HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! I didn’t want to do just a rehash of last year’s post of your favorite things, so instead I made you something new, an Okkadu review!
My goodness Mahesh Babu has had an odd career! A slow and not very noticed start for the first 4 years. Then a big record breaking blockbuster hit. And then hit-flop-hit-flop through to know. He had so many flops at this point that he should be completely written off. But then his rare hit is such a big BIG hit, that he is still on top of the game. And this was the first of those big BIG hits, which single-handedly turned him from an also ran to a SuperStar.
I’ve seen a fair number of Mahesh Babu movies, and one thing that seems consistent is that the ideas are almost always interesting. They may or may not be hits, but they do give you something to think about. Not Bharat Ane Nenu, that was just idiotic wish-fulfillment, but the others I have seen have a really interesting idea at the center of them, often a bit of a flip on some common film trope, or a statement on modern society. They aren’t just the usual action hero with no plot kind of thing, there’s a layer to what is happening.
This movie definitely falls into the “a layer to what is happening” category. It could be a standard action film, but there are little tricky bits to it, considerations of city versus small town, of what freedom is, of what is the “right” thing to do and why. Of when you should follow the rules and when you should try to escape them.
The Kabaddi player angle to the hero is not just a random choice. It’s meaningful, he is about somehow escaping, finding a way to twist out of grasp and get to safety. Not the direct confrontation, but goal oriented, getting to where he needs to be even if it involves twisting and turning and playing the angles and cheating a bit to get there.
The choice of the heroine actress isn’t random choice either. Bhoomika Chawla is not your standard pretty empty heroine actress. Her face has character to it, and interest to it. And so does her acting, she isn’t just going through the motions, she is truly emoting. You don’t cast her if you want to make a boring average romance with a boring average heroine.
It’s definitely a Mahesh Babu movie, he is the lead and the main character and everything. But it is a movie that is smart enough to know that Mahesh will look better if there are other strong characters to contrast with him, a good interesting villain like Prakash Raj, a good interesting heroine like Bhoomika Chawla, even a good interesting father actor like Mukesh Rishi. And that’s on top of the good interesting script that underpins the whole thing.
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It’s actually a really simple plot. Our hero is a boy from Hyderabad, who goes to Kurnool (Worst Town on Earth according to this movie, I’m kind of curious to visit it now) for a Kabaddi match. While calling home he sees a young woman being dragged past his phone booth begging for mercy. He steps out and saves her and then drags her on an elaborate cross country run for safety. He takes her back to his family’s tiny apartment and hides her in his bedroom, while he and his friends try to coordinate getting her a passport and a visa and a plane ticket to America to stay with her uncle.
That part is the simple part, any action movie could have that plot. Hero rescues damsel in distress, hides her away in his apartment (family comedy) and goes through a series of challenges with his friends (get passport, Visa, etc.) while she stays safely and boringly tucked away. And then of course they will fall in love and the bad guy will track them down and he will save her again and HAPPY ENDING.
What makes this movie special are the bits that are mixed into it. For one thing, the heroine isn’t just randomly being dragged along by a bad guy. There’s a whole complicated burrito of backstory to it. Bhoomika is a happy average girl, Prakash Raj is from the local scary powerful family, his mother is terrifying and sadistic, his older brother is the Home Minister for the state. Prakash saw Bhoomika and decided he wanted to marry her. In little subtle bits of dialogue, the film fills in and acknowledges not just that Prakash is a bad dude, but that is is older than her, less educated than her, all the reasons her family doesn’t want her to marry him. This isn’t the usual “my virtue is my greatest treasure” kind of situation. Especially since he actually does want to marry her, with all formality and honor. Her family, and herself, don’t want this for her because she doesn’t want it, she wants something else. It’s specific, not the stupid rules of society forcing them to be against it.
In most films, the heroine’s family is just trying to keep her safe and pure until they can marry her off. In this film, the whole family is sacrificing themselves so she has the freedom to be and do anything she wants. Bhoomika’s two older brothers both die at the hands of Prakash Raj in order to try to keep her free. And her parents decide to spend all their money to send her to America and safety, where her uncle (who also loves and wants her more than anything else) is waiting for her. This is a daughter and a sister and a niece who is loved just for who she is and who deserves every happiness.
And that changes everything about what the hero is doing for her. He isn’t trying to save her for her family, or to bring her to a respectable marriage of someone else. He is trying to save her, for her. To get her to where she can live any life she wants. And he definitely absolutely isn’t trying to save her for himself either. This isn’t a romance, this isn’t the hero versus the villain, this is the hero trying to get the heroine through the dangerous tangle and over to freedom, and that’s it. For once, she isn’t just a damsel in distress or some prize at the end of the rainbow, she is a person.
