MAGADEHEERA. OMG. It has to be written in all capital letters. That is what kind of movie this is. This has blown my mind so thoroughly that I have been speechless in the days since finishing it. Coincidentally, Go Fug Yourself wrote a fantastic piece on this very sort of chaotic inexpressiveness at the same time I was battling through my reactions, and as ever they have summed up my thoughts perfectly. Here is GFY author Jessica describing yet another wackadoo outfit of the always...um...eclectic actor Bai Ling (Go Fug Yourself "Bai Ling's Fuggles").
There are some outfitsSwap out "feathers" for "motorcycles," "bra top" for "epic fate-of-India-is-at-stake battle," and "tulle" for "David Cassidy hair,"
so craztacular that I worry my store of words doesn't contain the right ingredients to appropriately comment on them.... The first thought that pops into my mind is, "This is like...I mean, it's...there are feathers? And...a bra top? And tulle? And...ruffles? And...like...they're all...connected? AMAZING." That is barely even a sentence, you guys. But seriously. This is MAJESTIC in its crazy. It's like what would happen if you glued a Swan Lake figure skating costume to one of those bras Victoria's Secret sells at Christmas for like a million dollars, because what any woman wants her beloved to spend a million dollars on, it's definitely underwear. PLUS a foot of veiling left over from a soap opera funeral. THERE AREN'T ENOUGH WORDS FOR THAT.
and you'd have my brain dump for MAGADHEERA. Something like this: sky diving...giant drums...shipyard...bosom- and pelvis-thrusting special effects...Chiru!!!...I recognize both these comic relief actors despite having seen only six Telugu films...are we in Rajasthan now?...eeeeeeek!...ewwwww!...song full of scarves!...helicopter
...prophesy...ruins!...where'd he get that cowboy hat?
...another helicopter!...the best interval text ever!
and so on.
A quick plot summary for those who need it: tragic lovers from 400 years ago, princess Mitravinda (Kajal Agarwal) and royal guard Kala Bhairava (Ram Charan Teja),
are reincarnated as present-day Indu and Harsha. When they meet by chance one day, Harsha feels sparks (literally) as their hands brush.
He tries to hunt her down; she pretends not to be the woman he seeks, thus setting up the cute scarf song where he touches lots of girls in Switzerland. He eventually figures out her ruse and they have a love song. The bad guy - who is one of the most despicable villains I have ever seen, truly gross - who wants to marry her for inheritance (and lust) commits a heinous crime and frames Harsha for it. As Harsha pursues him as he escapes with Indu, he is thrown back 400 years into the story whose conclusion we saw at the beginning of the film. The drama of Bhairava and Mitravinda plays to its conclusion (again), and then Harsha is thrust back into present day, where he rights the wrongs of the past with the help of a friendly fisherman named Solomon (Srihari, who, interestingly played the foe of the kingdom in the flashback). All with a hefty serving of sword fighting, explosions, and horses.
Now that I've collected my thoughts a bit, there are three things I think I can say about MAGADHEERA with certainty and conviction.
1. I am absolutely not literate in Telugu film. There is a lot - a lot - going on in the movie that I do not understand, by which I mean that following the plot and comprehending some elements of the film (mini-arcs within songs, symbolic tokens, basic character types) do not at all add up in to really comprehending the film as an entire work and artifact of the culture that made it (and for whom it was intended). Some of you may tell me "It's a movie! Calm down! Have fun!" and there is certainly a huge walloping dose of uncomplicated entertainment here. However, my general attitude is that there is are meanings and ideas in most arts in addition to story and style, and while one does not have to get into all of that in order to find pleasure, emotion, etc. in a film, they're there for exploring and have something to say about the producing and consuming cultural contexts. For example, one element I've noticed in Telugu films is the camera shake. What is with the camera shake? What does it mean? Why is it there? Same with the rapid-fire zoom-in-zoom-out-repeat-repeat-repeat. I'd love to know more about the style and approach of these films, what audiences get from shake-shake-shake that I don't.
