Sadly, unlike the majority of Hindi and Tamil films, Telugu films still tend to be released overseas without English subtitles. Then again, most typical Telugu masala films can be watching without subtitles and still more-or-less understood. However, 1 (Nenokkadine) is not a typical masala film. On the one hand, this is good. Good for Sukumar for trying something a little different (as he also did with Arya 2), and good for Mahesh Babu for supporting him. On the other hand, this is not so good for non-Telugu fans watching the film without subtitles and trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
I’m quite a fan of the Telugu actor Ram. The thing that sets him apart among the pantheon of Telugu actors is that he tends to play “trickster” characters – guys that can fight, but are more likely to try and resolve a situation with an elaborate plan first. I believe this trend of Ram’s started with the extremely charming Ready (seriously, don’t waste your time with the vulgar-seeming Hindi remake, but definitely check out the Telugu original) and it has continued with his four subsequent films. The latest of these is Kandireega, in which the plot twists unfold like a set of nesting dolls opening, so that by the time you get down to the last one you almost can’t remember what you started from.
I don’t have much to say about Sampath Nandi’s Rachcha, except I’m starting to worry that Ram Charan Teja will never again match his portrayal of Harsha/Kala Bhairava in Magadheera (I’m starting to think that portrayal was caused by magic, and that magic’s name is S. S. Rajamouli). Ram Charan is spectacular in Rachcha‘s songs, but outside of those, when he is actually required to act (or what passes for acting among Telugu film heroes, which might more precisely be called performing) I just think he has no charisma.
As far as I can tell, the plot of Allu Arjun’s new movie Julayi is as follows. Allu Arjun plays Ravi, a regular middle-class guy who is hanging out with friends at a pub when the pub is raided by police based on an anonymous tip. However, because has exceptional observation and deduction skills (dare I say, Sherlock Holmes-esque?) he realizes the raid is just a distraction called in by the people who gave him a lift to the pub, and who are in fact bank robbers. Sonu Sood (one of the only men in the world who looks good in skinny jeans) plays Bittu, the leader of the bank robbing gang, and the kind of badass who goes to rob a bank wearing an elegant pair of driving moccasins. Ravi, working with the police, ends up killing Bittu’s brother, and capturing Bittu himself, while the stolen money seems to go up in smoke. The rest of the movie concerns Bittu’s attempts to get revenge on Ravi while at the same time trying to get out of the country, while Ravi and the police try to protect the former’s loved ones and to prevent Bittu from escaping the country. A romantic subplot is provided by Ileana, playing Madhu, who coincidentally works at a travel agency managed by one of Bittu’s associates.
[Content Note: this post contains discussion of rape]
In my experience, Indian cinema tends to be really hero-centric. Although this is starting to change in Bollywood, it still holds true in the Tamil and Telugu film industries, where the overwhelming majority of mainstream films are built around and designed to showcase the hero’s persona. Occasionally, however, heroine-centric films do appear. Two of these that I’ve seen are Mysamma IPS (2007) and Arundhati (2009), and what these two films have in common suggests an implicit message about what is (or should be) considered most important to women.
The storylines of South Indian masala movies have some fairly consistent elements. One is a main, ‘action-y’ plot centered on the hero. Another is a comedic side-plot featuring at least one member, but more often several, of a stable of comedians. Then there is the romantic sub-plot, featuring the heroine. Sometimes the romantic sub-plot is tightly intertwined with the action-y main plot. Other times it is simply there as an excuse for the fourth consistent element of South Indian masala movies – the songs. This formula is given an intriguing twist in the 2011 Telugu film Badrinath starring Allu Arjun and Tamannaah.
In the film Arjun plays Badri, a temple guard assigned to protect the Badrinath temple in the Himalayas. Tamannah plays Alakananda, a young woman who hates God, who is brought to the temple by her grandfather to perform some rites for her deceased parents. When Badri, despite Alakananda’s bratty behaviour toward him, aids in the completion of these rites, Alakananda falls in love with him. Badri, on the other hand, as an extremely pious temple guard, never explicitly returns her affection. The romance is totally one-sided, and accordingly the songs, with one exception, are entirely from Alakananda’s ‘point of view.’ As a result the filmmakers have (unintentionally, I assume) made a movie that privileges female desire.