What a fun movie! Just a fun light movie. And kind of more clever than I would expect from a Telugu movie. I may need to track down the other film by this director. Oh, and also Nani was very fun. I thought I just liked him in Eega because Eega is the greatest film of all time, but now I think he is kind of great even in non-Greatest Film of All Time films.
It took me a bit to see what they were doing with this film. I got caught up in the details and missed the big picture. And the details were super confusing! But once I saw the big picture, everything fell into place.
The big picture is a combination of the 3 big genres of Telugu cinema, with one hero caught at the intersection of them all, a hero who isn’t really very heroic. It’s all a meta statement on film heroes, and the crazy logic of film genres. And then we get to see what happens when these genres collide and one poor guy is caught at the center, resisting his destiny of being the hero of them all.
What makes this a little hard to see is that all the genres are done really well! The love story is original and super cute. The village fight scenes are well-choreographed with distinctive characters. And the police case storyline has an original twist to it. Any one of them could have stood fine on its own. But what makes the film unique is to see how they all mix together.
Before getting into SPOILERS, I should mention that our hero, Nani, does a really great job! He has to play an unheroic type, but he also has to be charming. But not too charming, believably overlooked. But still charming enough that we can see why Mehrene, the heroine, would be in love with him. Oh, and Mehrene is fun too. She kind of disappears a little in the second half, and I am sorry to see her go, she’s a neat character.
Okay, now SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
We start with a village feud. A brave driver swears to protect his boss at all costs, a crazed wildman seeks revenge, the driver fights him off in a spectacular fight scene. And then, willy-nilly, we are thrown into the love story!
Mehrene is our noble driver’s sister. She is trying to pass English again, and swears that she will not marry until she gets her degree. And then we see her talking on her earphones to someone, about how she had such a hard time failing again, but she has to, otherwise her family will marry her off to someone else and she loves him so much. Nani, who we have previously been introduced to as a village clown and a bit of a coward, approaches her while she is on the phone and she tells him off. And then, TWIST! She goes off to a remote ruin to meet her lover, and it’s Nani! That whole scene was just an act.
And then we get a super cute flashback and love song explaining that they have been in love since elementary school, but he is always too afraid to tell her brother. And so they meet in secret and have since childhood. And she tries to put off her marriage until he is brave enough to step up and ask for her hand.
This is the bit that is so hard for an actor to play. That we can both see why Mehrene loves him, and why he is afraid to tell her brother. His intro scene, for instance, is brilliant. We see him grabbing a machete and coming at the camera, and then with a great swipe….cutting off the top of a coconut! The actual use that machetes should be put to! And yet, primed by many many movies, it’s a surprise. But, why not? Why not be just a normal village boy who is afraid when he is in danger, and not an innately brave and perfect kind of hero?
Later in the film, he ends up giving a lift to Mehrene’s brother and they are waylaid by his enemies. While Mehrene’s brother is brave and perfect, Nani stands with his back to a tree and cowers. And just when you start to think “what a useless hero! I’m sick of this movie”, the tree he is under is hit and a baby bird falls from its nest. And Nani leaps right into the middle of the fight to save the baby bird.
This is mostly foreshadowing for the end of the film, when he will finally turn into a hero in order to save an innocent. But it is also perfect timing to make the audience swing back to being on his side. Maybe he isn’t our perfect machete wielding warrior, but he does care about people, and that’s all that really matters.
And then, confusingly, we leave our nicely building love story and our exciting village feud, and hop over to the city for a police story. The first two storylines almost make sense as a pair, our innocent lovers are going to get caught up in the village feud, it will drive them on to the resolution of their romance. But why the city police officer all of a sudden? And the rumors of a criminal arriving from abroad and so on and so forth?
It’s only when the police storyline really gets going that I start to see what this movie is doing. We are introduced to our dramatic heroic cop, and then in the middle of a dramatic heroic speech to his supervisor, he randomly grabs a driver at a traffic stop and has him arrested, to show how even the the smallest infraction is worthy of arrest. And then he goes on about his heroic way and doesn’t think about it again. But we, the audience, learn that the guy he randomly arrested was the big overseas terrorist he was trying to arrest! All the macho posturing was pointless, his greatest triumph was some random traffic stop he didn’t even remember.
This same kind of confusion keeps happening. It’s all just a misunderstandings farce with an action film covering. The young lovers and the village feud and the police case keep running into each other and mistaking each other, in the same way a different kind of film would have an eloping couple and bumbling thieves and a identical twins being confused for each other. It’s just that this movie spices up all the farce with a lot of blood and fight scenes.
