Mahanati Review – Keerthy Suresh captures the magic of Savitri

I have been anticipating Mahanati for a year, since Dulquer Salmaan posted a picture of himself on twitter as Gemini Ganesan, announcing that he was debuting in his first Telugu film, a period piece.

Mahanati Dulquer

Mahanati 1

I didn’t know anything about the legendary actress Savitri until I posted my trailer reaction to the Mahanati teaser trailer.  I asked for people to send me links and clips, and my Youtube viewers sent me songs and scene clips, but universally, they all told me I HAD to see Maya Bazar.  Boy, am I glad I watched the 1957 classic film before I watched Mahanati.  Because the very first glimpse of Keerthy Suresh in the film is a filming of a famous scene from Maya Bazar, and I recognized it immediately.  Watching Maya Bazar meant I could judge whether Keerthy was nailing it as Savitri — and boy did she ever!

Here’s my full review of the film:

 

Nadigaiyar_Thilagam_Stills__7__0Dulquer Salmaan had to walk a fine line.  He played the actor Gemini Ganesan, who married Savitri even though he was already married, and also had a mistress (with whom he fathered Rekha!).  He has to be so charming and compelling that you believe that Savitri would fall for him, and you also don’t like him very much at many points in the film.  He did an exceptional job.

IMG-20180412-WA0001-700x394

Vijay Deverakonda and Samantha Akkineni play newspaper reporters compiling a story about the mystery of Savitri’s last days.  They have a wonderful chemistry together.  Samantha Akkineni has a career best speech in the final 15 minutes of the film.

Mahanati-takes-promising-start-at-USA-Box-Office

Hats off to director Nag Ashwin, for an incredible film, only his second full length feature film.  This film covers the 50’s through the 80’s and the period details seem to be perfect.  Many, many scenes from classic films are recreated, including actor Naga Chaitanya playing his grandfather ANR.  It’s an amazing scope for a film, and so ambitious a project.

But the key is that Keerthy Suresh really captures the charm and spirit of the legendary actress Savitri.  It’s a career best performance for her. The soundtrack is also exceptional, and I’m playing Mooga Manasulu (Muted Hearts) on repeat.

Advertisements

Melanie on Splitscreen Podcast with Shah!

Shah Shahid invited me as his guest on his Splitscreen Podcast where we talked about Bollywood news and upcoming films.  It was a wonderful conversation!  We talked about  the Sanju trailer, and Veere Di Wedding.  I also introduced a few Regional film trailers to Shah, including Ranam Detroit Crossing, Mahanati and Naa Peru Surya.

 

 

Sanju Trailer Reaction – It’s Amazing!

I just watched the teaser trailer for Sanju, and my mouth is hanging open in amazement.

Rajkumar Hirani is the same director who made Munna Bhai MBBS and also blockbusters like PK and 3 Idiots.  This trailer is simply genius, and I love how Ranbir breaks the fourth wall and talks right to the audience.

1524558344-vdfbfghbhn.jpg

I am blown away by the makeup and how Ranbir carries himself just like Sanjay.  We have 2 months to wait, until June 29th.

Here’s the trailer so you can see for yourself just how well Ranbir Kapoor pulls it off:

Bharat Ane Nenu Spoiler Free Movie Review

 

It’s a solid film, and a much needed hit for star Mahesh Babu.  Director Siva likes to add a message to his dramas, and he gives us an almost too perfect political hero — but gives the fans what they want with some great action sequences.  The music by Devi Sri Prasad is a standout.  The village festival number in the second half was more incredible than I imagined it would be.  From the stills in the lyrical video, I knew it would be my favorite, and it was just gorgeous!  Really good background score too.

 

 

Mahesh Babu gives a stellar performance, especially the speeches.  There’s one particular intense speech he gives at a press conference that is one of his finest spots of acting of his career.  He always looks cool in the action and songs, but here Siva has given him some meaty drama scenes to play, and he hits it out of the park.

I wasn’t surprised at the reveals in the last half hour.  I found the plot sometimes predictable, but I still enjoyed watching it all play out.

Capture_19

Pardesi in The Hindu newspaper!

