My Year of Prakash Raj

Some people spend a year
cooking Julia Child's recipes, or following all of the rules in the Bible, or reading books by people who spent a year doing something. My quest is to watch the 200-some films of South Indian character-actor-extraordinaire, Prakash Raj. (It'll probably take more than a year... and I'll post about some Prakash-less films here as well.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Round up for February 2010

Monthly Prakash Raj Movie Total (February 2010): 1
Overall Prakash Raj Movie Total (as of 2/28/10): 18
Only one movie, but it's one I really, really like, so it gets the in-depth treatment.

Kadhal Sadugudu (Tamil, 2003)
Date watched: 2/13/10
Role TypePrakash Dad
The story: Suresh (Vikram) goes with his friends to a festival in their home village. Once there, Suresh has several, increasingly heated run-ins with Chithambaram (Prakash Raj), an important and easily angered leader in the village.  Things get complicated when it is revealed that Suresh has been staying with Chithambaram's in-laws, and has fallen in love with Chithambaram's daughter, Kausalya (Priyanka Trivedi.)

Movie Rating: 4.5/5  This is one of those movies that I love wholeheartedly, even though I'm not really sure if it's "good." Here are some of the reasons why I like it:
1) Strong narrative consistency.  The film sets up the personalities and the conflict between Chithambaram and Suresh early on, and this the conflict that drives the rest of the story. It doesn't fall back on the easy trope of having random bad guys show up in the second half.

Delhi Ganesh
 2) A really delightful supporting cast. I especially enjoyed MN Nambiar as the playful, loving grandfather. This film got me inspired to look him up, and it was interesting reading pieces (wikipedia and an obit) about his career as a villain in Tamil films. Delhi Ganesh is another character actor who I've seen in a lot of Tamil films (thanks to Githa for helping me to put a name to his familiar face) and he played the great uncle in my favorite "voice of reason" type role. The side comedy track had Vivek's NRI and his village grandmother (played by Paravai Muniyamma, who was the hurricane-song singing grandmother in Dhool) deliver justice and social commentary on female infanticide, rape, and farmer suicide.

4) The first song, "Carolina", which is the only Tamil reggae song I've encountered so far. I think it actually works pretty well, especially compared to the many not-so-great hip-hop versions of Hindi/Tamil/Telugu songs I've heard.  The picturization on the train is fun, and filmed well, and has a nice "Chaiyya Chaiyya"-lite vibe to it. And as Simran Singh at BollyWHAT pointed out, in the second half of the song, Vikram-in-a-lungi is pretty dang easy on the eyes. 

5) A sweet straight-up romance. The "meet-cute" of Suresh and Kausalya on the flooded street is well done, and their subsequent elaborate stories help to establish their characters. I liked that they didn't drag out the romance unnecessarily in the first half, and used some flashbacks of the happy days of the relationship in the second half.  Kadhal Sadugudu has one of the rare kisses in Indian films, and I think it's done really well--lots of cute buildup, and it pays off with a nice example of female sexual agency (hooray!)

6) An even better Bromance between Vikram and Prakash Raj...

Prakash Raj Rating: 5/5  Chithambaram is well-respected, but easily-angered. In the very first scene, we see how a simple question from a clueless member of the festival organizing committee sends him into apoplexy. I could see Chithambaram's perspective of the various encounters with Suresh, and how he might not trust or like this guy.  Suresh was a jerk when Chithambaram sincerely tried to apologize for knocking his head, so I do feel like his failure to accept that apology sort of served him right when Chithambaram wouldn't accept his apologies later on.  Also, Suresh could have been a bit more contrite when he hit the poor dog.
I don't know that I'd enjoy a real-life Chithambaram, but it's great fun to watch Prakash Raj as the rage starts to simmer and then boils over.
He just set a car on fire, rather than sell it to Suresh's friend.

This is the big scene before the interval when Chithambaram tries to throw Suresh out of his in-laws house. This video clip doesn't have subtitles, but it's a good example of the many "rage-tantrums" that the character has in the film:

Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes: 
1) Self-Immolation. Chithambaram has anger management issues, and he's also a manipulative drama queen.  After he sees Kausi and Suresh talking, he goes home, locks himself in his room, douses himself oil and strikes a match, while his wife, daughter and servants are sobbing and banging on the doors.  Fortunately, he draws out the process long enough for one of the servants to break into the room and douse the flames with a blanket. But he is successful in getting Kausi to promise never to talk to Suresh.

2) The Mongoose-Snake Speech. This is one of many, many scenes that are focused on the Chtihambaram-Suresh relationship. The romance between the hero and heroine is established and emotionally resolved pretty quickly in the first half.  That leaves most of the second half to deal with the conflict between the father and his daughter's suitor, so we get lots of scenes of Vikram fruitlessly trying to apologize to Prakash Raj, Prakash Raj yelling at Vikram, and Vikram looking teary-eyed as Prakash

He made Vikram cry, that big jerk!

This scene is the best for the "will they-won't they get along" storyline. Even after Suresh has beaten up the guy who harassed Kausi, and the family is trying to get him to accept Suresh, Chithambaram will have none of it. He meets Suresh in the fields to tell him that he can never accept him.
"Why don't you love me? Why?"
Everybody likes Suresh. What's not to like?

