The origin of this post is a very very VERY long email that I sent moviemavengal/Pardesi after I first watched this movie. So be aware that it is my reaction to my first regular real Telugu film ever, and I was very excited
I have so very many thoughts about this, I think I am going to have to just go through it scene by scene, to make sure I don’t forget anything.
So, the first two minutes, with the keytar band on the streets of Milan, Italy, was so wonderfully, not quite dorky, but like surreal? Like surreally dorky? But in an aware way? Anyway, I made my sister watch it, and she loved it so much she almost got sucked into watching the rest of the movie, and then decided to send it off to everyone she knew and our parents. He’s playing a keytar! In an alley! With a multicultural English speaking band including a full drum set! In an alley! In Milan!
And then the motorcycle gang shows up, and I think there was a thing about Hindi versus Telugu there. Because the head of the gang had to translate for the others or something? Which I find so interesting, because of course in a Hindi movie, everyone in the world just speaks Hindi, including white British muggers (as seen in Ra.One). But in this Telugu movie, Telugu is more sort of a secret code type thing, there are plenty of people who speak it, but they are surrounded by others who do not.
(Ra.One: the movie that proved the Hindi industry could be just as strange as any regional industry)
And then there is the weird imagined fight scene/fight scene, when our hero describes what he would do to the bad guys, and we see it happen onscreen. Which was kind of a brilliant work around for having a pacifist hero but still needing to show a fight in the first five minutes. And then Richa Gangopadhyay (Hey! She got her MBA from Washington University! That’s right by where my grandmother used to live!) is walking with her friends and telling them about this cool guy who rescued her last night (again, they all speak Telugu, but they are also clearly from Andhra Pradesh, not like in Hindi movies where you might have the same group and one of them is some random white girl who also apparently understands Hindi). And as they walk, they keep bumping into Prabhas. And I think time is supposed to be passing? But she always wears the same dress. So either it is a joke about how little time is actually passing, and the title in Telugu that I can’t read just says, like, “five minutes later”, or else it is poor production values. Because I think he actually changes clothes in this sequence.
Anyway, his whole scam at her with how he “just stopped by campus” “Surprised you in your weird huge Italian apartment that maybe you share with all the other Telugu girls” type thing, having been spoiled already, I was watching closely. And the thing is, he never actually says anything about being in love with Richa, but he acts in this shy and embarrassed way, so everything he is saying is clearly to hide his deep feelings. Or at least, that’s what he wants her to think. Got me all mad at him!
But on the other hand, skipping ahead a bit, when he finally tells her the truth, he says “you never knew the real me” or something like that, which is true! She knew right from the start that he was faking every interaction, she just thought it was because he was trying to be cool. But even so, she still shouldn’t have fallen in love with someone who was never really real with her. Their whole relationship was based on her teasing him because she liked watching him “pretend” not to care. Which actually reminds me of Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na! As does the pacifist hero thing! Remember how his romance with not-Genelia looked great to begin with, but then after he met her parents, he realized the whole thing was based on a fantasy, and she spent her whole life pretending everything was fine? And they didn’t actually know how to be really real with each other?
So then there was the boring party song. I don’t think it’s just that the Irrfan Khan AIB video has ruined party songs for me, I think this one was legitimately kind of boring to both listen to and watch.
And then they had the “Love! Love love love” conversation. Again, jumping ahead a little, he seemed legitimately upset when she talked about how miserable she was at home, which tracks with his later revelation that he didn’t know who she was, and then he was surprised to realize she was sad also. But he didn’t seem to have much of a reaction to her hometown (although that could be because the subtitles didn’t match the spoken words exactly so the reaction came sooner or later than I was looking for), and also, if he didn’t know who she was until then, why was he being all super flirty and pursuing her? It makes no sense!!! Unless he just sensed she was sad and decided to force his way into her life to make her happy although he wasn’t in love with her, and then later found out she was sad and part of his enemies household? Or else he really did have kind of a crush on a hot girl, even though he was supposed to be in love with the girl back home, but then he would be a jerk.
Anyway, then we are back in Hyderabad and everyone speaks Telugu and we don’t have to bend over backward explaining why. And we meet the jerky brother (who is also kind of hot) and the hero infiltrates their gang. And we meet the landlord and his sister-in-law, and that was weird! First, the house was distinctly less furnished and designed then the same set in a Hindi film would have been. It’s just these little things where I noticed the money difference between the two industries. The songs, film quality, costumes, acting, hair make-up etc. was all the exact same quality, and the fight scenes were much better, but every once in a while there would be these little hints that they had slightly less budget to work with than I am used to. Another sign, in a Hindi film, they actually would have filmed on location in Milan instead of just used a standard establishing shot and clearly being on Indian sound stages for everything else.
