Thenmavin Kombath – My first Mohanlal Malayalam film!

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I absolutely adored the romance in the classic 1994 Malayalam film Thenmavin Kombath (At the Top of Sweet Mango Tree).  It was my very first Mohanlal film, and came highly recommended by Margaret at Don’t Call It Bollywood.

I was confused at the beginning of the movie exactly what Mohanlal’s relationship was to the man he was traveling back from market with, and the woman he both referred to as sister and mother.  I finally figured out that Mohanlal was the key servant retainer of this farm owned by Sreekrishnan Thampuran and his sister, and had lived at the farm since he was 4 years old, away from his own family.  The relationship lines were blurred, as Mohnalal viewed the sister like his own sister, and as the woman who raised him.  Sreekishnan is like a brother to him.  The unclear lines of the relationships and the confusion is very pertinent to the plot and the misunderstandings that follow.

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On one of their trips to take their farm produce to sell in town, Sreekrishnan agrees to let a singer performer and her older uncle have a ride on their cart.  But Mohanlal doesn’t know that, and gets into an argument with the spitfire young woman (Shobhana).  It’s a total hate-to-love romance, which is my catnip!  On the way home, they are separated from the others and get lost together in the cart in a forest.  They’ve traveled so far that they’ve crossed a border and Mohanlal can’t speak the language of the inhabitants, but Shobhana can.  She is able to get directions, and agrees to help Mohanlal if he gives her a kiss, but she says that in the language he doesn’t understand.  He keeps asking all the villagers that phrase to try to figure out what she is saying to him, and gets into big trouble!

Later, as they’re on their way home, he overhears a woman asking her young child for a kiss with the same phrase, and my absolute favorite scene of the whole movie happens.  It’s like a lightning bolt hits Mohanlal!

The first half is just wonderful as their romance develops, but the second half deals with the drama of what happens when they return to the farm and the insular village.  The problem is that Sreekrishnan wants to marry Shobhana, so Mohanlal backs away.

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It was great to see  Sreenivasan (who I have seen in Traffic) as the villainous servant that sets in motion all the horrible things that befall Mohanlal.

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Mohanlal was very good in this, but he didn’t blow me away.  I know this isn’t his most famous role.  I saw him in Janatha Garage in the theater opening night, even if he was dubbed for the Telugu.  I really loved Shobhana in this film.  She’s such a spitfire!

Really enjoyable film with a great romance.

Four stars out of five.

Janatha Garage – Mohanlal and Jr. NTR are a perfect match in this action family drama

1468570544-1707Janatha Garage (I think it translates to People’s Garage) is writer/director Koratala Siva’s third feature film, and his first collaboration with Jr. NTR.  I loved Siva’s previous blockbuster films, Srimanthudu with Mahesh Babu and one of my favorite Prabhas films, the fantastic Mirchi.  Malayalam superstar Mohanlal returns to Telugu films after a cameo appearance 2 decades ago.  Janatha Garage was filmed in both Malayalam and Telugu, and released in both languages.  I find it really interesting the cross promotion, because the film also includes Malayalam star Nithya Menen as the second heroine, in her first collaboration with NTR.  Samantha Prabhu is the first love interest, a star in Telugu and Tamil Cinema.

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Expectations were extremely high with this director, and with this star studded cast.  I think having Mohanlal and Jr NTR in a movie together is brilliant.  They were fantastic together, and frankly look like they’re family.  I’ve only seen Mohanlal in Thenmavin Kombath (review soon) and NTR in the fantastic Yamadonga.  The theater five minutes from my house had the film on two screens for the premiere, and pretty full crowds.  It was fun to be there the opening night and hear the whoops and hollers for NTR’s first entrance.  (My ticket seller wasn’t used to Telugu films – “That will be $8…I mean $20”.)

The first half of the film chronicles the creation of Janatha Garage (the people’s garage).  Mohanlal not only fixes cars, but he fixes the problem of anyone who comes to him.  When his brother and his wife are killed by one of their enemies, Mohanlal gives the orphan infant to the mother’s family saying that he will have nothing to do with the boy, as they wish.  And as young Anand grows up, his family don’t even have a picture of his father in the house.  They just tell him his parents died in an accident.

Jr NTR as Anand is like a cross between Captain Planet and DJ Khaled with his flowers (“I love you.  I like that.”)  This movie has a Message with a capital “M” and that is environmentalism.  Anand is all about green spaces, planting trees, and against pollution and over development.  Srimanthudu had a similar message with Mahesh Babu riding his bicycle everywhere.  There’s one fight sequence where he lectures the goons on the forces of nature raining down earthquakes and tsunamis on them.  He’s no pacifist environmentalist — at all.  When a park is set to be demolished, he threatens the developer and the MLA – “The MLA will die, I mean, because of lack of oxygen if the trees are destroyed.”)

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Anand (NTR’s) love interest is his cousin (Samantha Prabhu) and that was a little squicky for me because it seemed like they’d been raised as sister and brother.  He meets Nithya Menen early in the film – and scolds her for things like setting off firecrackers for Diwali creating air pollution.  Nithya becomes part of the group of friends with NTR and Samantha.  One of my two favorite songs is NTR with Samantha in the Apple Beauty love song.  He’s really fantastic dancing in this one.

Anand goes to Hyderabad to study Environmental Science, and has a run in with Mohan Lal’s son who has joined forces with the family enemy, the evil developer.  NTR hears about Janatha Garage, and Mohanlal hears about his good deeds.  Rather than confront him for the dust up with Mohanlal’s son, he asks NTR to join the Janatha Garage to carry on his work.  Mohanlal had been in an “accident” and the doctors had warned his family that he should stop and not have stress.

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Neither realize that they are nephew and uncle.  But they have a natural affinity.  They both just want to help people.  In Hebrew, we’d call it Tikkun Olam – Repairing the World, which encompasses the environment and good deeds.  It’s just that NTR knocks heads together to fix things as well as plants trees.

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One of the best fight sequences has NTR coming to the aid of a government clerk who is ready to commit suicide rather than sign off on shoddy plans for a hospital.  The builder has threatened his family, and he comes to the Janatha Garage for help.  He’d been turned away by the others at the garage after Mohanlal got out of the hospital, but NTR resurrects the true mission of the garage by helping him out — and inspiring his co-workers to view the clerk as the true hero.

Koratala Siva has set up an emotional family drama to punctuate the action.  Mohanlal has the son who rejects his way of life and joins the enemy camp.  He also has the son of his heart, NTR, who he doesn’t even know is his true long lost nephew.  And there is a very dramatic scene when Anand’s family finds him at the Garage, and forces him to choose the girl he loves or Janatha Garage.

The songs are mostly very good, and NTR’s dancing is great.  Kajal has a really fun item number in the second half — the very catchy Pakka Local (Strictly local girl).

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Jr. NTR has lots of charisma and screen presence, and his dancing and fight scenes are great.  NTR is looking much more fit than his Yamadonga days, but he’s not as playful as he was in that film.  Srimanthudu had more moments of levity than does Janatha Garage.    Mohanlal is predictably excellent as the sort of do-gooder don of Hyderabad, with tough fights in the first half, and anguish over his wayward son in the second half.  One thing that could have been better is the villain is more smarmy than scary.  The romance elements are not the focus of the film at all, and take a back seat to the male family relationships and the action.

An enjoyable flick, even if it dragged a bit in parts, and especially fun to see Mohanlal and Jr. NTR act together.  They make a perfect pair.

Three and a half stars out of five.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Jr NTR in Janatha Garage

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Mamta Mohandas as Dhanalakshmi

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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