Sarkar

I held out on watching Sarkar til a couple of years ago. I’m ambivalent about Ram Gopal Varma films. When he is good, he is terrific. But he has wasted some interesting ideas and great actors in projects that seem to be more about RGV than making a film (like RGV ki Aag, and that film all about Mahie Gill’s cleavage). I’m also on the fence about Amitabh Bachchan in this late career phase. He’s made some bad film choices (like Boom!) and not always acted to his ability. But Sarkar combines a focussed and controlled RGV with a complex performance from Amitabh and the result is a dark and gripping film.

Subhash Nagre (Amitabh) is an old school mafia lord. He believes in family, honour and loyalty. He isn’t painted as really good or sympathetic but he has a certain integrity, an old fashioned set of rules that he adheres to and that he upholds. Nagre is connected to his community and neighbourhood, and thinks of the social cost as well as the profit and loss numbers. His people worship him, gathering outside his mansion to catch a glimpse of their Sarkar. They come to him when the system fails them, and he is their justice. Amitabh looks picture perfect. He creates a focal point in every scene with his stillness and his gaze. I found I was almost hypnotised by him, drawn to watching Subhash’s reactions no matter what else was happening. There is a carefully controlled rage in some scenes that is far more unnerving than any histrionics would have been.

While Subhash acknowledges that he operates outside the law, he says ‘I do what is right for the people’. When people come to him asking for solutions, he accepts their obeisance with little expression. He makes a semblance of not wanting people to touch his feet etc but I wondered what would happen to anyone who dared not to. Some scenes are accompanied by a religious chant(Govinda Govinda featuring Amitabh’s vocals) showing the deification of Sarkar. There are glimpses of the monstrous ego behind the facade, the steely will that does not tolerate opposition or failure, and the carefully checked anger. We also see the family man and affectionate grandfather. Subhash Nagre is a complex man and he is a master strategist. Amitabh shows all of these nuances without being too actorly and I was watching the character, not the performance.

Subhash Nagre is challenged from within and without his family. Rashid (Zakir Hussain) is the new type of criminal. His decisions are all commercial and he has no empathy or reserve. He is not the kind of man Subhash is used to. There is no whitewashing of how Nagre makes his money, but the clashes hinge on honour and intent. He will not budge from his principles. His enemies know that to remove the man they must first destroy his reputation.

Son Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan) returns from the US. Baby B has a role where doing an impression of his dad is actually appropriate. Initially believing that his father simply helps others, his eyes are opened to the realities of the family business. In a conversation with Pooja (Katrina Kaif) they refer to the Sarkar empire as a parallel government, supporting the people and doing what is right, not just what is legal. Shankar is appalled at how his father is portrayed in the media. He is the golden boy, the one his father wanted to keep clean and safe from the business. The focus and decision making Shankar used in his corporate life are now applied to his family concerns. He is a quick learner and he will do what it takes.

Abhishek is not completely convincing but he does structure his performance well. Initially Shankar is relaxed and engaging and his body language is more open. As he is drawn more into the threats to his dad, he assumes more of Subhash’s mannerisms and strategies. Abhishek’s face becomes less expressive, he speaks more slowly and moves more deliberately. And he is ice cold, like his father.

Vishnu (Kay Kay Menon) is the son most like his father in ambition, but lacking focus and self control. The tension in father-son relationship is well depicted as Vishnu challenges his father’s authority and decision making. The dynamic between Shankar and Vishnu is also fraught as Vishnu desperately wants to be taken seriously, to be the next Sarkar. Quick to flare up or retaliate he has no ‘off’ switch and only intermittent self awareness.

The pain of rejection drives him, and makes him vulnerable to manipulation. Vishnu is co-opted by his father’s enemies, and spirals into confusion, hate, anger and regret. He is an oddly sympathetic character despite committing some of the most heinous acts. I think that is due to the complex and changing emotions Kay Kay invests him with. Kay Kay is expressive and emotional where Amitabh is smouldering control.

The Nagre mansion is a world away from the glaring light and sound of the streets. It is almost timeless, and full of shadows and silhouettes. All around there are men at arms working out and waiting for trouble. The family live in a small pocket of domesticity within the encampment. It’s a bit claustrophobic, but also serene and sometimes beautiful. It is the price Nagre pays as he needs to be safe but accessible to the people who give him his status.

