Thursday Telugu Review: Magadheera! Ram Charan’s Hair is Soooooooo Pretty

I watched Magadheera last night with a baby, her Grandpa, and her Mom. And we all agreed that Ram Charan’s hair is the best part of the movie. Soooooooooo pretty. Well, I think the baby agreed, she said something like “ba ba ba BAAAA!” when I asked her, and I am taking that for agreement.

I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and I still love it, but I am beginning to realize that it is not for everybody. Twice now I have shown it to people who loved Bahubali, all excited because it’s like the same thing but different, and they have been very bored. The opening sequence is too modern, and too much reliant on knowing other Telugu films. And the second half is limited, struggling, doesn’t have the visual or the epic sweep to the story that Bahubali would bring out. The ingredients are there, they just aren’t as strong.
Image result for magadheera poster

One ingredient that is semi-lacking is our hero. Ram Charan is fine, but he is definitely no Prabhas in terms of acting. And why should he be? This is 2/3rds a standard modern Telugu film, all he has to do is react to Brahmachandran and wear strange designer t-shirts and pretend to be in love with the heroine. There’s no depth to his performance, but then there’s no depth to the character either.

The real flawed character though is Kajal Aggarwal. Urrrrggggh, she is so FRUSTRATING!!!! There is the start of some interesting stuff, but then her modern day character seems almost psychotic in her sudden motivation changes (“I hate Ram Charan!” “I love Ram Charan and would die for him!” “I hate him again!” “I both hate him and would die for him simultaneously!”). And of course her past character starts out as Awesome Warrior Independent Princess, and then changes to “Kajal! MOVE! Do ANYTHING!!!!” by the end. Retroactively, I am not blaming Rajamouli for this. After seeing what he did with both heroines in Bahubali 1 and 2, clearly he likes the strong independent interesting woman, just didn’t have the plot space for her in this film.

But then there is the fun stuff. The villain is excellent, as is the Noble Muslim/Christian ally of the hero (the Pran role, to put it in Hindi terms). And the special effects are shakey, but ambitious, in that typical Rajamouli way. And just the whole story is so crazy, and so fun, that it is hard to resist. And yet at the same time, firmly grounded in Indian film traditions.

Oh, and the soundtrack is surprisingly good! It’s not just the visuals that make the songs, they are catchy and fun. And if you have the visuals, you can appreciate that Ram Charan is very very good at dancing.

All of that is interesting, but when showing it to other people, I find myself wishing there was less of a Chiranjeevi cameo, less of a self-reflective commentary on stalker-romances, less Brahmachandran, less sexy cleavage shots, and just generally less feeling like this is just another Telugu film instead of something special and beyond the films, like Eega was, like Bahubali was. Those Telugu bits are fun if you are aware of what the industry is like and where they are coming from, but they are deadly dull when trying to show it to new people.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Like I said, the plot is kind of classic Indian film. Our hero meets our heroine and immediately falls for her and gets flashes of his past life. They fall in love in the present, but an evil rival shows up also from the past life. In the second half, we get a full flashback of the past life and its tragic ending. And then come back to the present just in time for the final defeat and happy ending.

Very familiar plot. Hamesha, Karz, Om Shanti Om, and on and on. There’s some standard fun twists, usually one part of the couple remembers first and has to convince the other in some variation. And there’s the audience being aware of the danger from the evil reincarnated person and the characters being unaware. Often the villain is the first person to understand what is happening. Or at least, finds out fairly soon so the threat level is accelerated.

You will never get this song out of your head

Rajamouli doesn’t really throw out the guidebook on how he does his plot. Just slight fun changes. One of the best is having the hero recognize the heroine through touch, not sight. Meaning he is passionately in love thanks to their past life connection, but doesn’t actually know what she looks like, just has to track down the woman he touched before. “Love at first touch” is a fun plot device to play with for a filmmaker, and the reincarnation excuse makes it kind of narratively viable in a way it wouldn’t be otherwise.

Mostly though, he takes a familiar template and turns it around and adds to it. In that way, this film is very similar to Bahubali. Like Bahubali taking the Mahabharat and moving it around to give us new philosophical questions, Rajamouli took the familiar reincarnation romance and made us think about what reincarnation really means, how this story can be turned around, what fate is, and destiny and love.

That’s where I found the movie really interesting. It starts out seeming simple, but then if you kind of look at it sidewise, take it “seriously” instead of just as a silly movie about reincarnation, then it has some deep statements. In the past, Ram Charan was a warrior and Kajal was a Princess. Kajal was in love with him and flirted shamelessly, he flirted a little bit back to her, but in the end he bowed his head to her father and the greater good and walked away from her. And they both died.

