Ajooba (1991)

Ajooba is always near the top of my list of favourite So Bad It’s Good films. Before we get started, I must share with you the very enticing blurb from the back of my DVD (click on it to enlarge the image):

Irresistible!

What better way to start some Christmas entertainment than with a mysterious star in the East?

And some wise men.

And a baby boy.

Surely this outfit just screams ‘Christmas Bauble’ (or according to Beth, ‘Mughal beach ball’).

Ajooba is a masala film masquerading as a magical sword and sandal romp. It is replete with a masked hero, a devil worshipping usurper, a good magician and his feisty daughter, sea monsters and so much more, made with enthusiasm rather than skill. While it may not be the story of Christmas, it is a miracle that Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor agreed to grace this film by Shashi Kapoor. I think it shows how much they loved him. Ajooba was quite a venture; expensive and a Russian co-production, so it seems like something Shashi felt strongly about making.

Once upon a time in Baharistan, the Sultan (Shammi Kapoor) and his wife (Ariadna Shengelaya) had everything they could want … except a son. Finally, after some magical intervention to protect the unborn child, an heir was born. Hurrah! The people rejoiced with a fun Laxmikant-Pyarelal number. There’s lots of colour and movement including a display of dazzling (ahem) magic, and a dance-off between a kind of skanky snakey dance and some Kathak-ish guys.

Amir Khan (Saeed Jaffrey) is a good magician. I use ‘good’ in the sense of not using his powers for evil, not as an endorsement of his skills.

The most impressive thing about his elephant trick is that the elephant looks like it is wearing dark glasses (perhaps it knew this film was not a great career move and was in disguise).

The evil Vizier (Amrish Puri) attacks the toy boat of the Sultan and Malika. The royal family is scattered, each believing they are alone in the world. Malika is blind, the Sultan loses his memory, and their baby is presumed drowned.

Rescued by a dolphin, raised by a kindly blacksmith, unaware of his real parentage, Ali (Amitabh Bachchan) undergoes years and years and years of training to become the hero who can free his people. Well, those people who are still left after 30 odd years of brutal oppression. Maybe it was the costume that held him up, especially creating a cunning disguise for both Ajooba and horse.

Why something as silly as a tin mask will be so detailed and finished with little flourishes when so much else is left half-baked is part of the charm. It doesn’t save the idea from being daft, but it is fun to look at. There is a serious design flaw. Did you spot it?

With the Vizier in power, life is tough for the simple folk of Baharistan. They still have their picturesque outfits but Amrish Puri and his brother-in-law Shah Rukh (Dalip Tahil) pillage and plunder as the mood seizes them.

With all of his evil deeds to draw on I expected the Vizier to have better material for his catch phrase, but he sticks to ‘Shaitan Zindabad!’. It is clear that he is bad and so are all his associates.

The evil shtick gets a little monotonous despite Amrish Puri’s eyeballs giving it their all.

When Amir Khan is imprisoned, he sends messages back to his family in Hind by talking to birds. Luckily his daughter Rukhsana (Dimple Kapadia) can communicate with animals so she sets off on a rescue mission, leaving her mother (Sushma Seth) behind. Rukhsana works as a puppeteer in the bazaar and I liked that she had a plan to both support herself and give a cover story as she was searching for her dad.

Baharistan is not the place for a single lady, and it doesn’t take long before she needs rescuing. Repeated rescuing. Ajooba becomes somewhat tired of this damsel in distress, but she sees through his flimsy disguise (amazing!) and of course that means true love.

Rishi Kapoor is Hassan, the local Romeo who falls for the Princess Henna (Sonam). That’s about as much character development as you get. I liked Rishi and Amitabh together, and they have a fun song as the romantic Hassan tries to get repressed Ali to talk about love.

But I lost interest as Rishi detours into drag and sleazy antics and Sonam does little more than this:

The romances play out as you would expect, and Dimple and Amitabh make the more interesting couple (though that is not saying much). Ali does wrestle a tiger to rescue Rukhsana and Amir Khan from the dungeons so that added a level of commitment.

Of course in a fairytale there are trials and tribulations before good can triumph and that means special effects! If only someone had told Shashi Kapoor. The visual effects are quite poor and while it is part of the cheesy fun, I do wish they had done a little better. Beth did ask why a flying gondola was employed in one scene and I think it is because the maximum passenger load for a flying carpet would have been exceeded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there are some odd lapses and inconsistencies. When Ali’s sister needs to give him an urgent message, she wends her way through dim corridors and finally  a concealed passage which opens into Ali’s secret training ground. It’s an open field next door that anyone could see. And when Ali and Hassan are chained up with Malika and the blacksmith awaiting Certain Death they are rescued by a sea monster…or are they? Four people in chains, three sets of chains are cut. What about your foster dad Ali????

