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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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.

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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.

U Turn – Shraddha Srinath and Roger Narayan shine in Pawan Kumar’s Kannada supernatural thriller

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U Turn is a Kannada language supernatural suspense thriller written and directed by Pawan Kumar.  Pawan Kumar blew me away with his amazing low budget Kannada film Lucia.  Lucia had twist after twist and I never knew what was going to happen next.

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U Turn starts upside down.  Literally.  We see the divider of a road, and the camera travels along it, but upside down as the opening credits roll.  Then the camera does a u-turn and continues to travel the urban highway.  Throughout the film there are ‘U’s sprinkled around, both in the visual framing of shots, and horseshoe knockers on doors, etc.

Shraddha Srinath, the star of the film, is introduced to us in a really clever way.  Rachana (Srinath) is riding in a rickshaw with her mother, and through their arguing we learn that she’s single, that her mother is pressuring her to marry, that her family is going away on a trip, and thus she will be alone.  It’s a really clever bit of writing.  She draws the rickshaw driver into the argument, showing us a bit of her moxie and personality.

Rachana is an intern reporter at The Indian Express.  She’s working on a story about people who make illegal u-turns on the flyover highway, moving the divider bricks out of the way, but not returning them after they make the turn.  She has a homeless guy at the intersection writing down their license plate numbers.  She goes to interview one of the drivers but he doesn’t answer the door.

Later that night after she is dropped off from her first date with the crime reporter, Aditya (Dilip Raj), the police come and arrest her.

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The police interrogate her as she had written her name in the visitor book, and is the last person to visit a man, found hung in his apartment.  They don’t believe her at first that she is a reporter and working on an investigative story.  Finally, the young cop, Nayak, listens and checks out her version of events.

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Roger Narayan played Nayak and he was my favorite actor in the whole movie.  He was great, and had a lot of subtle reactions.  You can tell he has a bit of a crush on Rachana, but he plays someone trying to hold it back, but still let’s you see it.

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I admire Pawan Kumar for turning some conventions on their head.  Rachana is the active heroine of the script, and later her boyfriend Aditya takes on the ‘damsel in distress’ role, and she tries to save him.   Shraddha Srinath did a good job carrying the film, and while he doesn’t have as much screen time, Dilip Raj shone in his supporting role.

I saw U Turn in a theater, and while there were a few jumps that scared me, the film just didn’t have enough suspense or thrills for me.  It’s based on a real incident, evidently, but the film did not have the magic of Lucia for me.

Part of the problem was the score.  The background music is critical in a suspense film, and this music just did not evoke the creepiness or scariness that it should.  The recent low budget Tamil film Pizza had not only music but a soundscape that added greatly to the creepiness.

Don’t believe me what a difference music and soundscape can make?  Watch this Scary Mary Poppins trailer with some different music:

 

U Turn is a good film, but it just wasn’t as scary and creepy as I was hoping it would be, or as mind-bending as Lucia.

Three and a half stars out of five.

Te3n – Amitabh Bachchan as an obsessed grandfather searching for clues to a family tragedy

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Te3n is a Hindi thriller starring Amitabh Bachchan as the grandfather of a young girl who was kidnapped and killed 8 years ago.  He can’t let the unsolved case go, and visits the police station every day for an update.  Vidya Balan is the police detective who tries to gently get him to move on.

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Nawazuddin Siddiqui was the police officer investigating the case 8 years ago, and botched it.  He has since become a priest, and Amitabh (John) also torments him regularly about the cold case.

Amitabh neglects his disabled wife, the bills and regular life in his obsession to find justice for his granddaughter.  He uncovers what he believes is new evidence in the case, and gets Martin (Nawaz) to accompany him to track down more clues.

Then another young child is kidnapped, and the details of the case seem to be an exact copy of the case of John (Amitabh)’s granddaughter.  Vidya calls on Martin (Nawaz) to help her find the kidnapped boy.

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What this movie got right was the obsession that family members can fall into, especially the elderly, with an unsolved case.  Our family happens to have a missing person/probable murder cold case.  Having a tragedy like that hanging over a family can take a heavy toll.  Amitabh lets all the despair and pain show in this movie.  His wife, and every one urges him to just let it go, but he can’t.  He just can’t.

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Te3n is written and directed by Ribhu Dasgupta and produced by Sujoy Ghosh of Kahaani fame.  It’s an authorized remake of the Korean film Montage, which I have not seen.  Te3n is set in Calcutta, but just never manages to reach the level of suspense and tension of Kahaani, or true surprises.  Here you have three of my favorite Indian actors in Hindi cinema, and while the film is good, it’s not as great as I was hoping it would be.  The ending was a satisfying conclusion to the thriller, but I had some unanswered questions.

