Retro Review - We present the reviews of some of the films that offer great cinematic experience as if they are released now (currently). We present the content in such a way that we have just come out of the theater and penned out our thoughts fresh. You can enjoy the reviews and relive the moments in a different way. And try to watch the films like they're new, once again.
It was the time when Chiranjeevi was becoming the Mega Star. Sridevi was the lady superstar and still in superb form as an actress. A certain Baby actress was going to become by the end of the year, the second most wanted face on the New Year greeting cards behind the Mega Star in Teluguland. Mogambo was so khush that he had played his most iconic role in a South Indian film with aplomb.
It was a matter of a year or two before Chiranjeevi would be hailed as Bigger than Bachchan. Can this get any bigger than this for a Telugu film. Or for that matter, any South Indian film? At least, exactly 30 years ago, it was unimaginable. Everything was so perfect and so certain to hit the right chords that the heavens opened up to witness history in making. Even the biggest of floods in about two decades couldn’t stop the enthusiastic audience. Penu Toofanu Talonchi Choosina Tholi Nippukanam Aa Cinema. Gurthochindaa? (Remember it?)
Assal marchipothe kadaa! How can we forget it when it’s always with us? So, let's jump in and experience it once again with this Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari retro review.
The Jagadeka Veerudu
Raju (Chiranjeevi playing his most favorite screen name), is a courageous and upright young man. As is the case with all good heroes, he loves kids. As he is Chiranjeevi, he takes care of orphans despite his limited means ;-) So, he takes care of young orphans (played by the siblings Shamili, Shalini and Richard Rishi in a complete family pack). He is a tourist guide in a picturesque hill station.
The movie starts with a mandatory comedy gang try to con tourists by trying to get their money as guides and Bang! Our Raju enters there with the three kids. He instantly starts dancing and introducing himself in the heroic fashion pertaining only to the stars of the class Chiranjeevi. Mana Bharathamlo Kauravulu Pandavulu Rajalu Raa. Ee Kondaveetiki Raja Simhudokkade Raja Raaju Raa. An electrifying number. And Chiru makes it even better with his graceful mannerisms and dance moves. Observe the kid who dances in the cutest possible way and Chiru cuddles. Baby Shamily.
Raju shares a part of his hard earned income with Lord Hanuman (Chiranjeevi’s favorite God). When one of the kids asks why you’re sharing money with God? Is he a poor person? Raju explains lovingly that Hanuman is not poor but he looks after the poor people and helps the deserved. Remember that kid. She is Shalini.
The scene then shifts to a jail. After a well executed buildup shots, we’re introduced to one of Teluguland’s favorite villains, Rami Reddy. He hatches a plan for a liquor salesman to establish a shop in the same place where the Hanuman statue is. In one of the favorite fight scenes of the 1990s kids, Hanuman appears out of nowhere (Raju in disguise - Chiru is majestic and athletic as expected of Hanuman) - and fights the goons who are sent to shift the statue to the outskirts of the town.
The actual plan was to shift the statue clandestinely and blame it on the people who are becoming sinful. The God left the town because of this. But Raju in his inimitable style fends them off. As usual, as their beloved uncle is fighting, the kids stand on a wall enthusiastically watch the fight jumping with joy as our hero is winning.
Unfortunately, one of the children is accidentally injured. The doctors proclaim that they have done all they could and the girl (Shalini - she questioned if God is poor) has to live forever with clutches. Our hero couldn’t bear the thought. He wants to bring heavens to earth to make her normal again.
Then stats the magical journey which brings... just before that...
An ayurvedic guru suggests the only cure for the child's apparently incurable injury are the herbs found only on the banks of the lake Manasarovar in Himalayas. Raju goes to the Himalayas (with little preparation and no permits - this film is an epic fantasy after all) to retrieve these powerful herbs.
Now the magic starts!
Arrival of Athiloka Sundari
During the same time, a celestial being, Indraja (Sridevi), the daughter of Lord Indra, happens to visit Manasarovar as most of the celestial ladies love Karmabhumi (Indian subcontinent and in general earth). After a gorgeously conceived song sequence (Andalalo Aho Mahodayam), she accidentally drops her ring there so that the movie can move forward. Else, Indiana goes away like she has planned and Raju finds the herb and the movie ends within 40 minutes. The End meme!
This ring is her passport to Heaven. Raju finds the ring and wears it, oblivious to its divine power. Indraja is unable to enter Heaven as she lost her ring. Brihaspathi, the Deva-guru, instructs her to go back to Earth to retrieve it before the next Kartika Poornima (no, not the infamous daily soap Karthika Deepam).
In search of the ring, Indraja finds her way to Raju's hometown. Due to her strange language and lack of emotional and social awareness, she is initially considered insane. Her umpteen confessions about her divinity are subject to laughter. Raju and the children take pity on her and provide her shelter in their home (he is after all a Good Samaritan who is the resident caregiver for the orphans in the town). She becomes close to the children and often ends up in trouble trying to take the ring from Raju.
In the meantime, Raju is caught up in a moral squabble with an arrogant millionaire, K. P. (Kannada Prabhakar). K. P.'s goons launch a series of attacks on Raju and Indraja. Raju overcomes them far more easily than before, unaware that the ring is helping him. KP gets suspicious about Raju's visibly supernatural powers.
In comes Mogambo as Mahadrashta
He approaches Mahadrashta (Amrish Puri), a sorcerer who sacrifices women to attain supreme powers. Mahadrashta discovers that Indraja is a celestial being and wants to sacrifice her to become immortal. What happens next is an adventure we have never forgotten for the last 30 years to date and will never forget as C. Ashwini Dutt assured us.
Work of maestros
The background score and songs are composed by maestro Ilaiyaraaja who was at the peak of his powers. All songs are written by Veturi Sundararama Murthy and he played with words like they are chess pieces and came up with some of the memorable lines. Especially the song Jai Chiranjeeva praising Lord Hanuman gives you goosebumps not just because of the visuals and tune but the power of the words he used.
Each and every song is a classic. And is loved by the Telugu people still. Abba Nee Teeyanee Debba may become a controversial subject in these days if Thappad and overt political correctness. But it’s one of the biggest fan favourites those days. It was so popular that even Rajinikanth imitated Chiru and his steps for this song in the Telugu version of Sivaji. Yamaho Nee Yama Yama Andam sings praises of Athiloka Sundari - Sridevi - and the dance moves in it are so beautiful you have to watch with your eyes to believe. Priyatama... is another melody that haunts you for a long time.
Jandhyala - the most famous screenwriter of the era has provided his hand in writing and developing the story and who can handle such a huge star cast and a story of such scope other than Darsakendra K. Raghavendra Rao B. A.? The imagination of the writer-director team is epic in every possible way and the visuals are stunning even today.
K. S. Prakash is the cinematographer. A. Vincent has taken care of the visuals and trick photography (pre-computer aided visual effects era. James Cameron’s The Abbyss was released and Terminator 2 yet to be green lit). Legendary Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao who was one of the established names those days handled editing. He is so good that he was the person who edited Baahubali films 25 years later in the most trendy way. The art department has done an exemplary job.
Rest is history
Released on 9 May 1990, Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari is one of the top 10 must watch Telugu films of all time and if it is released as is now, it’ll become one of the highest grossers of this era. The film was an industry hit and remains one of the highest grossing Telugu films of all time inflation adjusted. Just watch this film. Or show it to your kids. They’ll understand the mighty stardom of Chiranjeevi, why Raghavendra Rao commands such respect, and how Telugu Cinema was head and shoulders above its counterparts in South Indian Cinema. Tata.
Reviewed by Githacharya