Baghdad Thirudan (1960)

Baghdad_Thirudan

The opening credits play over an orchestral overture, jaunty and melodic, setting the scene for an adventure in the magical land of exotic fairytale cliche. Baghdad Thirudan is in the style of a Hollywood swashbuckler, and T.P Sundaram directs this rollicking yarn written by A.S. Muthu.

The film is on Youtube in pretty poor quality and without subtitles. There is no shortage of plot, but once you identify the Goodies and the Baddies (not hard) the story is easy enough to follow and bounds from incident to episode with great spirit. There is the kingdom that must be restored to rights, justice for the oppressed masses (maybe), a love triangle of sorts, DIY special effects and stunts, abundant songs and lots of excellent outfits.

Baghdad-Thirudan-Helen probably

The action opens with HELEN! Or someone who looks a lot like HELEN! She dances and a gaudily dressed man (T.S. Balaiah) can barely keep his hands off her. He and his wife scheme to depose the king and queen and take over the kingdom. He really has no impulse control.

Baghdad-Thirudan-S N Lakshmi

The king and queen are captured and the maid taking their baby son to safety has to get past…a leopard! She actually fights and kills a leopard barehanded. Without mussing up her outfit. But that’s not all. She duels with soldiers with the baby still tucked under her arm – finally being stabbed in the back and dropping the baby from a tower into the waiting arms of a fellow retainer who completed the rescue and drew the pursuit away. Awesome stuff. I read that actress S.N. Lakshmi was afraid of the leopard (and of cats in general) but still had to get in there without the luxury of a stunt double.  The baby (who never stops screaming, making stealth next to impossible) is eventually discovered and adopted by a group of people who are either forest dwelling thieves or a socialist dairy farming collective.

Baghdad-Thirudan-birthmark

They thoughtfully provide a clear view of his significant birthmark. Meanwhile baddies, assisted by their mole in the palace (S.A. Asokan) obtain an imposter baby to raise as the prince and legitimise their takeover as regents who will never retire.

The baby grows up to become Ali (MGR), a Robin Hood figure of laconic charm. He crosses paths with Zarina who is also a thief. Hijinks ensue as he tries to steal back his takings and Zarina matches him move for move in a game of wits. While trying to evade Ali’s pursuit she is mistaken for a dancing girl by the Pretend Prince, leading to a flimsy excuse for Zarina to dance for her life.  Which is absolutely excellent since she is played by Vyjayanthimala.  Not a purist classical number by any stretch of the imagination – but Vyjayanthimala dances with her customary precision and strength. MGR confines himself to comedic fumbling, posing as her backing musician along with his sidekick (T.R Ramachandran).

Ali sets up an accident so he can rescue the Pretend Princess (M.N Rajan). She is quite full of herself and the wrong kind of sparks fly.  But when he duels his way to freedom she is so impressed by his swordsmanship that the other kinds of sparks are evident, at least on her side.

Zarina seems to be living with a thief master type who demands she hand over money each day or else. He sells her at auction and Ali (in a bad disguise) buys her.  She doesn’t see through the face putty and tries to escape but is foiled – luckily his moustache falls off during a song and she realises she is not unhappy at all. However there are other baddies at large and one day, she is taken prisoner and used as a target for axe throwing practice. Zarina often gets herself out of trouble, but when she can’t she is fortunate to have the ever vigilant Ali.

But Ali is still wooing Pretend Princess, a woman of nasty temperament and a love of hats (even her maid is suitably bedizened). She shows him a secret treasure box hidden behind a door of spears and concealed in a fireplace. With all that security it must be something good! He ties her up – maybe just for fun – but then seems to tell her who he really is and gags her as she screams for guards and he escapes. Theirs is a crazy mixed up kind of relationship thing. The box contained the antidote for poison that had been spread into the water supply. So rather than being a duplicitous flirt it seems Ali was taking one for the team. He saves the people! And marries Zarina! So much to be happy about, and yet so much time left for things to go wrong.

I liked Ali and Zarina. They had a nice dynamic in their relationship, and while Ali was clearly The Hero who would save the day, Zarina wasn’t dumbed down. She wasn’t very skilled with a sword, but she would still have a go at hacking her way through guards and other obstacles. It was nice to see the couple so playful and happy to be together, and the actors’ rapport came through in their less fraught scenes. I think the secret of their happiness might just have been that MGR refrains from much dancing and wisely lets Vyjayanthimala do the choreographic  heavy lifting. MGR has a nonchalance that makes Ali likeable and not too overbearing. He does leap onto the soapbox and speechify a bit, which suits Ali’s character as the man of the people, but he isn’t too pompous. Vyjayanthimala gives Zarina feisty energy with a resilient core, a good match for MGR.

