There are people out there who need to medicate their obsessive selves. And then there are folks who manage to exert a bit of control over their compulsions – I choose to channel it into tight spirals of in-depth immersion to burn the subject down to manageable levels. Whenever this happens to me, which is more often than it ought, I describe it as having fallen into a wormhole and I hope to come out the other side.
My wormhole for the past week or so has been Mahesh Babu. It’s sort of mystifying – I saw Pokiri a while back and I was perfectly fine putting it out of my mind. Then I saw Athadu on Cinema Chaat’s recommendation and it was hello-madness-my-old-friend time again.
However, while the rules of the wormhole dictate that I must ceaselessly hunt down and devour every last bit of everything connected to the central subject, it does not demand I lobotomize myself in the process. In the present case of Mahesh Babu, for instance, I was perfectly able to understand that the man has oodles of that mysterious-yet-all-important It factor that marks a charismatic star, while recognizing that half the stuff I was watching (particularly the early movies although the fairly-recent, pseudo-scifi, pedotastic-by-inference, all around weird fantasy Naani co-starring Ameesha Patel was pretty terrible too) was almost irredeemably bad.
There’s Takkari Donga, for instance: apparently an homage to father Krishna’s groundbreaking portrayal of a cowboy in Telugu cinema, it stars Mahesh as a Wild West robber full of derring do who intentionally courts unnecessary trouble, hoping his notoriety would lead him to his father’s murder. In the process, he’s stalked by a skimpily-clad (at one point, completely unclad) Bipasha Basu and carts around a half-naked (at one point, completely naked… you get the picture) Lisa Ray who keeps trying to get his pants off so she can check if he’s The One she’s supposed to marry. There’s also a mine right out of an Indiana Jones movie where diamonds grow like crystals inside stalagmites and an adorable little puppy whom he heroically saves from certain death – I mean, I can’t recommend this movie enough except for the times when I’m strongly warning you against it.
So I was really happy to see Sainikudu. All your questions answered here:
Q. What is Sainikudu?
A. A Telugu movie starring Mahesh Babu. Duh.
Q. Okay, smarty pants. What’s it about?
A. In flood-ravaged Andhra Pradesh, government corruption is destroying the lives of the poor. So a group of university students, led by Siddhartha (Mahesh Babu) decide to do something about it.
Q. Oh dear. That kind of stuff never works out, does it?
A. For reals. They get framed as terrorists by evil villain Pappu Yadav (Irrfan Khan) and his brother-in-law Mondi Naani (Prakash Raj) when they try to field a student as a candidate against him in the upcoming elections.
Q. That’s a very not-nice thing to do.
A. It is a properly villainous thing to do! Especially when Pappu wins the election and ends up as the Home Minister.
Q. Set a thief to catch a thief, so to speak!
A. Right! Except he doesn’t want to catch any, he just wants to fix it so he doesn’t get caught! The students say nix to that and kidnap Pappu’s bride Varalakshmi (Trisha Krishnan) under his nose on their wedding day and hold her hostage in exchange for Pappu completing his election promises.
Q. How does that work out?
A. For Siddhartha? Probably better if Varalakshmi hadn’t been the bride. For the viewer? Fabulously! The way it does when the heroine isn’t just your random naive village belle – but a deeply romantic, naive village belle, convinced (rather understandably, if she watches Telugu blockbusters where such threats fly around like confetti) the world is full of rapists, and hilariously overconfident about her fighting-capabilities. I was prepared to find her completely annoying, but she was absolutely charming – even Siddhartha thought so and she was either trying to get him killed, lecturing him about her purity, or questioning his manhood.
Q. Good stuff!
A. You bet. And a lot of it depends on Mahesh’s ability to just be silent. There aren’t a lot of actors who can resist the impulse to “do something” (at the 7.00 mark) when the camera is on them, but he can. You could argue that it’s a lack of ability, but having seen his earlier movies, I think it’s a sign of evolution. He also goes a little darker in this movie, doing stuff that is distinctly un-hero-like (albeit in a dream), has what appears to be a drinking problem, and thinks nothing of using dead children as party table centerpieces. Very affecting! But then, I like my action stars strong, angry and silent, which is probably why I don’t much care for it when he starts singing and dancing.
Q. You didn’t like the music of Sainikudu?
A. This was actually an exception – I liked the soundtrack. In fact, I was thinking about it when reading Beth’s CurrySmugglers interview: it’s unusual for me to really love film music in a language I don’t understand because lyrics matter a great deal to me, but either Harris Jayraj’s score was really that good or else the subtitles managed to work well enough for me to like it. Probably a combination of the two.
Q. The subtitles were good?
A. Well, I’m sure I missed a great deal of the wordplay and stuff – in fact, I’m pretty sure I did because there were certain segues that were distinctly odd – but going by various comments around the net, I’m better off that way because the original seems to have really pissed people off.
Q. Why is that?
A. I dunno. Maybe they didn’t like the political bits? They seemed pretty dire in a recycled way. Or maybe there wasn’t enough of it? Who knows! Personally, I thought it flirted with the borderline where I was just able to restrain my fast-forward finger.
Q. But you still had a good time watching it?
A. A bowl of Maggi noodles (original Masala please – none of this “new and improved”, “healthy” jiggery pokery), a bottle of wine and this movie? Totally my Sunday.
Q. That’s disgusting.
A. Sez you. Viva la revolucion!