Review: ‘Naa Saami Ranga,’ starring Nagarjuna, Allari Naresh, Raj Tarun, Ashika Ranganath and Shabeer Kallarakkal

January 18, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nagarjuna Akkineni in “Naa Saami Ranga” (Photo courtesy of RKD Studios)

“Naa Saami Ranga”

Directed by Vijay Binni

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in India, in the late 1980s (and briefly in 1963), the action film “Naa Saami Ranga” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An orphan gets adopted by a powerful government family, and when he’s an adult, he becomes involved in the family’s power struggles.

Culture Audience: “Naa Saami Ranga” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching formulaic action movies with many unrealistic fight scenes.

Shabeer Kallarakkal and Rao Ramesh in “Naa Saami Ranga” (Photo courtesy of RKD Studios)

“Naa Saami Ranga” has more of the same predictable action-movie story about a hero character who’s caught up in violent feuding, revenge schemes, and a difficult romance. The generic and uninspiring plot becomes incoherent and annoying after a while. The awkwardly placed musical numbers are forgettable and formulaic.

Written and directed by Vijay Binni, “Naa Saami Ranga” is so derivative of many other similar movies, if you’ve seen enough of them, then you’ll know exactly how the movie is gong to end about 15 to 20 minutes after the movie starts. “Naa Saami Ranga” (which means “my goodness gracious” in Hindi) recycles the same old story of an underdog “hero,” who battles against enemies (usually those with more money and more power), while his love life consist mostly of chasing after a woman who seems to be unattainable.

The movie (which place in an unnamed village in India) begins in 1963, when an orphan named Kishtaiah, who’s about 12 to 13 years old, is invited to live with his best friend Anji (who’s about 10 or 11 years old) and Anji’s single mother. Kishtaiah and Anji are raised as brothers. The movie never bothers to explain what happened to Kishtaiah’s parents or anything about his family background.

One day, tragedy strikes when Anji’s mother suddenly dies. No cause of death is given n the movie. At the time of her death, she was heavily in mortgage debt to a wealthy businessman named Varadaraju (played by Rao Ramesh), who demands that Kishtaiah and Anji give the deceased mother’s house to him, in order to pay off the debt.

Instead of leaving these boys poor and orphaned, a powerful local government official named Peddayya (played by Nassar) volunteers to pay off the debt and raise Kishtaiah and Anji alongside his three other pre-teen sons. One of Peddayya’s sons is named Dasu, who shows the most resentment over having two new boys in the household. And you know what that means later in the story.

Kishtaiah meets Varamahalakshmi, nicknamed Varalu, the daughter of Varadaraju. It’s love at first sight, but Kishtaiah is too shy to approach her when he first sees her. He eventually starts talking to Varalu but is afraid to tell her how he really feels about her. Anji gives encourgagement to Kishtaiah, who gets enough confidence to tell Varalu his true feelings.

But on the day that Kishtaiah plans to do that, he sees his adoptive father Peddayya frantically driving a car that is being chased by a gang of about 20 thugs in a remote area. Peddayya is wounded. It just so happens that Kishtaiah has a gun with him, which he takes out an aims at the thugs.

“Naa Saami Ranga” then fast-fowards to 1988. The movie never shows what happened after Kishtaiah took out that gun, but it’s explained later that Kishtaiah shot the thugs and saved Peddayya’s life. In gratitude, Peddayya began to treat Kishtaiah (played by Nagarjuna) as equal to his biological sons. And you just know that this is going to cause major problems between Kishtaiah and Dasu (played by Shabeer Kallarakkal), who wants to be Peddayya’s favorite son.

During this time, Kishtaiah and Anji (played by Allari Naresh) are still best friends. Anji has fallen in love with a woman named Manga (played by Mirnaa Menon), and they get married. Kishtaiah and Anji are so close, Kishtaiah continues to live with Anji even after Anji gets married.

Kishtaiah now acts like a village protector against bullies, with a machete as a weapon of choice. No longer a shy teenager, Kishtaiah (who is a chainsmoker) walks around with a lot of swagger and arrogance. It’s more than enough to attract Varalu (played by Ashika Ranganath), who becomes charmed by Kishtaiah, and they fall in love with each other after she plays “hard to get.”