2. It is very, very macho.
To be honest, if I learned that a Hollywood film introduced its hero like this, I would mock it endlessly and never watch it. I had a long discussion with my friend Temple (alert reader and mega-fan of this film) about the presence, of lack thereof, of irony in MAGADHEERA, and I am of the mind that if there is anything in this film that is tongue-in-cheek other than the dance-off between the star and his father Chiranjeevi,
I missed it totally, in the sense of both not noticing it and regretting its absence. There are other styles that I love and respond to positively when they're hurled at me at 110%, but I just don't like balls-to-the-walls masculine heroics, and there's so much of that here that I kept saying out loud to the film to knock it off. There's quite a bit of aggression beyond what the plot strictly calls for, sexualized violence, physical threat by the hero against the heroine,
Love the coordinating breast decorations.
and lots of grunting and growling.
Probably related, the female lead is sort of weak. Indu has a spunky temperament and is likable in that way in which the timely combination of flirtatious and demure stands in for personality, but the film doesn't really let her do anything. Even the magical spark that flies whenever the leads touch hands - as a sign of their love 400 years ago - seems to be felt only by him, not by her - like she wasn't even in the original relationship? If their love is so magical that it transcends centuries, why can't she sense it? Her flashback counterpart Mitravinda has some skills as an archer (and her own snazzy armor) and volunteers to defend her kingdom from attack by the invading armies of Sher Khan (Srihari in the flashback)
but plays clueless to get Bhairava to snuggle up to her in an archery lesson and is denied any role in the final battle except as whimpering, onlooking captive. Yes yes, I know the deal the characters make is that Khan will concede if Bhairava alone can kill 100 men, but "it's in the script" is a lame-ass excuse. Scripts can be modified. Both versions of the heroine sometimes speak in little sighs, moans, and heavy breathing rather than actual words when they're afraid; yes, words are only one way to communicate with your voice, but I there's something Hello Kitty-ish (that is, cutesy-fying) about their sounds that their actual dialogues aren't saddled with.
There is, however, a fantastic exchange in which that frightening villain compares Mitravinda to a juicy fruit for him to savor slowly. (This is the historical parallel of his reaction to first seeing Indu in the present, when he sees her in the street and instantly goes crazy with lust, pawing at the windshield of his car that separates him from her.) Bhairava appears just as he's about to bite into the literal apple of his metaphor and sends his knife flying straight through it, sailing it out of villain's hands across the room.
Bhairava then picks up his knife and takes a slow, smirky bite out of the apple, saying that he couldn't allow anyone to eat something he hadn't tasted first (since he's a bodyguard). I was about ready to throw up at this grabby commodification of the heroine when she snatches the apple from Bhairava, says she'll eat it, and bites into it while Bhairava smiles. She and Bhairava stand together crunching on the apple as villain stomps off. Yessss! Claim your sexuality, woman!
Point 2B sort of follows from the heavy macho vibe though is certainly seen in other films where the hero is less smug and violent. One of Harsha and Indu's early interactions (before he realizes who she is - so he just thinks she's one of Indu's friends) shows her being harassed by a group of guys on the street.
When she tells him they've been bothering her, he basically dismisses her concerns, saying "It's youth! It's common! Forget about it. Now tell me, where's Indu?" When she tells him they also harassed Indu, the background score crashes, he glares at the louts (accompanied by camera shake!), and he kicks the crap out of them. Watching from across the street, Indu smiles and female voices sigh "I like you very much." She seems to fall in love with him in that very moment. Yech. Not only is the movie suggesting that violence is the way to win your woman, it's also showing this particular woman as helpless (more on that in a minute) and this particular hero as principled only when it is "his" woman who is in danger. He wasn't willing to do anything about the street thugs when he didn't think Indu was harmed by them.
And point 2C, I guess, but on the topic of gender: the visuals and lyrics (via subtitles) of the songs are saucier and a lot more "male dominates, female submits" than I was expecting. In the first song, "Bangaru Kodi Petta," Harsha has been cheated out of some fairly-won money by motorcycle jump context organizer Reshma (the awesomely saucy [I know I just used "saucy" but there is no other word for her here] Mumaith Khan). As she tries to evade him, he winds up and gives her a huge spank as his crowd of friends looks on (to dishoomy sound effects);
she retaliates by, and I am not making this up, thrusting her breasts at him, which causes a shock wave that freezes him and his gang in a coating of stone.
I do not know how one gets the power of Medusa boobs, but I think I might want it. The lyrics of this song are bold in their "I'm going to take you"/"come and get it" imagery. Reshma has hidden Harsha's money inside the front of her tank top (as you do), and some of the exchange goes like this:
Harsha: "It's in there, tell me..."
