Thursday, July 29, 2010

Maryada Ramanna (2010) dir. S.S. Rajamouli and Our Hospitality (1923) dir. Buster Keaton

     Scorching hot director, S.S. Rajamouli's winning streak is intact with the hit film Maryada Ramanna. But some of the joy over the success of this "Small, big film" has been dampened by claims that it is a copy of the Buster Keaton 1923 silent film, Our Hospitality. Certainly the Wikipedia summary of the plot sounds strikingly similar to Maryada Ramanna's.
     From one of Rajamouli's tweets (which I didn't quite understand),  it appears he has known about the 1923 film for a while. (I don't know if that means he had mentioned the film as an inspiration or whether he has known about the controversy) And I know that some people, not associated with the film, have come to the film's defense arguing that even if it were to be a copy, Indian and US copyright laws weren't violated because the film is so old it falls into the Public Domain.  True, however, if Rajamouli or S.S. Kanchi got the idea of the basic plot from Keaton's movie, if they were inspired by it in anyway, then they should clearly say so. I have a hard time with all the concern over piracy and shutting down torrent sites, if the inspiration for the story isn't rightfully credited. It's a matter of ethics not law.
     Now, because I am not a Telugu speaker let me be clear in saying I have no idea at all whether Rajamouli or Kanchi have ever tried to pass the story off as 100 percent original or whether they have actively denied the claims of copying.  I also understand that the idea of a longstanding family feud/revenge storyline is a theme that  can be found in stories in many cultures and time periods. The same goes for notions about hospitality.   When I watch Our Hospitality I will be looking for the situations that occur within those themes to determine if any copying occured.  In anycase the controversy is moot untill I've seen both films.
    My copy of Our Hospitality arrived from Netflix yesterday, it's only about an hour long, but I decided to wait until after I watched Maryada Ramanna to view it. I wanted to enjoy Maryada in its own right and was afraid I would spend too much time "looking" for similarities between the two and therefore not giving Maryada Ramanna a fair viewing. So first is my reaction and brief review of Maryada Ramanna and then I will watch Our Hospitality and write up a discussion of any similarites between the two films. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I found Maryada Ramanna to be very entertaining. As a non-Telugu speaker watching a film with out subtitles I obviously missed alot of the humour and emotion that came across through dialog, but the situations and the outstanding use of the background score provided plenty of humour and excitement.  Sunil was a perfect choice for this role. He played the hero perfectly. He was sweet, funny and charming and his fear was palpable when he realised the danger he was in.  He was obviously very heroic at the end on the bridge. (I wish I knew what he said!) 
    Saloni was also good in her role. I really like that alot of Tollywood heroines get parts that have women with some backbone. I thought she played her role sweetly but with a mind of her own. The supporting cast was once a gain perfectly chosen. The two brothers that were out to get Sunil were funny amd menacing.
    I loved the hero introduction and the use of slow motion and music that Rajamouli uses so well to build excitement.  I know I had a look on my face like a kid who was seeing fireworks for the first time during the first song picturization when all the cars were flying through the air. (Thank you Rajamouli for that!) I had seen Sunil dance in a few other other movies so I knew it would be a treat.  I agree with other reviewers that have written that they were getting a Chiru vibe from him. The production values and action sequences were of a caliber that we've come to expect from Rajamouli. I found the film to be really a first rate entertaining expericence.
    Next up...Our Hospitality, it's getting late but I'm determined to watch and review while Maryada Ramanna is still fresh in my mind. Feel free to take a step out.....

