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Actors: Akkineni Nagarjuna, Anushka, Priyamani, Brahmanandam, Pradeep Rawat
Genre: Mass, Masala
Rating: 2/5

Nag’s self-introduction all-through was “Ooru Kadapa, Nachhithe cheruku gada lekapothe ragada”. For those who still are not sure what to expect from this film, genre type above Mass and Masala should ring a bell. Without feeling the necessity to define the genre type, the plot of the story is about a Kadapa dude Satya (a 50 going on 30 Nagarjuna) coming to the *city* (Hyderabad) to take care of a big goon by systematically eliminating his three main henchmen. As you know but would like to read, in this process, Satya falls in love with Shirisha (Anushka) and *also* Ashtalakshmi (Priyamani) who are also connected to this web. Imagine a revenge angle, a foster mother and sister, many unwarranted murders or fight sequences, songs, etc. If you could think up all this on your own, I understand. No credit to the writer, irrespective.

Nag looks incredibly younger (helps the role), and although this type of role is a dead horse in Telugu cinema, it builds into the versatility of one of Tollywood’s great actors of this era. His command over Kadapa slang, his body language, action scenes all reflect his experience. For a movie in the genre, hamming is a plus and Nag has comfortably stood in this zone, mouthing overbearing dialogue, gunning down people at the drop of a hat, behaving brashly, etc. All of these attributes in excess, it helps build the character of Satya, which is Ragada’s core requirement. It’s a different thing altogether that Ragada as a concept appeals to few only. Anushka and Priyamani are merely eye-candy and if it is of your interest, there is more skin show by the latter. At the same talent level almost, Anushka as Shirisha and Priyamani as Ashtalakshmi share good on-screen chemistry with Nag. Their range of emotions is pretty limited as well, so a new parameter is necessary to measure the real reason why an actresses is even present, *cuteness* that is. Not a formal term yet, both ladies measure up well, say 7/10.

Brahmanandam as ‘Brahmam from Khammam’ is the comic relief and his on-screen entry commanded more claps and whistles than any other actor.  But there are limitations – old jokes, slapping others to elicit laughs, broken English, and minor tussels with the protagonist over their opposite. This workable formula would fail miserably as a stand-alone, but is unintentional relief in purview of the entire film. Pradeep Rawat as Peddanna does the same thing over again, the role of a menacing goon/politician who needs to eliminate anyone treading into his zone or even vaguely challenges his power. Pradeep’s Telugu hasn’t improved, but he has built the character well (out of experience), scaring people away over phone and his angry outbursts. Not his very best, but cannot think of another actor to replace Pradeep either.

There is one revenge element and a small surprise element, all adding up the protagonist’s talents. Those are the only two areas Director and Screenwriter Veeru Potla could have shown any creativity within bounds of this time-tested script. Sure enough, the story has good direction and brings in diversions at appropriate times. The other skill though of screenwriting is clearly not Veeru’s virtue where there is much monotony, unwanted violence, unwanted song sequences. Imperative possibly, and some of this is got to do with the genre as well – Mass & Masala.  Cinematography for this genre of film making has already reached epic proportions. Sarvesh Murari does a fine job, especially in action sequences. Other notable specifics are song videos and close-ups when one character is warning the other, which happens almost in every other scene. The close-ups are much appreciable, and Sarvesh has worked well with the light department (seems like) to highlight the glamour quotient of the leading actresses and the man himself, Nag. Music by Thaman, just an FYI. Not worth peanuts.

Why 2/5:
As explained throughout, Ragada is a formula film with very little happening from the story’s standpoint. The Direction and Screenplay is mediocre. The only positive things about the movie are the performances. You could venture and try watching Ragada if you are a fan of the actors, or the genre at large.

Manmadhan Ambu

Actors: Kamal Haasan, R Madhavan, Trisha Krishnan, Sangeetha
Genre: Rom-com
Rating: 3/5

Like most rom-coms Manmadhan Ambu does not hold many surprises, no doubt about that. Since story is not the USP, it’s anyone’s guess the focus elements would be the starcast (their performances), the screenplay and more importantly humour, given the genre. Based across different European travel destinations, the plot written by Kamal Hassan is about a South Indian actress, Ambu (Trisha) on a cruise-holiday with her childhood pal Deepa (Sangeetha) and her kids. While, her hammered-forever lover and ‘tusiness bycoon’ Madan (Madhavan) funds the *European holiday* of Major Mannar (Kamal Hassan) to spy on Ambu’s movements and report any infidelity. Mannar’s interest in the deal is to be able to fund his friend Rajan’s (Ramesh Aravind) cancer treatment. Madan breaches the deal, so the rest of the story is about Mannar manipulating the situation for further monetary benefit, and eventually winning Ambu’s companionship. 

