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.)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Round-up for May 2009

Monthly Prakash Raj Movie Total (May, 2009): 1
Overall Prakash Raj Movie Total (as of 5/31/09): 1

I definitely watched part of Bombay in the summer of 2003 when it was on TCM, although I don't think I made it as far as the first scene with Prakash Raj's character. Therefore, May, 2009 marks the first time I saw Prakash Raj on film!


Bombay (Tamil, 1995)
Date Watched: 5/6/09 (partially watched in June 2003)
Role TypePrakash Cop
The story: Aspiring journalist Shekhar (Arvind Swamy) returns to visit his Hindu family in their Tamil Nadu village, where he falls in love with Shaila Bano (Manisha Koirola), a Muslim girl. The two marry, move to Mumbai, and have twin boys. Their families finally reconcile with their marriage and come to visit them in the city, only to be separated by the events of the 1992-1993 riots.
Movie Rating 4.5/5 A beautiful, moving story. The courtship story in the first half is both quiet and lyrical, and Mani Ratnam does a stellar job of showing how romance develops and grows in everyday moments. I liked how the Mumbai apartment building was populated with engaging and realistic characters, so when the violence began, you had a real sense of who was impacted. In typing all of this up, I was blown away to realize that the film was released only 3 years after the riots. In particular, I was impressed with the scenes where Shekhar interviews people and surveys the damage after the first round of riots. I'm not as big a fan with the final scene where everyone joins hands, but I loved how the scene of Shekhar saying "enough" is part of a montage of other ordinary Mumbaikars standing up to stop the violence. I get goosebumps at that part. A lot has been written about the strenghts of this film, and I'll just add a hearty "here, here!"
Prakash Raj Rating: 4/5 Prakash Raj plays an IPS officer, who we see in three scenes:
-when Shekhar is trying to get him to say how many people were actually killed in the first round of rioting
-when Shekhar and Shaila Bano come to the police station to look for their missing sons
-in the final scenes, trying to stop rioters.
He does a good job of conveying the frustration and decency of the harried officer, who in turn is representing the nuanced police role in, and perspective of, the actual events.

Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes: At the police station during the nights of the riot. It starts on the police officer in the middle of the crowd, then tracks out to show the crowd filling the station, and spilling out onto the steps of the station, where Shaila Bano and Shekhar hover on the edge of the crowd, trying to get in to find information about their sons.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Round-up for September 2009

Monthly Prakash Raj Movie Total (September, 2009): 2
Overall Prakash Raj Movie Total (as of 9/30/09): 3

Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, Bommarillu
I almost had this post finished, and then accidentally deleted it all in html editing mode. So this is gonna be short and sweet.

Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana (Telugu, 2005)
Date watched: 9/1/09
He's a philanthropist!
Role TypePrakash Dad
The story: Santosh (Siddharth) is spoiled by his parents (Prakash Raj and Geetha). Santosh returns from London for his cousin Lalita's wedding, where he meets Lalita's friend Siri (Trisha). The two initially lock horns, but then fall in love while saving the wedding. After Santosh's mother insults her, Siri returns home with her protective and doting brother, Sivarama Krishna (Srihari.) Santosh comes to win Siri back, and Krishna   promises that the two can marry if Santosh successfully harvests a larger crop than Krishna.  
Movie rating: 5/5 This was the first Telugu film that I saw, so it holds a special place in my heart. When I watched it the first time, I liked the second half on the farm slightly more than the first half at the wedding. "Adire Adire" continues to be one of my favorite songs in Telugu film, with it's dancing cows and puppets, and all of the songs have the same sort of organic placement and match the playful tone of the film really well. Srihari really shines as the caring older brother in this film, and as possibly the only person in Telugu-film-land who has served prison time for the killing of a bad guy. There were too many bad guys, and their motives, threat, and overall impact was diluted by the climax.
Prakash Raj Rating: 4.5/5 This was also the first appearance (for me) of the cosmopolitan, "fun" dad. The interaction between Santosh and his father helped to establish the characters and drive the story. The father had a nice story arc when he visits the farm, and at first rejects his son's work, but then understands that Santosh is growing up in a way he hadn't expected, or might have been able to facilitate. 
Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes:
*This particular scene, when Dad eats the spicy country food, and desperately searches for water, is probably the moment when I first thought "hey, this actor is pretty fun to watch.  What's his name?"

The video ends right before this moment:

I'm sure he picked those chairs, not his wife.