Amitabh’s John is fleshed out, but I was left wondering if it was just this one case that led Martin, Nawaz’s former cop character to become a priest.

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Three and a half stars out of five.

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.

Brahmotsavam – Loved the songs in this Mahesh Babu film, but I left so confused by the plot

I have just recently discovered Mahesh Babu, and I was really excited to be able to see my first Mahesh Babu film on the big screen.  I have been listening to the Brahmotsavam soundtrack non-stop, especially Vacchindi Kada Avakasam, the first song in the movie.  The full song sequence did not disappoint!

I have very mixed feelings about the movie.  The songs and the soundtrack are GREAT.  I mean, I saw a movie with an A. R. Rahman soundtrack this week that didn’t impress me half as much  (the Tamil Sci-fi 24)!    And the song number sequences were amazing.  The dancing, everything.  I’m going to be downloading most of the soundtrack.  Vachhindi Kada Avakasam is still my favorite, but the title track and several other songs are fantastic.

I felt like this was one of those movies where they assembled all the actors, but didn’t really have a script.  I can hear the pitch to Mahesh – It will be about family!  Two romances with your romantic leads from other films!  Great location shots all over India!  Scenic!  Gorgeous!  Great music!

 

And….. then the plot was an afterthought.

I have not seen Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu, writer/director Srikanth Addala‘s previous hit film with Mahesh Babu.  Three Indian guys after the movie told me that one is much better, and one I should definitely see.

Brahmotsavam (which I think means grand celebration) is very much like the Hindi classic family films Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (HAHK) and Hum Saath Saath Hain (HSSH).  Not a lot of plot.  Lots of family.

The drama, such as it is, is that the Sathyaraj, father of Mahesh, loves big celebrations and family gatherings.  He is wealthy and has a paint company that he started with 400 rupees given to him by his wife’s family.  His brothers work for him at the company.  But there is one brother-in-law who is bitter and resentful.  And this is where the non-specific relationship names in the subtitles were tripping me up.  When Mahesh called the mean uncle, “uncle”, it could have been because he was his father’s partner and it took me quite awhile to figure out that he WAS a family uncle.  I don’t know the Telugu terms as well as I do the Hindi yet.

Mean uncle wants Mahesh to marry his daughter.  But Mahesh is falling for Kajal who is visiting for the holiday?  Her relationship to Mahesh was really unclear.  I couldn’t catch if she was a cousin, her father’s relationship to Mahesh’s father I couldn’t figure out.  I think she was the daughter of a family friend.

I was very, very confused.  We have this “wedding scene’ which I later figured out was a holiday ritual.  Family on two sides of a room with a god/goddess statue at the center front.  And the family members argue in turn like they are arranging the marriage of the gods.  “What’s this about this Radha we’ve heard about??  Will the groom be faithful?”  Banter like that.  The scene is repeated later in the movie which is when I finally figured it out.  The first time I literally could not tell if they were arguing and arranging Mahesh’s marriage or his sister’s or WHAT the heck was going on.  It was a scene I have never seen in an Indian movie before, but I haven’t seen very many Southern Telugu films.

What was good in the film were the two romances with Mahesh.  The first is with Kajal, and their teasing flirtation, and couple of songs were fantastic.  This song made me swoon.

She goes on a big family trip with Mahesh’s family, which reminded me very much of the family trip scenes in Hum Saath Saath Hain.  Cue GORGEOUS scenery.

And me mouthing that Liz Lemon line over and over, “I want to go to there!”

 

SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS ahead.

Their break up is over something I have never seen in an Indian movie.  Kajal breaks it off because she can see his large family means so much to Mahesh, but she just can’t take so many people all at once all the time.  (And she seems to have a career in Australia, too.)

There was a family argument with mean uncle and Mahesh’s father — and then this super weird confusing scene where Mahesh is consoling his despondent father.  And it turns into like a nightmare dream state and Mahesh is running around the house — and the father is dead?  I mean it was not obvious, and it took me awhile of dialogue after that to figure it out!  The subtitles might have not served me well, but it was damned confusing.  It was a missed opportunity for drama, in my opinion.

So now Mahesh is lonely, his uncle won’t reconcile, and Kajal left him.

