Sachaa Jhutha (1970)

Written by Jeevanprabha M Desai and directed by her husband (Manmohan Desai), Sachaa Jhutha is a neat little tale of mistaken identity, thieves and honest men, and proves that dogs are smarter than most people.

Simple village musician Bhola (Rajesh Khanna) leaves home to seek his fortune in Bombay. His sister Belu (Naaz) had an accident in her childhood and has needed crutches since. He wants to get her married and having any kind of disability means she is expected to come with a hefty dowry. Through a series of unlikely but expected coincidences, he stumbles into a fancy masquerade party and the path of Ranjit Kumar (Rajesh Khanna) a cunning jewel thief. Ranjit sees the possibilities in having an exact duplicate of himself to parade around town so he dupes innocent to the point of being backward Bhola into perfecting his Ranjit act. Ranjit gets his minxy girlfriend Ruby (Faryal) to keep a watchful eye on Bhola, give him deportment lessons, and keep him from discovering his new BFF is a thief. Inspector Pradhan (Vinod Khanna) is determined to put Ranjit in jail but he can’t get the evidence he needs. He coopts a lovely young policewoman, Lina (Mumtaz), into playing a diamond heiress called Rita. It is well known that Ranjit cannot resist a pretty face or a sparkly rock. Bhola as Ranjit falls head over heels for Lina/Rita and his simplicity wins her over despite her misgivings. And then a flood devastates Belu’s village, killing her abusive stepmother too. She comes to the city with little other than her love for Bhola, a Significant Song, and the super smart and faithful dog, Moti. Will she find Bhola, or will she be found by Ranjit? What will become of these clueless bumpkins in the big city? Will Lina get her man? Will Inspector Pradhan get his?

Rajesh Khanna is quite enjoyable as Ranjit. He is suave, a narcissist, and wears some very snazzy outfits. He is never conflicted about his life of crime, and thoroughly enjoys his lifestyle funded by ill-gotten gains. As Bhola he overacts like there’s no tomorrow, grimacing and spouting proverbs to show he is pure and innocent. Bhola is a quick study though and it is amusing to see Ranjit getting a dose of his own medicine. Ranjit is a traditional filmi evil mastermind and he loves a needlessly complex plan so there are many silly hijinks to enjoy including a secret lair, tunnels, mysterious drugs that paralyse, disguises, and a gang of suited and booted henchmen. If you’ve ever wanted to see Rajesh Khanna fight a duel with himself, this is the film for you.

Mumtaz is gorgeous and bubbly as Lina/Rita. She seems like a competent young woman, and has a good head and a good heart. Question – were fancy chiffon sarees standard police issue? She is attracted to Bhola’s honesty and can’t reconcile her impression of him with her assignment of entrapping Ranjit the jewel thief. Lina doesn’t waste too much time sighing over her maybe potential slightly forbidden love, and just gets on with the job in the belief that the law will make her decision for her. She does get stuck with some silly “truth drug” shenanigans, but generally avoids the worst of the slapstick.

Vinod Khanna’s Inspector Pradhan is the driving force in the chase to get Ranjit. He is a little too good to be true. The perfect son to a doting mother, a genius police investigator, the golden boy. He has a strong sense of duty and what is right and he hates that Ranjit thumbs his nose at the law. There is nothing very real or interesting about the character but Vinod Khanna plays Pradhan with just the right degree of straight faced pomposity to make it funny yet still vaguely believable.

At first glance I expected to find Belu (Naaz) tiresome. But while people write Belu off as a cripple, and she herself would much rather not have a disability, she’s not completely passive. When a bunch of goons assaulted her she fought back with everything she had. When she came looking for her brother she made the most of the Desai coincidences that littered her path. Sure there was a lot of hobbling and crying but she isn’t pathetic, just overwhelmed. Naaz can handle the teary self-pity through to the more sparky repartee. She has a gentle presence that played well opposite the more extrovert characters in the ensemble.

But the real star and the brains in the family is Moti (Rexy). Moti protects Belu, fetches her crutches, fights off thugs, navigates Bombay traffic with heart stopping disregard for traffic lights, eludes gangs of armed assailants, and is generally a sound judge of what is going on. And when all else fails, trust Moti to sort the sheep from the goats.

The Kalyanji-Anandji soundtrack gives Mumtaz some opportunity to dance, but the duets are tailored to Rajesh Khanna’s awkward posturing so I felt there was an opportunity missed. And what lunatic casts Faryal and doesn’t include a dance number for her?