Her father’s argument was that Ram Charan had a dangerous life, if Kajal married him she might end up a widow. Ram Charan refused to admit his love because her father argued for a short term heartbreak to serve the greater good. But they lived in dangerous times and there were no guarantees. Kajal died, and Ram Charan never told her he loved her, and that was the regret that brought him back to life again, determined to break all the rules of society, do whatever it took, but not let her go again.

There is a direct comparison when, in the present, Kajal’s father again tries to separate them. Ram Charan flashes back to the past for a second and then grabs her father and threatens to kill him if he tries to keep them apart. This is before the audience has seen the past, and it would be easy to forget that moment, or never really place it in context. But what we learn is that flash of the past was not of Kajal’s father threatening Ram Charan, or harming him. It was of him giving a reasonable patriarchal argument about what was “best” for Kajal, and convincing Ram Charan that love was not the most important. That is what he is reacting to in the present, the anger at himself and at the patriarchy which convinced him to be “reasonable” and walk away. In the present, he will not be reasonable and he will not walk away, he will confront the patriarchy instead.

Kajal has an interesting statement about present versus past as well. In the past, she was a Princess, powerful and raised to rule. And so she fearlessly goes after the man she loves and what she wants. But in the present, she is an “average” girl, and has learned to be cautious with men, resists admitting who she is to Ram Charan, and generally distrusts him and her own judgement. Yes, there is still that spark and confidence, but it is not the same as the princess who fearlessly stood up to threat and declared her love. The “free” world of the modern woman isn’t quite as free and modern as it seems, doesn’t encourage as much self-confidence as she had in the past.

And then there are the powerful men. Dev Gill, the villain, and Sarath Babu, Kajal’s father, have changed almost not at all, and learned nothing, life time to life time. Sarath Babu is still focused on his own goals and his own life and thinks he can decide what is best for his daughter. We see him in the past consulting with an astrologer, and in the present with a lawyer, and in both cases the information is kept from his daughter. The change is that, in the present, he actually listens when his daughter finally tells him what she wants, and agrees to her marriage to Ram Charan. It’s a small change, but at least he has learned something.

But Dev hasn’t learned or changed at all. His catchphrase is even still the same!!!! It’s a statement on power and who has it, along with a statement on reincarnation and learning from past lives. Kajal had power in the past but was shocked when she lost it (Ram Charan and her father taking away her choice). In the present, she is more cautious where she puts her trust, and more cautious in general as she has less power. Ram Charan in the past had no power, a man born to serve. In the present, he will never give up his power, to Kajal’s father, to Brahmachandran, to Dev Gill, to anyone. And Kajal and Ram Charan are able to find a happier ending in this new life, because they have learned and changed, while Dev Gill has learned nothing and therefore is doomed in the present just as he was in the past.

This is more romance, mutual flirtation and romance, than they ever achieved in the past

The character that shows this the most is Srihari. In the past, he was the Noble Muslim. A fierce warrior, but a brave and fair man. He was able to treat Ram Charan with respect in a way he never really was by his own allies (a subtle statement on caste and Hinduism and Islam as well, it is the successful Muslim warrior who is able to see past Ram Charan’s caste and to his real value). But ultimately, he was not free, he was bound by his promises to the wrong people. He allied with Dev in order to defeat Kajal’s kingdom, and therefore he was forced to support the unworthy Dev against the more worthy Ram Charan. In the present, he has been brought to a far lower level of society and power, but has benefited by being able to choose his own allies based purely on their virtue, not on a greater goal. Because he has no greater goal, he has been freed from that. He is punished for his sins, by being sent to a low level of society and disallowed from marriage (as punishment for separating true lovers) in his new life. But he is rewarded for his virtues by being reborn happy and free to an sunny pleasant life. He is different, but the same. And he has learned from the past, instead of separating Ram Charan and Kajal, he now does whatever he can to bring them together.

This is a pretty happy place to live after being a cold dedicated warrior your whole past life!

So, yes, this is a very silly movie with a lot of silly things in it. But on the other hand, it also has some really interesting things to say about learning from mistakes and second chances.

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20 thoughts on “Thursday Telugu Review: Magadheera! Ram Charan’s Hair is Soooooooo Pretty

  1. I watched this movie without any idea of who Raajamouli is,much before Baahubali and was struck by the visual brilliance,imagination and the overall heady entertainment.The hero recognising heroine via touch that’s like a spark,him chasing her bus on a horse,the race across white desert and the epic 100 soldiers kill-it was a movie unlike anything that was around then.Warriors,princesses, archery,horses were not so common in Indian movies then as it is now.Add to that,the background scores and music that elevates the experience. I think this movie was like Raajamouli’s training ground before he went full blast on Eega and Baahubali. So I think it’s natural that anyone who has watched Baahubali will find this movie lacking in story,setting, characters, visuals & overall appeal.That just means Raajamouli as a director, is striving to better his previous -successful- attempts unlike other populist directors like Farhan Akhtar,Raju Hirani,SLB etc whose initial movies are their best works and the quality since then,has been steadily declining.I can’t wait to see what he does next.His level of imagination & fast paced story telling is unmatched by anyone we have around now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t get a notification of this comment, it is the weirdest thing! Anyway, that’s why I answered Vennela first even though you were “first” in line.

