This was such a good movie. SUCH A GOOD MOVIE!!! All these cool concepts and visuals and ideas! Really, the only flaw was that there were too many good ideas, it was kind of overwhelming.
Really, SUCH a good movie! I was extremely impressed. It took an interesting plot hook, and managed to give it some real character depth. And at the same time, to use it as a great jumping off point for some really impressive technical fireworks. And on top of that, there was a great meta-statement about fame and fans and stuff!
It all starts with Mahesh Babu, because he’s the kind of star that all his movies have to start with him and then build out. He has a very remote affect onscreen, you don’t usually get a sense that he is out of control, it feels like his mind is ruling his emotions at all times. Not that he doesn’t feel anything, but it is all funneled through his intellect and kept tightly structured.
That’s what I really liked about him in Pokiri, my favorite Mahesh movie (so far), how even while he was playing this game of being a crazy gunda, it still kind of felt like a game. Like he wasn’t really serious about it, didn’t really care about anything he was doing. And then at the ending, it all kind of came together and made sense.
This movie puts its cards on the table right away, and establishes Mahesh as a super competent and intelligent person, who has ruthlessly put down anything that can’t be explained by his intelligence. Which is the central conflict of the character, as he struggles to use his mind to solve a problem caused by his mind.
The movie also establishes Mahesh as someone who can do anything. If it had been my first Mahesh Babu movie, like it was for Moviemavengal, I might have had a bit of a hard time with that, a rockstar who for some reason is also an expert at hand-to-hand combat and cars and guns and all the other action hero things. But, luckily, I have seen enough Telugu movies now that that kind of thing doesn’t bother me any more. Obviously he is the best at everything! He just is! No explanations necessary.
I suppose it might have worked just as well in some ways to have Mahesh’s character be a police officer or a government agent or a soldier, something that would explain his skills (they even have him meet with a kindly cop as a small child, which could very easily have lead to him being adopted and becoming a cop in honor of his adoptive father). That would have strengthened the action part of the film. But then you would lose the fun it has with making Mahesh, essentially, play himself. And more importantly, letting all the characters react to him as though he were himself.
In my Kabali review, I talked about how there was a character clearly put in to stand in for all the young male worshipers of Rajnikanth, to fulfill their fantasy of interacting with the great man. And it worked because Rajnikanth’s character was so close to Rajnikanth’s position in real life, as this aging hero for the youth. The same thing is going on here with two character’s in Mahesh’s life, one minor and one major.
The heroine is clearly a stand in for all the swoony Mahesh fangirls in the world. That’s how Deepika was originally introduced in Om Shanti Om, and then they pulled back from that idea a little, but in this film, they go all in the whole time. She is first introduced going wild watching him at one of his concerts. Later, she appears to be a professional and ambitious reporter, but turns out that was just a facade, at heart she is just a girl in love. Before she even met him or interacted with him, she loved him.
And the fantasy continues, with him letting her see through to the real person behind his fame and wealth, bringing her along on fabulous globe-trotting trips, and so on and so on. Yes, there is a lot of life and death action scenes going on in the middle of this, but it’s also every fangirl’s dream, to be recognized for your true faithful love for your hero, to get to spend time with him, to have him fall in love with you and whisk you off to join his amazing life.
The fame adds a little extra interest and twist to the film as a whole, he doesn’t just have to hide from his enemies, he has to constantly try to avoid the media and fans. He has extra power over the police when he is riding high, but they are also extra eager to arrest him when he is low. And everything in his life is news. Again, very reality-Mahesh like.
All of that fame and stuff, that’s just extra plot fluffing, and I suppose it could have been removed. The real heart of the film is in the emotions that drive Mahesh, and how they are visualized onscreen. It feels kind of silly to put a SPOILER here, because it is all explained like ten minutes into the movie, but it’s also such a cool idea, I really want you to see it for yourself. So, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Mahesh is introduced at this huge stadium concert, Kriti (the heroine) is in the crowd and goes mad as soon as he appears and hands off her recording equipment to someone else so she can dance. But, at the end of the song, Mahesh sees this crowd of dark figures walk in. He jumps off the stage and runs after them. Kriti runs after him, with her video camera. Mahesh is hit by a car, steals a motorcycle, chases the car, slides the motorcycle under it just so to make it flip while he coolly escapes. Then he pulls the men from the car one by one and fights them, finally ending with some older guy with a scar who taunts him, and then Mahesh stabs him with a broken bottle, killing him! Cut to, Mahesh handing the broken bottle to the cops and turning himself in. Not just for killing this guy, but for two others who we see in quick flashback, one in England, one in Goa. Mahesh explains that they were the men who killed his parents, and now he has revenge, and he is done.