(The tone of the songs is another clue that it is more of a farce)
It really comes to a head when Mehrene’s brother’s noble boss is killed in the middle of the night. Mehrene’s brother fights of the enemies and takes off, with the small children who had been staying in the house with him for safekeeping. He arrives back home in the middle of the night to find Nani patiently waiting to talk to him, finally ready to ask for Mehrene’s hand in marriage. The brother, terribly wounded, manages to stumble out of the car and throw the keys to Nani, telling him that if he takes the 3 children safely to their father in the city, he can marry Mehrene. Only what he doesn’t know, is that the 3 children are the children of the honorable police officer! All 3 stories coming together! And poor Nani caught in the middle.
What makes it funny, not just tragically misunderstood, is that each lead in their own story is so sure that they are the “hero” of the piece. And each of them is wrong. Our heroic cop is positive that the murders were aimed at him (which is true) and also that his children have been kidnapped in an effort to attack him (which is not true) and he has no idea that this is all because of a random traffic stop. Mehrene’s brother is sure that it is part of his village feud, that he can send the 3 random children off to safety in the city while he stays and takes care of things. And Nani only thinks of his romance, he has to do this simple task for his future brother-in-law and then he can marry Mehrene. But none of them see that their own stories are just part of the whole pattern.
The “villain” is the one who most quickly wakes up to the fact that he is trapped in someone else’s story. There is a great scene where he tries to get his cell mate to help him, eventually realizing that he has been thrown in with criminals so petty that even if they are technically part of his organization, they are so low down that they don’t even know what he looks like and won’t believe him when he declares he is their superior. He accommodates himself to this new reality, until by the end he can’t even believe it when his gang tries to break him out and begs them to stop what they are doing.
Going back to that scene where Nani is told he can marry Mehrene if he takes the children safely to the city, what I love is that it’s not just that he doesn’t see the city criminals situation because he is so caught up in his feud, he doesn’t see the romance either! Or, I guess, he doesn’t see it as a problem. Nani and Mehrene have spent years hiding their romance and coming up with schemes and all of this, and in one off-hand remark, her brother reveals that he’s been aware all along and doesn’t much care. He doesn’t wait for Nani to say anything, just throws him the keys and gives him the job in return for marrying Mehrene, because he already knows that is what Nani wants.
What makes Nani unusual is that from this point forward, he doesn’t think he is the hero of anything. His goal was and always has been to marry Mehrene. Her brother was the obstacle, the brother has now given his blessing, after a small errand is completed, Nani is done with his troubles! And so he happily moves through all the other plots without any particular goal beyond taking 3 kids to their father in the city.
Meanwhile, the criminal gang is trying to track down the kids and kidnap them in order to force our hero cop to release their boss. The hero cop assumes his children were taken for some strange revenge or ransom plot but he doesn’t know the motive and assumes Nani is a kidnapper. And Mehrene’s brother assumes that this is all just another part of the feud, the children and Nani are minor complications he just has to get out of his way and then he can finish things once and for all. Oh, and even the kids have a misunderstanding! Seeing themselves as brave heroes of a kidnapping, not realizing that they are in the hands of a harmless village coward who just wants to get them home so he can finally be married.
What makes it all snap into place at the end is when Nani, the one person who has been involved in all these stories, suddenly is activated again. He doesn’t care much about the children, he doesn’t care at all about the criminals and the village disputes, but he cares completely and always has about Mehrene.
Way back at the beginning, we saw a flashback in which he talked with his father about his name, Krishna, and what would make Krishna ride a chariot into battle, and our little boy version of Nani looks across the room and sees little girl Mehrene. So long as Mehrene wasn’t part of the story, Nani didn’t really care that much about anything. But way at the end, they swing by and pick her up at the out of town wedding where she has been staying during this whole second half of the story, and suddenly Nani starts caring again. First about the kids, realizing they are still in danger, and then about Mehrene, she is shot and taken, and suddenly Nani is ready to fight all the police, all the criminals, everyone else, to get Mehrene back.
And suddenly Nani goes from the random comic figure caught up in everyone else’s story to the centerpiece of the story, the focal point of everything. And turns out this was a romance all along! All of the cops and the criminals and everything else have no power in the face of his desperate attempt to rescue the women he loves. The other genres, the cop movie and the village feuds that have all mixed in, those don’t matter. It was always about Nani doing whatever he had to do to get Mehrene.