C.I.D. Raju confounded my efforts to understand it without subtitles by featuring a male cast that was, to a man, made up of dark haired men with mustaches, heavily painted eyebrows and powdered faces. Their characters would have been no less indistinguishable to me had they been played by members of the Blue Man Group. C.I.D. Raju also confounded my efforts to understand it without subtitles by being as crazy as a bonobo in heat.
If the above description does not already scream “Telugu film” to you, let me also say that C.I.D. Raju raises high expectations by having been made in the same year as the sublime James Bond 777 and by sharing some of that film’s key talent both behind and in front of the camera. Chief among these is director K.S.R. Doss, whose unique aesthetic would be obvious even without his prominent billing in the credits:
Holding this film up to James Bond 777 may seem unfair, but the truth is that it acquits itself quite well, if to a large extent by means of compensation. It does not, for instance, have a trio of dog assassins (though there is a hero German Shepherd named Sabu) or dueling Jyothi Laxmis, but in place of those things it gives us more than we might expect. Here Doss has taken the secret agent trappings of JB777 and combined them with those of an “old dark house” thriller along with the mad science of an old Universal horror picture. Yes, there are monsters.
Our story begins with the escape from prison of one of the aforementioned mustached and powdered gentlemen, who, it turns out, is one of the bad mustached and powdered gentlemen, as opposed to the many also mustached and powdered gentlemen who make up the city’s easily baffled police force. This crumb bum wastes no time in reuniting with his old gang, who, despite the film’s contemporary urban milieu, all dress in cowboy outfits—probably because this is a K.S.R. Doss film. It soon follows that the hoods kidnap a scientist, Dr. Ramesh, whom they torture into revealing the secret of his newly developed paralyzing serum. They then set to kidnapping a series of pretty college girls whom they drag back to their underground lair for purposes unknown to me. It is at this point that the baffled C.I.D. calls in Agent Raju, who comes wheeling onto the scene on his motorcycle to the accompaniment of peppy surf guitar.
Of all the kabuki-esque mustache farmers on display in C.I.D. Raju, you’d think that one would be the ubiquitous Superstar Krishna, who was apparently exercising his omnipresence elsewhere at the time. Instead, Agent Raju is played by a younger, though no less dolled up, actor whose name I am unsure of. This is of little matter, though, because, not long after he is introduced, Raju disappears from the film for the better part of an hour, leaving his sidekick to take on most of the heavy lifting. Also on hand to pick up the slack is 4DK favorite Vijaya Lalitha playing Lita, who is, I believe, the daughter of the local magistrate. Many attempts on Lita’s life are made by the gang, all of which allow the scrappy Lalitha to demonstrate her fondness for flying scissor holds.
Oh, and don’t think you’re going to get out of this movie without seeing an item number from Jyothi Laxmi.
Which brings us to C.I.D. Raju’s supernatural content. As all of the above described action takes place, we learn that the cowboy gang’s lair, while equipped with all the standard sliding doors and hidden chambers, is also infested with spooks, chief among them a fanged brute with Reggie Watts hair and one bulging eye. There is also a scene in which one of the gang confronts one of the girl captives, who reveals herself to be a witch with long, Wolverine-like talons (a side effect, perhaps, of Dr. Ramesh's serum?). Each of these sequences is followed by that old haunted house movie chestnut in which the only person to see the monster is later embarrassed when he/she brings a posse of disbelievers back to the spot of the sighting, only to find that the monster has moved on. Wah-wahhhh.
The film’s spookiness peaks when Lita—after being, by all appearances, successfully killed by the gang--returns as a vengeful ghost. This leads to a sequence in which a squadron of police officers watch in astonishment from an adjoining rooftop as Lita, singing a mournful tune, repeatedly explodes into a cloud of white phosphorous before reappearing. It is a truly dreamlike moment, one that speaks well of Doss’s skills as a filmmaker and visual stylist. It is also commendably free of panty shots.
It also speaks well of Doss’s skills as a filmmaker that C.I.D. Raju is a very entertaining film, even when watched by someone who has no idea at all what is supposed to be going on it it. Those scant moments in which there is no chase, fistfight, hip swiveling item girl, or monster reliably contain some quirk of fashion or mid-century interior design that is equally compelling. Notable among these visual bonbons are the gang’s chain smoking, plaid skirt wearing gunmoll and the odd, ceramic baby statue that adorns the Magistrate’s coffee table. This is not to mention the grating comic relief turn by Raja Babu, whose every bit of shrill physical business is accompanied by weird sci-fi sound effects, because, well, we are never to mention that, ever.
C.I.D. Raju ends, as is traditional, with an all-hands-on-deck dust-up involving every member of the cast that is filled with kung fu and gun violence. As much as you might decry its predictability, I think that, were the cast to instead join hands and sing us out to “Kumbaya”, we would find ourselves left with a profound emptiness. Such meatheaded spectacle is exactly what K.S.R. Doss was brought into this world to provide. In return, we can offer him only a drunken mind and a complete annihilation of disbelief.