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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.

Enthiran (The Robot)

Genre: Sci-fi
Rating: 4/5

Scene: Rajni as Dr. Vaseegaran introduces Chitti the Robot to an audience of scientists. 
Scientist: Kadavul irukaara? (Does God exist?)
Robot: Kadavul na yaaru? (Who is God?)
Scientist: Namla ellam padaithavar Kadavul (We are all creations of God)
Robot: Enna padaithavar Dr.Vaseegaran. Appo, kadavul irukaar (Dr. Vaseegaran created me. So, God exists)

A thunderous applause ensued in the movie theater; hooting and whistles persisted for the next 30 seconds. If anything, you would watch this movie to witness the frenzy of Thalaivar’s die-hard fans, exulting with pride upon being presented with tokens of Rajni’s eulogy one after another.

Quick facts:  (1) Thalaivar – Superstar Rajnkanth’s moniker, meaning ‘Leader’ (2) Filmmaker Shankar is known for directing films with record-breaking budgets and his filmography has never registered a dud (3) The soundtrack and music are by the most expensive Indian Music Director, the Mozart of Madras, A R Rahman (4) The highest paid Indian actress, former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai is part of this bandwagon (5) While on the top dollar note, Rajni is the second highest paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan (per current trade reports)(6) Enthiran is Asia’s most expensive film till date, at ~Rs. 170 cr.

Are we in Utopia yet?  It’s OK don’t play skeptic now, I am not going to pull the plug on you. Enthiran rocks the box office Rajni- hard by measuring up well, while deemed ‘highly ambitious’ for Indian style, standards and history of movie-making, limited audience, mega-budget, and a heavily-hyped  project that was delivered in 2250 prints all over the world. As is clear from the title, the plot of Enthiran revolves around a Robot ‘Chitti’ (played by Rajni) that is designed by Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajni again). The humanoid is the most advanced robot of any type; is able to read, observe, understand, learn and apply (or imitate) any form of verb. Examples of verbs (present participle) – running, dancing, driving, fighting. The most important of all, emoting, cooks the meat and potatoes of Enthiran. You may assume a negative angle when you’d see Danny Denzongpa’s name feature in the cast. Not giving away much, watch the movie to find out how a scientist, his fiancĂ©, a robot that can emote, a rival scientist all fit together to tell a story.

Yevarum Uzhaicha Uyarnthidalam Endru Yeduthu Katruvathu Cinema Thaan
Adhuku Yaar Inga Saatchina Ada Vera Yaaru Namma Thalaivar Thaan”
(Cinema shows you can make it big by working hard; who else but our own Thalaivar is an example). ‘Cinema Cinema’ lyrics, from the movie Kuselan, based on stardom.

Very few entertainers command standing ovation at the beginning of their performance. Let alone the fact this was on a movie screen and not live. Rajni as Dr. Vaseegara  is a subdued character in the movie, letting Chitti's character hog most of the limelight. Rajni, through Chitti brings back some of his famous screen mannerisms, most notably his laughter, his gait and his signature standing pose with one leg crossed. Arguably, Chitti is the more charming personality and compares well with a lot Rajni has done in the past – comedy, action, romance, you name it. A chunk of Chuck Norris jokes have been attributed to Rajni owing to his ‘invincible’ image, but Director Shankar made it all reasonable by conceptualizing Chitti, who does everything we have joked about. Rajni as Chitti has adapted the restricted body movements of a Robot well. The man sports a wig, wears make up and fits perfectly into the protagonist’s character in a Sci-fi movie. There are numerous moments he’ll make you forget he is a 60 year old playing a character at least 20 years younger.

