I purchased the Telugu film Yamadonga [God of death thief or Thief Yama] on DVD months ago because it was highly recommended by a friend. I kept picking it up, and putting it back down. Frankly, the cover image doesn’t do anything for me. But I forgot that I bought it because it is by director S. S. Rajamouli (of Baahubali fame!) Yamadonga came out in 2007 (between Chatrapathi (2005) and Magadheera (2009)). Yamadonga was my first Jr. NTR film, but his third collaboration with Rajamouli.
Chatrapathi has that amazing CGI shark fight with Prabhas, and Magadheera anticipates Baahubali with its lengthy past life fantasy flashback. And then of course, Rajamouli made the hero reincarnate as a FLY in Eega. His imagination has no bounds, and continues to amaze me with every film. I was blown away by Baahubali, which I saw four times in the theater alone, and cannot wait for part 2 next year. Yamadonga is a delightful flight of fantasy as a thief insults Yama (the God of Death) and is sent to hell before his time.
Jr. NTR is no Prabhas (my favorite Telugu actor), but he definitely has an impish charm. I was trying to think what Hollywood actor he reminds me of. He’s sort of like Chris Pratt – looks cool in the action sequences, but has that charm and sense of comedy silliness about him.
I know this is shallow of me, but I hated NTR’s hair in this film. It just looked awful. There were a few music numbers where his hair was much shorter, and he looked a thousand times better. He has that same look in the poster for his next film Janatha Garage (with Mohanlal) coming out next month.
As children, the thief Raja (Jr. NTR) meets Mahi. She gives him an amulet necklace that had been blessed in a temple. He can’t pawn it, and throws it away, but over his life, it keeps turning up.
Mahi (Priyamani) grows up and is an orphan treated as a servant in her family’s household. She’s sort of a Cinderella waiting for her prince. (Isn’t it handy NTR is named Raja?) NTR rescues her but then tries to ransom her to her family when he sees a TV report that she is a wealthy heiress (which she doesn’t know.)
For the first time, Mahi who had been treated as a servant, is waited on like a princess by Raja. Raja has cursed Yama (the God of Death) to the heavens, and Yama vows revenge on this human. Raja is killed before his time by goons sent by Mahi’s family and then half the movie is set in the fantasty realm of hell. Raja is a thief by nature, and tricks Yama and steals his rope of death, becoming the ruler of hell himself.
The modern day parts of Yamadonga aren’t that different in plot than any other Telugu action romantic film, although the action scenes are great. But the film takes off in the fantasy hell sequence and in a scene in heaven with all the gods. The sets are glorious. Mohan Babu is fantastic as the insulted god Yama. The comedy uncle of pretty much every Telugu film, Brahmanandam, is Yama’s sort of clerk Chatragupta keeping track of the book of deeds of the human sinners.
Raja proposes an election to have the demons of hell pick their new ruler between Yama and Raja. Yama brings three goddesses to dance, but then NTR as Raja dances with them and brings out the spirit of his grandfather. Jr. NTR is the grandson of the famous actor and (then politician) NTR. Rajamouli uses CGI to have Jr. NTR and NTR talk and dance together onscreen (like Dhoom Taana in Om Shanti Om). This Young Yama song reminded me of the song Manohari in Baahubali with NTR dancing with the three women.
NTR is a great dancer (he’s accomplished in Kuchipudi dance), and this sequence was one of my favorites in the film.
Raja returns to earth, but if he sins again, he will be returned to hell. He’s about to marry Mahi, when Yama decides to trick Raja into sinning. Yama takes the form of a woman to tempt Raja – Raja’s former partner in crime and money lender.
Mamta Mohandas is Dhanalakshmi (Yama in disguise), and I loved her portrayal. She’s seductive, but she has the air of Yama’s arrogance and swagger at the same time.
That’s the thing about this film. Not only is NTR great, but so many of the supporting actors are simply fantastic. Priyamani‘s performance is just okay as the innocent naive Mahi. She has some great dance numbers with NTR, but her acting was not on the same level with the others.
I had so much fun watching this movie. Rajamouli never disappoints, and NTR provides a lot of comedy, great dancing and cool action scenes. I have never seen a Ramayana TV serial, and I’m sure the hell scenes reference some of those, or Ram-Leela pageant plays. But you don’t need that background, or even an understanding of the Indian gods to enjoy this film.
Highly recommend this Rajamouli fantasy film. Four stars out of five. (It’s available on Youtube with English subtitles here.)
Now I can’t wait to see NTR in Janatha Garage next month. NTR has a real screen presence, and I look forward to catching up with his other films.