I’m pretty sure this is my first Ravi Teja movie, so I can’t make any judgement there. But it’s my fourth or fifth Puri Jagannadh movie, and I can tell you, in terms of direction, it is not as good as it could be. I’m missing the clever little touches and sense of humor about the plot. And I am really really missing the lighter touch with the male-female romance.
I’m just gonna say upfront, this is not the greatest movie. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for it, maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I am pretty sure it just plain wasn’t a very good movie. The plot doesn’t really hang together, there are an awful lot of coincidences, the hero is basically perfect start to finish, and none of the emotional moments really worked. Well, except for Prakash Raj. He is always great. And Asin was pretty good too, although she was so young I could barely recognize her.
Age is a big problem in this movie. Ravi Teja was only 35, which isn’t THAT old in the usual Indian film hero concept. Not even too old to play a college student. But he just has kind of an old face. Looking at newer photos of him, it kind of feels like he started looking 30 around age 25 and just stayed there into his forties. You know who else did that? Prithviraj! Watching Classmates I was a little taken out of it by this older guy striding around campus, and relieved when we got to the “present day” part and he could act his age. Only to discover he was actually only 24 at the time. Anyway, with Ravi Teja supposedly playing a college student and Prakash Raj’s son, but looking about 15 years old for both of those things, there was a big suspension of disbelief built in.
(See??? Does this look like a mother and son or more like a husband and wife?)
And then Asin was 18 and playing 18 and looking 18. Which was another big problem. Asin is so strong and spunky usually, and I would have had no time with the kind of teasing courtship she enjoyed with Ravi if she had been as full of spunk as usual. But she just looked 18! So it didn’t feel like a romantic duel between equals, it felt like a creepy older guy stalking a teenager.
All of these problems could have been fixed though if the direction had been slightly better. If the film had had sort of a wink to the audience to acknowledge that it was aware of these problems and how silly all the characters were being and all of that. Which is why I have come to expect from Puri Jaganaddh and I’m angry when it’s missing!
Is it possible it is because this is a Ravi Teja film? That Ravi’s star persona wouldn’t allow for quite as many little jokes and light moments as I saw in Pokiri or Businessman with Mahesh Babu or in Bijjudagu with Prabhas? That’s the only thing I can think of that would make a difference. Is Ravi usually this straight up macho and perfect with no sense of frailty or need for the heroine (versus the heroine needing him)?
Although really it’s not his romance with Asin that kind of ruined the movie for me (although that was bad), it’s his relationship with his stepmother and stepsister. This is, once again, a Trishul-redux plot, but they made a BIG BIG change in the details and attitude of the stepmother and sister which kind of ruined it. Unlike in Trishul, where the way that plays out is one of the best and most surprising parts of the film.
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Okay, I’m going to zip through the first half of this movie, because it’s mostly set-up for the second half, which is where the really bad/interesting to talk about plot points happen. Our hero is a college student who wants to be a kickboxer and is on his way up the kickboxing competitive circuit already. He is very protective and loving towards his mother, a college lecturer who has raised him alone.
A neighbor asks him to go pick up a relative who is coming in from Chennai, and he goes to get Asin at the train station, but he is so rude and aggressive, she is too scared to explain that she isn’t the relative, she is someone else, until he has brought her all the way back the apartment. Until the neighbor arrives (I think) and says “That’s not my niece!” and she finally explodes and yells at him.
That’s basically the last moment of their romance that I liked. After that, he starts doing this creepy role play, pretending to be a terrible gunda-type molester so he can enjoy her scared reaction. It’s so close to the way the other Puri Jaganadh films I have scene are structured, except in those there is a little tip of the hat to the audience that this is all “pretend”. In Bujjigadu (my favorite!), we know that our hero is faithful to his childhood love, so all the teasing he does to other young woman is just them miss-interpreting his intentions. Even in Businessman, the “date rape” scene is clearly established as “no, she really does legitimately want this but can’t admit it”.
