Thursday, March 19, 2009

Diler Indian Jones / Anji (India, 2004)


Kodi Ramakrishna’s Anji (2004) is a three-hour Tollywood film – not Bollywood, not Kollywood, but Tollywood; an important difference, OK? – starring Chiranjeevi, one of the most popular Tollywood stars of India. (Like many a star both there and in the USA, he has now gone into politics.) A big budget extravaganza that ladles huge helping from films as diverse as Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom (1984), I.J. & the Last Crusade (1989), Crocodile Dundee (1986/trailer) and The Shadow (1994/trailer), Anji was released here in Germany on DVD as Diler Indian Jones after it was edited down to 103 minutes for Western consumption.
The first thing to go to make the flick shorter were the song-and-dance interludes, which is a shame, for not only can Chiranjeevi – whose body shape comes closer to that of Jack Black than Harrison Ford – actually shake his booty pretty damn well, but the inanely out-of-place dance interludes are usually one of the things that makes films like this fun. It’s also a shame that they didn’t cut more of the dialog, for the disjointed narrative is extremely talk-heavy and drags between the big action and/or special effects sequences. Due to the foreboding, suspense-laden background music that often drones in the background of any given dialog scene, the viewer is always kept expectant of something happening, but once too often nothing does.
True, for the Western Joe the Hindu background and foreign locations do lend the flick a certain exotic feel, but exoticism can only go so far. Who knows what the film Anja is like, but Dilar, for all its special effects and occasionally top-notch action scenes, is a snoozer – as might be expected from a film that needs five minutes of narration alone to even open the film.

Not that the story is easy to follow even with the introduction. But the basic plot does seem to be as follows (though no guarantee of accuracy is given): Once every 72 years, when the Akasa Ganga flows from the skies into the Aatmalingam – which looks like a golden Faberge Egg – the egg can bestow the divine powers of Shiva upon those who possess it. In 1932, a young man named Bhatia (Bhupinder Singh) attempts to gain possession of it but is foiled by a huge CGI cobra and the flying dagger last seen lobotomizing John Lone in The Shadow. In 2004, as a 99-year-old evil industrialist, he is still seeking the egg, and readily does anything to get it – including kill. He has a professor who has located the egg killed, but not before the good scholar sends his valuable notes to his beautiful niece Swapna (Namrata Sirodkar) who, not knowing the man is dead, promptly flies from the US to India to search for him in the area of Uravakonda. Endangered, she is inadvertently saved by Anji (Chiranjeevi), a good guy living in the forest with his mentor Sivanna (Nagababu), an Ayurvedic (a form of Indian medicine man) raising a bunch of orphans. In no short time, they have the Aatmalingam. After killing Sivanna, Bhatia forces Anji – think I.J. & the Last Crusade but replace Indiana’s father with an orphan – to help him achieve Shiva’s powers. Can Bhatia be stopped? Can the little girl be saved? Why is no one dancing?
More than anything else, at least by Western standards, Diler is a children’s film in which the action is much closer to the original live action Masters of the Universe (1987/trailer) in its general immaturity than, say, to The Princess Bride (1987/trailer) with its multiple layers of enjoyability. Diler features an at times indecipherable plot line, uneven acting and fake beards, a clear line between good and evil, (for the most part) very little blood, violence of TV film intensity, and a main bad guy whose comic acting style ruins almost every scene he appears in – including, regrettably, the final big special effects showdown in which Lord Shiva himself makes a guest appearance. But even a scene as impressive as that one does little other than to once again reveal that while big special effects might guarantee good film sequences, they do not guarantee a good film.

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