That would be Trenton New Jersey! LOLS
....To get to the point, its not a copy but  Rajamouli clearly adapted it.  There are several plot points the same as outlined in the wikipedia summary, but how Keaton gets to the house, what happens to him there and how he gets out are all different with the exception to some small details that lead me to believe Rajamouli had seen the film. Before I get into those I just want to say that I got a kick out of the fact that both films I watched and understood primarily by watching the expressions,  listening to the music and watching the action play out. The American movie did have subtitles though!
  First here are the similarities other than the main plot of family feud vs. hospitality. At the begining you see Keaton getting around New York on a bicycle.  This was a very minor detail and insignificant to the plot, nothing at all a like the Bike in MR. I mention it because it was a cool old bike.
     Keaton goes to the town to claim his property by traveling on a train and the daughter is a passenger too. None of their interactions can be claimed as similar.  About 25 minutes of very funny slapstick involving the running of the train (its more a wagon train attached to a steam engine) None of this was anything like in MR.
    The father has two sons, one runs into Keaton when he first arrives to town and escorts him to his destination. He realises who he is, tries to kill him but misses. How Keaton ends up at the house is completely different and the Father and two sons try to kill him on the way.
    Once he is in the house everything that happens to him is different except the following: He finds out the situation he is in by overhearing the brothers talking. He initially tries to delay leaving by shaking everyones hands, and by throwing his hat under a chair (this time its a dog that keeps finding it).
One final detail, there was a scene during a prayer where Keaton and the Sons peaked at each other with one eye closed.
How Keaton gets out of the house and gets the girl is very funny and very exciting and completely different than Maryada Ramanna. And I have to add they did some wicked cool stunts back in the day!
So I believe Maryada Ramanna is a very good, very unique adaptation to Our Hospitality. And its Rajamouli himself that determines whether people can rightly call this a rip-off or not. Like I say I have no idea whether he has ever tried to pass this off as 100% original or not. I also don't think its necessary to constantly bring up that its an adaptation when you're out promoting your film.  Hollywood stars and producers don't mention the original film very often when they are promoting their movies either so that is nothing new. Both films are funny, thrilling and entertaining and I recommend people watch them both to decide for themselves.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Khatta Meetha (2010 - Hindi) and Vellanakalude Nadu (1988 Malayalam)

    I hadn't gone to see a Hindi movie in a while and Khatta Meetha, director Priyadarshan's remake of his 1988 Malayalam hit Vellanakalude Nadu, was SI Heroine Trisha's Bollywood debut.  My daughter had been complaining she missed Bollywood after so many Telugu films, and it had Trisha. So we went.   I don't really want to get into comparing every Bollywood film I watch with Southies (I don't think its fair, they have become so different) but this had so many SI elements and it being a remake of a Malayalam film I might as well do the comparison. Afterwards, I watched Vellanakalude Nadu to see what Priyadarshan's original vision for the film was. It would be my first Malayalam and obviously my first Mohanlal film.

  I really love Trisha best in comedic roles like NVND and Athadu, and I have enjoyed most of Priyadarshan's collaborations with Akshay Kumar.  Judging from the trailers I was fairly confident we were in for a silly 3 hours.

First of all it wasn't bad, but I don't see it being a hit. It was not a silly comedy but more a dark satire, so I think the advertiseing for it would set people up with a different expectation at the outset. Especially if they were like me,  unfamiliar with the original going in.

Good points:

Akshay did pretty well. He played his role as a corrupt, down on his luck road Contractor fairly strait. More silly and angry rather than silly and stupid like his last few comedies.

Rajpal Yadev: Very funny as one of the construction workers. My favorite charactor in the film. The scenes he was in were the highlight of the movie for me.

The funniest scene involved an elephant, a road roller, Johnny Lever (he's baaack!) and a house.

 I have gotten so used to the pacing and format of Tollywood hero movies that it seemed like forever before the first song came on. Of the four (only four?!) songs, I like the picturization of Sajde (not much dancing but the setting and clothes were beautiful) and the fun Item Number Aila re Aila the best. 


Aile re Aile

Note to Producers : Judging from the audience responses on the First Day First Show video posted on BollywoodHungama, don't have the song rolling over the credits be called "Bullshit" as its the last thing people hear before being asked  about the movie.