All around Mumbai there are shadowy figures in dark room havings meetings and plotting Subhash’s downfall. The story is well written by Manish Gupta, and gains in intensity as more deceptions unfold. Kota Srinivasa Rao is the repulsive Selvaramani, chortling his way through schemes and double crosses. His idea of honouring a friendship is requesting a quick death for someone. Anupam Kher has a small role as an anti-corruption politician and still manages to try and upstage everyone with a hammy death scene. Raju Mavani as Vishram Bhagat is the everyman type of villain – he seems perfectly reasonable yet he is calculating and meticulous in scheming to dethrone Nagre. Telugu actor Jeeva as Swami is less successful. His mannerisms and dialogue delivery are hammy, and while I believed he was a serious threat his wig didn’t convince me at all.

Supriya Pathak delivers a good performance as the mother watching her son go off the rails and placing her family in deadly jeopardy. Tanisha is likeable as Avantika, the foster daughter who is in love with Shankar. Katrina Kaif is not entirely terrible as Shankar’s American based girlfriend Pooja. But the women in Sarkar are background – providing all the support systems and needs for the menfolk, but not often in the spotlight. These relationships are important, and there is a lot of affection between family members but the men take care of business while the women take care of the men.

The visual design and camerawork throughout Sarkar is excellent and reinforces the drama and emotion. The majority of the film is shot in tight close ups, making the characters the focal point. When things move out into a broader shot, the background detail and bustle of extras and locations gives a strong real world flavour. Amar Mohile’s music is dramatic but not intrusive and the sound effects and orchestration are very effective.

It’s a fairly grim movie. There are lots of unlikeable characters and they do some despicable things. But it is such an accomplished film and just drags me in to that world. Every time I see it Amitabh reminds me yet again of why he is such a legend. Sarkar Raj was a worthy sequel, and builds on Sarkar very well. I’m cautiously looking forward to Department to see if RGV and the Big B can do it again in a different story. 4 stars.

Heather says: This isn’t one of my favourite Amitabh films despite the fact that I think he plays the part of the aging gangster well.  I think the problem is that the story of the film doesn’t engage my interest until near the end and I just don’t care enough about any of the characters to want to know what happens to them. However it does have some good points and the end is almost worth sitting through the preceding hour and a half. I do like how cold and clinical Amitabh appears and that his ruthless Don does have a more compassionate side. However that’s not enough to make me like him and since he’s not a malicious criminal either I don’t find him very interesting to watch.  His son Vishnu is more engaging and Kay Kay Menon’s performance is good enough to make me feel at least some aversion for his sleazy character, but Abishek as Shankar is incredibly wooden and quite tedious throughout. The most enjoyable scenes in the film for me are those with Selvar Mani and Virendra Swami, partly because Kota Srinivaso Rao and Jeeva both put in a very good performances and because those two characters do have some personality. The rest of the cast are all fine, and in fact many of the support actors draw my attention much more than the main leads. However I have no idea why Katrina Kaif bothered to turn up as she may as well not have been there for all the impact her character had on the story. I thought her role was fairly pointless and much better reasons could have been used for Shankar’s initial reluctance to help his father.

There are a lot of meaningful pauses and significant looks throughout the film which make it even slower. I was distracted looking at the set dressing (which was excellent!) and when there was dialogue found that I was concentrating on understanding the Hindi and trying not to look at the subtitles, rather than watching the action. The film itself is well shot and the general idea of the story is interesting, but the characters are so lacking in any type of appeal that it never really connects.  It’s not even that I found them dislikeable, they were just rather dull.  I give Sarkar 3 stars, mainly for the ending and a convincing if uninspiring performance from Amitabh.

Reshma aur Shera

Reshma Aur Shera is one of my favourite films in any language. I don’t often like romantic tragedies as all too often I feel I’ve wasted my time watching people I don’t care for as they do idiotic things that could have been avoided if they weren’t so one dimensional or stupid. But each time I watch Reshma Aur Shera, despite knowing what is going to happen next, I fall in love with it all over again.

The love story is simple but engaging and Waheeda Rehman and Sunil Dutt light up the screen with their chemistry and brilliant acting. The tragedy comes from the spectre of death in a tribal feud set against the hope for change. Producer, director and star Sunil Dutt and writer Ali Raza created a full context for the lovers and that sense of place and family, the depth of the characters,  makes their predicament feel more immediate and of consequence. It also makes the film entertaining beyond just the romance, and it isn’t all gloom and despair. There is joy, fun and beauty too.

Reshma (Waheeda Rehman) is the daughter of Chaudhury of Pochina and Shera (Sunil Dutt) is the eldest son of his enemy, the Chaudhury Sagat Singh. These families have been picking each other off for years.