Enter Samantha, a friend of his sister’s in London!  She comes to the house in a very funny scene, introducing herself as the sister’s friend and can she stay.  Sure!  Um, can I bring in to stay some friends I met on the way?  Sure!  An entire BUSLOAD of people come into the house!!  It was very amusing.  Samantha Prabhu was in the Tamil film 24 I saw earlier this week, and she was better here, but not exceptional.

She is the life and brightness that Mahesh needed.  She obviously loves having more and more family and people around, which is just what he likes.  For some unknown reason, he brings her with him on a quest to find “the generations”  — his roots and to meet all his distant relatives.  This leads to traveling ALL OVER INDIA finding distant cousins, Nasser is one, and other recognizable character actors.  This part was super super confusing to me.  The cities visited were stunning and gorgeous, but it was hard to tell why they went all those places.

And at the end he invites them all to his uncle’s daughter’s wedding, thus showing respect??  And they reconcile and Mahesh begs to live in his uncle’s house.  Wha???

What really, really irked me was that when Kajal breaks up with Mahesh, she kisses him and hugs him.  Mean uncle sees this and leaves the family trip in a huff — because he had wanted his daughter to marry Mahesh.  He doesn’t know that Kajal was breaking it off.  Now, what happens next was confusing in the movie, but I think he beat his own daughter.  And Mahesh goes to the hospital and the daughter tells Mahesh that her father (mean Uncle) was upset when he saw the Kajal kiss.  She has bruises all over one arm, and her ankle is being bandaged.

So the whole movie Mahesh is trying to reconcile with the mean uncle.  He is not ostracized for harming his daughter.  He arranges a good marriage for her at the end– I’m not sure we ever saw the groom, and frankly up till the end I couldn’t tell if Mahesh was the groom and was giving up Samantha to patch up the family.  It was that confusing!  But I know this is all “Indian family values” like in HAHK, but I was really bothered about it as I’ve been thinking it over in the hours since I left the theater.  WHY should family harmony trump all, and there be no backlash for the daughter beating.  It rankles me that Mahesh felt he needed to literally bow down to this uncle to make peace.

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And Mahesh has a sister we see on video chat, but she doesn’t ever reappear even after the father’s death.  Another missed opportunity for drama.

I was so confused at the end!  As I walked out of the theater three young men stopped me and asked how I liked it, and I admitted that I was confused but loved the soundtrack.  And they said it was all about connecting to the generations at an Indian wedding, but they agreed that the plot was confusing to them, too.  That made me feel somewhat better because I thought it was just me, and my ignorance of the Telugu language and the Southern rituals and all.  But these three guys said the plot was not the best for them either.

Brahmotsavam was a big letdown for me. This movie was not as great as I was hoping it would be.  I will read up on what the heck the plot was about, and then go back to see it again when the prices are lower.  (It was $18 for the opening day.)  I did love the song sequences a lot, and would like to see them again on the big screen.  The colors, the scenery, the chemistry with Kajal, the music, were all fantastic.   It’s just really a shame that there wasn’t a worthy enough plot and drama to hold it all together.  I contrast this to Kapoor and Sons which was such a fantastic family drama with a stellar script.  I shouldn’t have to come out of a movie and then go online to figure out what the plot was that I just saw!

I give Brahmotsavam two and a half stars out of five, mainly for the music alone and the romance with Kajal.

24 – A Tamil Sci-Fi Time Travel Movie with a Great Triple Role

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Sci-fi films are not that common in Indian Cinema at all.  (I still haven’t seen Rajnikanth’s Robot which is sitting in my DVD pile.)  24 was a really interesting film, because it used some of the conventions of sci-fi films I’m used to from the West, but added in the family and mythic elements of Indian cinema.  The film stars Suriya in a triple role.  This is my first Suriya film.  Looking him up later, he is famous for originating the role of the cop in Singam (which Ajay Devgn remade into the Hindi Singham).

In the picture above Suriya plays the inventor dad who makes an almost steam punkesque time machine watch.  It can only go backwards a maximum of 24 hours, thus the movie title.  The middle character is the evil brother of the inventor — very Indian!

Then the left is the 26 year old son of the inventor, present day 2016 Mani.  Nithya Menon of OK Kanmani has a brief role as Priya, wife of inventor, mother of Mani.  Samantha Prabhu played the love interest for Mani and was just okay.

Suriya was impressive.  He is a talented actor because he really, really pulled off three separate characters with the three roles.  And there are scenes of him being one character and pretending to be another which is hard to do, and he totally nailed it.

