I did it! I watched a new Telugu movie for the first time in ages. And it was fun. Not groundbreaking, but fun.
I do love a well-made Telugu action film! They fight scenes have a kind of competance to them mixed with experimentation, the plot goes a little haywire but hits all the marks, and if we are lucky there is a little bit of pure wit mixed in. That’s what this movie is. Some boring comedy, the plot was a little hard to follow in spots and rough, but a lot of fun in there.
And Allu Arjun deserves the credit for almost all the fun! He is so great at playing the self-aware hero. Telugu films rely on such a rigid character structure, you have to be a little bit self-aware in your performance, or you will drive yourself mad. How can you play “natural” when the story you are in is so extremely unnatural? Not just unrealistic, but unnaturally following a fixed pattern from which a film can’t diverge. Cops and criminals and romance and comedy, all set out like clockwork. Why not play the lead character as though he is, just a little bit, a clockwork toy himself? Something both less than and more than human?
What makes this film extra fun is that the film itself is playing the same game with the clockwork nature of this universe. It is most obvious in the romance, a lot of conscious commentary about the way love stories happen in films, how they can happen perfectly as though by magic or fate. But it’s there in the rest of it as well, the little touches about how you can almost predict what will happen next because it is what always happened before.
And then there’s the action scenes. The thing with Telugu action scenes is that there is a certain basic level of skill to them that is just the norm and everyone can do without breaking a sweat (flying kicks, camera work that makes sense of what is happening, really excellent stuntman). Since that level of quality is the sort of basic can-do-it-in-your-sleep level, it means there is loads of energy to actual do something fun. The Telugu action scenes are like the Hindi song sequences, or the Hollywood…I don’t know. Something. Or like a good cook who can make a decent cake without thinking and therefore throws in some fancy frosting and interesting spices, just for fun. A just fairly decent action scene in Telugu film is better than an action film from most other film industries. And then a good action scene (not even a great one) easily rises to something close to John Woo level. Work watching for that alone.
So here we have a movie with a fun aware lead performance, several nice clever touches of meta commentary on film narrative, good action scenes, fun romance, plus some decent songs, and a heroine I like. It’s all on a kind of weak plot framework, but who cares! It’s fun!
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Allu Arjun is an average guy living at home avoiding getting his first job and looking for fast money. Sonu Sood is a robber who was hired to steal a bunch of money from a bank by the banker himself who plans to give the money to his son and send him out of the country. Allu randomly crosses Sonu’s path and figures out his scheme and alerts the police. It leads to a fight, and the death of Sonu’s younger brother. Allu is sent out of town for his own safety and goes to Hyderabad, where he meets Illeana at a bus stop. Illeana works for the travel agency that is working with Sonu and the other bad guys to get them out of the country. Allu works with the cops to romance Illeana and get them an in with the agency. She finds out that it was all a set up and is angry, but Allu convinces her he is in love with her for real when she is kidnapped and he saves her. But then his family arrives to help make the engagement final, his father is attacked and his sister kidnapped. He saves her, finds the hidden money, and kills Sonu Sood.
I completely lost track of the plot about 20 minutes in. And that was pretty much fine. In some stories, there is a greater meaning to it all, about trust or patriotism or kindness or something or other. In this story, it’s just a series of fairly random things that happen loosely tied together by Sonu being evil and Allu being good and the two of them jockeying with each other over a series of challenges. The fun bits of the movie are all the little things, like when Allu has to romance Illeana so he gets the police department to create fake rain, make her bus late, and arrange for a motorcycle at just the right moment. Or in the final fight when Sonu is stuck in his car and while Allu is fighting a million henchman, Sonu is just trying to get out. Or even a small thing like Sonu’s mute sister actually being the brains of the gang and constantly signing to him what he should do next. Which feels related to me to Allu’s response when his sister speaks up “what? Why are you talking? You aren’t supposed to have dialogue!” Sisters in Telugu action films don’t have dialogue, they are just there to be in danger. Only in this one the sister who never talks is the one with all the power and the mouthy irritating one is the one who gets kidnapped.
The central idea of the film is that Allu is so smart, he can jump ahead and see what the next logical move is in any situation, and therefore control it. Which means, in many ways, he acts as the “director” of the film. He can predict the car chase, control what the characters do next, everything. It’s a really fun twist on the usual hero who seems so impossibly lucky. This time, it’s not luck, he explains how he worked it out and knew it would happen that way. And when he explains it, it becomes HARDER for the audience to believe, not easier. Therefore we are forced to confront the way we buy into this crazy movie logic.
This isn’t a move that draws us in with emotion, or with depth. It’s just pure wit. If you can admire a carefully crafted heist sequence, a fun fight scene, or even a sweet little romance, than you can enjoy it. If you want something more, than this is not the film for you.