Baghdad-Thirudan-bloomers

In the latter part of the film he changes his look and gives up the fez and harem pants in favour of jolly little Elizabethan style breeches so that was amusing.

The Pretend Princess allows herself to be kidnapped with an eye to getting her claws on Zarina. Zarina ends up in the dungeon but Ali gets wind of her situation. There is much plotting, and a wonderful Batman-esque wall ‘climb’ to rescue Zarina that has MGR using all his overacting skills.

Not to be out-emoted,  Zarina paints his portrait in blood as she sings a dirge. And the baddies celebrate I’m not sure what exactly with a big tribal production number featuring Gopi Krishna.

The final action sequence takes place in almost every room of the palace.

Baghdad-Thirudan-clockwork thingie

There is an excellent pointless clockwork contraption that can have no function other than being a Masala Death Trap.

Baghdad-Thirudan-Princess and Zarina

The Pretend Princess is delighted to find out that Ali is the real prince, and fancies she is in with a chance at keeping her tiara and getting her man. Will he forget Zarina? As if!

See this for the vintage charm, the ripping story that requires little analysis, and the pleasure of seeing MGR and Vyjayanthimala take on all comers and emerge victorious. 3 1/2 stars!

Baghdad-Thirudan-the end

China Town (1962)

Chinatown

Shakti Samanta is responsible for many of my favourite Hindi films, and China Town is another one to add to the list. Not only does it have Shammi Kapoor in a double role, but as an added bonus Helen appears as one of the two heroines, and she dances in two songs – awesome! Shakti Samanta heads to Calcutta and the seedy opium dens of Chinatown to deliver a crime drama with plenty of masala seasoning. It’s the story of a gangster whose buffoonish lookalike becomes involved in a police plot to uncover the shadowy figure behind the Chinatown drug trade. If that sounds familiar, Salim-Javed were supposedly inspired by China Town when they came up with the plot for Don and the set-up is certainly very similar. However there are fewer twists and a lower body count in China Town, and the end is quite different. This has fewer noir elements than Samanta’s earlier Howrah Bridge but it does edge into the genre, and even though the outcome is fairly predictable, the journey to get there is well worth taking.

The film opens with the title track and features Helen in a wonderful dress covered with dragons. Chinatown gangster Mike (Shammi Kapoor) is introduced in the bath (!) and has a wonderful laconic style as he explains that the world will order itself to accommodate Mike, not the other way around. With such ishtyle, it’s not really surprising then that dancer Suzi (Helen) is in love with Mike, despite the callous treatment she receives at his hands.

Mike works for Mr Wong (Madan Puri), the owner of a hotel in Chinatown that acts as the front for a number of criminal activities, but chiefly the gang run an opium den and deal in drugs. Mike is spotted making his dodgy deals by the indomitable Inspector Dutta (Kanu Roy) and in the course of the ensuing car chase Mike is hurt and brought back to the police station by Inspector Dutta. However Mike proves to be a tough nut to crack and none of Inspector Dutta’s interrogation techniques manage to force him to reveal the other members of the gang, or who is controlling their activities. Fortuitously for Inspector Dutta, Rai Bahadur Digamberprasad Rai (S.N. Bannerjee) comes to the police station to make a complaint about bar singer Shekhar (Shammi Kapoor) who has followed his daughter Rita (Shakila) to Calcutta. Shekhar just happens to be the spitting image of Mike, and Inspector Dutta sees a way to infiltrate the gang, if he can get Shekhar to impersonate Mike.

Shekhar is the antitheses of Mike. He lives with his mother (Jeevan Kala) in Calcutta and spends his time singing, chasing after Rita and avoiding her father who is less than impressed with Shekhar. Shekhar is carefree and careless, and Shammi is excellent as the crazy and impulsive singer who will do anything for love.  Here he is serenading Rita, who doesn’t seem too impressed by his moves here at all!

Rai Bahadur on the other hand will do almost anything to keep Shekar away from his daughter, and when you consider Shekar’s antics as he dresses up as a Sadhu to follow Rita on the journey to Calcutta it’s hard to disagree when Rai Bahadur calls him a cartoon.

