By Sheela Lal – University of Missouri
I am not a Telugu speaker. I do not have the background to judge Pokiri on a complete spectrum of old, religious, social, masala, or art house Telugu films. In India, this film was so popular, it was remade into Tamil (Pokkiri), Hindi (Wanted) and Kannada (Porki). I viewed Pokiri (Rogue) as someone who expected an engaging film.
Unfortunately, that was not completely fulfilled.
Pokiri, released in 2006, is about gangs, their influence on the police, and how this affects everyday people. It stars Mahesh Babu, Ileana D’Cruz, Ashish Vidyarta and Prakash Raj, and is the highest grossing Tollywood movie ever.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, Ippatikinka from Pokiri, along with Mahesh Babu, initiated my interest in Tollywood. While I was in south India, I saw the posters for Khaleja, and in America, saw his film Athadu. I have a lot of admiration for Mahesh Babu’s acting, and trust his film choices.
The overall storyline was interesting, to say the least. For a masala movie, I was not disappointed. At its core, Pokiri is about Pandu’s, portrayed by Mahesh Babu, work in different gangs, but the meat of the film comes with added healthy doses of action, love, songs, dancing, dishoom, melodrama, family relations, and politics. The movie made sense, but the multiple subplots and editing style created a messy film, and in turn, a messy synopsis.
Pokiri interwove multiple plot lines, attempting to send out some PSAs regarding beggars and women’s worth, while simultaneously showing the public that rampant violence and abuse towards women was socially acceptable. The downstairs neighbor to Shruti, played by Ilena and Pandu’s love interest, gets caught up in a beggar racket, adding an unnecessary extra 15 minutes of footage.
The editing was jumpy and loose, which did not add to the film. The editor left in unnecessary dialogues, unnecessary Shruti, unnecessary everything. To understand my grievances, it’s best to watch the movie, which can be done legally, free and with subtitles (albeit, timed strangely) on YouTube.
Unlike the editing, I was not disappointed with Mahesh Babu’s acting in this movie. He had well done action scenes and supported the film with his multi-dimensional credible acting.
There are a couple of action scenes that stand out to me. Pandu’s introductory scene reminded me of Dabanng with the slick action and amusing one-liners. I remembered the timeline, and started to suspect Salman Khan of not attributing Mahesh Babu for his action scenes in Wanted and Dabanng. (Side note: one of the villains in the opening scene of Dabanng have Jalwa from Wanted as their ringtone.) There is a scene in a local Hyderabad train where Shruti, played by Ilena and Pandu’s love interest, is harassed. Her younger brother phones Pandu, and he quickly comes to the rescue.
Pandu’s interactions with all of the other characters are sensible, and he doesn’t waver from portraying a pokiri. He doesn’t try to pretend he is anything else, which was refreshing. There is no pretense of loyalty to one gang, a good Telugu boy, or a hero to Shruti. Compared to most of the other characters, Pandu is malleable. There are not a few traits that are expanded on unlike most of the gangsters, head police officer, Pandu’s friends, and Shruti and her family.
Speaking of Shruti, I guess now is the most appropriate time to discuss what did not make the movie work. When I get annoyed or bored of movies, I become a sassy peanut gallery, and every time she was on screen, I found myself transforming. Her role was a love interest and sexual object. The director introduces Shruti through objectification. He exhibits her with a bare midriff before focusing on her face. She is used to being stared out, but maintains her pious morals, which leads to naiveté.
Within the first 25 minutes, her neighbor and corrupt police officer Pashupaty, portrayed by Ashish Vidyarta, assaults her. I felt bad and wanted her to do something about the way men treated her. Instead, she continued to take whatever came her way and never stood up for herself, just whimpers.
The most upsetting scene in Pokiri obviously involves Shruti. A few hired gundas break into Shruti’s family’s house and proceed to take her to the back room. Her mother is screaming for help, while the useless neighbors just watch. The gundas proceed to rip her clothes to “make it appear (she) has been raped.” When a popular film uses rape as a political tool as a plot point, it perpetuates it as socially acceptable. The aftermath of the assault was the zenith of my disappointment. When the mother saw Shruti the first thing she said was (paraphrased and from an English translation), “We won’t file a case. Her honor was taken, now marriage is out of the question.”
I’m saying this as a feminist – all of her dialogues made me want to punch her in the face. Given context and her syntax, she makes herself a victim and constantly complains. Shruti is present during a small shootout, which shakes her. She did not realize Pandu associated with criminals. She sees him after his subsequent shootout and starts crying, while trying to offer an ultimatum. It weakened the scene and because this continues throughout the movie.
The songs were fun and catchy; they worked well with the movie. They add to the masala formula, and can be enjoyed without the context of the film, illustrated by my cult love for Ippatikinka. Adding to the songs is the choreography, which was fun to watch and not over the top.
Overall, I did enjoy this movie, but clearly I don’t think it is as good as most people believe. I’ll say this; not only did Pokiri not deter me from viewing any more Telugu films, but probably encouraged me to venture out some more. I would recommend watching this film because it has made an impact on modern Telugu and Indian film. The remakes in Tamil and Hindi are very similar, but have had time and resources to improve on the original.