Happy Birthday Allu Arjun! Desamuduru, My Least Favorite Hair

Another Allu Arjun film!  Am I remembering right that his hair changes frequently? Unlike most male stars, where the hair and the whole look is kind of part of their brand?  If so, I think he should keep changing, because this look is not the best.

This movie felt a little confused to me.  Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention (folding laundry), but there was this mixture of clever stuff, and then stupid stuff, and then boring stuff.  A lot of stupid and boring actually.  So this will be a fairly short review.

The clever first.  Allu works for a TV station, and I liked the meta commentary about the media there.  I also liked the kind of meta commentary on religious communities and retreats through our heroine and others.  The fight scenes were really great, of course because it is Puri Jaganadh.  And Allu does an okay job, decently charming and clever and all that.  Oh, and the comedian is actually funny!  Ali, his sections are clever and well-written, so I enjoyed them.

On the bad side of things, our heroine.  The character was painfully under-written.  And the performance didn’t do much to add to it.  There was some general philosophy in the romance that I found interesting, I’ll get into that more in the SPOILER section.  I feel like it just barely escaped “stalker romance” territory and made it into something more interesting.  But that’s all on the script and Allu, not Hansika Motwani.  Although, on the other hand, Hansika was only 16 and this was her first leading role, so I don’t know how much more I could really expect from her.

Also on the bad side of things, the costumes/make-up/etc.!  Not just unflattering (it wasn’t the worst I have seen by any means) but because there were specific character notes that the appearance was supposed to get across about our heroine and that failed.  She clearly had on mascara and eye shadow when she was supposed to be simple and natural in her beauty.  And the fantasy of “modern clothing” in which she could be “truly beautiful”, that was actually less flattering than what she was wearing before.

But, over all, the plot has some nice moments and it was a good time-pass to entertain me while I put away towels and did dishes.  Speaking of plot, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

I liked the opening for how simple it is.  Instead of taking the long way round or giving a complicated backstory, they just go straight to “Our hero is a hero because he is”.  He is technically just an ambitious TV station reporter, not a cop or a gunda or anything else heroic.  But he is the hero, so when he sees defenseless people being beaten up while on a story, he naturally defends them and also naturally manages to beat up all the bead guys.

And boom!  He is wanted by the mob and has to go out of town.  No time wasted on set-up, we are off to the mountains!

I like the mountain part because of the incredibly cynical take on all those priests and wise men and so on who tend to congregate in certain places.  There is Ali, who the film crew immediately jumps on as good copy.  Because he is so clearly extreme and exciting.  Which, of course, means he is also the fake!  The real spiritual leaders are like Rama Prabha, the woman camped nearby with her followers who refuses all media and dresses simply and talks simply.

Well, not that simply.  This is one of those parts where I wish the costume and hair and make-up people had been given better directions.  The actors playing the “good” spiritualists, are wearing bright pink simple clothes and large bead necklaces.  But, why pink?  And bright pink, not faded or naturally dyed.  More troublesome, all of the group members have styled hair, and make-up.  If they had just had braided hair instead, so it would be less obvious that it was all cut and styled, and if they had spent a little money and thought on natural colored make-up instead of noticeably fake colors, then this whole sequence would have felt less fake.

And I wish it had felt less fake, because only by fully believing in the spirituality of this group does the romance work at all.  For one thing, Allu falls in love with Hansika at first sight based on her beauty.  Now, this works fine for me if we have a sense that the beauty he is seeing is a true reflection of the uniqueness of her personality.  But with Hansika being all made up with styled hair, I’m just not getting the “falling for the soul that shines through her eyes” feeling, instead of just “wanting to have sex with a pretty face”.

I like the kind of meta acknowledgement that at this international spiritual retreat type place, Allu has no way of knowing if Hansika speaks Telugu or Bengali or any other language in the world.  There is some clever stuff with him trying to communicate with her despite her continuing to meditate, and him not knowing what language to speak.  But then, finally, she admits that she speaks and understands Telugu.

