Mardaani is a crime drama from director Pradeep Sarkar and writer Gopi Puthran based around the investigation of a drug smuggling business and child trafficking ring in India. What makes it rather more unusual is that the cop chasing after the bad guys isn’t the usual rough, tough and unbeatable hero, but instead is the equally rough and tough but rather more pragmatically sensible Rani Mukerjee. As Senior Inspector Shivani Shivaji Roy, Rani takes on a crime boss and his gang when a young street vendor she has previously rescued goes missing. It’s a straight police procedural drama for most of the film but does veer off into overly melodramatic action for the last 15 minutes or so, presumably to add more commercial appeal. However Rani is superb, Tahir Raj Bhasin is excellent as the villain of the piece and overall the film works as an action thriller that is more realistic than most.

The film opens with the apprehension of a criminal by Mumbai’s Crime Branch, and the raid and subsequent capture nicely illustrate the rapport Inspector Shivani has with her team and the respect they have for her. They all joke together on the way to the raid but police officers Jafar and Morey still obey every order without question once the action begins. Dressed in a sari and noticeably understated make-up, Shivani is a cop who follows the rules when necessary, but also knows just how far rules can be bent without causing any visible stretch marks. She’s equally capable whether she’s on duty as a police officer, or at home looking after her family and is smart enough to reason her way through a case rather than bludgeoning her way to a result. The end product is a more realistic police officer and a more probable investigative team, at least as far as the world of cinema is concerned.

Shivani is married to Dr Bikram Roy (Jisshu Sengupta) and the couple look after her orphaned niece Meera (Avneet Kaur), giving Shivani a realistic and stable home life as well as illustrating that she is more than just a kick-arse cop with excellent multi-tasking skills. The person Shivani seems to care about most though is Pyaari (Priyanka Sharma), a girl Shivani rescued and placed in an orphanage and school after Pyaari’s uncle tried to sell her on the streets. When Pyaari disappears, Shivani accepts Meera’s assertion than Pyaari has been kidnapped, and given the truly frightening statistics given at the end of the film it does seem the most likely scenario. Shivani quickly establishes that one of the men associated with the orphanage is implicated in Pyaari’s disappearance and her subsequent investigations lead her to a drug dealer who is also part of the gang. From here it’s a short step to Vakil (Anil George), and the realisation that she has stumbled upon a large and well organised drug smuggling and human trafficking ring. Vakil is the face of the organisation and the man the drug dealers think is in charge, but standing in the shadows behind Vakil is the real boss, Karan (Tahir Raj Bhasin).

One of the reasons why the film works so well is the developing relationship between Shivani and Karan and the careful steps they take to outwit each other. Karan calls Shivani when her investigation begins to impinge on his organisation, and their subsequent phone conversations become an integral part of the story. At one point Karan introduces himself as Walter White, a nod to the Breaking Bad character, and a clear indication that he considers himself a criminal mastermind. Generally Bhasin plays Karan with an aura of cool authority mixed with genuine menace as he orders his various lackeys around and keeps track of his business empire. In scenes where the kidnapped girls are stripped, showered and basically dehumanised, it’s obvious Karan sees them purely as merchandise to be sold, a tactic that moves the film away from tacky voyeurism into a sinister and shockingly more realistic place. However when he calls Shivani, she refers to him as ‘the kid’ and remains cool and calm, refusing to rise to his threats or attempts at intimidation and it’s Karan who struggles to keep his composure. Shivani remains professional when dealing with Karan despite her fears for Pyaari, and it’s only towards the end that her self-control slides and she embarks on a more vigilante style of action.

