Pokkiri Raja: Not the Best Rajnikanth

I watched this movie because a) it was available from Netflix, b) it had both Rajnikanth and Sridevi, and c) it was older so I was hoping for a more grounded Rajni Sir.  Now that I have seen it, I can tell you that two of these these things were true, and one was not.

I don’t know if it was because it was a Rajnikanth film, or just an 80s action-comedy film, or maybe something about this director.  But I can tell you that this was not a grounded film.  And the hero character was RIDICULOUS!  In a fun way, but not in a way that gives me much to talk about.

I guess my first question is, how big were Rajni sir and Sridevi at this time and respective to each other?  Because it feels like Rajnikanth has the much much bigger role, but on the other hand maybe that is just bias towards the hero character on the part of the writer.  Certainly Sridevi had a larger role than the typical heroine might get.

It was fascinating watching Sridevi this early.  In Moodru Mudichu, she was recognizably herself, her face and expressions were the same, and even her personality matched what it would be later.  But in this one, it is even more pronounced, there were a couple of hand gestures that suddenly threw me right into English/Vinglish.  She was less the naive newcomer and more the confident movie star, taking control of the camera.

Rajnikanth too, but I am less familiar with him (although I’m getting there!  This is my 5th Rajni film).  But he already had the little tossing mannerisms and so on.  I was less impressed with his acting.  Having seen Thalapathi, I know he can really act.  And having seen Baasha, I know sometimes he just plays “Rajnikanth” onscreen.  This movie was kind of between the two.  Because he is supposed to be playing two distinctly different characters, and they didn’t feel that different.  Not on like a deeper level.  Heck, his two versions of the same character in Baasha felt more distinct than these two!  Here, it was more about exaggerated changes than subtle differences in posture and facial expressions.

The two characters is what made me wonder if this was supposed to be a big RAJNIKANTH film, or if it was just what people did in 80s action movies.  Was it because the audience wanted to see Rajni in two different roles, to maximize his screen time?  Or was it because the audience wanted a rowdy “bad” hero so they could have big fights and sexy songs, but also a “respectable” hero so they could have the big rich house and classy heroine like Sridevi?

With the two heroes, the other thing I kept thinking about, of course, was Seeta Aur Geeta.  And there is a little bit of that, but it’s like Seeta Aur Geeta with the romantic interests in on the joke as well or something?  At least Sridevi gets to be part of the come-uppance for the bad people, just like Hema is in the original (and Sridevi maybe is in her remake of the film?  I don’t know, I still haven’t seen Chaalbaaz).

(Wait, Sunny played his father’s role from Seeta Aur Geeta in Chaalbaaz?  That makes my head hurt!)

Over all though, it’s kind of a big friendly mess of a Masala movie.  The plot is all over the place, lots of random things happen for no particular reason, character development tends to fall by the wayside, and there are a lot of pointless sexy scenes.

It opens with the most egregious of these pointless sexy scenes, but before I get into that I have to put up SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

Really, full disclosure, this movie lost me with the opening scene.  Sridevi and her friends are in a car which has stopped, blocking the road.  Rajnikanth comes along in his jeep and can’t get past.  The girls explain the situation, and he says he can’t fix the car, but he can tow it away.  Only he doesn’t have a tow rope, so they will need to get undressed and give him their clothes to use. ?????

(Look!  The whole gross thing is here!)

So they object a little at first, then give in and go hide in the bushes while he drives off.  And of course the clothes break immediately, he pretends he’s not going to come back, then does drive back and give them back their clothes, and show that he could have fixed the car all along, but I guess wanted to teach them a lesson first?  And then when they object to paying him, he “pretends” he won’t give them back the keys.  And finally does once they pay him and they escape.

Okay, this whole thing is like some dirty masturbation fantasy coated in male bodily fluids that I don’t even want to touch.  Gross!!!!

And completely unrelated to the rest of the film!  Which I guess is better in that it means I can escape this feeling of being sexually harassed by my TV screen.  But is worse in that it means they really really did just add this opening because they wanted something for a bunch of creepy audience members to masturbate to later that night (or right there in the theater?  Seriously, so gross!  I could even believe that).

