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.)

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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.

Gair-Kanooni-Shashi and Govinda

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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Karate (1983)

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Karate is a terrible film, and yet I watched it. Another of my ‘if it’s under a dollar, I’ll buy it’ VCD collection, this adventure without subtitles was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Mithun Chakraborty and Deb Mukherjee star as brothers separated well past the age at which they should remember their own names and that they have siblings. They are each out for revenge on Kader Khan. And there’s the Karate.

The film opens with the Karate boys, Desh and Vijay, and their Karate uncle Jai training on a beach under the watchful eye of their parents, Mr and Mrs Karate. There is a horrible family singalong and terrible child actors (Kajal and Tanisha are credited as junior artistes but I can’t say I noticed the unibrow). Thankfully, we soon discover that Mr Karate is in fact a Scientific Genius and has invented? a diamond that will focus a laser so powerfully it cuts through anything. He hides the diamond in a necklace but master criminal Kader Khan had the room under surveillance so he knows what to do. He kills Karate Dad and terrorises Karate Ma and children. Desh escapes on horseback and starts a whole new life with carnival folk about 2 kilometres away, where no one will ever find him or be able to trace his origins. Vijay is adopted by Uncle Karate who renames him Danny. Finally it is Kader Khan who sort of reunites the Karate Kids. He finds Karate Uncle Jai and threatens him so of course Jai stabs himself with a broken bottle and dies – after a long explanatory speech to Danny/Vijay.

Revenge, brooding, slomo acrobatics, disco and clumsy Bond homage round out the next couple of hours. And Karate. So much “Karate”.

In order to shield you from the worst and perhaps enliven the viewing experience, I propose a simple drinking game. Even if you stick to non-alcoholic beverages, at least you’ll be nicely hydrated by the end of the film. Here are some clues and the rules.

Take a drink when:

  • Deb Mukherjee brandishes nunchaku (take a double shot when he makes them himself mid fight)
  • Deb and his faux-bro hug (that one’s going to hurt you)
  • Mithun looks like he’d rather be elsewhere.
  • You witness Mac Mohan and Tun Tun cavorting poolside.

Karate -Mac Mohan and Tun Tun

  • You spot a direct rip-off of a Bond film.
  • You hear the word “Karate”.

Deb Mukherjee directed and tries to make himself look dashing and daring.  He lifted several scenes from Bond films, and I suspect even used footage from The Man With the Golden Gun. His character Desh is a thief (preferably diamonds) and a chancer, even stealing a statue from a temple. The ladies love him, and this is shown by a traditional gypsy mud-wrestle between two of his admirers.

Desh and his faux-bro Imran (Mazhar Khan) also perform a nightclub disco karate routine that is almost guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.

Danny/Vijay (Mithun) is sulky for most of the film – maybe he just felt the burden of perfection. He crosses paths with Desh and his long lost Ma so many times that it is ridiculous even by filmi coincidence measures. Mithun does a lot of his signature ‘dancing’, including one excellent nightclub scene where the baddies don’t know the choreo and can’t anticipate the swings and kicks that block their way. He even survives an attack involving flaming kebabs.

Despite their roles being quite strong and motivated, the actresses are generally filmed in the sleaziest way possible (except for Karate Ma of course). I did like that Kaajal took on anyone who threated her man, extricating the fairly dim Desh from trouble even if it meant running him over and kidnapping him. Deb and Mithun are not exactly miscast (who else would have done this kind of film in 1983?), but don’t convince as martial arts heroes no matter how much you bling up their costumes.

There are some really quite remarkable plot twists. Desh tries to escape the police at a wedding he is robbing so he poses as the groom and ends up married to Kaajal Kiran. This doesn’t go down well with the very assertive Prema Narayan and the ladies have a karate catfight as well as a fight that is inspired by From Russia With Love. Luckily Danny turns up and starts shooting people and stops the skank off. There are fabulously ridiculous low budget stunts and effects, including some great Dukes of Hazzard driving skills. Even poor Yogita Bali ends up dangling from a conveniently placed rope ladder outside her apartment as she tries to protect the diamond necklace. People turn out to be related to key characters and there are a few moments when subtitles would have helped as I thought ‘dude … is she your sister?’ And what is not to like about a film that resolves major conflicts through disco Karate in a bizarre set?  Here is a snippet for your viewing pleasure.

The music is exactly what you expect when you combine Bappi Lahiri and Mithun. It is dire yet, when compared to Mithun’s endless speeches, a joy to hear. The costumes range from pedestrian to eye searing, and I would demand nothing less from an 80s B movie. It did confirm to me that my love for Chiru is not just about the silver go-go boots.

While Kader Khan’s lair looks rather spectacular, the spy gadgets and bombs are as realistic as if my nine year old self had made them from egg cartons and gaffer tape.

Karate is kind of fun although highly questionable. One for the Mithun completists, and anyone who has ever considered a career as a diamond thief/cabaret performer.  No stars. Wait! 2 stars! My inner Margaret and David cannot agree.  Maybe I’m a victim of my own drinking game.

Big Boss (1995)

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I felt the need to end 2012 watching something with a quick and decisive approach to justice and guaranteed consequences for the baddies. Vijaya Bapineedu’s Big Boss delivers, albeit in a fairly slapdash manner, and is boosted by the presence of Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha in key roles. If you’re not a huge Chiru fan you could just watch the songs. Actually the opening titles almost tell the whole story. If you can tolerate plot holes, enjoy colourful dance numbers, or just like bad wigs and interior designs, this could be quite rewarding.

