Movie Review: Ajith in Vivegam

 

vivegam-800x450Ajith Kumar’s Vivegam is a pure action film by Siva, the same director as Vedalam. And that’s my issue with the film.  It’s trying to be something like a Bond film or a Mission Impossible type of movie.  Spies and double crosses and missing nuclear codes and so on.  But it doesn’t have heart.  It doesn’t have a story between all the great action set pieces to keep you interested in the story.

kajal-1Kajal plays Ajith’s wife in the film, and there is no romance track.  She becomes a woman in peril, as you would expect in a film like this.

There are some wild action scenes and nearly the entire movie is set in Serbia.  If you want to see Ajith doing amazing motorcycle chase sequences and fight a samurai sword wielding warrior woman with nun-chucks.   Then this is the movie for you.

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I was hoping since it was the same director, Siva, as Vedalam, that it would be a similar experience.  It was more Hollywood influenced.  Maybe that’s what the Tamil audience wants, but the NRIs I saw the film with were also disappointed.  I talked to two different groups in the lobby to see if it was just my negative reaction.  It wasn’t just me.

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But, it was a roller coaster ride of action.  I’ll give them that.  And Vivek Oberoi was a good villain.

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Movie Review – Rana and Kajal in Nene Raju Nene Mantri

 

After the horrible events in Charlottesville on Saturday, on the spur of the moment, I went to a packed late show of Nene Raju Nene Mantri (I am the King, I am the Minister.)  Whoo boy, it was not an escape from violent politics.

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I did like the film, but the ending, not just the very last moments, but the last ten minutes or so were very much wtf plot turns.  I left shell shocked and so did the audience.  I had to approach some women in the lobby to talk about their reaction to the ending.  I went by myself, and it was one of those kinds of films where you just have to talk to someone and say — what about that ending??  What did YOU think??  So please, if you’ve seen the film, please leave a comment and tell me what your takeaway was from that ending.

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It was just delightful to see the chemistry between Rana and Kajal.  This is a tour de force film for Rana Daggubati, but Kajal gets to show depths of acting that I have not seen in her other roles, especially in the melodramatic scenes.  Rana starts the film very sweet – he’s a money lender, but a soft hearted one who helps poor farmers, not the kind who bashes heads to demand payment.

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We don’t see the romance of Kajal and Rana, but do see a flashback of them as childhood sweethearts.  The film shows them as an established happily married couple.  Jogendra (Rana) is obsessed with keeping his Radha (Kajal) happy.  When a tragedy befalls them, then he is hell-bent on revenge.  He sees a path through politics to gain the power he needs to rain down justice.  But then the power corrupts him as he climbs up the political ladder.  Nothing and no one can stand in his way.  He says it is from the love of his wife, but she points out that that is not really true.

Frankly, Jogendra becomes a monster.  I felt like it was an abrupt change of his personality when the tragedy happens, but the descent thereafter was somewhat believable as the power corrupts him more and more.  The last 10 minutes though.  Yowza.  I’ll leave this spoiler free, but again, please comment if you saw it!!

It was a worthy film to see, and Rana gave a great performance showing a range that he wasn’t able to fully show in the Baahubali films.  The people in the packed theater were there to see him, and I’m looking forward to see where he goes next in his career.  While the director Teja, tried to give a critical look at a corrupt political system, where he took it left me rather stunned as he showed crowds sympathizing with the extremes of Jogendra’s acts.

What was also fun for me was now that I’ve seen more Telugu films that just about every character actor in the industry had at least a small part in the film.  There was a lot of “Hey, it’s that guy!” for me.

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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.

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.