Khoon Pasina (1977)

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Sometimes when the world has gone mad, you just need the reassuring presence of The Big B dishing out dishoom and justice.

Shiva and Aslam grow up besties in one of those happily diverse communities. Their dads are also friends, teasing each other about being rubbish at being a Muslim or a Hindu because they can’t even remember their own religious celebrations. Both dads make a powerful enemy when they stop a flamboyantly bewigged and fringed Kader Khan killing a bloke. He decides to foment communal strife in order to kill them without the police suspecting him, and somehow this is linked via a montage to Partition. The family is torn apart by a house fire that kills Ram and Rahim, leaves Aslam lost, and places young Shiva with Aslam’s ma (Nirupa Roy) as his only family.

The kids are indifferent actors, probably chosen for their evolutionary potential to end up looking like neighbourhood thug Shiva, aka Tiger (Amitabh Bachchan), and principled dacoit Shera (Vinod Khanna). Tiger hasn’t forgotten his past despite being raised by Nirupa Roy while Shera is trying to find death, but even death is worried by his body count.

Amitabh gets the best and worst of the film. Shiva/Tiger is an impulsive thug who is motivated by the right reasons but doesn’t stop to think about collateral damage or even just stop to think, a dictator in his own manner. He also gets stuck with a wardrobe that I wish I could say was part of the comedy track. It annoys me so much that he is called Tiger yet wears leopard print. Really! But Amitabh has such charm that the glib one-liners work a treat and he can switch effortlessly to show Shiva’s darker side. And some of the comedy track is funny despite itself. I particularly enjoyed the wedding party being entertained and fed by the crooks who had come to steal the bride. I suppose in a different film, Tiger could always have picked up work as an event planner.

Tiger sees the curvaceous and feisty Chanda (Rekha) at the market and is smitten. She challenges him to back up his bragging by wrestling a tiger for her. So he does. But Chanda has been engaged to gangster Raghu (Ranjeet) since childhood, and he is not inclined to give up his claim. Raghu tries to get Shera to kill Tiger but Shera says it would be better if Raghu died. Raghu has other ideas and starts messing with Zaleem Singh who is still alive and scheming.

Shera still mourns his lost family, and believes himself alone in the world. Like Shiva, he has a strong commitment to justice as he sees it, and like Shiva he doesn’t pay attention to the law. Vinod Khanna was saddled with some dodgy hair and a lot of pleather, but Shera is certainly the cooler of the grown up boys. Probably because he doesn’t have his mummy choosing his outfits. But he is also afflicted with the faux leopard trim. Vinod delivers his cheesy lines with a detached and weary cynicism threaded with sentimentality about families and honour. It’s the kind of role that I usually expect to see Danny Denzongpa in and I think he might have added a little more spark to the pathos. The long lost friends spend almost all the film apart and their few scenes together are good. I wish they had interacted a bit more to ramp up the tension a bit.

Chanda faces Raghu down with the full support of her father who says she cannot be married off against her will. Hurrah for that dad! Naturally Raghu decides to eliminate Tiger, but being a weasel he takes many indirect routes rather than simple confrontation. Rekha’s body language is quite masculine and often aggressive in Chanda’s pre-marriage scenes. She owns her space and doesn’t let unwanted contact go past without payback. She falls for Tiger but then he plays hard to get. They have a push and pull in their dynamic that is amusing but not emotionally healthy. And when it comes to Tiger choosing between his wife or his ma, you’d better believe he is a mummy’s boy who will slap his wife into the middle of next week if she disagrees with Ma. Rekha and Amitabh have that chemistry of course, but I enjoyed Chanda’s scenes where she was going about her daily routine alone and her interactions with other people in the village. Rekha can be funny as well as dramatic, and despite a few airhead moments Chanda is quick-witted and interesting.

Shanno or Shantidevi (Aruna Irani) is another defiant woman. She loves her husband Mohan (a very restrained Asrani) who is a gentle, law abiding man and they talk about their conflicting beliefs and all seems really respectful and solid. Except when Mohan is threatening Shanno to prevent her from telling her brothers or when Shanno is telling Mohan to pop on some bangles and let her be the man of the family. Shanno also happens to be Zaleem Singh’s daughter and bears her Monobrow of Fury with elan. Her immediate reaction to any insult is to grab a gun and try and kill the offender, saying her brothers will clean up the legal issues. When Raghu burns down their farm and pretends he is Tiger, it sets up yet another conflict. After a tense family visit, and a huge random edit, Mohan decides to go kill Tiger so Shanti also runs off after him with a gun.

