Aagadu – The silly Telugu movie I needed with all the bad news lately

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Aagadu (He Will Not Halt) is a 2014 action comedy starring Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu as a super cop, the Indian superhero genre.  On Friday night I was glued to news of the military coup in Turkey, but I just couldn’t take all the bad news with that chaos on top of the massacre in Nice.  It was too much, and I needed something crazy to get my mind off it all.  Telugu films are great for that, and this one was particularly crazy.  Aagadu is not the greatest movie in the world, and it’s certainly not the best Mahesh Babu film, but it made me laugh.  Evidently it was not his most successful film, but it was an enjoyable watch.  The director, Srinu Vaitla, had previously made the hit film Dookudu with Mahesh Babu (which I really liked.)  And, I’ll admit it, I just like Mahesh Babu in a cop uniform.

Aagadu mixes the comedy with some more serious drama of an orphan boy adopted by a policeman, who takes the blame for a fatal accident for his adopted older brother.  He’s sent to reform school, but his only goal is to become a cop like his estranged adopted father.  Telugu action films I expect to be over the top in their violent action scenes, but the director and Mahesh seemed to delight in taking it even more over the top, for the amusement value.  Mahesh even references many of his past films, and there’s a running gag of him conning the crooks that they’re just like his long lost brother, who…..insert plot of Dookudu, Okkadu, etc.  I was glad I’d seen a number of Mahesh Babu films so I was in on the joke, but the subtitles also pointed out which movie he was referencing.

I recently watched the Malayalam film Neram, and the language play comedy in the film went right over my head.  This film veered towards slapstick comedy, but it made me laugh out loud.

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Sonu Sood is the mustache twirling villain.  I took a picture of this scene where he’s intimidating a local and explaining that Sonu’s power plant project cannot be stopped.  His examples of what ELSE couldn’t be stopped cracked me up!  “I didn’t like Abishek Bachan [sic] marrying Aishwarya Rai.  Could we stop it?”  LOL

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Tamannaah is the love interest.  Mahesh thinks she’s sweet and innocent when he sees her handing out sweets to children, but comes to find out she’s a strident sweets shop owner.  She’s about to marry an NRI just to be able to open new sweet shops in the US.  Mahesh cons her, and her family, too, in a very amusing way, to stop the engagement to the NRI.  Tamannaah catches on, but enjoys the manipulation of Mahesh — she sees she’s met her match in scheming.

The songs are completely over the top and crazy, too.  For no apparent reason this one is filled with what look like Thai dancers.  This song compares Tamannaah to Bhel Puri, the spicy street food – and all sorts of other foods.  I’m sure I’ve never, ever heard a girl compared to tomato soup.

Eat me like a Dhoodh peda (Milk sweet)
There is Sweetness in your words, cuteness in your deeds, Lassi (Butter milk) in your smile, there is coconut water too in it!

(Thanks to Bollymeaning lyric translation.)

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Aagudu was welcome escapist fair.  Mahesh seems to delight in mocking his past film personas, but at the same time, acts super cool in the action sequences.  After a huge one at an oil refinery (big explosions!  crooks covered with oil!) he strides off and says  — “My bladder is full with useless discussions with fools.  Where’s the toilet?”  And interval.  Bwhahaha!

The romantic plot is not the main thrust of the film.  It’s mostly Mahesh the cop, tricking and catching each crook in turn, as he works his way up the criminal empire to Sonu Sood at the top.  And of course avenging his adopted family, and making his adoptive father proud.   Sonu Sood is reliably great as the villain, even if most of his dialogue is obviously dubbed.  Nasser plays a bumbling corrupt cop, none too pleased to have Mahesh as his new boss.  Shruti Hasaan has a nice item number, too.

Aagudu is not my favorite Mahesh Babu film, but it was an enjoyable timepass.  I’m sure there were tons more Telugu movie line references I missed, but it was still funny to this non-Desi.  It took me away from the darkness around us for a few hours.  I’m glad I own it, in case I need something silly again.

Three stars out of five.  Aagudu is available for rental on Amazon video or iTunes, but it’s free with subtitles on Youtube!  (Love that about Telugu films!)

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Neram – I was disappointed in this early Nivin Pauly film

neram-tamil-movie-poster-1The Malayalam film Neram was disappointing for me.  Watching comedy in Indian movies can be very hard for a non-Desi like me.

For the first movie I picked to watch from the big MyIndiaShopping order from Kerala I gifted myself for my birthday, I picked Nivin Pauly’s Neram (Time).  It’s an action-drama-comedy from 2013, and Nazriya Nazim (from Bangalore Days) is his love interest in the film.

