Majili and the ‘watching movies on streaming phase’

Thanks to Amazon Prime and other streaming services, movies can now be divided into ‘must watch in a theatre’ versus ‘wait for it to stream’ versus ‘don’t even bother when it streams’. This, I believe is a whole new phase and one that is very useful for some of us who cannot make regular visits to the theatres. So we read the reviews, hear people talk about certain films, get asked the ‘you haven’t seen it yet?’ question, all the while patiently waiting for the movie to stream. And when it does, the kids go to bed early, dinners are carried to the hall and we watch the movie – first day, second show, albeit in the comfort of our homes. And that is exactly how, I ended up watching Majili in the previous week.

‘Panikimaalina vedhavalandariki lakshanamaina pellaalu vastaaru’ – this was the dialog from the movie that stuck in my head at the end. This dialog and how this trope is popularised by Telugu Cinema for ever. I remember watching Cinema Soopista Maava and coming out of the theatre wondering what the director wanted to convey. That a girl who’s the topper of the state will only fall in love with someone who has never passed his boards? That a guy who works hard to build a good life for himself is worthless? That to be able to ‘pataofy’ a girl, you need to be a vagabond who roams around the city with a bunch of completely useless friends. And fathers, who raise their daughters up with love, affection and care, become bumbling idiots and hand over their daughters to these good-for-nothings at the end of a stupid challenge.

Majili takes this trope further. Naga Chaitanya, in the movie, is like Arjun Reddy. He had a first love that he lost, so he gives up on his aim of becoming a cricketer, becomes an alcoholic instead and walks around town picking up fights and drinking himself to glory. He hates himself and everyone around. Samantha is the girl who loves him unconditionally since her teens and when she sees him in self-destruct mode, walks up to her father and tells him that she will either marry him or stay single.

Now, imagine you were her father. Here is your girl, the one who you brought up with all your attention, telling you that she will either marry the drunk, good-for-nothing guy who lives in the house opposite yours or she will stay with you. What would you do? I, for one, would very happily thank her for giving me the choice and keep her at home. She can work, study, go out with her friends and party the hell out of life and I would take care of her. In my head, I would also secretly hope that she will, in due course of time, see the truth of the matter, and fall in love with a nice sensible guy and settle down (because, like a friend’s father said, ‘Paddenimidi yella vayasulo pandi ki ponds powder vesinaa andangaaane kanipistundi’). But in the movie, Posani walks up to the boy’s Dad and tells him that he has no choice but to get his daughter married off to the drunk.

Now if you were the father of the drunk – what would you do? If I were there, I would talk some sense to my boy (or slap the shit out of him) for brooding about first love and destroying a promising career. Next, I would tell the girl’s dad that I have no intention of destroying a girl’s life and advise him not to do it too.

Now if I were the drunk, what would I do? I would keep on drinking and destroy my liver and meet with the Devdas ending – at least that would be the honorable thing to do (and the more pleasurable one too, think of all you could drink!). But here the drunk chooses to marry the girl (parental pressure y’all), then keeps her in a separate room and lives and drinks on her earnings. Can we have some applause all around please – thank you, thank you!

The other problem with Majili was that it could not decide what tone it wanted to take. The entire second half, where you are dealing with issues like an unconsummated, unhappy marriage, aging father seeing his son go to pieces, a teenage child suddenly being sent off with a stranger and discovering things about her mother, and adoption even, is dealt in a tragi-comic manner. Are we supposed to be smiling at how awkward the wife feels when her husband of a few years comes close to her. Are we supposed to be laughing when she admonishes her father-in-law for not taking his drunk son’s side? Are we supposed to be enjoying the false proximity that this couple displays for the sake of a teenage child who insists that they act as husband and wife if they want to adopt her? I was lost and in the finale, when Samantha decides to forgive Naga Chaitanya – I wanted to tell her not to – he ain’t worth a piece of your attention.

Overall, the movie was quite underwhelming and far removed from the blockbuster status it seems to have achieved. When I go back and read reviews that called it a sensitive portrayal of love or a sensible love story, I feel confused – either I don’t understand love or they don’t. Either which ways, my wait for a blockbuster/ sensible love story continues!