They meet at a fair in Jaisalmer, at the Durga Puja (she is also the presiding deity of the story). Shera fancies Reshma on sight and, like a good girl, Reshma coyly avoids him. The fair is wonderful looking, and I had moments of feeling I was watching a documentary rather than a set. There is so much to see with Reshma as she darts around enjoying the amusements, the snacks and the shopping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ecstatic music of a qawwali brings them face to face again, and in this heightened state a deeper emotional connection forms. I love this picturisation as it takes the viewer deep into the scene, with the vocals conveying the intoxication and pain of love. And it features a very young Sanjay Dutt (who developed his unique sense of rhythm early on it appears).

Once they discover each other’s identity, Reshma asks Shera to sacrifice her at the altar – a blood sacrifice not a marital altar. She wants to protect her brother Gopal (an outrageously handsome Ranjeet), and offers her life in place of his. Shera had already rescued Gopal from his own brothers earlier that day, proving himself honourable if unpopular with his kin and further impressing Reshma. Shera is determined their love will succeed and Reshma wants to believe.  They meet in the temple before leaving for home, and decide that they can have each other and bring about an end to the feud if they are careful.

Back in their villages life goes on, except that Shera and Reshma sneak into the desert to meet at night. Despite the stalker-ish beginning to the romance, it is a passionate mutual attraction and they both have a share in conversations about their future.

Family and friends are an important part of who Reshma and Shera are and why they do what they do. And the supporting cast is so impressive – Vinod Khanna as Shera’s nasty brother Vijay, Amrish Puri as an elder in Shera’s village, Jagant and Sulochana Latkar as Shera’s parents, the dashing Sudhir as the qawwali singer, Padma Khanna as an uninhibited nautch girl, Ranjeet as Gopal, Rakhee in a small but high impact role as Gopal’s wife, just to name a few.

Waheeda Rehman is simply amazing. Reshma evolves from a pretty young thing, giddy with excitement, to a more sombre young woman passionately in love with an enemy.  She realises she should send Shera away for good, but cannot sever their bond. Finally running out of options, Reshma challenges Durga to prove herself by taking on life as a woman on earth and see how that feels. Waheeda is just magnificent as she demands help in return for all the sacrifices to the goddess. And Durga does give her an answer.

Despite a ponderous voiceover at the start of the film extolling the Indian woman’s virtue of sacrifice, Reshma is not a passive sacrificial offering but rather uses herself as a means of creating change. When she makes up her mind, she does it to save Shera and stop the feud from claiming everyone she loves. She is determined and forceful, a far cry from the blushing girl she was at the start. It’s a challenging role and she delivers a beautiful characterisation.

While I initially thought Sunil Dutt looked a little too mature to be Shera, he has a certain appeal and even plays some unexpectedly goofy and sweet moments. He transforms from a lad about the fair to a future leader challenging his own father. His internal conflict is evident – the Rajput sense of honour and the man who wants a happy and peaceful future with the love of his life. Shera seems to benefit from the close relationship he has with his mother and his respect for Reshma, being prepared to think outside the heroic norms. But where Reshma suffers loss after loss and creates a solution of sorts, Shera reverts to type becoming as vengeful and bloodthirsty as his father and brothers.

Chotu (Amitabh) is a mute and is neglected by brothers Vijay and Jagat unless they need his sharpshooting skills. He worships Shera who treats him kindly and seems to be his only friend. Amitabh’s performance is beautiful, quite restrained and very moving. Chotu is a sad and confused young man, following his father’s path. He is ultimately responsible for killing Reshma’s father and brother, and that sets the final train of events in motion. While Sagat Singh takes the boys to a brothel as reward, Shera swears vengeance on whoever the killer was.

Their mother (Sulochana Latkar) emerges as a powerful force. Initially she wants Shera to follow his father’s order and kill Gopal, putting her sons above all else. But once things implode, she takes matters into her own hands to save what is left of her family. She takes Chotu to Reshma’s village and offers him as a sacrifice. The confrontation in Reshma’s home is gut-wrenching. Chotu is traumatised and disgusted at himself, and Rakhee as Gopal’s widow faces a life in ruins. He wants to die, can’t bear the pain of betraying Shera and knows he is doomed. This sequence is the one that gives me a lump in my throat every time. I can identify with the motivations of all the characters, and it seems impossible to reconcile their needs.

Creative versus destructive energies underlies much of the character interactions and is often divided on gender lines.  Not that the women are all about popping out babies and nurturing – I mean that their energy seems more focussed on preserving their homes, and on renewal and regeneration. They might destroy something or someone, even themselves, to achieve it but they have a positive goal rather than just aiming for obliteration of an enemy.  The action in the film may generally follow the men but the women are making choices that drive the story. It’s also a film rich in symbolism and visual themes. The motifs of fire and circles reinforce the cycles of destruction and rebirth.