There’s a whole plot with baby Mani being entrusted to a young girl who raises him on her own as a single mother.  I’m thinking there’s a whole Mahabharata story I’m missing that it ties to that would be obvious to the Tamil audience.   (Asked a friend and the foster mother is supposed to be Yashoda who raised Krishna.)  There’s also elements of karma and fate as the time travel machine watch and a key find their way to Mani.

What was great about the film is that when Mani gets the time travel machine watch to work (he’s a watch repair man, fortuitously!), he first uses it to romance the girl.  He’s almost like a young superhero geeking out over his new found super powers.  Those scenes were really fun.  He can also freeze time, and uses that to take a selfie with Dhoni in the middle of a cricket match.  Watching him explore the powers of the time travel machine, explains what it can do, and how the time travel is going to work (and its limits) to the audience in a clever way.

I really love time travel movies, especially when they are used in romantic films.  Outlander is hot right now, but who can forget Christopher Reeve in Somewhere In Time?  He had no time machine, just hypnosis and the power of his love!

There have been several adaptations of H. G. Wells novel The Time Machine, notably the 2002 The Time Machine directed by Simon Wells, great-grandson of the author and starring Guy Pearce.

In The Time Machine, Wells or his avatar finds love with a primitive girl as civilization has collapsed in the distant future.  Yeah, there’s none of that kind of nonsense in 24, thankfully.  It’s a story of personal revenge in one family.  But while Suriya was great as the villain, hell bent to get the time machine watch to try to cure himself — it was never explained why he hated his inventor twin so much.  I wish a little less time had been spent on the romance plot towards the end, and some time had been given to the back story of the twin brothers.  Of course, the filmmakers have left it open to a prequel or a sequel.

I thought the CGi and special effects were good, and the music was by A.R. Rahman.  Not his best score ever, and I’m not running out to download the songs, but good.  I would hesitate to bring very young children to the film as one character gets his hand cut off.  Overall, an enjoyable action film, especially for the performance of Suriya in the three roles.  Four stars out of five.

24 is out in Tamil, and a dubbed Telugu version.  My theater had both.

Vettai – The Madhavan/Arya Brother Cop Movie I Didn’t Even Know I Wanted

My neighbor brought me back a stack of Tamil DVD’s from her trip to Chennai and I’m slowly making my way through them.  I was looking for a lighter movie and took a chance on Vettai (The Hunt), a 2012  Tamil action comedy.  Arya AND Maddie in a movie together?  I’m in!  This movie just made me smile for so many reasons.

Vettai establishes the dynamic between the brothers with a scene from their childhood.  The older brother is actually timid and scared of everything.  When a bully hits him, the two years younger brother comes to the rescue.  Their father is a policeman, who then beats the younger son for getting in a fight.  He stoically takes the blows silently while the older brother weeps and wails even though not a single blow touches him.

That dynamic continues to the present day.  Madhavan who is physically large and imposing plays a very timid adult.  He’s scared of violence and confrontation.  His younger brother (Arya) is a rowdie, and quick to fight and intimidate anyone who threatens Maddie.  Their policeman father suddenly dies, and by family tradition, Madhavan as the oldest son should take his father’s place.  Arya convinces Madhavan that he should take their father’s job, the same one that their grandfather held.  Maddie tries to get Arya to do it instead, but he has 4 charges against him.

At first Madhavan enjoys the stature his uniform gives him, but he doesn’t know what to do when a young girl is kidnapped by the local goons.  He calls his brother Arya, who comes to the rescue.

  

Never underestimate the powers of disguise in a hoodie or a rain coat!

Madhavan gets the hero accolades, while Arya acts as his secret enforcer behind the scenes.

Interspersed with the action scenes, we have the romantic storyline.  Arya meets a very assertive young woman (Sameera Reddy) when he accidentally knocks over her motor scooter.  She turns out to be the young woman that their uncle wants to arrange a marriage with for Maddie.  It was a nice fake out.  Arya then is attracted to the younger shy sister (Amala Paul).  The romantic scenes give a lot of comedy and sweetness to the movie, and some nice music numbers.  I loved when Sameera’s character forces Arya to change his view of his brother, “Are you the older brother?  You don’t even have a job.  Don’t you think you should address him with respect?”

Things come to a head when Madhavan is badly beaten by the goon gang.  As you can probably guess, Arya teaches him to release his inner lion.  Cue training montage and action scenes.