Despite his somewhat frivolous nature, Shekhar allows himself to be persuaded to work for the police, and undergoes extensive training to impersonate Mike. He successfully infiltrates the gang and starts to pass information back to Inspector Dutta, but before he can find out who’s the boss behind the scenes, Shekhar’s mother arrives in town. She soon reveals that it’s not a coincidence that Shekhar looks like Mike, and soon my favourite Bollywood plot device of separated twins gets thrown into the mix. So now all Shekhar has to do is stop Rita from marrying Mr Chaudhary, convince Rai Bahadur that he is a suitable person to marry his daughter, find the head of the drug smuggling gang and save his long lost brother – no worries!

Although Shekhar fools the gang, he can’t hide his musical soul and when out delivering drugs he dances and sings along to this wonderful mujra. I love the way Shammi can’t sit still and gyrates away in the background before finally joining in with Roshan Ara.

Along with the action, as Shekhar fools Mr Wong and one by one delivers the gang members up to the police, naturally there is time for some romance. Rai Bahadur seems a very liberal father, except where Shekhar is concerned and Rita manages to meet up with Shekhar and hit the tourist spots of Calcutta. They make a lovely couple, and Shakila looks beautiful here in a couple of sweet duets. The romance is rather cute too – as in one scene where Shekhar and Rita take refuge in a hotel and pretend to be married. The owner’s wife Mahakali (a brief appearance by Tun Tun) adds a vermillion tikka which Rita then doesn’t want Shekhar to rub off later despite all her protests about the deception. Very sweet! Rita is also feisty and quite prepared to fight back when she is kidnapped by the gang, which makes her a likeable heroine and more of a partner to Shekhar.

Suzi is quite prepared to fight for her man too, and Helen is fantastic in a role that gives her the opportunity to do more than dance. However she also looks stunningly gorgeous in this song where she dances with an intoxicated Shekhar.

The location allows Samanta to use the Calcutta backdrop and Howrah Bridge to good effect, particularly in the last fight scene. Dwarka Divecha does an excellent job with the cinematography and as in previous Samanta films there is good use of light and shade to heighten the drama. The Blue Dragon hotel has plenty of hidden doorways behind fake walls and bookcases, and there is even an escape route through the sewers to add to the ambiance.

The support cast all fit their roles well; Madan Puri reprises the role of a Chinese hotel owner while M.B. Shetty is expressive as Ching Lee, one of the gang who suspects Shekhar is not really Mike. But despite good performances from all the cast, China Town is all about Shammi Kapoor, and his performance here is the reason to watch the film.

I just adore Shammi in this film. He looks fabulous and seems to relish the contrast between his two roles, keeping the two personalities quite separate throughout. Shammi even looks very different as Mike and he plays the part of a brutish and rough gangster easily without hamming it up for the camera. As Shekhar he is buffoonish but good-natured, and although he does become more sensible when working for the police, he manages to make this seem like an act and every so often reverts back to true form with some classic Shammi craziness. When there are two Shammi’s onscreen it’s just wonderful, even if the technology isn’t quite able to make the effect completely seamless. Shammi is wonderful to watch, so even if the story does become a little predictable and the ending is annoyingly contrived, it really doesn’t matter when Shammi is this good – twice over! Recommended for Helen, Shakila, good songs and shady ambiance, but overall watch this for Shammi – he’s amazing! 4 stars from me – and I’ll give the last word to Helen, because I think this is exactly what she does.

Helen!

Pistolwali (1972)

pistolwali

I often wonder how gangs of ne’er-do-wells get along before they reach the critical mass that attracts a hero to sort them out, and what it is that they do all day. Pistolwali doesn’t answer the first of those questions, but it does provide plenty to look at as you ponder whether what they do all day is make their own outfits and fight over the dress-up box.

K.S.R Doss’ Pilla? Piduga? was either dubbed or partially reshot in Hindi as Pistolwali. Both (unsubtitled) films are on YouTube so choose your poison. I have chosen to use the Hindi version as some actors and both Helen and Jayshree T appeared to be speaking Hindi and this film is all about the authenticity…Plus I understood more of the dialogue even if I couldn’t read the significant clue written in blood.

Like so many other Telugu cowboy themed revenge films, this one is set in a time and place that exists only in Telugu cowboy themed revenge films.The movie opens with Raaka (Satyanarayana Kaikala) and his gang attempting a train heist. A brightly clad cowboy (Ramakrishna as Amar) puts them out of business from his perch in a convenient tree. It’s cowboys vs cowboys and hat colour is not a reliable indicator of anything.