The cinematography is beautiful, and S Ramachandra captures the harsh light, the muted earth tones and the vibrant fabrics of Rajasthan. The costumes and jewellery are stunning, and the buildings look real and lived in, with glimpses of details in kitchens and bedrooms. Plus – lovely music by Jai Dev, choreography by Gopi Krishna (assisted by one Miss Saroj Khan), and playback singers Asha, Lata, Manna Dey.

My DVD is missing about 20 minutes of the complete film so there are a couple of large gaps, one of which probably shows the killing of Reshma’s family. It’s so frustrating but the story is still clear and you can fill in the gaps.

The first time I watched Reshma aur Shera I was stunned. I immediately wanted to watch it again but as with any decision about true love versus a passing fancy, I decided to give it some time. Love it is. It is such a captivating film, and a beautiful work of art. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 5 stars!

Katherine at Totally Filmi is coordinating a month long celebration of women in Indian cinema. Links will be collated at Delicious so keep an eye on that page for lots of other articles and blog posts to be added throughout March.

Chashme Buddoor (1981)

There is a joyful goodness in Chashme Buddoor that I don’t think would seem commercial enough nowadays when film comedy about female/male relationships seems to be mostly titillating or sleazy. Writer director Sai Paranjape has an eye for facets of speech and behaviour that she layers cleverly to make a slight story into a satisfying film. I can relate to the characters, their dilemmas and their sense of humour. There are filmi jokes, parodies and genuinely funny moments galore, plus a really nice love story.

Two clueless friends, Omi (Rakesh Bedi) and Jai (Ravi Baswani) think that romance happens just like it does in the films, and remain resolutely impractical in their approach to love. Their misadventures and air of genial cluelessness is a foil for the more serious Siddharth (Farooq Shaikh). And the filmi tropes they swear by – stalking, harassment, loitering in parks –  all fail. It is genuine interest and getting to know another person that might just win the girl. Eventually.

The three men share a small apartment, with all the usual trappings of bachelordom – a big empty kitchen, wall ‘art’ and the bare minimum in comforts. There are many enjoyable details in how they share cigarettes, their routine and schedules, their reliance on Siddharth to start the sole motorcycle. The male actors work beautifully in the ensemble scenes and each has a distinct style that suits their characters. It’s such a typical student household and they are each other’s family. Most of their experience with women is derived from ogling the rare female passerby from the balcony. Constantly in debt to Lalan Mian (Saeed Jaffrey) for their smokes, they alternate between bluff and avoidance as they try and get on with the important things. Like girls.

Neha (Deepti Naval) is one of the few real girls the boys meet. Omi and Jai set out to woo her, and despite having brilliantly scripted plans based on current best practice from the movies, both are sent packing.

Omi fancies himself a poet and Jai pretends to be the younger brother of a film producer. Each gets a song showing their version of events, and I am especially fond of this parody medley.

Quiet studious Siddharth meets Neha when she is working in door to door marketing, demonstrating Chamko washing powder. They have a shy stilted conversation in which Neha carefully tells Siddharth where she can be found in the evenings and he just as carefully listens and remembers. Obviously this is a fantasy.

Their relationship grows through conversation and vast amounts of ice cream. Siddharth occasionally tries to act like his friends tell him to, but Neha challenges him and he immediately drops the posturing and admits he has no clue. It’s a nice unremarkable romance that grows unnoticed by friends and family. Until Siddharth gets his money order and decides to splurge on some fancy clothes. Blue velour? I know it was the 80s but still!

He is pleasant, abstracted but not anti-social and seems content to be the butt of his friends’ jokes. Unlike many other filmi heroes he can, and does, change course when he realises he needs to think of Neha as well himself. Farooq Shaikh is perfectly cast as the introverted and essentially good natured Siddharth, and also delivers the broad comedic scenes with playfulness.

Neha isn’t just sitting around waiting for a husband – she wants to study, has notions about her future and raises the subject of Siddharth with her dad to prevent him arranging an unwanted marriage. She is also quite clear on telling Siddharth that being a wife is not her immediate priority. Deepti plays her as a nice girl-next-door with a good amount of common sense, a dash of fun, and a smile that lights up the screen. She has a nice chemistry with Farooq too.

When the couple have the inevitable setback, Neha goes on despite her sadness and confusion. Siddharth is the one who loses his motivation, and unfortunately his friends decide to help him. And you will have to see the film to find out if they succeeded.

All the actors look right for their roles. There is no excess of glamour, or inappropriate wardrobe as far as I can tell. Saeed Jaffrey is lots of fun as Lalan Mian, the local paan stall owner and father figure. He can switch from berating Jai to lending him a bike so he can go chase a girl without pausing for a breath.

