Sunday, August 28, 2011

Megabirthday Celebration

The girls at Cinema Chaat know all too well that I am always game for Chiranjeevi chaat, so when they proposed this week long celebration of Chiru's work, I'm certain it came as no surprise that I was all in. However, despite my initial enthusiasm, I was stuck on which film to actually talk about. I debated the value of reviewing a lovely film that is nowhere to be found with subtitles over a silly one of the "so bad it's good" variety. Then I debated whether or not I wanted to turn this post into a picspam/ avatar spam and shower the world in Chiru imagery. Then I thought maybe some of his songs would do nicely since there are so many worth talking about. And then I decided: oh screw it, I'll just do it all!

Because the fact is what I love most about Chiranjeevi is that he can go effortlessly from a serious movie with a social message like Aradhana to an over the top action film where the dancers shine like chandeliers and the rowdies fly like frisbees a la State Rowdi. And through all that still manage to hold on to the two immovable constants that are his charm and his moustache.

Having just finished watching Subha Lekha for this post, I have to admit there are very few actors that I would watch an unsubtitled movie for. Chiru is one of these few because he never lets me get bored. Between his facial expressions and his voice modulations, the phyiscality of his acting always manages to keep me interested. It's rich enough to keep my eyes glued to the screen, and yet real enough to not slip into the well-treaded territory of overacting. It's remarkable, though certainly not surprising, how well he gets into the skin of his character in Subhalekha, a cheerful, always dutiful waiter at a spiffy hotel, with all the mannerisms of a well-groomed 5-star resort employee. He walks it, he stands it, he talks it, he breathes it in every scene. To then give us a glimpse every once in a while of the real human being lying under the coats of diplomacy whenever his buttons get pushed. One of the most nuanced performances I have seen from Chiru so far, definitely a favourite!

Subhalekha in particular has one more big argument in its favour: how many films do we see where people communicate in song? Murthi, Chiranjeevi's character is in fact so good at it that he can even sing his way out of a lecture from his boss.

Lakshmi, the younger sister of Chiru's love interest is also a fabulous singer who accompanies her trills with dance moves as well.

Sujatha (played by Sumalatha), Chiru's love interest, admonishes him with hums when he doesn't want to read proper literature. This movie made me think: how peaceful would the world be if everyone communicated through dance and song. If you had to resolve arguments in song, would anyone even argue anymore?

Murthi singing and dancing his way out of a sticky moment
Of course there are other reasons to watch Subhalekha, a film that condemns the dowry system in India and the pressure it puts on families that want the best for their daughters and yet cannot afford to marry them into good families because the "cost" of a good groom far surpasses their financial capabilities.

On top of excellent performances from everyone on the screen, Subhalekha also benefits tremendously from the scarcity of "comic relief" side-plots which is a huge plus in my book. Chiru dancing his way out of being chased by a dog provides more than enough smiles and giggles for me than any of the funny guys that Telugu movies love so much.

Namak: I am tempted to say that every Chiranjeevi movie should be like Aradhana and Subhalekha: a moving, restrained performance from the lead pair and a serious topic dealt with maturely.
Dolce: But then... but then there is something to be said for over the top fights, for shiny dance costumes, for colourful lunghis  and for badassness that only Chiranjeevi the action hero can provide.

Namak: Granted. But these elements can easily be incorporated into no-nonsense films too. Point in case: the following are excerpts from one.

Dolce: That particular song was a masterstroke in Subhalekha. We both know that it's an exceptional feat to indulge in such great fun in a class movie without ruining it completely.

And this is why we need Chiru to also do fun films like Andarivaadu, where he plays a drunken mass-hero father and a sober class-hero son while romancing, dancing and fighting rowdies. And chasing cute rats. And being absolutely, hilariously ridiculous.

Namak: Only problem is, these hardcore masala movies tend to also indulge in tacky stuff like this song:
Dolce: Ahem... you know my opinion on that: if you don't like it, skip it. Item numbers are not the reason why you are watching the movie in the first place.
Namak: Weeeeell, sometimes they are, as a matter of fact. But no, not in this one. Though in all fairness, the other songs, choreographed by none other than Lawrence, are all exquisite.

All this aside, what really makes the movie Andarivadu is the relationship between the son and the father. Sure there's Tabu as a beautiful bride, and Prakash Dad as a villain, and good dancing, and fun fights, and really bad stunts from Rimi Sen, and let's not forget the cute rat.

