Readers Write In #617: Chiranjeevi as Shankar is spectacular, easily overshadowing the original

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Readers Write In #617: Chiranjeevi as Shankar is spectacular, easily overshadowing the original

By Aman Basha

Reviewing a rather enjoyable Chiranjeevi remake that betters its original

Remakes are a tricky thing. The film being remade is ostensibly chosen as a vehicle for a star or director to score a quick success without any original effort. The laziness resulting from this attitude can lose the essence of the original, already difficult to capture with a different crew and setting. Then there is the question of whether a film that is being remade is a hit for what reason, if it’s something apart from the film itself, the remake is a goner in the first place itself.

Luckily, Chiranjeevi’s 3rd remake after a break due to consecutive failures, avoids all these pitfalls even with a director of little personality chosen to helm it, and this success wholly attributable to the inspired performance of the Megastar who hasn’t been this hilarious since Chantabbai all the way back in the 80s.

The original film is modified slightly to fit its new lead, from its title an illusion to Chiranjeevi’s real name and a reference to Pawan Kalyan. The lead star in the original film shined in a role that turned the dark amoral characters he became associated with into a funny, family friendly lovable savior wannabe.

That layer is missing here, and in its place, we see the mass avatar of Chiranjeevi, an avatar that exemplifies its longevity through its antics in the film. Chiranjeevi played the mass hero not as a savior of the masses, but as one among them and not some godly, infallible figure but even an unemployed young man memorably squabbling with his grandmother in Gang Leader.

He’s a hero, (like all great stars, aware of the ridiculousness of it all) but he’s foolish, humorous, a running gag has him speaking poor English that’ll make even the most snobbish anglophile applaud.

Most importantly, he does spectacular dances, saddle him with the most vulgar songs/steps and he’ll still save it with his natural grace. The songs scored by a young music director are instant chartbusters, the standouts being a duet about AP districts, an item number with a younger dancer cavorting in a waterfall and the massy title number, that is bound to go down as the best intro song for Megastar after Gang Leader.

(Da-da-dadadaadaa-SHANKAR DADAAAA)

It has been nearly 19 years since Shankar Dada MBBS released, a remake that, for me, betters the iconic original and maybe the 1900th time I have seen it, starting all the way from when I was not even 1.

If one lived in AP of the early noughties, Chiranjeevi was cinema. He reigned supreme, with his flops too outgrossing the biggest hits of the rest. Even his Navarathna oil ad would drive kids into a frenzy and the Legend Of Hanuman became a cartoon hit in Andhra piggybacking on him voicing his namesake.

It was once said in Telugu films, that women would take a break during a fight and men during a song till Chiranjeevi came. The audience of today rave about Anirudh’s score that elevates a mass scene to hysteria, but can that hysteria ever match the explosion of excitement that Stalin’s interval caused in a C center theatre?

(Yuddham ragile shabdam Stalin! Nippai merise netram Stalin!)

Chiranjeevi’s appeal cannot simply be reduced to his revolution in dance and fights alone. Even children favored Chiranjeevi over younger stars so much that a 5 year old got into a brawl with his friend over him saying Jr NTR was a better dancer.

Dancing to a song with fast beats can be done with the right practice and training, but to pull off steps for a soothing melody needs grace and charisma on display even while physically exterting yourself. To act while dancing is what makes Megastar the most iconic dancer in the Indian film industry, his combination of Rajiniesque style and Kamalesque skill unparalleled elsewhere.

(Chandrabose’s cleverest lyrics, the allusions are incredible)

Perhaps what clinched the kids were films like Daddy, Jai Chiranjeeva and the legendary Shankar Dada MBBS (huha huha), where the Boss displayed fantastic chemistry with child actors, coming across as the cool, fun guy who the boys wanted to grow up to be and girls wanted to grow up to be with.

As I grew older, I only appreciated his acting more. The intensity in Khaidi, the Chantabbai comedy, the chemistry with Raadhika in Abhilasha and his performances in Rudra Veena/Shankar Dada that were better than even Kamal’s.

He bid us adieu with Shankar Dada 2, and entered the murky world of politics. While it gave me the joyous opportunity to see him up close and in real, it was sad to see what he had become.

His earnest attempts to bring in Phule to Telugu politics (thus making me forever sympathetic to the left) had not paid off, and his limited success didn’t satisfy him enough. Even with a blockbuster comeback in Khaidi No 150, it was clear that only traces of the actor, who Balachander once described as the fusion of Kamal and Rajini, remained.

Sye Raa, though, had enough of him and more importantly, a different him that I quite liked. I still believe the film would have been a hit if they had kept one dance for him and cut the politics.

The recent films though are very disconcerting; there is something inexplicably off about his face and presence, as though an impostor was wearing a Chiranjeevi mask and performing.

Waltair Veeraya was fun and a nice tribute to Chiranjeevi, but my Chiranjeevi was barely there, the Annayya overshadowed by his Thammudu. Nonetheless, no one rocks a lungi better than him.

The guilt of 10 years lost pushing him to churn out as many movies as possible, with not a damn given about quality or standards, is dangerously close to destroying all that was once dear about him.

Some of it is not his fault, unlike other languages, the Tier-I in Telugu is far more competitive with lot of younger stars which makes matters more complicated. A lot of it is his own warped understanding of reality, like when he apparently wondered why Adivi Sesh was talking about Rudraveena and Aapadbandhavudu so much when they both flopped.

That Bhola Shankar would fail is not news to anyone, it’s just a fan’s hope that this failure and criticism will serve as a wake up call to him.

That just because Gang Leader was a blockbuster doesn’t mean he should keep ghost directing, that makes star directors dread working with him (and compelled Srinu Vaitla to spoof him), or take to direction full time and let us see what you can do.

(While the dance and voice was based on Krishna, the interference was inspired by Vaitla’s experience on Andarivaadu)

But please let your directors do their job. The stories I’ve heard about his interference are horrifying, I hope he stop his obstinant insistence on routine commercial potboilers that has closed the door to any interesting director in Telugu today and that he entertain once again in a way that makes us forget what was and look forward to what’s next.

Lord Shiva gave a new turn to the Superstar with Lingaa, I hope Bhola Shankar gives the Megastar a new turn, so that Chiranjeevi can soar the sky like he deserves to. Otherwise, Shankar Dada re-release cheyyandra (Huhah, Huhah).

Jai Bolo Shankar Dada Ki

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