2.0 – Movie Review

Okay, this is not going to a generally favorable review overall, but I’d still recommend you to go watch 2.0 for the sheer technical brilliance this film is loaded with. Shankar’s films have always been technically rich – the guy’s always got the best people on his crew – but all of them had a moment or two with the audience where the emotional connect was evident. Till now.

2.0 comes as a sequel to the 2010 film Enthiran. Enthiran had its share of flaws, but it sort of balanced the action and emotion quotients. The problem was more pronounced, all the emotions very genuine and overall, there was a “feel” to the film that was wrapped in gorgeous, awe-inspiring VFX and what not. 2.0 is LITERALLY the updated version of Enthiran, but clearly the update was only on the tech front. 8 years have passed, and VFX has clearly gotten better – so trust Shankar to push the envelope yet again. If I had to pick top 5 Indian movies which KILLED it in the technical front, Shankar’s movies will take the lion’s share.

2.0 brings up an interesting problem, but fails to understand it completely. So here’s what we know – we’re using mobile phones way too much, and the signals and the mobile towers and pretty much everything connected to excessive mobile phone usage is threatening the environment. 2.0 tries to talk about how it’s affecting the bird kingdom.

There’s a lot of jargon thrown in – positive energy, negative energy, neutralization, de-neutralization….you get the drift – but I am afraid all this jargon is a product of very rudimentary research done by the team. “Let’s throw in complicated jargon, people will think  we’ve done our homework”.

The fact of the matter is this – subjects like this need extensive research before you make a film out of them. Especially if it’s about something that’s become a default in all our lives. Forget research, let’s talk about the emotional connect. You have the gargantuan task of making the audience root for the cause of minimizing mobile phone usage while the very same audience is staring at their phones because they’re bored AF of the film (when you’re not showing applaud-worthy VFX, that is). This very topic is such that you cannot take sides concretely – and I get that – which basically warrants the necessity of a villain you can root for. The stakes are too high in this story, but the arguments very weak.

Akshay Kumar looks the part as Pakshiraja (the amount of thought that went into naming this guy is basically the digit after the decimal in the film’s title), but fails to bring any heft to the character he’s playing (partly because of it being one-note, and maybe even because he doesn’t know the language, or is working for the fat-paycheck here). Talking about working for pay-checks alone, we have the ever-dependable Adil Hussain just bringing nothing to the table because this role just doesn’t demand that much from the talented actor. Amy Jackson is the most aptly cast person in this whole unit, second probably to only Rajini himself. Here’s something you’ll probably never hear me say again – Amy Jackson was good. Because she plays a humanoid capable of very little emotion. So acting becomes one less thing to worry about for her. Shankar is happy with her spending time with the makeup crew instead.

Regardless of how much I shit on the other aspects of this film, I need to give credit where it’s due. WHAT A VISUAL TREAT! But hold on, a movie cannot be JUST that. After a point it becomes too much and you start wondering when VFX will be out of the screen for JUST ONE MINUTE AT LEAST. The background music is good, but overdone as well. It feels like Shankar knows that his product lacks in depth and is seeking filler material in the form of VFX and BGM and cinematography. This could actually be true, because I am sure Shankar knows this stuff sells.

If they ever make a 3.0, which I’m sure they will (there are hints in the movie), I just don’t want it to be like this. I mean, this formula could go on like this, making hundreds of crores, without actually meaning much. We need the story back in Shankar’s films, even if it’s at the cost of pausing on the tech front for a while.

One quick rant before I end this review: AR Rahman – it’s bulliguvvaa, not bulliguvaa. FFS, stop butchering Telugu.

I’m going with 2.0 out of 5 for 2.0! Recommended but forgettable. Never thought I’d write a sentence like that ever.

PS: All the images used are YouTube screen-grabs from the film’s official trailer. The featured image is taken from BookMyShow.com

 

 

U Turn – Movie Review

What you might expect from the trailer and what you might get from the movie are slightly different, and that, for me is the only off putting thing in the movie. More than the trailer, it was the amazing first half that just heightened my expectations for the second half. I cannot reveal what it is and spoil the experience for you, but rest assured, in spite of that personal expectation not being met, I still found the movie to be pretty good.

U turn is a movie that will make you look at your watch in wonder at the intermission. I could not believe that the first half just flew away in a jiffy and that is a testament to how engaging the movie was. It starts off at a leisure pace introducing the protagonist- Samantha- but quickly picks up the pace as the story unravels. It was entertaining while it was doing so, and that’s what I paid for.