I recognised so many faces in the background. Memsaab as usual provides a more rigorous acknowledgement of the supporting artists so you should go read her post. But just think – Dara Singh, Sushma Seth, Rajendranath, Narendranath, Tej Sapru, Bob Christo just to name a few!  The locations and sets are delightful, and enhance the fantasy and poetic flavour. The art direction is batty at times, but this is a pleasure to watch.

The streets of Baharistan are always full of colourful locals ready for a backflip or bellydance. The fight scenes are OK without being amazing, flying carpets or no. But there is a brilliant episode in a temple with Amitabh swinging from bell to bell to dishoom Bob Christo and rescue Shammi – it is epic and silly and I love it. The final battle gets everyone to Baharistan and there are reunions and expositions all over the place.

I absolutely love that in the climax fight, once people realise Ajooba is Ali is the long lost prince, everything pauses briefly so the onlookers can have a chat amongst themselves about how he is related to everyone and what his title is. Never mind the big glowing sword, or the evil sorcerer – is he your cousin? And is he married?

Ajooba’s heart is pure masala gold and I have enormous affection for it. 4 stars for entertainment alone!

Merry Christmas!

Doodh Ka Karz

I wanted to write something about the late Bob Christo as he was my first ‘That guy again!’ in Hindi films. He seemed to be in everything, often trying to kill Mithun which was considerate of him, and generally being menacing. I think I first noticed him as he was one of the small number of white guys that turned up over and over in a huge array of films. But later I started noticing the gleam in his eye as he flung himself around the set, pretending to be beaten half to death by the hero, and I enjoyed his apparent glee at being the baddest baddie. He played his villainous henchman roles with great enthusiasm and I always look out for his shiny bald head when the main villain appears.

Good friend and snake film aficionado jenni enthusiastically recommended this film. Several times. Her summary on BollyWhat was so persuasive. And now I ask myself – why did I wait so long? I can’t explain the story any better than jenni did, so with her kind permission I quote:

“OK.  The story goes something like this.  A snake charmer, who treats his snake as a son, witnesses the plunder of the local snake temple jewels.  He is then framed by the thieves (local thakurs one of whom is played by Amrish Puri of course) and is beaten to death.  The beating is witnessed by his wife (Aruna Irani), infant son and loyal snake.  It is left to the widow to build a pyre and perform the funerary rites as she contemplates her future as a destitute widow.  Loyal snake has accompanied them to the cremation and when the widow realises she is unable to care for him, along with herself and infant, she feeds him some breast milk, sings a song about him repaying the debt of her milk, then sends him away.  This part is really sad and the snake actually looks sad and lost and grief stricken as he leaves (and I cried).  Not a woman of forgiveness, the snake charmer’s wife then sets about avenging the death of her husband.   And she is still on task 25 years later.

By then, the boy has grown up to be Jackie Shroff (Suraj) and he falls in love with (you guessed it), the evil Thakur’s daughter (Neelam).  Loyal snake has returned to both protect (his family) avenge (his enemy), and pay the debt of the milk, just like his (human) mother would have hoped.  There is parental opposition (both sides) and romantic complication (both sides).  Also a corrupt priest who is handy with snake lore himself.  And Bob Christo in a smooth talking, double dealing,  diamond smuggling minor role.  And let’s not forget, the THRILLING SNAKE FILLED CLIMAX”

The Snake represents all that is good and moral and he is the hero of this film, regardless of what Jackie Shroff might think. Sadly, he was never named which seems remiss considering his important role. The Snake is loyal and protective, has sound family values and judging by the number of friends and relatives who turn up for the final showdown, he must have been a nice snake.

 

There was genuine emotion in some of The Snake’s scenes and I have to say the editing was outstanding in making it seem that The Snake was reacting to the drama around him. I also have a mental picture of some poor sod standing just out of shot, dangling a mouse or other tasty treat to get The Snake’s attention. And who knew that snakes could emote?

There are always concerns about animals in films but I think the instructions to the snake wranglers went along the lines of ‘Chuck ‘em in and stand back’.  I am hoping that some fake snakery went on in a couple of scenes.  And the mongooses seemed quite chipper in their special appearance. Certainly more enthused than the mongoose wranglers were! I know I wouldn’t have lasted long as an extra on this film.