The relationshp between Kishtaiah and Varalu doesn’t go smoothly. Her father Varadaraju hasn’t forgotten about Kishtaiah’s poverty-striken childhood before Kishtaiah was adopted by Peddayya. Varadaraju doesn’t approve of Varalu dating Kishtaiah for caste reasons and because he thinks Kishtaiah deserves to be with someone who is more refined.

That’s not the only storyline about a father disapproving of a couple. There’s also a subplot about Kishtaiah and Anji befriending a guy named Bhaskar (played by Raj Tarun), who is dating a woman named Kumari (played by Rukshar Dhillon) whom Bhaskar wants to marry. However, Kumari’s father Veerabhadrudu (played by Madhusudan Rao), who is the president of a nearby village named Jagganna Thota, vehemently opposes the idea of Bhaskar marrying Kumari, because Veerabhadrudu doesn’t think Bhaskar is good enough to marry Kumari.

The rest of “Naa Saami Ranga” is about conflicts over these romance problems, which lead to family feuds and a lot of silly-looking fight scenes in a messy story. There is absolutely nothing creatively imaginative about “Naa Saami Ranga.” The acting is mediocre, and the dialogue is simplistic. It will be difficult for many viewers to emotionally connect with the adult Kishtaiah, because he comes across as very shallow and has a nasty temper, even though he is very loyal to his loved ones.

Because there’s a missing 25-year gap in the story, there’s no real explanation for the drastic personality change from the shy teenage Kishtaiah to the combative adult Kishtaiah. It’s implied that when he shot the thugs who were attacking Peddayya, this violent incident changed Kishtaiah. But there’s no real indication in the movie that this theory is true, because this entire movie is poorly written.

The action scenes are sloppy and very unrealistic. For example, in one of the major showdown scenes, a certain person is brutally stabbed, and then gets up and moves around as if that person has no injuries at all. The movie expects viewers to take this idiotic scene seriously. Ultimately, “Naa Saami Ranga” fails to bring suspense or an interesting story, which makes the movie’s 150-minute runtime feel much longer.

RKD Studios released “Naa Saami Ranga” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on January 14, 2024.

Review: ‘Tiger Nageswara Rao,’ starring Ravi Teja, Anupam Kher, Jisshu Sengupta, Renu Desai and Nupur Sanon

October 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nupur Sanon and Ravi Teja in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (Photo courtesy of Abhishek Agarwal Arts)

“Tiger Nageswara Rao”

Directed by Vamsee

Telugu with some language in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada and Malayalam with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, primarily in the 1970s, with some scenes in 1980 and the 1950s, the action film “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (loosely based on the real life of notorious thief Nageswara Rao) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Robin Hood-like thief, who robs from the rich so he can give to the poor, tries to avoid being captured by law enforcement.

Culture Audience: “Tiger Nageswara Rao” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, but it’s an overly long and repetitive mess of tiresome clichés.

Anupam Kher in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (Photo courtesy of Abhishek Agarwal Arts)

Even though “Tiger Nageswara Rao” is loosely based on the real life of notorious thief Nageswara Rao, the movie is just a pathetic ripoff of stories about English folk hero Robin Hood, but without any charm and intrigue that define Robin Hood lore. This three-hour slog of hack filmmaking drags with empty stereotypes of action flicks about outlaws, revenge and betrayals. The movie’s rampant misogyny, bad acting and wretched story make this vile film a big turnoff. Avoid this bloated trash.

Directed by Vamsee (who co-wrote the horrendous “Tiger Nageswara Rao” screenplay with Srikanth Vissa), “Tiger Nageswara Rao” takes place in India, mostly in the 1970s. In the city of Chirala, the rehabilitation colony of Stuartpurnam exists for the Erukula tribe, which has a history of oppression from British conquerors. In the 1970s, Stuartpurnam is plagued with violent crimes. Local law enforcement is overwhelmed and can’t seem to reign in the worst criminals.

The movie begins on March 22, 1980. A code red alert has summoned deputy superintendent of police Vishwanath Sastry (played by Murali Sharma) to India’s Intelligence Bureau headquarters in New Delhi. One of the officials he meets with is an officer named Raghavendra Rajput (played by Anupam Kher), who tells Vishwanath that they are looking to take down Tiger Nageswara Rao (nicknamed Nagi), a corrupt politician who has a long history of being a thief.