The suspense is great even if you can sense the direction in which the movie is heading. May be the predictability of the story is a sore point but the screenplay and camerawork makes up for it. Pawan kumar, as the director and screenplay writer for this movie, was ingenious in the way he wove a beautiful message into the narrative. It was not just the central message that he was trying to convey but there were these little bread crumbs left by him here and there that left an impact.

Couple of scenes between Samantha and her mother were endearing but more importantly had a subtle social commentary of the director. It was not just the larger motive of the director in telling his story, but these little things that showed the director owned his craft and knew what he was doing. It goes to the old age ado- be honest in your characters and the story that you are telling, then you could be a great storyteller no matter how unconventional the story is. As the movie ended and I reflected upon the film, I realised certain ‘elements’ that I had initially found off putting were nothing but narrative tools used by the director to tell a bigger story- of society’s bigotry and shamelessness. But not to worry, the movie is not preachy- not by a mile.

The performances from all the lead actors- Samantha as the journalist, Aadhi as the police officer, Rahul Ravindran as the colleague, all come together naturally. I enjoy when I see that it doesn’t feel like “acting” but rather artists ‘living’ these roles. Smallest of the roles, by actors unheard of can pull it off too and that’s what gives any film that under flowing current of beauty in its art.

I cannot say enough good things about the camerawork and background score as well. There is one particular scene in the Police station where the camera follows around police officer Naik (played by Aadhi) as the intensity keeps on increasing when he figures out something chilling, that I thought was a masterclass in camerawork, and direction. The cinematography and background score add that touch of finesse to this suspense thriller at all points.

U Turn has it’s pitfalls in its story that few people might not like, and few others might not care, but I would still recommend this film.

A fair warning though, I took my mom with me to the movie and she absolutely hated it. So I am not too sure if this movie is for everyone, but for me it certainly was. I loved the intensity, the narration, the performances, and most importantly the background score. I was thoroughly entertained and enjoyed my two hours in the theater and that’s what matters at the end of the day for me. Do that well, and I give you 4 stars out of 5! (Could have gone with 3.5, but I really really loved the camerawork, music and cinematography. How can I rate the movie anything less?)

 

Alex Strangelove – Movie Review

What’s with Netflix originals I’m watching this week being totally mediocre films? First Sierra Burgess and now this one..

Alex Strangelove is the story of Alex Truelove (Yep, that’s his last name). For some reason he reminded me of Ross from FRIENDS (watch and let me know if you felt so too?). So, Alex the nerd is a virgin and his equally nerdy girlfriend Claire wants to devirginize (is this a new word I don’t know? Gen Z, I tell you) him. Alex, however, is so prudish you would think he’ll make Alok Nath proud. Enter Elliot, a curly-haired boy who’s out and proud, and Alex begins to wonder which way he swings. From here on, the story is anyone’s guess.

Spoilers from here:

What I liked about this film: Madeline Weinstein’s presence as Alex’s girlfriend Claire. She’s so easy on the eyes, and steps up to deliver a heart-warming scene or two when required. Alex’s friends – mainly Daniel Zolghadri as Dell and Nik Dodani as Blake – are superbly cast. Zolghadri gets some of the best lines in the film and he’s spot on with his acting. I’d love to see more of him. The run-time is around 100 minutes, and giving credit where it’s due, the film doesn’t really drag.

What I disliked: This list is longer than I thought it would be. To start with, I don’t understand why we weren’t shown Alex’s journey with his sexuality right from the word go, in chronological order. I say this because, towards the end of the film when Alex declares to his girlfriend that he’s gay (only after realization dawns on him thanks to his little reverie in a swimming pool that brings back memories from childhood), I didn’t actually buy it. Agreed, coming to terms with sexuality may not happen gradually for everyone. Agreed, it may take just an encounter or two for you to realize you actually play for the other team (as well). Alex’s coming out to Claire seemed off because he says he kinda knew it always but didn’t really face it. Why then, would he, with cent percent conviction, outright deny being gay earlier in the film? If he was blatantly lying then, or even wondering about it himself then, there’s nothing on Alex’s face that shows this. When Claire asks him how he couldn’t know and why he didn’t tell her, he says, “for the fear of losing you”. Doesn’t this seem off? I don’t know. Maybe this is just me, and others might find this totally convincing. I would have loved to watch his journey with his identity from the word go (one thing Sierra Burgess got spot-on!).

Antonio Marziale’s Elliot is a pawn of sorts here. His character lacks any depth and is merely used a litmus for Alex’s sexuality. There’s hardly any chemistry between the two men, partly because their romantic angle wasn’t fleshed out well. Moving on…we don’t get enough info about Claire’s family, and her Mother’s health in particular. Alex’s parents too hardly get to do or say anything. Elliot’s best friend gets just once scene, and I wish she had more to do in the proceedings.

