Alisa Rivera, @BollywoodNewbie on Twitter, asked me to suggest a South Indian film we could both watch and discuss. She’s been watching Hindi films for the last couple of years, and has just started to watch Malayalam films. She had not seen any other Telugu films other than Baahubali, and did not know Mahesh Babu. 1: Nenokkadine was my first Mahesh film, and I’d been meaning to watch it again. I’m not sure it was the best one to recommend as Alisa’s first Mahesh film, but she left wanting to see more of his films. We also talk about the deaths of Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor as we recorded this right after their deaths.
It’s a solid film, and a much needed hit for star Mahesh Babu. Director Siva likes to add a message to his dramas, and he gives us an almost too perfect political hero — but gives the fans what they want with some great action sequences. The music by Devi Sri Prasad is a standout. The village festival number in the second half was more incredible than I imagined it would be. From the stills in the lyrical video, I knew it would be my favorite, and it was just gorgeous! Really good background score too.
Mahesh Babu gives a stellar performance, especially the speeches. There’s one particular intense speech he gives at a press conference that is one of his finest spots of acting of his career. He always looks cool in the action and songs, but here Siva has given him some meaty drama scenes to play, and he hits it out of the park.
I wasn’t surprised at the reveals in the last half hour. I found the plot sometimes predictable, but I still enjoyed watching it all play out.
If you haven’t seen Spyder, and want no spoilers before you see it, watch this spoiler free review of the film I recorded moments after seeing it.
I warned you ….. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!! (but not the whole plot)
The first thing you should know is that I am a Mahesh Babu fan. I’ve seen several of his films, and my favorites are probably Athadu (killer disarmed by love!) and Pokiri. Unfortunately, my first Mahesh Babu film in the theater was last year’s flop Brahmatsovam. It’s been a long wait for the next Mahesh film, over a year. I think he took the lessons from that flop, and hooked up with a quality director. My friend Kartik even sent me a quote from Mahesh about that flop:
So anticipation has been sky high for this film Spyder. Expectations, too. I felt it was a decent film. Not perfect, but it had some notable sequences that were unique and something fresh I had not seen before.
I walked out of the theater satisfied, and I was surprised that several young men who cared enough to come to the very first 2 p.m. show were disappointed. Maybe the hype was so high nothing would have been enough. They said the second half was not a “practical” plot. I think they wanted a more grounded story, like Pokiri or Athadu. From the trailer we could see there would be huge boulder rolling down a street crushing cars — and that sequence was certainly in the film. The last half felt almost like a disaster movie or a superhero film with buildings collapsing and villains wanting to crush people with huge boulders! So, not realistic, but it didn’t bother me one bit.
Are all those village Telugu dramas with machete fights with one hero fighting 20 men realistic either?
AR Murugadoss set up a tight cat and mouse thriller between Mahesh and our big villain. Mahesh is some sort of spy analyst. I got the sense he worked in the equivalent of the Indian FBI. He’s monitoring phone conversations ostensibly looking for terrorists and the like, but almost like Minority Report he prides himself on preventing crimes before they happen based on something he’s overheard. He saves a young girl from being robbed and dishonored by a goon who has convinced her he’s going to marry her out of town.
But then a girl he overhears being scared in an empty house is murdered savagely, along with the woman cop he dispatched to check on her. And that sends Mahesh into a crisis, and then ultimately on a solo quest to find their killer.
In the first half, we get a tiny little romance track with the adorable Rakul Preet Singh. He overhears her discussing wanting a “blind date” and I think wanting a friends with benefits situation (something that maybe didn’t translate fully in the subtitles). He stalks her a bit, and she confronts him on it. But she eventually agrees if he’s not in love with her it will be okay for them to go out. There is a hilarious scene where she tries to explain this to Mahesh’s mother — who warns Rakul Mahesh is shy, just like his father. “It took four years of marriage for my son to be born!” LOL
There are a few flight of fantasy songs that show their feelings for each other, and a bit of their relationship. The first song, Boom Boom, I liked much better in the film, than in the teaser snippets we saw. That’s the first song, and for some reason has all white girl back up dancers!
When Mahesh goes on a hunt for the killer, he uses a viral video to try to find someone who’s seen him. This film has a lot of cool use of technology, with scenes of Mahesh monitoring real time cell phone calls, searching through CCTV footage and the like. It was all very clever, and kind of scary to think how much info these agencies can gather. There’s a speech in the beginning that the analysts in Mahesh’s office are not to monitor calls for personal reasons, but obviously Mahesh breaks that by listening in and researching Rakul!