The human actors go about their supporting roles quite successfully, and I did find the story very engaging.  Aruna Irani nails the vengeful widow role and raises her human son to be as strong as iron, although takes her time in telling him why. The scene when snake and widow separated was quite moving, although I didn’t cry. Perhaps I was too startled seeing breast milk expressed on screen and in close-up. I did find myself singing along with the recurring title track though. Goga Kapoor and Raza Murad make an impression in their smallish roles.  Amrish Puri as the Thakur didn’t put up much of a fight before he was persuaded to turn to crime, and was a villain of the weak and greedy type rather than a creatively dressed megalomaniac. But the allure of the jewels was just too much for him as was the notion of taking the easy way out of his self created problems. And he is backed up by Prem Chopra so you just know how that’s going to work out.

 

My mind did wander a bit during the songs though as the only thing that seemed to happen was Jackie pawing at Neelam. And it’s a snake film so it’s mostly snake music and that can get a tad monotonous. Meanwhile The Snake was slithering the countryside in search of his father’s killer who he would recognise by a distinctive necklace. That’s something to think about before borrowing jewellery.

 

When Neelam is bitten by the vengeful loner, she faints gracefully and is spared the sight of Jackie sucking her toes to extract the venom. Dear reader, you will not be so lucky.

 

Bob Christo has a small yet pivotal role as a venal Englishman who represents all that is bad and stupid. He is a diamond smuggler called Angrezi Master so maybe the script writers had just given up on character names and it wasn’t an anti-snake thing. Bob wants the stolen temple jewels but is afraid of the snake that is reputed to protect the temple, and demands to be shown its corpse. Oh Bob. So many films and still messing with the gods…Finally, Bob has to decide what is more important to him.

 

The snake gave him a choice, and Bob chose wrong. I also learned that when white people are bitten by snakes, we turn green. This should be a very helpful diagnostic tool in future.

 

The snake filled climax is really filled with snakes. Bucketloads of snakes. The Snake may not have been wandering the woods alone for all those years. Here’s a little taste of the mayhem, with Bob doing some very fine acting:

I have to say, I really enjoyed Doodh ka Karz. I like a good snake revenge film, and this is very snake-centric and vengeful. Ashok Gaikwad kept the story and editing pacey and there is stuff happening all over the place so there is never a dull moment. There is pathos in the snake charmer family scenes, and Aruna Irana is excellent. The only thing missing was a proper snake dance. This is a great ripping yarn, and a fun way to remember Bob Christo. 3 and ½ stars!

Edited to add: Here is a link to Beth’s round-up of ‘Bob’s Your Uncle’ posts. Go have a look!

http://bethlovesbollywood.blogspot.com/2011/04/bobs-your-uncle-late-great-bob-christo.html

Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki

I was meant to review another film this week, but I misplaced the DVD before I completely finished my post and it all just got too hard. As a result, you’ll have to wait for a sensible review. And it might be a very long wait. Looking for a substitute film, I decided I wanted something I wouldn’t feel obliged to think hard about, something with some sparkle and a lot of dancing. But I watched this instead.

The super groovy psychedelic titles seemed quite promising! Also, Amrish Puri.

The story opens with a child, the orphaned Prince Satish, being bullied by his uncle. The kid is the heir to an estate held in trust until he turns 20, but guess who has other plans? Evil Uncle Amrish Puri in some jaunty neckwear! I have to say the water torture was mild in comparison to any day at the pool for me and my brothers so I didn’t have immediate sympathy for the young fellow. Then the use of snakes as training aids turned the tide.

Satish is reduced to a snivelling wreck under all this duress, and is not improved by turning into Mithun Chakraborty. Years have gone by but still Uday Bhan Singh is terrorising his nephew. I really would have expected more efficient villainy from Amrish, but then the whole film would have been mercifully brief. Still, Satish is widely regarded as a drunken, insane rapist by the time he is in his teens.

I found the Uday Bhan family conferences of evil quite amusing:

Knowing that no good girl is likely to marry her Prince, his faithful maid tees up a wedding with the first likely orphan they meet. Sadly, the orphaned Aarti (Smita Patil) is a thief and intends to steal away before the wedding is consummated and take all the cash and jewels she can carry. This is not such a bad thing considering the helpful advice Satish receives about women:

WTF?