Overall, Alex Strangelove ends up being mediocre. I’m going with 2.5 out of 5! This film is streaming on Netflix.

All the images used are screenshots from the film’s official trailer on Netflix.

Sierra Burgess Is A Loser – Movie Review

Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is a film we’ve all seen before. Nothing radically new or fresh, it’s the story of a misfit navigating through high school, crushes, love, self-discovery and all that jazz. This is a formula that’s been working for Hollywood for years now and so, here we have another film!

This film isn’t by any means memorable. You’re likely to forget it in the midst of so many similar, infinitely better ones in the genre, but what makes this watchable is the immense acting potential of Shannon Purser. It’s not obvious, and she doesn’t really get to showcase her acting range within this mediocre film, but you know potential when you see it. After stints with Stranger Things (as Barb Holland) and Riverdale (as Ethel Muggs), this is her first full-fledged role. She does her best, but at the end of the day she has to operate within the confines of the cliched character she plays.

Speaking of cliches, this film reeks of them. There’s a black best friend (him being gay would have upped the cliche-meter by a hundred, but thankfully he’s not), a “hot jock” Sierra crushes on, that mean, white and popular super-model-ish chick in high-school..you name it. But one difference that I’ve noticed in this film is that the central character, Sierra in this film, doesn’t start out feeling like a victim. For the most part, right from the beginning, she’s shown to be confident enough in her own skin – partly because of her upbringing (she has very sane parents who taught her S-E-L-F E-S-T-E-E-M early on in life). And that’s one thing I liked. Trouble starts mid-way through the film, when Sierra does things that you wouldn’t expect of her. This also stands to show that the makers of the film have no intention of making Sierra play the good guy always. Like many teenagers her age, she too does stupid stuff thanks to momentary feelings. This actually warms you up more to this character.

The film could have been paced better. There’s warmth in some scenes, and Purser makes sure she delivers in these, but it’s all too familiar to give any special attention.  Noah Centineo as Jamey is reliable as always, and has this charm that’s hard not to fall for. Looks like Netflix moved over from Radhika Apte to Centineo now (To The All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and now this). The guy who plays Dan fits the bill. The girl who plays Veronica is good too. I’d love to see Purser in a meatier, “performance-oriented” role soon. There’s a lot of talent in her to watch out for!

The climax is a little too convenient, and could have been written better. We know it’s going to end well for all the folks in the film, but c’mon yaar, it cannot be that easy too! I would have liked some more drama towards the end, to be honest.

Overall, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is not a loser, but isn’t a winner either. It’s your average film, and you could watch it if you don’t find anything better on Netflix. I’m going with 2.5 out of 5! The film is streaming on Netflix.

All the images used are screen-shots from the film’s official trailer on YouTube.

Manu – Movie Review

Why is this even a film? Kya majboori thi?

Here’s what I think happened (and I’m told this actually happened, more or less): Phanindra Narsetti, the writer-director-editor (of short film Madhuram fame) got an story idea for a short film. But then again, he thought why make a short film when you can pace down the 30-min content, stretch it to 3 hours and make a feature out of it? Then he called Chandini, who readily agreed.

80% of this film was shot in slow-mo for reasons best known to the crew. How can you not get bored of a door being opened for 5 f**king minutes? How can you tolerate slow-mo shot after slow-mo shot of just people’s legs while walking? Even dust in the air gets slow-mo shots. FML. I’m not exaggerating – this is supposed to be a 30-minute short film (I’m still not saying it’d be a good one, but you get the drift). Half of the dialogues in this film are just people wondering/saying/asking out loud obvious things. They’re as useless as “What’s up?”. The outcome would always be “Nothing”. The other dialogues aren’t really easy on the ears either. What was the need to be extremely extremely and needlessly poetic AND philosophical with each and every dialogue, really? It’s as if each word was written to bowl the audience over and show them what a great writer Narsetti is. I still gave it time, thinking maybe it’d get better, but after a point it just gets too much.

The film’s ridiculousness knows only one way, and it soars higher and higher until you wonder if this shit-fest can get any more stupid, and THEN IT DOES IT AGAIN! Ridiculousness may still be okay, but after a point there’s creepiness sinking in. One particular scene ups this creep-quotient to a crescendo, and I wondered why I have to put myself through this shit. For you. I watched this cringe-fest because you shouldn’t. I took one for the team, you guys.