Meet Ganesh, the most delightful rat that ever haunted a house!

But for all the overly dramatic music and all the over the top dialogues, there are some great moments between the father and the son that hold the entire film together. I thoroughly appreciated the role reversal with Siddhartha (the son) scolding Govindu (the father) about his drinking and fighting. Also loved the idea of the son forcing his father into marriage. It's just such a pleasant change every once in a while to see the elders be irresponsible and rash and loud, while the youngsters are calm, focused and wise. Not to mention how lovely it is to see Chiranjeevi in a double role where he owns both sides of screen with equal skill.

Unfortunately, there's also: the plague! For all the comedy dudes in this film, this screencap says it all. Yes, you too Brahmi!

The truth is, there will always be something that annoys me in Chiru's movies, be it the comedy side-plots in the newer films, or the quality of the DVD and the lack of subtitles in the older ones. And I do worry about how drinking problems are dealt with in Indian films. But if I'm celebrating something this week it's the fact that he always puts a smile on my face the old boy! And that certainly deserves a few moustache twirls! Or at the very least a popped collar.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mumaith Khan in Punnami Nagu - See, but Don't Watch!

Interrupting my blog vacation for Dustdevil's Nag Panchami Festival, a celebration of snake movies across Indian film industries.

Until very recently I had only seen one snake movie and a very atypical one at that: Deepa Mehta's Heaven on Earth. Since I have no love for either Deepa or that particular film, it did not make it on my list to review. Which left me with... Mumaith Khan's Punnami Nagu! Just as well. It had been sitting on my shelf for far too long.

Sadly, as life sometimes conspires to prove you right, it turned out I really should have listened to my instinct and left it on that shelf. I always said I stay away from reviewing bad movies on this blog because I like to stay positive and show the things that make me love Indian movies rather than the garbage. And this is not even so bad it's good, it's just plain old BAD. Just to give you an idea we have:

- a father who puts a surveillance camera on his 18 year old daughter's belt and lets her go into the lion's den to... presumably spy, but really to dance.

- a side plot (probably sold as a comedy plot but as usual I failed to see the comedy) about this guy trying to basically sell his niece to some rich guy

- these three jokes of nature who pretty much spend all their time screaming, overacting and clowning around, again, with no actual comedy resulting from it.

- this evil witch who wants to rule the world... or something... after she comes to possess the two snake stones from the divine couple sent to save the earth (of course I'm not kidding! Would I do that to you?)

- this funky looking witch dude, I forget what he's there to do, some additional villainry, for sure!

- this other sideplot about the bad guys breaking into a college and blackmailing the principal with some footage of her in less than decent clothing. But get this, they make her arrange for dates with the girls in the college, so they can take their tops off and see if they had a snake tattoo. Don't even get me started with just how many things are wrong with this entire plot device, though I was actually grateful none of it led to rape. It's the little things in life, you know...

-  and yes, the gods in heaven trying to prevent the destruction of the human race!

So let me make this clear, this is not a review. Nor is it an invitation to watch this garbage. This is, in fact, a note to tell you to stay away from this terrible movie with no beginning and no end (actually, it has a beginning and an end, but not much in between), and instead to rejoice in the best parts of it which I tried to capture in this post: Mumaith Khan at her sexiest best! She is, let me assure you once again, the only reason why this post even exists: there can never be too many screencaps of this gorgeous woman. What can I say? I love her!

Short hair, isn't she cute as a button?
Awesome abs!
Giving Megan Fox a run for her money
Yellow helmets never looked happier
I just kinda liked this set-up
Short hair again FTW
Glam! And glitter!
And she moves like a snake alright!
Yeah, the subtitle says it all!
Plus, she totally kicks ass!
And she turns into a snake to avenge her soulmate
Hilarious photoshop job!
But it does look pretty damn cool...
So puuurdy!
In full seduction mode
Playing with the prey
If looks could kill...
Snake woman
And the snake dance that defeats evil. No really, I swear, it's the sheer power of her dancing.

So... yeah... this just about wraps it up for my entry for Nag Panchami. Enjoy the picspam, watch the songs if you can (I have yet to find a better dancer than Mumaith, Shriya Saran is the only one that comes close), enjoy some short and very random Chiranjeevi footage, and please, stay away from this DVD!