#These articles are written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
5.Mr & Mrs Iyer
9.Kaakha Kaakha (Tamil)
19.Anukokunda Oka Roju
21.Mangal Pandey (Hindi)
26.Rang De Basanti
28.The Da Vinci Code
33.Lage Raho Munnabhai
Monday, January 29, 2007
It can be said that not many movies stay with you long after their scheduled run, and the ones that do, do so, for those innumerable emotions that they invoke, for those countless ways that they connect and for those mysterious ways, that they well up the hidden feelings. While writing for a song for the movie Subhasankalpam, Sirivennela summed up the power of those alphabet associations that stir up the above, from deep within, thusly - "evaru iccaarammaa inni akshaaraalu, aksharaala venaka inni ardhaalu, ae daevata iccindO inni varaalu, vippi naenu ceppalaenu aa vivaraalu". Add to that word association, the right context, the perfect emotion and a good deliverer - the words start breathing and assume a life of their own. And if a movie stood up to become the torchbearer to this renaissance of good taste and this resurrection of good quality, it is, arguably, Nuvve Nuvve.
Characterization has found a new home at Trivikram's. The ability of a character to talk sensibly, convince the audience of its convictions and motives, make them sympathize with its actions, be it the protagonist or the father's character, are some of the characteristic traits that Trivikram has mastered over the past few movies, and his skill has reached a new pinnacle with this movie. Rounding off every plot point, logical explanation behind each action, lack of any extraneous behaviors, a pragmatic approach to every problem and a practical view at what life (of the characters) has to offer, not only brings them closer to the audience, but also endears themselves to the same in the process. The two dimensions, action and reaction, that usually define a Telugu movie character, has been bestowed upon a third and an important dimension - emotion and the words that props it. The skill at finding this new angle within every character that greets us on the screen, is something that Trivikram has honed with each passing movie, and it touched a new zenith in Nuvve Nuvve.
This movie is a triangle of sorts involving a possessive father, his torn daughter and her optimistic lover. An intelligent adaptation of the Hollywood movie "Say Anything", Nuvve Nuvve feels anything but a native Telugu movie, thanks for the extra care that Trivikram has put in, shaping the characters to perfection. Prakash Raj stands out as the hero of the movie, finely balancing his emotions between an over-bearing father and an over-protective parent. If, at no point, his character feels as one with a negative touch, as one that has marks of villainy in it, it is because of the humanization (not to be confused with the humanity) that he brings to the character - a locked brow here, a sly smile there, a silly smirk here and a broad laugh there - Prakash Raj seems born for the part and he practically lives the character. Subtlety in the dialogue delivery, hand gestures indicating his inner turmoil, facial expressions conveying the deep schism between his love for his daughter and the dislike that he developed towards her lover, are just some of the many tools that he brings to the table. It would be a grave injustice to the acting fraternity, should he not be awarded the best actor award (not best character award, as is the general tendency) for Nuvve Nuvve.
Tarun comes in a distant second, comparatively, with another good performance. His ease with the spoken language coupled with a confident body language, makes him a nice fit with the character that he portrays on the screen. The gradual transformation of his character from a carefree one to a caring one, ably supported by those fantastic words from Trivikram, seems genuine, heart-felt and sincere. The slight differences between the boyish charm that won over his lady and the same boyish charm that earns the wrath of her father was effectively conveyed through the careful intonation and his skillful modulation. If shaping up a character, through a series of words on paper, is one thing, bringing the character to life on the screen, without missing the minute details on paper - a clenched jaw here, a glinty eye there, a soft-spoken character here, a earnest figure there - Tarun appeared as what was exactly conceived in ink.
Rumored as completely storyboarded, Nuvve Nuvve has some nice imaginative shots and angles, thanks to deft handling of the camera by Hari Anumolu and crisp cutting by Sreekar Prasad. The two-shot sequences involving either the lead characters, or the confrontation sequences between Tarun and Prakash Raj, were choreographed to squeeze maximum mileage out of the situation - consider the letter-grabbing episode involving Tarun and Shriya, or the one at Annavaram when Shriya rests on her father's shoulders or the fine camerawork in the campus scenes. Koti and Sirivennela contributed their mite and might in bringing out a well refined, mature and an entertaining product.