Setting and sets were good. Some of the shots of the towns streets looked like the same set used in a few scenes from Love Aaj kal.

I didn't find it to be a very funny movie except the elephant scene and some of the ones with Rajpal Yadev.  Some fairly serious things happen in the movie, so light and fun it's not.

There were many dialogs and speeches about corruption in the bureaucracy and how Akshay's charactor was corrupt because its the only way to get things done.

Trisha plays a former girlfriend (they broke up because Akshay punched her (closed fist, not slap like in SI films, not saying ones better than the other but this one seemed more brutal not OTT). Priyadarshan really missed an opportunity with Trisha, they never had her smile except during songs, she was not in any of the comedy scenes, so the opportunity for audiences to see her at her best (cute, bubbly and funny) didn't happen.

I didn't see any chemistry between Akshay and Trisha. When they revealed that they were in love before, I was surprised, never would have guessed it. Most of the movie they were fighting, so there could have been some dialog or physicality that would reveal a romantic past or sexual tension but there was none. Arguments were all played as corrupt contractor versus bureaucrat- nothing personal.

I know that there is a lot that goes into deciding what films to do. Priyadarshan and Akshay usually equals a hit film, but there was really nothing in this particular role for Trisha to show off what she can do. I hope she gets the opportunity to do another Hindi film and chooses a role where she can really shine.

There were parts of this movie that could have been better if they were Tollyized ( I just made that up!)

First of all Akshay needed a moustache, chest hair and a dhoti.

There was plenty of opportunity for revenge, for example:

Akshay's Sister gets married off to the SI equivalent of a political rowdy. When she is killed after being essentially prostituted out by her husband,  Akshay doesn't have the typical Hero  reaction. He steals evidence of corruption from B-I-L,  gets chased and sort of beats up B-I-L (mostly swinging bag of evidence around and wildly kicking) but no REYYYY! no going crazy with grief and no OTT violent revenge. The B-I-L does get justice so to speak but not at Akshay's hands, so much less satisfying in my opinion.

There is a machete attack but on a secondary charactor and unlike a Tollywood film, the hero, Akshay is unable to stop it, just runs after the bus yelling.

My daughter pointed out that the interval didn't come at a cliff hanger like we are used to in Southies now. It stopped at half way without thought to the scene. At least that's how it seemed to me.

After watching Vellanakalude Nadu, I realized I was being unfair for  wanting it to be more like a Tollywood film since the Malayalam film wasn't like a Tollywood film either. Ex: Evil Brother in Law does not die in a revenge filled bloodbath but gets tried in court and thrown in jail!! This is my first Malayalam film and my first with Mohanlal.  Because I have so little knowledge and experience with these kinds of films I do not feel capable of trully judging whether the satire worked or not. It was a critical and commercial success, but I have to say I found KM to be much funnier.

Khatta Meetha was almost identical as far as setting, charactor and plot points but with some major changes in tone. Vellanakalude Nadu was much more of a satirical melodrama. There was only one song, a love song picturised on Mohanlal and his girlfriend played by Shobhana. The background music was heavily orchestrated with stringed instruments giving the whole movie a melodramatic soap opera feel. 

Priyadarshan clearly wanted to ramp up the comedy in KM, he did this by adding more slapstick to the Elephant and road roller scene and adding additional slapstick scenes to the interactions of Akshay and his construction crew. Mohanlal's performance was much more subtle, plus he had a moustache and he was rocking the dhoti.

Now that's a moustache!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rajamouli Magic

    S.S. Rajamouli is Tollywood's director with the Midas Touch.  He has a 100% success rate with his seven releases. All have been hits, with his  last couple (Yamadonga, Maghadeera) out doing each other and all other releases at the box office.  He is my favorite director and will remain there until someone makes a movie that unseats Yamadonga as my most treasured film.
    With his next release (Maryada Ramanna)just around the corner I decided to finish out his body of work and watched the last two Rajamouli films I had left, Sye and Vikramarkudu. Each of his films deserve a review/post of their own so I won't review each now.  Instead I will briefly write what stands out for me about each film, some of which I watched months ago. I tried to rank them but gave up after getting too many tied for 2nd and 3rd place, so I will just discuss in the order released.