Reshma: "When you see it, they are swelling up."
Harsha: "I'll see your shameless beauty in between the gaps.... Tell me, what's up in you, my dear?"
Reshma: "My beauty is hiding intoxicated with your touch."
Harsha: "You're caught, my goose. Take out what's hidden inside."
Reshma: "I'm in hot pants...take yourself whatever you want."
Yowza! In the present-day portions of the film, two different songs do things with water that surprised me. Indu and Harsha's love song contains a scene of them separated by a sheet of falling water. He pokes his finger through it, rending it; she flinches and averts her eyes; he walks through it.
After he has experienced the flashback, Harsha winds up disoriented in a small fishing community and has a sassy song with a villager (Kim Sharma) in which he pelts her with a hose while she crawls on all fours and licks her lips. Temple tried to convince me this hose was just a hose, but I don't buy that for a minute.
He also runs a broken bottle down her body.
Hey, whatever floats your boat.
He hallucinates that this woman is Indu. You know, because otherwise it would be impure? "For real?" I yelled at the screen. Apparently yes. Please know my yelling is not because I am offended but rather because I am shocked at how overtly possessive and domineering these visual analogies are.
In the extended flashback after interval, Mitravinda and Bhairava have a very beautiful and steamy love song, "Dheera Dheera."
"It's like a sword playing with tender flower," they sing - gee, whatever could that mean? - and then he whips out his dagger, traces it along her cheek, and reaches behind her to cut one tie of her blouse. She grabs his hand and cuts the other one. Like the apple scene, it's mutual but also a little bit creepy because of the danger of the knife (and the symbolism of such a weapon, which is also repeated from the apple scene).
3. Salman Khan soooo wishes this is what Veer had been. By which I mean: there is a lot of fun, a lot of spectacle, and a lot of real beauty in MAGADHEERA. Obviously there was a lot about the characterizations and overall tone that bothered me, but it's still a very impressive movie with much for even me to enjoy. I didn't actually like Harsha (or Bhairava), but I sympathized with them. Love! Duty! Mysterious past! I bet it would be almost impossible to watch this and find nothing you like in it: it is so epically, epically epic.
It is dramatic, it is full of symbols, the emotions (of the characters) are huge, and it focuses on surmounting staggering obstacles to the hero's quest.
I loved how the two stories looped tightly back in on themselves, bringing everything to a real and tidy conclusion. Plot points big and small repeat across and within the two eras. For example, Mitravinda paints a wistful, heroic portrait of Bhairava with a dove in her bedroom, but later, after they have been parted (I won't tell you how), she flings the colors from the trays of a pooja at a giant stone, creating a new canvas of her despair.
Starting and ending the film at same physical location was a neat touch for combining and completing the historical and present versions of the drama.
The film is also completely ridiculous much of the time, particularly in the action and chase sequences, where we get movie science greatness like helicopters being felled by flying jeeps.
The visuals are mostly amazing, if not always perfect (see the poorly done cut-out look around the items in the foreground in the "dark clouds" scene above or the absolutely identical digital tigers below).
But yay for tigers!
There is repeated, effective use of aerial shots, showing dancers in fantastic arrangements and dizzying views of the perilous cliff of the opening and closing scenes.
As suits an epic, the costumes are awesome. Look at Bhairava's cloak! I've never seen a hero in this much fabric, and I love it.
The ability to fly is, of course, the ultimate accessory for a 20-foot train.
And in a grand tradition of masala adventures set in imaginary-ish, fantastic realms, it even has animals that save people.
Bhairava's horse, who saves him from quicksand, is named Badshah! Love it!
MAGADHEERA is at turns emotional, funny, and exciting, and it always has at least one trait or style or approach cranked up well past 11 and on to 17 or 18, including some of the aspects that were for me off-putting. It reminds me very much of my reactions to the first few Hindi films I saw years ago, having to pause and say out loud "What the eff was that?!?" in a confused but admiring tone. It has its flaws, but it is certainly full throttle and presents you with many, many treats and wonders; even if you don't like all of them, there are so many to choose from that you are bound to find something satisfying. If you haven't seen this, I do recommend having a friend join you so you can compare notes, discuss the finer points of all it has to offer, and confirm you did in fact just see what you thought you saw.