Maybe if we saw the floral sunhats being stolen from helpless old aunties it might be suitably Bad, but instead it just looked like a job lot guaranteed to brighten up every occasion. And there was that one guy who just painted his scalp silver. Reeka (Prabhakar Reddy) seems to have fewer marbles and fewer outfits than Raaka. He throws childish tantrums that quickly escalate into homicidal rampages. And that is the nicest thing I could say about him.

“South Bombshell” (according to the poster) Jyothilaxmi is Neelu. She is first seen cavorting in a daring swimsuit but later changes into equally fashion forward pantsuits. The villains go too far when they steal from the temple, and Neelu sets off in pursuit. She swaggers, shoots and curses like a hero rather than a heroine relying on womanly wiles, and generally she rescues herself. Jyotilaxmi wears some abbreviated costumes and gets a big dance number, but Neelu isn’t a girly girl. Neelu gets roughed up by her adversaries but how to say this… they don’t get rapey and creepy with her despite the allure of her midriff. She is a foe and they deal with her as a threat, not as a plaything. She is tough cookie and I suspect it would take a bit to outrage her modesty in any case. When Helen gives it her all in Hoga Sa Hoga, Neelu fills the time honoured role of hero looking like they’d rather be elsewhere. Although that may also be professional item girl rivalry.  Neelu has her own ideas and just goes and does her thing. Even if that includes falling through a trapdoor and wrestling a (sight impaired) tiger.  And she has a straightforward approach to relationships.

Pistolwali-Graceful

I am not sure it was desire for authenticity or just directorial cruelty that had her struggling to get on and off horses, but it looked like Jyotilaxmi did a lot of her own action scenes.

The viewer learns that Raaka is Neelu’s biological father long before she does.  Raaka raped Lakshmi and left her for dead before also maiming his friend and rival for Lakshmi’s love. She fell pregnant as a result and she and the baby were taken in by her now one-legged true love who seemed to think it was the right thing to do. He may have been grooming Neelu for vengeance as well, but he seemed like an affectionate and over indulgent filmi Daddy. Neelu was none the wiser about her parentage until quite late in the film. That might all sound a bit progressive so let me assure you that the way it was revealed to her made me deduct a lot of the good parenting brownie points.

Ramakrishna is technically the hero but Neelu overshadows Amar in all respects. He does an OK job and he doesn’t get in her way, but apart from some excellent outfits he achieves little of note. Although I did giggle at his inept dealings with the ladies. On the subject of costumes, it looks as though each main character was issued with one distinctive pair of boots and they pretty much wear them throughout. Raaka’s boots were particularly special and Satyanarayana Kaikala was suitably over the top to match. And the outfits did help a little with identifying characters in the many and varied fights and action scenes. K.S.Madhavan threw everything and the kitchen sink into the stunts. However I have to say that the plot is quite cohesive and to an extent, I would almost say logical.

The background music is a brilliant mish-mash of fuzzy surf rock and funky Hammond organ with classic cowboy guitar strumming and the odd slide whistle. The song set pieces are unashamedly random and the film has an embarrassment of item girls that all get a guernsey in featured numbers.

Jayshree T is always so perky, I love watching her dance. She always seems to wear more hair than clothes but I never see her as really skanky.

 

Helen and her creepy blue contact lenses appeared in a nightclub song and Jyotilaxmi got a dance in a fabulous Fauxgyptian inspired village set with what may be happy go lucky tribal cannibals. The camera is often at crotch level which is a bit confronting. But to be fair, the camera wasn’t just upskirting the ladies. Once seen, never unseen.

This is one of my favourite heroine-centric B movies from 1972 and Jyothilaxmi is perfect as the righteous gunslinger. See it if you have ever harboured thoughts of wearing a fur trimmed vest with fringed pants but weren’t sure how to accessorise, or if you want a primer on tiger wrestling for the modern lady. 3 stars!