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Neram was disappointing and just not very good.  The romance between Nivin and Nazriya is pre-existing, and frankly they had more of a best friends chemistry than romantic.
Nivin borrows money from a loan shark because he’s lost his job and has to pay for his sister’s wedding.  He can’t find a job to pay the loan shark back and on the day payment is due, the packet of money a friend gives him to pay it off gets snatched out of his hand by a mugger.  He has to pay back the loan shark by 5 p.m., thus the Time (Neram) of the title.
So it has bursts of action, and is sort of a farce with all sorts of misunderstandings and close shaves and farcical elements of different robbers scamming each other.  But it just didn’t hold together.
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It’s set in Chennai, so there’s some people speaking Tamil, mainly the bad guys.  There are many misunderstandings and mispronouncing between the Tamil and Malayalam which I guess was meant to be funny.
But since I don’t speak either all that went completely over my head, and the subtitles didn’t help.  (Some films like Happy New Year clue you in to the word play)
Nivin Pauly was just okay, and this is the first movie of his I would say that about him.  It’s from 2013, early in his career, but I did love him in his earlier 2012 film Thattathin Marayathu.  Nazriya is not given a lot to do, and mid-way she gets kidnapped and stuffed in the trunk of a car for the rest of the film.
The editing needed to be snappier and quicker, but the camera work was at least more interesting than most.  It was just meh.  And from Malayalam cinema I’m used to expecting much better than meh.
About half way through, I told my husband it wasn’t that good, and he asked me why I kept watching?  How to explain that the second halves of Indian films can be dramatically different.  The second half did improve, but not enough.
Two and a half stars out of five.

 

Captain Fantastic – My favorite Movie at Sundance

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Captain Fantastic may have been my favorite film of Sundance 2016. Viggo Mortenson is a home schooling father with six children in the wilderness forest somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, completely off the grid. The film opens with him teaching his oldest son to hunt a deer by making him kill it with only a knife and wrestling it to the ground.

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(l to r) George MacKay stars as Bo, Charlie Shotwell as Nai, Nicholas Hamilton as Rellian and Samantha Isler as Kielyr in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

The young actor, Brit George MacKay,  who plays the oldest son, Bo,  was amazing. The family must leave their forest home to attend a funeral, and the children come to realize how isolated they are from the real material world, and how they may have book knowledge, but they don’t know how to interact with other people outside the family. In one of my favorite scenes a young girl flirts with him at a campsite on route.  They kiss, and then he falls to his knees to propose and ask her mother for her permission to marry her daughter.  They both laugh and think he’s just kidding, but he’s acting just as he’s read about in all the classic novels he’s read.   He afterwards confronts his father, “I don’t know anything!”  The oldest son wants to go away to college, but fears his father’s reaction.

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Viggo is the only person I can imagine in this role. He is exceptional, and this may be the finest role of his career.  (And that’s really saying something, after Aragorn, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence) He has the intelligence and the screen presence that makes you believe this is a charismatic father who could raise his children to be philosopher kings.  And that he could take it all too far.  He doesn’t let the kids believe in Christmas, but they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day!

Writer/Director Matt Ross premiered Captain Fantastic at Sundance in January.  He’s known more for his work as an actor in series like HBO’s Big Love and Silicon Valley.   Matt Ross talked at the Q&A about how he grew up in communes himself in California.   He shows us the simple pleasures of this life, singing around the campfire together in the evening — but also how isolating it is.

All the kids are terrific, and have great chemistry together and with Viggo.  You could see the rapport they still have with him at the Q&A.  I was stunned at the performances Matt Ross and Viggo got out of these very young child actors.

Frank Langhella (always excellent) plays Viggo’s father-in-law, and they have a confrontation over the way he is raising the children.  After one of the kids has an accident, Langhella wants to take the children away and sue for custody.  You need someone as powerful and imposing on screen as Langhella to be a worthy antagonist for Viggo Mortenson.

This film is quirky and heartfelt like Little Miss Sunshine.  I got teary eyed, and it has a very satisfying hopeful ending.

Captain Fantastic released today in a limited number of theaters.  It’s playing in downtown Chicago, and I hope it will move out to suburban theaters in the coming weeks.  I’m hoping Viggo gets an Oscar nomination for this role.

Five stars out of five.  Cannot recommend highly enough.

Kanan Gill is debuting in Noor with Sonakshi Sinha? That makes my day!