Also, the landlord was such an odd comic relief to throw into the middle of this otherwise fairly serious action movie. It’s all drama and feuding, and then here’s like a Mr. Furly type breaking the fourth wall and stuff. Also, his sister-in-law was odd. I kind of liked the idea that she had a crush on the evil brother and our hero just helped her achieve it and thereby “cure” the brother of his violence. But the whole thing with the landlord being all trying to control her sexuality was creepy.
Also, what is with this director and lady’s toes? Or maybe it’s an Indian thing (like wet hair) that I didn’t know about? The sister-in-law is trying to entice the brother by painting her toes outside? And the landlord freaks out like she’s wearing a bikini or something and forces her back inside the house? And then later, during the awesome second half love song, our hero paints the heroine’s toes? I mean, I get it in a general sense, “oo, touching a part of her body! And sort of hygiene in a sexy way!” but it seemed a little odd to have it in there twice.
And then they go to the club, and I honestly thought there was going to be some sort of joke about how dorky our hero was dancing at (I thought the same when they go to a club in the second half), but no, I guess that’s just how Prabhas dances. My love is dead.
And then part of the big “love love love!” change in the evil brother is that he starts dressing more modern. Which I thought was hilarious! It’s like, just putting on an ultra hipster t-shirt hoodie will make all your anger and testosterone go away.
And then the whole “come to my house!” invitation from the brother, and it turns out this was all a scam to get him in with Richa’s family, which really was just like in DDLJ. I don’t understand how the landlord ended up there also really, but that just fits with the whole landlord not fitting with the rest of the film problem. It was the only really poorly plotted and tracked part of it.
(This guy. Who supposedly holds the world’s record for most number of films acted in)
And then, bam! Violence! Right away, the first time the camera takes us to Richa’s home. I like that the first violence we see, just the slitting of the throats of the captives, is so blatant and graphic. It’s a clear tone shift, throwing you right into it. Also, general interesting thing, depending on the era of film and the location of the industry, films either have the villages as the safe haven from violence (like in Roja) and bad things happening once you go away from them, or else villages as the center of violence, and bad things happen once you return to them (like in this film). It’s a different kind of violence, too. The violence in the urban non-village areas tends to be anonymous and uncaring. The village violence is intimate, almost. Very much what is shown here, grabbing a guy and looking in his eyes while you slit his throat.
So I just double-checked, and I remembered right, we don’t see Richa or know she is there until her brother arrives. Which of course heightens the surprise, but also keeps the focus tightly on the household as a whole and the general unhappiness, rather than her love story. If she had come home and moped about, in love with Jai, it would have been different. And again, Jai never says anything directly about caring for her when they meet for the first time here, which could be because he is playing it cool, but could also be because he doesn’t want to outright lie to her. I am comparing the interaction, again, with DDLJ. In DDLJ, there’s the same coy exchange of glances, but when they are alone, there is no artifice. It is a straight forward “I am here for you and nothing else.” Which is kind of the best part, that they are in this little bubble of honesty in the midst of her whole family. Whereas in this, even when they are alone, it is just a flirty conversation about her waist.
This whole thing is mostly from her perspective. Which didn’t seem that important to me until we got to the second half and the love song was so different, and clearly from both of them. Plus, it is just about her waist, which is so superficial compared to the second half relationship. I’m also thinking maybe it was just a general “this girl does not fit into this family/life” kind of situation, rather than her actually falling for Jai. It’s mentioned later that she forced her parents to let her study abroad, and certainly her super sexy flirting with Jai is not right for a village girl. So I don’t think they quite made it clear, but it could have been more of a “she never fit in this world, she felt connected to Jai just because he was outside of it” type thing than a “she fell in love with him for him” type thing.
And then there was the whole bit with the widowed mother which, hmm. On the one hand, nice that they are showing the human cost of this feud between the village leaders, but on the other hand, it is supporting the whole “a woman is nothing without her men” theory, by the way she is demanding her son back. Maybe have the son ask for his father? Or an aged father ask for his son? I liked the general idea of “better to live for the people who are alive than for vengeance for the people who are dead”, but it was a little bit too reliant on the “a woman needs a man super super much!” But I really, whole-heartedly, liked the resolution of it with the hero explaining why he had the money to send her son away for education come from the village headman instead of him. At first I thought it was just to save her pride, but then when it went on and they explained that it saved her pride because the village headman is SUPPOSED to be doing things like this, that was the first indication that they were going a little beyond “violence is bad” and more into “what is your responsibility towards your people.”