If what Trivikram has showed us in Swayamvaram, Nuvve Kaavali, Chirunavvuto and Nuvvu Naaku Naccav, were to be considered as just a tip of the proverbial iceberg of his insightful and observant nature of the characters, if what Trivikram made us feel, delving into the depths of the characters in Nuvve Nuvve, if what Trivikram has demonstrated in his dramatic prowess and comedic timing in all the aforementioned movies, were just initial forays decimating the dullness and the dreariness that is plaguing the current telugu film character, assuring us that his best is yet to come, then we are in for some great treat for times to come.
Montage is often defined in movie terms, as a series of different elements joined together, while trying to make a point. For example, while in a song, the images of boy and a girl meeting at a park, acting in a friendly way, having a jolly time together laughing, sharing, and doing things together, would be interpreted as the two developing some sort a relationship. Now what if, an entire movie plays out as a montage LEADING up to the climax, than a plot that plays out in a justifiable manner ADDING up to the climax? With no emotional point to moot, with no logical point to peg, the movie just plays out as a series of vignettes, with the sole objective of making the end justify the means. It almost plays out like the Fibonacci series in math, wherein the value of any number in the series, in dependent upon the previous two numbers, nothing more, nothing less.
Abstracting a Telugu movie is as difficult as the predicting the fate of the same at the turnstiles. The reason being, telugu movies stick so much to the basics and fly so low below the intellectual radar, that it is more than often, an exercise in futility, trying to come up with an acceptable abstractive framework, to explain the movie. It is for the same reason, a Telugu movie becomes a series of plot points, with plot plodders and plot pushers sprinkled along the lines, trying to show the exorbitant price paying audience, nothing more than just a good time. To borrow the phrase, "just when I think I am out they pull me back right in" (Al Pacino, from Godfather 3), just when we thought, Trivikram made some progress in pushing the often banal Telugu characters to a higher, more meaningful strata with Nuvve Nuvve, he is pulled back again into the trite quagmire to script a movie like Manmadhudu.
In just the same way was he awarded and rewarded, amply and solely, for the successes of the movies Nuvve Kaavali, Nuvvu Naaku Naccav, Nuvve Nuvve etc, Trivikram alone should be blamed for this most insipid and uninspired script of his otherwise illustrious career till date. If subtle sentimentality is his forte, it was sorely missing; if sensible drama is a part of his strong suite, it was hugely lacking; if delightful insights into the characters is what he trademarked his trade with, it was largely wanting. It is often said, that it does not matter, what the movie is about; what matters is the journey that the audience is embarked upon; what matters is how the movie gets down doing its business, achieving what it intended to set out. It is for this same reason that movies as sensible as Sankarabhranam appeal to us, movies as outlandish as Jagadeka veerudu agrees with us, movies as ridiculous as Hello Brother appeases us.
MOULDING Hollywood themes to suit the nativity, which Trivikram seems to be adept at, when reduced to the act of just ADAPTING, sounds tired, jaded and lifeless. When, in such adaptations, are sprinkled the typical character observations, without actually propping the character up with enough meat, they sound out of place and distracting. And then there is this cause and effect dialogue sequence, that's usually one of the many disarming weapons in his quiver. Take the example of the hero trying to woo the second heroine to go on a drive with her. The way Trivikram sets the scene up, builds the scene with a little rejoinder on the coffee drinking habit, and cuts the scene abruptly without any satisfying pay off, is just one of the many quibbles, that one can pick on with the screenplay. The writer usually should be able to identify with a character, and support it with enough motivation to be able to justify his actions, in a well-rounded script. Be it Tarun's character in Nuvve Kaavali, or Venu's in Chirunavvuto or more recently Prakash Raj's in Nuvve Nuvve, the audience would be able to instantly identify with the character's actions, because of its valid motivation and logical justification of the same. Even in a ultra commercial movie like Nuvvu Naaku Naccav, Venkatesh's character, in spite of all the antics, does not seem to lose focus and right until the end, it does not sway away from its initial path.