Since he’s a famous singer, this news is reported everywhere. Except Kriti’s station, where she makes her boss wait until she has her report ready. And then presents it to the world, the video she made of the whole fight. And it is the whole fight, hit by the car, jump on the motorcycle, slide the motorcycle, pull them from the car, beat them up, stab with bottle, only it’s just Mahesh there! He imagined the whole thing!
This is just SO COOL! From a purely technical stand point, to see them remove all the other elements from the scene one at a time and just leave Mahesh is super neat. It’s like showing us how the magic is done, because of course in real life, actors aren’t actually hit by cars or any of the rest of it. It’s like showing us the storyboard version of what the scene would be like, how the stunts would be done with just Mahesh in mind. Awesome!
And then from the more philosophical side, how the star of the movie sees himself as the star of a movie. He has to get revenge on the men who killed his parents, so he invents these elaborate filmi fight scenes, just like people usually get revenge, in order to work through his angst. And, later, how this will all fold into itself, when he learns to doubt the fantasy, at the same time it becomes really. So the star of the movie DOESN’T see himself as the star anymore, but everyone else does!
It’s not the last crazy cool fight scene in the film. After Mahesh returns home, he still believes he is in danger, even if no one else does, and when he sees intruders, he sets up his camera to photograph on auto every few seconds. Which is both a cool effect, having the camera flash go on at a regular intervals, and a really cool meta statement about the Matrix effect fight scene that follows. It slows down and freezes and uses 360 effects, in the way that is only possible through the little camera effect we saw Mahesh set up, putting the camera on a spinning table and setting it to go off at intervals. It’s not that actual camera doing it, the angles are wrong, but some other camera must be set up in the same way to cause the audience to see what we are seeing.
Oh right, and we also get some kind of boring exposition in the middle of this. Mahesh was found as a child running down the road begging a police jeep to stop. He brought the police officer back to a bus and told him his parents had just been killed on the bus. But when the officer checked, there was no blood or any other evidence of violence. And the bus driver showed up to tell him that Mahesh was just a confused kid, he was always stopping buses and saying his parents had been killed on it. The police officer took Mahesh to an orphanage, they were never able to trace his parents.
All of this is being told to the doctor who examined Mahesh (and Kriti is there too for some reason?) and the doctor explains that Mahesh’s brain works differently, his dreams and imagination are so strong that it might be hard for him to tell the difference between them and reality. And, no doubt, he created this fantasy of his parents being killed by 3 men to explain his being an orphan and now clings to it so strongly, it is preventing him from acknowledging and dealing with his mental issues.
Mahesh continues to fail to deal with his mental issues, and goes off by himself to his boat in Goa. Which is where the fangirl fantasy storyline kicks into high gear. Kriti approaches him as a reporter and gets rejected immediately. Seconds later, she approaches him as a fangirl who happens to also be a reporter, and really just wants to spend time with him. Mahesh realizes he must have imagined the original Kriti and is so thrown by this, that he agrees. But in their next meeting, when the same thing happens, he starts to doubt himself, to hide behind sunglasses and glance at those around him to confirm they are seeing what he sees. He can’t trust his mind, but he is still using his mind, to work out logically ways around it’s restrictions.
And he even manages to “defeat” Kriti (who, the audience learns, is actually faking the whole thing with a camera crew following them). He finds a connection to purchase a knock out drug and doses her, incapacitating her for 24 hours while he figures everything out. Unfortunately, that also means she is knocked out when their boat is attacked and he has to rescue them both and take them to the EXACT SAME ISLAND where Hrithik and Amisha end up in Kaho Na Pyar Hai! And Hrithik and Kareena in Yaadein! Seriously, it must be part of some sort of regular Goa film production schedule, it shows up everywhere.
I like the idea of the fan stand in romance, but I kind of like the second half of the romance better, and it doesn’t fit with the first half, so I’d prefer throwing out the first half, to strengthen the second. During the whole desert island thing, Mahesh figures out that Kriti was gaslighting him, but then twist! She was just doing it because she loves him and wants him to get treatment! She figured the only way was to convince him he was imagining lots of things, not just his persistent revenge fantasy. And now Mahesh is in love with her? All of a sudden?