Vishwanath says he knows who Nageswara is, because he had a run-ins with him in Chirala. The movie then flashes back to a train heist that was masterminded by Nageswara, sometime in the 1970s. The chase scenes (some of which take place on top of the moving train) have shoddy and very fake-looking visual effects.

The movie then further flashes back to 1956, to show Nageswara as an orphaned child at 8 years old. He became a protégé of a criminal named Gajjala Prasad (plagued by Nassar), who teaches Nageswara how to become a master thief at the age of 11. By the time he was in his 20s, Nageswara (played by Ravi Teja) was considered to be India’s biggest thief. Nageswara was also difficult to capture. Teja, who was in his mid-50s when he made “Tiger Nageswara Rao,” never looks believable as someone who is supposed to be in his 20 in this movie.

In 1971, a member of the legislative assembly named Yelamanda (played by Hareesh Peradi) supervises a auction that is held every year in Stuartpurnam. The auction, which has luxury goods, is the ideal target for a thief such as Nageswara. You can imagine what happens next. Yelamanda is one of a growing list of people who becomes an enemy of Nageswara. In addition to federal agent Rajput, there’s a local Chirala police inspector named Mouli (played by Jisshu Sengupta) who is hunting Nageswara.

Nageswara is not only greedy when it comes to money, he’s also a promiscuous lout who treats women like playthings to be used and abused. The movie shows in non-explicit ways that he thinks he’s an expert seducer of women, just because he has orgies with at least 10 women at a time. One day, while Nageswara is at an outdoor market, an attractive young woman named Sara (played by Nupur Sanon) catches his attention. It’s lust at first sight for Nageswara.

And then (get ready to cringe), this idiotic dialogue happens: Nageswara says to Sara as a pickup line: “I’m hungry.” Sara replies in a sexual double entendre, “In order to eat off my plate, one must fast for three days.”

Nageswara doesn’t like this rejection from Sara, so he hits her so hard, she falls down. A nearby police officer goes to defend Sara, but Nageswara assaults him too. The brawling that ensues consists of more phony-looking stunts. Nageswara wins the fight and walks away without getting arrested.

Nageswara isn’t done with Sara, who is engaged to be married. Nageswara shows up unannounced and uninvited at her wedding. He ruins the wedding by telling Sara that he stole her dowry money from a chest. She slaps him, but Nageswara insists that Sara will be his, as if she’s a possession, not a human being.

Sara’s fiancé backs out of the wedding when he hears the dowry has been stolen. Nageswara uses this abandonment as “proof” that the fiancé didn’t really love Sara. Nageswara also says he did Sara a favor by exposing her fiancé as a gold digger. And in this awful movie, this tactic works. Nageswara is able to romance Sara for a while.

Through a series of circumstances, Nageswara ends up marrying someone else who doesn’t excite him as much as Sara does. Her name is Mani (played by Gayatri Bhardwaj), who becomes Nageswara’s long-suffering wife. Mani knows that Nageswara doesn’t love her as much as she loves him. Nageswara and Mani have twin daughters together. (Mani gives birth in a tacky melodramatic scene.)

“Tiger Nageswara Rao” tries to depict the title character as a “noble” folk hero who wants to use the money he steals to build a factory that can provide jobs, but the movie reprehensibly excuses his abuse of women. “Tiger Nageswara Rao” is really just a violent soap opera, where Nageswara continues to steal and avoid getting captured. He’s so smug and arrogant about his crimes, there’s nothing “noble” about him.

There are some sleazy subplots thrown into the movie, such as Sara being forced into prostitution. It’s just more of this film’s woman-hating attitude on display. No one in the movie’s cast gives a good performance. They all look like they’re on auto-pilot for their characters, who have one-dimensional personalities.

There’s so much unimaginative repetition in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (robberies, unrealistic fight scenes, Nageswara getting away), it’s truly mind-numbing and boring to watch after a while. It’s also a movie that has musical numbers that don’t fit the film’s overall tone. “Tiger Nageswara Rao” also has an obnoxiously loud music score, which seems to be a characteristic of horrendous action flicks that mistakenly think “loud music score” equals “effective music score.” There is absolutely nothing in “Tiger Nageswara” that is truly original and worth seeing, which is another way of saying that people who value their time shouldn’t see this movie at all.