Shiva relocates to the jungle and ends up working on a plantation owned by Zaleem Singh. He gets a nice Kalyanji-Anandji number that looks like a rehearsal for Mr Natwarlal, and Helen makes an appearance to dance for the landlords. He builds new relationships and becomes the voice of workers’ rights and social justice. There’s even an “I’m Spartacus” scene. Chanda is gradually sidelined but she remains a strong force in the film and in Shiva’s life. Nirupa continues to give him pointless and conflicting instructions. The lack of emotional blackmail opportunities drives her to almost commit a crime so she can stop herself and “Nahiiiiin!” about it.

There are so many bad guys! Ranjeet gets his shirt off for no reason, Kader Khan is slimy and arrogant as Zaleem Singh, Mac Mohan is natty in pleather as Singh’s flunkey, Vinod Khanna is a cut above this material, and there are so many beefy shirtless dudes running around beating people up that I suspect that was the main industry for the village. There are also abundant good guys, many of whom speak with sense, logic, and empathy. It’s quite pleasing to have some good life advice doled out to the hero.

And all the while Shera is on Tiger’s trail, paid to hand Tiger over to Zaleem Singh but not really believing that he is a miscreant.

What happens next? Please, you already know. And yet there is always that bit extra that makes you go “Huh?” The action scenes are woeful as I don’t think Rakesh Kumar had the faintest idea of how to shoot or stage a fight so there is minimal choreography of the stunts and lots of bizarre angles and edits to skip over the lack of detail. There is a very long and quite unnecessary horse chase, although it did prove Moti knew what was what. It’s the kind of film where wallowing in quicksand is not enough, you have to simultaneously wrestle a snake. It’s the kind of film where if you want to kill someone you have to first build an enormous wooden edifice and tie them to a stake at the top. It’s the kind of film where Moti the horse should have been making key decisions.

Despite being quite slapdash, the story contains some interesting little bits and pieces. See it for Amitabh and Vinod emoting fiercely with Rekha and Aruna Irani being fierce. 3 ½ stars!

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Gair Kaanooni

Gair-Kanooni-Title Gair Kaanooni is a cracktastic masala film that I overlook far too often. Director Prayag Raj was responsible for the story or screenplay of many of my favourites – Ajooba, Mard, Geraftaar, Coolie, Suhaag, Dharam Veer, Parvarish, Amar Akbar Anthony – so that should tell you what you need to know about plot and logic. Plus it has a killer cast.

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Just look at the lineup in the opening credits! (Question: Who is Sunny Bee? I love them just for the name but know nothing about them.)

Gair-Kanooni-Don't moveGair-Kanooni-they start revenge young

Kapil Khanna (a portly Shashi Kapoor) is a zealous policeman out to bring down underworld don D’Costa (Ranjeet). He leans on an informer, and sadly the goodhearted crook Azam Khan (Rajinikanth) is killed (stabbed AND electrocuted) by D’Costa and Dalal (Kader Khan) leaving an orphaned son. Meanwhile Mrs Khanna and Mrs Dalal are both in the maternity hospital. When Mrs Dalal has a baby girl, D’Costa repays his friend by switching the ‘worthless’ girl for a newborn boy – The Khanna’s son. Oh lord. Three kiddies to keep track of and we haven’t even started…Kapil Khanna rejects the infant girl and demands his son back. He will not accept his ‘daughter’ and sends her off to be raised by strangers, paying what he needs to but not giving her any familial affection or contact. Travel through time and we have Laxmi (Sri Devi), a petty thief introduced in a lovely song as she fleeces worshippers at a temple. Hey, she is Laxmi after all (or so she reasons). Om Narayan is the son of Kapil Khanna who has been raised by Jutawala Dalal, and Rajinikanth is back as Azam’s son Akbar Khan. Of course they cross paths and naturally, vengeful hijinks ensue.

