R…Rajkumar (2013)

R...Rajkumar

Prabhu Dheva (where did the extra ‘h’ come from?), the dance guru, directing Shahid Kapoor, one of the few Hindi actors who can dance – surely that has to be a good thing?

R...Rajkumar

Well… the premise is there, but in delivery R…Rajkumar is not as good as expected.  While the dancing is excellent (and it is fantastic to see a director make full use of Shahid’s talents in that respect), there are a few too many distasteful misogynistic moments to make this film anything other than just OK.  Shahid makes a reasonable attempt at masala served southern style, and his goofy shirts, dreadful hair and love struck Romeo are entertaining if somewhat reminiscent of Siddharth in Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana.  Although Shahid does his best, the story is standard fare, and adheres strictly to the usual Telugu formula complete with cartoonish fight scenes and ineffectual heroine.  It’s such a shame when all the ingredients are there to make a much better film, if only a little more thought had gone into the screenplay.

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Romeo Rajkumar turns up in a small town where two rival gangs are battling for control of the opium trade, managing to arrive just at the right time to save Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha) from a stray bullet. Simultaneously he falls deeply in love with her after just one brief glance – so deeply in fact, that the mere sight of his ‘lollipop’ (gah!) is enough to halt him in his tracks.   And I do mean completely stop – no matter what – even when taking part in an assassination or when driving the getaway car after another attack on a rival gang. Much hilarious comedy ensues. Well, to be fair, it is funny the first time or two, but it just gets repeated a few too many times.

Rajkumar signs up with Shivraj (Sonu Sood) and soon becomes one of his top men in the fight against rival gang boss Parmar (Ashish Vidyarthi) becoming good friends with Qamar Ali (Mukul Dev) in the process.  The first half is full of outrageous shirts, bad hair and some amazing dance moves from Shahid along with a brief appearance from Prabhu Deva himself.

R...Rajkumar

But while Shahid is blowing kisses and generally making an idiot of himself, there are darker scenes such as an apparent rape in the police station which is treated as an everyday occurrence and not worthy of further mention.  Further threats of violence and rape against the heroine are also treated as comedy and while some of the lewd dialogue is funny, most is offensive rather than comical.

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Sonakshi Sinha starts off as a feisty village girl with great attitude as she beats up a gang of louts who dare to wolf-whistle at her and her friends. She berates Rajkumar for his unwanted attentions repeatedly, until she manages to overcome her aversion to eighties hair and loud shirts and decides that maybe Rajkumar isn’t so bad after all. But that’s the end of any personality for Chanda, who rapidly becomes vapid and useless, totally unable to defend herself against her uncle and his plans for her marriage, and completely helpless in the face of Shivraj’s attempts to seduce her. It’s a role Sonaskshi Sinha has done many times in the past but she has less conviction in her character here, and it shows.  There is no energy in her performance and zero chemistry with her co-star which makes me wonder why Prabhu Deva didn’t pick someone like Trisha or even Charme Kaur (who turns up in a song) who surely would have brought more oomph to the role.

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Equally disappointing is Sonu Sood who is less menacing and more buffoonish than expected as a gang boss.  Ashish Vidyarthi is even more of a caricature as his rival, while Asrani is actually rather restrained in his role as spiritual advisor to Shivraj.  It’s bitter sweet to see Srihari appear here as the über villain Ajit Taaka, in one of his last appearances.  Generally he’s fine in spite of a rather unconvincing storyline and one rather bizarre scene where he appears gyrating with some bikini clad women on top of a hotel in (supposedly) Hong Kong. Best to just ignore and move along – when did masala ever have to make sense?

What does work well in the film are the songs by Pritam.  Prabhu Deva does an excellent job with the choreography, as for example here in Saree Ke Fall Sa where he uses the backing dancers and a few basic props to good effect.  The only exception is the last item song with Ragini Dwivedi and Scarlett Wilson which is shambolic with much less of a southern feel.

While the film initially feels like a series of short comedy sketches, everything slows down in the second half and becomes a little more serious with more fight scenes and fewer songs.  The inevitable final showdown is good, although I don’t think Shahid is quite as convincing in ‘back-from-the-edge-of-death’ recoveries as, for example, Shahrukh in Chennai Express, which does make the last fight scene funnier than I think it was meant to be. The film could definitely do with fewer rape references, and a more socially responsible hero would have made for less uncomfortable viewing.  Still, Shahid puts in a good performance and seeing him dance up a storm southern style, makes R…Rajkumar worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights I expected.

R...Rajkumar

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Baton Baton Mein

Made in 1979, I found Basu Chatterjee’s Baton Baton Mein more interesting as a portrait of generational change than as a somewhat dated romantic comedy.

Apologies – the DVD and my laptop are refusing to communicate so there are no screencaps forthcoming. I will over compensate with video clips. Anyway, seeing the polyester in motion really lets you know it’s the 70s!

Nancy (Tina Munim) lives with her widowed mother Rosie (Pearl Padamsee) and little brother Sabhi (Ranjit Choudhary). She catches the train to her office job each morning, commuting from Bandra with Uncle Tom (David Abraham). Nancy is a modern girl, wearing immaculate 70s fashions and makeup. One morning, Uncle Tom notices an equally stylish young man noticing Nancy. Tony Braganza (Amol Palekar) is a caricaturist at a city advertising agency. Tony and Uncle Tom pass notes back and forth to Nancy’s embarrassment and the delight of fellow commuters. Tom decides they should all be introduced and they hop off the train at Churchgate and chat over cool drinks.