I strongly believe directors shouldn’t edit their own films. Except maybe RGV. Clearly, Narsetti is OBSESSED with and mesmerized by his work – which is why we get to watch 2.5 hours of extra footage. The narcissism is written all over the film. Anyone who is even a but self-critical will edit out half this film, regardless of however much it means to them. At one point I actually wondered why the “crowd” funded this film.

It’s not like there’s solace to be found in anything else within the movie. You’d think the background music is good, but give it time, and it gets on your nerves. 60% of the time, the same BGM plays. It irritates the crap out of anyone. The film is drenched in dull tones, and some visuals are clean, but there are one too many RGV angles and zillions of slow-mo shots to spoil the experience for you. It’s easy for screenwriters of films in this genre to blame bad writing on non-linear screenplay, but make no mistake here: this is clumsy writing. It could have been way smoother. The performances aren’t something the audience will remember, either. The actors probably will, because honestly this could easily be their best work to-date, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Chandini has to do the heavy lifting here, and she hardly manages to do justice. Sure, she’s good in some scenes, but falls flat in most others. In films like this, inconsistency is unforgivable. Raja Goutham’s beard masks most of his expressions, if any. It could easily have been some other actor playing this role.

At 3 hours (which feel like 6), Manu is probably Narsetti the dad’s favorite kid – he nourishes her, dotes on her and is extremely and CLEARLY proud of her. She eventually ends up being a twisted, crushing bore. Next time, sir, get your kids a mom who will cut the crap out of them!

I’m going with 1 out of 5! Nope, don’t watch it.

All the images used are screenshots from the film’s official trailer on YouTube. Featured image courtesy The Hindu.

C/O Kancharapalem – Movie Review

Talking about something beautiful is really difficult. Because sometimes you cannot string those words together that do justice to it. C/O Kancharapalem is one such beauty.

When I first watched the trailer, even though I liked it, I was skeptical about it as I wondered if this movie was for everyone. This looked like an art film and I believed (wrongly so) that no matter how good it is, it might struggle for commercial success. But after watching the film, I can put my weight behind the film and say that this movie belongs to that rarest of rare plateaus where an art film meets mainstream cinema. I say mainstream because, after watching it and after observing audience reactions in the theater, it’s absolutely clear that audience not just embraced this film but also loved it. 

Because this movie has something for everyone. There is honesty in the writing, innocence in the dialogues, rawness in the characters, reality in it’s cinematography, folklore in its music, and most importantly, ample amount of love in the air.

The characters written are not something that you usually find in a movie, yet they are people you find in your everyday life: it could be about that guy that sat next to you on a bus, or that kid that is goofing off with his only friend at school, or that lady you might find in a boring government office. To treat their stories on the big screen with as much panache as treating a cliched character with big stars is no mean feat.

The little known actors step up, own these roles and are your ‘big stars’ in this movie. You almost wonder if they are acting, as it sometimes feel so real that you will be forgiven for mistaking it for a documentary here and there. But don’t be alarmed, the movie isn’t a ‘documentary’ nor does it bore you like one.

The dialogues are not a laugh riot but rather something that will make you have a constant grin on your face. You will remember this movie on the whole, as much as you would remember the individual elements of the characters and the story. I loved it so much that I am pretty sure it is a movie that will remain with me when I look back. There is a constant theme in the film that runs like a spine throughout the film that sticks the various threads of this movie together.

The movie takes you through that village of Kancharapalem and it almost feels as if you are there. Do you remember the feeling that we get when we read a well written novel that transports us to a different place? Yes, C/O Kancharapalem does precisely that. It’s like an exquisite read of a novel. The cherry on top is the screenplay that makes it such a sweet film to look at and enjoy. How did the director/writer ever do it? I bow to you sir! This is a gem!

Even the music, which is quite unconventional, ebbs and flows with the stories, seamlessly gliding along and sometimes carrying it at crucial junctures. I specifically remember one song that came right before the interval that had the heart of the entire film wrapped in a single cone that just elevated the narrative.

If I have to nitpick, I could say the pacing could have been better in the latter half of the movie but it doesn’t really matter to be honest. The rest of the film more than makes up for it.

The scenes are endearing. The story is heartwarming. The smile is ever present for the audience. But the truth never leaves the screen. What more do you need in the name of art?

The movie has a soul that breathes unexpected and unparalleled freshness into the characters and their stories. Drop everything you are doing this weekend and watch this gem of a film 🙂 You wouldn’t be disappointed.You cannot skip this masterpiece in Telugu cinema. I am going with 4.5 stars out of 5 for this film.

