Malayalam Trailer Roundup

With the holiday of Onam, there is a cluster of big releases in Kerala.  There are new releases from Nivin Pauly, Mohanlal and Prithviraj.  Also we’ve had a few teasers now for Solo, Dulquer Salmaan’s upcoming film Solo.

Mohzin ( ) reports from Kerala that the Prithviraj and Nivin Pauly films are doing well in Kerala and getting decent reviews, while the Mohanlal is average.  There can be a couple of week delay until we get Malayalam films here in Chicago, but I hope I can catch some of these new films in the theater.

Here is my song reaction to Enthaavo from Nivin Pauly’s Njandukalude Naatil Oridavela.  Enthaavo has been on the top of the Malayalam charts on Saavn.

 

There’s also been a  trailer and a song from Mohanlal’s Velipadinte Pusthakam.  Mohanal plays the vice principal of a school in the film.

 

 

Adam Joan is a new thriller starring Prithviraj.  It seems to have been mostly filmed in Scotland.

And finally, we get another teaser trailer from Dulquer Salmaan — the character Siva from Solo.  I’m not sure we’ve ever seen Dulquer play a gangster like this.

The Amazing Classic Malayalam Mohanlal film Spadikam

I’ve been on vacation out of the country for a couple of weeks, so I’m catching up on the films in theaters.  One of the films I brought with me on my iPad was Mohanlal’s Spadikam which is on ErosNow.  I love that ErosNow lets you download films now!

 

I loved the crazy action, but especially the intense family drama between Mohanlal and Thalikan, who plays his stern father.  Devasuram is still my favorite Mohanlal film, but this one is right up there.

The film is also readily available on Youtube.  Check out how crazy the first 10 minutes of the film are.  The viewer is just dropped into the action, with no initial clue as to who Mohanlal is fighting or why.

Oppam – Mohanlal’s Masterful Performance as a Blind Man Accused of Murder Elevates This Thriller