The rest of the romance is mostly okay.  The usual “she’s an uppity rich girl, he’s a cool guy who does things, they fall in love” kind of thing.  In this case, he is the new engineer hired by her father to clean up the corruption at his factory.  Their next interaction is much less rape-y, he just blocks her way when she is trying to exit the driveway, she treats him like a servant, then learns he is the new engineer and is embarrassed, and then they fall in love.  Start with that, and I am fine with the whole romance!  Start with him forcing her to strip, and you lose me a little.

Right, but this whole romance doesn’t even really matter.  About 50 minutes in, I finally went “Oh, I get it!  That was all set up!”  The romance was just there to establish Rajni 1 and Sridevi as a couple, so there could be misunderstandings and hilarity once Rajni 2 showed up.

It is kind of clever that the audience doesn’t know right away there is a Rajni 2.  We see Rajni flirting with a woman who isn’t Sridevi, and we see him fleeing the house the night Sridevi’s father is killed.  But he claims to be innocent of both of this.

Only after he is wrongfully imprisoned does he discover that there is a Rajni 2, a low class thief who is in love with a servant girl, played by Raadhika who I don’t think I had seen before, but was really fun in this.  Rajni 2 is low class and a thief, but also kind of a good guy (another reason that I am wondering if this is later in the Rajnikanth rise to stardom, that he can’t even play a negative character, it has to be a thief-with-a-heart-of-gold).  Rajni 2 was in the house that night, but didn’t actually kill Sridevi’s father.  And he’s a nice enough guy to take Rajni 1’s place in jail so he can escape and save Sridevi from marrying her evil relatives.

This is the part that I really liked in the Rajni and Sridevi relationship.  Really, everything from now on in both of the romances is great.  Rajni is just focused on saving Sridevi, not his “honor” or getting vengeance or anything else.  And Sridevi trusts and believes him immediately, none of that stupid womanly insecurity and faithlessness that heroines always have.

Most of all, they are partners in crime!  She knows everything he does and they work together to defeat their enemies and trick people and everything else.  One of the most satisfying moments is after Rajni 2 has snuck into Rajni 1’s house under false pretenses, as soon as they are alone Sridevi immediately lets him know that she knows who he really is and everything else because of course Rajni 1 told her!

(I must not be the only one who likes this, because that particular scene is up on youtube too!)

Also satisfying, they are actually married!  None of this “romantic” back and forth, they are in love and she is in danger, so why not just get married?  Especially since she ran away on her wedding day and is in full marriage gear.  So the last 2/3rds of the film are Sridevi living in Rajni 1’s house, fully married and his wife.

I even like the more earthy Rajni 2 relationship.  I’m guessing this relationship exists mostly so we can get a “sexy” song between Rajni and Raadhika?  More sexy than we would expect from Sridevi’s star level/character?  But besides the extraneous sexy love song, his heroine is feisty and confident, just like Sridevi’s.  And also naturally sympathetic!  There is no need to buy her off or convince her to help, just like Rajni 2, once she hears about the situation, she is completely willing to help out.

Next to Sridevi letting Rajni 2 know immediately that she is aware he is just her husband’s lookalike and a thief, and that her husband is back in jail while he is free and trying to take his place, my second favorite part is when Raadhika gets into the house pretending to be a servant.  Sridevi has been taken away by her evil relatives again, and Rajni 2’s girlfriend is there to help her escape.  And she gets really into it, slapping Sridevi and promising to force her into her wedding clothes, so the evil aunt will leave them alone.  She also gets really into it once they have brought Rajni 2 into the house and convinced everybody that he is Sridevi’s husband and in charge of her inheritance, and they use their power to punish the evil relatives.  I love that the female character is allowed to be both on the side of the right and also a little bit bad.

Even Sridevi is a little bit bad!  This is the part that reminded me the most of Seeta Aur Geeta, the humorous bit where the “bad” relatives are forced to do the same chores and punishments that our saintly heroine was forced to do before.  On in this version, our saintly heroine isn’t so saintly and is gloating over them.  With the assistance of two really unsaintly other characters who are helping her out because even if they aren’t saints, they still know right from wrong.

I said this was a Masala movie, right?  So we started with a quick hour long romance and flirtation between Sridevi and Rajni 1, interspersed with fight scenes as he cleaned the corruption from her father’s factory.  And then we change suddenly to a courtroom drama and jail house.  Then back to romance, only now it is kind of tragic as poor orphan Sridevi is being forced into marriage.  And then we have this long comedy stretch with Sridevi and Rajnis 1 and 2 getting the best of her evil relatives.