PS: All the images are screenshots from the film’s official trailer on YouTube.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Movie Review

This Netflix film is an adaptation of Jenny Han’s 2014 YA novel by the same name. I haven’t read the novel, so no comparisons would follow, but I liked this little film. It’s one of those feel-good YA movies you’d watch to pass time on a Friday evening.

The typical “high-school” elements we’ve come to read/watch in US/Canada productions are all there. If you’re reading this in India, you’d agree with the fact that we cannot really identify with “the high-school crap” that most of these young adults go through in the foreign countries; at least for me high-school wasn’t really a hell-hole. Dozens of movies and books later, “the high-school crap” is growing on me and I can now empathize with the movie’s Lara Jean, an introverted 16-year old who fantasizes about poetic love-stories but is too afraid to let herself experience the feeling. So she writes love-letters to all her crushes – five guys in total. Love letters that’ll eventually go inside a safe-box. What happens when these letters find their way out to their recipients is what the movie is about.

The setting is familiar and all the characters, cliched. What works in the film’s favor is how the director treated this simple and predictable material. The family dynamics in the Covey household make sure to tick off the family drama angle. The bonding between the Covey sisters is brought alive with much warmth. For the large part, though, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before plays around two characters – Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky. As long as the film sticks to these characters and their story – which is for the most part, it works like magic. Everywhere else, it dips. We don’t get enough insight into the lives of the Conveys from before the lady of the house passes away, and how losing her mother shaped Lara (if at all) as we know her.

I also didn’t quite understand if Lara Jean really “loved” these boys, or if she was just infatuated by them. From whatever’s shown in the film, it very well might be the case. I would have loved to know the back-stories with each of the guys in detail (I don’t know if all this is in the book and was omitted before adapting it). Also, I think the mean-girl Gen is a stereotype in an already stereotypical high-school setting. Her thread, although important, is off-putting and comes off as immature.

The acting is good, but inconsistent. In a few scenes, Condor shines and yet in others, you can almost see her “acting”. Noah Centineo makes an impression. Israel Broussard appears lost for most of his screen-time.

At a crisp 100 minutes, the film’s a breeze, no doubt, but I doubt if I’ll re-watch it. You may watch it for some teen drama. It’s streaming on Netflix.

PS: All images are screenshots from the film’s trailer on Netflix. Featured image courtesy IMDB.

Ee Nagaraaniki Emaindi – Movie Review

Truth be told, I went in with crazy high expectations. For one, I am a huge fan of Tharun Bhascker. Second, I LOVED Pellichoopulu. It’s easily one of the best movies of TFI for me. And then, there’s Vivek Sagar’s music.

Disclaimer: On some level, you could say I went in with some preconceived notion that this would be a good film, if not a great one (these days I’m more convinced with the idea that you CANNOT go to a film with a neutral mind. Regardless of how much you try to, it’s just not possible. However, you can always objectively opine about the movie AFTER you’ve watched it, and I can assure you that that’s what we do here at ReelTalk. If we think a movie is shit, it’s shit regardless of whether we’re fans of the director, actor, producer, music director etc).

So, here we go with my honest review of Ee Nagaraaniki Emyndi.

I didn’t particularly LOVE this film. I loved some parts of it, I liked the others. I mean, I had a good time watching this film, definitely. But I probably wouldn’t watch it multiples times.

Based on “almost true stories”, Tharun’s film is an ode of sorts to short-film makers, short-films, the art of film-making, and to an extent, friendship. And as far as short films in Telugu are concerned, Tharun is the voice of authority. It’s no surprise that he’d choose to make a film about a group of friends who want to make a short film. But but but, don’t be carried away. It’s not that from start to finish. Actually, a very small portion of the film is actually concentrated on the short-film thingy. Most of it can be called a “buddy film” – think of it as an extension to all the buddy-comedy scenes from Pellichoopulu, but with some heart and a love story thrown in.

Buddy-comedies tend to get sexist and vulgar. ENE tries very hard to not enter that arena and for 99% part, it doesn’t. I couldn’t help but notice a thing or two here and there, but it ends at that.

As far as entertaining you is concerned, ENE does a good job for the most part. There’s some drag in the second half and the film derails momentarily, but it picks up during the concluding moments, as it should. The first half is a breeze. Nothing impactful – this movie doesn’t set out to bring about a change or anything, and in that aspect it’s self-aware – but you don’t mind the film.

Vishwaksen is so easy on the eyes, and clearly there’s a lot of untapped potential in this actor. Sai Sushanth’s character is meaty and he bites into it like you wouldn’t expect a debutante to. Abhinav Gomatam is promising. Venkatesh Kakamanu doesn’t get much to do. Anisha Ambrose, the most experienced of the lot, fits the bill. Simran Chaudhary is okay too.