      Really interesting point about Rajamouli. Sometimes I feel that when directors are given fully control as a reward for their previous successes, it ends up just showing their weaknesses. To use SLB as an example, Khamoshi is my favorite film of his because he had to be so imaginative and work with so many restrictions. And then the more freedom he had, the more he seemed to get away from the imaginative ways of working around problems. Same with Munna Bhai and Hirani. I’m trying to think of another director that got better the more freedom he had, and the only ones that come to mind at the moment are Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, and Yash Chopra. But they also (except for Guru) ended up having a decline. There was the struggle to prove what they could do, and then freedom as they scaled the heights, and then the decline as they aged and lost their brilliance.

      That’s a depressing thought! I hope Rajamouli is still at the Shree 420 point of his career with plenty more brilliance to come, not at the Dil To Pagal Hai point when it just turns into rehashing old ideas without the old spark.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You just described the standard path followed by many actors and directors. Start out as simple, brilliant beings,find critical/mass acclaim,transition into stars/star directors or brands,start hiding behind fan expectations,and then repeat oneself over and over. I can still justify actors to some extent cos they have rather limited choices of what’s being offered and have to abide by fans to a large extend. But star directors who thrive on their ‘brand of cinema’ serving the same kind of movies again and again are mere formula following,lazy egoists who has no respect for audiences.

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  2. Very nice review of the film. It is not in the same league as Bahubali but when it released, it was a big hit and still entertaining in bits and pieces. I always forward Brahmanandam bits though!!

    I think I mentioned it my comments earlier that Kajal being passive may be a plot point. Her passivity is the reason why her father makes decisions for her. Dev Gill doesn’t object to a woman on throne, he objects to a woman who retreats when assaulted on throne. Not that he is looking out for the kingdom but there won’t be a competition for her hand if more people think she is capable of ruling (For ex Rudramadevi or Arundhati).

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    • Oh good, I’m not the only one who fast-forwards the Brahmanadan sequences!

      Yes! During that scarf scene, I couldn’t help thinking about how Anushka or Tamannah in Bahubali would have handled that moment. It’s not that Rajamouli can’t write active women, it’s that in this film he wanted Kajal to be inactive.

      On Thu, Jan 17, 2019 at 10:46 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. >>>One of the best is having the hero recognize the heroine through touch,
    As far as I could remember, they would never touch in the warrior flashback while jumping from the cliff – he’d try but fail to catch her hand. This mistake was trolled well at the time of release.

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    • That’s right, it was a really clever concept, because they never managed to touch at the moment of death, touching hands in the present is what set the story up again and completed it.

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  4. Magadheera was an attempt to make Cherry as a Superstar after an average start with Chirutha. So, Chiranjeevi and Allu Aravind had brought up Rajamouli to make a novel and different movie, at the same time include all necessary ingredients (Brahmanandam, Suneel, Dances, Racing , Remix of Chiranjeevi’s song, cleavage shots, etc.) for a Telugu masala movie

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  5. I forgot how I love Dheera Dheera; it’s my mood booster. And we should put white desert scenes on “the sexiest scenes” list. I didn’t have any feelings for Ram Charan durning almost all movie, but when I saw him in the desert in those white pants and with a sword I was like: WOW.

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  6. Like I have posted before, I don’t analyze the films. I just let them wash over me and make me feel good. Occasionally, I watch the ones I like over and over and pick up directorial moves and catchy plot points. But they don’t necessarily add to my original enjoyment. I am paying attention to DCIB reviews, however and getting smarter.
    Magadheera is a favorite although as far as historical and fantasy movies go, I prefer Bahubali, my all-time best, even over Paadmavat and Asoka. And as Telugu actors, Prabhas and Allu Arjun over Ram Charan, no matter how well he can dance. BTW, If you have a list of (not too old) historicals or films with historical sequences, please tell me. I’m sure I missed a few good ones.
    I too am a Brahmadan and Jonny Lever fast-forwarder; glad not to be the only one. Kajal doesn’t move me. Anushka does. I’ll watch whatever she makes, even the duds, and there have been some.
    A blizzard is raging outside. I’m going to warm my soul now with Dheera Dheera.

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    • Thanks for the suggestion! I should do a post with a list of historical films. There aren’t that many of them, so it will be an easy post to write 🙂

      On Sat, Jan 19, 2019 at 4:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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