I watched both of Allu Arjun’s films Arya and Arya 2 to get ready for DJ

Several commenters on my reaction to the trailer of Allu Arjun’s new film DJ told me I should watch Arya 2 and Arya.

I’m super excitecd for DJ now after seeing Arya (2004) and Arya 2 (2009) over the last 2 days.  Only Arya 2 is the MUST see movie, but you should watch the
opening dance number of Arya, to get a sense what a great dancer Allu Arjun is.  Arya was his breakout film, and the debut blockbuster for director Sukumar — the guy who directed 1: Nenokkadine!
Like most Indian “sequels”  Arya 1 and Arya 2 are not continuations of the same story thread, but variations on the same theme.
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Arya 1 has Arjun playing Arya, and he’s in a love triangle with Geeta and Ajay and the setting is college.  Ajay is your typical college tough stalker.  He decides Geeta will be his and threatens suicide to make her date him..  Ugh.  Arya loves Geeta but expects nothing in return.  He even helps to get Ajay and Geeta togehter, etc. when her father wants her to marry someone else.  Geeta is played by a former model, and she has only one basic expression the entire film — looking miserable.  She has the charisma of a wet dishrag.  Ajay is your basic evil boyfriend.   Arya (Allu Arjun) carries the entire movie by sheer force of his cheerfulness, charm and excellent dance numbers
Seriously, Allu Arjun is THE best Telugu dancer I have seen yet.  He dedicates Arya 2 to Michael Jackson, and he can MOVE.  This dancing ability leads to great action sequences, because he’s really acrobatic in his kicks and so on.
I thought I had to watch Arya 1 to get Arya 2, but it’s not necessary as Arya 2 is a stand alone film, and not a continuation of the first film’s story.  It’s amusing enough, and was a blockbuster hit at the time, but not nearly as enjoyable as the second film.  The heroine is just so passive you want to scream, and the plot fairly regressive — except for Arya‘s selfless love.
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It just made me appreciate Arya 2 all the more.  To see how Allu Arjun had grown as a dancer and actor and the director!  .  I’m really glad I waited until now to watch Arya 2, because it is just that much more funny to me now!
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Arya 2 is brilliant, because it is a total riff and send up of all the usual Telugu movie tropes.  And it makes fun of them all, while referencing Darr and even has a white dog at a wedding JUST like the one in HAHK!  But what the director does with the dog in the scene just had me in stitches.  The whole movie is very entertaining, if a tad long.
First off, we start with Arya and Ajay as fellow child orphans and there is something off about Arya.  He demands to be Ajay’s friend, and is a psycho possessive kind of friend.  The whole movie is taking that brotherly Dost bond to the far reaches of the extreme.
They fall in love with Geeta at the exact same moment — and she’s played by Kajal who I LOVE, so she’s a spitfire and not a dishrag.  They actually flip a coin for her, again riffing on sexist Telugu tropes over and over again, and mocking them.
There’s the forced wedding, the battling families, and on and on.  And throughout Arya is mostly completely off his rocker, and yet still mostly likeable!  It’s a great performance.  And so great of the director to make the main character with negative shadings — he has his blown up Darr sized picture wall of Geeta in his room and all.
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The whole set up is in a way similar to the first movie — Arya has a struggle between his love of Geeta and this time his possessive love of his friend Ajay.  He wants them to be happy, and works to make it possible for them to be together — while occasionally slapping his own face to remind himself, “Have to give Geeta back to Ajay, Have to give Geeta back to Ajay…)  Also, Ajay is not a cardboard villain type.  You go back and forth in and out of sympathy with his shades of gray third wheel character.  Kajal is sometimes a spoiled brat — and has a penchant for throwing down cell phones and breaking them, which I found to be a very funny running gag.
Don’t expect an emotional rollercoaster with crying and pathos.  Expect to laugh and laugh — and be delighted by the clever action scenes, and the allusions to so many other films.
That comedy uncle guy, Brahmanandam is in it as the HR manager of Ajay’s tech firm where they all work, and he has a toned down performance — and was really good!  I actually liked him in this one!
This Arya 2 number is just jaw dropping AMAZEBALLS!!   Allu Arjun’s dancing is off the chain!
I’d still say that Prabhas is my number one in Telugu films, and Mahesh second.  Alllu Arjun has the best dance skills by far, and real comedic chops, though.
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Bommarillu – Genelia D’Souza is delightful in this sweet Telugu romance