The Telangana dialect is used in this film, like in Pellichoopulu, and as always, it works. I’ve watched films in which dialects, Telangana included, are used to bring about a comic relief (for whatever crazy reason). Tharun’s maturity as a film-maker is evident from several things, one of which is certainly to make his movies as TRUE as possible. Hence the dialect choice. It’s refreshing and so so familiar!

That said, I think they should have done away with actors half-way uttering cuss words (not really half-way in one case, actually, and wonder why that wasn’t muted). We don’t necessarily need to rely on cuss words to make a point, and Tharun himself accomplished so much in Pellichoopulu without one single cuss word. Why here, I wondered, but it’s a relief the words didn’t come out in entirety. There’s U/A rating, but still. Maybe I’m just aging.

Vivek Sagar – Sammohanam and now this! I personally loved Aagi Aagi from ENE. The rest didn’t land as much as I had thought they would, but they didn’t sound off. Niketh Bommi, who previously handled the camera for Yuddham Sharanam (a movie only I liked, apparently), works his magic in this movie too. I think I even mentioned in my Yuddham Sharanam review that I had high hopes for this guy and boy, he delivers with this one too! Dialogues are neat throughout.

All said and done, I’d suggest you to go watch ENE at least once. Borrowing words from Jeremy Jahns, it’s a good time, no alcohol required. (The film has a lot of drinking and a lot of dialogues involving drinking, BTW)

PS: Wait for the climax. I thought it was nice. 😛 Also, the end-credits scene where the four friends talk about their favourite TV-shows during childhood. It’s a sweet throwback to our own childhoods!

PPS: All the images used in this review, including the featured image, are screenshots from the film’s official trailer on YouTube, uploaded by Suresh Productions. This review is not paid for or commissioned by anyone on the film’s team and opinions put forward in this review are solely those of the reviewer. 

Mahanati: Movie Review

Biopics are tough to make! By design, they are period films too and that adds to the complexity of bringing them to life, literally! Right from production design to costumes to language and culture, everything must be so authentic that even a slight deviation may be considered sacrilegious by the audience. And when the biopic is of a great celebrity who was in the world until as recently as lesser than 40 years ago, the audience have an emotional bond and strong memories that must be carefully catered to. Mahanati, the biopic of yesteryears’ legendary actress, has these challenges and more! And it’s only the second film for the director!! So, what does Mahanati offer?

The life of the legendary actress Savitri is unimaginably dramatic for the uninitiated. In fact, unless one specifically tries to find, one cannot even believe that she lived for just 45 years in this world out of which she was an artiste for about 30 years! And she’s irreplaceable! It’s thus no wonder that Savitri has fans in the generations that were born well after she passed away, but little do they know about her life. Mahanati is an honest attempt to show the life of such a popular, celebrated actress who was ruling the roost for decades before succumbing to death.

Keerthy Suresh must be commended to have accepted the role in the first place. It is evident that she was approached also because she has some resembling facial features to Savitri, and that was topped with her performance that impeccably brings Savitri to life in most scenes. It’s not an overstatement to actually say that the audience may see her, in most scenes of the film, as Savitri herself and not as some actress playing her role! She is that good! Coming from an avid fan of Savitri, trust me that you’d not discount Keerthy Suresh at all despite all the respect and admiration you may have for Savitri and despite the fact that Savitri is irreplaceably unique! Her performance as an ailing Savitri makes one weep for Savitri! Her dubbing for herself was as impeccable as her portrayal for most part.

Dulquer Salman as Ramasamy “Gemini” Ganesan is very believable — very natural and very real. He played his role with all the necessary emotions in the right proportions, while taking the audience along to travel with him and empathise with him though he is sort-of “villain” in the film.  (No spoilers there for anyone who knew Savitri and her life even just vaguely, which is most of the audience.) His dubbing had a few issues but given that Gemini Ganesan was not a Telugu native, the accent is quite acceptable.

Among the other cast playing as other actors that we know, Mohan Babu as S.V. Ranga Rao did an excellent, splendid job and there are other passable cameos by the actor-director Srinivas Avasarala (as the legendary director L.V. Prasad who introduced Savitri to the film industry), director Krishh (as the legendary director K.V. Reddi who made the unforgettable magnum opusmaayaabazaar”), Prakash Raj (as the producer Chakrapani of Vijaya Productions, who supported Savitri considerably beyond films too), and Naga Chaitanya (as Akkineni Nageswara Rao). Shalini Pandey is adequate as Savitri’s bosom friend Suseela who co-stars with young Savitri in stage-plays but fails to make an impression towards the fag end of the film. Vamsee Chaganti is also seen in a cameo, as G.V.G. Krishna who researched on Savitri’s life.