Student #1 (2001) This was Jr. NTR's first hit.  I watched it on a DVD without subtitles. Even without subs I was able to follow the plot. This is one of only two Rajamouli films that has made me tear-up. I am a complete sap for Heroes crying about their Moms. The scene when Aditya's Mom is coming to visit him in jail and  her husband stops her? That scene killed me, I was a sobbing mess.  I'd say Rajamouli did an excellent job of conveying the  emotions in that scene, if I could be so moved without being able to follow the dialog. If anyone knows of a version that has subs PLEASE let me know!

Simhadri (2003) Another Jr. NTR starrer.  I just watched this last week on DVD that was supposed to have subs, but didn't. (yeah I'm frustrated) I loved the music and dancing in this one and Rahul Dev's demise as the bad guy stands out as particularly spectacular. I missed out on the comedy and sentiment in this one I think, because of the lack of subs.

Sye (2004) This was my first Nitin film- what a cutie-pie!  I would say very different from Rajamouli's previous two. This one is more a campus rivalry than a revenge flick.  The shots of the Rugby game are very exciting. The game didn't seem staged like a lot of sports flick can be. And another stand out is Genelia's dancing. I never thought she could dance very well untill I saw this one.
Chatrapathi (2005)  This was the first Rajamouli movie I saw. What is most memorable for me in this one is the fights. Prabhas kicked-ass in this.  He fought a CGI shark and folded someone in half. It was gloriously over the top. And his brother (played by Shafi)  was a very memorable villain. Plus the Mom scenes. This is the other Rajamouli flick that made me cry.

Vikramarkudu (2006) The Hero in this one is Ravi Teja. Ravi plays a double role as a thief and a police officer. I loved the cute little girl and the villains in this. Ajay as a dacoit seemed like a giant. Once again the music and the song picturizations stand out.
Yamadonga (2007) I love this film. It's as close to perfection as a film can get. Perfect cast from Jr. NTR to Mohan Babu, Priyamani and Mamta. Brahmi and the other comics were used very well.  The fights were wonderfully choreographed and executed. The Music and dancing spellbinding (with Tarak how could it not be?) The story was sweet, funny and exciting. What's not to love?
Maghadeera (2009) This film has opened the doors to the thrill ride that is Tollywood to alot of non-desi Bollywood fans.  I get the sense from blogs and forums that Magadheera has been an eye-opener for alot of Indian movie fans who have never strayed South of Mumbai.  Ram Charan Teja does really well with the action and dancing in this his, second film. I loved  Chiru's cameo, Sri Hari's supporting role and Kajal was beautiful in both present day and past scenes. Great action and a superbly evil villain. Let me also add that Ram Charan has beautiful hair, I'm totally jealous. (He should keep it long. Seriously.)

    So what is behind the Rajamouli magic? Whoever helps him cast his movies should get a raise. The Heroes and Heroines and supporting cast are perfectly chosen.   All of these movies have well put together stories. The majority of them written by Vijayendra Prasad, who happens to be Rajamouli's father. I particularly like how the comedy tracks are so well integrated into the story, something that is often not the case in Telugu films.  The music is memorable and composed by  M.M. Keeravani,  I believe he is Rajamouli's cousin. The set design has improved and gotten more impressive with each film.
    Maryada Ramanna is releasing next week.  It has comic actor Sunil in his second outing as Hero. This film is supposed to be different than Rajamouli's others.  According to his tweets about the film it is less "vulgar and violent" than his previous films. If that is the case then choosing Sunil as the Hero makes sense as he usually plays sweet, funny, sidekick type roles. This short trailer highlights how different from the typical Rajamouli Hero Sunil will be.

