Is this my first Chiranjeevi movie? That can’t be right! And yet a search of my archives for “Chiranjeevi” comes up empty! Oh! Magadheera! He had a little cameo in that, right? Okay, so I’ve seen him in one movie.
Is this a standard Chiranjeevi movie? A little bit of research says that it was kind of a comeback for him, and a massive hit. But I can’t tell if it is the “a return to his old time hits” kind of hit, or a “re-inventing himself for a new era” kind of hit. I’m seeing him listed as an action star, and a cursory examination of a couple of his past hits shows some themes of villages and self-sacrifice for others and that kind of thing, which sort of matches this movie.
I think the main reason I picked this film is because Sonali Bendre is in it, and I’ve always liked her. Also Prakash Raj, never a bad thing! These were foolish reasons, however, because of course Chiranjeevi is a Big Deal Star and this is a Big Deal Star Movie, so none of the other actors or characters mattered so much.
After watching this, I kind of get why Chiranjeevi is a big deal? But not really. In some other blog post or comment that I don’t remember, I talked about the difference between films in which the big actors are trying to “seduce” the audience, versus the celebration ones, where they assume the audience is already won over. If someone weren’t a big SRK fan already, for instance, I wouldn’t show them Happy New Year or Dilwale. But I would show them DDLJ or Main Hoon Na or Chak De, India. And I would definitely show them Dear Zindagi.
I was getting a vibe from this movie that it is more in the Happy New Year side of things for Chiranjeevi fans. If you already know and love him (or at least like him), then this is a glorious celebration of his wonderfulness. But if you don’t really know him (like me), then there isn’t much effort to draw you in to this story or make you fall in love with his character.
So, with all that in mind, be aware that this will be a fairly short post! Because I feel like there were a lot of layers I was missing in this film, and the little top level layer I could see, isn’t that interesting to talk about.
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The structure of this movie is what I think of as a “Baasha structure”. Which may or may not be correct, I have no idea, but Baasha was the most memorable film I have seen with this style. In the first half, we get to know our hero in the “present day”, living a humble life in the city and trying to do the best he can for his family. And then we get a massive flashback to reveal that he used to be something else entirely and chose to give it all up and live this new quiet life.
It’s a good way of using an older hero and acknowledging his age while still giving his fans a taste of the younger days. It’s also a good way of breaking the film into two parts. And it let’s you be a bit lazy in terms of plotting, since you can just throw out everything established in the first half once you do your big flashback reveal.
(Dilwale of course also did this, giving us the action hero romantic young Shahrukh, and then the present day wise and older Shahrukh)
But, again, it really relies on the audience already knowing and loving the hero. Ideally, the audience would be aware even in the “present day” parts that there must be more to him than what appears on the surface, just because of their familiarity with his star person from all his other films.
Since this is my first Chiranjeevi film, I was SO CONFUSED for the whole first half! I had no idea a big reveal was coming, or that this nice taxi driver guy would turn out to be super brave and wise and good in a fight. It just seemed like a random series of disconnected episodes featuring a nice enough guy who wasn’t really “hero material”.
The disconnected episodes were interesting, I guess. Chiranjeevi is living with his mute friend and his grown niece and nephew and someone else who I never quite understood, an orphan maybe? Chiranjeevi is beloved by them all, and kind of respected, but certainly not feared or considered someone with extra power and might in the world. Again, very Baasha.
His nephew falls in love with the daughter of a respected Muslim household. This part isn’t really related to anything else, but I found it fascinating. We are first introduced to her household when her father is punishing one of his relatives/followers for “misbehaving” with a young woman. He is clear that “woman of all communities deserve respect” and that it is his responsibility as the head of his community to maintain their morals.
This is such a complicated moral back bend! First, there’s the concept of “Love Jihad” and that Muslim young men are somehow more sexually aggressive and dangerous to women. So, this kind of plays into that since the young man is “guilty” of it. But then, on the other hand, there is the idea that the Muslim community looks the other way or encourages this behavior. Which is the opposite of what we see here, the community has come together as a whole to condemn it. So, generally, I think we are still on the right side with this sequence.
Especially once the rest of it is added on. The daughter’s love story is discovered, but she is afraid of her father and so claims that she isn’t really in love with Chiranjeevi’s nephew, he was just following her around. Her father and other relatives find the nephew, tie him up, and beat him. Only Chiranjeevi intervenes and takes part of the beating on his behalf. It kind of looks like this whole sequence was just a set up to once again show how noble Chiranjeevi is.
Only then it continues, the daughter’s love letters are found (or something, I can’t remember) and we cut from her household in an uproar to her father and followers showing up at Chiranjeevi’s humble household with swords in hand. It looks like a big fight is going to happen, but then instead her father hands over his sword and apologizes! Explains that he now knows he was wrong to punish Chiranjeevi’s nephew, and since the young people are in love, he is humbly begging Chiranjeevi to grant the marriage. Which Chiranjeevi immediately agrees to.
THIS IS SO AWESOME!!!! First, from the feminist side of things, there is a clear line drawn of “Boy harassing and following girl-bad and should be beaten” but “Boy following girl with her permission because they are in love-good and they should get married.” No blame to the girl for encouraging him, not even an hesitation of agreeing to her choice! Just a straight up “You love him? Great! Let’s arrange the wedding!”