Per popular reports, in any movie Ulaga Nayagan takes centerstage, stubbing out every other cast member, correct? Wrong. For once, Kamal Haasan is not the cynosure. Mannar may have come easy to Kamal, no specific mannerisms, a cool composed middle-aged man having a way with women, executing a *plan*, basically trying to set things straight. Kamal has done this umpteen times, does not fail at all in delivering laughs, jerking out tears, make you smile at his wits, teach a thing or two about chauvinism and romance, including how to look young(er). The portion of Kamal Kavithai recital by Kamal to Trisha observes a woman’s perception of the ideal man. Find the poem and its English translation here. Kamal may not be that guy in real life, but he does make you sit up and take notice how this 50-year-old does everything he does, with élan. Madhavan has shared screen time with Kamal earlier too. Some may feel that the role of Madan may have gotten relegated to a second fiddle. This is simply owing to the nature of Madan’s character and potentially due to the ideal male’s image for Indian cine-goers. Madhavan plays Madan’s character well, who is mostly in an inebriated condition, lugging around, talking under influence, and such related behavior. Madan is kinda, sorta the rich, bad guy who’s breaches Mannar’s trust, Ambu’s trust and an immature lover needing his mother to validate most of his decisions, but Madhavan makes sure he does not look like a villain.Madhavan has taken care so the performance does not appear clichéd, yet maintains his characteristic city-boy charm. 

Trisha was literally herself and could not have done Ambu’s role any better. She was able to cruise through the role, and as usual gets credit for her glamour and for her flirtatious glances. Ambu’s chemistry with Mannar is definitely more palpable, while it must have been some work for Trisha (also supported by the script) to justify Ambu’s relationship with Madan, her changing chemistry with him, give and take over time to seamlessly transition into Mannar’s lover. Trisha must also get brownie points for her role as a childhood friend of Deepa’s (Sangeetha), how they interact as two girl pals, how she behaves with Deepa’s kids and trying to portray how simple an actress’s personal life can be, devoid of public attention in a foreign country. If there could have been any improvement, it should have been about pulling out some more drone out of Ambu’s life, who was possibly designed that way, yet. Most of K S Ravikumar’s films have a married woman adding the humour element in equal proportions as the male protagonist, and not necessarily their opposite. Sangeetha plays that woman, Deepa, a divorced mother of two who is rich, and a friend of Ambu’s. She is shrewd, and knows how to move things around. Sangeetha must get credit for driving the chunk of trademark humour we expect in Kamal’s movies, especially in the second half of the film. Clearly a supporting but very likeable character, Sangeetha as Deepa has displayed abilities of humour, oomph, audacity, and glib, and rationally leaves a strong impression on the viewer, as an important character.

Direction and Screenplay by K S Ravikumar are average by his own standards. The reason possibly is his challenge, to manage two ends of the story, Rajan in Chennai and Mannar on the cruise with Trisha; abridge both stories while keeping it entertaining all the while. The roles could have been stronger, but there are elements of reality like a dying friend needing money, Mannar losing his wife, Madan and Ambu’s relationship issues, etc. Such sequences can potentially change the mood of the scenes. These may have worked negatively against Ravi. Cinematography by newcomer Manush Nandan is average too. The European locales haven’t been captured as beautifully the could have been. The scenes appear crowded but Manush has been extremely good with capturing nature shots  (greenery, waters, open skies, etc)The song video ‘Neela Vanam’ with -motion going backward  but Kamal singing forward is uniquely done. Music by Devi Sri Prasad has certainly not struck gold. Mostly dappankuthu music with some classy percussions, the tunes are not an instant attraction, or so I would think. Neela Vaanam and Kamal Kavithai are interesting renditions, and may find a safe place in our minds.

Why 3/5:
Overall, the film lacks freshness. The performances are good, but the characterization for any individual swivels from a happy person to a sad person and back. The characters are not surreal at all for a movie, working negatively for the feel of the movie. The Direction and Screenplay fall short, the music is pretty average too. The main incentive to watch a *timepass* movie like this would be to watch your favourite stars do their thing, or to cruise through a smooth movie, if really not about having a great time.


