ONCE UPON A WARRIOR (2011)
This week’s film is Anaganaga O Dheerudu. While I probably ought to refer to it by its original title, this is a blog about terrible Disney films, so I’m going to go with the title that Disney bandies about, Once Upon a Warrior. The film is an adventure tale from the sub-genre of Indian films that are made in the Telugu language, or Tollywood (which I had no idea existed a week ago). Disney, it would seem, has its hands in many different pots. Let’s dive on in!
Once upon a time, in the teardrop-shaped land of Anga, Irendri, a demon lady with snake powers (Lakshmi Manchu), is unleashed upon the world, and starts controlling armies of soldiers by pressing a jewel against their heads and turning them into monstrous slaves.
Meanwhile, in some villages, fraudulent priests used fear of the snake lady to convince people to make sacrifices to a false teardrop-based religion. Unbeknownst to everyone, this gave power to a bunch of snake skeletons, which rose up from the earth and gassed all the children into comas.
Dammit, snake skeletons, why can’t you just be cool?
The only solution is to get a divine child to come bless the children, but the closest one, Moksha (Harshitha), is several villages away. What to do?
Stop healing butterflies and un-snake-gas those kids!
Some guy named Druki (Vallabhaneni Ramji) makes the journey to ask for the help of the magic kid. Just to be safe, Moksha gets a bodyguard for the journey. He’s a blind man named Yodha (Siddharth), and before they leave he puts on a play about how much of a badass he is.
Blind thespians always make the best bodyguards.
But some of the actors were minions of the snake lady in disguise! After completing a dance number quite competently, the assassins strike! But Yodha proves himself to have Matt Murdock-like reflexes and quickly dispatches the killers. But enough dancing/fighting/fight-dancing, off on the quest!
The blind leading the… magic kid? Also some other guy.
While they walk, Moksha asks Yodha why he’s blind/so mopey all the time. He tells her via a massive flashback that takes up a full quarter of the film. Turns out Yodha used to be a happy-go-lucky asshat who went from town to town drinking and fighting and checking out the ladies.
Sometimes in snail-themed towns.
He met a beautiful fortune teller called Priya (Shruthi Haasan), who kept dropping her gooseberries in a sexually appealing way. But she didn’t love him because he was an asshole. Also, she claimed she was destined to fall in love with a blind man, so no dice.
Sorry, you’re just a bag of dicks, Yodha.
He kept pursuing her, so she slipped him a magic berry that gave him a woman’s voice. This may or may not have been her way of flirting with him. It’s hard to tell. Anyhow, some shitheads came and wrecked up Snailtown. Priya stood up to them by giving them lady-voice fruits, and Yodha stood up for her. Shit went bad. Priya ended up dead, and Yodha ended up blind.
The flashback is now finally over.
Touched by this incredibly long story, Moksha makes an intriguing offer:
Was this an option all along!?! She’s known Yodha for months!
Bafflingly enough, Yodha turns her down, because he doesn’t want to see a world that doesn’t have Priya in it. How fucking romantic. God, what was even going on before that flashback? Oh, right, the coma children. Well, they’ll have to wait, because Irendri the evil snake lady has discovered that if she pours some of Moksha’s blood onto a gem during a full moon, she will become immortal. So that’s the plot now. She sends crow demons, and warriors, and other shit at our heroes for a while.
Anyhow, shit goes down. The good guys get captured. Things get menacing.
Oh, and turns out Priya has been alive this whole time. The evil snake demon had her locked in a dungeon and was stealing her blood. For health reasons. Anyhow, this is great news, so dancing occurs.
Its their “she’s not dead but he’s still blind” dance.
It also turns out that the snake demon is Priya’s great-grandma or something. Also she’s a lizard person.
Anyway, they defeat the demon, the magic kid heals the coma kids, Yodha gets his eyesight back, and everyone lives happily ever after, just like you always expected they would.
For all its snake demon-killing fun, Once Upon a Warrior doesn’t set a great example in terms of romantic relationships. Yodha does a very nice job of encapsulating his romance with Priya in his first big musical number. Right off the bat it’s clear that he has no real concept of who she is as a person, but is entirely focused on her looks. I know that this is pretty standard love song fare, but it’s still shallow as all get-out. The fact that he knows nothing about her is emphasized near the climax of the film, where Priya has the option of becoming the next snake demon. For a minute there everyone thinks she might do it. Why? Because we don’t know anything about her other than how coral-colored her lips are, or how cannon-like her waist is.
When we get to the part of the song where he describes her wants and needs, things just get creepier. The song version of Priya sings, “I long for my man. My music is only for him. My life is but a journey to meet him.” Shit. Yodha’s ideal version of Priya is little more than an automaton, designed to do nothing more than dote on her man. This is severely creepy. Not to mention conceited.
Or a lot conceited.
I actually like Yodha’s little metaphor here. He’s the moon and everyone he’s attracted to are the stars. From his perspective he’s a huge deal. But in reality he’s a tiny chunk of rock compared to the giant balls of incandescent plasma he admires. I feel like this may have gotten away from me. In any event, Yodha is a self-absorbed shit who thinks he’s gods’ gift to women, and guess what? He gets his woman of choice at the end, without so much as learning a lesson. Woo! Women are prizes, guys. Except for the snake demons, I guess? Not certain. Moving on.
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
Once Upon a Warrior is actually a pretty good time. Sure, the special effects are cheesy as hell, and the acting is frequently beyond campy, but the film provides a level of fun, unironic adventure that is severely missing in America’s film industry today. There’s a villain who has long conversations with a snake made out of her hair, for fuck’s sake, that’s some classic Disney stuff.
It’s half “Mirror, mirror, on the wall” and half ’90s hair care commercial.
So, why so low a rating? My first guess was that maybe American IMDb raters were just less inclined to give a foreign film a high score. But that doesn’t hold up because, as of the compiling of my list, the highest rated live action Disney movie of the decade is Do Dooni Chaar, another Disney World Cinema picture. It may just be that audiences aren’t in the mood for straightforward sword-wielding adventures right now. I mean, this came out just one year before John Carter, another classic adventure story, and audiences weren’t having any of that either. I guess I’d classify Once Upon a Warrior as a thoroughly mediocre movie, but it certainly doesn’t belong on the bottom of any lists.
- Hey, check it out, alternate Disney logo:
- You may have noticed that Yodha’s name sounds similar to a certain Jedi master. Well, the comparison’s don’t quite stop there…
Shit, if love led to fear, we’d have a pretty good combo going.
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
Meet Captain Spinny Nips!
I’m honestly not sure what is going on with this character, but considering all the disapproving looks Yodha gives them, I doubt it’s positive. Also, those spinning nipples are creeping me out. Every time the character shows up, they have a new pair of spinning nips. Maybe it’s a cultural thing? Fuck. I’ve got no idea.
Once Upon a Warrior falls into that strange valley between good cinema and bad. There’s no real reason for me to suggest that you seek it out, but I certainly wouldn’t warn you off either. It’s a somewhat enjoyable (though, at 130 minutes, slightly long) movie where a blind guy stabs a bunch of people, so if you’re looking for something like that, you can get it for pretty cheap on Amazon. I suppose you could just watch Daredevil on Netflix too, but then you wouldn’t get any spinning nipples. The choice is yours to make.