I loved his philosophical ruminations on debt and love, and he has such a twinkle in his eye. Leela Mishra as Neha’s grandmother seems to have a filmi streak like the boys, and has some very funny scenes. Vinod Doshi and Ranjan Grewal play Neha’s father and brother, and help show her as a girl with a sense of self worth and a warm and loving home. Even the waiter at Neha and Siddharth’s regular cafe approves with a smile. It’s all so likeable.

I mentioned the sly filmi references and tricks Sai Paranjape includes in her script. Whether she is having a character announce a flashback or using snippets of famous songs, she has a great instinct for comedy. I really enjoyed the special appearance by Amitabh in a demonstration of how to be suave as he sweeps Rekha off her feet.

I like the soundtrack by Raj Kamal a lot. The songs ‘Kali Ghodi Dwar Khadi’ and ‘Kahan Se Aaye Badra’ are used beautifully to show hope and disappointment, and Yesudas’ vocals are very expressive. There is also a song in which Neha and Siddharth sing in a park about people who sing songs in parks. And the onlookers actually do react as though the couple are a bit mad. Although I think these kids may have been given conflicting instructions.

The upbeat love songs are not really remarkable, but I enjoy seeing ordinary people act in filmi ways and how that would play out in a real environment. Another thing that made me oddly nostalgic was a very silly kidnapping subplot. Thinking on all the news from Delhi of late about women being abducted and assaulted, it did make me wonder about whether the 80s were really more innocent times. There was certainly a lot less traffic.

I’ll tell you now I am horrified by the idea of David Dhawan remaking Chashme Buddoor. I cannot imagine him making a scene with an overweight grandma accidentally flicking through Playboy seem funny. I can certainly imagine him believing he can, but the execution is the key. I don’t think it is just because Sai Paranjape is female that I can relate more to this story. After all, a woman wrote the recent Ranbir Kapoor vehicle, Bachna Ae Haseeno, and I thought that was mostly male wish fulfilment rubbish. But I do think she has an understanding of the internal emotional life of her characters that makes for a more interesting film, especially when the people are the focus.

Sai Paranjape is smart without being too clever, makes fun of her characters but doesn’t humiliate them, and as befits a romantic comedy, there is a lot of affection and happiness. The actors are charming, and I laughed all the way through the film.

A full 5 stars!

Katherine at Totally Filmi is coordinating a month long celebration of women in Indian cinema. Links will be collated at Delicious so keep an eye on that page for lots of other articles and blog posts to be added throughout March.

Heather says: Chashme Buddoor is a very sweet film with realistic, likeable characters and a simple but effective story. I found it amusing rather than flat-out funny, but it did make me smile almost all the way through. The three flatmates are all well cast and it was great to see actors that I tend to associate more with smaller character roles get the screen-time they deserve.  I particularly liked Rakesh Bedi in this and his expressions alone were enough to make me start smiling before he even said anything. I think it’s the relaxed nature of the conversations between the friends and the way they interact with each other, but in many ways this film reminds me of the old British sitcoms of the seventies. I grew up watching (and loving) these and I got the same sort of ‘comfortable comedy’ feeling here.

As Temple has mentioned, a lot of the humour comes from the way many classic Bollywood conventions are parodied and there are many references to other films, although I’m quite sure that I didn’t catch them all. The parody song with Neha and Jai is just brilliant and I did enjoy playing’ spot the song’ as it went along. The main characters are all allowed to develop at their own pace and each has little quirks that make them seem like real people rather than conventional ‘filmi’ characters.  They’re also not at all glamorous and the guys either shop in the same store or seem to share shirts, which again falls in well with the whole student lifestyle portrayed. The splitting up of their room into three distinct areas by the various pictures on the wall was also something I remembered from my own days as a student in a shared room and was another very realistic touch.

I enjoyed all the music, especially the more classically based songs Kahan Se Aaye Badra and Kali Ghodi Dwar Khadi and agree that Yesudas’ voice works perfectly for these. The songs are all very well pictured as well, although there is a rather disturbing appearance by a bear in the song in the park which I really didn’t enjoy. All the actors were uniformly excellent and I particularly loved Deepti Naval as Neha. I was perhaps a little disappointed that she didn’t take more umbrage to Siddharth’s suggestion that she give up her washing powder job when they got married, but I could also see his point of view – it was a very good way to meet him after all! Chahsme Budoor is a very well made film with clever comedy and excellent performances. I cannot imagine a remake by David Dhawan being anywhere near the same quality or have any of the same subtlety. Much better to watch the original and step back to a simpler time. 4 stars from me.

