Pasivadi Pranam

Pasivadi Pranam

I watched Pasivadi Pranam with high expectations since Kodandarami Reddy directed many of Chiranjeevi’s best films including my favourites Challenge and Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu, while story writer Fazil was also responsible for the excellent Manichitrathazhu. The film is a remake of Poovinnu Puthiya Poonthennal with Mamootty but as I haven’t been able to track down a copy of the original Malayalam film, it seems quite reasonable to settle in with Chiranjeevi and Vijayashanti instead.  And well worth it too – with Raghuvaran as the villain and with plenty of good songs including a breakdance (below!) Pasivadi Pranam is a great way to celebrate Megabirthday 2015.

The story starts with a rather horrific murder, witnessed by the victim’s wife and young child as Sundaran (Prasad Babu) is stabbed by Ranjit (Babu Antony) under the direction of his boss Chakravarty (Raghuvaran). Intriguingly Ranjit is dressed entirely in white – surely not the best colour to wear when preparing to stab someone, and then rather randomly he pulls on a red hat before carefully removing it a few moments later when he attacks Sundaran. One of those delightfully random moments that I wish had some deeper meaning – but doesn’t!

Despite murdering Sundaran almost right outside his front door, Ranjit and Chakravarthy are shocked and appalled to realise their crime has been seen and Charavarty sends Ranjit to get rid of the two witnesses; Sundaran’s wife Lakshmi (Rajyalakshmi) and their son (Baby Sujitha). Although Ranjit manages to kill Lakshmi, her son has a better developed survival sense and manages to escape. Initially he does quite well, hopping on a bus and heading far away from the chase, but eventually he falls asleep at the side of the road. And that’s where drunken bar owner Madhu (Chiranjeevi) finds him later.

Madhu apparently has a death wish – illustrated by a fight in the bar he owns and perhaps rather more riskily by gate-crashing an exercise class and joining in with the ladies in leotards. Despite his attempts to commit suicide by aerobicise, Madhu has a kind heart and he stops his car when he sees the small boy asleep at the side of the road. After a half-hearted attempt to locate the boy’s parents fails, Madhu decides to take the child home with him and call him Raja. The next day however he discovers that Raja has been born deaf and consequently is also dumb; reasons which the consulting doctor suggests may have been the reason for Raja’s abandonment by the side of the road. Madhu isn’t convinced though since Raja seems to be trying to tell him something, although he can’t quite work out the message.

Madhu has a sad past which is explained later in the film but initially there are just cryptic references to November 18th and a psychedelic green and red image of a spinning woman that appears onscreen.

A flashback sequence explains that Madhu’s wife Lakshmi (Sumalatha) was killed on their wedding day, and after that tragic event Madhu has turned to drinking himself into oblivion most nights. He tells himself not to get too close to Raja, but seems to immediately forget this instruction and starts treating the boy as if he was his own son. Sujitha is very cute as Raja and is also great at remembering the character isn’t supposed to be able to talk. It’s an impressive performance from the young actor and she has an excellent rapport with Chiranjeevi throughout the film.

While out buying toys for Raja, Madhu meets Geeta (Vijayashanti), and after the initial altercation when Raja breaks a model Taj Mahal, Geeta seems quite taken with the pair. She starts stalking Madhu, turning up at his house and inviting him round to visit. Much of the comedy is based on Geeta’s pursuit of Madhu and his rather ineffectual attempts to rebut her advances until he rather dramatically announces that he is a ‘married bachelor’.

At the same time as the romance is going on, Ranjit is still trying to follow Chakravarthy’s commands and get rid of Raja. However he misses numerous opportunities and is eventually soundly beaten by Madhu once Raja wakes him from his drunken stupor. This turns out to be the last straw and Madhu renounces the demon drink so that he can take proper care of Raja. The attempts on Raja’s life clue Madhu in that there is more going on than just an abandoned child and he starts trying to piece together Raja’s past. At the same time, Geeta’s father decides to reconcile with his estranged daughter (you guessed it) Lakshmi and finds her mysteriously missing. This in turn gets the police involved and after various mix-ups and tense moments, finally Madhu discovers the truth.

Although Pasivadi Pranam is a fairly straight forward story, there is a good mix of drama, suspense and comedy which all add up to a cracking good tale. Fazil knows how to keep an audience glued to the screen and even the interjection of songs and some comedy with Vijayashanti’s character doesn’t derail the tension. The songs are fun with the occasional odd fashion choice (gloves and a sari?) but I do appreciate the sensible footwear for snowy conditions. I love the backing dancers outfits in this song too – they turn from dull and drab to a glorious blue so simply and the effect is marvellous.

Chiranjeevi is excellent as a lonely man, ridden by guilt who wants nothing more than to be left alone to wallow in his misery. His gradual transformation at the hands of a small boy is beautifully done and the addition of a love interest in Geetha helps add some light hearted fun and stops the story from being too dark. Vijayashanti has plenty of infectious energy and I get the feeling she enjoyed turning the tables on Chiru, being the stalker rather than the stalkee for a change. The two have wonderful chemistry together and their comedy scenes also work well, although Raja steals the show when he does an impersonation of Geeta which is simply perfect!  The villains of the piece are also better realised than usual and are suitably creepy rather than all out vicious thugs, while Babu Antony is genuinely sinister as he skulks along in the shadows.

Pasivadi Pranam illustrates just how good a film can be when it starts off with a proper (and good) storyline.  Add excellent performances, appropriate dialogue and generally well placed songs and it all adds up to an entertaining film that’s well worth a watch. 4 stars.