Bommarillu (Telugu, 2006)
Date watched: 9/5/09
Role TypePrakash Dad
The story: Siddu (Siddharth) is the pampered and protected son of businessman Aravind (Prakash Raj). Aravind controls all aspects of Siddu's life, from clothes to work. After Aravind arranges his son's engagement to a wealthy girl, Siddu meets and falls in love with Hasini (Genelia D'Souza). Siddu convinces his family to let Hasini live with them for a week, certain that they will come to love her as much as he does.
Movie rating: 3/5 Bommarillu was really slow to get started, and there were things that kept pulling me out of the story. The one thing I did like about this film were the women in Siddu's family, even with their pathological fear of Aravind. One tiny thing I also liked that it showed Siddu manning up and telling the fiancee that he was breaking the engagement, and her and family are sad, but not murderous.
Prakash Raj Rating: 3/5  I'm torn, because I really, really didn't like the character, but I think Prakash Raj did a good job of playing him. I've always been conflicted about the "stern father" roles in Indian film, starting with Amrish Puri in DDLJ.  They are supposed to be sympathetic and admirable within their cultural context, but because I'm not hardwired into that, I just find them to be pompous, overbearing, jerks. I'm also not sure how I feel about how Aravind was set up in contrast with Hasini's more lax, alcholic father (Kota Srinivasa Rao.) Aravind did have good scene where he explains his motivations, and acknowledges his shortcomings. I'm happy that he took the first steps in forging a new, better relationship with his son, but it's disappointing that he didn't similarly apologize to the rest of the family, who were even more impacted by his controlling ways. On the other hand, I totally sympathized with his annoyance at the Manic Pixie Dream Girl his son brought home.
Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes:
*Every exasperated facial expression and hand gesture that Aravind makes as his family and son disappoint him, over and over and over again.

*When Aravind finally breaks down, I love how he perfectly communicates with his face and hands. (Which of course, has to be repeated in dialogue a moment later, but Telugu film-making is not known for its subtlety.)

*The end credit sequence, where Aravind has to go back to Hasini's father to get him to accept Siddu as a prospective son-in-law.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Round-up for October 2009

Monthly Prakash Raj Movie Total (October, 2009): 5
Overall Prakash Raj Movie Total (as of 10/31/09): 8

Bunny, Munna, Pokiri, Athadu, Varsham.

Looking back, this was a very, very good month, with some great films with a variety of interesting Prakash Raj roles. There was a lot to say!
Bunny (Telugu, 2005)
Date watched: 10/10/09
Role Type: Prakash Bad
The story: Bunny (Allu Arjun) joins a Hyderabad college, where meets Mahalaxmi (Gowri Munjal), the beloved daughter of business-man/mafia don Somaraju (Prakash Raj.) Mahalaxmi falls in love with Bunny, and when Somaraju reluctantly agrees to the marriage, Bunny imposes the condition that Somaraju give up all of his property. It's revealed that Somaraju is actually Bunny's uncle (-in-law), who plotted the death of Bunny's parents. The revenge tale is complicated by the arrival of Mysamma (Mukesh Rishi), Somaraju's former henchman.
Movie Rating: 3.75/5  Overall it's a nice revenge-mystery movie, that is chock full of Super Fantastic Tollywood moments. There are forced eye donations, babies switched in the middle of violent infanticide, Allu Arjun dressing up as Jesus to harass M.S. Narayana's college dean, and the most annoying and earwormy theme song ("Bun-naaaayyy!") Other positives:
-While it starts off with the same college-protected girl-relative of a gangster set-up as theTamil Aarya, the heroines were very different. Mahalaxmi understands and appreciates the harmful impacts of her father's goonda-ism, even if her character fades to the background very quickly.
-This is the third or fourth Telugu film where a building a dam has been central to the plot. There's even a song where they sing that "it's a waste that so much of the Godavari is allowed to flow to the sea." I appreciate that there's a song about the needs of farmers, but perhaps not the most environmental sentiment?
-The flashback was well done, with Sarath Kumar playing a very, very badass father, who endured multiple stab wounds to come to his niece's rice ceremony. (Apparently immune response to machetes is genetic because Bunny later survives a stabbing to defeat Mukesh Rishi in hand-to-hand combat.)
Prakash Raj Rating: 3/5  Somaraju is not as enjoyable as many other Prakash Bad guys. He's painted as just bad enough (he arranges for his brother-in-law's death), but not sufficiently bad, because they bring in another bad guy in the last quarter of the film. The redemption arc for his character isn't as fully realized as it could have been, and I didn't feel like it had a satisfying moment when he shows remorse for killing his brother and the infant he thought was his nephew.

Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes:
*Somaruju is trying to convince Mahalaxmi she should not marry Bunny, and he pretends to drink poison and looks himself in his room, while his wife and daughter pound the doors.