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The 2006 Telugu Rom Com Bommarillu starts with a father helping a toddler walk on the beach and the voiceover says — “Shouldn’t a father let go his son’s hand after 24 years?”
Siddharth looked SO young in this film!  Oh, my goodness, he barely had a little peach fuzz little goatee. 2006 was the same year as Rang De Basanti.
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Prakash Raj is the father, and  I’m enjoying so much seeing Prakash Raj in these father roles in Southern movies — rather than the villain heavy he plays so well in Hindi films.
He’s a loving — but very controlling father.  He gives all the luxuries to his kids, but picks out everything, down to the clothes he buys for them.  Siddhu (Siddharth) is smothered.  Prakash arranges a marriage for Siddhu with a girl who only parrots what her father told him.
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Then Siddhu meets Hasini (Genelia D’Souza).  Her unconventional fun loving attitude appeals to him, and he finds her calling him an idiot endearing.
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 Genelia D’Souza we all loved in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na.  For Bommarillu she won the best actress South Filmfare award.  She is very much like Geeta in Jab We Met.  Genelia in Bommarillu is a little chatterbox, naive,  and brings sunshine wherever she goes.
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Siddhu leads almost a double life.  He tries to act as the perfect obedient son at home, and his parents never suspect he drinks, gets wild with his friends, and is trying to start a business.  There’s a lot of very funny  moments in this film, and Siddharth is great at the comedy.  It wouldn’t be a Telugu film without the comedy uncle Brahmanandam – here he plays the loan officer.  Comedic character actor Sunil Varma is the family servant, who frequently gets Siddhu out of whatever jam he’s in.

The love music numbers were pretty darn adorable.

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To convince his father that she is the girl for him, Siddhu asks if Hasini can stay in the family home for a week.  Siddhu’s sisters and mother won’t even speak to her at first, but her irrepressible charm slowly wins everyone over.
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But then Siddhu tries to repress her and make her quiet to please his father.  She innocently reveals all that Siddhu has hidden from his entire family, but especially his father.  There is a big final confrontation with the father.  The film has a nice message advocating love marriage, and even the meek girl fiancee gets her own little feminist moment at the end.
Genelia was just a bubbly delight in this movie — she so much reminded me of Kareena’s performance as Geeta in Jab We Met.  I think I’d only seen Siddharth in dramas like Rang De Basanti and Enakkul Oruvan and it was really fun to see him in a lighter Rom Com.
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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.

 

Athadu – Killer disarmed by love and affection, my total catnip

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After the searing Malayalam gangster film Kammati Paadam, I wanted something lighter to watch.  Someone had recommended to me Athadu as their favorite Mahesh Babu film and it’s free on Youtube with subtitles.  (Love you Telugu Cinema industry for doing that!).  Athadu evidently means simply “He”.

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It starts super violent.  A young street kid murders someone, and then joins a gang.  And then we see the now grown up Mahesh and there is more violence.  I despaired at first as it was all this violence and blood — I’d had plenty of that with Kammati Paadam.   Mahesh is Nandu, a killer – a stone cold hitman, and Sonu Sood is his getaway driver.  He’s hired to stage an almost assassination of a politician, and is double crossed and chased for the murder.  During his escape on a train, an innocent person is killed.  And he takes on that victim’s identity, as the victim Pardhu was on his way to reunite with long lost family who hadn’t seen him in over a decade.  Pardhu had been orphaned and his grandfather and family had been searching for him.

Mahesh arrives in the village, and is welcomed as the prodigal son returned.  No one had seen Pardhu since he was a child, so they just say, “My you’ve grown tall!” and the like.  Nasser plays the grandfather, and Trisha Krishnan is Poori, Pardhu’s cousin.  Mahesh lays low and stays at the rural family compound for over a month.  You can tell he’s never had a normal family life and that this is all new to him.  And that’s when I realized, that this was going to totally be my catnip trope — killer disarmed by love and family!!   With a heaping helping of taking on an identity and trying to blend into a family.

It’s like Witness crossed with The Professional crossed with Sommersby!  (In a good way.)

Poori is infatuated with Pardhu/Mahesh.  She is fairly immature and has obviously been very sheltered and pampered.  She tells Mahesh that she is staying away from her sister meeting her potential bridegroom because she doesn’t want to overshadow her sister with her beauty.  Mahesh tells her she is not beautiful — her family’s just been telling her she is.