Anushka’s adda – through and through!

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The biggest measure of how scared an audience – at least for me – is how much people in the theatre titter and giggle even at the minutest of jokes. And if that yardstick is true, Bhaagmathie (I hope I got that numerological spelling right) was truly scary. People around me in Prasads were laughing out loud for the smallest of jokes or even things that were perceived as slightly funny. They kept screaming at Anushka to not go that way. And clapped their mouths in horror whenever she did something inexplicable. For the crowds that haven’t seen the ITs and the Conjurings of the world, Bhaagmathie provides decent enough scares.

Bhaagmathie is about Chanchala, I.A.S (Anushka), a sincere official who serves as a Personal Secretary to an equally sincere minister Eashwar Prasad (Jayaram). The government is out to trap him in some scam or the other and to this end, they target Chanchala, who is awaiting trial on a murder case. They shift her from jail to a remote bungalow in the middle of a forest so they can investigate her without a third person knowing about it. Chanchala proves a tough nut to crack and keeps the investigating officers frustrated. As the evenings approach though, she gets possessed by the spirit of Bhagamati, a queen who used to rule her kingdom from that very bungalow. Who is Bhagamati? Why does she choose to possess Chanchala? Did Chanchala really commit the murder she is accused of? Does the government manage to blot Eashwar Prasad’s spotless career? Bhaagmathie answers these questions in a barely there first half and an engrossing second half.

First things first, Bhaagmathie is Anushka all the way. She is absolutely spot on as the IAS officer who finds herself in a different situation. As Chanchala and as Bhagamati, she is absolutely terrific. She’s been there done that, but you will still come out awed about her every single time and that is her strength. Jayaram as the sincere minister, Unni Mukundan as the activist and lover boy, Mural Sharma as an ACP, Asha Sharath as a CBI officer and Dhanraj and Prabhas Sreenu as constables do justice to their roles.

The film’s strength is its technical department. The set laid out for the Bhagamati bungalow is brilliantly done, the background music is absolutely spot on and the photography is suitably claustrophobic and scare inducing. The film begins well, falls into the repetitive scare trap and has a bang on interval that will leave you spellbound. The second half has an interesting tempo for the most part, but once the story is revealed, you might feel slightly underwhelmed with the denoument. One dialogue from Anushka towards the end made it all worthwhile for me though – when someone asks her why she didn’t trust anyone, she says ‘Ee rojullo manushulani evaru nammutaaru… devullani, deyyaalani nammutaaru gaani’. How true and how sad a reflection on our times!

Agnaanavasi!

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When the song teaser of Agnyaatavasi came out, my first thought was that I liked the shot of the chair revolving and Pawan Kalyan standing tall next to it. When the teaser came out, I liked the shots of PK walking in front of people with all colored faces and aghoris and a fight sequence where the hero slits someone’s wrists in a green background. When the trailer came out, I totally loved the dialogue that Pawan uttered about the chair – about how there is a war behind every convenience we seek.

Imagine my dismay then when I find that all the aforementioned shots are done within the first 15 minutes of the movie. That the revolving chair and the dialogue about it have no preamble or powerful sequence to back them up, they are simply the first dialogs that the hero utters. That the shots of PK walking in front of people with colored faces and aghoris are all montage shots that are duly dispensed with over the course of a song during the title sequence. That the fight sequence is the hero’s intro sequence where he slits the wrists and cuts throats of a few Khal-Drogoesque people for what is clearly sport and no personal enmity whatsoever! Continue reading

Not very ‘Intelligent’

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The British have their 007. The Americans have Ethan Hunt (not the same, but still). Indians have – Salman Bhai playing Tiger, (Ek tha Tiger, Tiger Zinda Hai). Indians also have Balakrishna, a RAW agent (Paisa Vasool), Shiva, an agent of the Intelligence Bureau (Spyder) and Jai, a DRDO Scientist (Jawaan).