    The only concern I have about the film is whether it will have subtitles on it's overseas prints. I have been pestering Rajamouli on his Twitter and Facebook pages and the producer Shobu Yarlagadda on his Twitter account to include subtitles for us non-Telugu speaking fans. I have gotten "we'll try" responses from both of them. It is time for SI films to have them. Magadheera has opened the doors to SI films for alot of non-desi Bollywood fans I think. It would be a shame not to draw more in with the aid of subtitles. I got my fingers crossed, I'll go first day first show regardless - I hate waiting for DVDs and missing out on the big screen experience.
   So the big question is (well besides whether it will have subs or not) will the Rajamouli magic continue and have Maryada Ramanna give him another hit and his fans another wonderful ride? I can't wait to find out!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


    I need to hold a Muhurat for my Blog, this being the first post and all. I can't afford to get an astrologer to figure out the most auspicious time for me, so I will just assume that when I click on publish post, that it will be the best time to start.  I wish I could do it up big like they do in the South and make it an event. I could have a Pooja and then a ceremonial first shot and invite the press and important dignataries.  I wonder if they have food too? Haven't seen pictures of stars eating samosas, so I guess not. I would have to provide food however, samosas and to make it properly Minnesotan, some cocktail wieners and Swedish meatballs too.
    I was only slightly aware of Muhurats  when I was watching only Bollywood movies. Both Luck By Chance and Om Shanti Om had scenes referring to them though they didn't call them Muhurats. I did some searching to try to find out to see if they were still commonly done.  I found this picture from the Muhurat of a Raj Kumar Santoshi film staring Aishwarya, Ajay Devgn and Nana Patekar.

They had a ceremonial sounding of the clapper board by Ramesh Shippy and Javed Akhtar and then a burning of an effigy. Now here is a mystery; according to the article this movie was to be called Saamna but the only movie that fits with this group of people is Khakee. Except Nana is not in Khakee. But look who is:
 Prakash Raj! I am taking this as a sign I have to get back to the subject of this post;  Muhurats, Tollywood style.
    When I entered Muhurat into wikipedia I got redirected to the page on Electional Astrology. It says there that this branch of astrology was used to plan battles in the old days, but is now used to choose auspicious days for weddings and other special events. So now I know Muhurats aren't scheduled on some random day that's convenient for every one to show up. I have noticed that some are held fairly early in the morning, so clearly specific times are chosen carefully too.
    Muhurats are religious ceremonies and promotional events for a new movie that is being launched.  There is usually a table where garlanded dieties sit amongst offerings, and copies of the script are set there as well. I love some of the pictures of the dieties, so colorful and lively. 

                                          Look even Jesus shows up!
                                          Sri Hari at Bhairava muhurat.

     I also am impressed that faith seems to be ever present in people's public lives. Here in the midwest faith is personal and for a lot of people the only public displays of faith are done at our places of worship. Prayer at work is usually an individual, private undertaking.
                                          Mahesh at Athadu Muhurat
     After the Pooja there is the ceremonial first shot of the film. I don't know if these are actual scenes that will be used in the movie or just a documenting of the Muhurat. This is where the special guests and dignitaries come in. There needs to be someone to sound the clapper board, someone to switch on the camera and someone to direct the shot.  These people can be anyone from politicians to actors, producers and directors. I am still hunting for pictures of actresses doing one of these jobs although I have found a few Aunties.
                                          Tarak at Bhairava Muhurat
Balakrishna and Politician Chandrababu Naidu
Even the camera gets a garland!

So to finish the Muhurat for Tollywood is My Bollywood Blog I'd like to thank for their encouragement blogger and fellow Twin Citian Sita-ji, who is directing the first shot, blogger and guru ApunBindaas who is sounding the clapboard and my daughter  Nyambura who has just pressed publish post. Thanks ladies, this should be lots of fun!