Thus begins the teasing and mock fighting between the two which escalates to an accidental brushing of lips.  (Swoon! — that’s both me AND the two characters swooning.  Poori actually sinks to the floor in a heap from the emotional impact of it.)

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Mahesh/Pradhu then fantasizes that he’s playfully nipping at Poori’s ear, and jolts back to reality in another favorite scene of mine.  There’s some very nice song sequences as they each fall for each other.

Mahesh/Pradhu also comes to his grandfather’s aid in a land dispute with an evil neighbor.  Cue the machete fight sequence!  (It’s nearly a requirement in a Telugu film.)  Mahesh finds out that the real Pradhu had played a mean trick as a kid, and gives money to the family anonymously so that their daughter can get an operation.

This film is filled with some of my favorite Telugu character actors.  Nasser, as I mentioned, plays Pradhu’s grandfather.  Prakash Raj, polyglot character actor of Hindi and many regional cinemas, plays the CBI officer on Nandu (Mahesh)’s trail.  And Sunil, my favorite comedic Telugu character actor, plays the childhood friend of Pradhu.  Mahesh confides in him that he’s not really Pradhu.  The two comedy Uncles are in it, too, but not so annoying.  Brahmanandam dares Mahesh to punch him in the stomach which he does so Brahmanandam actually made me laugh for once!

After one fight, Mahesh/Pradhu is fussed over by Pradhu’s aunt.  She tends to his cuts on his hands, and then feeds him with her own hands as she’s afraid the spicy food will sting his cuts.  This kindness affects Mahesh so much that he has to wipe the tears from his eyes.  He’s been trying to quietly resist the family, because of course he’s not really Pradhu, their long lost nephew or grandson.  He doesn’t think he’s worthy of any of their love and kindness.  I was almost wiping the tears from my own eyes at this scene because you can see the loneliness of the life he had led up to this moment.

Poori was more than a little irritating in how immature her character was.  She’s trying to be coquettish, but she really doesn’t know how.  She pouts that Mahesh/Pradhu hasn’t told her she’s beautiful, and then came one of the best declarations of love I’ve seen in an Indian film.  (I’ve posted the video starting at the scene below:)

 

He asks who said she wasn’t beautiful?  “You did!  You told me I wasn’t beautiful!”

Then he tells her that it was true.  “Then I didn’t know you were so beautiful.”

“But I’m the same even now!”, she replies.
“I’m not.  We see a moonbeam everyday.  Only sometimes do we think it is beautiful.  But it’s the same every day.  The change is not there.  It’s here!”, as he touches his heart.  “I fought Buji…How else did you want me to express my love?  I’m not like the others.  I don’t know how to live.  Only now I’m learning to live.”

I had to rewind and rewatch that scene a few times.  So great.

One of Mahesh/Pradhu’s acts of generosity leads to Prakash Raj finding him, and his true identity being revealed.  There is a fantastic scene that Mahesh has then with Nasser, the grandfather, that I won’t spoiler, but I really loved.

Then we’re back to action, as Mahesh goes back to the city to find out who the real killer was who framed him.  There’s an amazing final fight scene, and great comeuppance for the villains.  This is what Indian cinema does so well.  Great action paired with emotional drama and romance.  The plot is really nothing like Witness, but that is the film that I thought of immediately.  Hardened man used to violence is forced to adapt to a rural family life.  Total fish out of water, Nandu is not a cop — he’s who should be the villain, but we see through his actions that he has a marshmallow center.

athudu 3This film goes right up there as one of my favorite Mahesh movies now.  Really enjoyed it, and there were a few scenes that were truly magical.

Four stars out of five.

Dookudu — Sometimes you just need a Mahesh Babu Telugu hero fix

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Yesterday, I decided I was totally in the mood for another Mahesh Babu movie.  Dookudu had been recommended to me as one of his best, and I tried to find a good copy online.  I ended up running to my local library which had a DVD copy.  (I love living in an area with a sizeable South Asian community!)  My library may not have many Telugu titles, but they have Dookudu!

This poster really shows you what Mahesh in Dookudu is all about.  Dookudu was translated as aggression, but also as daring.  And you can see Mahesh’s cop character is all about attitude.  Mahesh just oozes cool and bravado.  He has amazing presence on film, and looks great in all those slow motion action striding towards danger kind of scenes.

