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!

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