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Movie Critique – Athade Oka Sainyam

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Despite the weak or missed characterizations; bland dialogues in some places; mediocre music and obvious loopholes; I would say this is still an entertaining and engaging movie to watch from your couch on any day and get some good laughs. 

Athade Oka Sainyam (= He's an army) is a 2004 Telugu (= Indian Language) action comedy film directed by S. V. Krishnareddy (SVK). The lead star cast includes Jagapathi Babu, Neha and Prakash Raj. SVK not only Directed but also composed Music and wrote the Story and Screenplay for the movie.

When I first saw this film it immediately stuck me that it is based on the 1976 novel Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer. I even mentioned about it when I posted a review of the book years later. However there is no acknowledgement of that anywhere.

Being quarantined, I am finding ways to keep me entertained. And one medium I chose is movies. So, I decided to watch this action comedy film again to ward off some of the fears and apprehension that everyone is facing now.

Chanti (Jagapathi Babu) arrives in Hyderabad and starts recruiting people - a mimicry artist Siva Reddy (played by himself), a magician Ali (played by himself) and finally a software engineer Srinivas Reddy (played by himself). What are his motives, what is his goal, is what follows the rest of this action comedy film.

Movie started really well, giving it the suspense of Satya, humor of Kshana Kshanam and also the character placement fitting to their roles. However, being it an Indian film, the addition of family sentiments, element of romance and the weird dialogues at places, even though all those added to the subterfuge by the hero, kind of took away from the actual plot. 

The film opens with a narration, and I believe the narrator is by the director SVK himself, although it isn't mentioned anywhere. However, the subsequent narration in the movie is given by Jagapathi Babu himself.

Comedy scenes between M. S. Narayana and other characters such as Sunil and Gautam Raju is really good. But the repeated comic dialogues stared paling off, and thankfully the director minimizes it in the second half. 

Lead actors Neha and Jagapathi Babu did well in their own roles, although their pairing seemed odd. The chemistry was more comic than romantic. Hence the comic relief between them was entertaining but the romance part looked foolish. 

One thing I should mention though. For such movies, normally heroine is just an attractive piece on the hero's shoulder with not a lot to her role, since the story revolves primarily around the hero. That is typical of many Indian movies. And I expected the same. However, SVK gave a bit more meat to her role. That also gave him another aspect to introduce to the audience - voice piracy in music industry; its perils and how the hero tackles it. 

The dialogues were written by Diwakar Babu and in many places they either fell flat or missed the mark. However, hero does have a line that alludes to the title Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less of the book this is based on even if it is not acknowledged anywhere. The dialogue comes right before the intermission.

Chese mundu okka paisa ekkuva kaadu, okka paisa takkuva kaadu, mottam vasool chestaanu

Before I do that, not a penny more, not a penny less, will extract all the exact amount. 

As for the characterization of the remaining actors, Suman and Seetha made a cute pair. Although being contemporaries themselves. It always surprises me that men tend to portray younger roles longer than women in films. In this case, Jagapathi Babu is shown younger to Seetha. 

Another character introduced in this film is Bharat. He is Ravi Teja's (another Telugu actor) brother. His voice is exactly like Ravi Teja. And funnily enough he keeps using stories of actual films as his real life stories. For instance, he picks plots from Manasantha Nuvve, Nuvvu Nenu, Simhadri, 

SVK not only uses a string of comedians from Telugu film industry other than the three Jagapathi Babu recruits - Brahmanandam, Harsha Vardhan, Allari Subhashini and Uttej. Everyone playing their part well and suited to the comedy in the script. 

I did see a serious flaw in the antagonist portrayal. In the first half SVK shows Prakash Raj, the antagonist, as ruthless and resorts to even murder. But in second half he is shown as a complete puppet in the hands of Jagapathi Babu. Perhaps if there was some retaliation by the villain, it would have been believable for the viewers. 