Technical wizardry, no matter how dazzling and impressive, as is the case, can never be a substitute to the printed word. The team of Sameer Reddy, Devi Sri Prasad and Srikar Prasad tried to go pick up the ball, that Trivikram has dropped so early in the game, and tried to make some play out of it. An interesting point in Sameer Reddy's photography is the COOL shaking effect during the songs, wherein the images of the characters have a noticeable vibration with the background remaining absolutely still, which is similar to the ones photographed in David Fincher's Fight Club. Sirivennela's lyrics contributed his pen worth to salvage some respectability and his power of abstraction, even in as one-dimensional movie as Manmadhudu, speaks much of his prowess ("eDabaaTae baaTai naDavagaa"). Trivikram's framework - boy meets girl, boy/girl hates girl/boy, boy and girl go to different setting, they develop feelings, girl is engaged, boy broods, key event happens, boy gets after the girl, they unite - is fast losing its grip. It is time he pulled it by the strings and tightened it up.
Trend is often defined as a precursor to a cliché. A youthful movie becomes successful and the market is flooded with clones and drones; a vengeful movie strikes some chord with the audience and it is treated to different variations of the same blood and gore. Stranger it may seem, because not too many good movies find followers lining up in their paths. A "Siva" was followed by thousands of its minions (pramadha gaNaalu would be a better term), but a "Kshana Kshanam" had no takers. A "Nuvve Kaavaali" opened the floodgates to hundreds of unwanted adaptations, but a "Chirunnavuto" walked alone. Going by this simple sampling, one can fairly predict how "trends" would treat this new innovative movie named "Show".
More than the guts factor, which is required in sizable proportions, to embark upon a movie making adventure such as this, it is the audacity of the maker (Neelakantha) to believe in himself, and attempt at convincing the audience, that it does not need a few hundreds lakhs, a few foreign locales and hordes of characters, to get a point across. Well rounded characters, even without enough motivations behind their actions, but possessing a simple ability of remaining true to their characters without trying too hard to grab the attention of the audience and engross them, are some of the stand out points of these so-called "good movies".
More so in cases where the focus of attention shines on only on a handful characters, the terms sincerity, wit and innovation come into play at every twist and turn. When there aren't too many distractions bothering the audience with their smoke and mirrors act, every word that the character utters comes under the mental microscope and every step that the script takes comes into serious relief. Braving this minefield of a playfield, the maker (incidentally, the script writer too) made sure that the subject matter wasn't too abstract for the audience to understand, or too intricate for them to follow. This bravura performance, fittingly rewarded at the national level, deserves a sound round of applause, for its lucidity in flow and elegance in execution.
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If the entire movie is to revolve around two characters, and the setting is in and around a house, the cameraman has to think really hard to frame his shots to avoid repetition and bring out a sense that involves the audience in the proceedings. It is really easy to go overboard on such occasions and overdo the job, making the piece a little too self-conscious, while making the audience appreciating the craft and overlooking the material. Ravi Yadav, the photographer, who walks this thin line between creativity and exuberance, deserves kudos almost on par with the writer-director, for the unique number of ways he composed the different sequences in the movie. If at no point does the movie feel like a ultra low budget movie shot on a 35mm film, it is because of the inventive camera work that went beyond the call of duty of picturising the action of the movie, to the point of depicting the characters in a different angle, literally. Ravi Yadav certainly joined the ranks of a Govind Nihlani or a Ashok Mehta or a Balu Mahendra, for his fantastic work on Show.
One obscure category deserves some serious mention here. Sound mixing, that became a vital part of the movie, in the final act of the movie, was done with utmost attention to the detail elevating the mood of the characters and more importanly the tempo and the drama. The clarity of the sound and the ability to distinguish between the voices (with special mention to the voice that dubbed the lead character's wife's voice), which becomes a important part in shifting the gears, would not had been possible, but for the sharp ear of the mixer.
Surya - the one, who really infused life into the words and thus into the movie, with a tour-de-force performance, should become a serious contender to best actor Nandi, along with Prakash Raj (for Nuvve Nuvve). The way he relegated the female character (in a good way) to becoming just a wall to bounce emotions off, Surya, through his body language (going a little overboard at times, as dictated by the script), and emerged the sole winner from among the ones facing the lens, is a treat to watch and appreciate. One would seriously hope that this movie serves him as a springboard for better roles and even better Performances.