(Also a really catchy song, even if it is based on The Lion King stage show soundtrack)
But in this film, it doesn’t feel like playacting, it feels like this young woman is legitimately scared of being molested. And like she should be scared, because our “hero” isn’t a young man with a secret sensitive look to his eyes (like in Pokiri), but a grown man with a mustache. Sure, later, she tells his mother without knowing it’s his mother that she really does like him. But nothing in the directing or performance before that gave me any clue that she liked him. Which meant that Ravi couldn’t have known she reciprocated his feelings. Which means that he was just straight up stalking her.
Oh right, and then Ravi’s mother dies. And before she dies, she tells him who is father is and makes him swear he will go stay with him. And finally Prakash Raj shows up and the film gets about 20o% more interesting. But also unbelievable, because Ravi is clearly a grown man with no need for a father, so why Prakash would take him in, like a lost lamb instead of just telling him to get a job and support himself, I don’t know.
Also unbelievable, Asin who he happened to bump into back in his home city (Hyderabad?) happens to live and work at the dance studio next door to where Prakash Raj’s kickboxing studio is! Oh, and Prakash Raj is a huge famous kickboxing legend. That one I will let go as not a coincidence, because I can assume genetic ability played a part in Ravi also pursuing kickboxing.
And then there is the Trishul thing, sort of. Ravi has a stepmother and a younger step sister. His step sister has romantic travails. Ravi is a big brother to her and helps her out, which makes his stepmother love him too. In the end, he not only connects with the father he used to resent on behalf of his mother, but also gains a little sister and a new mother.
But see, the thing that made Trishul a brilliant movie is that the stepmother and little sister weren’t “bad”. Actually, no one was “bad” besides selfish Sanjeev Kumar who got them all in this mess in the first place by abandoning his pregnant girlfriend. What makes it even better is that all the non-Sanjeev characters end up being people in their own right, not just pawns in the Amitabh-Sanjeev game. None of that is true here. In a way that feels really gendered.
In original flavor Trishul, Amitabh initially resents his stepmother and half-sister and half-brother for having all the advantages he was denied. But then he discovers they are actually all really decent people who don’t deserve to be caught up in this battle between himself and his father. Heck, even Hema Malini, who is just his little brother’s girlfriend, doesn’t deserve to be part of this fight. In the end, Amitabh discovers the value of appreciating his new “family” and accepting his position as the oldest son of the household is more important than his feud. Even in the last Trishul-like Telugu film I reviewed, Munna, they got that. That what makes the plot amazing, our heroes moving from using these people as pawns in their vengeance to discovering that they are victims just as much as he is and deserve to be protected. That’s the whole dramatic tension of the film. Remove it, and you are left with, well, this movie.
Again, I kind of want to blame Ravi Teja. Or maybe just the star structure of the Telugu industry. His character has to be perfect in every way start to finish. So he can molest the heroine and resent his father and it’s all okay, because he is the hero, so everything he does is by default perfect. And that means that the flaws have to be put on someone else instead. And now I blame Puri Jagannadh, because those flaws aren’t put on Prakash Raj, but instead on his new wife and daughter.
In the original film, Amitabh’s stepmother is a fairly personality-less woman, but she is instinctively kind towards Amitabh when she meets him and is quick to accept him into the family once she knows his true heritage. In Munna, the character had some fire to her, and we know that she was married to Prakash against her will and is therefore eager to ally herself with her stepson instead. But in this film, simply because she is a stepmother, she has to be terrible and jealous and unwelcoming. There is no effort even to explain the reasons behind her actions, that maybe she is nervous for the status of her own child now that Prakash has a son, or jealous of the woman she knows he always loved more. No, she is just evil and jealous because woman are like that.
The stepsister is even worse. In the original Trishul, sweet little Poonam Dhillon has a sweet little romance which Amitabh originally tries to involve himself with just to create a headache for his father. But later comes to accept his true responsibility as her oldest brother and goes against her father legitimately in order to ensure she is able to marry the man she loves. In Munna, again, it was similar. The stepsister was under the thumb of her father and, after initially just being seen as a pawn by her brother, he comes to fully care for her as his sister and defend her.