Nancy lives mostly in her own head. She spends her time listening to western music and reading in her room. She has been disappointed in love before, having been jilted by a co-worker. I am not sure I really bought that prior relationship as it seemed fairly one sided and may have been exaggerated in her imagination. But Nancy is determined she will hold out for the right kind of man, which she says is no man at all. She is caught between being her mother’s little girl and being a more independent young woman. Tina Munim is very pretty and often that seems to be all that she needed. She does try to show the tension between the judgemental and childish side of Nancy and the warmer and more spontaneous young woman she could be, so I warmed to her character over time. Her rapport with Amol Palekar is nice and in the scenes where Nancy is less reserved, Tina lights up with her beautiful smile.

Tony is a bit weak, self-centred and unwilling to commit or work too hard at anything it seems. He is plausible and charming, much like a used car salesman, and breezes by on a smile and a compliment. His mother is domineering and thinks her son is both too good for anyone and not good enough by half and that undermines Tony’s ability to get motivated. Amol Palekar hits a perfect mix of average guy and dude who has tickets on himself. He can’t believe Nancy would fail to fall for him but at the same time he won’t take their relationship beyond seeing each other at her family home. Tony’s brash confidence sparks some fun moments, especially when Philomena Aunty (Leela Mishra) has him in her sights. But he is all mouth and trousers, and when it comes to making a commitment he is found wanting. If Tony wants Nancy he has to grow up a bit and say so, but he shies away from marriage. Will he ever grow up? Not if his Ma can help it. Tony’s dad (Arvind Deshpande) is the quiet henpecked type, but offers his son some advice when he most needs it. Please enjoy Tony moping around in his PJs to Kishore Kumar’s lovely vocal.

The romance didn’t really interest me that much, but the family tensions and arguments rang true. The younger generation were trying to be more independent while still respecting their elders’ wishes and traditions, and struggled to articulate what they wanted. Rosie wanted Nancy to get married, Tom thought Nancy at 19 or so was already leaving her run a bit late, Tony’s parents had an eye to social status in their future daughter-in-law and Nancy’s aunt Philomena was just scandalised by everything. Rosie was a blabbermouth, vulgar but kind, and Mrs Braganza (Piloo J Wadia) wasn’t impressed with her son’s duplicity or her potential in-laws. Snobbery and social rules caused all manner of drama, some very funny and some quite moving. It was deftly done, and the good natured feel of the film carried through even in the confrontational scenes. The ladies in particular carry off their characters with great humour and excellent comic timing.

Both Nancy and Sabhi belittle Rosie in many ways. They find their Ma embarrassing and vulgar and often tell her not to make a fool of herself. It isn’t motivated by spite, but it shows the change from Rosie’s homemaker generation to the younger educated ones who have different aspirations and challenges. And Nancy and Sabhi are teenagers after all. But when the chips are down, family rallies for family and they have that rock to rest upon. Basu Chatterjee shows the negative aspects of his characters but doesn’t judge them harshly. It adds a welcome tang of realism in what is otherwise a very sweet film.

Sabhi is one of my favourite characters. He is such a boy; grumpy, self absorbed and so very dramatic. He observes the goings on and can’t see why people make such a big deal of things. He adds sarcastic commentary, sometimes via his violin, and the odd theatrical tantrum. His gig at a local hotel provides an excuse for this parade of 70s style and terrible dancing (to the tune of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again’).

Often when a girl is introduced as a Christian in modern Hindi films it is code for ‘slut’, which I find quite peculiar. Or alternatively a Christian girl might be portrayed as so sheltered that she is virtually a nun. Again – bizarre to me. I enjoyed this depiction of Bombay Christians as middle class people with lives in which religion was one of many factors.

The sets created a strong sense of how people lived. Rosie was a widow but kept her own neat, comfortable home. No one seemed to pity her or think she was just waiting to join her husband in the hereafter. The Braganzas were a bit more affluent, but not really posh. The issue of money came up when it was revealed that Nancy was currently earning more than Tony, but he had greater earning potential down the track so that was dealt with. People were pragmatic without being greedy or grasping. It was all very relatable.

The supporting actors are well cast although I couldn’t see the point of a couple of characters. Asrani makes a very small appearance. Uday Chandra plays poor Henry, a boy who pines after Nancy for the whole film. Tun Tun appears in an imagined sequence and is her usual over the top self. They don’t add much but neither do they detract from the story.

The soundtrack is perfectly in keeping with the styles of music the characters listen to, which means lots of western influenced easy listening sounds and nothing terribly exciting.  I don’t know how Rajesh Roshan got the idea of using ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’ as the basis for Uthe Sabke Kadam, but it left me giggling and singing along, almost as tunelessly as Rosie.

Baton Baton Mein is a sweet slice of life romantic comedy that gives a nice sense of Bombay back in the day. See it for the charming performances, the glimpse of 70s public transport, and as a pleasant and engaging comedy. 3 ½  stars!

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!