The back story of the villain was super creepy and really unique. I’ve never seen anything like it, as an origin for a sociopath serial killer. While other reviewers may quibble that this took time away from the main story and slowed down the film, I really liked this segment of the movie. That kid was a good actor — good at being super creepy and evil!!
There are actually two villains. Won’t spoiler why, but they were both good. Bharat is one, but the big bad is played by S. J. Surya. He was mostly excellent playing this sociopath killer. There was on interrogation scene where he really gets crazy and it was over the top for me, but especially this scene above with the mask he was very scary and effective. Whew! So good at being evil.
At times in the second half, it felt like he was becoming an over sized super villain like in a comic book movie, though. Maybe that’s what those young men at my screening were complaining about. That and the rolling boulder of doom.
The first half of the film was really good, but there were some logical misses in the plot of the second half. Rakul not telling Mahesh something crucial because she was in a snit with him was egregious. Really? You’re not going to help catch the murderer because you’re mad at your boyfriend? And there were times Mahesh went alone into a situation when it would have been more realistic if he’d had back up.
There was one segment where he fooled a bunch of ladies who were watching a soap into helping him find a fugitive. It went on for a long stretch and was pretty over the top, too. But I do have to acknowledge to Mr. Murugadoss that I have never seen the like!
The CGI in a couple of crucial action scenes was not seamless, but I found the roller coaster fight scene incredible anyway. Just the concept of it alone! We get a snippet in the trailer but it was really something to see. The ending has a building collapsing as Mahesh tries to save people. That was another part that felt like this was a disaster movie rather than a grounded thriller. But, still, the film didn’t end with the cliched fight sequence in an abandoned factory.
Mahesh has a preachy speech at the end about humanity and helping others without expecting rewards. A bit long, and kind of a weird note to end the film on.
There’s also some plot holes as to how Mahesh is just going rogue in his job. He doesn’t follow privacy rules AT ALL and gets all his buddies to just give him info for his solo investigation. He’s working around the police and just ignoring their efforts. He also kills one guy in front of a huge crowd, and seemingly has no repercussions at work or otherwise It was definitely a take the law into your own hands kind of movie. I was disturbed at that cold killing scene. Mahesh’s character just has his own morality compass. He’s the hero, so he’s always right. Definitely not an examination of two sides like Vikram Vedha.
The background score by Harris Jayaraj was incredible. It kept the tension taught throughout the film. I have an issue with thrillers that don’t have good enough music to set the mood (Ahem, Malayalam thrillers….), This score was a standout.
For the most part, AR Murugadoss has given us an exciting thriller with a great villain. Mahesh just looks so cool in all the action scenes. He has a couple of great fight segments. Even the Boom Boom dance number sort of had fight choreography. I liked Mahesh and Rakul’s chemistry in the songs and their sweet romance, although that isn’t the thrust of the film. It’s mainly there as some nice comic relief from the darkness in the rest of the film.
Mahesh reacts emotionally to the death of the young girl and police officer in the first part of the film, but other than that does not show the range of emotion that he has in other films. It wasn’t there in the script for him to do. The film did have more of a story than a strictly action film like Vivegam, but didn’t pack the emotional punch I usually like in Telugu films. Still, I left satisfied that I’d had a good rollercoaster ride of my own.
Another unique aspect to the film is that it was filmed in Telugu AND Tamil. Mahesh is fluent in both languages, so they filmed each scene twice! I attended the Telugu version (with subtitles, of course.)
If you’re a parent wondering if the film is too violent to bring the whole family, the only violence you really SEE is a couple of impalements. And Mahesh shooting a guy in the head from a distance. But there are descriptions of victims being chopped up.
If you want no spoilers at all, watch this video review I made minutes after coming out of the theater. I saw the very first show in Chicago — one of the first in the US. I liked the film, even if it’s not perfect. It’s not my favorite Mahesh Babu film, that would be Pokiri or Athadu maybe, but I left satisfied. AR Murugadoss, who made one of my favorites, Ghajini, has a compelling script.
The backstory of the villain is especially creepy. It’s a story I’ve certainly never seen before. The romance track with Rakul Preet Singh is not the emphasis of the film, but I enjoyed the sweetness of their relationship.
Good dance numbers, but the background score is notably good, and kept the tension going in this enjoyable thriller.
I will be writing and recording another review with spoilers – coming soon.