Aishwarya Rai (Ash) as Sana seemed alright for a change, and does not get lost in the Rajni mania. Any other actress in her place would look terrible when Thalai grabs most of the eyeballs in the audience. Sana in Chitti’s words - Manishan padachaduliye urupadi aana vishayam, onnu naa, innonnu nee (To list everything beneficial man studied, one is me and other being you), and Ash is the glamour quotient as you may imagine. Her dance moves are gracefully choreographed, she does not ham so much and presents herself charismatically, yet doing the usual. Danny Denzongpa  as Dr. Bohra, paints a good image of some of the Hollywood Sci-fi villains we have seen in the last 5 years. His lip-sync is evidently dysfunctional, however, his hand gestures and expressions more than make up for it.

Direction, Screenplay, Editing:
Shankar has delved into a challenging project with very unique attributes – a cult star, a subject of tomorrow, visual effects par excellence, technical artistes of great repute, and to add, production values that yesterday did not witness. All credits in this section including scripting go to Shankar, except Editing. Shankar, over the years has dealt with subjects that directly affected the society, primarily modeling the male protagonist as the game-changer. While his earlier works have been somewhat preachy, Endhiran scores big on keeping it real, letting the hero operate within the system and not above. While, the plot also aims at entertainment and this is achieved through some of Chitti’s gimmicks, comic acts and most importantly through special effects.  Converting a dream on paper to celluloid reality is an arduous task, especially when Shankar's role was to extract the best from the best.

Although this seems like a subject focusing on the urban class, the humour is universal. When Chitti is watching a mosquito bite Sana, you would expect him to thwart it with a Kosubat and be done. But there is a whole comedy scene on the interaction between Thalai and mosquitoes named Cholera Jasmine, Dengue Lakshmi, etc. Sensibilities like these make Shankar reach out to a wide audience base. Shankar seems to have employed elaborate research on the technical know-how, and otherwise ignorable specifics like Robot's melting skin when it catches fire, Robot programming itself, Robot functioning through stored electric charge, etc. and other such, if ignored, would be found in Readers-don’t-digest columns months later. Screenplay is (chrono)logical, except there is a lot to digest, so if any, I would have wanted to cut down on few special effects and mini action sequences to reduce running time.  Editing by Anthony Gonsalves is slick, keeps you hooked. If that proves he has done a good job, imagine the amount of work in front of him, having to choose from a wide array of options in form of special effects.

VFX, Cinematography, Art design:
The best part of the movie after Thalaivar himself, the visual effects, have been done by Stan Winston Studio. Endhiran is not India’s response to Avatar, not yet. But it is a bold step in the right direction having employed experienced Hollywood artistes with a Terminator 2, a Jurassic Park, and  suchlike behind their back. How they make you feel normal about two Rajnis in the same frame, making one dance like Prabhu Deva, while keeping you guessing if its really Rajni, and the formations scene in the end makes me want to enter their minds to see how graphically and geometrically they think.  Great teamwork is seen at play between DOP R RathnaveluArt Direction team led by Sabu Cyril and the VFX team. The elaborate sets are worth noticing and must easily cost a bomb each – be it outdoor or indoor – grandiose is the word.  Shankar seems to have a fixation to picturize Ash in all 7 wonders of the world, which changed recently adding Machu Picchu amongst others, and what do you know!  How all the sets and outdoors are captured on camera, and vividly remain in your mind is Rathnavelu’s art and he proves himself yet again.

If A R Rahman sneezed, would it be musical too? Not sure. But unlike earlier associations, A R Rahman has used less of Superstar's flavour and rather fit the album into the contemporary style he practices today. The music album is not a craze yet, but its apt to say it grows on you. Background music is ARR’s bigger contribution to Endhiran. Very astutely written octaves, amazing sound design, and world-class artistes recording in 3 cities (Chennai, Mumbai and London), ARR ensures the music enriches your experience. Sometimes operatic, sometimes comical, mostly flamboyant – much like the movie itself.

Why 4/5:
I take away because 1 point because Rajni’s age shows, and would have preferred shorter run time, with reduced action sequences. The good part being the ensemble, the performances, the technical aspects, a good subject, great special effects, great direction and most important of all, Rajni himself! Watch it simply because the man proves yet again why they call him Thalaivar!

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