tent rocket control centre.















The interiors are all quite special and no wall is left unadorned. This dragon appears in several other vintage Telugu films, and turns up both in a lair and Netra’s own house. Was it the height of style? Or just recycling? There is also a pleasing commitment to chandeliers throughout, including a song in a lighting showroom.















There is a comedy track. Brahmanandam is not it, despite being a bumbling sidekick to Rao Gopal Rao. The comedy happens in Malaysia and Singapore and involves some very unfortunate ethnic stereotypes, an annoying child and a comedy uncle in garish shirts. The only good thing about the comedy is that they get someone to take Lekha’s pulse and determine that she isn’t really pregnant. There is a fun scene where hotel staff (who look like actual hotel staff roped in for the day) chase Rao Gopal Rao through the complex shouting ‘Look Madman!’ and ‘Stop Madman stop!’

This is not Illayaraja’s finest work but the songs are pleasant enough if you watch them with your eyes closed. There is a puzzling lack of orchestral support in the climax scenes. It sounds like they forgot to write anything, the band had gone home, and in a panic they asked a bunch of blokes in the studio to vocalise heroically. This is the result  – and you’ll get to see Chiru in excellent fighting form, plus the death bell! I don’t think I was supposed to be laughing so hard I cried.

Rudranetra is a whirlwind of colour and movement. See it for the cheese, stay for the Chiru! At best, 2 stars for quality but a full 5 for entertainment and effort.

Happy New Year!

Heather says: This is such a totally fab film that it’s hard to believe it was made in 1989, at least that is until you get to the satin frocks with mutton sleeves and excessive amounts of frills and flounces. Otherwise it’s very much 70’s style Bond, although mainly without the actual style. The plot is ridiculous and I kept getting the various women confused until Temple pointed out that Radha always had the most garish outfit in any particular scene. Every time I thought the costumes couldn’t possibly get any worse, the costume department managed to go that really bit further, add in a little more bright canary yellow and dig out the worst hair ornaments I think I have ever seen. Bravo!  I do have a lot of admiration though for anyone who can carry out top-secret surveillance in shiny satin which really is quite an achievement.

It was also a real plus to see the whole of the dragon creature that appears so briefly (and only its feet) in Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu, not to mention the number of dragons that are everywhere in Black Eagle’s lair – so why not Black Dragon then – hmm? The whole film looks so amazing that it’s hard to keep track of the story and not get distracted by the visuals. Thankfully though, even without subtitles, it all makes sense in the end, or at least as much sense as I think it was ever meant to, and the climax is really excellent. Overall a really fun watch, although probably best watched with another Chiru fan for best effect. 3 1/2 stars.