While the film didn’t need quite so much focus on the plight of the girls, their abuse and degradation is effective in building outrage that is later used as a justification for Shivani’s unconventional method to bring Karan to justice. The film also loses some credibility when Rani morphs into a more typical filmi-hero and channels her inner Salman Khan for the last few scenes, taking the law into her own hands. It dulls the effect of the rest of the film, although there is some satisfaction is seeing the abused get their own back on their abusers. There is also a tendency for the film to become rather preachy towards the end with Shivani lecturing the police chief in Delhi when he is reluctant to pursue the human traffickers, but the statistics that play over the end credits are likely an indication of the point Pradeep Sarkar was trying to make. The details about the massive numbers of children who go missing and the extent of the child sex-trade are chilling and anything that raises awareness, and hopefully subsequent prosecutions and a downward change in these figures is welcome. It’s not all about ‘the message’ though, and for the most part the film is an action thriller with an engaging storyline.

Mardaani keeps to a standard storyline, but the plot is well structured with realistic characters and feasible action that keeps the film believable. Rani and Bhasin are the standouts but the support cast are all good, although the young actresses playing the girls do become overly dramatic at times. It suits the situation though and at least none of the scenes with the girls are remotely suggestive but rather reflect the brutality of the kidnappers instead. The film is a different approach to a police drama and while it’s not an overtly feminist film it is good to have a strong female character as the lead, particularly when she takes on a more traditionally masculine role so successfully. Worth watching for Rani, a more realistic storyline (at least until near the end) and Tahir Raj Bhasin, who will hopefully live up to the promise he shows here. 3 ½ stars.

Don (2006)


Normally I’m not a fan of remakes since they are generally nowhere near as good as the original, but Farhan Akhtar’s Don is the exception that proves the rule – at least for me. As much as I love the original Don with Amitabh Bachchan, Iftekhar, Helen and co, the remake slickly updates the story and adds a few new twists that make the end at least just that little bit better. I love Shahrukh Khan when he’s in anti-hero mode, and this is an excellent example of how good SRK can be when he’s being bad. There are a few misses, but overall good casting, clever writing and an excellent soundtrack make Don one of my favourite SRK films.

The remake follows the original 1978 Don fairly closely in terms of the screenplay but sets most of the story in Malaysia where Don (Shahrukh Khan) is the ‘most dangerous and cunning criminal’ in an organisation than spans the globe smuggling drugs. Don heads up the Malaysian arm of the gang and works for Singhania ( Rajesh Khattar), the rival of fellow ultra-elusive gang member Vardhaan. DCP DiSilva (Boman Irani) is on the trail of the criminals along with his colleague Inspector Verma (Sidharth  Jyoti) and Interpol Officer Vishal Malik (Om Puri).

Shahrukh appears to enjoy playing the utterly ruthless and callous Don and he seems to slip effortlessly into evil mode when required. His Don is perhaps a little too flamboyant and his fashion sense is rather quirky (those terrible ties-inside-the shirt!), but his panache and flair in the opening scenes when he imitates some ballet dancers and then a few moments later causes carnage and mayhem during a drug deal gone wrong is superb. He’s cool, collected and practical when it comes to getting rid of police informers and in dealing with recalcitrant gang members, but does show his softer side to Anita (Isha Koppikar) and a little more uncertainty with fellow gang member Narang (Pawan Malhotra). This shading makes Don more interesting and generates some empathy for what is really quite an unpleasant character at the start of the film.

One of the misses is the remake of the classic Helen number Yeh Mera Dil. Kareena Kapoor takes on the role of Kamini, the revenge seeking fiancé of gang member Ramesh (Diwaker Pundir), killed by Don for his disloyalty. Kareena just doesn’t have the vibrancy or class of Helen, and her seduction routine is clinical and passionless as a result. There’s no rage, no thirst for revenge or abhorrence at getting close to the man who murdered her fiancé and it ends up as nothing more than a lot of shimmying in a gold lamé dress.  It’s not surprising Don looks somewhat disdainful and fairly unimpressed throughout.