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In the thriller Oppam [Together] Mohanlal plays a blind man suspected of murder.  Mohanlal was predictably fantastic and subtle in the ways he portrays his blindness.
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Because it’s Mohanlal, with his innate intelligence, we can totally believe that the blindness of his character has led to super senses of smell and hearing.  He’s not quite  Daredevil level superhero, but he does have a couple of dramatic fight scenes.  He’s proficient in martial arts despite his blindness.  (Of course he is.)
I still need to see Drishyam (the DVD is in my pile!), so this is my first Mohanlal thriller.  Without him, this film just would feel formulaic.  Mohanlal brings just that extra special something to every film.
The film starts with the negotiations at his home village for his sister’s wedding.  Innocent has a nice cameo as Mohanlal’s uncle (shades of Devasuram!)  There’s some money issues as Mohanlal has loaned someone money and hasn’t had it returned, and the family is worried that there will be enough both for the wedding and to keep the ancestral home.
 This is just the beginning of the lengthy setup before any real action occurs.
Mohanlal is an elevator operator at a fancy apartment building, but he has a close relationship with a retired judge who lives in the building (Nedumudi Venu).  The judge has secrets, even from his own family, but entrusts Mohanlal with them.  He explains that he made a mistake in an old rape case and the perpetrator’s entire family committed suicide.  (This part was a little confusing to me, and I felt like the subtitles left something key out.)  He drives Mohanlal out to the country so he can meet with someone involved with this old case, as he has heard that anyone involved with it has been murdered with their index finger cut off.
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Then he drives Mohanlal to a boarding school.  Mohanlal is the  guardian of this young girl, but the judge has been paying all her school fees.  The judge’s family think it’s a bastard born out of wedlock, but she has something to do with this old case.
 The song sequences in this film were all just delightful.  This one, Minungum Minnaminuge shows the close relationship of Mohanlal and Nandini and how he teaches her a song for her class assembly.  He is the father figure in her life, the only one that she has seemingly ever known.  Baby Meenakshi as Nandini is one of the better Indian child actors I’ve seen.  She did a great job.
The murder happens during a wedding scene, which is kind of brilliant.  The judge has helped broker an interfaith marriage when two young people are found in a compromising situation in the apartment complex.  The wedding celebration is at the apartment building and there are tons of extra people around for it.
This song sequence was my favorite of the whole film.  I think the marriage is a Sikh girl and a Hindu boy so the lyrics seem to be a mix of Malayalam and either Punjabi or Hindi.   The dance goes from bhangra which the girl’s relatives teach the groom, to garba all wonderfully mixed together.  Mohanlal manages to dance along, as a blind man, and make it believable, which is not easy.
Who the villain is, is never a surprise to the audience, and Mohanlal fights with him at close quarters after he discovers the body.  But since he is blind, he can’t identify the man, except by his smell.  There’s a really unnecessarily long Who’s On First type attempt at a comedic scene with the police officer who comes to investigate as he questions the watchman.  “So he saw the body first?”  “No I saw it first after he found him.”
Chemban Vinod Jose as the police officer just wants to solve this case quickly, and is happy to frame a blind man for it.  The second half of the film is this cat and mouse between Mohanlal and the villain who keeps turning up.  There’s a really great scene in an elevator with the villain and Mohanlal.   Mohanlal is desperate to keep little Nandini safe, as he’s convinced she will be the next victim.
Malayalam films can be so sprawling, and a thriller like this could just be more tightly edited to be more scary and effective.  I felt like the film dragged at several points.
I also have issue with the music background score —  Not scary enough!!  I kept thinking that while we needed quiet in certain scenes for Mohanlal’s super sense of hearing to work, some soft tense violin held notes would have done wonders for tension.
Mohanlal has almost ninja like fighting skills in a couple scenes, but there is one police beating scene that gave me flashbacks to Devasuram.  There’s something about seeing big Mohanlal beaten that just really gets to you.
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He is so intelligent and so great an actor, that I could fully believe he had super smell and super hearing like a blind Sherlock Holmes, but this big bear of a man is also completely vulnerable with his handicap.
I wasn’t shocked or stunned by the ending reveal, and while I jumped a couple of times, I think there could have been more tension and thrills in this film.  Mohanlal is what elevates the whole thing, and I just adored the special relationship he had with little Nandini.
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Devasuram – A Malayalam Classic with masterful performances by Mohanlal and Revathi

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Devasuram [The God Demon] was recommended as a classic must watch Malayalam film from 1993 — one of the best of Mohanlal’s career.  It’s also considered one of the finest of director  I. V. Sasi.  The film was written by Ranjith who based the character of Mangalassery Neelakantan (Mohanlal) on his friend Mullasserry Rajagopal.   Rajagopal, bedridden for years, had a passion for music, and his wife was devoted to him.  He evidently joked that “Ranjith had not managed to show even half of what he did in his life.”

Mohanlal is Neelan, running through his inheritance from his father, a bit of a rowdy and a womanizer, but known for his love for music and the arts.  He has a devoted land manager/servant who is really a father figure to him, and a small group of rowdy friends.  The rowdy friends try to be loyal to him, but end up getting him into touchy situations.

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This film really has it all.  Mohanlal is this macho manly figure, not afraid to leap into a fight, but who has the soul of an artist.  He has a feud with a rival family that is revenge after revenge back and forth.    There’s a fantastic hate-to-love romance with Revathi, a young woman who is ready to start a career in professional classical dance.  (And we have established how much I LOVE the hate-to-love trope.)  Revathi is off the charts amazing as Bhanumathi, daughter of a feckless drunkard father.  She is so arrogant and proud, and she explodes at Mohanlal’s rowdies, who have come to ask her to dance at a temple event Mohanlal is sponsoring and help her fall down drunk father home after they find him in a ditch outside the house.  She assumes they are the ones who got him drunk in the first place, and yells at them to leave her property.