Geeta Mera Naam

Geeta-mera-naam

Sadhana’s Geeta Mera Naam is masala with an added dimension of weird.  The cast includes Sadhana, Sunil Dutt and Feroz Khan; all veteran stars with a diverse portfolio of work. Add in the usual suspects like Helen, Rajendranath, Keshto Mukherjee and even Jr Mehmood and you’ve got the ingredients for entertaining excess at your fingertips.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-monkey 1

Widowed Ma Saraswati (Achala Sachdev) takes her four children to the fair. Experienced masala watchers know that any visit to any amusement with a child is bound to end in tears and separation. Bandits raid the fair, as they do, and in the ensuing mayhem Saraswati keeps hold of Geeta but loses her twin Kavita. The boys are swept away before their matching tattoos could be completed, leaving Chandu with half a monkey on his forearm. If only some people had worn short sleeves in key scenes. Suraj is taken by the bandit leader as a replacement for his dead son while his brother is adopted locally. Years pass. Geeta (Sadhana) is a petty criminal, in and out of the cells at the police station run by her(unknown to either of them) long lost brother Inspector Chandu (Ramesh Deo). Kavita, now called Nita (also Sadhana), is a nice girl who teaches orphans in her spare time.  Nita’s adoptive parents sell her to Mohanbabu who wants her for a few months, or until he loses interest. Then they can sell her again. As she fights to escape someone kills Mohan. Nita sees a shadowy figure in a hat but the police charge her with the murder. And what of Suraj? Now called Johny (Sunil Dutt) he is a successful smuggler with a gang and a pretty good lair and a masala death trap and … a man called Sheroo who whips him, and a toy monkey, his memento of that day at the fair. Johny’s best friend (other than the monkey) and lieutenant is Raja (Feroz Khan), equally ruthless and pragmatic about the business at hand but with more of an eye for the ladies.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-NitaGeeta-Mera-Naam-Geeta

Sadhana didn’t exactly challenge herself with a double role as Nita, the good twin, is only seen for a short time and Geeta does all the heavy lifting. But Geeta is a great character. Feminine but independent and strong, she insists on being seen as an individual not someone who answers to “hey girl”. Sadhana’s clothes as Geeta were quite mid 70s frumpy and not what I expected from such a fashion icon. Geeta discovers her sister Nita in jail and decides to find the real killer. Learning that Johny did the deed, she infiltrates the gang through Raja.

Geeta uses her fearless attitude, kickarse fighting skills and feminine charms to gain his interest and for some reason, her feelings are also engaged, making vengeance a little more complicated.

Sadhana is a very capable actress but I found her direction more interesting than her performance. The film is a bit darker and more low key than the average masala flick, and there is an undercurrent of violence and power. Johny kills with tear filled eyes, then atones for his murders by having Sheroo flog him as penance. He is obsessed with rules and justice and blood in the sense of blood ties. Blood doesn’t recognise blood, but people do recognise their long lost identical twins and significant tattoos and remember where they were lost, all of which is handy. Geeta uses sex or at least the promise of sex to lure men but she has right on her side. She takes a strong stand against Johny partly to save her sister but also because she just doesn’t believe in his rules and why Raja feels bound by them. And his bad jokes should not be encouraged. I’m used to the first view of the heroine being restricted to various body parts, but Sadhana tries to level that playing field by having Sunil Dutt’s butt be his introduction.  Common masala themes of redemption, family, moral righteousness and the law are explored through characters struggles and insights. The standard masala requirements of separated siblings, elaborate death traps, convoluted revenge and audacious yet pointless criminal gangs are all present and accounted for.

Feroz Khan, or Fur-Roz as I mentally called him throughout, plays Raja with minimal facial expression but maximum wardrobe impact. I think there was some kind of battle raging in the costume department as he spends about half the film shirtless and the remaining half in puffy shirts. Raja is Johny’s most loyal friend but of course, once you add in such elements as a gold heist and Helen as the woman scorned, things get tricky. I’m not a fan of Feroz the actor but he did make some interesting films even if I am not always completely on board. Raja is not a very developed character but he does have presence and it is easy to believe in his authority within the gang.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-tormentGeeta-Mera-Naam-Sheroo at work

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Johny and gangGeeta-Mera-Naam-insight

Sunil Dutt turns in a solid performance although I would not say it is his finest moment. His portrayal of Johny is over the top but he does give a sense of the troubled person under the trappings of villainy (and the pleather outfits).

Geeta-Mera-Naam-jokesGeeta-Mera-Naam-lairHe and Feroz are in a race to see who can get their teeth into most of the scenery first but considering Johny disposes of disappointing employees by turning them into his own version of Madame Tussauds, realism was never on the cards. I did like that he didn’t play Johny as obviously crazy.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-evil laughGeeta-Mera-Naam-a cunning planDespite the occasional evil laugh, the peculiar behaviour was shown in a matter of fact way, so Johny seemed like a credible threat. He was capable of friendship despite his inner demons. Sure, the gang must have had rules about things like “Never mention the monkey” and “Don’t ask Sheroo where he buys his corsets”.