3)The big final scene at the train station:  This is the big moment, when Suresh tells the family that he will never run off with Kausi, he will marry her only when her father accepts him.  

Chithambaram sees this scene, and finally realizes Suresh's true, good character. There's a nice shot of the "Prakash Raj Blossoming Of Bromance Gaze" (tm Temple), 

followed by Chithambaram and Suresh hugging it out to emotional music.

Another thing I loved about this film were all of the nicely framed, artsy shots of Prakash Raj and his perfectly curled mustache: 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Holiday Gift

I'm plugging away at catching up on blog posts for the past year, and hopefully I'll be all caught up by sometime in January.  In the meantime, I have 2 exciting things to share:

#1 is this delightful holiday blingee that my Filmi Secret Santa, Kellie, made for me:

#2 is an exciting realization about a question I've been pondering for awhile:  what actor is the Hollywood-ish equivalent to Prakash Raj?  

The answer came to me during the onslaught of holiday movies on cable tv...
Alan Rickman!!
Can't you just imagine Prakash Raj trying to blow up a skyscraper? Or as Emma Thompson's philandering husband with emo glasses?  According to wikipedia, a 2008 study showed that the "perfect male voice" was a combination of Rickman and Jeremy Iron's voices. They were just looking at English voices, but I think if you applied their formula to Tamil or Telugu speakers, Prakash Raj's voice would rate high.

There's the obvious connection that they both end up playing a lot of over-the-top villains:
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves         Quigley Down Under             Sweeney Todd

But both also do well in the unexpected romantic, sensitive role:
Can somebody do a Tamil remake of Truly, Madly, Deeply? pretty please? And yes, Mamoothy was perfectly fine as the Colonel Brandon character in Kandukondain Kandukondain, but Prakash Raj could have rocked that role, too.

Perhaps with the success of Endhiran, we'll see more science fiction in South Indian film, and Prakash Raj  could also excel at playing alien doctors and voicing paranoid androids:

...and it's never going to happen, but from now on, when I read the books, I'm just going to imagine that it's Prakash Raj with grimy hair, pining for Lily Potter while tormenting/protecting her son.

Update: It occurred to me that for the comparison to work, it needs to be transitive. So I asked the question "Can I imagine Alan Rickman in any/most of Prakash Raj's roles?" and the answer is "yes."  I can easily see Rickman in just about all Prakash Raj roles I've seen so far: evil gangsters,doting fathers, policemen, and struggling actors and musicians.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Round-up for March 2010

Monthly Prakash Raj Movie Total (March, 2010): 3
Overall Prakash Raj Movie Total (as of 3/31/10): 21

This month was a good mix of the iconic role "types": Dad, Bad, and Cop

Date watched: 3/4/10
Role TypePrakash Dad
The story: Village girl Geeta (Tamannah) comes to Hyderabad to study, where she meets her cousin's Casanova-esque friend Siddharth (Siddharth).  They fall in love, but her father (Nasser) will agree to the marriage only if Siddharth can reunite his own estranged parents Prakash (Prakash Raj) anRajyalakshmi (Ramya Krishna.)
Movie Rating: 3.75/5  This is a pretty straight romance, but it presented that story particularly well, and added some nice touches.  Plenty of films do the plot of "I hate you!/I love you!", but this film did a nice job of showing how Geeta's feelings for Siddharth change as she gets to see him in different situations, and how Siddharth recognizes his feelings.  I wish that they'd had the same level of nuance with the parents' reconciliation--in particular, the mother. She was pretty antagonistic to the father until the end, and you didn't have the same sense of her softening towards him or the small scenes of her changing her mind.  

(I did like  the scene when she calls the son by his father's name.  However, since I've accidentally called family member's by dog's names, I wasn't as sold as Siddharth that this was a big sign of her underlying feelings, as much as normal forgetfulness.)
Other things I liked:
-the core group of friends, and how they interacted with one another.
-the jazzy score was nice, and complemented the songs pretty well.
-the shots of people watching older movies in the background. Since I watched this in April, I've seen Geetanjali, and I was able to appreciate the references to it. (If anyone can point me in the direction of the Pawan Kalyan movie that they were watching at another point, it would be much appreciated.)

I have mixed feelings about films where the character names are the same as the stars. I can see that there's maybe a little bit of marketing in it, there's a bit of humor, and those names are often as good as any other names for the characters.  On the other hand, I'm not sure it adds anything, and I feel like it takes you out of the film a bit by reinforcing that you are watching "stars" rather than characters.

Prakash Raj Rating: 4/5 This role is essentially the cosmopolitan, sophisticated father from Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, but this film adds a rich backstory and a whole truckload of interesting, nuanced scenes.  I appreciated that the storytelling wasn't rushed, and the scenes between Prakash and Siddharth and lots of breathing room, which allowed for more realistic reactions and for emotion to build more organically. These two actors have great chemistry, whether it's comedic scenes or the emotional ones. Of the former, I especially loved the dinner where Sidd is trying to convince his father to try the eggplant cooked by his mother.  It quickly turns into a competition of exaggerated enjoyment of their meals. (Also, all of the recurring eggplant scenes totally made me crave eggplant.)