See, this is the bit that works a bit better for me. Where Mahesh is in love with Kriti and trying to “cure” himself to be worthy of her, but she is just worn out and heartbroken by his behavior. And it’s a different kind of fantasy for the fan, having the famous beloved actor camped out outside her house, waiting for her to forgive him. Oh, and it’s also a cool twist, with Mahesh slowly figuring out which bits were his fantasy and which were reality, and that all the reality bits involved an attack while Kriti is with him, so she’s the target! Not him! But she won’t believe him, because she thinks he’s crazy!
Now, this alone would be a really cool movie. The guy with mental issues stumbling onto an actual conspiracy, and his girlfriend not believing him. And there are some super cool bits here, like when he tries to prove to her that he is “cured” because he isn’t attacking, even though he is hallucinating a man holding a knife to her throat, when there actually is a man holding a knife to her throat! Really, we get through this section all too fast for me.
Although the ending is jawdropping, having him stumble into his nemesis randomly in a bathroom, think it is a hallucination, and happily shoot him in the head in a cathartic effort at self-therapy. That was awesome! And a great break to bring us into intermission, with the realization that maybe he wasn’t imagining EVERYTHING.
The second half is where the twists come fast-fast-fast, but the emotional underpinning is also coming hard-hard-hard. Now that Mahesh knows he wasn’t imagining his parents’ death, the film doesn’t look away from what a loss that was. There’s a lovely repetitive image of him at the orphanage as a little boy, curled up on top of the chalk drawing he made of a woman. And it also doesn’t look away from how damaging it was for him to have spent his life thinking truth was a lie and vice versa. It’s ridiculous when I write it out, but I kind of bought the moment when he confronts a grieving family in the cemetery and yells at the Dad for sugar-coating the truth to his kid, because of the damage it can do when children are made to believe a lie.
There’s all kinds of details about why his parents were killed and so on and so on (magic wheat?). But there are 3 moments that really land, and one really cool conceptial thing. The first moment that really lands is when we learn Mahesh actually did kill one of those guys he thought he just hallucinated. And the guy’s son has been tracking him down on his own journey of revenge. Complicated because the son is a huge fan of Mahesh-the-rock-star. There’s this great scene that combines the “whole world blind” problem of Mahesh killing his father for killing Mahesh’s father, but now having to accept that if his actions were correct, it is also correct for the son to kill him, with the conflict the son is feeling between this star he idolized and the guy he has to kill to be true to his father. It’s really touching! And I’m kind of sorry they resolved it so fast with the reveal that Mahesh didn’t actually kill the dad, he just almost killed him, and then someone else finished the job.
The other scene that lands really well is when Mahesh confronts the bad guy, and they both realize there is a stalemate. Mahesh has the magic wheat he desperately needs. But the bad guy knows who Mahesh’s parents were, information that Mahesh desperately needs on a convincingly primal level. And the end of it is, Mahesh sacrificing his need for the greater good and killing the guy. And I really felt the loss! He sold me on that, on how hard it was to give up the idea of knowing his parents and his past.
And then the final emotional moment, when they are driving through the countryside and Mahesh suddenly remembers his childhood, and runs home, intercut with flashback tiny Mahesh (who was played by his own son in real life? Is that right?) running in the past. It’s a lovely bookend to the opening of the film, which was a brief flashback of the same tiny Mahesh running in fear through the forest, away from the happiness in his life that he is now running towards.
But that’s not the cool conceptual part! No, that comes earlier. Mahesh and Kriti are leaving the bank having gotten the magic wheat. Mahesh suddenly grabs her arm and says “we’re going to be attacked”. Then he shoots out the lights, like two dozen guys on motorcycles show up, awesome parking garage fight scene/shoot-out and at the end of it Kriti and the magic wheat have been taken. Mahesh runs out and waves down a police car, but when the come back into the garage, even though he keeps describing what happened, they can’t find any evidence of it. No! Kriti’s been taken and the cops aren’t even listening to him!
Only, here’s the cool bit, we find out a few scenes later that it was all a set-up. Mahesh knew someone out there wanted him, so he had to get himself arrested and Kriti and the wheat to safety. So he used his imagination for “good”. Everything after that moment when he said “we’re going to be attacked” was imagined, but imagined so well that he could convince everyone he believed it had happened. Heck, he could convince the audience he believed it! And the filmmaker played the same trick on us that he did before, and we fell for it just the same. So cool! The whole movie SO COOL!