Samantha as Madhuravani and Vijay Devarakonda as Vijay Anthony were adequate as journalists of “Praja Vani” daily newspaper, who learn the life of the legendary actress and make it easier for the audience to understand it along with them. But for this purpose, their roles are rather insignificant but they both gave their best in order to give that break for an otherwise serious episodes of Savitri’s life. Samantha will be remembered for her well-performed climax of the film. Rajendra Prasad stands out as the uncle of Savitri who brought her up, with his comedy timing and acting prowess. Vijaya Krishna Naresh, Tanikella Bharani, Bhanupriya, Divyavani, Tulasi, Mahesh Achanta did their parts in other roles.

Supported by Shivam Rao as Production Designer, Avinash Kolla as the Art Director,  Mickey J. Meyer as the Music Director, Dani Sanchez-Lopez as the Cinematographer, and veteran Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao as the Editor among others, the director Nag Ashwin could bring his dream and vision to life in Mahanati. It is not at all an easy task to condense about 40 years of life into a 3-hour film, and Siddharth Sivasamy aided him as the screenplay writer, but screenplay suffered some jumps and cuts nevertheless. Sai Madhav Burra’s dialogues are remarkably crisp and memorable at many places. The makeup is commendable too; though the prosthetic makeup on Keerthy Suresh during the pre-climax scenes make it too artificial and glossy, it must be noted that Savitri herself had such makeup in the 1970s, in order to cover up her puffy face. It is a great challenge for the director and his team to choose what to show and what not to show, directly or subtly, in such a biopic. Disappointments for a lot of audience are unavoidable in the process, particularly when important aspects of her life, her co-stars for decades (such as NTR, Jamuna, Jaggaiah) do not find any space in the film. (The reason to not portray NTR beyond one blink-and-miss scene is in a way understandable, but has possibly limited the scope of the film, particularly since NTR was her co-star nearly from the very beginning and all the way till the end of her life and career, even in films directed by him and those directed by her in the 1970s.) (I personally hoped that the popular Hindi artiste Rekha would receive a mention in the film, since the neglected daughter of Gemini Ganesan that she was, Rekha was brought up by Savitri and she loved her step-mother very much, by her own admission in the past.)

The movie is a worth a watch, and a few times for Savitri’s ardent fans (which is arguably nearly all Telugu filmgoers who enjoy films from the 1951–1970 period.) Having said that, there were a few avoidable glitches, factual errors, anachronisms, and “cinematic liberties” in the film. The film does not acknowledge that Savitri actually debuted with samsaaram in a very minor role, for instance. The film tries to show Gemini Ganesan in a considerably positive light beyond the facts, possibly to get accepted in Tamilnadu. (I wonder how the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary, Kadhal Mannan, portrayed the actor!) A few dates and films were garbled – scenes from 1957 appear before 1956; (The year was possibly shown wrong earlier and it could be 1955, going by the facts as we know them.) film chinnaari paapalu made in 1968 was mentioned to be made in 1969; subsequent Savitri’s directorial ventures such as vinta samsaaram and praaptam (Tamil) are mentioned but her role as a director is not; a scene from 1955 film kanyaaSulkam is shown to be released after the 1957 maayaabazaar, and so on. However, these issues do not cause any hiccups to the film because the whole film as an experience is heart-touching and heart-wrenching all through, thanks to all the cast and crew doing a great job there!

A lot of credit goes to Nag Ashwin and Keerthy Suresh, because this film could not have been what it is without either of them! (I cannot but wonder why Nithya Menen did not sign this film to play the lead role. I always felt that she could have done a great job, but I must insist that Keerthy Suresh never even hinted any shortcoming as I watched the film.) Keerthy Suresh had to adjust her body language and diction considerably to imitate the left-handed, weighty, natural actress that Savitri was. Nag Ashwin and his crew must be commended for giving her all the necessary resources to learn from, including interactions with Savitri’s real-life children, Vijaya Chamundeswari and Satish and with M. Sanjay Kishore, a walking encyclopaedia on Savitri.

