Movie Review: Naa Peru Surya Naa Illu India
There are some entertaining bits to Naa Peru Surya, the latest Telugu film to come stateside. Unfortunately, they are spread thin due to a long run-time full of directorial excess.
I’m starting to notice a trend when it comes to Bolly/Tollywood films. Excess. An excess of excess. Films coming out of India are 3 hour affairs, packed with all the movie that will fit. Films that start out as action films suddenly become comedies, and then love stories, then finish off with some more action. When the movie listing came out for Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India (translation: my name is Surya, my home is India), I thought I’d found a needle in the Tollywood Haystack. It was listed at a svelte 2 hours and 2 minutes. “Finally!” I thought, “An Indian film that will be concise and restrained; a film that gets from A to B with purpose!”
Dear reader, I was lied to. Around the 1 hour mark there was so many open plot threads that I was wondering how this film was going to wrap everything up in time. Then around the 1 hour, 30 minute mark, Naa Peru Surya paused for an Intermission. I spent those few moments checking IMDb. Naa Peru Surya is not 2 hours. It is 2 hours and 48 minutes long! At the 2 hour mark, this film was still creating plot threads, not wrapping them up.
So much for svelte.
Naa Peru Surya Naa Illu India (2018)
Surya (played by Stylish Star Allu Arjun – no, seriously, he’s introduced in the film with a big splashy graphic proclaiming him “Stylish Star” Allu Arjun) is a soldier with some serious anger management issues. After beating up literally every cop at a local precinct, Arjun is drummed out of the Army.
Serving in the Indian Army is the only thing that matters to Surya. His only goal in life is to fight and die on the border between India and Pakistan. His adoptive father manages to convince his Commanding Officer to give Surya one last chance: if he can get India’s #1 psychologist to clear him, he can stay. This task will be even tougher than conquering Surya’s anger management issues: this psychologist happens to be Surya’s biological father, who disowned him as a teenager.
The first 20 minutes of this movie come at you like they were shot out of a tank. Stylish Star Allu Arjun (never gets old) is quick to display Surya’s anger issues: he beats up a bar full of people, explains why he beat them to the cops, then beats up all the cops. From there we move to the barracks, where we are treated to the most delightfully bat-shit crazy music video I’ve ever seen.
In this montage, we learn why the Indian Army is the best on the planet. We also learn that the people who enlist eat, sleep, and breathe military life. This is all accompanied by action shots of Surya’s battalion being bad-ass, military parades, tanks doing choreographed maneuvers, and an Indian soldier getting shot on the front lines only to make sure he salutes before dying.
I wish I could find this song online to share with you. It’s breathtaking. It’s like someone looked at Team America: World Police’s song “America! Fuck Yeah!”, thought it wasn’t satire, and recreated it in live action. It’s comforting to know in 2018 that the entire planet is living in an ultra-nationalistic, populist version of Idiocracy, not just America.
But Naa Peru Surya isn’t content to just be an ultra macho, jingoist action movie. It is also a love story, a comedy, and a family drama. The middle (if you can call 80% of the movie a middle) of this film really bogs down because of this.
When Surya shows up to his therapist/father, we get some of the worst psychology I’ve ever seen committed to film, and I’ve seen Analyze This. After spewing some nonsense about Ego, our brilliant psychologist decides to give Surya a challenge: his son will get his signature if he can bottle up his rage for 21 days. That’s it. Not only does he not help his son work through his issues, he adds to them by telling Surya he was an unwanted pregnancy; he then prescribes a habit breaking technique that was debunked years ago. The film states that he’s the #3 psychologist in the world, but I’d be surprised if he could come out third if he was in the room with Dr. Phil, Dear Abby, and a wooden board with a face drawn on it.
This 21 day challenge is, much like the obligatory love story, boring and tacked on just to increase screen time. If they had just robbed all the lines from Good Will Hunting, had Surya reconcile with his father and girlfriend, then go out in some crazy blaze of glory (while starting WWIII), I would have clapped at the end of this movie. Instead, we get poorly written drama.
So, this movie is bloated, silly, and pretentious. “Any good points?” you might ask.
Stylish Star Allu Arjun is very good at dancing. His obligatory music videos are quite entertaining, and his footwork and flexibility lead to some very satisfying fight scenes. Surya fights with a combination of body-slams and submission techniques accented with a wushu-like flare. The closest analogy I can make is to Lucha Libre wrestling: highly technical moves that incorporate a lot of aerial work.
The choreography is quite good, for what it is. Surya is presented as a one man war machine; as such no-one is expected to really have a snowball’s chance in Hell of hitting him. People offer their limbs, torsos, and skulls for stylish beatings much in the vein of the poor schlubs Steven Seagal routinely worked over in the 90s. The fun isn’t in how these guys pathetically give themselves to Surya, it’s in the inventive ways in which he destroys them once the offer has been made.
The action feels both heavy and light in Naa Peru Surya, and I wish there had been more of that.
Sitting in a theater for hours on end has lead me to one new rule: I’m done reviewing anything longer than 2 hours. Avengers: Infinity War bored me to tears, and Naa Peru Surya had me constantly checking my phone and eyeballing the exit. My time is valuable, and I need movies that respect that. I get the feeling that this rule is going to ipso facto prevent me from watching Tolly/Bollywood films. I’ve made my peace with that.
You could even say that I’m not angry about it.