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.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Round-up for September 2010

Continuing to play catch-up, here are the films I watched in September, 2010.

Monthly Prakash Raj Movie Total (9/30/10):   7
Overall Prakash Raj Movie Total (as of 9/30/10): 46

Atithi (Kannada, 2002)
The puppy almost makes you forget he's planning to bomb the dam.
Date watched: 9/1/10
Role Type: Prakash Bad
The story: An unnamed terrorist (Prakash Raj) is injured, and forces a local doctor (Dattatreya) to hide him and treat him. The terrorist's relationships with the doctor and the neighbor's young daughter, and how it impacts his future decisions form the core of the story. The title translates as "The Guest."
Movie Rating: 5/5  I really loved this movie. It was more typically "western", with no songs, and it clocked in at about 90 minutes. It had a nice mixture of suspense, dialogue and psychological development, and the performances were really fantastic. Overall, it was really well-written and structures, and sort of reminded me of a play. I'm looking forward to watching the other films by the director/writer P. Sheshadri.
Prakash Raj Rating: 5/5 This was an interesting, complex character. Prakash Raj did a great job of conveying all of the different motivations and emotions, from irritation at his subordinates, to the cold-blooded focus needed for the work, and to his growing respect for the doctor and affection for the girl. I'm always a sucker for understated films and roles, and this was a great one.  There weren't any big, showy moments for the character, but every scene was filled with a lot of interesting expression and dialogue delivery

Giri (Tamil, 2004)
This kid grows up to be Prakash Raj (see below.)
Role Type: Prakash Pal/Prakash Cop
Date watched: 9/4/10
The story: Two families are locked in factionalist battle in a rural village. Raj is the youngest son of one of these families, and is good friends with Giri, the son of the family's loyal bodyguard/retainer. The rival faction kills Raj's older brothers and Giri's father. Giri helps Raj to escape by floating down the river. Years later Giri (Arjun) is still battling rowdies. In a flashback, an honest cop (Prakash Raj) comes to town with the goal of ending the war between the factionalist families, and it is revealed that he is little Raj, all grown up.  There's more fighting, tragedy, two heroines, and awesome boat races between the rival families that bookend the movie.
Movie Rating: 3/5  This was a pretty good action-y type movie. I liked the twists and turns, but the structure of the flashbacks was a little clunky. The early scene with the two kids were well done. Arjun was solidly good in this, and had little sparks of  "something (which came across much more in Kotha Bangaru Lokam.) The big climactic action scene during the boat race was a pretty creative, fun action sequence.
Prakash Raj Rating: 4/5 Although this was a pretty short part, it was an interesting one, and Prakash Raj did good work with it. Adult, policeman Raj has returned to his home village incognito, trying to bring peace to the families. There are several scenes where his own father refers to Raj's "death", and you see the sense of loss on Raj's face. You also get a sense of Raj's frustration in how entrenched both families are in this battle, and the unwillingness of his police superiors to do anything about it.  In my favorite scene, Raj is watching from the distance while Giri and the heroine fight/flirt (she's in a canoe, he jumps in the water to catch a duck for her, also she's from the rival family.) In Raj's response there's a sweet mix of melancholy for the life and friendships that he's lost, his happiness at seeing Giri, and his newly hatched plan to bring the families together.

Kadhal Azhivathillai (Tamil, 2002)
Date watched: 9/4/10
Role Type: Prakash Dad
The story:  Poor(er) boy meets rich(er) girl at college, they fall in love, her father objects, things happen.
Movie Rating: 2/5  This movie was Simbu's big launch, and like many launch films, it was all over the place with the wacky foreign locales and weird sets in the songs, fight scenes in which scrawny Simbu beats up 10 goondas, and the requisite cameo from Simbu's famous comedic actor father. There were a couple of funny scenes, including one where Simbu and his friends go to visit the heroine's house disguised as Krishna, Hanuman, et al. There were also some scenes where Simbu gets beaten up while he's in custody, and his father (Prakash Raj) is abusively mean to his mother, which were a little uncomfortable to watch
Prakash Raj Rating: 0.5/5  I'm going to give this one a .5 because Prakash Raj's voice is dubbed, which is a huge travesty.  That said, he does a great job as the sarcastic, mean father. In the scene when he turns his wife's parents away from staying in their house, he has some great dramatic body language that almost made up for the weird, high-pitched voice coming out of his mouth.
"I'm using my hands, because they have taken away my voice."