*When Mysamma kidnaps Somaraju and his family, and has him tied up on top of a sumo:


Munna (Telugu, 2007)
Date watched: 10/25/09
Role TypePrakash Dad
The story: We see Munna (Prabhas) as he grows from a street urchin to a college student. Munna tries to help one of his friends flirt with fellow student Nidhi (Ileana D'Cruz), but in the process Nidhi falls for Munna. Meanwhile, an honest politician (Kota Srinvasa Rao) is trying to bring down mafia don Kakha (Prakash Raj), and when the politician is killed, Munna takes on Kakha. It's also revealed that Kakha is, in fact, Munna's estranged father, who was responsible for the death of Munna's mother and sister.
Movie Rating: 3/5  The film was long on style, with lots of artsy shots, fast-faced and creative action, a good mix of songs, and Prabhas' straightened hair. (Who would have thought that look would work, but it did, and how.) At the same time, the plot was not as strong. The  the supposed double-crossing that was driving the last 30 minutes, was not very convincing, and Rahul Dev's character was mostly wasted.  On the plus side, it was nice that Kota's politician is a good guy and that Ileanas's heroine was kind of spunky (at least in the beginning.) I did like the symmetry of Munna losing his mother and sister, and then rescuing his stepmother and stepsister from Kakha. 
Prakash Raj Rating: 3/5  Kakha was a fairly major role, and Prakash Raj portrayed two aspects of Kakha's degenerate ways. First you see the powerful don, who is subtly threatens his rival while plotting his assassination. In the flashback, you see the roots of this character in the conscienceless husband who allows his daughter to die and sells his own wife into prostitution as part of his schemes.
I thought it was well done that the present-day character felt more polished and powerful, but you could see the same motivation and tactics in both stages. I think that 2006-2009 will be remembered (by me) as the era of big sunglasses for Prakash Bad characters.

Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes: 
*In his first scene, when he's smoking a cigar and wearing plaid pajama pants (?)
Look at that awesome artwork behind him.
*All of the artsy framed and split screen shots of Kakha and Munna talking to each other:

*Kakha at rest and in action:
I wonder if Prakash got to keep that
portrait when filming was done
There are 2-3 excellent eyerolls in this film.


Pokiri (Telugu, 2006)
Date watched: 10/28/09
Role TypePrakash Bad
The story: Ali Bhai (Prakash Raj) and Narayan are feuding gangsters in HyderabadPandu (Mahesh Babu) is a street tough who takes the contract from Ali Bhai to kill one of Narayan's goons. In the course of the hit, Pandu also saves Shruthi (Ileana) from being assaulted by Sub Inspector Pashupathy (Ashish Vidyarthi). Shruti and Pandu are falling in love, but when she confesses her love, it's revealed that Pandu is a killer and he tells her she's better off without him.  Pandu battles Ali Bhai and Pashupathy, the lovers reconcile, and there's a big twist near the end. 
Movie Rating: 5/5  I love Pokiri, and to me it's the perfect action movie. Mahesh's entrance, flying through a hail of chilis and vegetables, sets the driving, fast pace for the film. The action sequences are all strong and interesting. There aren't many standard Telugu-film sequences of the villains circling the hero, and attacking him one-by-one. Instead this film has a series of interior and exterior chases in which the settings (ruins, trains, alleyways) become an central part of the action.  The big, pre-interval fight at Golconda is one of my favorite action sequences (and I enjoyed it almost as much in Pokkiri and Wanted.) The usual gang of supporting actors all have fairly strong roles. Nasser and Shiyaji Shinde are strong as upright policemen/distraught fathers, and Ashish Vidyarthi was great as the bad cop. Brahmi, Ali, and Venu Madhev were effective in the comedy subplot about the beggars's association, while Ajay, Subbaraju, and Master Bharath made some smaller characters seem real, rather than just "types." 
(Also, Mahesh. 'Nuff said.)
Prakash Raj Rating: 4.5/5  Ali Bhai is a very fun, scenery-chewing villain, and I'm only giving it a lower rating because the character only shows up in the last third of the film.
Big sunglasses=evil.
That's how evil he is!
Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes:
*"Ippatakinka"- on the first watch, I focused purely on Mumaith's awesome dancing, but on the 3rd and 4th go-round, I started to love all of the shots of Ali Bhai draped over Mumaith and the other girl, looking totally debauched. Also, note the the goofy dancing of Pandu's friends at the bar:

*When the Police Commissioner has him in custody, Ali Bhai becomes more disoriented and loopy in each progressive scene. I also like that in the scenes after he's freed, he's clearly still suffering from the impacts of the police torture.


