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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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!

Kirathakudu (1986)

If Kirathakudu didn’t have Chiru and Suhasini in the leads I am not sure I would have persisted. The first hour or so is very trying indeed. But then I would have missed out on an unexpected reworking of John Carpenter’s 1981 classic, “Escape From New York”. If I see Chiru plus subtitles, the DVD is an automatic purchase so I didn’t read anything about the film before I watched it. There is a voiceover about criminals and the government, but the concept wasn’t well translated in the subtitles. Imagine my delighted confusion when it started to seem somewhat familiar.

Chiranjeevi is Charan, a poor rich boy who just wants his father (Kongara Jaggaiah) to show him some affection. Charan spends his time winning every possible sporting and aeronautical trophy, beating people up, carousing and brooding in his room.

I enjoyed this sporting montage greatly, although it has prompted me to make a statement critical of Chiranjeevi.

His swimming style is splashy and inefficient and he would not have won a race against the under 9s in my swimming club. There – I’ve said it.

Maybe it’s not about winning the race, but about looking stylish on a lilo.

And making bad art.

He is a renaissance man, albeit one with questionable taste, a very bad temper and poor impulse control. He drinks heavily, and I think I was supposed to find this appearance a warning – but he looks so good!

Charan sees a quite unimpressive statue in a local emporium and runs afoul of Swetha (Suhasini) who has purchased the one of a kind piece. His reaction to finding out he can’t have it is extreme.

Swetha is a psychology student, and daughter of the local police chief. She is smart, self assured and is not intimidated by Charan. She is also a raging narcissist from the looks of her house – pictures of her adorn almost every wall.

It is interesting that Swetha is given career aspirations and a brain, and yet the dialogues are often very disparaging of women. Suhasini is such a graceful and intelligent actress that I was pleased to see her in a reasonably involved role. She is drawn to Charan both as an interesting psychological study and because he is Chiru – those eyes!

Charan goes off the rails due to the influence of vampy Hamsa (Silk Smitha). Only Chiru could make Charan watchable as he broods, rants and sooks over why his daddy doesn’t love him and then commits crimes as a cry for attention.  Showing that she is smarter than most people in the film, Swetha finds Charan’s hideout and dobs him in to the police. He kidnaps her in a dramatic getaway and their forced proximity accelerates the already budding love.

Having been ruined by a tramp, he feels that the love of a good woman will let him live like a decent person. Yes. Surely it would be unreasonable to expect him to take responsibility or just grow up. She then takes on the burden of reforming Charan and settles in for a lifetime of prison visits. I found their song fantasies quite amusing – Swetha was all flowers and pretty colours, while Charan was much more, um, hands on. One thing they did have in common was their terrible taste in art.

Silk Smitha is Hamsa.

Well, Silk’s arse does most of the work thanks to the constant upskirting camera, but she sneaks the rest of herself into shot occasionally. Hamsa is a Bad Girl who entraps Charan and forces him to turn smuggler (bad) and wear pleather (not so bad). Again, I had to growl a bit at Charan crawling out of her bed the morning after and treating Hamsa like dirt for giving him what he wanted.

Mothers in the film are sacred but women who have sex are evil  – so I wondered briefly about how these idiots thought babies were made. I am not exactly sure why sleeping with Hamsa would be enough to place Charan under Snake’s control, especially given his cavalier attitude to the law and society, but it seems he was besmirched and that was it. The bad girl is usually a thankless role, but Silk gets a few pithy lines and an excellent confrontational cheerleading dance.

The second half of the film took a sharp turn towards awesome. Maybe because Chiru changed into this outfit?

The police need Charan’s help to take on Snake and rescue his dad (and the Top Secret papers) as they could not get into the badlands themselves. When Charan stole a car ferry and chuffed off about 10 seconds ahead of the cops, he managed to hide the ferry within walking distance of a sari shop and judging by the number of Swetha’s outfit changes, remain undetected for days. The man is a genius and I can see why the police appealed to him.

Armed with an array of gadgets and with deadly time release microcapsules implanted in his neck, Charan sets off to save the day. He lands a glider on top of a skyscraper in the crime quadrant, on a mission to rescue his father and protect Indian national security. He had to take a glider as there was no way in by land. In a puzzling development, Swetha and Baby (the cab driver played by Nutan Prasad) decide they have to follow him, and drive in through the front gate in a taxi, sedately avoiding the bombs planted along the route. While the residents look like a left over mob from a B grade post apocalypse horror movie, Swetha is able to glide around in her pristine sari without being spotted. The scenes in this second half are more closely aligned to the original film and the mood is both darker and more absurd.

Snake (Kannada Prabhakar) is the kingpin in the sealed off criminal zone. While John Carpenter recreated Manhattan as his prison colony, Snake has to make do with a warehouse complex a few minutes from the downtown area. He has possibly the best DIY lair and henchmen I’ve seen to date, and I enjoyed deciphering the very random graffiti.

Snake is also a psycho killer on a very short fuse.

This guy is quite fascinating.

He plays his role of chief henchman with a blend of odd chicken inspired noises and statue postures, and walks with what I can only describe as a slow-mo mince. While wearing a dress (maybe toga).Who is he?

And the guy who would have been played by Bob Christo in a Hindi version of this is back! Last seen in Adavi Donga (the apple peeler Wolverine claws guy) here he is sporting a fake scar and some hideous trousers.

How does it end? Is there any doubt?

It’s a film by A Kodandarami Reddy so I expected crazy, and the second half delivers. I did have to chant the ‘it was made in 1985’ mantra a few times, but even allowing for that I was irritated by some of the dialogue relating to women and their evil powers. Grow up guys! Yandamoori Veerendranath gets a writing credit, but this is a reasonably faithful remake with the addition of loads of sentiment and a message about good family values.

Chiru and Suhasini inject a bit of class into their scenes, and the WTFery dial is set to 11. I’m totally biased due to Chiranjeevi but I’d give this a cautious 3 stars, for the curiosity value of the remake and for the dystopian second half.

Here is a snippet of Silk’s big song number – it is interspersed with the final action sequence so I won’t give away all the surprises!