Abhishek Agarwal Arts released “Tiger Nageswara Rao” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 20, 2023.

Review: ‘Dobaaraa,’ starring Taapsee Pannu and Pavail Gulati

August 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Taapsee Pannu in “Dobaaraa” (Photo courtesy of Bulaji Motion Pictures)

“Dobaaraa”

Directed by Anurag Kashyap

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1996 and in 2021, in Hinjawadi, Pune, India, the sci-fi drama film “Dobaaraa” (a remake of the 2018 Spanish film “Mirage”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman in the medical profession finds out that she can see the past through a television set, and she tries to prevent the death of a boy who was killed in an auto accident 25 years earlier. 

Culture Audience: “Dobaaraa” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Taapsee Pannu and Pavail Gulati; the original “Mirage” film; and suspenseful movies about time traveling and alternate realities.

Pavail Gulati in “Dobaaraa” (Photo courtesy of Bulaji Motion Pictures)

The last 15 minutes of “Dobaaraa” try to rush in a lot of convenient solutions, but this sci-fi thriller (a remake of the 2018 Spanish film “Mirage”) is riveting from beginning to end. Some parts of the movie are predictable, while others are not. Fans of alternate-reality stories should enjoy “Dobaaraa,” but viewers must be willing to pay full attention, in order for the movie to have its intended impact. In other words, the alternate realities in the story might confuse people who aren’t fully engaged or are easily distracted by other things while watching the movie.

Directed by Anurag Kashyap and written by Nihit Bhave, “Dobaaraa” (which translates to “second time” in Hindi) goes back and forth between the years 1996 and 2021, but the story takes place mostly in 2021. “Dobaaraa” opens in 1996, in Hinjawadi, Pune, India. On the night of an electrical storm, a 12-year-old boy named Anay (played by Arrian Sawant) is witnessing a disturbing crime in the house directly across the street from the house where he lives: A woman named Rujuta (played by Medini Kelamane) is being beaten severely by her cruel and abusive husband Raja Ghosh (played by Saswata Chatterjee) during a domestic violence argument.

During this attack, Rujuta is knocked down to the floor. Not quite believing what he just saw, Anay runs over to the Ghosh house to see if Rujuta is okay. When he goes in the house (the front door is unlocked), Anay sees Rujuta’s bloody and lifeless body on the living room floor. Suddenly, Raja appears in the doorway and sees that Anay knows that Rujuta is dead.

“Who are you?” Raja yells at Anay. A frightened Anay runs away as Raja chases after Anay. Anay runs out into the street to go back to his house, but he is tragically hit and killed by a fire truck before he makes it back to his house.

Anay was an only child who lived with his single mother Shikha Vats (played by Vidushi Mehta), who is a loving and devoted parent. At the time of Anay’s death, his parents were separated and headed for divorce. Anay’s father was not been involved in raising Anay since the separation. Anay missed his father immensely, so Anay would often make home video messages that he wanted his father to eventually see.

When Anay made these video messages, he usually set the video camera up on the television in his bedroom. This television becomes an important element of the story, because the TV becomes a time portal where someone from the future can see Anay. It’s also mentioned several times in the movie that Anay was a big fan of the 1984 sci-fi action film “The Terminator,” which had a time-traveling aspect to the story where someone from the future must save someone from the past.

The movie then fast-forwards 25 years after Anay’s death to 2021. The perspective shifts to a nurse in her late 30s named Antara Bhatt (played by Taapsee Pannu), who works at Blue Cross Hospital, where she often assists a surgeon named Dr. Sethupathi (played by Nassar). Antara is somewhat of an unconventional hospital nurse because she wears a nose ring. She is happy in her job but unhappy in her marriage to Vikas Awasthi (played by Rahul Bhat), who works as a hotel manager.

The discontent in their marriage is shown early on, in a scene in the couple’s kitchen, where Antara tells Vikas that his nonsense used to be music to her ears. “But now, you irritate me,” she coldly says to him. The couple apparently had conversations about splitting up before, but these conversations are not in the movie. However, Antara and Vikas have already decided that they are going to separate.