Priyanka Chopra is much better as Roma and at least looks as if she is capable of murder. At least up until she actually tries to kill Don at which point she seems to lose her mojo. Still, it’s a good effort and she does well in the songs too, although I think Isha Koppikar takes the honours here – plus who doesn’t love a giant disco mirror ball. Both Priyanka and Isha  look stunning and are obviously included to up the glamour quotient, but both do a good job in their roles and appear as strong and confident characters throughout.

Don is seriously injured and captured by the police during a chase in India which gives DCP DiSilva the opportunity to replace Don with a local entertainer Vijay (also SRK) who is the spitting image of the gangster. SRK’s Vijay is a tad more sensible than in the original, and Shahrukh makes him a very different character to Don. He even looks quite different, using facial expressions and body movement to emphasize the difference between the two characters – at least up until the surgery to make them both the same.

However, since only DiSilva and the fake Don know about the impersonation, when DiSilva is killed during an operation to catch Singhania it all starts to go pear-shaped for Vijay. As well as dodging the police and fooling the gang into believing he is Don, Vijay has to deal with Roma’s attempts at revenge and somehow get a disc with information about the gang to Malik to prove his innocence.   Meanwhile Jasjit (Arjun Rampal) is also out for revenge after DiSilva caused the death of his wife, adding more layers to the plot and a means to bring it all to a satisfactory conclusion.

The updated film has plenty of high powered car chases and some cool fight scenes which all work pretty well. There are a couple of escapes too – the first is rather unnecessarily convoluted, but the second is fun as it involves Don wrestling one of his gang members for a parachute while plunging to the ground after jumping out of a plane. Now if this had been a Southern Indian film, Don would have had a handy gun and some explosive to deal with the problem, but here he just has to fight it out while the ground spins giddily below and rushes every closer.

The film has a great soundtrack from Shankar-Ehsan-Loy which uses two songs and the general theme from the original film. The second remix is Khaike Paan Banaraswala which fares much better than the Helen remake number, and is a lot of fun – I suspect most of the direction here was asking SRK to act goofy and he manages to do so repeatedly!

Overall the casting is excellent and the support actors all seem to fit their parts well. Boman Irani is in sensible mode as DiSilva and he makes a good world-weary cop. I find he can be erratic, depending on the director and is often better in comedic rather than straight roles, but he does an excellent job here and suits the role. Om Puri is a little under used in a role that doesn’t give him much scope, but has a couple of good scenes with DiSilva where he is suspicious of absolutely everyone and he fits that character style perfectly. Perhaps most surprising is Arjun Rampal who I remember thinking was much better here than in any of his films I’d seen previously, and puts in an emotionally mature performance as a devastated man out for blood.

I went to the cinema prepared to be disappointed in Don and was instead surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, and still love watching the DVD. Expensive production makes the stunts work well and lifts the thrill factor, but none of that would matter without good performances and a well thought out rewrite of the story. The film works for me because of SRK and Boman Irani, but everyone has their part to play in making Don such an entertaining film. The Malaysian backdrop looks amazing, the soundtrack is great and the dialogue and stunts are brilliant. It may be a remake but it’s a great film in its own right and I love this version just as much as the original. 5 stars!

Singapore (1960)


Singapore may not be one of Shakti Samanta’s best films, given the gaping plot holes and rather slow start, but his first film with Shammi Kapoor still entertains with plenty of good songs and a competent support cast. Like many of Samanta’s early films, Singapore is a mystery thriller with the usual assortment of criminals willing to kidnap and murder to get away with their loot. Where it falls down is in trying to spin together too many threads with the underlying story rather lost beneath the extra flourishes. The additions also defuse much of the tension, which isn’t helped by a distinct lack of chemistry between Shammi and his co-star, with the result that the film initially feels rather flat. However Shammi’s uncharacteristic restraint doesn’t last for too long and there is plenty of his trademark craziness to liven up the final scenes.  Add in a dash of Helen, Shashikala and Padmini, the gorgeous Maria Menada and the exotic locale, and Singapore is worth at least a one-time watch.