The background score is fantastic and I loved the punchy brassy tracks as well as the forays into surf rock and swing. Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s  featured songs are far less interesting although they do further the narrative somewhat. Helen plays Raja’s girlfriend and finds herself dumped for Geeta. She gets one big dance number, the incredibly strange and eyeball searing Mujhe Maar Dala. Geeta intends to sacrifice herself to save Raja who wants to save Geeta as Helen gleefully gyrates in a bubble filled water feature with Oscar, singing about pain, suffering and love.

Poor Oscar. A flesh coloured onesie is difficult for anyone to carry off, and the black belt doesn’t have the slimming effect that may have been intended.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Helen and OscarGeeta-Mera-Naam-teeth

And I’d like to give Helen a special acting award for the bit where she unzipped Raja’s jacket with her teeth. There was not a flicker of expression on her face to indicate how traumatic it must have been as his fuzzy torso was revealed.

Johny’s lair is part suburban living room, part gallery and part obstacle course.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Feroz and SunilGeeta-Mera-Naam-the other cat wall hangingThe famous Cat Wall Hanging appears. Raja’s apartment is the height of 70s bachelor style, complete with round rotating bed. Johny ends up with a cast of thousands in his relatively modest abode for the grand finish.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-carpet

I was amused to see some carpet placed over sections of the tiled floor and wondered if it was due to health and safety concerns for the actors, or reflected Johny’s experience of having to get bloodstains off the marble.

This is unlike most other 70s masala in terms of the psychology of the characters and the prominence of the women within the story. Sadhana chose Geeta Mera Naam as both her comeback and a farewell, wanting to go out as a memorable heroine.  I wish she had directed more films as this is highly entertaining and all the elements are well balanced.  3 ½ stars!

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Mayhem

Kalicharan (1976)

Kalicharan poster

Kalicharan is a modest film in many respects. Subhash Ghai directed with masala verve while Jainendra Jain wrote a fairly staid screenplay, sometimes seemingly at odds with each other. Relying more on the cast than on gimmickry, there are still some surprises.

Prabhakar (Shatrughan Sinha) is an outstanding policeman on the trail of a mysterious crimelord. He deduces that the man known as Lion is none other than respectable businessman Din Dayal (Ajit), a close friend of his boss and father figure I.G. Khanna (Prem Nath).  Prabhakar is ambushed and has a serious car accident, which eventually kills him, but not before he leaves a cryptic note. I.G. Khanna is mourning the loss of his protégé and wondering how to break the news to his own daughter Anju (Alka) who saw Prabhakar as a brother. Then there is the question of Prabhakar’s kids, Pinky and Chinky (Master Bittoo and some other kid). Fate brings retired jailer David (David Abraham) into the picture. He recognises the corpse of Prabhakar as his prisoner Kalicharan. So I.G. Khanna does the only sensible thing. He gets Kalicharan released from jail, takes him to Simla and tries to train him to act as Prabhakar. Of course Kalicharan had his own troubled past, but in true masala style, all paths lead to Lion.

Kalicharan-the denKalicharan-its a tiger Lion

Well they might have lead to Lion a lot sooner if Lion could consistently tell the difference between a lion and a tiger as a decorative motif.

Shatrughan Sinha has the power to out-ham almost any other actor in almost every film he has made. I have an equally amazing power, that of being able to forget Shotgun is in almost any film. I love Aa Gale Lag Ja and Kaala Patthar and yet am always mildly surprised when he turns up. Anyway. He plays both Prabhakar and Kalicharan with bluster and supreme self-confidence.

There is little to distinguish between the two characters other than the dialogue they utter and he makes minimal efforts to differentiate them (a grimace here, a furrowed brow there). I was more impressed by his costumes. Some appeared to have been provided by the upholstery department.

Kalicharan-David and Prem Nath

Prem Nath was that rare man who out-hammed Shotgun in this instance. Almost all of his dialogue is delivered as a shout, and if there was an award for Most Enthusiastic Cursing, he would romp it in for his use of “BASTAAAAAARD!”. He was also ambushed by the wardrobe team a couple of times but it’s not like there was any subtlety being smothered by his outfits.