And I like that he forces the issue not just with the widow, but with the headman as well! But just doing it and then letting him see how nice it feels when he is treated and acts like a real leader instead of just a thug, it’s a lot simpler than actually trying to get him to do something nice and see the outcome. Also, man Prabhas must be rich!!! Enough money to pay for his schooling and set them up in the city, and he just pulls it out of his pocket to prove a point?
And then there was the bit with both Richa’s marriage and the village girl who wanted to go to school. I think with the village girl, but I’m not sure because it would have been in the dialogue and not in the subtitles, and I don’t understand Telugu, I think there was a caste issue as well? So when the headman decides to help her, he is not just helping a girl, but someone lower cast, get education because she is “his” person and he has a responsibility to her. And it also means that she didn’t just need his permission to go to school, she needed his active assistance and involvement. Basically, he wasn’t a “bad” village headman before, he just wasn’t a truly great one who went the extra mile and earned the love of his followers.
With Richa’s marriage, again, they towed the line of the family not being really “bad”, but just not super super good. They asked her mother’s opinion and followed it, they were looking for a nice handsome young boy (not just selling her off to anyone), and when her mother was convinced by reasoned arguments based on her daughter’s happiness, she had no fear to speak her piece. Would have been a lot better if all that was needed was Richa saying she didn’t want it, but that’s never going to happen in an Indian movie!
And then there was a bit after it that makes no sense with the future revelations! Richa kisses Prabhas on the cheek and he smiles and is all happy when no one is looking. Why? Why would you do that if you don’t care about her? Is getting a kiss on the cheek, from anybody, just that great? The only other reason would be that the comic relief guy is watching and thinks he has figured out that they are in love, so he is putting it on for the comic relief? But why would he care what he thinks?
So then he saves the “Evil” uncle from the other villagers. And half jokingly suggests that Richa’s family just doesn’t do anything in retaliation for like 50 years, and then nothing would happen, since it is now “their turn”. Which was actually one of my favorite bits. But the uncle decides instead to hire goons from “Bihar” to ambush and massacre his family. And then there is the awesome fight sequence.
So two things I noticed about why the excused his intervention here, even though our hero is a “pacifist”. First, they were both sort of “non-combatants” on both sides. On the one hand, the “evil” family wasn’t using their loyal villagers avenging a series of deaths from their side, they were using machetes-for-hire from outside, which is breaking the rules, and it means the machetes-for-hire don’t count as much. They won’t be starting another stream of revenge, and they are truly terrible people who will kill just for money. And then the “good” family didn’t have any fighting men with them, it was woman and children being attacked. So our hero getting involved at this point is also a little bit outside of the rule books, but that’s okay. He is protecting innocents from actual bad guys, it’s not like he is taking sides in a fair fight.
It would have been really cool if they had reversed it somehow, had his side hire people to kill the innocents on the other side, and show that it is really really not about sides, but about right and wrong. But this was okay too. Also, the reveal of his machete hidden in the mud and the way he lifts it is when I had the “oh, machetes are swords!” revelation. He’s not treating it like a work implement that can become a weapon, he is treating it like weapon, with the whole “first time I am touching a machete again!” kind of build up. And then he kills everybody, and declares his allegiance to the other village (without revealing his face so Richa’s side doesn’t know for sure who this fighter is), and it is all awesome.
With the machetes, I was really impressed with how they were used, more like a sword fight in an old Errol Flynn movie than just brute strength. There was a lot of clever spinning around and parrying and stuff. Which, when I was watching Bahubali, I was super impressed with the sword work, both in terms of the actors’ abilities and the fight choreography. I’m used to, even in American movies, just sort of stupid “clink-clink” type sword fights with no real imagination. But I guess that’s how machetes work in South Indian films? As sort of modern day swords? It made the fight scenes much more interesting. And, obviously, is why all the stars of Bahubali are able to believably handle medieval weapons. They make such a big deal about, like, the sword training for Lord of the Rings, and those fight scenes were less imaginative and required a lot less skill than the ones in Bahubali. Which makes sense, if part of being a Southern star is sophisticated machete fight training.
And that’s the entire first half of the movie! Phew! Part 2 going up shortly.