Another flaw I saw was casting Ali. I mean, he is a comedian and added comic flair. However Jagaathi Babu doesn’t use the expertise of Ali as Magician much more than revealing an item girl in a song. His skills seemed to be unused as required for his role.

As always with any of the SVK movies, the music is composed by himself, while the Lyrics were penned by Chandrabose and Sung by a plethora of singers - Sunitha, SP Charan, Ravi Varma, Kousalya, Hariharan, Udit Narayan, Shreya Ghoshal (as Shreya) and Karthik. Many of the singers were themselves up and coming in the industry then. S. P. Charan is the son of famous Indian singer S. P. Balasubrahmanyam; while Udit Narayan and Hariharan have their works more in Hindi than other Indian languages.

The director squeezes three songs within 20 minutes of the film in the first half, you have a scene, then a song, a scene then a song immediately. Didn’t understand why the hurry. Of all the songs, this melody stands out - Na Paata Theta Telugu Paata Sung by Sunitha. I loved the various number of sarees and half sarees the heroine wears in this song…most colors repeated.

Check out this game she plays with her friends. A very famous passtime for most kids when I was a child. I don’t see kids playing these anymore now. It is similar to hopscotch and called as Chindro or Stapoo or Kidi Kada in most rural languages in India. In Telugu we call it Tokkudu Billa Aata. 

SVK uses remix versions of old songs as background for some scenes. We get to hear melodious tunes from yester years such as "aayayyo chethilo dabbulu poyene". He did remix one of his own song as well (Check Spoiler Alerts). 

Despite a good plot, the movie finished as a flop. Considering the amount of loopholes I cited above; lack of chemistry between the hero and heroine; unnecessary or missed characterizations; and the mediocre music I am not surprised that the movie didn’t fare well. A few changes and editing corrections could have made it a brilliant movie.

However, it isn't that bad that you cannot enjoy it from your living room. It is still funny, keeps you engaged and entertaining. In my books it is still a success.

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. Here is the mimicry scene by Siva Reddy in the film:

b. Here is the magic show scene of Ali from the film:

c. Jagapathi Babu has a list of things he need to do to serve his purpose. Check it out. In this scene, he has achieved the first two and was moving on to the next.

2. Sub-Plots:

a. The other melodies in the film are not great hits, but are silly, fun and at least not boring, but they don’t leave a mark, except for the remixed song.

Ma Intiki Ninnu Pilichi Sung by Hariharan and Sunitha has a Q&A type format; 

August Padihenu Sung by SP Charan, Ravi Varma, Kousalya and Sunitha has a wedding theme but fell short on entertaining;

Hey Apparao Sung by Karthik and Sunitha has motivational lines but the picturization was very very busy. 

And finally Ne Bulli Nikkaru Choosi sung by Udit Narayan and Shreya Ghoshal is a direct lift from the original song "Nee Jeenu Pantu Choosi" from the 1994 hit comedy film Yamaleela. Since both movies were directed and music composed by SVK, does it still count as a copied song? I guess so since the tunes are same but the lyrics are different, even though the songs are 10 years apart and music has much more beats in the remade one. SVK did the same with another song which he used in two of his other movies - a post for another day. In the meanwhile, here is the song in question:

And the original song:

3. Character / Location / Geographical / Historical / Mythological Errors:

a. In the beginning of the film, it is shown that Chanti's family consists of his brother Raghava, SIL Seetha, their son, and his sister. But later on they show two sons for Raghava and Seetha. And again they change it back and forth between one and two sons in subsequent scenes.

b. Srinivas Reddy, the software engineer, who is hired to hack the antagonists funds, uses a Word Document to do that. It is so funny to see a word document with "Accepted", "Rejected" etc on it and the actors act as if they really did hack an account.

c. In one scene, SVK has Jagapathi Babu punching an auto rickshaw guy. It is so unreal cause it is not that easy to punch an auto rickshaw guy and get away with it. The union that ties to them would have created an uproar.

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