And sure enough I did. I get it, I really do get it now why he’s The Man. Actually, wait… no, I don’t! Because there is no rational reason for it since he’s no looker at all, at first glance: pudgy face, big dog eyes, an annoyingly shapeless moustache and hairstyle, body rounded on all possible corners, no, definitely not my idea of a charmer.
On top of that, since this is a newer movie, his dancing ain’t all that either. Coming from the peak of Allu Arjun fandom, I’m not easily impressed anymore, even though I know I’m being unfair to the man: he is in his 50s after all (and I am more than willing to have my mind blown and eat my words on this one).
Even so, I have to admit there is definitely something something there…
If I had to put my finger on it, I'd say the most notable feature that distinguishes The Man from the other Tolly and Kolly Boys is that when he’s being badass, it’s no joke. He’s not hot and badass like Prabhas, or cool and badass like Mahesh, or cute and badass like Arjun, or even virile and badass like Vikram. No, he’s just seriously Badass. So when he comes into the frame punching someone’s dentures all the way to Teeth-heaven, you buy it. No choice, no distractions. And did I mention he wears the coolest footwear too?
Back to the movie: this is Tollywood, so the plot is not much different than the usual fare, though better than most: superhero of the hood, righter of wrongs and chief of the swoon-inducing brigade, we are introduced to Stalin (who was named thus because his father was a hardcore fan of communism, which, coming from an ex-communist country myself I found absolutely hysterical) and his hardcore mother through the innocent eyes of a village girl who comes looking for a job. What job, we never get to find out, but we get distracted soon enough by the heroine, played by Trisha who does an excellent “job” dancing in fantasy songs with Chiru every 20 minutes or so, which is definitely something that I would pay her for.
Namak: Isn’t it a bit creepy that he’s in his 50s and Trisha is a 20 something?
Dolce: You know, I know I should find it creepy, but for some reason, I don’t. He seems sort of ageless to me. Doesn’t look young, for sure, but he doesn’t look that old either…
Namak: Ahem… You really scare me sometimes…
The rest of the plot revolves around some personal vendetta lead by the chief bad guy played by Prakash Raj with a ridiculously delightful wig, as well as a remake of sorts of the movie Pay It Forward (same concept anyway, though I'm sure director Murugadoss will deny it).
|Prakash Raj in one of his funniest (unintentionally) avatars|
Stalin is hardly a rowdy like most heroes these days. In fact he has made a mission out of helping people who cannot help themselves, so he writes exams for two girls: one is blind, one lost both her arms in an accident. And while this situation could easily get either filmi or grotesque, it really doesn’t. Probably because the two girls do an excellent job in coming across as real people. The scene where one of them has to go in the street and beg passers-by to help her write her exam (because Stalin was writing the other girl’s at the same time) is extremely emotional. As is the scene showing the consequences of people’s failure to help her.
And how easy would it be to fall into the trap of overindulging in melodrama after these two moments? Well, again, to my great surprise they don’t. The highlight of the movie for me is the subsequent scene where a group of crippled boys are racing in a school event and one of them falls down during the race. I refuse to ruin the scene for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, but it is very touching.
Dolce: I don’t see how you would fail to be touched by such a moment. In any movie.
Namak: Actually, I usually have a very hard time reacting the way I am supposed to when a movie shows handicapped people. For example in Taare Zameen Par during the title song I was cringing the whole time. I knew I was expected to become emotional, but something felt fake about it, like those children were put on display to sensitise me, they were used to manipulate my emotions. And that doesn’t fare well with me.
Dolce: Blasphemy! You did not just say that about an Aamir Khan movie!
Namak: I did, as a matter of fact. I love TZP just as much as the next person, but that song had no business being there except, as I said, to manipulate the viewer. And if you’re going to manipulate me, you have to be a bit more subtle than that.
Dolce: I’m not sure I want to know you anymore, that’s a heartless thing to say.
Namak: Well, too bad, you’re stuck with me at least until the end of this post.
Back to our scene from Stalin, what sets it apart from other similar situations is that we are not shown this race to feel sorry for these kids. Quite the contrary, we are expected to cheer for them and learn from them, and that I can empathise with.
On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, my movie experience was enhanced (and to a certain extent ruined at the same time) by another scene towards the end where a crowd of some thousands of people is shouting the hero’s name. Had his name been another, it would have been a very touching scene. But because the writers decided to baptize him after the best known Communist leader, the above situation felt so quintessentially wrong that it made me laugh hysterically, while also transporting me 20 something years back to my childhood. So you could say I enjoyed this scene… for all the wrong reasons.
And speaking of scenes I enjoyed, Chiru's entrance is as always, worth a mention. If there's one thing Tollywood kicks everyone else's butt in, it's OTT character intros. Pure adrenaline rush! I have yet to find one that doesn't get me to cheer on my couch!
Funnily enough I realize I have managed to name less than a third of the reasons that make this movie well worth a watch, but for the sake of concision, I'll just end this saying: take my word for it!
On the whole, Stalin was like a platter of assorted gourmet cheeses: a lot of different tastes, that don't necessarily all belong together, but each one delights you in its own way. You'll definitely remember quite a few of them at the end of the tasting.