Still no subtitles, but Kartik tells me Mahesh is playing the equivalent of an FBI analyst. The romance track looks so cute! That boulder shot down the street — THAT I was not expecting. Hmmm. I’ll be there first day, first show to see what it’s all about.
I have just launched my new YouTube Channel Pardesi with Kartik of Bollyfools. He first interviewed me right after that very first IMAX showing of Baahubali 2, and we struck up a frienship. After I did Indian Cinema reviews for the Bollyfools Youtube channel for the last few months, we’ve decided to strike out on our own with this new Pardesi Channel. We decided on Pardesi because I’m a foreigner reviewing Indian Cinema, and Kartik is an ex-pat in America.
I’ll be doing movie reviews for the most part in the four main Indian Cinema: Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam. I’m going to try trailer reactions and song reactions. In fact I just did one for the first song Boom Boom from Mahesh Babu’s Spyder. I had to take the Picture in Picture and audio out from the song because I got dinged right away. I think I look ridiculous bobbing my head to silence but I have to know — why is there the word Hogwarts in a Spyder song??!! It’s so strange!
I hope if you follow me here, you’ll subscribe to my new Youtube Channel Pardesi.
Several commenters on my reaction to the trailer of Allu Arjun’s new film DJ told me I should watch Arya 2 and Arya.
I’ve never really reacted to a teaser trailer before, but I am super excited about this one for Mahesh Babu’s Spyder, due out in September. I went on a binge of Mahesh Babu films last year, and unfortunately, the first film of his I saw in the theater was Brahmotsavam, which was a confusing mess. Spyder is directed by the Murugadoss who gave us Aamir Khan’s Ghajini, which is a masterpiece. Crossing my fingers that he gives Mahesh as great a movie. September seems very far away!!
Rarandoi Veduka Chudham (Come, Let’s Watch the Spectacle) is an enjoyable family drama starring Naga Chaitanya and Rakul Preet Singh. This I believe is their first film together, and the first time I’ve seen Rakul in a film.
This film is put out by Naga Chaitanya’s family banner, and he did well in the film, but frankly, I enjoyed his 2016 films Premam and Sahasam Swasaga Saagipo much more. The first half of this film is slow, but it’s saved by the last hour or so of the film when the conflict comes to a head.
I also enjoyed seeing Jagapathi Babu again as Naga’s father. He was Mahesh Babu’s father in Srimanthadu.
Letterboxd.com is where I keep a diary of all the films I watch, including films I rewatch. They have a very cool year in review feature. I was inspired by this Matt Bowes post about all the media he consumed in 2016, to make this post. I’ll just talk about the movies here, but I love how he listed all the comics, podcasts, etc., too!
So, according to Letterboxd, I saw 222 films in 2016, which includes short films and rewatches. That averages out to over 18 a month, and over 4 a week. Weeks like our visit to the Sundance Film Festival, where we saw 30 films (including shorts) certainly help to bump up that average, but I am an avid movie viewer no matter how you slice it. I just started this blog in April, but I had been posting short reviews on most films to Letterboxd before that.
2016 started with The Hateful Eight (which I didn’t love) and ended with Zootopia, which I did love. There were mostly older films, but I did watch 82 films that were released in 2016. It won’t surprise any of my readers that fully half were films from India, 111 of them.
Interestingly, the actor with the most films I saw was not Shahrukh Khan (who was second with 12), but Nasser with 14! That man is in EVERYTHING!
This year I discovered Telegu cinema megastar Mahesh Babu (9 movies) and Malayalam cinema star Prithviraj. I’ve got a stack of more Prithviraj movies to watch — the man has made so many! I’m amused that Prithviraj’s early film Stop Violence – which I watched without subs! – Letterboxd lists as my “most obscure movie”.
The highest rated (by people on Letterboxd) film I saw in 2016 is Moonlight, which is heading to the Oscars. The lowest rated is Yoga Hosers. Yeah. Have to pretty much agree with that — but Assassin’s Creed is giving it a run for it’s money on that score. Yoga Hosers is just crazy silly (Brat Nazis!) but it was worth it to go to the midnight premiere just to see Kevin Smith.
2016 will always be in my memory, because this was the year that a movie I helped get made premiered at Sundance.
How To Tell You’re A Douchebag is the movie I saw the most times this year, as I attended screenings of the film, and showed it to friends and family. I’m so proud of writer/director Tahir Jetter’s achievement. It was bought by BET and aired this summer. You can watch it on iTunes, Amazon video or Google play now!
Top films from 2016 I saw in Hollywood and Indian cinema coming soon.