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!)

Okkadu – Now My Favorite Mahesh Babu Movie so far

Over the last two days I watched Okkadu, my third Mahesh Babu movie.  It’s on Google Play.  But in looking for a clip I just discovered the whole thing with subtitles is on Youtube.

 

I got about 20 minutes in and I realized I was watching the Southern film that Arjun Kapoor’s Hindi Tevar was based on!  Kabaddi and all.  Okkadu has a better title, because it means “The One” which has several meanings.  The girl is the one for the villain (Prakash Raj again!) and Mahesh is the one who can save her and win her heart.

Normally I don’t notice the background score very much in Indian movies, but this one started by riffing off the opening music of West Side Story.  I kid you not.  It was the Jets and the Sharks all the way complete with snapping fingers and jazzy music.  Not a direct copy of the music, but definitely inspired.  Totally inspired by, and it made me smile.  Watch the first few minutes and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

It’s fascinating to me what they kept the same, and what they changed for the Hindi version.  I was one of the few people who actually liked Tevar (because Arjun!) but Okkadu is so much better.

Okkadu was a megahit in 2003 for Mahesh.  It was remade in Tamil, and Bengali (both megahits) and then twelve years later as the Hindi Tevar — not so much a hit.

In Okkadu, the young woman Mahesh saves is played by Bhumika Chawla who the same year had almost the same sort of role with Salman in the Hindi film Tere Naam.  Swapna (Bhumika) is being forced into marriage with a goon  (Prakash Raj) who has killed her brother.  Ajay (Mahesh) sees the goon dragging Swapna towards a car as she’s crying.  He punches the goon and rescues the girl, not realizing he has just punched the crime boss of the town.

The negative to Bhumika’s role vs Sonakshi Sinha in Tevar, is that Bhumika starts the film very passive, and Sonakshi gets to reject the goon villain with some tevar of her own at first.  Bhumika as Swapna is mousy and terrified (but with good reason) and only when she’s kidnapped at the end to be forcefully wed to Prakash does she get some gumption.  She tells him, go ahead and force yourself on me but I’ll only have my one, my true husband before my eyes, Ajay (Mahesh).  (Much more effective and satisfying than the parallel scene in Tevar).

Prakash Raj as the villiain is way creepier than Manoj Bajpayee because Manoj falls in love with Sonakshi just from seeing her dance one time.  Prakash has been waiting for Bhumika to “mature” for it sounds like years so he can marry her against her will.   She has reason to be terrified from the get go.

In Okkadu, Mahesh is mid-20’s and still has that boy to man thing going on.  The film is really about him becoming a man.  In the beginning his boy gang is fighting another boy gang.  His whole life is just winning the kabaddi championship.  Tevar is the same, but the first fight (also in defense of a harrassed girl), but Arjun fights an adult man.  In Okkadu, his fight with the adult goon Prakash feels like his first step to taking on the responsibility of manhood.

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Tevar uses the Taj Mahal as the backdrop, and Arjun’s house in Agra has this whole roof top terrace with a view of the monument.  It’s similar in Okkadu, but instead the movie is in Hyderabad and Mahesh’s family rooftop terrace overlooks the Charminar mosque, but it’s much more woven into the plot.  At one point he hides Swapna inside one of the minarets, and they escape by running through the crowds coming to afternoon prayer.  (In Tevar it’s Holi.)

One thing Tevar is missing is that in Okkadu Prakash Raj (and his politician brother) have this goonda cigar smoking mother who was a RIOT.  Her intro scene:

One thing that Tevar did better was the relationship of Arjun’s character and his policeman father.  In Okkadu, the father arrests Ajay (Makesh) but it doesn’t feel like it was for his own protection as in Tevar.  I didn’t like the father of Ajay, although there were a few funny family scenes.  But I loved Arjun’s father in Tevar — you saw where Pintu (Arjun) got his tevar from.  Exasperated with him, but ultimately respecting Pintu.

There was one thing I hated about Okkadu – one scene that just infuriated me.  Mostly Mahesh was adorable and steadfast.  At one point, Swapna (Bhumika) is reluctant to get to the airport and asks to stop for a snack on the way.  Ajay turns around and she’s vanished.  He finds her and slaps her in a “What were you THINKING?” kind of way, and then she reveals she had just bought him a gift — “Knee caps” (knee pads) for his Kabaddi championship game.

Other than that one off note, I adored the movie.  I’m just going to pretend that moment didn’t happen — like I ignore the undressing scene in Baahubali.  Ajay does feel major remorse later looking at those knee caps — knee pads.  But he doesn’t grovel or apologize.

And while the action scenes are just as gravity defying, somehow they are a little less ridiculous than Arjun being stabbed and slashed by a sword and still getting up to wallop Manoj.  Gunasekhar, the writer/director of Okkadu just keeps a fantastic pace to Okkadu, and the action scenes are really well done and inventive.  It’s just filmed better and edited better than Boney Kapoor’s Tevar.  The songs feel organic to the narrative.  There is no shoe-horned item song as in Tevar.  I do like the music in Tevar and listen to Superman all the time, but the music numbers in Okkadu have better placement and flow for the most part.

The scene that is absolutely better in Okkadu is their parting at the airport, because Swapna (Bhumika) runs back and proposes to Ajay.  “I don’t want to leave.  I want YOU.”  It’s a fantastic moment.

This is just going to be one of those movies for me, one of my favorites I will rewatch.  I mean, West Side Story music!!  But mostly Mahesh is awesome.