That sets up the whole course of events to follow.  Mohanlal seems to apologize to the father and make peace, but instead tricks them and the performance is to be for him and his friends at his house.  Her first dance performance should have been an auspicious event at a temple, and he treats her like a courtesan.  Her father cannot pay back the performance money, so she must dance.  This scene I have watched over and over and over again.  It is simply amazing.

Revathi’s classical dance performance is full of fire and anger.  The expressions she gives!  I’ve just started taking an Indian dance class, and while I’m no expert judge I think Revathi is an exceptional classical dancer.  The whole dance is a battle of wills.  He winks at the accompanying singer to try to trip her up, then he sends one of his friends to offer alcohol to Revathi’s father in the middle of the dance, and Revathi just glares and shakes her belled foot.  Then at the end Mohanlal motions to a cymbal player and another drummer to increase the tempo faster and faster, but nothing fazes Revathi and she just swirls and pounds her feet like a whirling dervish by the end.  She finishes the dance to acclaim, as she is left pouring with sweat and panting for breath.

The clip above has no subs, but she says to him, “You think you’ve won?”  He replies, “I always win.”

“You are not worth my dancing bells.  You’re an insult to my art.”  And then she takes off her bells from her ankles and throws them at him, vowing to never dance again.

She has cursed him, and suddenly all sorts of horrible things happen to Mohanlal.  Revathi and her family don’t fare much better.  They lose their home, and still she is too proud to take Mohanlal’s servant’s offer for help.  But when she is almost sexually assaulted at the home they are staying in, she finally gives in and they move into Mohanlal’s huge mansion house.

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Mohanlal and Revathi avoid each other, but she can’t help see the depression and changes he undergoes at the death of his mother (and she overhears him rage in the rain one night, learning that he discovered he is a bastard at his mother’s deathbed.)  He tries to get her to dance again, and take up her career, but to her that would be losing and letting him win.  She is so full of pride!

One night he is beaten horribly by his rival and his goons, and he ends up paralyzed on one side.  Mohanlal’s character goes through so much in this film!  Revathi is chastened, and feels that it was her harsh words that did curse him, so she prays at the temple for him to recover.

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The romance grows slowly.  As he reforms, he’s a redeemed rake that doesn’t think he is worthy of Revathi.  He is determined to see her dance again, and to give her the career she should have had.  She retains her pride for a long time, not wanting to “lose” to him again. Once he is nearly bedridden, he begs her, “You said you would only dance again when I was dead.  I’m nearly dead, please let me repent this one sin before I die.”  She dances joyfully for him to give him a moment of happiness, and that’s what starts his recovery.  Both characters are so full of charisma, each with their own deep flaws.  They both need their own redemption, it’s not the usual one-sided story.

The film ends with an absolutely riveting confrontation between Mohanlal and his rival Shekaran.  If he fights back, they will harm Revathi who has been kidnapped.  So Mohanlan takes blow after blow until he sees she is safely rescued.  Then, this man who had been handicapped, comes roaring back like a lion.

I don’t know which actor I loved more.  Revathi was such a little spitfire in Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film Mouna Ragam.  But here, she was even better, plus she got to show off her classical dance training.  Mohanlal is the heart and soul of the whole film.  It is his master performance.  The supporting characters are particularly good, too, especially Innocent as Mohanlal’s father figure servant and Nedumudi Venu as Appu, Revathi’s (Bhanumati’s) father.  Napoleon, who plays Shekaran, is quite the villain — with a notable scene pinning down the paralyzed Mohanlal on the floor with his foot — “Get well so I can cut you into pieces next time!”

I’m so glad I bought this one on DVD so I could watch it with subtitles.  This is a movie I’ve already rewatched multiple times, and just that dance sequence alone many times.  Each time, I see something I didn’t see before.

This is justifiably a true classic, not just of Malayalam film, but of all Indian cinema.

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The whole film is available on Youtube, but without subs (but you can overlay a subtitle file through a Chrome extension.)

There’s also a great discussion of the film on Don’t Call It Bollywood.

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).

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.

 

 

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.