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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three and a half stars out of five.

 

 

Rudhramadevi – Great story with horrible CGI

rudramadevi-759Rudhramadevi is currently on Netflix streaming in the US, unfortunately the original Telugu dubbed in Hindi.  Anushka Shetty of Bahubali fame, plays queen Rudhramadevi.  The coolest thing about this historical epic is that the main characters in this film are all based on real people.  Rudhramadevi ruled in what is now Telegana, dying in 1295, and was one of the first reigning queens in India.

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Gona Gannareddy (Allu Arjun) truly was a Robin Hood like figure supporting Radhrumadevi’s rule.  [I read Mahesh Babu turned down the role.]

For some bizarre reason, the filmmakers frame the film by having Marco Polo narrate the story  — to show how women ruling is a good thing, I guess.  But the CGI of those opening scenes and the sailing ship, is just horrendous.  At other points they use very cool animation drawings and I wish they’d just used those throughout, or drawings of maps.

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The film Rudhramadevi supposes that when she was born the King’s chief adviser (Prakash Raj) suggests the birth of a son be announced to the kingdom, so the unruly populous and the feuding relatives angling to take over the throne will be assured there is a male heir.  The young prince is raised in the forest and trained in warfare and sword fighting.  The young actress who played the young Rudhramedeva was really good.  She comes to court as a young teen for the first time, and meets two princes –  Gona Gannareddy and Chalukya Veerabhadra.  They escape the palace together, and she sees a statue of a woman, and realizes with shock that that’s what she looks like.  She runs home, and in a stunning scene for an Indian film, finds her pants soaked with blood down to her ankles.  She runs to her mother who tells her the truth.  She is given the choice to become the princess, but chooses to continue to live as the prince heir of the kingdom.

As a now young man, she’s expected to marry, and Nithya Menon plays the young princess she marries.  (Which totally made me think of Yentl, but she tells the princess she must remain celibate.)  Rudhramadevi has strong feelings for her best friend Chalukya Veerabhadra (Rana Daggubati).  He catches a glimpse of her outside the palace dressed as a woman, and becomes obsessed.  He’s derelict in his war duties he’s so smitten, and she appears again to him as a woman, which gives us this fantastic love duet, one of the highlights of the film for me:

What I loved about the story is that Anushka Shetty as Rudhramadevi is a kick ass warrior queen, and she’s not going to run off to marry her lover when she has duties as queen.   The whole story is so awesomely feminist and woman positive, and Anushka’s performance, especially in the fighting  and battle scenes makes me even more excited for Bahubali 2.

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The story is great, but the CGI is so bad that it takes you out of the film at times.  I don’t understand why they had to use digital outdoor backdrops for several scenes.  It seemed completely unnecessary.  This film wanted to be what Bahubali achieved, but they didn’t have the same money to execute it.

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This is an example of some of the worst effects.  To show either Allu or Rana riding a horse, they were head on to the camera with their head horribly photoshopped on a repeating GIF of a body moving up and down on a fake horse head.  Over and over and over.  It looked SO bad.  And they made it a poster!  Ugh!

If I had a young daughter, this is a fantastic story of a warrior queen, but I’m not sure older more sophisticated kids could get past the bad special effects.

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Still, a mostly enjoyable watch, with very cool characters, great action battles, and some nice song numbers.  Kudos to Rana Daggubati for playing the Chris Pine to Anushka Shetty’s Wonder Woman.

Three stars out of five.

Check out Margaret’s take on Rudhramadevi on her blog Don’t Call It Bollywood.  She delves much deeper into the gender politics the film.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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