Lastly, if the movie pitch goes something on the lines of - "two characters try to kill some time engaging each other doing nothing but TALKING during a 5 hour period, holed up in a house, by staging a mock play which is in a reflective of the lead character's life" - the producer should either be completely ignorant or supremely confident about the abilities of the maker on pulling off, a risky proposition as this and Manjula proves that she belongs to the latter category. In the celluloid world, filled with dreamy characters occupying perfect worlds, where their only concerns revolve around expressing their love and winning over hearts, here is one that dares to be different that wins over the minds, for a change. We are ready with the three cheers, say when!
There was an interesting sequence in the movie "Laathi" released in the early 90's directed by the then debutant Gunasekhar, involving the introduction of the villain, who chases his victim to a railway track in the middle of the night. The face of the villain is not revealed yet and his victim, about to confront death, has his life in his eyes, facing the camera. A train fast approaches and the shot reverses. In the glimmering light of a distant tube light, the face of the villain, played by Raghuvaran, is revealed, through the moving train. A visually arresting build-up, considering, not a single word is spoken for about 5-10 minutes, leading up to the sequence. Or consider another Gunasekhar's simple yet poignant drama commenting on marital relationship - sogasu cooDa tarama. The heroine comes to know that hero has wagered her in a match of arm wrestling with his boss for a onetime opportunity of winning one crore. The scene does not concentrate on the outcome of the match, but instead on the hero's weakness to have EVEN CONSIDERED ABOUT IT in the first place. No melodrama ensues and no heavy dialogues follow. The heroine looks at him, like the hero has been reduced to next to nothing, and she walks out on him. Another dialogue-less attention grabber.
Though it has been quite some years that the visual medium has completely taken over its aural counterpart, Telugu movies has often relied the spoken word to convey the feeling and deliver the punch. The term screenplay has been reduced to a scenic order of how the dialogues flow. Seldom do we have movies like Siva, Kshana Kshanam and now Okkadu, that rely more on the mood than on the words and it is not a coincidence that all the movies which seriously tout the merits of screenplay belong to the action genre. The yanking of the cycle chain in Shiva, or the threatening to throw away the money bag atop the moving train in Kshana Kshanam are one of those wonders that convey the right emotion without the characters mouthing reams of dialogues. How scenes as these build up the emotion essentially depend on the camera placement and movement, the intercutting between different angles, and more importantly the background score - from a drone like buzz to a rich flourish.
Action movies come with a suspension of disbelief aura attached to them. Logic is the last thing that would usually be accounted for in such situations. Make believability with an iota of intelligence, is the key during the execution of the action sequences. The audience never goes into the physical impossibility or practical feasibility of a feat, if the series of actions leading up to the sequence is properly justified and does not undermine the intelligence of the audience. The hero is pushed hard and hard by the villain, and in the fit of moment, the hero throws the cycle down and yanks the chain out. The audience does not get bogged down by the fact that it is humanly impossible to perform such a stunt in a real-life situation. Action sequence revolves a simple "setup and payoff" rule and Okkadu has several of these sprinkled across for good measure.
Scoring on each scene that is being played out on the screen, with orchestral accompaniment, when restrained to a large extent, elevates the atmosphere of the scene and draws the viewer even more into the mood of the scene. Music sense does not measure up on how well sequence is scored, than on the ability to refrain from commenting on every scene. Intermittent pauses and prolonged silences, when left alone, add up to the eerie effect thus building up, enough suspense and anticipation. Mani Sarma scores well on all the above counts. And when it is time that the music bathes in Sirivennela's words, the result is pure aural treat. Re-recording, has the inherent ability to act on the audience on a sub-conscious level. Misuse it, it reduces to pure cacophony; disuse it, it is as good as not being there. Mani Sarma, who reserved his best for Gunasekhar (Manoharam, Choodalani Undi and Okkadu), is to be commended for his economy of score and richness in expression.
Sharing the dais with Gunasekhar and Mani Sarma, Sreekar Prasad working in tandem with Sekhar Joseph, another Gunasekhar regular, served some of the best action sequences seen in recent times. The way the technical elements were altered during action choreography, like playing with the frame rate, the camera placement, the stop motion camera, was something unique refreshing and commendable than having to see the routine bashing of the bad guys in dull and repulsive ways. To sum up, this is one movie that brought out the true strength of the screenplay, this is one movie that truly relied on its technical aspects, this is one movie that put fun back in action.