Reena Roy’s Sapna is an educated girl who swears profusely and decides to take revenge for her brother’s death. Sapna just gets on with things. Including this dance which she invited Prabhakar/Kalicharan to attend as it might give him more hope for his life and make him less depressed.

The wardrobe department seemed to be fascinated by Sapna and tried out many looks, not all of them successful.

Kalicharan-Sapna as a bad girl

I was amused by her undercover bad gal attire. But Reena Roy managed to overcome the fabric based challenges and her performance is both well-constructed and masala appropriate.

Kalicharan-more outfits

She is generally good even in a terrible film, and makes the most of the opportunities to expand her character beyond the standard dialogues.

Kalicharan-Alka

Alka was less memorable as Anju, the saree wearing good girl and sister figure, but she was more of a plot device than a character.  She called on Kalicharan’s humanity when I.G. Khanna was more intent on curbing the criminals’ baser instincts. Oh the transformative power of tying a rakhee!

Kalicharan-Danny DenzongpaKalicharan-one legged Trishul fight

Danny Denzongpa has a small role as a one legged bootlegger, Shaka. I love Danny as a villain with heart of gold. Plus seeing him hop around trying to stab Shotgun with a trishul was quite fabulous. Kalicharan was such a manly man’s man that to level the playing field he also fought on one leg.

Kalicharan-Danny and Shotgun

That is the stuff masala bromance is made of.

Kalicharan-ShettyKalicharan-Shetty and co

Shetty is the stuff masala villainy is made of, and this role is one of many cookie cutter bad guys he played so effortlessly. He is at the start and finish of Kalicharan’s life of crime, the career goon who will do anything without qualm. Of course, Shetty also provided Shotgun with a tragic back story as his motivation for going off the rails.

Ajit is suave and slimy as the urbane mastermind with an excess of phones and a deficit of scruples. I’m not sure the fluffy dog says “Evil Mastermind” but he seemed interested in proceedings. Din Dayal/Lion remains in the background for most of the film, but rapidly loses his cool as Kalicharan draws closer. I’ve seen his tiger strewn den before in Fakira and maybe something else.

Kalyanji-Anandji provided the soundtrack and the background score is great. Brassy, dramatic and a bit funky, the music lopes along and lifts the energy of the action scenes.

But of all the things I was expecting in the club item, Father Christmas was not one. The other songs are less successful but I blame some of that on the lyricist who decided that what we needed was lots of “lalalala’s” a few ‘OoohAaaahOOoohAaahhh” choruses and a repetitive “KALicharan KaaaalicharAN KalicharAN” vocal.

The action is directed in a fast and pacey style while Shotgun’s delivery is ponderous and he may as well have been carrying a sign that said ‘Look at me!’. But you need a certain amount of swagger to carry off this sort of role, and its knitwear, and he has that. There is an excellent transformation scene when Kalicharan first dons the police tunic. He twirls around, standing on what I picture to be a lazy susan, as I.G. Khanna looks on admiringly. And that is about it for special effects in this film. The compulsory fight in a godown full of things stacked up only to be knocked over is very entertaining. And there are clues hidden in books. A nice low tech solution to criminal communications.

Good masala films often reflect on social issues and personal integrity and while I don’t think this is a great film, Kalicharan also examines some big ideas. Redemption is a theme – from the titular hero’s transformation to smaller decisions made by the likes of Shaka. Sapna’s brother was killed for dobbing on Lion but his friend eventually tipped off the good guys in return. Respect and responsibility were often mentioned as things required in order to live a decent life. Kalicharan was a kind of Pygmalion as Khanna and David argued over whether a criminal could be reformed.

Most masala films also rely on needlessly elaborate schemes. Din Dayal hires a mute assassin with theatrical flair (who I think is in a few Telugu films as a baddie too) to go after Kalicharan. Shetty has an array of backup plans that require, say, a train to destroy a warehouse when a bomb is just not destructive enough. And a bit more communication and a lot less manly man brooding would probably have resolved things a bit sooner. But everyday common sense is not what I watch these films for. I did like the insistence that people have responsibilities as well as rights and that not everyone is a lost cause.

If you have low Shotgun tolerance, this is not for you. But if you like him or at least don’t break out into hives at his appearance, then give it a whirl. Reena Roy is delightful as usual. Subhash Ghai trots out some classic filmi moments, and had the good sense to include Helen and lots of balloons. 3 stars!