 

I was catching up with the The Bollywood Project podcast, and in their movie news, they mentioned that Sonakshi Sinha has started filming her next project, Noor, based on the 2014 Pakistani novel, Karachi, You’re Killing Me!

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But then they started listing the cast, and stand-up comedian Karan Gill of Youtube’s Pretentious Movie Reviews is making his Bollywood debut in Noor.

Love love love. 😁

A post shared by pretentious fans. (@pretentiousfans) on

What?!   Picture me doing a happy dance.

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Noor is due out this fall, and will be a comedy thriller.  Sort of Bridget Jones Diary set in Karachi, and Kanan Gill plays Sonakshi’s good friend Saad.  (Here’s hoping he ends up MORE than a good friend.)

Kanan Gill had an adorable Shaadi.com ad last year:

 

But this break is huge.  So happy for him, and excited for me!

Also, I’ve been watching his Office like web series Better Life Foundation.  Hilarious!!

 

Sonakshi is on Snapchat as @AsliSona and Kanan as @kanangill.  They both post really interesting stuff.

 

Omkara – Shakespeare’s Othello works extremely well in this modern Indian adaptation by Vishal Bhardwaj with a stellar cast

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I was blown away by Vishal Bhardwaj‘s Haider, an  incredible adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Shahid Kapoor.  Omkara is part of his Shakespeare trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara, Haider).  Omkara works extremely well as a modern adaption of Othello in rural Uttar Pradesh India.  This is a stellar cast, and some of the best performances I’ve ever seen of some of these actors.  I have been sitting on this DVD for Netflix for some time.  I knew it was going to be excellent from everything I’d read, but it is such a depressing story!

I think I read Shakespeare’s Othello play in school, but to be honest I’m more familiar with Verdi’s masterpiece opera Otello, which I’ve seen a few times at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.  Otello focuses much on the relationship of Desdemona and Otello and the intense emotions and drama lend themselves very well to opera.  It became a signature role for Placido Domingo, even if it’s a bit bizarre to see blackface in a modern stage production.  Giuseppe Verdi is like Vishal Bhardwaj in that he adapted Shakespeare in three Italian language operas:  Macbeth, Otello and his final opera Falstaff.

The music added to a play like Othello only enhances the inherit drama, and if it works so well in opera, then I knew it would translate well to an Indian drama.  The music enhances the contrast between the love between Omkara (Ajay Devgn) and Dolly (Kareena Kapoor) and then the final death scenes.

Otello the opera starts in the middle of Shakespeare’s play and skips the early statecraft plot points, and the bits with Desdemona’s (Dolly’s) father.  But Bhardwaj keeps that all in, to great effect.  The opening scene shows Langda (Saif Ali Khan) [Iago]  telling Dolly’s groom Raj that his bride Dolly is not going to show for the wedding, Omi (Omkara) has stolen her away.  There’s then a confrontation between Dolly’s father, and Omkara.  Ajay has a dramatic entrance wearing a black shawl that looks like a big cape.  Dolly’s father doesn’t intimidate him in the least, and then there is a scene where Dolly admits to her father she went willingly to elope with Omi.  Ajay Devgn is naturally darker skinned than many actors in Bollywood and Kareena Kapoor has very light skin.  The Indian update to Othello being a “Moor” is that Omkara is half-caste, his father a Brahman and his mother a low-caste mistress.

Omkara (Ajay) is described as a Bahubali.  When I first heard this word in the movie, my ears pricked up because I’ve never heard the word except, of course, in the Telugu blockbuster Bahubali.  In the subtitles of Omkara, it’s translated as General.  I looked up the wikipedia article and this is how Omkara’s character is described:

Omkara Shukla or Omi (Ajay Devgan) is a bahubali, a sort of political enforcer. He is the leader of a gang which commits political crimes for the local politician

So interesting!  As I thought that was a Telugu word specific to Rajamouli’s movie.

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Omkara is a powerful political goon, and Langda (Iago) and Kasu (Cassio) are his lieutenants.  After Omkara elminates a political rival, their Bhaisaab (Naseeruddin Shah) is going to be the next representative at the national level, and Omkara will take his place at the state level.  There’s a ceremony to name Omkara’s successor, and the younger Kasu is picked to be the next bahubali over Langda.  Kasu is picked because of his connections to the youth and college students.  This is the source of Langda’s plotting and burning jealousy, that he was overlooked for this promotion, just as in Othello.  Again, the parallels Bhardwaj draws to the rough and tumble of Indian politics work so well, and this is definitely a realm of people taking offence to violent deadly extremes over slights of honor.

