I'd like to say that Puri Jagannadh, one of Telugu Cinema's most successful directors, is an innovator. I'd like to say he pushes the boundaries of mainstream Telugu films and creates new pathways for established artists. I can't. The fact of the matter is that Jagannadh, director of such massive hits as Pokiri
(remade in both Tamil and Hindi), The Businessman
(one of the highest grossing Telugu films in US history), and Cameraman Ganga Tho Rambabu
, is a master of exploitation. He knows what the audience wants and he delivers. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of his leading men, and men are always the leads in Telugu popular films, and he exploits them. This may sound like an indictment of his style, but it's more just an acknowledgement that I've had to make to myself. Puri Jagannadh is no fresh voice, he is not doing anything particularly interesting, but what he does, he does well. His latest film, Iddarammayilatho
, is no masterpiece, in fact, it's a minor achievement, but it gets the job done.
Akanksha (Catherine Tresa) is the daughter of a prominent political figure in India. When she decides to head off to Spain to further her musical education at a university in Barcelona, she ends up in a boarding house with a few tricks up its sleeve. While unpacking her things Akanksha comes upon the diary of the women who had previously stayed in her room, helpfully enough, the previous tenant was a Telugu woman named Komali (Amaula Paul), and she had an interesting story to tell. Enter "Stylish Star" Allu Arjun as the rocking busker, Sanju. After an early run-in with Sanju, in which he destroys her violin in the service of stopping a purse thief, Akanksha is less than impressed. However, as their story begins to unfold, she realizes that there's a lot more going on with Sanju than she'd expected.
After a series of long and often ponderous flashbacks gets us up to speed with the history of Komali and Sanju, the story really picks up the pace. We learn of some dirty deeds caught on tape that put both of these lovers in the crosshairs of international gangsters. Komali is abducted and murdered, and Sanju goes on an insane revenge spree. Akanksha, still somewhat in the dark about the story, teases out little pieces of information from a still hurting Sanju, including a bunch of ridiculously violent flashbacks of his own.
The story is unnecessarily complicated, and the acting ranges from putrid (Catherine Tresa's grating Akanksha is a sad imitation of Kajal Agarwal's characterizations of dim-witted girl-toys) to adequate. Apart from the stupidly complex plotting, the acting is probably my biggest complaint. Subtlety is not a trait prized in Telugu popular Cinema, and between Tresa's grade-school level performance and Allu Arjun's perpetual brooding, the film gets its point across like a hammer to the face. It's funny that the most effective performance in the film comes from Brahmanandam's overly-arch portrayal of the university's orchestra conductor, who manages to captivate and entertain without really putting forth too much effort. It's called charisma, and the man has it.Iddarammayilatho
is an okay film, but not one to set the box office or critics on fire. If you search reviews for Telugu films like I do, you quickly come to realize that most of the film writers paying attention to these films tend to grade on a value basis. Does the film deliver the required elements in a timely and efficient manner? This is the most pressing question. Little weight is given to originality or innovation. The only thing that seems to have changed about Telugu Cinema in recent decades is the wardrobe. Sadly, this film will be successful because there is an acceptance of this kind of material rather than because it's actually a good film.
That being said, Iddarammayilatho
has its moments. The fight scenes are mostly very good, especially those after the intermission. The ninjas promised in the trailer do materialize, but they are more of a flash in the pan than serious villains. Still, ninjas are awesome, so that means bonus points. Apart from the ninjas, I give Jagannadh and Arjun style points for the brutal ways in which Sanju disposes of the villains who took away his lady love. I don't think I've seen quite this much stabbing since The Yellow Sea
or The Man From Nowhere
, and that's a lot of stabbing. The songs are a mixed bag as well, with the clear highlight being a dance off (!) between Brahmanandam performing traditional bharatanatyam moves and Arjun doing some Telugu-fied hip hop moves in the song Shankara Bharanamtho
I didn't come to Jagannadh's work early, my first exposure was via his Hindi debut, Buddah Hoga Tera Baap
, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Sonu Sood which I found to be very entertaining. However, I fail to see any real progression or variety. I don't think anyone will be questioning Jagannadh's technical chops any time soon, but I think it's time he started to think outside of the very small box in which he seems to have trapped himself.