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Bavaraju Surendra, AKA Basu (Chiranjeevi), is an educated man who chooses revenge over a career. His father was murdered and his brother crippled in an incident many years ago, and Basu has not forgotten. Basu moves to the city to pursue his revenge. He ends up getting caught between opposing crime lords and is vigorously pursued by Roja who has set her cap at him.

Basu rents a room from a local widow (Madhavi) who is related to Roja (I never remember her character’s name). Living in this household allows Basu to see the injustices inflicted on residents of the area. He is the kind of guy who stands up for the defenceless and then berates them for letting one goon intimidate dozens of them. He has difficult relationships with his mother Thulasi (Sujatha) and sister Sumathi, and they don’t automatically accept he is right just because he is a bloke.

Chiru is mostly in action hero mode but the role does give him some sentimental moments with his ma, some silly mugging and slapstick with Roja and a bit of speechifying and social consciousness raising. It’s a tailor made package, right down to a running gag with Johnny (Ali) who believes Chiranjeevi is really Chiranjeevi.

Big Boss_Sujatha

Thulasi reminds Basu of her dreams for the family, and won’t accept his decision to turn vigilante. When he takes her back to the old mansion she thanks him for returning her to the Hell she had escaped. Sujatha has little dialogue but a strong presence and her reactions and expressions are really effective. I wasn’t expecting a subtle filmi Ma but she is really lovely.

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Roja has the most peculiar wardrobe. I think the outfits are meant to be ‘modern’ and also represent her mental age of 9. She is constantly reprimanded by her grandmother (Nirmalamma) for not being able to tell the difference between flower and leaf and she does indeed seem a bit dim. She is all over Basu like white on rice and he just finds her irritating if not insane. Who can blame him?

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Rarely do I agree with the filmi advice to pop on a sari and you’ll snag a husband, but it really was a relief to see the end of the fruit hat.

Despite the horrors of the costume designs, Roja is at her best in the songs when she escapes her character’s childish habit of squealing. I know this is a remake but it is lots of fun.

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Varadarajulu is a slimy nasty villain, played to the hilt by Kota Srinivasa Rao. With his effete mannerisms and terrible wig he should be comedic, but he has a sadistic streak and a psycho wife in coloured contacts. He is bad news. He killed his father and brother (Basu’s father) with the help of his wife. Ankineedu (Narra Venkateswara Rao) is more sympathetic as crooks go, but his adherence to the mafia code means he is not long for this world.

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The action scenes are many and bloody. The fights are heavily choreographed and while that makes them look less realistic, they are violent. Death takes many forms. If you’re on the wrong side it is Chiru and his trusty matches as he douses the baddies with petrol. The police are corrupt and so are the lawyers. If you can’t get your own justice, forget it.

In a recent discussion with Beth and Sujoy we agreed that none of us understand why people say there is no sex in Indian films. Sex and relationships are clearly a part of this story. Consensual sex between people who like each other is not treated harshly at all. In many films, Roja would have been marked as the bad girl based on her dress, her forwardness, her dream of climbing into bed with Basu (and then telling her grandmother all about it). Grandma seems to have been a bit wild in her youth too. When Madhavi’s blouse is deliberately torn, Ankineedu is furious at his son’s behaviour while Madhavi holds her head high. Varadarajulu’s wife uses sex to lure men into helping her, Sumathi chooses a marriage as a way of escaping what she sees as a useless family. Women behave in a range of different ways and with varying degrees of ‘niceness’, but they have clear goals and feel free to go for them. Only one of those women dies – and as a mini spoiler, it had more to do with being downright evil than expressing desire. Telugu films are hero-centric, but if you watch what is happening on the periphery, sometimes there are interesting things going on.

Mind you, I cannot be certain that generosity is deliberate. Basu’s youngest brother appears to regrow a lost leg late in the film.

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And at the time the father was killed, there were two kids and I don’t think Thulasi was pregnant so I have no explanation for Sumathi. Maybe they just forgot to kill off the bad girls. Details, boring details!

The songs are a viewing highlight, and Bappi Lahiri is quite restrained. The introductory song is Chiru as seen by his fans, and I think it was filmed at an actual Mega Birthday event. Nearly all the picturisations are from Roja’s point of view, and are her fantasies. Roja escaped a bizarre assault in which creepy cop Tanikella Bharani threw a bucket of water over her before tearing her ugly skirt off to reveal an even more hideous dress underneath. Her grandmother had to explain the significance of a rain song. So Roja launched into one of my favourite rain songs, and kindly imagined Chiru tearing his own shirt off. In her dream of crawling into Basu’s bed she tears her blouse.

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After a few double entendres, this song actually makes sense (except the chicken references). I can’t explain the little people or their outfits.

Big Boss_Ali as JohnnyBig Boss_Tanikella Bharani

This isn’t a film that rests on nuanced performances but apart from Chiranjeevi, Roja and Sujatha, I have to say Ali was good. He played a character rather than doing comedy, and when I saw him tied up with a time bomb stuck to his chest, I was sorry. But he IS a comedy uncle so my tears were held at bay. Allu Ramalingaiah has a small role as a deaf yet singing policeman. Tanikella Bharani overacts like his life depends on it. Despite being cartoonish there is a nasty edge to his character although he does redeem himself a little at the end. The assorted That Guys all do their thing and succeeded in being so vile I cheered as each was dispatched.

The design teams were unfettered by practical considerations or good taste. Is that a kangaroo statue I spy?

And the costume team shared the love.

The climax fight took place in a masala death trap (complete with giant gas cooker thingie) and a godown filled with rooms of things that look cool when they break. Divine intervention, Megastar powers – whatever the reason, the bad guys got their just deserts.

One for the Chiru fans. 3 ½  stars (extra for the dancing)