Their first conversation, if I think of simply the arguments back and forth, I like.  I just wish, again, that the look of the heroine and her performance had helped it a little.  Hansika’s argument is that Allu can’t really be in love with her, because he only knows her surface, not her soul.  Allu’s argument is that her surface is part of her, it can’t be separated.  Hansika replies that the body is meaningless, it is just mud, the soul is what matters.  And Allu says that if that is the case, and if he only cares about her body, then will she have sex with him now?  And Hansika recoils.

Now, I actually buy all of these arguments!  Well, Allu’s arguments.  Hansika is trying to retreat from the world, but she is rejecting part of herself by trying to reject her body.  And, if she really didn’t care about anything, she wouldn’t have reacted that way to his proposition.  She might have still said no, but she wouldn’t have recoiled like that.

Only, it doesn’t land quite as well as it would have if Hansika had clearly looked like someone who was still wearing make-up and otherwise caring about her body.  And also if the actress had been a little more experienced in coming across with these lines so the seemed less vapid.  But for the “stalking” type accusation, I am fine with it.  Allu’s argument works.  You can say that a person is more than their body, but you can’t say that their body isn’t a part of them.  And you can’t claim to have moved fully beyond caring about your body and worldly concerns if you still react with anger and fear to a sexual advance.

Oh, and then stuff happens.  Tourists are rude to Hansika while she is selling flowers in the market, Allu beats them up (they seem to be maybe kung fu tourists?  I am unclear, but it is a good fight scene).  Allu tracks Hansika down to the cave where her group meditates and confronts her again.  This time he actually grabs her, and again has a fairly valid argument that if she really didn’t care about the world any more, she wouldn’t be shaking and reacting to him.

And finally, Hansika has to acknowledge her feelings and agree to leave the group and be with Allu.  With the blessing of her spiritual leader, who reminds her that she can always return to them again if the world becomes too much for her.  I like that, an agreement that some people just aren’t made for the spiritual life and a good spiritual leader will acknowledge that and let them go.

Can I complain about costume and make-up again?  Even if you say no, I’m still going to!  I want there to be a great sense of freedom and joy in Hansika’s return to modern clothing and make-up.  Kind of like Amrita in Main Hoon Na, where it’s not about the specifics of the clothes, but about her finally wearing something that she wants to be wearing.  But in this case, I didn’t really feel like Hansika loved what she was wearing and how she was looking.  Or maybe I should be blaming Hansika herself instead of the costume people for not conveying the difference?  Or the casting people for using an inexperienced 16 year old who couldn’t handle all the mood changes?

Doesn’t matter, we go back to the action bits instead of the romance from here on out.  Hansika is kidnapped!  Shortly after leaving with Allu!  And we learn, she came to the group after suffering a personal tragedy and wanting to hide from the world.  Her parents were killed for objecting to her marriage to a gangster.  And, coincidentally, that same gangster is the one Allu beat up!

I have no issues with this coincidence.  It’s either fate (that Allu was meant to be Hansika’s defender) or just blatantly fake script writing, but either way it goes so far into stupidity that it swings back around to clever.  And blah blah, Allu plans to rescue Hansika and figures out how to do it.  And also sneaks in and secretly visits her, proving that he could have saved her at any time, but he wanted to do it in the perfect manner.  And this part is neat, Allu coordinates a fight so that it ends up in a room he has filled with cameras, so his TV station can broadcast it live.

We get to cut back and forth on different angles on the fight, and we get to enjoy Allu’s confidence that of course he can direct the fight where he wants it to go.  And we even get to see the talking heads describing the fight!  It’s neat.

Oh, and then we end with a conclusion of the comedy bit.  Remember Ali?  The fake Fakir that I mentioned at the beginning?  There’s a clever running gag where he agrees to tell his story on TV, but only in pieces, because “It’s a serial!  To Be Continued!”  We learn that he just wanted to meet his girlfriend and be married, but along the way he was kidnapped, arrested, this that and the other thing happened, and finally he ended up on this mountain pretending to be a Guru.  Meanwhile over in Hansika’s group there is a silly older woman who is always giggly and romantic.  We learn that her husband died and her in-laws stuck her with this group.  And, in the end-end, the filming crew finally discovers that the giggly older woman is the true love of Ali, the fake guru!  Everyone finds love and everyone ends happily.

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