 

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Chanakya Sapatham (1986)

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One of a half dozen films K Raghavendra Rao churned out in 1986 (including the awesome Kondaveeti Donga), Chanakya Sapatham again pairs Chiranjeevi with Vijayashanti in a ripping yarn of smugglers, flight attendants and the Indian Customs department. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Chanakya Sapatham a neglected masala masterpiece but I do think it deserves some love.

Shashi or Sasirekha (Vijayashanti) is a flight attendant, unwittingly caught up in a smuggling operation by BOB CHRISTO! Bob, with his trademark poor judgement, hides a pouch of diamonds in her blouse (no, I don’t know how she didn’t notice) and when he  tries to get it back, Shashi puts up a decent fight and Chanakya (Chiranjeevi) leaps to the rescue. It’s like the finale of Doodh Ka Karz only with flying Chiru instead of snakes.

Naturally Shashi is swept off her feet by the dashing customs officer in his very snug uniform. They fall in love through a Kodak moment and product placement. Oh the visual metaphors.

Rana (Rao Gopal Rao) is the main villain. Bless the Paruchuri brothers for going to the trouble of trying to think of vaguely sane reasons for him to do some things, and then make him explain himself. It was unnecessary but greatly appreciated.  Rana’s chief henchman Ranga is a flamboyantly unpleasant creature and Rana’s son is a nasty piece of work. The son (Sudhakar) works for the airline, or at least owns a uniform, and was in on the smuggling but hasn’t quite got the wattage to do much off his own bat. They have little depth of character, so I was pleased to see they have that nice tricolour chandelier in their house, and I think I also recognise the stuffed tiger and the mysterious beep boop machine from previous outings.

Rana runs a Natural Health Remedy Centre. I liked the apparent lift and shift substitution of ‘karate school’ for ‘yoga school’ as a background for some of the fight scenes.

Chanakya is hot on Rana’s trail, but frustrated at every turn by the sleazy businessman’s connections and ability to weasel out of any trap. But how do they not see Chiru in surveillance mode? His pants are so blindingly white.

Both Shashi and Chanakya are close to their families.

Shashi’s sister Savitri was married but due to dowry issues (Shashi was robbed on the way home from the bank), the in-laws turned her out. Financial pressures are causing strife at home, and Shashi is the only one who seems to have a chance of fixing things. The baddies have their eye on her as a way to get to Chanakya, and offer her a smuggling job that would pay for Savitri’s dowry and put the family back on an even keel. She traps the smugglers and gets a reward which she intends to use to pay the outstanding dowry and get her sister settled.

Chanakya’s family are close and affectionate, and I liked their domestic scenes. There are so few times when an older married couple get to show an affectionate or playful  side, and I really liked those moments between Kaikala Satyanarayana and Annapurna. Chanakya is the only child and, of course, the centre of his parents universe. When Rana sets Nagarjuna up to be arrested as a smuggler Chanakya is bent on revenge and justice, which may actually be more or less the same thing in this instance.

Chanakya and Sasirekha are united by their mutual attraction and also the mission to shut Rana down. I liked that they were both smart, both tried to take care of things themselves, but could accept or even ask for help when they had to. Chanakya understood her reservations and made an effort to address her concerns quite plainly to avoid further tension.

The relationship development  was all quite sensible (for a film) as well as providing fuel for some excellent  concepts for Chakravarthy’s songs.  Apart from the usual hillside prancing, the songs take place around a giant camera, a plane made of flowers with dancers dressed as airplanes, and in and out of a tray of photo developing chemicals, or even just surrounded by neon tube lights.

Yes, this is a movie that embraces the technology of 1986. And Shashi generally looks fine (for 80s filmi fashion), even in the more imaginative sequences. Vijayashanti demonstrates she has nailed the saree run with hair toss. My biggest disappointment was Chiru’s footwear which was less than spectacular and relied heavily on the monotone ankle boot. But I rarely enjoy product placement as much as I did in this film – well done Luma Lamps people, well done.

Vijayashanti is always a pleasure to watch, and I like her rapport with Chiru. They’re well matched in the choreography, and neither of them lacks energy or commitment to the role. Shashi is smart and while she wants to sort things out herself, she appreciates Chanakya’s sincerity in wanting to help her and considers his offer rationally. I liked that he had to put his cards on the table before she would accept his gift and they didn’t play silly games. Also, this is a remarkably non-rapey film for 80s mass. The villains stay on task and when they threaten Shashi it is because they need her to do something for them, not run around screaming.

 

I liked the very specific design and fit-out for some action scenes. I would never have thought to create a factory full of…exploding ice…but it came up a treat. I always enjoy a good fight in a factory full of stuff that is only there for the hell of it. More exploding ice! A statue! Things in barrels! A luge run! And a later fight on the beach uses swings. So fun! There is more than a nod to Jackie Chan and the Hong Kong school in some of the fight choreography and Chiru has the right attitude to carry it all off – he milks those bendy iron bars and flying kicks for all they’re worth, and then some.

The earlier action scenes are funny but still a bit exciting. The finale starts out with an unfortunate tendency to Comedy before the drama and action ramps up again.

I could have done without most of the last 30 minutes, well maybe except for the bit where Chanakya rocked up not only in disguise but in a lotus submarine. But then the movie redeemed itself with what may be the best use of a wheely board and improvised ski poles since Shashi Kapoor in Duniya Meri Jeb Mein.

Vijayashanti and Chiranjeevi are a delightful on screen pair, and while Chanakya Sapatham doesn’t break new ground it does what it does so very well. 4 stars!

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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!