We’ve seen Omi (Ajay) be dominant, and quick to kill when someone offends him or insults his relationship with Dolly.  But we also see what a different loving person he is with Dolly.  Bhardwaj also composed all the music in the film.  This love scene has Omi coming to Dolly in anger after seeing her with Kasu, but her singing him an English love song (very badly) spurs this teasing chasing scene.  It’s one of my favorite sequences in the whole film.  With no one else can Omi show this tender side of himself. But one key difference in Omkara to Othello is that Omi does not marry Dolly right away.  He has abducted her, taken her to his home village and seduced her but drags his feet a bit on the wedding itself.  So Dolly is in a very precarious position, separated from her family.

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Saif Ali Khan is so excellent as the diabolical Langda.  (Langda means limp in Hindi, and he is described as having a leg and a half.)  He is Omi’s most trusted lieutenant and advisor, and cannot abide being passed over for the young Kasu.  I am really not a Vivek Oberoi fan to be honest, but he was perfectly cast as Kasu.  Saif also is no pretty boy here.  His teeth are stained from betel leaves, and he has a roughness about him, not his usual suave film persona.

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This is Saif Ali Khan’s finest role ever, in my opinion.  I think he mostly does action movies like Phantom at this point, and I wish he would not be so lazy and take on more work like this.  When he wants to, he really has the stuff.  He relentlessly manipulates Omi into thinking Dolly is cheating on him, gets Kasu drunk to disgrace him and so on.  When you have Ajay as Omkara, you need a worthy Iago, and Saif is just fantastic as Langda.  You hate his guts utterly, but admire the acting.

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I don’t have to tell you the outlines of the plot, and it’s pointless to talk about spoilers with a plot hundreds of years old.  But it’s interesting the Indian touches that Bhadwaj adds to the story.  Instead of the damning handkerchief of the original play, there is an heirloom bridal belt adornment that Omi gives to Dolly to wear, Langda steals and gives to Kasu, who then gives it to his girlfriend (Bips, our item girl.)  Omi completely loses his shit when he sees this loose woman shaking her tail feather wearing the family’s heirloom.  There’s also a clever modern touch with stolen cellphones leading to further misunderstandings.

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Kareena plays the innocent Dolly so, so well.  She’s completely loving, and just bewildered at Omi turning on her.  But she has her honor, too.  In their final scene, when faced with Omi’s wild accusations of adultery on their wedding night, she says, “Then  you’ll have to kill me.”  It’s devastating.

Ajay Devgn can be so brutal on film.  We’ve seen him play many mafia type leaders in movies.  If there’s any actor that can play someone who the audience believe would kill his own bride in a fit of jealous rage, Ajay is the one who can truly pull it off.  But Omkara shows his tenderness, his quick temper, and then his utter desolation as the truth of Langda’s machinations are revealed in the final scenes.

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I don’t really remember if Othello’s sister had as large a role in the original play, but she warrants his final duet in Otello the opera.  Konkona Sen Sharma is a standout in a stellar cast in Omkara.  She is Langda’s wife Indu, and a tough woman in her own right.  She is a friend and support to Dolly, willing to battle her brother when she sees Dolly bruised.  And it’s not Omi that finally serves justice on Langda but Indu.  Thank you Bhardwaj for including that and giving Konkona Sen such a powerful moment.  In the original play, his wife is what leads to Iago’s arrest, but that’s not the kind of swift justice meted out in Omi and Indu’s village.

This film is dark.  Almost relentlessly so, but the acting performances are absolutely fantastic.  This film won award after award, and rightly so.

Four and a half stars out of five.

Yamadonga – S. S. Rajamouli’s Fantasy film is so much fun – my first film with Jr. NTR!

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I purchased the Telugu film Yamadonga [God of death thief or Thief Yama] on DVD months ago because it was highly recommended by a friend.  I kept picking it up, and putting it back down. Frankly, the cover image doesn’t do anything for me.  But I forgot that I bought it because it is by director S. S. Rajamouli (of Baahubali fame!)  Yamadonga came out in 2007 (between Chatrapathi (2005) and Magadheera (2009)).  Yamadonga was my first Jr. NTR film, but his third collaboration with Rajamouli.

Chatrapathi has that amazing CGI shark fight with Prabhas, and Magadheera anticipates Baahubali with its lengthy past life fantasy flashback.  And then of course, Rajamouli made the hero reincarnate as a FLY in Eega.  His imagination has no bounds, and continues to amaze me with every film.  I was blown away by Baahubali, which I saw four times in the theater alone, and cannot wait for part 2 next year.  Yamadonga is a delightful flight of fantasy as a thief insults Yama (the God of Death) and is sent to hell before his time.