This isn’t the greatest movie in the world, but it was entertaining and I loved the chemistry of Arya and Madhavan together as brothers.  Madhavan was really, really great in all the scenes where he is the gentle timid sensitive giant.  He has a great comic touch.  In his native Tamil, I think he has an even greater comfort in playing comedy.  I haven’t seen as many Arya movies.  I’ve seen his action film Urumi, and I’ve seen his sweet romantic roles like Raja Rani and Size Zero.   He carries most of the water in the romantic scenes in Vettai, and there’s a funny subplot with an NRI that is supposed to marry the sister Arya loves.

Three and a half stars out of five.   Nice entertaining light action romantic comedy.  Plus Arya and Madhavan dancing together!  Who can ask for more than that?

1: Nenokkadine – My first Mahesh Babu Telugu film

Prior to 1: Nenokkadine, my Telugu film watching has pretty much been limited to everything  starring Prabhas I could get my hands on (post Baahubali!) and anything by S. S. Rajamouli (Eega, Maghadeera, etc.) I could get my hands on.

1:  Nenokkadine (1:  Alone) opens with a young boy running through a forest being chased and shot at by gun-toting goons.  (I learned later the young boy is lead actor Mahesh Babu’s son.) He runs into a road and into the arms of the police but someone explains it away –  “Oh, he has mental problems.  He imagines his parents were killed and he’s being chased by the killers.”  This is the first of many psych outs in this thriller.

1:  Nenokkadine is my first Mahesh Babu film, and from the opening number, I could tell Mahesh is a STAR.   He plays Gautham, a rock star.

Mahesh has charisma.  He has screen presence.  Not the most notable dance talent, at least from what I saw in this movie, but he makes up for that by looking exceptionally cool in all the action scenes.  And this movie has a LOT of action scenes.

After the Who Are You rock number above, Gautham thinks he sees one of the killers from his dreams/visions in the audience and runs after him.  He believes he ends an elaborate motorcycle chase and fist fight by killing the man.  But then – PSYCH – Sameera ( Kriti Sanon, in her debut) has videoed the whole thing, and there wasn’t anyone else there at all!  There is no body because he was fighting air.

WTF?  From this point, you realize nothing you see can you rely on to be real.  Because our hero has mental issues.  Is he schizophrenic and seeing hallucinations?  My subtitles didn’t tell me, but he has missing brain cells or something on a scan, as a doctor tries to explain to the journalist Sameera in the hospital after the imaginary fight.  Why is the doctor telling all this to a journalist?  (I really don’t understand health privacy laws in India, I’m just saying.)

Gautham decides to go to Goa for some R&R, but who appears on his yacht but that dogged journalist, Sameera.  She then proceeds to Gaslight poor Gautham by approaching him multiple times in the same situations so that he isn’t sure what is real and what is not in their relationship.  I read later that this was Kriti’s first film, and I’m sorry, but it shows.  Yes, she’s pretty enough, but I was not buying the instant love between the characters.  And I really couldn’t get past the plot point that she was milking his mental illness for her own ends.  How did Gautham get past that so quickly?  Don’t question, it’s luuuurve.  I didn’t find her funny, and this was the comic relief segment of the movie.  I just didn’t think she had good chemistry with Manesh.  Manesh was also not really that charismatic in the rom com portion.  I reserve judgement if he can pull that off and will try some other movies of his, hopefully where he is paired with a better co-star actress with some sparkle to her.

(Loved Mahesh in the glasses look, though)

So, at this point, the plot becomes very convoluted.  We’re not sure if killers are after Gautham or after Sameera, or both.  Gautham is convinced Sameera is in danger, and unfortunately beats up a bunch of her friends who were planning a surprise birthday party.

The action moves to London, and there are some fantastic action set pieces.  One really intense scene has Gautham killing someone in a public bathroom because he thinks it’s a hallucination that he just wants to go away.  But it was real.  There are so many twists and turns, and because of Gautham’s condition, and his loss of childhood memories, we as the audience never know what to believe.  I’m not sure the logic of the whole movie really works out if you analyze it afterwards, but it’s an exhilarating roller coaster ride of a movie. I was watching most of it on a plane on my iPad with headphones on, and I probably amused my seatmate by gasping out loud at several points.  The ending scenes when Gautham regains his childhood memories were really emotionally touching.

I really liked the catchy soundtrack, too.  Just try to get the London Babu item song out of your head.  I wish I could find this with subs as the lyrics were pretty funny:

I watched this movie becauses it was recommended over and over on my Quora post about why I love Indian cinema as a Telugu movie to try.  Prabhas is still my first love Telugu star, but I will definitely be checking out more Mahesh Babu movies.  This guy just oozes cool, like a much taller Jason Statham kind of action guy.