Hum (1991)

The late director Mukul S. Anand made 3 films with Amitabh Bachchan in the early nineties; Agneepath, Khuda Gawah and Hum. Although my favourite is Khuda Gawah I do have a soft spot for Hum which has a veritable who’s who of actors from the time including Rajnikanth, Govinda, Kimi Katkar, Anupam Kher and Danny Dengzongpa. The story combines the angry young man from Amitabh’s heyday with the sensible and authoritarian father figure he went on to portray in his later movies  and he does a good job of transitioning between the two personas. The film was a big hit at the time, and although it does drag a little in the middle, it’s still a great performance by Amitabh as the man whose past comes back to haunt him.

The movie starts as fairly typical masala fare. All round bad guy Bakhtawar (Danny Denzongpa) rules over the docks in Mumbai, treating his workers as slaves and killing anyone who dares to go against his despotic will. Despite his general dissatisfaction with this regime, Tiger (Amitabh Bachchan) extorts money from the workers for his father Pratap (Deepak Shirke), who in turn works as an enforcer for Bakhtawar and struggles to keep the peace between his son and his employer.

Tiger is in love with Jumma (Kimi Katkar) and the two have a rather stormy relationship, although we don’t get to see very much of them on-screen together. During one rebellion Tiger’s best friend Gonsalves (Romesh Sharma) is killed by Bakhtawar and in the subsequent fall-out Tiger’s father and step-mother also die, leaving two young step-brothers in Tiger’s charge.

Tiger immediately sets out to kill Bakhtawar in revenge but is stopped by Inspector Girdhar (Anupam Kher) who has his own agenda, and has set up the whole situation by playing Gonsalves and his revolutionaries against Bakhtawar and his gang of thugs. Girdhar intercepts Tiger and convinces him to fulfil his dying step-mother’s wish and take care of his young brothers while leaving the police to deal with Bakhtawar. In the confusion Girdhar and his faithful sidekick Havaldar Arjun Singh break into Bakhtawar’s safe and steal everything. To cover up their crime they set fire to Bakhtawar’s house, killing his wife and children in the process. At the same time they arrest Bakhtawar and send him to jail, while finally Girdhar blows up the train carrying Tiger and his brothers to eliminate any possible witnesses of his crime.

It’s all action in the first half of the film! Amitabh plays his classic role of the angry young man as only he can, even though he looks his age here and actually looks older than his supposed father and step-mother. But there is so much emotion and energy behind the character that apart from moments where the angled lighting shows up the wrinkles, it easy to put aside disbelief and accept Tiger as the slightly tarnished but still heroic saviour of the poor.

The first half of the film also features Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s classic song Jumma Chumma De De. Chinni Prakash won the Filmfare award for best choreographer in 1992 for his work on this. I’m not sure why the men have mugs of foam, although I presume it’s meant to represent beer and the water hose does seem a little excessive, but do enjoy what is actually a good song.

The second half of the film shows an older Tiger (we can tell because he now wears spectacles) who goes by the name of Shekhar and is a respectable farmer and timber merchant in Ooty. Kumar (Rajnikanth) is a police officer and is married to Aarti (Deepa Sahi) with a young daughter Jyoti. The youngest brother Vijay (Govinda) is a student pursuing Anita (Shilpa Shirodkar), the beautiful daughter of General Rana Pratap Singh (Kader Khan). Neither of the two brothers seems to have any memory of their time in Mumbai and both regard their step-brother as a rather staid and authoritarian figure, whose rules they generally ignore.

Meanwhile, Jumma has managed to overcome her early life and is now a successful actress while Girdhar and Havaldar are living well on their stolen riches and selling tanks from their base in Bombay.

The middle part of the film tends to drag as it concentrates on the unity of the family and a rather involved romance track with Vijay and Anita slows the pace considerably. There is an unconvincing and unnecessary thread where Girdhar finds a duplicate General as the original has refused to buy his tanks and the whole character of the renegade Captain Attack would have been best avoided.. But things pick up when Bakhtawar is released from jail, still wearing his now rather grimy white suit, desperate for revenge on Tiger for the death of his family. As Shekhar’s past catches up with him, everyone ends up in Bangalore together before somehow managing to get back to the Bombay docks in record time for an exciting and action packed showdown.

There are some things that are just never explained. Why there is a giant stuffed dodo in the army officers’ lounge, or a type of puffer fish above the bar we will never know.

Amitabh suits the role of the older Shekhar much better as he finally looks the correct age. His realisation that his somewhat shady past has finally caught up to Shekhar is brilliantly portrayed and the re-emergence of his Tiger character is excellent. Who knew that all it takes to become an efficient and competent fighter again is a shake of the head and a tiger’s roar! While Rajnikanth has a limited role as Kumar, the scenes where he faces off with Shekhar are excellent and the two actors are very natural together. Govinda is good as the more innocent Vijay, but as his character is there more to add comedy and some light-hearted romance he makes less of an impact. However he does have the best ever disco dance/fight scene and I do like his Crocodile Dundee inspired outfit.