After having endured about three-quarters of Jawaan a couple nights ago after which I gave up, I got chatting with a friend and thought about the asinine portrayals of our Intelligence Agencies in these movies. I look at the filmmakers and they are all young and in touch with the times (at least from their use of Social Media and the interviews they dole out before the release of the movie). What then compels them to have such poor understanding of how a top Intelligence Agency works? Sample these gems from each of these movies to understand what I’m lamenting about here – (Warning – LONG POST)

Tiger – the RAW chief, after he finds out that a group of Indian nurses have been kidnapped in Iraq, decides to fly to Washington to meet the CIA chief to persuade them to delay the bombing of Iraq. He then flies back to India to inform the minister that he has managed to get the US to agree that they would delay the bombing by a week. He then spends another day tracing Tiger and another 10 hours flying to Europe to meet up with Tiger. Ever heard of a phone, Genius? And the CIA chief takes decisions about when to launch airstrikes on Iran?
All the IS terrorists in Iraq resort to only hand-to-hand combat. They even wait for Bhai to pull a scarf of a clothesline, dip it in water and then patiently get hit in the face with said scarf. Ever heard of guns, dimwits? A scene in which Bhai and Bhabhi are in a car with terrorists in front of them and behind them goes on and on – showing the two wearing seatbelts, exhorting the kid in the back seat to wear his and then finally taking off on a ramp that is conveniently available – the terrorists only shoot their rocket launcher after the car takes off, conveniently bumping off their own vehicle at the other end of the street.
The RAW chief instructs his number one agent not to reveal himself and instead keep an eye on Tiger to see if the has ‘softened’ due to his marriage to a Pakistani agent. Why did you go to so much trouble to bring him back then? I could go on, but remember there are three other movies in the list.

Jawaan – oh where do I begin! The DRDO has developed a top-secret missile, one that can be carried across in a suitcase and has named it Octopus. The villains of course know about it already. Our Hero gets an inkling that someone is trying to get into the DRDO facility to steal something. He promptly takes a forged DRDO stamp, enters into the secure premises, overhears conversations about Project X and understands that this is important. He then sends out a Whatsapp forward saying DRDO is being shutdown and all true Indians should do a protest march to prevent it from being shutdown. A friend then asks his Dad if DRDO is being shutdown and the Dad tells him that they are far from being closed, they’ve just developed an ultra-secret missile called Octopus and that it will take DRDO to the next level. Said friend promptly calls Hero and tells him about this. Hero figures out that the missile will be taken to Delhi, figures out the route that the convoy will take (ever heard of air transport, numbskulls?) and then zeroes in on the spot where he thinks the attack will take place, shows up at the exact place and prevents the missile from being stolen. DRDO, upon learning that this guy illegally entered their premises, immediately offers him a job so he can now legitimately enter the same premises. And on Day One as a junior scientist, he is given the grand tour of Octopus, the supposedly top-secret project – ever heard of clearances, Donald Trumps?

Paisa Vasool – Nandamuri Balakrishna is a RAW Agent (I’m pretty sure I do not need to say more, but I will). Kyra Dutt gyrates suggestively in the title song, accompanies the hero with promises of a hot oil massage and a foam bath for a price and promptly pulls out a gun two scenes later claiming to be an Assistant Commissioner of Police. She is in direct touch with the chief of RAW, even has his number stored on her phone as CHIEF (in Caps, no less). She enlists Balakrishna (whose RAW identities are not yet revealed, at this point he is a drunken rowdy) to kill an international Don and tells the heroine to move closely with the hero so he can help her. So much for being an honest and upright officer.
Kabir Bedi, who plays the RAW chief is shot at inside his car in the RAW premises, not by a Sniper, but by someone who runs up to the car, pulls a door open, shoots and runs away. India’s premier spy network is surely in safe hands! Balayya’s interview consists of GK questions and opinions about the biggest spy agency in the world and a rabble rousing patriotic speech at the end of which the entire interview panel stands up and shouts Jai Hind. Ever heard of the word Research, Puri Jagannath?

