The last time I discussed the Chiranjeevi starrer Indra, I focused on what made it a quintessential Southie (in this case meaning Telugu/Tamil) mainstream masala flick. Pious, god-like heroes, colourful picturizations, handful of villains and a buckets of social justice - to name some of the ingredients. What I didn't talk about extensively is what annoyed me about the movie, as much as I liked it.
But now I will, because I happened to run into the same phenomenon in another Telugu movie I saw.
You see, Indra's first half features plenty of comedy hijinks that come from Sonali Bendre's character pursuing Chiranjeevi's. It's funny, it's cute, it makes you actually buy into Chiranjeevi as a romantic hero and all is fine in the universe.
But come second half and we find out that the other heroine, played by Arthi Agarwal, as evil as she might look, is not necessarily so. In fact, she is indeed a heroine -- the 2nd heroine! Who also loves Chiranjeevi!
For those of us coming off a steady diet of Bollywood films, where it's usually clear from the get go who's going to end up with who, or at least there's certainty that love triangles are solved for the best, Indra throws a total curveball. You've got two heroines, fighting over one hero and the hero isn't really showing any signs of romantic interest towards either.
When you watch the film, it's not like you're surprised; social justice, saving the world one village at a time, slaying one corrupt politician at a time, these things are what's important to our hero. Not the ladies he romances (or doesn't romance, as can it really be called that when his heart isn't really in it?). Look, I'm not saying he has to get with either heroine but surely he can love one woman as much as he loves social justice? No?
Fine, Chiru, you're the Megastar, not me, and it is your film. So I'll move on to ...
Pournami, a Prabhu Deva direction that talks about love, dance, revenge, tradition and ..well, mostly just dance to be honest. Starring Prabhas, who is a new acquintance to me but who I definitely like as Shivakesama, who enters a little town to open a dance school. Co-starring is Charmme, who I also really enjoy watching, as the girl who is not very fond of him, but who falls in love with him despite herself (no surprises there).
Of course, now that I search for images of the film, all of them feature Trisha -- playing a character who only really features on the second half of the film. I went in blissfully unaware that the film's pairing was being promoted as Prabhas and Trisha, not Prabhas and Charmme.
I have smart readers, so you know where I'm going with this. I start watching the movie, slowly beginning the root for Charmme and Prabhas' characters to end up together and then the movie pulls the rug from beneath me. Then it's all Trisha, all the time, and to make matters worse, she's wooden and her character is more bland than a brown paper bag spiced with oatmeal. And of course it is shown that Prabhas' character in fact prefers her over the wonderfully lively Charmme. At least Chiru in Indra was nonchalant towards both!
You could ask, "But who the heck cares? The main story's about something else anyway!" and you'd have a point. But I care, because if we want to believe films are about stories, then those stories are about characters. And I have to be able to sink my teeth into those characters, feel as they feel, journey as they journey. When something like the heroine switch happens, it feels emotionally dishonest. You build up to something, and then you reveal the initial heroine was just a chess piece, or both the heroines are chess pieces for the plot and there's nothing to them, and that just gets on my nerves. A lot.
But I really do hate to rag on this movie because right up to Trisha's appearance, it was nailing everything for me. The songs, the dancing, Charmme's acting, Prabhas' acting, the comedy, the action.. Everything had me on board and I really enjoyed watching. Now, the movie doesn't completely lose momentum, and the finale is actually pretty incredible to watch, but these sort of major irks always make me question my liking of a movie.
But as I said before, this is one type of masala hero; the kind who doesn't have even one ounce of selfishness in him, so naturally he doesn't even have the mindframe to think selfishly when it comes to love.
And maybe it's just my individualist, Western viewpoint, because I really do understand where these sorts of heroes come from and I can enjoy them a lot on-screen despite the fact that the movies sometimes feature these things that annoy me. I understand why Indian audiences would welcome heroes who put the interests of the communities they live in ahead of their own personal desires, as well as love stories where mutual respect and admiration is more valuable than actual romantic love.
All the same, I can't help but (wistfully) think about some of the movies where the hero is oh-so-good, kicks unholy amounts of butt and really really likes the heroine. Like my favourite Tamil film Dhool (discussed here), where you have two heroines but you also know exactly who the hero likes better from the get-go.
I am not a bitter person, though, and will definitely watching more of both Chiranjeevi and Prabhas. Hit me with your recommendations - I know for Prabhas I was recommended a film called Chatrapathi, probably my next Telugu watch.