Danny Denzongpa can always be relied on as a villain and here he brings depth and character to the role of Bakhtawar. He contrasts the money obsessed businessman with scenes of the family man, although even here his basic nastiness is still clear. As the revenge obsessed ex-prisoner his conviction that Tiger is still alive somewhere is perfectly shown as the driving force behind his increasingly agitated behaviour. The whole character of Bakhtawar is very well written and I like the way flashbacks to his family’s deaths help humanise him and make Bakhtawar more three-dimensional than the typical Hindi film villain.

Anupam Kher’s Girdhar is a much more buffoonish character and although his initial scenes as the police inspector are good and at times almost menacing, he becomes more irritating and cartoonish as the film progresses.  Deepa Sahi is the best of the actresses and also has the most convincing role as Kumar’s wife. Her attempts to look after the entire family struck a chord, although I wouldn’t have been as happy as she is to be fobbed off with the very annoying song that the family sing together at opportune moments. The music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal is generally good, although apart from Jumma Chumma De De none of it is particularly memorable.

This is a masala film that reaches back to some of the classic Amitabh films of the early eighties and he delivers a great performance throughout. Although there are some flaws in the film, particularly in the middle section, there are plenty of great action scenes and excellent performances from the rest of the cast. Worth watching for Amitabh and Danny Denzongpa who steal the show. 3 ½ stars.

Temple says:

On paper, this looks like it should be really good. It has a great cast and many of the required masala elements. And I really like a good socialist masala. Sadly, it fails to live up to that promise on almost every count. Mukul S Anand directs with a leaden hand and what little zest resides in the story is overwhelmed by clunky plotting and some poor casting.

Amitabh didn’t really convince me as Tiger – not just on his physical appearance, but his performance. He had some great moments, especially when Tiger was just hanging around shooting the breeze or drunkenly trying to warn Jumma’s brother, but he sometimes looked like he was just going through the motions of his patented Angry Young Man. Shekhar suited Amitabh’s air of authority, but was so relentlessly dour. Rajnikanth is cast as an airhead policeman, too dumb to know if the gun he lets his daughter play with is loaded. He just isn’t frivolous enough, and Kumar doesn’t get much to do. Rajnikanth and Amitabh share a nice rapport, but what a waste of a fine actor. Govinda’s role was totally unnecessary and I wondered if Vijay was added in just to have a dancer in the cast. Kimi Katkar is introduced by having her chest heave into view and that is all you need to know about Jumma. The only thing I recall about Deepa Sahi is a scene where she apologises for her inability to cope with the brothers’ demands and they basically reassure her that she’ll get better at housework with practice. There is a terrible family song, and many trite ‘together we five fingers make a fist’ speeches. I’d rather be an orphan! Danny Denzongpa is excellent but Bakhtawar is sidelined for the middle of the film so the best bad guy is largely missing. Anupam Kher is both comic relief and villain, and does neither well. The comedy track is hammy and misguided, and he doesn’t portray Girdhar with enough menace. The plot goes off the rails a bit when Girdhar carries the story and Anupam Kher’s performance does nothing to help the situation.

Hum is tedious and ponderous where it needed to be a fizzy blend of melodrama, action and humour. It’s a sad misuse of some excellent talent and resources. 2 stars.

Ajooba (1991)

Ajooba is always near the top of my list of favourite So Bad It’s Good films. Before we get started, I must share with you the very enticing blurb from the back of my DVD (click on it to enlarge the image):

Irresistible!

What better way to start some Christmas entertainment than with a mysterious star in the East?

And some wise men.

And a baby boy.

Surely this outfit just screams ‘Christmas Bauble’ (or according to Beth, ‘Mughal beach ball’).

Ajooba is a masala film masquerading as a magical sword and sandal romp. It is replete with a masked hero, a devil worshipping usurper, a good magician and his feisty daughter, sea monsters and so much more, made with enthusiasm rather than skill. While it may not be the story of Christmas, it is a miracle that Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor agreed to grace this film by Shashi Kapoor. I think it shows how much they loved him. Ajooba was quite a venture; expensive and a Russian co-production, so it seems like something Shashi felt strongly about making.

Once upon a time in Baharistan, the Sultan (Shammi Kapoor) and his wife (Ariadna Shengelaya) had everything they could want … except a son. Finally, after some magical intervention to protect the unborn child, an heir was born. Hurrah! The people rejoiced with a fun Laxmikant-Pyarelal number. There’s lots of colour and movement including a display of dazzling (ahem) magic, and a dance-off between a kind of skanky snakey dance and some Kathak-ish guys.