Gair-Kanooni-Kapil KhannaGair-Kanooni-Shashi and Sri Devi

Shashi is, dare I say, a bit past it as Kapil Khanna but he knows his way around and has mastered the art of bromance. There is lots of “Yeh jhoot hai!” and insistence on setting things right. Kapil cannot accept Laxmi as, to him that means giving up on his son and leaving his wife’s last wish unfulfilled. Shashi kind of phones it in but every now and then he shows a gleam of vintage Kapoor masala style. I like his scenes with Rajinikanth, especially when they compete with dialogues to see who can be more pompous.

Gair-Kanooni-Sri Devi as LaxmiGair-Kanooni-Laxmi is her namesake

Sri Devi is perfectly cast as Laxmi. Fostered by Bantho (Aruna Irani) and Nathulal (Satyendra Kapoor) Laxmi imbibes her guardians’ world view and skillset. (Nathulal is the man who went to jail for killing Azaam Khan, just in case we needed a Sign that there were going to be Coincidences and Revelations.) Laxmi makes her money via illegal means but she is not a bad person at heart. Similar to other roles Sri Devi essayed – Kumari in S.P Parasuram, Seema in Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja and even Seema in Mr India – Laxmi is brave, funny and generally smart with interludes of ditziness. Her focus is on getting by and doing what she needs to do to survive.

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Laxmi falls for Om but their romance is a lesser subplot compared to the goings on between the villains. She describes him at one point as her friend and her future husband, which I liked.

That song has to be one of the most eye-popping introductions ever. Govinda is partly overshadowed by Rita’s (Kimi Katkar’s) hideous skirt, but still! Om and his dad have a scam whereby he accepts dowry and then weasels out of the marriage. Like Laxmi, Om isn’t an actively bad person but he doesn’t try too hard to stay on the straight and narrow. Generally he sails through all fine and dandy until he falls in love for real. At least Laxmi had an equally flexible approach to ethics so they were well suited. Govinda is a great choice in this kind of role – lots of colour and movement. It needs an actor who just goes all in for the entertainment factor and he does that, boots and all.

Gair-Kanooni-Shashi and RajnikanthGair-Kanooni-Rajini as Akbar

Often I feel Hindi film-makers missed the point of Rajini – they either cast him as a bit of an idiot (like in Hum) or a grim chain-smoking vengeful type. He is such a great actor and he can handle any kind of filmi ridiculousness with aplomb. Initially I expected his appearance as Aazam to be it, and was lamenting the wasted opportunity. But who better to play vengeful son of Rajnikanth than Rajini himself! Akbar is the grown up son and soon gets tangled up with the plot, quickly finding out who the real bad guys are. Rita (Kimi Katkar) falls for him despite his harsh criticism of her morals as apparently evinced by her skirt length and his generally bleak outlook on life.

Rajini gets to declaim elaborate threats and back them up with flashy fighting (choreographed by Judo Rathnam, who did such amusing work in Geraftaar). I especially love one dramatic escape where he launches himself head first through a breeze-block wall. Amazing. Dancing is not his forte however so it is good that the total entertainment burden does not rest on his shoulders.

Ranjeet and Kader Khan play their usual villainous types and they are truly, irredeemably, despicable. D’Costa and Dalal are locked in a dysfunctional relationship where neither likes or trusts the other but just can’t walk out. There is a large supporting cast but they are a bit lost behind the histrionics of the main protagonists.

Gair-Kanooni-Govinda and KimiGair-Kanooni-soot free Kimi Katkar is feisty and over-accessorised as Doctor Rita, and I like her spirited self defence and addiction to ruffles. Tej Sapru has a very small role as D’Costa’s son Tony, prone to acid wash denim and hissy fits when he isn’t allowed to go kill people. Aruna Irani is memorable as Bantho who takes pride in her adopted daughter’s thieving abilities.

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There are misunderstandings, confrontations and tearful confessions galore. The song lyrics often express what is happening or how characters see things, which I find refreshing and relevant compared to some modern efforts. Plus it must be helpful to the other characters to have things explained so melodically. Resolution arrives through forced proximity (jail is good like that) and … ‘tribal’ disco.

That song wasn’t such a good idea really, but it is memorable. Plus a kidnap and forced kidney donation brings the rest of the family together. And I have left out so much!

Sure, Shashi Kapoor in blackface is unnerving but Sri Devi and Govinda, a Bappi Lahiri soundtrack and Rajnikanth in dual roles make this pretty special. See it for the cast, the song picturisations and the the plot that hits the point of ridiculousness and accelerates, cheering itself on towards WTFery. 3 ½ stars!