While the film is visually pleasing, it isn’t a blinged up special effects laden experience. The drama is generated by people, the confusion and near misses, the things we know that the characters don’t. It’s an undemanding and entertaining movie, stylish and fun. 3 ½ stars!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Sameer (2017)

poster.jpg

Sameer is an interesting attempt to make a political thriller that delves into the reasons for radicalisation and subsequent acts of terrorism carried out by young Muslim men in India to-day. Unfortunately, the film fails to deliver, mostly due to a surfeit of clichés in the characterisations but there are also some major flaws with the plot that derail the political agenda. Where Sameer does work however is as a thriller, and Dakxin Chhara does a good job with keeping the tension high in the second half as the ATS try to stop the terrorists and their bombing campaign. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is excellent and despite the rather flawed reasoning behind his involvement in the bomb plot, it’s his performance as a mole within the terrorist group that makes Sameer worth a watch.

The film starts in Hyderabad with a series of bomb blasts around the city, including in the area around the Charminar and Mecca Masjid. That seems an odd choice of location given the perpetrator is supposed to be Muslim, but it works in terms of shock value. The prime suspect is a young student from Ahmedabad called Yaseen Darji, and the ATS are quick to send in a team to track him down. However, the only person they find in the deserted accommodation block is Yaseen’s roommate Sameer (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) and the ATS Deputy Chief Desai (Subrat Dutta) decides to arrest him as an accomplice. Sameer is brought back to the ATS headquarters in Ahmedabad, and Desai threatens his prisoner with torture if Sameer doesn’t attempt to find Yaseen and turn him over to the authorities.

There are a number of problems with the plot set-up but the most glaring is the assumption that Sameer will be able to infiltrate the terrorist group in Ahmedabad. He has no connection to the city and his only link, that of being Yaseen’s roommate at college, seems a very thin thread to pull. Desai illegally kidnaps Sameer, tortures and threatens him, and then dumps him into an unknown city to try and win the trust of a group of terrorists – it never sounds like a plausible scenario and the film compounds this by adding the stereotypical caricature of a Muslim terrorist to the characterisation of Yaseen’s older brother Shaheed (Chinmay Mandlekar). It just doesn’t seem likely that a government organisation such as the ATS would be given free rein to torture and kill unlimited numbers of citizens in their hunt for potential terrorists, while Desai’s reaction to later events is equally improbable.

Desai’s character is also a mess of contradictions. One minute he’s threatening and intimidating Sameer, while the next he’s trying to charm journalist Alia Irade (Anjali Patil). He’s fanatical about catching the terrorists and seems happy to commit any number of crimes in his pursuit of justice, but he’s such an unstable persona that it seems highly unlikely that anyone would put him in charge of sensitive operations. His scenes with Alia Irade are also painfully awkward, which may be intentional, but It would seem more probable that Desai would bluster and try to bully Alia rather than try to develop a relationship. Subrat Dutta does his best with each facet of his character’s schizophrenic personality, but Desai seems too flaky a character to be in such a critical role.

Sameer is instructed to find a way to stay with Yasin’s mother Mumtaz Khala (Seema Biswas) and gain the trust of Shaheed. Unsurprisingly Mumtaz doesn’t want anything to do with Sameer and refuses to let him stay, while Shaheed is suspicious of Sameer and doesn’t believe his declarations of support. As Sameer wanders the area he meets a street-theatre group who enact scenes of discrimination and social injustice, just in case the audience hasn’t yet realised that this is a marginalised community with plenty of reasons to be discontent. Mumtaz decries the violence and denies she has a son called Yaseen while Sameer cites the Gujarat riots and his father’s death as the reasons behind his brother’s radicalisation. This is politics drawn with a very broad brush and there is no subtlety in Dakxin Chhara’s description of a society under siege. Just in case anyone was still missing the heavy-handed symbolism, Manto’s (Alok Gagdekar) street theatre includes a young disabled boy, Rocket (Shubham Bajrange) who idolises his ‘grandfather’ Gandhi, and whose simple faith allows him to break up a potential fight between the Muslim and Hindu residents of the colony. You just know it’s not going to be a happy ending.

At the same time, journalist Alia Irade (Anjali Patil) is investigating the disappearance of 55 children 10 years ago during the riots, which allows her to mention these previous atrocities every time the subject of terrorism is raised. Her character is basically the ‘voice of reason’ who points out that every story has two sides. However, her attempts to humanise the terrorists are generally unsuccessful, mainly because the terrorists’ violence is directed against the local communities.  This has the effect of ensuring the terrorists really are the butchers Desai describes. I did like Alia’s uncompromising attitude and refusal to willingly help Desai in his crusade against Yaseen and his family, and the final twist to her story at the end is clever, although ultimately cynical and sad.