Athadu (Telugu, 2005)
Date watched: 10/30/09
Role TypePrakash Cop
The story: Nandu (Mahesh Babu) is a hired killer in Hyderabad. When a hit goes wrong, he takes a train ouof town. When a fellow passenger is killed by the police pursuing him, Nandu assumes his identity and returns to Pardhu's home. Nandu is accepted as Pardhu by the family, and attracts the attention of Puri (Trisha) who assumes she'll marry Pardhu. CBI Officer Anjaneya Prasad (Prakash Raj) is investigating the assissination, and ultimately tracks down Nandu, and reveals his true identity. Nandu returns to Hyderabad to find out who set him up and engage in a John Woo-inspired shoot out.
Movie Rating: 5/5  I watched this movie right after Pokiri (which I loved), so at the time this paled in comparison. After a few rewatches, I think Athadu is definitely the better film. Nandu's transformation is an interesting piece of character development, and the film does a nice job of balancing the different story threads with the assassination plot, the police, and the family. There are loads of great supporting performances in this, especially Nasser and Sunil as Pardhu's grandfather and childhood friend. The action scenes are done well (love the fight at the fair.) Plus, Mahesh.
Prakash Raj Rating: 5/5  This is another "cop" role that really serves as a viewer surrogate for unraveling some of the plot points. He seems bumbling in his introduction, but it quickly becomes clear that he's much smarter than he lets on. He's a very competent detective, who figures out what happened, and in the end he is the one who delivers justice to one of the bad guys, and gives Nandu permission to return to his new life.
Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes: 
*When the police first visit Nandu at the family house, the CBI officer inserts himself into a chess game between the grandfather and uncle:

*A few minutes later, the police concoct a ruse to get Nandu's fingerprints on a calling card so they can dust it for finger prints. I like the moment when the inspector realizes that he just gave Nandu the card to keep, his resignation.

*When Prasad sees his assistant shoot at Nandu, and realizes that the assistant has been a plant:

*In the final scenes, the CBI officer visits a corrupt politician (Kota Srinivasa Rao) to tell him that he knows his role in the assassination. There are lots of nice shots of them looking over their glasses at each other. (And it contrasts nicely with the similar scenes in Munna, where Prakash is the corrupt don, and Kota the upright politician.)

*My least favorite scene is when Prasad tells the grandfather the truth, in such a callous way "oh, and by the way your real grandson died."

He makes a sketch of Nandu, based on Rahul Dev's character's description.


Varsham (Telugu, 2004)
Date watched: 10/31/09
Role TypePrakash Dad/Bad
The story:  Sailaja (Trisha) loves to dance in the rain, and has a conniving father, Ranga Rao (Prakash Raj). During a stop at a train station, Sailaja draws the interest of Venkat (Prabhas) and Bhadranna (Gopichand). Back in Hyderabad, Venkat woos Sailaja through conventional methods, Bhadranna plots nefarious ways of forcing Sailaja into his arms, and her father plots how to make a fortune by tearing apart the lovers and launching Sailaja as a film actress.  When Bhadranna kidnaps Sailaja, her father enlists Venkat to rescue her.
Movie Rating: 3.75/5  I had two different dvds die on me when I tried to watch it the first time, so it was hard to get into the story. The opening scenes with the film industry intrigued me, and I was sorry more of the film didn't take place in that setting. The rest of the story with the scary factionalists didn't gel as well. As fun as Gopichand was as the crazy bad guy, didn't seem like "obsessed with Trisha" was a sufficient evil motivation. The romance was suitably romantic, especially the dances. I thought it was a nice twist that Venkat and Sailaja hit it off from the start, and their later argument set the action in motion. On the rewatch, I appreciated all of the Ramayana imagery and leitmotifs, specially Gopichand's very fitting end.
Prakash Raj Rating: 3.75/5  Like the character in Sainikudu, Ranga Rao was interesting blend of comedy and menace. It was a blast to see his selfish scheming, and constant shifting to play whatever angle might work out to his advantage. The extra tooth and the array of tropical print shirts were a nice character touch as well. (The character was definitely cartoonish, and in some respects his machinations reminded me a bit of Homer Simpson.)

Favorite Prakash Raj Scenes:
When Ranga Rao meets with the movie producer, there's a nice bit of dialogue where the movie folks talk about how the mothers and brothers of all the famous actresses are driving Benzs, and Ranga Rao asks "but, what about the fathers?" (I like how Tamil and in this case, Telugu films use the film industry as a backdrop--in addition to the all of the comedy in the foreground, watch the dance rehearsal for the filming that is going on in the background.)

*Ranga Rao pretends to have a heart attack to convince his daughter to acquiesce to his desire that she become an actress. (I'm noticing a trend.)
You made it to the end of this post?!