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.

Mahesh Babu Spyder Teaser Trailer Reaction

I’ve never really reacted to a teaser trailer before, but I am super excited about this one for Mahesh Babu’s Spyder, due out in September.  I went on a binge of Mahesh Babu films last year, and unfortunately, the first film of his I saw in the theater was Brahmotsavam, which was a confusing mess.  Spyder is directed by the Murugadoss who gave us Aamir Khan’s Ghajini, which is a masterpiece.  Crossing my fingers that he gives Mahesh as great a movie.  September seems very far away!!

 

Rarandoi Veduka Chuddam Video Review – Naga Chaitanya’s new family drama film with Rakul Preet Singh

Rarandoi Veduka Chudham (Come, Let’s Watch the Spectacle) is an enjoyable family drama starring Naga Chaitanya and Rakul Preet Singh.  This I believe is their first film together, and the first time I’ve seen Rakul in a film.

This film is put out by Naga Chaitanya’s family banner, and he did well in the film, but frankly, I enjoyed his 2016 films Premam and Sahasam Swasaga Saagipo much more.  The first half of this film is slow, but it’s saved by the last hour or so of the film when the conflict comes to a head.

I also enjoyed seeing Jagapathi Babu again as Naga’s father.  He was Mahesh Babu’s father in Srimanthadu.

 

 

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2016 – My Movie Year

 

Letterboxd.com is where I keep a diary of all the films I watch, including films I rewatch.  They have a very cool year in review feature.  I was inspired by this Matt Bowes post about all the media he consumed in 2016, to make this post.  I’ll just talk about the movies here, but I love how he listed all the comics, podcasts, etc., too!

So, according to Letterboxd, I saw 222 films in 2016, which includes short films and rewatches.  That averages out to over 18 a month, and over 4 a week.  Weeks like our visit to the Sundance Film Festival, where we saw 30 films (including shorts) certainly help to bump up that average, but I am an avid movie viewer no matter how you slice it.  I just started this blog in April, but I had been posting short reviews on most films to Letterboxd before that.

2016 started with The Hateful Eight (which I didn’t love) and ended with Zootopia, which I did love.  There were mostly older films, but I did watch 82 films that were released in 2016.  It won’t surprise any of my readers that fully half were films from India, 111 of them.

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Interestingly, the actor with the most films I saw was not Shahrukh Khan (who was second with 12), but Nasser with 14!  That man is in EVERYTHING!

This year I discovered Telegu cinema megastar Mahesh Babu (9 movies) and Malayalam cinema star  Prithviraj.  I’ve got a stack of more Prithviraj movies to watch — the man has made so many!  I’m amused that Prithviraj’s early film Stop Violence – which I watched without subs! – Letterboxd lists as my “most obscure movie”.

The highest rated (by people on Letterboxd) film I saw in 2016 is Moonlight, which is heading to the Oscars.  The lowest rated is Yoga Hosers.  Yeah.  Have to pretty much agree with that — but Assassin’s Creed is giving it a run for it’s money on that score. Yoga Hosers is just crazy silly (Brat Nazis!) but it was worth it to go to the midnight premiere just to see Kevin Smith.

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2016 will always be in my memory, because this was the year that a movie I helped get made premiered at Sundance.

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 How To Tell You’re A Douchebag is the movie I saw the most times this year, as I attended screenings of the film, and showed it to friends and family.  I’m so proud of writer/director Tahir Jetter’s achievement.  It was bought by BET and aired this summer.  You can watch it on iTunes, Amazon video or Google play now!

Top films from 2016 I saw in Hollywood and Indian cinema coming soon.

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).

Janatha Garage Movie Rating

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.

 

 

Pokiri – Fantastic Mahesh Babu flick by Puri Jagannadh

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Pokiri (Rogue) is simply a fantastic Mahesh Babu action romance flick directed and written by Puri Jagannadh.  I enjoyed it so much.  Pokiri is from 2006 and was filmed with a very modest budget of 12 crore.  The director wrote a great script and was really inventive in his shots.  The editing really enhances and propels the pace of the action.

