Mr Natwarlal (1979)

mr-natwarlal-poster

I love Mr Natwarlal. It has so much masala goodness, it always puts a smile on my face. We are given Amitabh as a hero with some unheroic ideas, Rekha as a gorgeous and quick witted village belle, Amjad Khan as a typical Amjad Khan villain, more familiar faces than you can poke a stick at, a catchy Rajesh Roshan soundtrack and writer/director Rakesh Kumar continues working out his tiger wrestling fetish. The only major negative is that some of the horse stunts have a look of careless finality for the horses that always makes me queasy.

Mr Natwarlal-playground

The film is framed with Amitabh narrating the story of a child that turns out to be himself, telling the story of his past to his own child. I only mention that so I have an excuse to post this picture of an awesome playground complete with lion statue. I suspected immediately that despite the plethora of cute kid actors I was going to love this.

Natwarlal (Amitabh Bachchan) is a smooth talking fast thinking criminal with Robin Hood tendencies. This dates back to a traumatic childhood incident when he was played by Master Laddu, and his older brother Ghirdharilal (Ajit) was entrapped by Evil Vikram (Amjad Khan). Natwarlal has been raised by his brother and sister-in-law (Indrani Mukherjee), who treats him as a son. Grown up Nattu is tricked by a heavily scarred man into stealing a diamond necklace and smuggling it out of the country. Scarface is actually Micky (Satyendra Kapoor), Vikram’s old (betrayed) business partner who is pretending to be one of Vikram’s Victims. Vikram likes his V symbolism. Poor Ghirdharilal keeps trying to nab his little brother to set him straight but Natwarlal easily produces alibi after alibi. He is determined to become a big enough crook to go after Vikram and set things to rights. Micky wants to use Natwarlal to take Vikram other out so he can take over the secret diamond mines. Revenge is a long and complex game, especially in masala films.

Natwarlal is an audacious crook and easily carries off the heist, even under the watchful eye of his brother. He heads to Chandanpur as instructed, arriving to find the village under a siege of sorts. Vikram is using a tiger (pleasingly, she is credited as Bharati) as a smokescreen for kidnapping villagers in small batches and forcing them to work in the mines. Now. Since the mining operation seems to take place on the river bank just a stroll or a long and desperate horse ride from the village, I would have thought people might notice their “dead” loved ones wandering about. But thanks to the filmi laws of locality blindness it seems not.

Natwarlal arrives suited and booted, toting a gun, unaware that village leader Baba (Kader Khan) has sent for a hunter to come and deal with their tiger issue. He isn’t interested at first in the village problems, being more focussed on the diamonds, but agrees that he is Avtar Singh, the hunter.  Amitabh makes switching from high drama to slapstick comedy look effortless. He is also nattily dressed for the country and Natwarlal must have been very efficient at packing such an extensive wardrobe into one small valise. And I suspect his boots have bullet evading properties.

That tree covered in people always makes me wonder how they got them up there, how long were they up there, and how they got down safely again. Also, given the speed and agility of those ladies the villagers may have been better advised to let them go battle the tiger while the menfolk stayed safely indoors. Sassy Shanno (Rekha) quickly sets her cap at the tall dance-challenged stranger, so Natwarlal gets a little distracted and seems quite happy to wait around.

Zimbo is despatched to check out the impostor as Vikram is quite certain he slapped the real Avtar Singh with a dead pigeon before having him killed. Poor Zimbo wasn’t mourned for long, if at all, when he disappeared under the quicksand. Ah well. No one is irreplaceable. Vikram is a surprisingly rational villain despite being completely nuts, and Amjad Khan seems to be having some fun with the grandiose threats. Vikram tries not to draw police attention, he acts with moderation to achieve a logical goal. But he can’t help branding everyone and everything he owns with a V and can’t just move on quietly or shoot the hero from a safe distance. Nooooo.

Natwarlal realises Vikram is behind everything and goes in search of trouble. Trouble finds him easily enough. Natwarlal rescues Shanno from Vikram’s not very bright goon squad. She is not good at taking orders not to stay out of harm’s way and actually rescues him back on multiple occasions. And they invent a new couples activity – tiger wrestling!

Rekha and The Big B’s on screen chemistry is always wonderful and while Shanno appears to fall for insta-love, Rekha plays her as funny and direct in their many scenes together so the relationship comes to life. Shanno gets her share of the big scenes too, and Rekha gave her fire and resolve. Amitabh also had good rapport with the tiger so I was vaguely hopeful that Bharati was not too traumatised by her many and varied fight scenes.

A lot of the humour comes from how the dialogues are delivered or those small beats in timing. There are some light Sholay references which made me laugh despite the drama brewing, especially Shanno’s Basanti-esque dance while she was being held captive at the diamond mine. I also enjoyed the irascible Natwarlal’s journey to loving something more than himself.

Will they overcome the dastardly Vikram and his all singing all dancing food juggling henchmen? Will Ghirdharilal and Natwarlal make their peace? Will Shanno get her man and her sheep? Will the starving villagers eat the tiger? (Spoiler – no!) Will Natwarlal ever stop blaspheming? Will Vikram get his comeuppance in a satisfyingly poetic manner? So much plot, so little time!