(So sweet! And a young woman who is capable of making her own choice for herself)
The key in both these movies is that the sister needed and was grateful for her brother’s protection. Not in a regressive way, but because her father was flawed, which of course is what started the whole plot off in the first place. Weakness of the old patriarchy which must be replaced by a new younger and more flexible patriarchy. But in this movie, it’s just the old patriarchy and the young patriarchy joining hands to bitch about how stupid and useless woman are.
And it reaches it’s zenith in the younger sister’s romance plot. First, our hero follows her to a club and tries to drag her out of the bathroom where she is making out with her boyfriend. This scene is very similar to one of my favorite scenes in Baghban. But in Baghban, firstly, the girl was clearly unwilling and needed to be rescued. And secondly, the blame for her behavior was placed on her parents who were not there to protect her, not on the powerless girl.
In this case, neither of those things are true. The girl is there of her on volition, happily making out with her boyfriend. And our hero tries to drag her away anyway, taking control of her sexual agency. And secondly, there is no clear “blame” placed on anyone, besides the girl herself for not listening to “men” and trying to use her stupid female brain to make a decision for herself about her own body.
And then later it is discovered that she is pregnant and her boyfriend was using her all along and doesn’t want her any more. So our hero gets to prove what a saintly brother he is by doing everything the boyfriend demands in order for the boyfriend to agree to marry her. Well that’s JUST PEACHY!!!! Sure, marry her off to the guy who doesn’t want her and got her pregnant under false circumstances. Who she herself declares she doesn’t even want any more. Because to let her raise her child herself, or to marry someone besides the person who first took her virginity, would be to admit that the whole patriarchy is a scam and woman don’t always “need” a husband. Also, who wants a sister around the house once she’s been all spoiled and is no longer a virgin? Marry her, kill her, marry her to a guy who will probably kill her, makes no difference so long as she isn’t your problem any more. And besides, a woman who has sex before marriage deserves to be abused for the rest of her (probably very short) life. That’s the correct punishment, right?
(Kya Kehna is an odd movie, but I really really appreciate the message)
I know I’m reading into this and film itself ends with a last minute agreement from the “bad guy” to marry the sister and settle down and try to do better. But the point is, in real life it doesn’t work like that. And a movie which is giving the audience the lesson “a good brother does whatever it takes to marry his sister to the father of her child, even if neither of them want the marriage” is just asking for spousal abuse and murder. I mean, from this philosophy, would there be any difference if she had become pregnant through acquaintance rape instead of consensual sex? Heck, do we even know it wasn’t rape in this film? Does he bother to ask? No! It’s just “who’s the father? Okay, you have to marry him no matter what and I don’t care what happens to you after that.”
What’s crazy is the total cognitive disconnect in the film. We had a whole first half with our hero, our perfect hero who was perfectly raised and flawless and needs nothing, being with his beloved single parent mother. And then we had a whole second half where the younger sister who did have a father and married parents was a total mess. So where is this “a baby needs a legitimate father and married parents” coming from? We just saw IN THIS SAME MOVIE how little that matters.
They try to tie it together at the end, to say that our hero finally learned to appreciate his relationship with his father and therefore wants his sister’s baby to have that same experience. But come on! Just because Prakash Raj turned out to be a good father, that doesn’t mean every baby is better off being raised by their father, even if the man hates their mother and didn’t want the baby in the first place. Again, IN THIS SAME MOVIE, we had a whole flashback to explain that Prakash really did want Ravi and his mother, it wasn’t some kind of shotgun wedding situation. What makes Ravi think that forcing this guy to marry his sister is going to work out the same way?
Uch! Just, UCH! Left me with such a bad taste in my mouth, I’m not sure I’ll be able to try another Ravi Teja film. Unless you can recommend one that is super super progressive.