The film opens with Ramesh (Gautam Mukherjee) and his girlfriend Shoba (Shashikala) meeting in a club in Singapore. As Shoba happily learns that Ramesh plans to stay in Singapore, their conversation is being closely followed by local gangsters Chang (Madan Puri) and Kapoor (Rajan Kapoor) at a nearby table. Also listening in, by way of a hidden microphone in the lamp is Shoba’s uncle Shivadas (K.N. Singh), but despite all this effort the only information Ramesh gives out is that he has found a treasure map and as a result won’t go ahead with the sale of his boss’s rubber plantation. That boss is Shyam (Shammi Kapoor) and later that night Ramesh finally manages to contact him by phone. However his conversation is interrupted by two shady characters that kidnap Ramesh, although they don’t manage to get their hands on the treasure map. Left to wonder what has happened to his friend, Shyam boards the next plane to Singapore, and the hunt is on!

Samanta does seem to delight in giving his characters rather ridiculous names, and Shyam is met at the airport by his company secretary Cha Choo (Agha) and in the office by the typist Chin Chin Choo (Lilian), which at least does invoke memories of Howrah Bridge. Shyam also meets Lata (Padmini) and initially confuses her with Shoba since he has been told that Ramesh’s girlfriend dances at the New India Club and naturally assumes that the dancer she sees is Shoba.  I’m not sure what the point of the confusion is, other than as an introduction to the family and as a way to ensure Padmini gets to dance. However it’s worth the convoluted storyline as Padmini does look absolutely gorgeous here and really shines when she is dancing.

While in Singapore, Shyam is also pursued by the beautiful Maria (Maria Menada) who met him on the flight from India. Maria seems overly interested in Shyam’s affairs, and since it’s revealed almost from the start that she is involved in the plot to steal the treasure I expected a little more from their relationship. However mostly this is just another complicating plot thread that has a lot of potential that is never fully realised, although Maria Menada is excellent as a villainess.

There has to be a love story of course, and Shyam and Lata fall for each other on their first meeting. There isn’t great chemistry between Padmini and Shammi, but they do have a couple of good songs together where there seems more empathy and at least they seem to be enjoying themselves. I love this one where they dance through a number of shops before Padmini pushes the dancers into the pool at the end, seeming totally delighted as each one drops into the water while Shammi prances along behind her. Oh My indeed!

Meanwhile, Shyam is still trying to find Ramesh and uses the tape recording of their last phone conversation to track down a musical cigarette case which may have the answer. This part of the plot is perfect – naturally Ramesh records all his phone calls, and why wouldn’t a cigarette case in the shape of a Vat 69 bottle also be musical – but once Shyam finds the map things start to get unnecessarily complicated. This slows down the action and the film starts to drag while various embellishments are added to the plot.

Shyam uses the map as bait to try to lure out the kidnappers, and in the ensuing chase has to hide out from some of the gang in a village. Obviously he has to escape their notice and what better way to remain inconspicuous than to dance and sing with Helen? Naturally this is the best way to escape detection!

Shoba is kidnapped too and there is a convoluted thread involving Shivadas who may or may not be dead, although it doesn’t really seem to matter in the end.  Eventually Shyam infiltrates the gang as an assassin from Kabul, which gives Shammi licence to unleash the crazy and the pace of the film finally picks up. I wish the energy in the last scenes could have been present for the whole film, but at least  the film ends on a suitably chaotic note with the inconsistencies in the plot swiftly swept aside to concentrate on the final action sequences.

The main reason to watch Singapore is of course Shammi, who looks fantastic throughout whether he’s romancing Lata, cavorting around the dance floor in disguise or fighting off numerous villains as required. His Shyam is suave and sophisticated, romancing the ladies while out and about in Singapore and easily charming Lata on one hand while elegantly turning down Maria on the other. At least until his disguise kicks in, when he becomes totally OTT Shammi and revels in his persona as a gun for hire. My favourite kind of Shammi!