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Fakira

When Katherine at Totally Filmi announced Kapoor Khazana, a month long celebration of the Kapoors, I leapt at the chance to write about some of my favourite Shashi Kapoor films. They’re not all that great but they do have a certain watchability and charm, and lend themselves to excessive screencapping in lieu of analysis.

Fakira is not a particularly good film, but it has style, panache and Shashi in a fun jaunt through masala clichés and excellent interior design. Having said it is fun, the first fifteen minutes is a bit bleak.

Fakira opens with young lads Vijay and Ajay forced to stand by and watch their parents die in a blaze caused by rowdies who are trying to cover up evidence. Shortly afterwards the boys are beaten, chased by the evil rowdies and, of course, separated.  They start new lives that will take them on very different journeys, although Vijay still has his friend Popat to hang on to. It’s all quite depressing and badly acted (I cheered each time a kid got slapped) and I think you could safely start the film about fifteen minutes in and not feel the lack. Just make a mental note to keep a lookout for a photo and a significant song. And if you hop in at the fifteen minute mark, you will see this display of Shashi’s driving style:

Vijay grows up to become Fakira (Shashi Kapoor!) – Master of disguise, scourge of smugglers and general ladybait. He has an excellent lair, although I have concerns about fumes from cars driving into the lounge.

Fakira is a Robin Hood, stealing from the thieves, taking a cut and returning honest folks money. Naturally this makes him of considerable interest to both law enforcement (Iftekhar!) and law breakers (everyone else!). In fact, the bad guys also have a stylish approach to lair design right down to the bad mural and a stuffed tiger.

Shashi looks rather fine in this – hair at optimum curl and dishevelment, those eyelashes, tons of fab outfits and a sense of delight that he is getting paid for the dressing up.

He does have a dark side though, scarred by his traumatic childhood and possibly aware the subtitle team are up to their hijinks.

Vijay/Fakira has Popat (Asrani) and Neelam (Aruna Irani) as accomplices, and relies on them as well as his fine array of disguises and stick on moustaches to protect his identity. The supporting cast are all well and truly better than this material but they approach it with a relaxed good humour that makes Fakira so enjoyable to watch. It is the ‘spirit of making do’ in action. Asrani is particularly effective as the nattily dressed sidekick with a sideline in pigeon training and pertinent quotations.

Shabana Azmi is Neeta, daughter of Iftekhar and an undercover policewoman assigned to catch Fakira. She pretends to be an orphan called Geeta and infiltrates Fakira’s lair and heart. I like Shabana in masala films as she seems as tickled by what is going on as I am. Iftekhar’s house is quite stylish for a policeman’s residence, so Fakira’s lair doesn’t seem to impress Neeta as much as it did me. Shabana gets the memorable bed breaking scene with Shashi after they are secretly married (it was an I love you I hate you I love I hate you you lied I love you forgive me I love you too quickie wedding).

Ajay becomes Toofan, the contract killer and all round menace, played by Danny Denzongpa. Toofan is hired by Chimanlal (Madan Puri), the local crimelord, to deal with Fakira. Naturally he discovers the truth, but only after a lot of enjoyable sparring and banter with Fakira. Theirs is the adversarial kind of bromance.

Neelam is in love with Vijay, and his preference for Neeta/Geeta tips her into a foolish alliance with the bad guys. I suspect there were some underlying wardrobe envy issues as Shabana got the good wife sari collection and Aruna was stuck with a puffy sleeved princess pink frock.

Fakira’s sound activated lights are used to great effect when Neelam decides to go the biffo. I know I shouldn’t enjoy a catfight this much but come on … It’s Shabana Azmi in a fight scene. You don’t see that every day.

In the last hour or so the plot turns into a series of things (in no particular order):

So you know, it isn’t a masterpiece but I find it lots of fun. I doubt it would convert anyone to Shashi Kapoor fandom, but I think it’s a good example of vintage masala entertainment. And for those who have wondered what Iftekhar and Danny Denzongpa might look like in a qawwali showdown, Fakira does provide the answer.

It’s worth it for the star cast, the dedication of the set design team and C.P Dixit’s commitment to using every trick in the masala book. 3 stars!