Four stars out of 5.  Worth a rentMal!  (I rented it on Google Play which had English subs, of a fashion at least.)

Margaret loved this movie!  Check out her review on Don’t Call It Bollywood.  She can thank me for turning her on to Mahesh Babu.

Watch the trailer below with no subs, but it’s mainly action sequences anyway:

Why I Love Indian Cinema

A few weeks ago, I answered a question on Quora, “Does anyone besides Indians watch Indian movies?”  This post is adapted from the answer I gave.  At first I gave a brief answer, but then people commented and wanted to know WHY?  Why would a non-Indian love Indian films?  Many commenters were at first incredulous, but then thanked me for showing them an outsider’s view of their cinema.   As of this writing, the answer has garnered over 170,000 views, and made me a Most Viewed Writer about Bollywood on Quora.  (Which still blows my mind.)

Netflix in the US has over 80 Hindi films at anyone time.  Because of the kind of films I enjoy, Netflix recommended I watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge about 2 years ago.  Since I fell in love with Bollywood, I’ve seen over 200 Indian films.  I’m lucky that in my area new release films play in a few local theaters.  I was able to see Kapoor and Sons just last night and I absolutely loved it.

I’m not the only non-Desi in America to love Bollywood movies, but I wouldn’t say it’s very common.

My father’s church has a monthly movie night, and he asked me to show a Bollywood movie last week.  I chose Dil Se, and showed it to 15 people, including my parents, who had never before seen a Bollywood film.  They all loved it!

Editing to add my answer from the comments below, WHY I love Indian films:

I also love old Hollywood musicals like Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly films.  Hollywood does not make them anymore.  I love the singing and the dancing in Indian cinema, but also the earnest love stories are not the kind of films that Hollywood makes either.  Rom Coms are becoming rarer and rarer in American films which tend to be more cynical.  The emotions in Bollywood films are something that is rare to see in Hollywood or English films.  People joke about how much Shahrukh Khan cries in his films, but I really respond to the emotions shown in Indian cinema.  Also, the colors on screen!  Bhansali’s film Ram-Leela is an example of this.

ram-leela_song.jpg

I listen to Bollywood music all the time, as well.

Indian films just give me things I cannot get from Hollywood or other Western cinema.  Plus Shahrukh Khan.  I’ve watched 47 of his films alone (which doesn’t count the countless times I’ve watched DDLJ.)  🙂

Dilwale-Dulhania-Le-Jayenge-shahrukh-khan-25741330-1280-528

I do love South Indian films as well, and I have seen a little over 30 South Indian films.  I fell in love with Prabhas after watching Baahubali last year (four times in the theater!).  I now own many of his Telugu films on DVD.

prabhas-shivudu-role-in-baahubali-movie_143140913210

Recently, I’ve been watching quite a few Malayalam films, especially recent ones with Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan.  I have watched fewer Tamil films, but I asked my neighbor to bring me back some DVD’s from her recent trip to Chennai, and have been working through the dozen films she brought me.  Last week, I watched Raja Rani, and liked it.

For those interested, I keep track of all the Bolllywood films I’ve watched on Letterboxd.com, and here’s my list of Regional films I’ve seen, up to 32 now after watching the Malayalam film Classmates last night.

I asked for commenters to recommend their favorite Indian films — and oh boy, did they.  I’ve created a Letterboxd list now of all the films recommended there in the comments that I have not already seen.  Now up to 372 (!!) films in several Indian languages:  Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, etc.  The question now is will I live long enough to watch even half of them!

My first Bollywood film ever was Lagaan, back almost 15 years ago when it was nominated for the Foreign language Oscar.  That was back when you could only rent Netflix movies via DVD in the mail.  I then watched Dil Chahta Hai, because that also had Aamir Khan.  But it was not so easy back then for a non-Hindi speaker to find out about other Bollywood films.  The internet has helped so much, and Netflix’s recommendation engine is the reason I fell in love with Bollywood 2 years ago.  DDLJ was recommended to me, then I was able to watch Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi right after that.  I texted my Indian next door neighbor for other suggestions, and she loves Hrithik Roshan and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was also streaming on Netflix and I was off to the races with my new obsession.

I have been mentored by two other non-Desi lovers of Bollywood who then suggested many other films for me to try, and in some cases pushed the DVD’s into my hand saying, “YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS!”

Kathy Gibson of AccessBollywood.net  and Margaret of DontCallItBollywood

Shout out also to the gang at Bollywhat forum!