The support cast are all solid, despite the erratic storyline and gaping plot holes, and Agha is impressively competent as Shyam’s sidekick.  I can’t remember noticing him much in other films of the era, but here he provides some gentle comedy without disrupting the flow or resorting to slapstick. Padmini looks gorgeous and at least has a couple of good dance numbers even though disappointingly her character has very little to do in the second half. Although Singapore isn’t a film I will watch over and over again like Chinatown, I do like the songs from Shankar-Jaikishan, particularly those included here along with Tum Lakh Chhoopana Chahoge, Tu Kahan Kho Gaya and Dhoka Khayegi Na Yaron Ki Nazar for some classic Shammi dance-floor magic. As I said at the start, not one of Samanta or Shammi’s best films, but there is still enough to enjoy to make Singapore worth a watch. 3 stars.

Funky Bollywood

Funky Bollywood_Cover art

Funky Bollywood – The wild world of 1970s Indian action cinema (A selective guide)

I was chuffed when Todd Stadtman kindly sent me a review copy of his book. Not just because the book is fabulous (What a relief! I don’t have to be polite – it is really well done!), but also because Todd is the reason I first watched Pistolwali. A debt of gratitude of such magnitude is nigh impossible to repay.


Stadtman intends Funky Bollywood to be ‘the “gateway drug” into the world of Indian action cinema’, which is one of my favourite worlds. If you don’t know where to start, Todd’s guide could help you decide how to first dip a toe into the waters. If you’ve been there done that, enjoy the quips and asides as you spend time with some familiar faces.

Saturated with colour and illustrations, dotted with random facts and wry observations, the book has one thing that a masala film can often lack. Logic and structure. Opening chapters give a brief overview of the who’s who of the era, and has an excellent additional feature I would like all DVD manufacturers to adopt post haste; symbols representing recurring themes found in each film.

Funky Bollywood_The Key

Imagine how simple it would make selecting a film if you could pick the one with Helen, a lair and some separated siblings? I know that around 60% of the time you could select ANY 70s Indian action film and get that combination but sometimes I don’t want to take a punt. Amusing and insightful reviews of select film make up the remaining chapters.

Todd’s glee at the best (and not at all the best) films of the era leaps off the page. It’s a little like watching a film with a friend who knows what’s going to happen next and can’t wait to see your reaction. I particularly enjoyed the section on spy films and westerns as they also included a few of my Telugu favourites. There is a persistent spelling error (Telegu for Telugu) that belies the detailed and well researched content, which made me a little sad. But this is clearly a labour of love and a lot of attention has gone into every page.

Funky Bollywood_insightful

Like a really good masala film, Funky Bollywood is wildly entertaining and you might even learn something along the way (probably nothing to do with medicine or science, but other stuff). My cunning plan is to leave it lying around at home and wait for the unwary visitor to pick it up. I’ll have Parvarish in the DVD player before they know what hit them!

If you’d like your own copy, it’s available on Amazon or via the publishers Fab Press. And do pop over to the official Facebook page and say hi to Todd!

Kill Dil (2014)

Kill Dil

I had high hopes for Kill Dil. I like Ranveer Singh and Ali Zafar. I enjoyed Shaad Ali’s previous films, even the fairly nonsensical Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, and hey – Govinda! So, surely all these elements would be great together? Well, not so much. Kill Dil isn’t terrible, but it just isn’t as good as it should have been, mainly due to the shallow and poorly developed story. I don’t have a problem with the 70’s style masala plot, or with the Urban-Western style of Kill Dil, but I do prefer to have some plausibility in a romance and at least a smidgeon of logical possibility in the storyline. Both are conspicuously absent here. At least Ranveer, Ali Zafar and Govinda are all very watchable, while Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s exuberant songs are a definite plus, so even if the sum isn’t as great as all of its parts, Kill Dil is still worth a look  if you just sit back, leave logic at home and watch the spectacle.