If you can ignore the clichéd political agenda and instead watch Sameer’s story as a straight-forward thriller, then it all becomes somewhat more palatable. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub does an excellent job with his cringing and pleading student being threatened with torture, and his later attempts to wheedle information from Shaheed and his mother are plausibly clumsy. Sameer isn’t a nice person and Ayyub doesn’t try to make him likeable, he just gives him a valid reason for acting the way he does and then gets on with it. His characterisation helps make the race against time to find the information about the bomb plot seem much more urgent than it really is, while his demeanour during the final scenes is chilling.

I wish Dakxin Chhara hadn’t tried to put so much politics into his film and instead left the story to speak for itself. So much of the window-dressing to humanise the terrorists and explain their back-story really wasn’t necessary and it all detracts from the really quite good thriller underneath. And there are good ideas here. The use of a high-pitched whine throughout and then after the bomb blasts works well, and the final scenes deliver a good twist to the story. The performances are good too – Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Anjali Patil both suit their roles and Seema Biswas stands out in her small role. Sameer isn’t a great film but it does have it’s moments, and it’s always good to see something a little bit different, even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark all the time. 2 ½ stars.

Missing (2018)

Missing has some things going for it. Well, Tabu and her outfits mostly.

Sleazy Sushant Dubey (Manoj Bajpayee) is on a business trip with Aparna (Tabu) and their three year old daughter Titli. They check in to a fancy resort in Mauritius and Sushant checks out the receptionist before fielding a call from another woman, Kamya (Neelam). It’s clear what his priorities are. But since no other options present, he resorts to sex with his own not very keen partner in an awkward scene that had all the sensuality of Greco-roman wrestling. When Aparna wakes in the morning she discovers that Titli has disappeared from their room. She flies into a panic, while Sushant seems a little too calm. The hotel staff are not very useful, and the police seem to have read the Keystone Cops training manual. Then there is the guy downstairs who seems to be obsessed with little girls. So what happened to Titli? And will her parents find her?
That sounds like the basis of a reasonable thriller. But sadly writer-director Mukul Abhyankar squanders both the idea and his cast in a messy, screamingly obvious film that signals every twist and turn. Just in case you managed to black out and miss anything, listen out for the blaring dun-dun-DUNH! at key moments. One of the twists was evident from the get go, and the only way a red herring could have been any more obvious would have required an actor to wear a red herring mascot suit.
Tabu is stunning as the stricken and slightly unhinged Aparna Did she harm her child, was she the target of a revenge plot, was it just a crime of opportunity, or is something entirely different playing out? Tabu shows great range, from raw and gut-wrenching fear to more subtle and calculating expressions as the truth of her relationship with Sushant is revealed. The film feels quite stagey and is exposition heavy, but she imbues even her more passive scenes with an inwardly focussed energy that constantly drew my attention. Aparna is much more complex than she initially seemed. I really wish the writing had been better. I liked her costumes, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be checking out the embroidery on her kurtis rather than fretting about the little girl.

I hated everything about Sushant so I guess that is an acting triumph for Manoj Bajpayee. Sushant was craven, opportunistic, and creepy. Bajpayee struggled with some bad writing both in terms of the dialogues and the logic of what Sushant was doing. His feeble obfuscation may have been supposed to build tension and create doubt but it was just annoying and often didn’t serve a purpose. I was so annoyed when the cops nearly pulled the pin just because Sushant claimed Aparna had become mentally ill after being diagnosed as infertile. It was typical of the lazy plotting that tried to jazz hands past inconvenient details, and showed everybody believing women are just a walking uterus with the sole purpose of popping out babies. Sigh. But I cheered up immensely when Sushant copped a tight slap. That made up for a bit of my suffering.
Annu Kapoor is atrocious as Inspector Budhu but the material couldn’t have helped. I was amused that everytime he threw in a few words of French (seeing as he was a Mauritian policeman with an entirely Hindi speaking team and suspect set) the subtitlers gave up and wrote [Foreign Language]. But at times it felt like the lead characters were all in different films, weirdly edited together. Their performances just didn’t gel.
I was so pleased to see Tabu back in a leading dramatic role. I wish the film had lived up to its potential and to the lead pair’s characterisations.