Suchin Mehrotra contacted me as he was writing an article about Non-Desi promoters of Bollywood who live outside of India.  It was published in The Hindu!

dzg0coux0ae1l3t

Chicago-based Melanie Greenberg looks to do just that through her YouTube channel, Pardesi, where she reviews the latest releases in Hindi, Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam cinema.

Her love was sparked three years ago when she chanced upon Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge on Netflix. She was smitten by Shah Rukh Khan and never looked back.

Her more formal induction into the world of Indian cinema was aided by bloggers Kathy Gibson of accessbollywood.net and Margaret Redlich, who runs dontcallitbollywood.com. Apart from reviewing films, accessbollywood. net maintains an up-to-date list of the Bollywood films available on Netflix and Amazon in the U.S. while dontcallitbollywood.com devotes a page to ‘Starter Kits for Indian Film’ with posts on everything from regional films to top stars and a history of the industry.

Redlich has also written a book Don’t Call It Bollywood – An Introduction to the Hindi Film Universe to tell the uninitiated that Bollywood is about more than “flashy dance sequences and unbelievable plots.”

Glad my pals Margaret of DontCallItBollywood.com and Kathy of AccessBollywood.net get shoutouts — and even pictures!

Check out the full article here.

 

 

 

Padmaavat – Movie Review – It finally released!

The day finally arrived! Padmaavat finally was released, despite rioting, threats against the stars and physical assault of the director. I saw it in 3D which wasn’t really needed, but was my only option. It’s not the best Bhansali film ever, but it’s Bhansali so you have to see it on the big screen at least once. And I feel compelled to probably see it again, because I’m so worked up about that school bus being attacked by rioters in India over this film.

The controversy over the film even reached national news here in the US.  I heard a five minute segment on the movie’s release, and the violence surrounding it on NPR this afternoon.

 

The above is an over 16 minute video review of the film, but I try not to give any spoilers (but we all know how it ends anyway.)

As Bhansali films go — it is average. It’s not my favorite, and besides the Ghoomar song, the music is not as memorable as Bajirao Mastani. But I’m there for the costumes, the colors and the sets, and they are GORGEOUS on the big screen. My local theater only has the film in 3D so you get to see those saris swirl out at you, gold threads shining. Shahid’s abs I could write an entire sonnet about — he has never looked better on screen!

shahid-instagram_650x400_41507717064

The costumes were just even more stunning on a big screen.  The attention to detail in the jewelry, the saris, and the outfits that Shahid wore (and Ranveer) is just stunning.

Here’s a video about the design of the jewelry!

 

It was worth the cost of the ticket just to see the whole spectacle of the film, but it’s slow paced.  The run time is 2 hours 45 minutes, and believe me, at least a half hour could be easily cut.  The film feels flat and staid.  Anupama Chopra said the film lacked heart in her video review.  I also didn’t feel tension in the final moments.  We know what’s going to happen, but I’ve seen other films (like Neerja) where even though I know what’s going to happen I’m on the edge of my seat.  I just didn’t feel that.

Speaking of Neerja, the great Jim Sarbh has a much bigger role as Ranveer’s slave in the film than I had imagined.  He actually has an entire song he sings to Ranveer!  I don’t like that his whole role is to prove that Alueddin is obviously evil because he’s bisexual, but Sarbh gives his role his all.  It was just a pleasant surprise how much screen time he had.

Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai

Aditi Rao Hyari who I last saw in Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Velliyidai, was very good as Ranveer’s wife in the film.

10-1507623486-jimsarb3

Ranveer is the stand out performance of the film.  He really chews the scenery as the Muslim conquerer villain. I hated though, that Bhansali had him almost always with a dirty face, and black clothing.

twitter-reacts-to-rumours-of-padmavat-getting-300-cuts1400-1515589113_1100x513

 

padmavat-movie-still

In contrast, Shahid was shown in white and pale colors, often in a pure linen shirt ( that did blessedly still show his abs through the loose weave — I love you costume designer!!)

Shahid did well as the proud arrogant Rajput king.  Deepika was absolutely luminous as Padmavati.  I absolutely loved her introduction scene, hunting with a bow and arrow like Katniss Everdeen in the forest.  How she meets Shahid the king was awesome.  She is shown to be smarter than Shahid’s king, like a chess player that can see three moves ahead, so kudos to Bhansali for that.