It’s obvious that we are supposed to believe Satish is such a halfwit that he has no idea his wife really might not want him pouncing on her, but it’s just so badly acted and written that I felt a bit queasy. She….well , I suggest you fast forward past the ‘rape or is it romance?’ montage, bypass blossoming True Love,  continue past the revelations and betrayal and rejoin the film when Satish is long dead (Amrish Puri has knife skills), leaving Aarti with a son who looks eerily as though he will soon be played by Mithun.  Although, you would then miss an excellent attempt by Smita to use her own Eyeballs of Hate (TM PPCC) against Amrish Puri – go girl!

Aarti is not a soft mother figure – she is a tigress. She tells Avinash that if he ever loses a fight, he won’t be able to call her Ma. She really is a vengeful woman. Aarti is struggling financially so Avinash takes a job as a drummer (it is never really explained) to start earning. It is a bizarre career move but it is lucky in one way as it means lots of dodgy songs.

It’s at this point my DVD seemed to be possessed. You might remember that it took multiple DVDs and wily tactics when Heather and I watched Surakksha and it really seems that the universe is determined to protect me from Mithun. I eventually got to see the rest but couldn’t screencap, and the picture quality was woeful. However – the disco part of the revenge psychodrama kicks in from here so you can have some lurid songs to keep up the pictorial content.

Naina (Salma Agha) is your part time Disco Diva and full time student. She and Avinash bond after he saves her from a gang of drunken would-be rapists. Perhaps he is repaying the universe for his father’s misdeed? I doubt it’s anything that meaningful.

Mithun’s dancing highlights just how talented Michael Jackson was!

Avinash and Naina fall in love, of course, perhaps because they both have hideous fashion sense and share a love of white pants. Aarti hasn’t raised her son to be a loverboy and opposes the match until such time as Avinash settles the score with evil uncle Amrish, although she hasn’t told him about his family yet. But the past can never remain buried, and the truth comes out and then of course vengeance is sworn.

I’ve mentioned before that I like it when screeds of argy-bargy can be condensed into a song, and apart from the threats this also has scary outfits. I get the impression that there were different people directing sections of the extras who were supposed to be party guests. Some are having a toe tapping good time while others maintain the traditional glaze of boredom. And what better way to alert Uday Bhan Singh of his imminent doom than this?

After a court scene full of shouting, staring and more swearing of vengeance, Uday Bhan and his horrible son, Chandra Bhan get horribly drunk and sing. Then junior rapes a local girl as his father shoots the girl’s brother. It’s perfectly obvious they are vile people, and I don’t think all this was needed. I do feel B Subhash thought he was making a much more worthy film than this turned out to be, but struggled to interpret the story into an original film format and fell back on badly used clichés.

By this time, my DVD had only sparse subtitles and Naina’s name changed to Neena. She has been hanging around, adoring Avinash from afar, and goes undercover to get the information he needs (whatever that is) to crush the enemy. I‘m not recommending the sailor suit for potential Bond girls among you – it’s a hard look to carry off. She also has a ridiculously flat clutch purse that somehow contains a gun and a tape recorder and some kind of truth drug.

Chandra Bhan is a stupid as he is horrible, and falls for her tricks. The women then get together to map out the final revenge. All of a sudden Aarti seems to like her prospective daughter in law!

The evil Singhs get their come-uppance starting in a neat replay of the fake rape stunt that ruined Satish’s name. The film is effectively over now despite all attempts to add more drama, but it drags on for another 30 minutes and two more songs and a few explosions.  The final scenes are are most notable for the wardrobe, the Michael Jackson inspiration, the crappy effects and a chance to take one last look at some of the fab sets. Salma Agha is supposed to turn into a kickarse heroine but looks disoriented and more concerned about her lipgloss most of the time. Smita Patil gives this film a lot more than it deserves, and maintains her rage right til the end.

There was lots of significant symbolism, more injustices that had to be avenged, recurring motifs, but I stopped caring as soon as Mithun tried to ‘Thriller’ Chandra Bhan into madness. I can understand why the undead backing dancers were a bit messy, but really the choreography is terrible!

See this film if you really have to see every Mithun film ever made, have a penchant for horrible 70s/80s fashion, can tolerate Bappi Lahiri’s misuse of Billy Jean, or want to see Amrish Puri in a bowtie. Can I even give this a star rating? I don’t want to mislead anyone into seeing this film because it really is dire, and not So Bad It’s Good; it’s just Bad. And not in a Michael Jackson Bad way. There are too many men in tight white pants. Maybe 2 stars –for Smita Patil, Amrish Puri, and their duelling Eyeballs of Hate.