The story starts with shades of Gunday as Bhaiyaji (Govinda) finds two babies in the rubbish and decides to raise the kids himself, despite the fact that he’s a gangster who kills people for a living. Somehow the orphans manage to survive, although they learn how to shoot a gun almost before they can walk and both drop out of school to work for Bhaiyaji as assassins for hire. Tutu (Ali Zafar) is apparently the elder, although how Bhaiyaji worked that out is anyone’s guess. He’s the quiet, less flamboyant and more brooding one who seems a little more aware of the risks but still seems content in his work. Dev (Ranveer Singh) is more exuberant, and with his bouffy hair and leather bomber jacket he’s actually a bit of a dork. The two brothers live together, work together and party together, but still have a lack of worldliness when it comes to anything outside of murder.

While out clubbing one night, Dev saves the life of Disha (Parineeti Chopra), a millionaire who gave up her degree in medicine to help rehabilitate criminals. Um – what? Disha is portrayed as the quintessential  rich party girl and the idea that she works as some kind of social worker is ludicrous. Yet it becomes even more ridiculous when Dev falls in love with Disha and is inspired to give up his life of crime for love.

The question is will his life of crime, and specifically Bhaiyaji, be willing to give up Dev?

Although the film starts off with both Dev and Tutu having roughly equal amounts of screen-time, as the story unfolds, Dev takes centre stage. Ranveer Singh is excellent and veers between annoyingly hyperactive, sweetly naïve and ultra-cool, often during the same dialogue. Although his transformation from gangster Dev to insurance salesman Dev is by the numbers, Ranveer is charming and charismatic throughout, even as his look becomes ever more conservative. He is brilliantly energetic in the songs, despite some truly dreadful styling, and if the song placements are often abrupt and odd, there are at least plenty of them, which keeps the amusement level relatively high.

Ali Zafar’s Tutu is the stoic friend who warns Dev about the possible consequences of Disha discovering his past and who is left to try and pacify Bhaiyaji when Dev is off romancing. Unfortunately, he’s not particularly successful at either task. However the relationship between Dev and Tutu is well portrayed and Ali Zafar and Ranveer Singh do have good chemistry together, even if it doesn’t get close to the Shashitabh ideal of bromance. Parineeti Chopra on the other hand has one of the most pointless and nonsensical characterisations I’ve seen, which is not helped by a complete lack of chemistry in her romance with Dev. She’s portrayed as a shallow character and is not just an unbelievable persona, but her style of behaviour makes her character essentially unattractive. Ultimately Disha seems an unlikely partner for Dev in every possible way and apart from this one fantasy song (which is still more about the styling and Ranveer’s increasingly unfortunate coiffure), the romance is fairly limp and ineffectual. It’s frustrating, since Parineeti looks fantastic and seems as if she is capable of so much more, if only she’d been given a chance!

As an occasional relief to all the posturing, Govinda is refreshingly straightforward as Bhaiyaji. He doesn’t do anything particularly gangsterish, apart from hand over pictures of the next victim to Dev and Tutu, but he does growl and look appropriately menacing when required. Even better, he does get to break out his dance moves and proves that he hasn’t lost any of his old mojo. However not even Govinda can breathe some fire into the flimsy story by the end, and Bhaiyaji’s response to Dev’s defection is disappointingly weak.

Kill Dil then is a bit of a disappointment. While the cast all try as hard as they can to look cool, and do look as if they had a great time during filming, they are let down by poor character development and the unreasonable story. However despite feeling frustrated by the character of Disha and annoyed by the paucity of scenes involving Govinda, I still did (mostly) enjoy the film. Ali Zafar and Ranveer Singh are very cool dudes here, and I liked their partnership. The songs are also improved by the colourful choreography and Ranveer Singh’s energy and joie de vivre is contagious. Perhaps one more for the fans, although it is worth a look for even just the brief glimpse of Govinda back in top form.