That’s how the film treats her straight through, she may not talk much and she may be traumatized, but she is smart and thinks and feels for herself. When Mahesh’s family is about to discover her, she is the one who figures out a clever way to hide. When Mahesh and his friends are ready to celebrate their success, she doesn’t join in and instead lets her own feelings of sorrow over what happened to her family take over. And most of all, when Mahesh is determined to get her to her uncle in America, when her own parents tell her to do this, when it is the safe sane choice, she makes the leap and decides she wants to stay back and be with Mahesh. It’s totally on her, it’s a leap of bravery and independence, the opposite of the usual graceful giving in to his wishes that heroines do.
This film has all kinds of little flips like that. Mahesh and Mukesh Rishi, for instance. Mukesh should be in the right, he is the father and he is a police officer and he is wise and noble and so on. And Mahesh is a fast talking lazy trickster type, immature and youthful and all that. In a normal movie, Mahesh would slowly come to realize the importance of his father’s values and so on and so forth. But in this film, it is the other way around.
That was my biggest problem with Tevar, the remake version. It felt like it was saying the father police officer was in the right for thinking his son shouldn’t have run off with this girl (because taking girls away from their parents/fiances is wrong even if they themselves say they want it), instead of the son being right for trusting the girl to think for herself. Even if he was mistaken, even if there was a false police report saying she was kidnapped, the father was still correct to follow the rules which say a woman is the possession of society, not herself. That her parents, her fiance, and the law must all be consulted before her own opinions. And that is the correct thing, only the immature son doesn’t see it.
But in this movie, Mukesh is wrong. Not a bad person, but wrong. Mahesh tricks him and confuses him and has no guilt about it. And in the briefings with the home minister (Prakash Raj’s brother, doing his dirty work), Mukesh looks weak and uncomfortable, like he knows he is in the wrong and is trying to hide from that knowledge. Mahesh, the silly rule breaking young man, his instincts are correct because he isn’t afraid to trust them. It is the older authority figures that have been fooled by the rules of society into making mistakes.
The romance is the really amazing part. Mahesh truly does not see Bhoomika as a romantic figure. Or even a sexy figure. His friends think she is pretty, he is uninterested. She is a person in trouble and he is committed to helping her because she is in trouble. He cares when she is sad, he is impressed when she is smart, but he isn’t in love with her, or even in lust with her. It’s not that he is a saint, it’s that he is a boy, girls as romantic prospects haven’t come across his horizon of knowledge yet. And that’s why she falls in love with him, because he is a nice smart funny decent person. She falls for him for what he is when he isn’t trying to romance her, when he is just being himself. It’s the reverse of the usual romance, with the natural unaware of romance heroine being pursued by and falling in love with the hero until she finally wakes up to her own new feelings.
That’s the other part that makes the romance really work, on some level Mahesh is in love with Bhoomika even if he doesn’t know it about himself. Not at first, not when he saves her just because she is someone to be saved. But when he appreciates her smarts and her strength and cheers her up when she feels sad, he is falling a little in love. And we get confirmation when he loses her for a moment just before finally sending her away at the airport, and is angry enough to slap her. In dozens of other movies, this would have been followed by a long speech about how she knows he really loves her because blah blah blah, or him saying it wasn’t until he thought he lost her that he realized blah blah blah. But this movie is clever enough to just let us fill in the romance for ourselves. Which makes it so much more powerful.
Of course they can’t just be happy and together, Prakash Raj has to return for one last final fight. I appreciate that Bhoomika isn’t forced into an orgy of screaming and fear by the director, this is not the only movie in which I have seen the twist of the heroine being so calmly confident that her hero will come that she has no fear, but I appreciate it every time. It’s a nice character touch, that level of faith and trust in each other. But more importantly, it means there is an artistic decision not to teach the audience to accept a fearful and screaming heroine, to avoid the sort of “terror porn” that other movies revel in. Plus, of course, the obvious Ramayan reference of Sita being sure of her safety even within Raavan’s house. Oh, and Bhoomika even strikes the fatal blow! In a very unmaidenly way, she implies that she knows Mahesh’s “manhood” after having spent a week in his bedroom (in other works, they had sex. She is saying he has a large penis because they had sex). And it works, drives Prakash to need to prove his own “manhood” by defeating Mahesh himself. Which allows Mahesh to take him hostage and eventually win.
Or, no, not actually win. Mahesh takes him hostage, wins the Kabaddi match, and then in the scrum after has a hand to hand fight with him and defeats him. Only, at the last minute Prakash rises up. Only to be killed for once and all by….Bhoomika’s father! The man who was ultimately most wronged, lost both his sons and was ready to send his daughter away never to be seen again, is the one who takes his rightful revenge. It was a team effort in the end, just like Kabaddi. Bhoomika tricked Prakash, Mahesh captured him, and Bhoomika’s father struck the killing blow.
And thus, Mahesh became a star. Because of another team effort. A good script, a good director, a good supporting cast, and it all brought him over the finish line to being a major star.
(Happy Birthday Nikki!!!! I can’t remember if this is your absolute favorite movie, but I now it is a super important Mahesh movie and therefore you would probably like me reviewing it. Next year if you are very good, maybe I will finally review Main Tere Hero)