The film just didn’t live up to my very heightened expectations.  I just have greater expectations for the over the top films that Bhansali makes.  The music wasn’t as notable as other films, besides the Ghoomar number which is amazing! – and I can’t help but wonder if he held back on story elements or cut certain things from the script that would have made a livelier film, but restrained himself due to the controversy.  Even though there was a disclaimer before the film saying they don’t endorse sati — the way Bhansali filmed the last moments rather did do just that, and I don’t like that message.

padmavat sati

I’m so worked up about the school bus being attacked in a riot about this film, that even though it’s average, I will see it multiple times just as my own personal protest.  It’s overlong and slow, but it’s Bhansali. You have to see it on the big screen at least once.

Pardesi AMA – Ask Me Anything!

This is long, but I had many, many questions on my Pardesi Youtube channel and on Twitter.  In the video description, there is an index so you can skip ahead to questions that interest you.  I expand on my introduction video, and tell more about the story of how I fell in love with Indian cinema.  I discuss my favorite directors in the Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam and Tamil cinema industries.

 Maheshinte Prathikaaram – Fahadh Faasil is great in this unconventional revenge story

Maheshinte Prathikaaram (Mahesh’s Revenge) is a delightful Malayalam Comedy-Drama starring Fahadh Faasil.  I think this is actually only my third Fahadh Faasil film, but I have many of his recent films in my watch list.  I loved him in Bangalore Days.  Oh, my gosh when he revealed that huge tattoo!  I hated him for most of the movie, and then he totally won me over in those emotional scenes.  I really didn’t like him in Amen, but then his character was such a nebbish!  He was true to the character, which was a character I didn’t like that much.

fahadh3.jpg.image.784.410

Mahesh, however was such an interesting character.  As was the whole small town setting of the movie.  I loved this peak into the Indukki area of Kerala, which has very tough women.

maheshinte-prathikaaram-movie-review

Like many Malayalam films, the entire first half meanders it’s way through character introductions and not a lot really happens until almost the interval.  But I didn’t mind at all.  I picked this movie to watch on a day that I had been watching news of the shooting massacre in Las Vegas.  I relished getting away from it all to this beautiful small town in Kerala.

Mahesh has a photo “shop” where he takes passport photos, “Chin up.  Shoulders down.”  He’s a fixture taking photos at every wedding and funeral in town.  He’s not very good.  He has a long distance relationship with a girl he’s had a crush on since childhood, and then she gets another marriage offer from an NRI.  Mahesh is passive.  He doesn’t pursue the girl.  He’s satisfied just taking passport photos.

And then there is an incredible cascade of arguments and spats that starts with a disagreement at a funeral and ends in a brawl.  This whole sequence of one fight leading to a bike accident, to the next argument, and on and on was one of my favorites.  It was very clever.  One person’s ill temper leads to the next situation and so on.

Maheshinte

And finally Mahesh gets drawn into a brawl with some rowdies from a nearby town and gets literally hit in the head — pushed into the metal bar of a rickshaw.  He is so thoroughly trounced that his elderly father has to step in to say “enough” to the rowdy.  Mahesh is humiliated and vows to go shoeless until he gets his revenge — throwing his flip flops away!

And Interval.

That’s the set up.  This passive, happy to just go along in life guy, suddenly wakes up.  And starts to make things happen.  He meets a girl.  He realizes he doesn’t really know how to take pictures, and learns to appreciate photography as art.  And he does get his revenge, eventually.

The gentle story telling makes those couple of intense fight sequences all the more visceral.  They felt very real. The final scuffle was so intense I cried out because I though someone had a broken limb and my son came out of his room to see if I was okay.  “Oh.  It’s just a movie.”  LOL

maxresdefault (33)

What’s delightful is just letting this movie wash over you.  I just loved the meandering gentle story telling.  Learning about all the people in this small town, and especially the spunky girl Mahesh meets.  Young actress Aparna Balamurali was absolutely fantastic as Jimsy!  She’s blunt and speaks up for herself in a very straight forward way.  “Love me if you’re brave enough.”  Both the women in this film totally were able to make their own choices.  Even the ex-girlfriend when presented with an arranged marriage offer is given free choice by her family.

05-1454654244-6

The supporting cast was all universally great, too.  I particularly liked the performances of Alencier Ley Lopez as Baby, Mahesh’s best friend who owns the next door shop, and Soubin Shahir as Crispin, Baby’s new employee.