Amir Khan (Saeed Jaffrey) is a good magician. I use ‘good’ in the sense of not using his powers for evil, not as an endorsement of his skills.

The most impressive thing about his elephant trick is that the elephant looks like it is wearing dark glasses (perhaps it knew this film was not a great career move and was in disguise).

The evil Vizier (Amrish Puri) attacks the toy boat of the Sultan and Malika. The royal family is scattered, each believing they are alone in the world. Malika is blind, the Sultan loses his memory, and their baby is presumed drowned.

Rescued by a dolphin, raised by a kindly blacksmith, unaware of his real parentage, Ali (Amitabh Bachchan) undergoes years and years and years of training to become the hero who can free his people. Well, those people who are still left after 30 odd years of brutal oppression. Maybe it was the costume that held him up, especially creating a cunning disguise for both Ajooba and horse.

Why something as silly as a tin mask will be so detailed and finished with little flourishes when so much else is left half-baked is part of the charm. It doesn’t save the idea from being daft, but it is fun to look at. There is a serious design flaw. Did you spot it?

With the Vizier in power, life is tough for the simple folk of Baharistan. They still have their picturesque outfits but Amrish Puri and his brother-in-law Shah Rukh (Dalip Tahil) pillage and plunder as the mood seizes them.

With all of his evil deeds to draw on I expected the Vizier to have better material for his catch phrase, but he sticks to ‘Shaitan Zindabad!’. It is clear that he is bad and so are all his associates.

The evil shtick gets a little monotonous despite Amrish Puri’s eyeballs giving it their all.

When Amir Khan is imprisoned, he sends messages back to his family in Hind by talking to birds. Luckily his daughter Rukhsana (Dimple Kapadia) can communicate with animals so she sets off on a rescue mission, leaving her mother (Sushma Seth) behind. Rukhsana works as a puppeteer in the bazaar and I liked that she had a plan to both support herself and give a cover story as she was searching for her dad.

Baharistan is not the place for a single lady, and it doesn’t take long before she needs rescuing. Repeated rescuing. Ajooba becomes somewhat tired of this damsel in distress, but she sees through his flimsy disguise (amazing!) and of course that means true love.

Rishi Kapoor is Hassan, the local Romeo who falls for the Princess Henna (Sonam). That’s about as much character development as you get. I liked Rishi and Amitabh together, and they have a fun song as the romantic Hassan tries to get repressed Ali to talk about love.

But I lost interest as Rishi detours into drag and sleazy antics and Sonam does little more than this:

The romances play out as you would expect, and Dimple and Amitabh make the more interesting couple (though that is not saying much). Ali does wrestle a tiger to rescue Rukhsana and Amir Khan from the dungeons so that added a level of commitment.

Of course in a fairytale there are trials and tribulations before good can triumph and that means special effects! If only someone had told Shashi Kapoor. The visual effects are quite poor and while it is part of the cheesy fun, I do wish they had done a little better. Beth did ask why a flying gondola was employed in one scene and I think it is because the maximum passenger load for a flying carpet would have been exceeded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there are some odd lapses and inconsistencies. When Ali’s sister needs to give him an urgent message, she wends her way through dim corridors and finally  a concealed passage which opens into Ali’s secret training ground. It’s an open field next door that anyone could see. And when Ali and Hassan are chained up with Malika and the blacksmith awaiting Certain Death they are rescued by a sea monster…or are they? Four people in chains, three sets of chains are cut. What about your foster dad Ali????

I recognised so many faces in the background. Memsaab as usual provides a more rigorous acknowledgement of the supporting artists so you should go read her post. But just think – Dara Singh, Sushma Seth, Rajendranath, Narendranath, Tej Sapru, Bob Christo just to name a few!  The locations and sets are delightful, and enhance the fantasy and poetic flavour. The art direction is batty at times, but this is a pleasure to watch.

The streets of Baharistan are always full of colourful locals ready for a backflip or bellydance. The fight scenes are OK without being amazing, flying carpets or no. But there is a brilliant episode in a temple with Amitabh swinging from bell to bell to dishoom Bob Christo and rescue Shammi – it is epic and silly and I love it. The final battle gets everyone to Baharistan and there are reunions and expositions all over the place.

I absolutely love that in the climax fight, once people realise Ajooba is Ali is the long lost prince, everything pauses briefly so the onlookers can have a chat amongst themselves about how he is related to everyone and what his title is. Never mind the big glowing sword, or the evil sorcerer – is he your cousin? And is he married?

Ajooba’s heart is pure masala gold and I have enormous affection for it. 4 stars for entertainment alone!

Merry Christmas!