Vikas tells Antara that they should wait one month before they discuss the separation with their daughter Avanti (played by Myra Rajpal), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. Avanti is the couple’s only child. Vikas and Antara both adore Avanti, but Antara is the more attentive parent.

The decision to separate has come at an awkward time because Antara and Vikas have recently moved into a house. Antara has a platonic male friend named Abhishek (played by Sukant Goel), whom she met when they both attended the same university. Abhishek is one of two guests who attend a small housewarming dinner party hosted by Antara and Vikas.

Abishek tells Antara that he’s very familiar with this house because it’s where his childhood friend Anay used to live before Anay was tragically killed when he was hit by a fire truck on a rainy night. Abishek also says that Anay was died after witnessing a domestic violence murder at a neighbor’s house. The guilt-ridden neighbor confessed to his wife’s murder and admitted his role in inadvertently causing Anay’s death.

And guess who is also with Abhishek at this party? Anay’s mother Shikha, who became a mother figure to Abhishek after Anay’s death. Abhishek tells Antara stories about his childhood memories of Anay and how they used to love watching “The Terminator” together. Antara also hears about Anay’s video messages to his father.

The TV set that Anay’s family used to have is still in the house in the room that used to be Anay’s bedroom. Abhishek is amazed to see that this old TV is still there. Shikha is overcome with emotion and she can no longer stay in the house because it brings back painful memories. Her sadness puts a damper on the dinner party, which soon ends.

After the guests leave, a curious Antara turns on the television set. And she sees a boy on the screen who is filming himself and making a video message. To Antara’s shock, the boy on the TV can see and hear her too. She asks the boy what his name is, and he says his name is Anay. Antara notices that it’s raining heavily where Anay is, while Anay notices that Anatara is in a room that looks like his bedroom.

And when Anay tells Antara that he can hear the neighbor spouses fighting in the house across the street, Antara immediately knows that she’s looking into the past on the night that Anay was killed. Antara begs Anay not to go outside, because she says she’s from the future, and she knows that he will be hit by a truck if he goes outside. Anay doesn’t believe she’s from the future until she tells him about Abhishek.

The rest of “Dobaaraa” is somewhat of a mind-bending ride where alternate realities come into the picture, based on decisions that change the lives of people in the movie. It’s enough to say that Antara convinces Anay not to go outside on that fateful night. And the next day, Antara wakes up and finds out that her life is very different.

Antara is now a surgeon, not a nurse, at Blue Cross Hospital. Her nose ring is gone, and she has a shorter hairstyle. Her confusion turns to utter panic, when Antara goes to her daughter Avanti’s school to watch Avanti during swimming practice and finds out that Avanti has disappeared. Even worse: No one but Antara remembers or knew that Avanti existed. Vikas is still a manager at the same hotel, but when Antara goes there to talk to him, Vikas denies knowing Antara and says that he does not have a child.

Antara reports Avanti as a missing child, but since there are no records of Avanti, the police generally treat Antara as if Antara is mentally ill. Only one cop takes her desperate search for Avanti seriously: Deputy Commissioner of Police Anand (played by Pavail Gulati), who is about the same age as Antara. He offers to help Antara solve the mystery of why Avanti has disappeared and why many aspects of Antara’s life are very different from what she remembers before she woke up that day.

As the frantic mother Antara, Pannu gives an admirable performance that will keep viewers curious to see what will happen next. Kashyap’s direction of “Dobaaraa” maintains a suspenseful tone, while the film’s musical score by Shor Police skillfully conveys the right moods for every scene. The last third of the movie stumbles a bit with a plot development resembling a soap opera, but it doesn’t detract too much from the overall story.

Just like a lot of movies involving time traveling and alternate realities, based on people’s life-changing decisions, “Dobaaraa” has themes about fate versus free will. It’s a movie that will also make people think about how regret or gratitude about how one’s life has turned out can influence decisions that have ripple effects on one’s own life and the lives of others. “Dobaaraa” is more of a sci-fi thriller than a story heavily steeped in life philosophies. And therefore, it’s an entertaining but flawed story that thankfully doesn’t want to preach to its audience and lets viewers enjoy the ride as the story’s mystery is solved.

Balaji Motion Pictures released “Dobaaraa” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on August 19, 2022.

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