I had rented the DVD through Netflix, but the DVD crapped out on me half way through.  I kept trying to make it work again because the movie is so delicious, but then realized I was watching a Telugu movie.  Of course, the whole thing is on Youtube with subtitles.  (Yay Chromecast!)

Among rival gangs in Hyderabad, Mahesh is the newcomer, Pandu.  He’s a rogue, a free agent and his intro in the film has him running down a street with a cart of red mirchi peppers fly into the air.  Loved that touch.

The action scenes are very visually inventive.  There’s a cool action sequence when the lights get shot out in a dark room and then it’s all flashing flickering light with sparks waterfalling down.  Mahesh kills off pretty much a whole opposing gang one by one in flashes.  So many film directors rely on a few big fireball explosions and slow mo to make an action scene look cool.

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The love interest is Ileana D’Cruz.  She’s an aerobics instructor living with her widowed mother and her younger brother.  Mahesh tries to stay away from her, but he can’t overcome his attraction to her.  And his friends delight in throwing them together.

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Quite literally thrown together, as in this fantastic little scene where they’re stuck in an elevator together and his friends make the elevator jerk up and down.
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Ileana’s in dire need of a protector.  Unfortunately she’s drawn the attention of a corrupt cop.  Ashish Vidyarthi is just so eeeeevil.  He’s not only involved in corrupt deals shaking down land developers with a local gang.  He has no compunction in viewing his cop underlings as expedient kills.  And then he approaches Ileana’s mother to propose she make her daughter his concubine.  “And you’re not that bad looking either.”

Ileana as Shruti approaches Mahesh to ask that he be her protector.  I really liked that she addressed it head on.  She had no one else in her life that she could ask.  But while he is drawn to protect her, he doesn’t think a rogue like him is right or deserving of her love.

My favorite scene was just right before the interval.  The editing and directing in this flick were really a step above, even if it doesn’t have the production money of something like Srimanthudu.  Shruti’s (Ileana’s) fallen in love with Mahesh, a rogue, and he’s trying to say don’t fall in love with me, I’m no good for you.  Then they’re attacked by a gang.  Mahesh is so intense, and torn.  He tells her he loves her, but can she live with a criminal like him after seeing him like this?

That’s the thing.  This movie is not just a great action gangster flick.  There is a real conflict and threat to the love interest.  The romance gets equal weight, and the dance sequences are fantastic.  I really liked the music in this one.  This is yet another reason I love Indian cinema.  All that love he cannot express, the music lets you see what he’s feeling in his heart.

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I think Mahesh really is what makes the romance work, too.  He just looks tortured, but you can sense an innate goodness in him even while he’s acting like a gangster.  He projects “heart of gold” better than just about anybody.  He wants to leave her alone because he knows she shouldn’t be attracted to a gangster, but she really, really needs a protector.  And I loved that she out and out asked for one!  She didn’t just sit there and whimper, she took some action to protect her family.

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Prakash Raj is the ultimate villain gang don in the film, but for once, though, I think the always fantastic Prakash Raj is upstaged by that creepy evil cop Ashish Vidyarthi. Nasser plays a key role in the denouement at the end.  There’s a great twist to the end of the film.  Pokiri was so successful that it was remade in several languages, including the Salman Khan Hindi film Wanted (which Margaret told me is not nearly as good as Pokiri).  The comedy uncles are even almost funny with a running gag about a beggars union.

I highly recommend this all ’round Telugu entertainer.  It’s going to be one I’ll love going back to rewatch.  The director Puri Jagannadh really impressed me, and he also directed one of my favorite Prabhas flicks, Bujjigadu.  He reteamed with Mahesh Babu for Businessman which is moving right on up on my watchlist.  Four stars out of five.

I’m convincing Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood to watch some Mahesh Babu movies.  Check out her rapturous review of Pokiri!

You can watch all of Pokiri FREE on Youtube with English Subtitles:

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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!)

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.

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

athadu 1

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”.

athadu 2

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.)

athadu ear

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.

arjun huh

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.