Maheshinte Prathikaaram won the Malayalam National Film Award and I can see why.  Director Dileesh Pothan and screenwriter Syam Pushkaran transported me to Kerala for a few blessed hours.  The cinematography and music were very nice too.  There was a flash mob scene with Aparna which I though was a brilliant way to have a big dance number in a natural feeling film like this.  It totally fit her character!

 

Spyder Review – AR Murugadoss scripts a fun thriller for Mahesh Babu (Some Spoilers)

If you haven’t seen Spyder, and want no spoilers before you see it, watch this spoiler free review of the film I recorded moments after seeing it.

I warned you ….. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!!  (but not the whole plot)

download (2)

The first thing you should know is that I am a Mahesh Babu fan.  I’ve seen several of his films, and my favorites are probably Athadu (killer disarmed by love!) and Pokiri.  Unfortunately, my first Mahesh Babu film in the theater was last year’s flop Brahmatsovam.   It’s been a long wait for the next Mahesh film, over a year.  I think he took the lessons from that flop, and hooked up with a quality director.  My friend Kartik even sent me a quote from Mahesh about that flop:

2017-09-26-PHOTO-00002174.jpg

So anticipation has been sky high for this film Spyder.  Expectations, too.  I felt it was a decent film.  Not perfect, but it had some notable sequences that were unique and something fresh I had not seen before.

I walked out of the theater satisfied, and I was surprised that several young men who cared enough to come to the very first 2 p.m. show were disappointed.  Maybe the hype was so high nothing would have been enough.  They said the second half was not a “practical” plot.  I think they wanted a more grounded story, like Pokiri or Athadu.  From the trailer we could see there would be huge boulder rolling down a street crushing cars — and that sequence was certainly in the film.  The last half felt almost like a disaster movie or a superhero film with buildings collapsing and villains wanting to crush people with huge boulders!  So, not realistic, but it didn’t bother me one bit.

Are all those village Telugu dramas with machete fights with one hero fighting 20 men realistic either?

download

AR Murugadoss set up a tight cat and mouse thriller between Mahesh and our big villain.  Mahesh is some sort of spy analyst.  I got the sense he worked in the equivalent of the Indian FBI.  He’s monitoring phone conversations ostensibly looking for terrorists and the like, but almost like Minority Report he prides himself on preventing crimes before they happen based on something he’s overheard.  He saves a young girl from being robbed and dishonored by a goon who has convinced her he’s going to marry her out of town.

But then a girl he overhears being scared in an empty house is murdered savagely, along with the woman cop he dispatched to check on her.  And that sends Mahesh into a crisis, and then ultimately on a solo quest to find their killer.

In the first half, we get a tiny little romance track with the adorable Rakul Preet Singh. He overhears her discussing wanting a “blind date” and I think wanting a friends with benefits situation (something that maybe didn’t translate fully in the subtitles).  He stalks her a bit, and she confronts him on it.  But she eventually agrees if he’s not in love with her it will be okay for them to go out.  There is a hilarious scene where she tries to explain this to Mahesh’s mother — who warns Rakul Mahesh is shy, just like his father.  “It took four years of marriage for my son to be born!”  LOL

spyder-1

There are a few flight of fantasy songs that show their feelings for each other, and a bit of their relationship.  The first song, Boom Boom, I liked much better in the film, than in the teaser snippets we saw.   That’s the first song, and for some reason has all white girl back up dancers!

SJ-Suriya-460x250

When Mahesh goes on a hunt for the killer, he uses a viral video to try to find someone who’s seen him.  This film has a lot of cool use of technology, with scenes of Mahesh monitoring real time cell phone calls, searching through CCTV footage and the like.  It was all very clever, and kind of scary to think how much info these agencies can gather.  There’s a speech in the beginning that the analysts in Mahesh’s office are not to monitor calls for personal reasons, but obviously Mahesh breaks that by listening in and researching Rakul!

The back story of the villain was super creepy and really unique.  I’ve never seen anything like it, as an origin for a sociopath serial killer.  While other reviewers may quibble that this took time away from the main story and slowed down the film, I really liked this segment of the movie.  That kid was a good actor — good at being super creepy and evil!!

download (1)

There are actually two villains.  Won’t spoiler why, but they were both good.  Bharat is one, but the big bad is played by S. J. Surya.  He was mostly excellent playing this sociopath killer.  There was on interrogation scene where he really gets crazy and it was over the top for me, but especially this scene above with the mask he was very scary and effective.  Whew!  So good at being evil.