Favorite Prakash Scenes:Sidd finds out that his father is going to a restaurant for business lunch, he has Geeta take his mother to lunch there, in the hope that seeing each other kindle their romance. I like the way that Prakash keeps getting distracted and tries to steal glances at Rajyalakshmi. Her glares are kind of funny in this scene (again, I just wish that there had been a little bit more to her than the glares.)

There's a pair of scenes where Prakash Raj is fantastic as he reacts to Siddharth.  In the first scene, Sidd has fought with Geeta and is feeling despondent, his father offers him a drink (which turns into 3-4), and Sidd pours out his heart.  You get the sense that Prakash is listening, and trying to draw out responses from Sidd, and I love that there's space for the characters to pause and organically react in the scene.
The next scene is where Prakash drives Sidd to Geeta's house so he can apologize.
 It's a pretty sweet, sappy romantic moment, and the scene cuts between Sidd silently declaring his apology to the shots of Prakash watching him the car.  What's great is that Prakash's reactions to it both temper the sappiness, but heighten the emotion of the scene. His reaction to Sidd changing his name is funny, but in a nice, understated way. (Always a treat to see understated comedy in Telugu films!)

And a few other fun pictures:
"Wow, I can't believe it's taken Liz seven months to do a blog post about KIKK!"

Arjun (Telugu, 2004)
Date watched: 3/12/10
Role TypePrakash Bad
The story: Arjun (Mahesh Babu) rescues his twin sister Meenakshi (Keerthi Reddy) from her murderous in-laws Bala Nayagar (Prakash Raj) and Andal (Saritha) and as in a very underdeveloped side plot, falls in love with Roopa (Shriya)
Movie Rating: 3.25/5  Overall a good revenge-justice flick.  Things I noticed:
-The early family scenes did a nice job of setting up the relationship between Arjun and Meenakshi.  
-The Meenakshi
-I liked the way they framed the film with the big fight in the rain--it started off the film, then was there at the interval, and wrapped things up at the end. Meenakshi temple set is really amazing, liked the framing of the ultimate fight in the rain, how it starts the film, then at the interval.  
-I laughed out loud in the scene when the kid comes in and proposes marriage to Roopa's little sister.
-Fights were great, especially the chase scene with the cart, which was mostly goofy, but still fun.

Prakash Raj Rating: 4.5/5  Prakash Raj and Saritha were a scenery-chewing delight as the in-laws bent on murdering Meenakshi and Arjun. I liked that there was always a sense of real menace, that they might actually hurt Meenakshi.  It was loads of fun to see two archetypically evil characters playing off of each other. Usually the "Prakash Bads" are alone at the top, with no true partners in their villainy.  It was sort of sweet (in a twisted way) to see the pairing as the two plotted evildoing.
Favorite Prakash Scenes:  There are several scenes where they sort of play on "normal" scenes of marital affection and bickering, but played out by murderous baddies.

After Andal pushes the Police Commissioner off of the roof, Bala declares his love:
I also love this scene, where they are driving home in the car, it's sort of a standard married couple talking and arguing in the car, but they are debating how to kill their daughter-in-law and her brother.

There's a humorous moment when Bala electrocutes himself instead of his intended victim:

And the epic final fight scene:

Nijam (Telugu, 2003)
Date watched: 3/20/10
Role TypePrakash Cop
The story: Seetaram (Mahesh Babu) is a shy, wimpy guy who is terrified by the amorous advances of his neighbor Janki (Rakshita.) When his fireman father is killed by an evil mafia don (Gopichand), Seetaram's mother Talluri Rameswari) trains him to be a killing machine. Trying to sort it all out is CBI Officer (Prakash Raj.)
Movie Rating: 3/5 This is up there as one of the bloodiest Telugu movies I've seen.  I liked it, but it could have lost 20-30 minutes in the first half. I liked that Janki was so spunky and the scenes where she tormented the prudish Seetaram were hilarious. Seetaram's transformation from timid mouse to vengeful tiger was entertaining. The highlights of the film were the dueling crazy characters of Gopichand's villain and Seetaram's vengeance-obsessed mother.
Prakash Raj Rating: 3/5 In this one, he's playing the "cop trying to track down the hero, who seems bumbling, but is actually really smart, and lets the hero off the hook at the end", a character-type also found in Athadu, Anniyan and Tagore.  He has lots of fun scenes when he's connecting the dots and trying to track down the killers.

He's also not above using some "enhanced interrogation" techniques:

Favorite Prakash Scenes:  At one point, the officer is putting it all together, and has figured out the pattern of who the killers (Seetaram and his mother) are targeting.

I love his gleeful delivery of the line "They are on a killing spree!!"" (Which sadly, they translated as something completely different in the subtitles.)

In the final scene, he arrives just after the bad guys have been served by the bloody justice of Mahesh Babu (as if there was any doubt). The police officer does some speechifying, then sets things up to look as if he had killed Gopichand and company in self-defense, including a self-inflicted gunshot wound.