When a movie is specifically termed as a "commercial" one, one could pretty much gauge the sanity and fantasy levels within the same. Brand it an "Art" movie, regular movie watcher would shun it like the plague. The common perception that art movies are something where one has to engage their gray matters in order to enjoy them, art movies aren't really accessible to an average movie-goer, art movies are too close to the real life and one doesn't need pay money to be reminded of his every day life when he could watch it pass by without any extra charge, are some of the reasons why the parallel movement hasn't really caught on, like the independent film movement in Europe or in America. Of late, be it for the reason that commercial movies has wandered off into the deep end of the mess pool, or be it because of the fact that people started accepting more reality than theatricality in regular fares, movies like "Hyderabad Blues", "Show" etc are finding wider acceptance and larger recognition.
To look back upon Mr & Mrs Iyer, it is difficult to make out, if it is a love story against a communal riot backdrop or a social commentary woven around human emotions, but it clearly succeeds on both fronts. Aparna Sen, who made a brilliant debut with "36 Chowranghee Lane" in the early eighties, deftly balances both the plot points, without going overboard on either of them. A large-scale tragedy seldom affects somebody until it is given a human face. Communal riots, which usually tend to polarize the public opinion, one way or the other, would be viewed under a wholly different light, if the tragedy strikes too close to comfort or the if it is visited upon somebody too close to the heart. Aparna Sen (along with Dulal Dey) weaves a simple story around this point and manages to hold the audience heavily dreading for the tragedy to hit the lead pair and hugely rooting for their safe escape from the clutches of communalism at the same time.
The movie has uncanny similarities in Maachis and Ijaazat, both Gulzar's movies, with regard to plot and its sensible dealing with the issues - be it personal or communal. With patriotism (or essentially communalism) translating to flag waving hero killing the neighboring country's enemies by the dozens and with secularism equating to the hero singing communal harmony sermons on the top of his voice, along with the obligatory members of the minority communities, a realistic treatment of the above mentioned two important issues of the society, was either largely missing or hugely wanting. Govind Nihlani's Tamas, Gulzar's Maachis and to a certain extent Mahesh Bhat's Zakhm, handled the growing menace of communalism, pre and post-independence, not with the heavy-handedness that it is usually dealt with in the regular fare, but with the sensitivity and sensibility, the theme truly demands. These two aspects tend to give the movies their rough and real edges, assaulting the emotions and disturbing the psyche.
The emotional aspect of the movie aside, the setup of the love story (if it can even be called one), no matter how familiar and formulaic, feels fresh and vibrant, thanks to the players before and behind the camera. Konkana Sen Sharma (daughter of Aparna Sen), carries off the role of a devout traditional Tamilian house-wife (fitting the accent and mannerisms perfectly), stumbling (and at times, hamming) during the first act, but regaining her ground, and pulling it off with great conviction at the end. Rahul Bose (of Bombay Boys fame) plays a good foil as a calm and composed Mr. Iyer to a temperamental Mrs. Iyer. The one aspect that sticks out as a sore thumb, is the "too realistic" yet ordinary photography by Gautam Ghose, which captures characters talking in the dark, AS characters talking in the real darkness. The music director, Ustad Zakir Hussain's, a percussionist himself, conscious usage of stringed instruments for the background evocative score, is commendable, for his involvement in understanding of the message of material - strings that tug the hearts and strings that break them.
Mr & Mrs Iyer demonstrates how involving a movie watching experience can get, if it just sticks to the basics. It teaches the importance on the clarity of understanding of the material at hand, by the maker. It just shows how the "ordinary people in extra-ordinary circumstances" theme should be dealt with, by treating extra-orindary circumstances not in a ham-handed way but in an ordinary way. And who better to learn all these than from the master, Aparna Sen!
Unemployed youth, after much difficulty in trying to find ways to meet ends, risk their lives and commit a crime that they neither have an experience with nor are they good at. Their common friend, a girl, acts as the lone voice of reason and conscience, and tries to mend their ways. In the end, things fall in place, thanks in equal measures to accident and serendipity, and they live happily ever after. This exciting, but exact template, that Chandra Sekhar Yeleti so skillfully modeled "aitae" around, has been adapted before, to the same effect and surprisingly to the same result, by Siva Nageswara Rao for "Money" (1993). Unlike the regular 3 act model that most of the movies tend to fall in, this genre follows a 4 act (setup, execution, consequence, comeuppance) framework, in a compressed timeframe, driving all its thematic elements to the final conclusion, with an utter sense of urgency. The timeframe works as an added advantage, both to the theme and to the movie, in that the audience would be anxious that the good guys dispose of the guilt bag at the earliest and return to their simple and normal lifestyles, no matter how troubling they are.