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Jr. NTR is no Prabhas (my favorite Telugu actor), but he definitely has an impish charm.   I was trying to think what Hollywood actor he reminds me of.  He’s sort of like Chris Pratt – looks cool in the action sequences, but has that charm and sense of comedy silliness about him.

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Jr NTR in Janatha Garage

I know this is shallow of me, but I hated NTR’s hair in this film.  It just looked awful.  There were a few music numbers where his hair was much shorter, and he looked a thousand times better.  He has that same look in the poster for his next film Janatha Garage (with Mohanlal) coming out next month.

As children, the thief  Raja (Jr. NTR) meets Mahi.  She gives him an amulet necklace that had been blessed in a temple.  He can’t pawn it, and throws it away, but over his life, it keeps turning up.

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Mahi (Priyamani) grows up and is an orphan treated as a servant in her family’s household.  She’s sort of a Cinderella waiting for her prince.  (Isn’t it handy NTR is named Raja?)  NTR rescues her  but then tries to ransom her to her family when he sees a TV report that she is a wealthy heiress (which she doesn’t know.)

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For the first time, Mahi who had been treated as a servant, is waited on like a princess by Raja.  Raja has cursed Yama (the God of Death) to the heavens, and Yama vows revenge on this human.  Raja is killed before his time by goons sent by Mahi’s family and then half the movie is set in the fantasty realm of hell.  Raja is a thief by nature, and tricks Yama and steals his rope of death, becoming the ruler of hell himself.

The modern day parts of Yamadonga aren’t that different in plot than any other Telugu action romantic film, although the action scenes are great.  But the film takes off in the fantasy hell sequence and in a scene in heaven with all the gods.  The sets are glorious.  Mohan Babu is fantastic as the insulted god Yama.  The comedy uncle of pretty much every Telugu film, Brahmanandam, is Yama’s sort of clerk Chatragupta keeping track of the book of deeds of the human sinners.

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Raja proposes an election to have the demons of hell pick their new ruler between Yama and Raja.  Yama brings three goddesses to dance, but then NTR as Raja dances with them and brings out the spirit of his grandfather.  Jr. NTR is the grandson of the famous actor and (then politician) NTR.  Rajamouli uses CGI to have Jr. NTR and NTR talk and dance together onscreen (like Dhoom Taana in Om Shanti Om).  This Young Yama song reminded me of the song Manohari in Baahubali with NTR dancing with the three women.

 

NTR is a great dancer (he’s accomplished in Kuchipudi dance), and this sequence was one of my favorites in the film.

Raja returns to earth, but if he sins again, he will be returned to hell.  He’s about to marry Mahi, when Yama decides to trick Raja into sinning.  Yama takes the form of a woman to tempt Raja – Raja’s former partner in crime and money lender.

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Mamta Mohandas as Dhanalakshmi

Mamta Mohandas is Dhanalakshmi (Yama in disguise), and I loved her portrayal.  She’s seductive, but she has the air of Yama’s arrogance and swagger at the same time.

That’s the thing about this film.  Not only is NTR great, but so many of the supporting actors are simply fantastic.  Priyamani‘s performance is just okay as the innocent naive Mahi.  She has some great dance numbers with NTR, but her acting was not on the same level with the others.

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I had so much fun watching this movie.  Rajamouli never disappoints, and NTR provides a lot of comedy, great dancing and cool action scenes.  I have never seen a Ramayana TV serial, and I’m sure the hell scenes reference some of those, or Ram-Leela pageant plays.  But you don’t need that background, or even an understanding of the Indian gods to enjoy this film.

Highly recommend this Rajamouli fantasy film.  Four stars out of five.  (It’s available on Youtube with English subtitles here.)

Now I can’t wait to see NTR in Janatha Garage next month.  NTR has a real screen presence, and I look forward to catching up with his other films.

 

Sultan – It lives up to the hype

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If it’s Eid, it must be time for the big Salman Khan movie!  There has been so much hype around Sultan, for months and months, and one can’t help but worry that the movie won’t meet the raised expectations.  But thankfully, it does!  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I saw the movie together at the Indian MovieMax theater about 45 minutes from me.  It was quite the experience to see it opening night with a big crowd all dressed to the nines for Eid festivities they were going to after the film.