Genre: Family Drama/Comedy
Rating: 3/5

Like his on-screen contemporaries he didn’t mince words while painting a self-portrait with a City nunchi vachhadu soft gaa lover boy la kanipistunnadu anukuntunnaru emo; Character kottaga vundi ani try chesa, Lopala orginal alage vundi, danini bayatiki teste rachha raachhey’. This was NTR Junior’s way of hinting what to expect, not just from his role, also the movie as a whole. ‘Brindaavanam’ is where Lord Krishna spent his childhood in happiness, according to Indian Hindu mythology. Ideal is not ideal until its achieved; when happiness is ‘realized’, when problems are overcome, when failure turns to success. Nothing experimental, the subject deals with a rich boy NTR Junior, at the behest of his girlfriend Samantha’s request, poses as Kajal’s boyfriend to make her dysfunctional family (based in Rayalaseema) believe she’s not interested in any other proposal. Rest of the movie is about NTR bringing the family together. Much about family values and relationships, some philosophy, mainly about building a happy world; that’s where Brundavanam begins and that’s where it ends. 

Celebrated widely as a mass-hero, NTR Junior has deliberately attempted an image makeover, and a softer Krish is largely in tune with the opening quote. For the most part, he plays an obedient youth lecturing elders on importance of earning a worthy livelihood, building the safety-net of a well-knit family and keeping up one’s spirit. Notably, his body language is not ruffian and has a classy feel - hands constantly in his trouser pockets, etc. Choreography overall is just about average and does not do enough justice to his talents. Kajal Agarwal as Bhanu plays a timid and a slightly asocial character. She has exceptionally imbibed and portrayed the characteristics of a traditional Teluginti aada-paduchu. Perpetually low voice tone, attending to elders cautiously, langa-vonis, minimal makeup (but professionally manicured fingernails forever o_O), etc are worth noticing. Samantha is more of a glamour element, adds enough oomph in considerably less screentime, compared to Kajal. Holistically speaking, her role is not meaty enough for her talents. The two ladies have brought to the table all they could but they are not memorable performances; the unique requirement of the story (like most Tollywood movies, to highlight the male character) puts them where I did.

Srihari and Prakash Raj play head-of-the-family type characters, also heading two nearby villages, where residents fight their rivals (denizens of the other village, duh!), because it’s their bounden duty to support and fight a familial issue between two airheads who share the same father (Kota Srinivas Rao) but different mothers. Srihari and Prakash Raj have lived these characters earlier, and mix terrorizing facial expressions, emotional euphoria, voice modulations, eye contact, almost in comparable measures with each other to push forward their roles. For the star comedian Brahmanandam, I will suffice it to say he gets his due for being an actor who receives applause, smiles and laughter even before he could say a word and he delivers well, although the characterization is not very memorable.

If you expected this Rayalaseema setting to have Tata Sumos being blowed up, villagers ready to be up in arms against ‘rivals’ at the drop of a hat, and many action scenes, you are right. The mass element checked, there’s enough stress on family ties, etc. Not very tear-jerking, Director Vamsi Paidipally has hadnled the subject and emotions maturely. Kudos to him for navigating through a known story, yet through a combination of actors not tried before, with a challenge of trying something new with NTR Jr., and not just shaving off his moustache. The flow in the story is logical for the most part and for the larger-than-life experience Telugu cinema promises; there are no gotcha moments really. Screenplay, also by Vamsi is gripping; he provides the right hooks at the right times to let the story start swinging in a different direction through introduction of new characters, unexpected dialogues, changing the emotional tone, visuals, violent outbursts, you name it.  Cinematography by Chota K Naidu blends excellently into this village drama. The specially erected ‘home’ set, with blue walls [!] passes off too, thanks to Chota’s art. Music by Thaman does not exactly break through the glass ceiling. For the most past it suits a mass taste; except a song or two (Eyi Raja, Mojjarey notable).

Why 3/5:
The good: Story’s universal appeal highlighting cultural values. Good performances. Good Screenplay and Direction by an amateur. The bad: No big surprises, age-old storyline and treatment, many what-the-fish moments for the 21st century, impractical ending.