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The lifeline of this genre depends upon how convincing the setup is and the genius of lifeline depends on how simplistic (not simple, but simplistic) the pressing needs of the protagonists are. The simplistic the needs, the glaring would be the ludicrous levels to which the lead characters tempt fate and entangle themselves in something that could very well end their lives. Gambling needs, domestic problems, employment gains and health grounds form the basis of their crime. Their simplicity of the heroes is contrasted with the cold-blooded nature of the villain; the inexperience of the heroes is mixed up with the calculated nature of the villain; the good luck of the heroes crosses with the bad fate of the villain. This potent combination stirred up with some witty dialogue humor makes "aitae" as endearing as "Money". Next in the lineup is the execution. Simplicity is the key factor in this phase too. The social standing of the protagonists limits their means and the reach to pull off an elaborate plan. Chandra Sekhar works this limitation as an advantage once again and hatches a plan that is logical, realistic (within the rules of the movie land) and doable. The way he intersperses the plans of the villain with the schemes of the heroes, throwing the audience completely off the scent, deserves some serious merit. While the consequence/comeuppance (for the villain, ofcourse) act slows down the pace a little bit, it can fairly be said that "aitae" joins the ranks of "Money", as the chosen few telugu movies that toyed with this structure and successfully at that.
For this movie to go down as a taut thriller, Sudhakar, the editor, shares as much responsibility as Sekhar, the director, and luckily, editing comes off as one of the finest that was on display in the recent telugu movies (on par or even finer than Okkadu). There are two specific things that can sing praises for Sudhakar's editing -
1. Most of the framing in the movie involves atleast 4 characters, either in a circle or positioned strategically. The common way to edit these types of sequences in regular telugu fare would be straight close ups or mediums on individual faces coupled with JARRING inserts, that does not add ups to the flow of action. To further illustrate this point, fast forward to the final sequence of "nuvvu naaku naccaav" when Suhaasini confronts Venkatesh, and observe the way the insert shots obstruct the regular flow, and feel completely out of place with the rest of the framing - and this is only with 2 characters in the frame. With "aitae", where two-thirds of the movie has all the 4 lead characters present in the same frame for most of the times, the way the master shot is matched up with individual inserts, speaks volumes of simple details that the director and the editor (and the lensman) paid attention to, when handling the scissors.
2. More than the technical expertise that is a pre-requisite for handling the editing duty, it is the overall grasp of the editor on the subject matter that dictates the pace of the movie. The way each scene ends, while completely book-ending it and setting up the next, reminds uncannily of the Hitchcockian style of suspense film making.
Dialogues - refreshing, terse and to the point, handled by Gunnam Ganga Raju (who also produces), serve the dual purpose of nice fillers and witty one-liners, without going over-board. Roles speak true to their characters. The mafia guys have sufficient profanity spewing in their speak. The Intelligence Bureau folk has all the preciseness and much required intelligence (that is often wanting in people of that stature) in their discussions. The college students have the required vulnerability, the little greed, blind optimism and overall apprehension in their talk. The last producer-writer that comes to mind, with the same (or even much greater) good taste and sharp tongue as Ganga Raju, who already produced another good movie "Little Soldiers" a few years ago, is the legendary Chakrapani. Kalyan Mallik with his sole(soulful) song (coupled with His Highness, Sirivennala's lyric) and background music, brings his fair-share contribution to the table. The black-sheep in this technical wizardry team is the handler of the lens, Senthil Kumar. The lighting was very inconsistent (don't know if this was intended) throughout the movie, not to mention anything about the scenes in the dark.
It is quite a tribute to its maker when a ultra low-budget movie is graded on the same level as its big-budget peers, nit-picked for the flaws on the same level, and not made any concessions during the process - it says a lot about the movie, made (from) with something so small. A long time after "Money", here is another that does not assume that the audience has come prepared to accept an action-thriller-comedy with that single telugu movie goer accompaniment - suspension of disbelief!