Stuartpuram Police Station

Life sometimes throws disappointments my way; shoes that I love on sale but not in my size, clothes with fake pockets, and now Stuartpuram Police Station.

Despite having a top notch cast that includes pretty much everyone you’d expect to see in a 1991 mass film and a good story, which he wrote, Yandamoori Veerendranath makes a muddled mess of a movie.

Rana Pratap (Chiranjeevi) is an honest cop who believes in justice. He returns to his home town of Stuartpuram to find that crooks run the show, and the police are their stooges. This will not do. No. Well, eventually. When Rana Pratap takes time to focus on The Law and not so much on The Ladies. His affections are divided between Alaknanda (Vijayashanti), a sweet and religious girl who is prone to fainting and bursts of focussed violence, and Nirosha, local thief and girl about town.

Chiranjeevi’s introduction was cleverly done through a close up of a very high tech cassette Walkman and headphones. It could only be CHIRU!!!! listening to Sunny by Boney M. So appropriate and yet that levity is not carried through. Rana Pratap is quite dour, and fluctuates between obsessing about how to get his hands on the baddies and obsessing about how to get his hands on Alaknanda. He does all the things that in a non-hero would be called villainous. He bribes a priest to give Alaknanda false advice. He uses Nirosha to set up various criminals and to populate his dance sequences. But really it’s all about loving your family. Rana Pratap’s father was a falsely convicted thief, framed by the same crooked politicians and the like who are still running the show. And Rana had to watch his dad be hanged. So he has a lot of emotional baggage and a reason to want to bring justice to his home.

This is clearly in dire need of Mega Justice. Chiru has good hero skills. He can shoot a knife being thrown at him out of the air, catch it and throw it back at his assailant. The action sequences have their moments but often make even less sense than you’d expect from what is a fairly sane storyline. Rana is lured out to a deserted factory complex where Alaknanda is being molested by a gang of rowdies. Soon Chiru is also tied up but for some reason, perhaps union rules, the rowdies stop rowdying to go get drunk and presumably more rowdy. He coaches Alaknanda to lure them over with some wiggling and grimacing so he can…blatantly chew through the ropes on his wrists and then go the biffo. Perhaps he could have just done that himself without placing her in even more peril. However I liked the way she head-butted one guy who tried to kiss her so the scene is not without compensations. A bit of a drawn out but still fun fight scene ensues and then he…shoots Alaknanda free because who wants to walk a whole 3 metres to safely untie her bonds. A fight with the Big Baddie takes place in an abandoned warehouse full of gas cylinders. What could possibly go wrong! The gas is more of a dry ice fog and the villain decides fighting half naked and wearing a hockey mask is the go. WHY?!?! And Chiru keeps most of his kit on, WHY!?!?!

On the downside Rana Pratap also has the slap happy intolerance for criticism that comes with being a Mass hero and even belts Alaknanda. Not cool. Rana Pratap is a role Chiru can play in his sleep. Perhaps he did. It took 2 hours before Chiru let rip with the one decent “you bastard!” of the film. And it took some major carnage for Rana Pratap to realise that perhaps this story was bigger than just him.

Other than the actual plot Rana Pratap is fixated on that old chestnut. Does he want an angel in the streets or a devil in the sheets? Both? Neither? A little from column A and a little from column B? He certainly makes no secret of his interest in Alaknanda but he doesn’t exactly chase Nirosha away. And he seems even less decisive when they try to swap characteristics. They just don’t understand how this works – he doesn’t want one woman who is everything, he wants all the women who add up to nothing.

Alaknanda is a frustrating character. On the one hand she is religious to the point of it becoming superstition. On the other hand, her credulity allows her to believe Rana Pratap’s rev up speech and go beating up a load of sleazy men at the market.

I feel Vijayashanti really put her all into belting a bloke with a whole bunch of bananas. Being such a delicate young lady, Chiru had to tell Alaknanda where the guy’s nuts were of course. But she quickly learned to stand up for herself, kick arse and take names. She was essential to defeating the baddies in fact. However Rana basically conned Alaknanda into sneaking into his bed, so he is bad news for some forms of agency.

Nirosha is a good match for Chiranjeevi in many ways. She wears fancy high heeled boots even when climbing trees. She likes denim and he loves denim. She steals his uniform and dresses up as Rana Pratap. The lower Rana Pratap unbuttons his shirt the more effective he seems to be at fighting crime and the lower Nirosha unbuttons hers the more compelling her arguments become. They both have higher Brahmi tolerance than I do. And she is game with the choreography, even though their first duet looks more like assorted penguin courtship rituals than The Art of Dance.

Song wise I think Nirosha might in front because she gets to be in the craptacular Bank of Beauty song, which is Chiru’s blingiest and most fun number for this film. She and Alaknanda were both instrumental in the big finale, and it was nice to see the nominal bad girl might have a bright future.

There are really no surprises in the story. Some scenes appear to be hamfisted attempts to recreate something that took Yandamoori’s eye in another movie and that are not really necessary. The flashbacks are long and misjudged. The fight scenes and some of the violence is quite graphic as people are stabbed, shot, set on fire or hacked at with axes and yet it lacks impact in a dramatic sense. Also the framing is often odd, with all the people crammed in to one corner of the screen or missing the top of their heads, with occasional weird jerky transitions and they stealthily try and get everyone back in the shot. Despite all the mayhem, it’s not compelling unless Chiru is on the screen. And even then it’s a struggle to go the distance with this film.

The cast is solid, the idea was good. What a shame. 2 ½ stars!

Bonus pic – this might have been a reasonable cake. But a baddie had to spoil everything by cutting it with a knife coated in blood. Sigh. Another waste of effort.

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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.

 

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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