And then there is the religion on top of it! No hesitation on either side, Hindu or Muslim, about agreeing to this match. And they become real allies too! It’s not like once the marriage is over they go their separate ways, Chiranjeevi and the Muslim leader are now best friends and support each other and stuff. It’s just great!
Thank goodness, because a lot of the other female stuff is really really regressive. Sonali, for instance, falls in love with Chiranjeevi at first sight (why? I have really got to watch some other movie with him to find out what the appeal is!). And then goes through elaborate schemes to trick him into taking her into his household. And there is a very odd scene where she is wearing his old clothes and the pants fall down, leaving her in just a shirt, and he has to pull the pants back up her legs.
(Also this song, which seems put in just so we can admire how good Sonali Bendre looks in jeans)
And then we find out in the flashback, some other woman ALSO fell in love with him at first sight! Back in the village, years back, Chiranjeevi was living with his two sisters and their husbands and their kids. The evil other family was feuding with them, their younger sister arrived back home from studying “abroad” only to see Chiranjeevi confront and fight off her brothers and immediately fall in love with him. Because he was so strong and fearless.
This romance is ever so slightly less regressive, she makes the first move and proposes marriage and is capable of bossing her brothers around until they agree to it. But ultimately, she’s still falling in love with his awesomeness at first sight, and still completely obsessed by him years later.
What’s really really bad though is what happens to Chiranjeevi’s poor niece. I hate this trope, of the “bad” husband or fiance who the hero has to heroically drag back for his sister or niece or whoever (I also saw Amma Nanna O Tamila Ammayi recently, same thing!), because how is that a happy ending? She’s stuck with some guy who doesn’t love her forever and ever.
Remember Lajja? Remember Mahima Chaudary’s bride? Who, after her fiance stops in the middle of the ceremony to demand more dowry, and her family heroically manages to dig it up, declares she doesn’t even want him any more? Gives a big speech about it? And is rewarded by her father abusing her for “lowering the family honor” but her grandmother applauding her actions? I love that scene! Because it perfectly encapsulates the issue here. Sure, maybe she “ruined the family honor” by letting the relationship break. But what is more important, honor or your daughter/sister/niece’s happiness?
Oh, another one that did this well! Kya Kehna! Not the greatest movie over all, but love the message. SPOILERS FOR KYA KEHNA FOLLOW, DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN. Not only does Preity’s family decide they would rather still have their beloved daughter than their honor and keep her in their household even after she is pregnant, Preity decides she would rather marry the boy who loved her and took care of her all along than the jerky father of her child. And why not? What’s the worst that could happen, people talk a little? Is that worse than marrying someone you can never trust? SPOILERS OVER
Anyway, this movie is ALL ABOUT the “best thing I can do for my female relative is make sure her marriage lasts forever and ever even if her husband is an abusive jackass” theory. The big TWIST moment is when Chiranjeevi is all set to marry his niece to the random orphan who they took into their household, only to learn seconds after the ceremony is over that the orphan was a plant, he was actually a relative of the “evil” family sent to marry and then leave Chiranjeevi’s niece. Which of course would destroy her life, because once a woman is married, she has to be with her husband until the day she dies (probably murdered by her in-laws) or she can never be happy.
And so Chiranjeevi humbles himself and begs forgiveness and shows his great love for his family and self-sacrifice by all the ways in which he tries to get the niece her husband back. Whoop-ti-doo, how nice, she can marry a guy who hates her and will probably kill her in a few years. What a wonderful brother she has!
Again, hate to keep bringing up Baasha, but remember how they handled the similar situation there? His little sister was in love with a rich boy who loved her back. The rich boy’s family insisted on dowry, and Baasha was ready to give it, but his sister immediately said “never mind, I don’t want him anyway if he just wants to squeeze a dowry out of us.” And moreover, the “happy ending” of that scene was the rich boy’s family saying “never you mind, that was all a test, of course we don’t want dowry or anything like that, what kind of a marriage would that be, if it started out with dowry? We just want to welcome your lovely child into our home.” We still got to see the lengths our hero was willing to go to bring about his sister’s marriage, but we didn’t see him do anything beyond what would actually make her happy.
Oh right, this movie! So then stuff happens, and in the end everyone realizes how wonderful Chiranjeevi is all over again. His family is restored to their rightful place in the village, his niece’s marriage is back on (yay?), wrongs are righted and so on and so on. And both woman are still in love with him. But, he declares, he has too much to do to think of marriage, and so they are both left waiting while he goes out and greets the cheering crowd.
Is this a male fantasy or something? To have two gorgeous woman who want you and you aren’t even that interested in them? Something about how hard it can be to control the male hormonal response which makes you wish the situation were reversed and the women were the ones seemingly unable to control themselves while you play it cool? Anyway, it’s gross!
Oh, and the title of this movie is “Indra”, which is also Chiranjeevi’s character’s name, so I did a little wiki’ing. I knew Indra was king of the Gods, and that he had some kind of Zeus-like stories of womanizing and romancing mortal women and others. Looks like he was also known for bringing rain and sunshine, which is something we see Chiranjeevi do for his villagers through his prayers and devotion.
So I’m thinking that’s also part of why the two women are in love with him? As “Indra”, he is focused on kingly things and concerns and has no time for love. But also as “Indra”, a certain amount of romance and frivolity is part of the story.