The locations are gorgeous and so is the cast. If you like masala with a modicum of moderation this is a great film.  4 stars! (Deductions for animal welfare concerns and annoying ghostly subtitles.)

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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!

Shikari (1963)

I like to be entertained by films, whether they’re thrilling, provocative, dramatic, poignant or purely for fun. Just don’t bore me. Shikari may not be a work of genius but it is wildly entertaining – garishly colourful with a cast committed to ignoring the WTFery, packed to the brim with visual delights, lots of good dancing and a pleasing array of ‘special’ effects.

Mr Kapoor (Bir Sakhuja) owns a circus that is on the brink of financial ruin. They simply cannot compete with ice skating chimps and Russian Ballet on ice.

His business partner Jagdish (Madan Puri) suggests they go and capture King Kong, thus ensuring their financial success. It’s a simple plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Jagdish, Kapoor and his daughter Rita (Ragini) are joined by comedy Professor Sharma and Chandu the clown. After a pit stop at the Malabar Hotel which allowed for a dance item by Madhumati and Rani, they head off in search of a guide called Ajit so he can take them in search of Otango.

 

Taking a range of increasingly smaller boats, which did flag a logistical problem in the event they caught the giant ape, the plucky and garishly dressed group make their way into the jungle.

Rita falls out of the bucket in which she is crossing a river and swims away determinedly is swept away from her father and crew. She lands in what appears to be a private zoo with a small but geographically diverse collection. Surviving a river misadventure only to be swept into the jaws of a cranky tiger. Poor Rita! But not for long.

Love blooms between Rita and her rescuer, timber plantation owner, hunter and all round bloke’s bloke Ajit (Ajit). Unfortunately that leads to excessive romantic dueting on mountains, near waterfalls and the like. For whatever reason, Ajit’s high pants and gumboots don’t say ‘soul of romance’ to me. Ragini is lots of fun as Rita and despite a tendency to simper she usually seems to be the most competent of the town folk.

Let them be happy while they can. We’re still in search of King Kong! Thanks to the jungle drums everyone finds everyone else and off they go.

They meet friendly villagers who make Rita dance in a fabulously eclectic tribal kitsch setting.

They get caught up in a fight with brightly painted tribal folk who accessorise with fluffy arm bands and feathers.

The preferred fighting style of almost everyone, Rita included, is ‘hit them with a stick’ so the dishoom sound effect department were working overtime.

Apart from that, they do a lot of walking around pointing at things.

Finally, while crossing a river of lurid pink lava they see Otango. Rita is startled and falls, dangling perilously close to the molten lava.

Luckily Ajit is there to save her again. I really do think she has a subconscious death wish. She certainly looks horrified after being rescued, but that may be because she has caught sight of her pants.

Just because you work in a circus … Rita packed an impressive wardrobe for a giant gorilla hunting expedition.

Finally, they are taken into the compound of DR CYCLOPS!

His lair includes a well appointed lab and series of caves. Dr Cyclops (KN Singh) was a reputable scientist who faked his own death so he could continue working on his dubious experiments.

The film loosely combines King Kong with the Island of Dr Moreau, even including some philosophical conversation about the role of science in bettering humanity. But do not fear – it doesn’t stay sensible for long. How could anyone think deep thoughts when the decor includes a pathway framed in giant ribs and mushrooms, a man/gorilla experiment, a giant lizard (man in dodgy plastic suit) and so much more!

HELEN!

Helen is Dr Cyclops’ daughter Shoba. She is a nice girl, given to over accessorising in lieu of having anything like a life. She knows her father is bad news and is a bit sweet on Ajit so decides to help the hunting party escape. I always like seeing Helen with more than just an item to explain her presence in a film. Rita misinterprets the nature of the affection between Shoba and Ajit so does a bit of flouncing. It was all rather silly except that in her angsty concussed state she dreamt up this fantastic dance off with Helen!

Jagdish wants the money and Otango and nothing less will do. Dr Cyclops, an expert biologist, has recognised that he has certain wants of his own and decides to marry Rita. He and Jagdish collude to achieve their goals and foil the group’s escape attempt.

Rita in approved heroine style insists she would rather die. Dr Cyclops has anticipated this and will not kill Rita – opting to either shrink her father to a mere 6 inches tall (demonstrated in a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ scene) or throw him into the snake pit. It is a very well appointed lab!

Despite all the good guys being tied up and all the baddies being free to roam, you know it’s only a matter of time. Shoba distracts Jagdish as only Helen can, and Ajit frees the captives. They set off to stop the forced wedding and encounter those pesky painted tribals again. Is it just me, or does Ajit look a bit bored by the whole situation?

But just as the comedy sideplot dudes finally do something useful, Otango arrives to do his jerky zombie shuffle of destruction.

Can it be the end? Don’t be ridiculous! But do watch the movie to find out how, what and who. I will just say – karma has some big gnarly toes. Know what I mean?

Mohammed Hussain directed the screenplay by Vrajendra Gaur and the film rattles along in a joyful parade of crazy. GS Kohli’s dance songs are lovely and the picturisations made excellent use of Helen and Ragini. It is the perfect B movie – low budget, committed to entertainment and not too fussed about the details. 4 stars for fun, entertainment, and colour and movement!

Download it with subs via Memsaab Story or watch the unsubtitled version on Youtube.