As an audience who grew up watching movies from the 1950s to 1970s era, I must admit that this movie is something I can connect to very closely. Those among the audience expecting a lot of scenes from old movies may be disappointed because this movie is not about “Savitri as an actress” but is about “Savitri, the actress”. I have attended several commemorative events on Savitri in the 1990s too, a considerable number of which involved Sanjay Kishore (cited above) and his collection of photographs of Savitri. I have seen how Savitri is a part of my life, and I have seen how Savitri was a part of life for many others in and outside the film industry. (For example, director Vamsy who made films such as Ladies Tailor and April 1 viDudala had a greatly aesthetic sense of interior decoration in his living room, which also included a large photograph of Savitri standing in front of her car, outside her mansion, hanging on one of the walls.) Clearly, Savitri was an inspiration, in many ways, to many people! This film brings her to life, with a great lot of the emotions associated with Savitri – her acting, her love, her philanthropy, her depression, and more! While I wish there was more that the film offered, I also convinced myself that a 3-hour film can only offer so much and what it offers is complete in itself, and that any fan of Savitri would have wished the same way — to watch not just a 3-hour film but even a 30-hour film made on Savitri, and still feel the same way!

On the whole, Mahanati is something that must not be missed. If you like Savitri, watch it. If you do not, watch it to know why you must like Savitri (and then go binge-watch dEvadaasu, dongaraamuDu, missamma, kanyaaSulkam, maayaabazaar, gunDamma katha, raktasambandham, dEvata, and a whole list of films that have etched their names forever in the annals of Telugu Cinema)!

PS: All the images used are from the film’s official teasers and posters from the official FB page.

Bharat Ane Nenu – Movie Review

Bharat Ane Nenu is old wine in an old bottle. I don’t get what’s so good about this movie that everyone’s going gaga over it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but we’ve seen this story a million times before. Sekhar Kammula’s Leader and Deva Katta’s Prasthanam are still fresh in memory. Well, my memory at least. I am surprised that it didn’t cross people’s minds how similar BAN is to these movies. The basic script is more or less the same. Is the treatment different, then, you may ask? Different, in the way that this was poorly made and the previous two were not. BAN is essentially Leader and Prasthanam and a few other movies put into a mixer and diluted and diluted and garnished with some hero-worshipping elements.

While I am not surprised that this film is making the amount of money they say it is making (non-Baahubali record? What’s that? Would they later say non-Baahubali non-BAN record, and then when Naa Peru Surya releases, they’d say non-Baahubali non-BAN non-NPS record? WTF!), I am actually, genuinely surprised by the amount of thought that must have gone into writing this film. More or less two ducks might have been given while writing this film. Matlab yaar don’t play this safe also na!

Nearly every scene in this film you’ve watched play out a million times before. This is textbook approach (not in a good way) to making a film like this one. There’s absolutely no room for innovation here. At a time when the audience is looking for new scripts, serving age old stories with the same sappy, suck-y treatment doesn’t work anymore, at least as far as cinema as art is concerned. BAN plays to the tunes of expectations of a “commercial cinema”. I was hoping I would watch a good movie when during the initial 5 minutes, I saw Mahesh Babu graduating with 5 degrees/diplomas, from Oxford no less. I thought, “Okay, I’d like to see in detail how passing out from such a reputed university with stellar degrees will help Mahesh Babu’s character and how it will more or less make this film different”. Turns out, those degrees proved useless to the character or to the film. Bharat is surprised and genuinely pissed at the way people don’t give any flying duck about road safety or the ministers don’t give a rat’s ass about what they MUST be doing for the masses. But surprised and pissed even I am! And I don’t even have those fancy degrees from fancy colleges! So all that “UK se aaya, Oxford graduate” thread is pure BS.

The first half is a slog at close to 90 minutes. The second gets marginally better, but with the obvious, predictable drama. The heroine, debutante Kiara Advani, has 3.5 scenes in the first half. In the second – I was told by friends who’d already watched the film – that she had scope to perform and her character becomes integral to the goings-on in the film. Nope. Nope. Nope. Her role in the second half is a quick fix the writer opted for to conveniently bring some conflict point into the film. It’s so laughable.

It’s in-your-face evident that this film was made ONLY to make money, and make money it will. But the problem with this film is that it tries to be something more. It never delivers. Behind the reassuring political oaths, this script is a paper-thin one and on more instances than I can count, the mask slips and lays bare the film’s substance – too familiar, too little, too regular and too bland.

Mahesh Babu is alright. Pretty much the whole film was made keeping him in mind, so his character was suitably elevated (duh!). Prakash Raj is dependable as ever. Others are forgettable except Rahul Ramakrishna. DSP’s songs don’t land (most are redundant in the film anyway). The background score is good in parts and not so much otherwise.

I didn’t really like much in BAN. Come tomorrow, I’m sure to forget this film.