Movie Review : Ajith in Vedalam

In anticipation of seeing Ajith Kumar’s new Tamil film Vivegam, I watched his 2015 film Vedalam (Phantom).  I thought that it was my first Ajith film, but in looking him up I realized he was in Ashoka as SRK’s younger brother,  and most notably as the dream boat young filmmaker in Kandukondain, Kandukondain paired with Tabu.  Hubba, hubba.

 

I really enjoyed Vedalam.  It has fantastic action sequences but it really has heart at it’s center.  The romance with Shruti Hassan provides some comic relief and a few nice song sequences.  The interval point is when Ajith tells his story, and gives us the flashback that explains  how mild mannered Ganesh came to Kolkata and what happened to his sister.

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I absolutely adored Ajith’s relationship with his sister (Lakshmi Menon), and the story of how they became close.  I love the trope of a rowdy who blossoms from the love of family.

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The moment that Ajith turns was quite something and one of the most memorable sequences I’ve seen in Indian cinema.  I can see why Ajith has such a fan following.  He won over this new fan with this film!

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Song of the Day – Evare/Malare from Premam

Ever since I watched the Telugu remake of the Malayalam blockbuster Premam, I have been playing the song Evare, and the original Malare over and over.  The sweeping melody and the lyrical voice of Vijay Yesudas in both versions just transport me into a place of peace.

The Malayalam song video I found has English subtitles.

Premam – Naga Chaitanya shines in this Telugu Remake of the Malayalam blockbuster

Premam [Love], the Malayalam film starring Nivin Pauly was one of the first Malayalam films I ever saw, and it remains one of my all time favorites.  When I heard they were making a Telugu remake of this massive hit film, I was filled with dread.  They’ll ruin all that made it special, no one could match Nivin Pauly’s charm in the three different ages, etc.  Then I saw Naga Chaitanya in Manam and discovered he was the lead in the Telugu Premam.  Now I HAD to see it because he was so adorable in Manam.  I saw one of the last screenings at my local theater, all alone.  For the most part, Naga Chaitanya captures the magic that is Premam.  He’s great in the three parts, playing Vikram (Vicky) at 16, 20 and his late 20’s.

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First, one of the best decisions of the remake was to have two of the actresses reprise their roles.  Anupama Parameswaran returns as the wild haired teen that is the object of 16 year old Vicky’s massive young love crush.  In the Malayalam film, she is the Christian Mary, here she is Suma.  The Telugu love song sequence references that great wild hair, slightly tamed in the Telugu remake.

In this first section of the film, I nearly thought that Chaitanya was doing an impression of Nivin Pauly as a teen.  He must have really studied Nivin’s performance, because so many expressions were similar and head tilts and so on.  If you’d never seen the Nivin Pauly film, you would love this Telugu film unreservedly.  One thing from this early sequence that differs is that I think the Malayalam film was in a more rural setting which added to the feel of innocence about the adolescent love story.

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The middle section is the strongest in the Malayalam film, and the weakest in the Telugu.  And that’s not Chaitanya’s fault.  He is fantastic as the college rowdy.  Since it’s a Telugu film, and they probably had a higher budget than the Malayalam, they take the initial explosion prank in the first college scene up a notch.  It’s a huge fireball explosion of a transformer instead of a little firecracker to disrupt the festival performance of their rivals.  And then the fight is not just a simple mud fight, but a big slow mo fight sequence in a construction sight with big sprays of sand, and bricks flying and what have you.  There is also a typically Telugu cameo of star Daggubati Venkatesh as Vicky’s uncle.

The issue with this middle section is that Shruti Haasan is no Sai Palavi.  The filmmakers have basically admitted that including Shruti in the remake was for financial reasons to have a name star.  She just does not have an ounce of the charm and for lack of a better word, gravitas, of Pallavi.  The romance doesn’t seem as deep.  I remember Malar and Vicky talking marriage in the original, but it doesn’t seem to go that far in the Telugu.  Since the romance isn’t as deep, the tragedy isn’t as deeply felt either by the audience.  Chaitanya doesn’t handle that overcome with grief scene as well, but granted, it’s probably one of the best Nivin Pauly acting scenes of his career.

In the Malayalam, part of what made this college romance section so special was that the rogue Vicky falls, and falls hard for a young woman with acne, and not just a little facial acne.  His friends mock him and don’t understand what he sees in her, but we the audience see how beautiful she is through Vicky’s eyes.  Shruti Haasan with her flawless porcelain skin?  Who wouldn’t fall for your teacher when she looks like that?

They used the same melody in both films for this beautiful love song  (Malare becomes Evare), and the scenery in this Telugu version is just jaw droppingly gorgeous:

One nice addition to the Telugu remake is that Vicky wins over Sithara (Shtuti) by making her a (Marathi??) traditional sweet for a holiday.  So that when we get to the final section of the film, and Vicky has become a prominent chef with his own restaurant, you see that he has taken his love of cooking from his college romance.  In the Malayalam the final section, where Vicky finds his bride was the the shortest and an underdeveloped romance, and the fact that he owned a bakery/sweet shop seemed to come out of nowhere.  This is supposed to be the love of his life and his bride, and maybe they ran out of money or Madonna Sebastian didn’t have longer dates for filming in the Malayalam version.   I had always wanted a bit more, and the Telugu gives it to me.

We get a love song in the Telugu!  It shows their developing relationship in the film, and when she reveals that her parents have arranged an engagement, the betrayal hits that much harder for Vicky.  I think Chaitanya really came into his own in this final part of the film.  Nivin Pauly played the older Vikram as reserved and lonely.  Here, Chaitanya’s Vikram is a busy chef who doesn’t care about the marriage arrangements his sister is trying to make in a phone call.  I really liked that they beefed up this section a bit more.

The wedding scene however, doesn’t have quite the same punch.  Shruti sees that same dessert on the buffet (that Vicky had made for her) and that spurs her memory, and she just looks back a little wistfully.  Again, she’s no Sai Pallavi.

So, not spoiling it, if you’ve never seen the Malayalam original ( and you should because it’s fantastic!), but this is a worthy remake.  The plot is nearly identical, with a few nice additions.  I really enjoyed it.  It’s no hardship watching Chaitanya for a few hours!  His father Naga Nagarjuna has a nice little cameo at the end as well.

Also, one of the things that had me laughing so hard out loud happened when a certain character is tied up and being beaten up.  His tormentor yells, “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?!  Tell me!!”  LOL  Gotta love Telugu films.

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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.