For me, Dabanng and Bajrangi Bhaijaan are two of my favorite Salman Khan movies, and some of his best work.  Sultan is good.  It’s very good, but for me, it’s not quite at the same level as those two movies.  Salman’s acting has moments of greatness in Sultan, and Anushka Sharma is simply amazing.  But the musical numbers in Sultan, while good, are not jaw droppingly great like in Dabanng and Bajrangi Bhaijaan.  Selfie Le Le Re and Tere Mast Mast Do Nain are extremely high bars to beat, however.  The songs in Sultan are pretty catchy, but I’m not running out to download the soundtrack, to be honest.

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Also, as I mentioned in my review of 1983, sports movies are not really my thing.  So a wrestling movie on top of a Mixed Martial Arts movie is not really my go to genre.  But it’s a measure of the strength of the movie, that I was completely sucked in.  My friend Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood have been wondering about the clues of the plot that we could see in the trailer.  Obviously there was some sort of tragedy in Sultan’s life, and we dreaded that he might be a widower in the second comeback half of the film.  I won’t spoiler what that tragedy is, but I can tell you that there is a happy ending and Anushka’s character does not die.

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I also wondered why Anushka Sharma agreed to be in a Salman Khan movie.  Her character is fantastic — a super strong wrestler, tough as nails, dominant even in a room of guys including Salman, and a fully formed character with her own flaws, firm to the point of being rigid at times.  I’m so glad she took on the challenge of this film.  She just keeps getting better and better with her acting in each film.

Salman meets her by knocking her off her bike and then hitting her helmeted head, not knowing she’s a woman.  Then she takes off her helmet and wallops Salman, as he stands there love struck.  He pursues her, but she rejects him as a suitor, telling him that he quite simply doesn’t measure up.  She is driven and has her goal to get to the Olympics, and he is just aimless.  Let me just say, watching Anushka verbally destroy Salman was really something to see.

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Their romance is what spurs Sultan to be a better man to win her.  To become a championship wrestler.  I loved their romance storyline, and Salman being sweet loving Sultan is fantastic.  What tears them apart is the key to him giving up wrestling.  Again, I won’t spoiler it, but those moments I really teared up, and were some of the most powerful in the film for me.

The framing of the comeback is that Amit Sadh is trying to get MMA off the ground in India, and needs an Indian fighter.  (Why haven’t we seen Amit Sadh more? – glad to look up and see he’s in the upcoming Akira.)  Randeep Hooda is the coach that trains Sultan in MMA.  Cue Rocky training montage.  (Seriously, there are so many Rocky homages in this film.)

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You’ve seen the scene in the trailer where Salman stares at his overweight belly in a mirror and breaks down.  What the trailer doesn’t show is that he then struggles to get his shirt back on, fighting with the sleeve as he cries hard.  It may have been the single best acting scene I’ve ever seen Salman do.

While the movie is pretty wonderful, there were some off moments.  Two of the MMA fighters are black, and at a press event the announcers refer in English (not just bad subtitles) to their owners, and not sponsors.  WTF??  Also, Salman refers to a the lightning quick style of one black fighter this way – “Is he more gorilla or chimpanzee?”  Again. W. T. ever-living F.??

That nonsense aside, the last fight is riveting, and I didn’t know what was going to happen which is uncommon in a sports film, believe me.  Much better MMA fights (like I would really know?) than last year’s Brothers.  It’s solid entertainment, and you’ll leave satisfied.

Four stars out of five.  Eid Mubarak!

Read Margaret’s spoiler free review of Sultan here.  And her full analysis with spoilers here on Don’t Call It Bollywood.

 

 

Brahman Naman – Hilarious Indian teen sex comedy now on Netflix – The Indian American Pie

Brahman Naman is an absolutely hilariouos teen sex comedy set in the 80’s. It’s the Indian Superbad or American Pie with major homage to John Hughes movies, too.

screen-shot-2016-04-28-at-22-45-23Naman is the leader of his Bangalore college quiz team, and the leader of nerds in the same way Anthony Michael Hall was the leader of his group of nerds in Sixteen Candles. They delight in throwing trivia at each other and quoting Noel Coward.

The film opens with Naman waking up in the middle of the night to masturbate in the refrigerator door, wrapping his arms around the appliance to held the door tight. Really.

The film is mostly all in English with the occasional “yaar” or other term. Naman and his friends are Brahman, and there’s a sweet scene of him doing rituals with his father. Ash, is a nerdy girl who yearns to be on the quiz team with Naman and his friends, and has a major crush on Naman that is not reciprocated. He uses every excuse in the book to avoid her, even though his friends point out that she is Brahman, too.