And finally, we end with a mystery!  How to break the seemingly unbreakable alibi of her evil uncle and cousin (by the way, not clear if these people are actually her relatives or just long time employees of her father.  I think maybe both?).  It’s not that interesting, and I think it might be ripped off a little from Namak Halal.  But it’s a strange kind of change of pace from the comedy that came immediately before.

I like Masala films as much as the next person.  But there’s “Masala” that feels truly mixed, 5 minutes of comedy followed by 5 minutes of drama.  And the there’s the kind that feels like a bunch of different short films pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle, and maybe only one of those films is actually good.  And kind of feels like the filmmakers enjoyed the comedy most of all and just tacked on the solving of the mystery when they got tired of the rest of it.

I enjoyed the comedy most of all too!  If this was just a movie about an educated and classy Rajni 1 and his elegant but still a little naughty wife Sridevi, occasionally changing places with the low class and “bad” Rajni 2 and his sexy servant girlfriend, I would be ALL IN.  But unfortunately, it has about 5 other movies awkwardly tacked on to it, including a mini-porno at the opening.

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9 thoughts on “Pokkiri Raja: Not the Best Rajnikanth

  1. Nice review. You should try Ranuva Veeran. It has three reasons: Rajinikanth, Sridevi, and another name you have recently discovered-Chiranjeevi. The last fight in the temple continues to be a memorable one.

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    • Thanks! I’ll try to check it out. I think the next Rajnikanth I am getting is Thai Veeda, which looks like a similar action-y film. But hopefully without the creepy sexy bit in the first ten minutes.

      On Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 3:41 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Coming to the film, I haven’t watched it yet because I don’t know the language (Telugu people watch Rajinikanth’s dubbed films which are usually on par with the original in terms of quality).

    Your comment: “…I am wondering if this is later in the Rajnikanth rise to stardom, that he can’t even play a negative character, it has to be a thief-with-a-heart-of-gold….”

    I have to admit that this was true, but not entirely. Rajinikanth had one of the most risky career path in Indian cinema until Bairavi came his way, making him a star (people began calling him superstar since then). At this juncture, most of your readers have suggested his villain roles (say Aval Appadithan and Avargal: both really eeevil). So I would go for a small change. Try watching Mullum Malarum. It has lesa dialogue and is easily available. And, it also made Rajinikanth receive some respect from people who chided him and his career choices. A must watch!

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    • Oh that looks really interesting! A “hero” role, but in a bit of a deeper film, not just an action kind of picture.

      On Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 3:49 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. A fantastic Rajinikanth hero role is “Johnny.” It’s probably my favorite Rajini movie and features him in a double role. It’s a very good movie telling the story of a con man(Rajini) who falls in love with a singer(Sridevi), and a barber(Rajini) who commits a horrible crime, and the story of how their paths clash. Although the story isn’t amazing, it has a very natural performance by Rajini at the core which reveals his range and depths as an actor. The music is great too.

    Another great hero role is “Mullum Malarum.” Though I’m not a huge fan of the movie itself(I think some aspects of it are dated today), it’s pretty widely considered his greatest performance. While I don’t think that’s entirely true(I like Johnny and Aval Appadithan a bit more), it’s still a masterful performance.
    A great scene from the movie

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  4. I feel compelled to leave a comment, because I would really like for you to continue to review other tamil movies (& I recall your blog about how you don’t get too many views for regional movies, except perhaps Malayalam & telegu…) . the main thing I want to share is that yes, there often times is a creepy yuck factor in the way they portrayed women in many such movies…. (e..g the opening scene ). I recall being distinctly uncomfortable growing up , watching such movies with my parents/adults around. Thankfully, we didn’t own a TV/VCR etc. for a long time, so these were far and few in between, but still…..
    I do like Rajnikanth’s style though & I think it is self-belief/self confidence that they have in themselves, that adds to their aura…..

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  5. Pingback: Tuesday Tamil: Thai Veedu, Another Rajnikanth Masala Picture! But With Real Emotion that Shows Up in the Last Half Hour – dontcallitbollywood

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