But after watching 1: Nenokkadine, I was hoping with another heroine, I’d get a better romantic subplot, and maybe a sweeter side to Mahesh, too.  And Dookudu gave that to me in spades.  Puppy dog eyed Mahesh!

He’s no Prabhas, who is still my favorite Telugu actor, but he does have that same ability to go from super cool action, to sweetness and comedy.

  

Dookudu is just a super entertaining mass entertainment movie.  The best Telugu films I find really excel at melding together great action, great villains, sweet romance, and comedy all rolled into one.  And while 1:  Nenokkadine felt like theses different parts of the film did not fit together well, here with Dookudu one flows into the other and the comedy gives you a respite from some pretty intense action and drama.

Dookudu at its heart is a revenge flick.  Prakash Raj plays the near saintly politician father of Mahesh (Ajay).  After our short intro to Prakash, we see him struck in a horrific car crash leaving young Ajay alone.  Cut to present day with adult Ajay, now a cop in Mumbai, with a cool introduction fight scene.

Ajay is on the hunt of Don Nayak played with supreme evilness by Sonu Sood.  He’s wearing an ascot for most of the movie, so you know he’s really evil!  One nice thing is that with Sonu Sood being 6’2″, Mahesh is also 6’1″ so their final battle truly feels like a fight of equals.

On a quest to find a weak link to Nayak’s empire, Ajay and his team follow Nayak’s brother to Istanbul.  There one of Ajay’s team tells him his fortune telling grandma says Ajay is about to meet the love of his life.  Ajay mistakes Prashanthi (the adorable Samantha Prabhu) for Nayak’s brother’s girlfriend, so from the beginning we have a hate-to-love romantic subplot.  Which is one of my favorite romantic tropes.

Ajay and his team capture Nayak’s brother which leads to the scene on the rooftops of Istanbul on the poster.  With Ajay’s foot on the gangster’s throat, gun pointed at his head while negotiating on the phone with Nayak.

After some great Turkey scenery (so pretty!) and adorable romantic scenes with Prashanthi where Ajay continually puts his foot in his mouth, Ajay returns to India.  He then gets shocking news.  His father is waking up from a 14 year coma!  His father did NOT die!  Now, here is the part where the film evidently liberally borrows from the German film Goodbye Lenin (which I have not seen).  The doctors tell Ajay that his father should be protected from any bad news or distress so that he doesn’t go back into a coma.

So, Ajay has to get back the family home.  This is where the comedy uncles come in.  Telugu films seem to have a requirement that this guy, Brahmanandam Padma Sri, appear in every single film to provide comic relief.  He’s even shoe-horned into Magadheera for absolutely no reason at all.  (Thank God Rajamouli didn’t have to include him in Baahubali!)

Usually, I find the comedy uncle bits of Telugu films very annoying and totally unfunny.  In films like Darling, you can see Prabhas struggling to not crack up at his antics, and I just don’t get it.

But here, he’s woven into the plot as the current owner of the family mansion, that he rents out as a film set.  Ajay convinces him that they want to film a reality show with hidden cameras.  It’s all an elaborate ruse so that Ajay’s father (Prakash) will think nothing has changed, and that Ajay has taken his MLA seat and followed in his father’s footsteps.  Ajay and his team even produce fake television news shows and newspapers, which is from Goodbye Lenin.  A Telugu is now the prime minister of India, etc.!  Mahesh is great in all these comedy pieces, posing as a film producer, and a participant in a reality show.  His engagement to Prashanthi becomes part of the plan to keep his father happy.

Can you guess who caused his father’s car accident all those years ago?  Yeah, like I said, it’s a revenge flick.  The ways that Ajay crafts revenge on each person who harmed his father are actually quite clever, while keeping his father in the dark that he is now a cop.

I give Dookudu a solid four stars out of five.  Great action, great romance, and great fun.   Mahesh is absolutely fantastic in Dookudu, and Samantha Prabhu is great, too.  They have wonderful chemistry together.  The songs are not exceptional, but pretty good.  This one where the lyrics say “My heart is sacrificed on the altar of love”.  It’s kind of crazy with the faux Aztek costumes or whatever they are, but so colorful!

Yep.  I think I’ve convinced myself writing this up, that I’m going to need to own this one on DVD.  Because Mahesh in many colors of wedding finery!