The boys are sex obsessed, but don’t have today’s internet porn. All they have are racy magazines and sneaking into porno movie theaters. Naman has an elaborate gadget attached to his ceiling fan for a masturbation aide, but the ultimate was his putting his erect penis into a fish tank and the ejaculation was shown in close up. (!!!) Netflix bought the movie, and I wonder if that scene will need to be edited out even for streaming.

For all their bravado, the boys run away from being set up with a prostitute for their first real experience.

Brahman romance

My favorite part of the film, however, is when their quiz team takes a trip to Calcutta for a quiz competition. On the train they meet a female team from Chennai, and Naman falls for the leader, Naina. As his friend points out, she is Naman in female form, cutting him down to size with her wit.

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I was probably the only one in the Sundance theater to recognize  Biswa Kalyan Rath from the Pretentious Movie Reviews team. He’s a standup comedian in India, too, and has the small role in the movie as a guy at their college always trying to impress Naman and his pals with his sexual exploits on trains, planes, etc.

It’s an enjoyable comedy. and although my son was confused by the references to Brahmans and caste, I thought the film does a good job pointing out the issues with jokes understandable for non-Desi’s.

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At the Sundance showing after the film, I asked the director, Q, about censorship of films in India and he went on a rant about the restrictive censor board.  This is certainly not like any Indian film I’ve ever seen.  Q said in a recent interview “that the film is far from misogynistic. “We’re showing the boys for who they are — sexually starved and confused. And at the same time, we give women power. What you expect is definitely not what you’ll end up with,” he promised.”

Highly recommend this quirky film.  Four stars out of five.  Available July 6 streaming on Netflix!

Srimanthudu [Wealthy Man] -Mahesh Babu takes a village – and adopts the whole town.

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Srimanthudu [Wealthy Man] is one of the better Telugu Mahesh Babu movies I have seen.  I downloaded it from Google Play and watched it on a flight (and finished up at the hotel.)   It’s about a wealthy young man who goes to his ancestral village and saves the town from the evil goons running the place, as well as donating his millions to rebuild the village.   It reminded me very much of Mirchi, one of my favorite Prabhas movies, and there’s a reason why.  When I looked up Srimanthudu, I discovered that Mirchi and Srimanthudu have the same writer/director:  Koratala Siva.   Mirchi, amazingly, was Siva’s debut directorial feature film.  Srimanthudu was also a major hit, and with good reason.

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Mahesh Babu is Harsha, son of a super wealthy business tycoon played by Jagapathi Babu, who was absolutely fantastic in the role (he won a best supporting actor award for the role.)  Mahesh Babu won the Filmfare South best actor award for his leading role in Srimanthudu.  Mahesh’s love interest in the film is Charuseela – Shruti Haasan, master actor Kamal Haasan’s daughter.  I was much more impressed with her here than in the Hindi film Gabbar Is Back.

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If we didn’t catch from the get go that this princely son of a business king wants to live as a common man, his opening number is Rama Rama.  His father won’t deign to celebrate at the festival with the company employees, but Harsha (Mahesh) makes a point of making an appearance and dancing along.  He also gives money to a long time employee struggling to get his daughter married, and admonishes his father for not doing it himself.  His father despairs for him ever taking the reins of the business empire.  Harsha has no interest and mostly rejects his father’s Rolls Royce lifestyle by traveling by his eco-friendly bicycle.

One of the strong points of the movie is the first half romance between Mahesh and Shruti.  He first spots her painting a Rangoli in her courtyard as he is driving his mother, aunt and sister to a temple early in the morning in the dark.  He keeps driving around the block to catch more glimpses of her until his aunt complains that they’ll never make it on time.  He then meets her at his friend’s birthday party, and sees that she is a kindred spirit because she takes the cake being delivered and gives it to some street children.  What really intrigues him is that Charu is in a Rural Development course following her MBA.  He’s never heard of such a thing, but it appeals to him immediately.

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This is where Mahesh Babu’s inherent sweetness in romantic scenes shines through.  He can really pull off going from sweet shy young guy around the girl he really likes, to a tough action fighter and commanding presence against bad guys all in the same movie with ease.  Their falling in love song sequence I absolutely adored as it shows how they slowly hung around together more and more at school and it’s just adorable from start to finish as their romance deepens naturally and organically.

But the twist is that Harsha has never told her exactly who he is.  Her roommates show her an article that reveals he is actually a super wealthy son of a tycoon, and she then rejects him utterly when he proposes.  His father is from her same village, the one that she is studying how to save and develop.  And with all Harsha’s father’s millions, Harsha’s family has done nothing.  “Do you even know your village?  You have no roots.”