Mahesh Khaleja

Genre: Action-Comedy (Tollywood Masala)Rating: 2/5

Evadu kodithe thimma tirigi brain block avuddho vaade Raju gaadu.’ Raju opined it’s the brain, while popular Pandu  (Pokiri) had always preferred the mind. Same thing really, you say? Well then, in context of this analogy there are no surprises with Mahesh Babu’s characterization, except one. He also played God [:O].The story by Trivikram Srinivas has all those elements you expect in a mass movie, but with a death-by-randomness first half and a quicker-than-Ferrari second half which is about a taxi driver Raju played by Mahesh Babu (yes the character's name is not Mahesh), who takes upon himself to save a village of dying residents because they have declared him shiznit. Raju acknowledges the vox populi err, the sycophancy, but keeps it honest. In a span of few days, he is able to dig out the reason for the deaths and also fights the bad guys to finally save the village. 

It always amazes me how a dude with chocolate-boy looks plays an action hero! Don’t bother, it’s rhetorical. Mahesh sure does his thing as Raju, killing 200 goons, flaunting arrogance for no apparent reason, frustrating the main villain who gives a rat's ass about authorities, and padagottifying a pretty dame by being an ass. Whatay! Mahesh lacks comic timing and loses out big-time in this department. Raju is an inconsistent mashup of an Athadu, and a less-sarcastic Jalsa - doer, both Trivikram’s creations.  A lot of his hand gestures seemed deliberate and just for kicks; his charm although, will rub off on the more sensitive fans, read girls. Anushka (as Subbu) plays a hit-or-miss character like rest of the cast, except she features tangibly in all of the 5-6 ‘music videos’, which were otherwise ignorable. She did let the boy-gang crack jokes on her thighs calling them ‘solid’ which confused me, they are sexayy indeed! Comic relief through Sunil, Bramhi Ali, and D. Subramanyam is haphazard and less-gratifying. Shafi and Rao Ramesh as villagers have stood out and deserve critical acclaim for bringing expressions of real-life eccentricities to celluloid smoothly.

Direction, Screenplay, Cinematography, Dialogues:
The complexity of ideating the comeback vehicle of a big Tollywood star is conspicuous, given the challenge of ‘maintaining his image’. As Director, Trivikram hasn’t left out any ingredient in this ‘recipe’, but the quantities are disproportionate. Trivikram, who has a flair for comedy, has tried something different – placed the onus completely on Mahesh, without relying on the regular comics, making them obsolete. If that was the whole point, Mahesh’s entry scene (the whole wham-bam first time he appears) was not capitalized upon, and is only so impressive as his bike without the headlight housing. The flimsy plot overall loses ground very soon, so the shaky plot on which all else rest, fumble badly. A bad plot could have been saved by good screenplay (also by Trivikram). Using flashback or a parallel story are good mechanisms to engage the audience, but too much focus on Mahesh spoils the flow. The first half is really slow and tries hard to garner viewer’s attention, but the screenplay does not to latch on or build upon, passing the burden to the second half, which is replete with too much detail suddenly unfolding. Many sequences are unjustified – Raju murdering scores to secure water in Rajasthan(!), how he lands back in AP from Rajasthan, etc.

Cinematography by Yash Bhatt is very mainstream. Clearly agendized to captivate mass-audiences, this movie has all elements of a Tollywood potboiler. Same rich villain (yes, a rich Prakash Raj), bimbo of a girlfriend, a big house, a sidekick,  car blastsa cocky hero killing 10 goons in one go, adey egiri egiri thanadam – all captured how a Tollywood fan would expect. The deserts are fresh visuals, although. Dialogues are Trivikram’s forte, and most of the characters seemed to get it right. The language is massy (in excess of paaradobbuthas) with some overboard snarling, but colloquial overall. Comedians don’t exactly miss the train. Eg. Hostage Raghu Babu alleviating hostage Subbaraju's fear on seeing a coconut in Mahesh’s hand, by saying – ‘Bhayapadaku, vaallu kobbarikaya ni pagalakotti bellam kalupukoni thintaaru, anthe’. Or a goon asked by Tanikella to start fighting, innocently replying ‘Chai taaguthunna saar, etc are subtle yet impressionably funny scenes.

Why 2/5:
Idey ekkuva. The Good: Performances are overbearing, yet watchable. Impossible stunts. The entertainment factor is not zero. The bad: Unaesthetic screenplay and direction. Mahesh overshadowing regular comedians. This movie is for Mahesh Babu fan clubs only.

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