Stalin (Telugu, 2006)
"It wasn't actually suicide. I had them killed, because I'm eeevvvilll."
Date watched: 9/11/10
Role Type: Prakash Bad
The story: Stalin (Chiranjeevi) is a retired Army officer who helps disabled college students, gets caught up in battle with the local evil Home Minister, Muddu Krishnayya (Prakash Raj), and starts a "pay-it-forward" grassroots movement.
Movie Rating: 3/5  I'm rating this almost entirely on the portrayal of the relationship of Stalin and his sister (Khusboo), and the drama around his sister and mother reconciling, which I loved. The "romance" with Trisha was pretty perfunctory, as if you could tell that the film-makers felt weird about pairing Chiru up with the younger actress. I also got a sense that this film (especially the ending) was a set-up for Chiranjeevi's political aspirations.
Prakash Raj Rating: 3.5/5 As the corrupt politician who threatens Stalin and his family, Prakash Raj gets to really ham it up and wear a crazy wig and make-up. In my favorite scene, he's picking up newspapers and pointing out stories about various murders and "accidents" and explains that these were all people that crossed him.

Subhash Chandra Bose (Telugu, 2005)
Date watched: 9/18/10
Role Type: Prakash Bad
The storySubash Chandra Bose alias Chandram (Venkatesh) fights for Independence from the British and romances Shriya, and is friends with another local farmer, Bandodu (Prakash Raj.) Chandram is reincarnated as TV news staffer Ashok who romances Genelia, and again encounters an aged Bandodu.
Movie Rating: 2/5  This movie wasn't exactly good, but it was entertaining, cheesetastic fun.The present-day scenes were fine, but the historical stuff was a hot mess of anachronistic costumes, vehicles, sunglasses, hats, etc. It was clear that they were drawing on Lagaan and Ashok for a lot of the motifs, songs and characters (e.g. Russian accented daughter of the British commander has a crush on Venky.) Most of the acting was pretty over-the-top, which was fine for the bad guys--they are always a lot broader.  But when the main characters started making patriotic speeches referencing Gandhi while facing down a British-Indian colonial officer who was wearing a classic redcoat and Oakley sunglasses, I started giggling, which isn't what I think they were going for.  Still, Venkatesh's winning personality carried things along even when he had a really bad mullet in the flashback. 
Prakash Raj Rating: 3/5 It was a pretty hammy role, and it was fun to see him as both the rural yokel of the Independence era, and the successful politician in the present. They was lots of dramatic lurking, plotting, and speechifying in the present and the past.  Plus he got to wear crazy costumes and make-up, engage in a swordfight with Venky, and die an explosive death at the hands of a vengeful, elderly voter.
Check out the giant banners with Prakash!!

Samba (Telugu, 2004)
Date watched: 9/18/10
Role Type: Prakash Bad
The story: According to wikipedia, "The movie deals with how important education is to kids." Tha,t and some very bloody showdowns between Samba (Jr NTR) and the man who was responsible for the death of his family (Prakash Raj.)
Movie Rating: 4.5/5  I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The story was solid, and I thought it was structured well, as different elements were revealed in the flashbacks and the present. The dances and action scenes were particularly great.
Prakash Raj Rating: 4/5 In Telugu action movies, it's important that the big bad guy really comes across as a true match and threat for the hero. In this role and performance, Prakash Raj really matched Tarak in intensity and ferocity.  Sometimes the bad guy is more of the delegating type, and you don't necessarily see him doing the dirty work, but not in this film. There's a great moment (a favorite of jjake over at Tollywood is My Bollywood) when Prakash Raj's character sits over his dying enemy and pokes him the heart, just to torture him.

Samba also has the two best eyebrow performances in all of Telugu cinema.

Jagadam (Telugu, 2007)

Sweater vest=sincerity
Date watched: 9/22/10
Role Type: Prakash Cop
The story: Since childhood, Seenu (Ram) has been fascinated by violence. Much to his parents' dismay, he joins the inner circle of the local gangster, then becomes his rival. Along the way, a police inspector (Prakash Raj) tries to convince him to leave the life of street violence.

Movie Rating: 4.5/5  A great movie. Ram was really convincing as the young guy who is drawn to the "fun" of violence, but doesn't really have a deeper understanding of what that entails. I appreciated that it offered a bit of a critical look at actual appeal of violence. Raghu Babu's performace as Seenu's despairing father was a highlight of this film for me. Usually Raghu Babu plays broad comedic roles, and this was so subtle and different that I didn't realize it was him until a third of the way through the movie.
Prakash Raj Rating: 4/5 Prakash Raj's role was small, but important. The police inspector is a sort of proxy for the viewer. When he arrives in the story, you are so relieved that someone calm is there to try and talk sense into Seenu. You also share the character's frustration when Seenu rebuffs his efforts. To cap it all off, Prakash Raj's character does a voiceover after the climactic scene. Such a nice voice--he should do audio books!

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