Spyder – Mahesh Babu works for the Intelligence Bureau. His job is to listen to phone calls, pick out suspicious ones and send it upstairs for further inquiries. Our hero, however, is a genius. He plants his own software into the system and trains it to identify the words help or its equivalents and pick out those calls only. Fat intelligence the bureau has when one of their own has hacked into their system, planted a bug of his own and making it behave like he wants it to.
He has two superiors who come to know of his transgression and he manages to keep both of them quiet by talking about their retirement benefits. Both officers immediately back off – screw the nation, we don’t want to miss our retirement benefits. There is a special task force constituted, but all it takes is one statement from our hero that he wants to handle this on his own and the task force promptly backs off.

Yet again, I could go on and on ranting, but let me stop here. The one thing that beats me is how the heroes belonging to this generation like Mahesh Babu and Sai Dharam Tej can blindly agree to this stuff. Is the promise of a box-office success so blinding? Or do they take the audience to solely consist of fans who will lap up everything they do? And whatever goes on in the heads of these directors? Where do they dream up such stuff from? Pulp novels sold in bus stops have better plots (the Shadow series for example). I really hope they wake up and give us one good spy movie or just go back to sleep and tackle mass masala subjects. It is difficult to digest these half-baked intelligent thrillers now!

Spyder – A terrific conflict marred by a generic everything else

When I recall Ghajini, the first thing that comes to my mind is not the tattoos or the mental condition, but the romance between Surya and Asin. The entire track was so well written and had so many genuine laugh out loud moments that when the tragedy happens, you feel it in your gut. That the same Murugadoss could write such a terrible love story, have songs in all the wrong places and basically bore you with the heroine is surprising to say the least.

Continue reading

Tu kya re howle!

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For me, Puri Jagannath’s ability to show loathsome violence crossed its peak in Loafer where the villain and his sons sit around drinking and when the villain’s wife says something against him, one of the sons kills her right in the house. That movie got a U/A certificate. In Paisa Vasool, he shows a ten year old being stabbed – at least a couple times – and even this one got away with a U/A. I wonder what all will he show if he continues making movies.

And that is a big if! It should be clear by now that the man is beyond rational thinking. The police department and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) should sue the man first for their portrayal in the movie. Sample these –

Kyra Dutt plays an item girl who dances in a bar and offers a hot oil massage and a foam bath to the hero for 20k. A couple scenes later, she pulls out a gun and claims to be an ACP. She takes him to the police station and asks him to kill an international don – ‘Department emi peekaleka ninnu adugutunnaa’ – is the line she uses. When the heroine (Musskan Sethi) approaches her for help, she tells her – ‘I will help you, but he will help you more. Vaadi tho koncham chanuvuga undu’. Wonder which police officer will give such advise to a young girl.

She also has the phone number of the head of RAW saved on her phone as Chief – when did police officers start reporting to RAW chiefs is a question Puri can answer. The RAW chief gets into his car inside the RAW compound when a man just runs up to his car, opens the door on the other side and pumps a couple bullets into him. Imagine the fate of a country where the head of the premier intelligence agency can be shot in such a pedestrian manner.

Added to that, there is a full scene of Balayya being interviewed for the position of a RAW agent. Aspiring RAW agents please note – some of the questions you are asked during such interviews are –
1. What are the most powerful gangs in the world?
2. How would you end terrorism?
3. How would you like to see India?
4. Why did the USSR disintegrate?
5. What is the biggest mistake done by Hitler?

Puri also seems to have another agenda while making his films now, promoting talent signed up by his agency – Puri Connects. Most of the actors in the movie are from his agency. The heroine, Musskan Sethi, hardly registers – you see her in one scene and when she appears in the next, you struggle to place her. The villain, Vikramjeet Singh, seems more like a henchman. Only the background score – which goes Bhai, Bhai, Bhai, Bhai – allows you to recognise that he’s the main antagonist. I really didn’t know Shriya was this desperate for work and Ali makes an appearance which is as pointless as a condemnation message after a terror attack.