At times in the second half, it felt like he was becoming an over sized super villain like in a comic book movie, though.  Maybe that’s what those young men at my screening were complaining about.  That and the rolling boulder of doom.

images

The first half of the film was really good, but there were some logical misses in the plot of the second half.  Rakul not telling Mahesh something crucial because she was in a snit with him was egregious.  Really?  You’re not going to help catch the murderer because you’re mad at your boyfriend?  And there were times Mahesh went alone into a situation when it would have been more realistic if he’d had back up.

There was one segment where he fooled a bunch of ladies who were watching a soap into helping him find a fugitive.  It went on for a long stretch and was pretty over the top, too.  But I do have to acknowledge to Mr. Murugadoss that I have never seen the like!

The CGI in a couple of crucial action scenes was not seamless, but I found the roller coaster fight scene incredible anyway.  Just the concept of it alone!  We get a snippet in the trailer but it was really something to see.  The ending has a building collapsing as Mahesh tries to save people.  That was another part that felt like this was a disaster movie rather than a grounded thriller.  But, still, the film didn’t end with the cliched fight sequence in an abandoned factory.

Mahesh has a preachy speech at the end about humanity and helping others without expecting rewards.  A bit long, and kind of a weird note to end the film on.

There’s also some plot holes as to how Mahesh is just going rogue in his job.  He doesn’t follow privacy rules AT ALL and gets all his buddies to just give him info for his solo investigation.  He’s working around the police and just ignoring their efforts.  He also kills one guy in front of a huge crowd, and seemingly has no repercussions at work or otherwise  It was definitely a take the law into your own hands kind of movie.  I was disturbed at that cold killing scene.  Mahesh’s character just has his own morality compass.  He’s the hero, so he’s always right.  Definitely not an examination of two sides like Vikram Vedha.

images (3)

The background score by Harris Jayaraj was incredible.  It kept the tension taught throughout the film.  I have an issue with thrillers that don’t have good enough music to set the mood (Ahem, Malayalam thrillers….),  This score was a standout.

For the most part, AR Murugadoss has given us an exciting thriller with a great villain.  Mahesh just looks so cool in all the action scenes.  He has a couple of great fight segments.  Even the Boom Boom dance number sort of had fight choreography.  I liked Mahesh and Rakul’s chemistry in the songs and their sweet romance, although that isn’t the thrust of the film.  It’s mainly there as some nice comic relief from the darkness in the rest of the film.

Mahesh reacts emotionally to the death of the young girl and police officer in the first part of the film, but other than that does not show the range of emotion that he has in other films.  It wasn’t there in the script for him to do.  The film did have more of a story than a strictly action film like Vivegam, but didn’t pack the emotional punch I usually like in Telugu films.  Still, I left satisfied that I’d had a good rollercoaster ride of my own.

Another unique aspect to the film is that it was filmed in Telugu AND Tamil.  Mahesh is fluent in both languages, so they filmed each scene twice!  I attended the Telugu version (with subtitles, of course.)

If you’re a parent wondering if the film is too violent to bring the whole family, the only violence you really SEE is a couple of impalements.  And Mahesh shooting a guy in the head from a distance.  But there are descriptions of victims being chopped up.

star_rating_3-5_of_5

 

Spyder – Spoiler Free Review

 

If you want no spoilers at all, watch this video review I made minutes after coming out of the theater.  I saw the very first show in Chicago — one of the first in the US.  I liked the film, even if it’s not perfect.  It’s not my favorite Mahesh Babu film, that would be Pokiri or Athadu maybe, but I left satisfied.  AR Murugadoss, who made one of my favorites, Ghajini, has a compelling script.

The backstory of the villain is especially creepy.  It’s a story I’ve certainly never seen before.  The romance track with Rakul Preet Singh is not the emphasis of the film, but I enjoyed the sweetness of their relationship.

Good dance numbers, but the background score is notably good, and kept the tension going in this enjoyable thriller.

I will be writing and recording another review with spoilers – coming soon.