Harsha just tells his family he will be traveling, but he goes straight to his ancestral village – by bike and bus.  His traveling montage song is the title track Srimanthuda, and it is my second favorite song in the movie.  The music in this film is really catchy and great.

Conditions in the village are horrible when he arrives.  He doesn’t let anyone in the village know who he is, either, including the village leader, Charuseela’s father.  But when he sees that they need a new school, he offers to donate the money needed.  And then he sees more and more projects that need doing.  He puts to use all he has learned in the rural development course.

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As you can imagine, this does not sit well with the corrupt politician and his evil brother the enforcer who have run this town into the ground.  Stealing even the water needed by the farmers for their liquor factory.  There are some great action sequences as Harsha takes on all the bad guys single handedly.

Fight-scenes-become-highlight-to-Srimanthudu

Just like in Mirchi, when you go up against the rural village goons, be ready for a machete fight.  Unlike most regional films, our hero actually gets injured enough to have to be hospitalized.  Good thing he built that new hospital!  But it’s a plot point to get his father back to the village, and for Charu to admit she still loves him.

Does he make his father proud?  Does he get the girl?  Does he save the village and vanquish the bad guys?  I told you this was a Telugu film at the beginning, so you know the answers, but it sure is fun to watch it all unfold.  And as an added bonus.  Mahesh in a lungi!  Hubba hubba.

Srimanthudu is a thoroughly enjoyable all around entertainer.  Great family drama, truly evil substantial bad guys to fight, exciting action fight sequences and a terrific romance.  It’s a four star out of five, and I’ve already rewatched it.  It has a leg up on Mirchi in one way in that I really liked that there was only one romance, rather than the fake out first one we had in Mirchi.

My husband was walking through and he noted one of the irritating things about the film.  I expect lots of slow-mo in my regional films, but this had tracking shots so many times when characters were speaking.  “The camera is always moving!”, my husband noticed.  It got distracting, especially on the rewatch.  And the subtitle translations are just not the best sometimes for these Telugu films.  I have a feeling what is being literally translated to English sounds very cool and slang in Telugu, but the subtitles end up ridiculous.  “Return the money you stole or you will end up obese.”  Wha???  Lost in translation there a bit.

I was intrigued to read in the wikipedia article the impact this movie had — people started adopting rural villages after seeing the film, including several celebrities and Mahesh himself.  I really liked the message of the film, that it is the responsibility of the wealthy to give back, and to bring development to these backwater rural villages.

I’m now really looking forward to the director, Koratala Siva’s next film with Mohanlal and NTR, Janatha Garage, due out mid-August.

1983 – A Sweet Cricket Sports Drama Starring Nivin Pauly

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I’m not a huge sports movie fan, but 1983 was touching and enjoyable.  I also don’t know anything about cricket, but that is no hindrance in watching Nivin Pauly’s love of the game.

The first half of the film shows us Rameshan (Nivin Pauly) as a child obsessed by cricket.  There’s one TV in their small Kerala village and he and his friends are forever changed by India winning its first Cricket World Cup in 1983.  They sneak away from chores and skip homework and studying for tests to play cricket together.

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Nivin hits a girl in the head with an errant cricket ball, and has a wonderful childhood romance.  But she’s good in school and moves on to university, while he is left behind in the village working for his father.  He marries another girl in an arranged marriage, and horrors, she doesn’t even recognize a picture of Sachin!

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In the second half, Nivin still plays club cricket with his old pals, and sees the glimmer of talent in his son.  To the disgust of Nivin’s father, who still thinks cricket is a waste of time, Nivin seeks out coaching for his son.  They take a bus hours away every weekend to the next big town to try for a spot in a sports school.

1983 father son

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nivin Pauly play a father, and that was some of my favorite parts of the film.  I also liked his relationship with his wife.  She supports him and stands up for him with his parents.  They don’t have a grand passion, but they work together as a couple.

This movie has the leisurely pace of Malayalam films.  Maybe a little too leisurely at times.  It’s not a surprise that this is the debut feature of the director, fashion photographer Abrid Shine.  But it’s still an enjoyable watch, and Nivin Pauly, as usual is great.  1983 is beautifully shot, and even though I’m a no-nothing with cricket, I could follow the exciting parts of the cricket games.  It wasn’t confusing to me as it sometimes is.  Sometimes cricket games are filmed in Indian films expecting you to know what is happening, but here I could tell Nivin was good and the way the games were shot highlighted that.

Three and a half stars out of five.  1983 is available for rental on Amazon Video.