For all the respect NBK has for his father and for all the times he keeps talking about how he only listens to his father’s songs, the remix of Konte Navvu Cheptondi in this movie comes as quite a rude shock. The song is picturised in a terrible manner and NBK’s dance almost appears like a parody of his father’s. If it was meant to be a tribute, it is a terrible one.

All in all, it almost seems like Puri is telling us, ‘I’ve made fools of the biggest heroes in the industry, tu kyaa re howle!’

Cheliyaa – difficult to understand

It is difficult to understand –

When you fear your hero might pull out a bottle of acid,
Cos listen to you is not something that the heroine did.
When the girl says she’s someone with self-respect,
But runs back to the hero after being trampled all over,
It is difficult for a mere mortal like me,
To understand this dimension of love.

When the boy upsets the girl by screaming at her,
Not in private, but in front of his entire squadron,
And she runs back into his arms when sings a song for her,
It looks cute, it feels right,
But in the next act, when he takes him back to the same squadron,
and tells them that they are losers for being single and
Shows off the girl like she’s some trophy for the win
It is difficult for a mere mortal like me,
To understand this dimension of love.

When Aditi Rao Hydari looks like a dream,
And Ravi Varman’s visuals are sheer poetry,
And Rahman’s background score rouses you,
And Karthi does his best to hold those never-ending close-ups
And yet Cheliyaa feels like a drag,

It is difficult for a mere mortal like me,
To understand where the legendary Mani sir went wrong this time!

Katamarayudu – tries too hard!

 

Last time it was the red towels – all PK fans wore them over their shoulders and attended the premieres of Sardaar Gabbar Singh. We know what happened to that movie. This time around, they wore green towels. I’m in Seattle and went to the 8pm show – by that time, the people watching the earlier show were busy cutting cakes and shouting Powerstar Zindabad – Interval point, apparently. I wish I could have seen them exit the theater. The towel on the shoulders would surely have gone on to the heads!

Pawan Kalyan is a phenomenon – no second thoughts about that – he hasn’t had a major hit in a few years now, but his craze remains undiminished. Kaatamarayudu was supposed to be his return to form, the mass masala commercial entertainer and a sureshot blockbuster. Sad then, that the film only turns out to be another case of Pawan Kalyan trying too hard to please his fans and Sharath Marar deciding to make more money using Pawan’s name.

The film, as pretty much everyone knows by now, is about Katamarayudu (Pawan Kalyan) and his four brothers. Katama does not like women (due to an unrequited love story in his childhood) and his four brothers, to ensure their love stories get to fruition, decide to make him fall in love. They conveniently find that Katama is interested in Avanti (Shruti Hassan) who moves in to their neighbouring house for a few days. The duo fall in love, but are separated due certain differences in principles. What happens next forms the remaining part of Katamarayudu.

Like I mentioned before, the film tries too hard. It makes references to Khushi, to Attarintiki Daaredi, has a folkish song with PK singing about the benefits of alcohol and dancing with his brothers and has fan-pleasing dialogues which talk about how our hero can never say no to his fans. However, the emotions in the movie rarely work, the comedy works in bits and spurts (mostly during the first half and almost never during the second) and only a couple of fights are actually rousing.

Director Kishore Parthasani does a bad job – it would’ve been better if he’d stuck to the Tamil original. The changes take away the entire connect that the original creates with its characters and attempts to replace it with some pathetic comedy. He also does not seem to know when to say cut – scenes go on for far longer than necessary. The lesser said about the songs and their picturisation, the better. The songs shot abroad are so generic in nature and the costumes in those dances so garish, one wonders if there was a choreographer or costumer on set. Neither pleasing to hear nor pleasant to look at, they are the true definition of loo breaks.

Pawan Kalyan looks slightly bloated in certain scenes and sharp in others. He is impeccable as usual, but even he can’t lift this movie up from the pits. The way he switches between Jeans and Dhotis through the movie is disconcerting. The first half is actually quite decent, but once the second half begins, pretty much all is lost. Shruthi Hassan and the four brothers overact. Prithvi is becoming the new Brahmi and his comedy jars.

Pawan Kalyan fans – your wait for the blockbuster continues. Wonder how long before you lose hope though!