Baazigar

Abbas-Mustan’s 1993 thriller is an out and out classic. It is a freemake of “A Kiss Before Dying”, but loaded up with all the requisite masala ingredients. Starring Shahrukh Khan in an award winning turn, along with Kajol and Shilpa Shetty, it is also high on filmi glamour.

Ajay (Shahrukh) is a nice boy who lives with his widowed Ma (Raakhee). She is suffering from some kind of post traumatic disorder, and Ajay pretends his deceased father and little sister are still alive and well, trying to preserve his mother’s happy memories. He is also secretly dating Seema (Shilpa Shetty), daughter of the filthy rich Madan Chopra (Dalip Tahil). It’s all very sweet until Ajay also turns up as playboy race driver Vicky and starts dating Seema’s younger sister Priya (Kajol). When Seema apparently commits suicide, Priya cannot believe it and keeps pushing to find her killer. There is a long flashback explaining Ajay’s hatred of Madan Chopra. Vengeance and overacting begets more vengeance and overacting, and Ajay/Vicky sets an increasingly convoluted plot in motion.

Ajay is initially presented as sympathetic. He has helped his mother through some traumatic times. His powers of manipulation and maybe self-delusion are also visible from the start. Good Boy Ajay is altogether too bouncy and hyper. I do like a bit of moderately evil Shahrukh, and SRK is much more believable as Vicky/evil Ajay than he ever is as puppyish Ajay. I like the intensity and calculation that he brings to his villainous side, and the flashes of stifled rage under the plausible charm. It’s an interesting character because first we see him as likeable and even heroic by filmi son standards and he maintains that pure motivation even as his actions become more and more reprehensible. Shahrukh really builds the layers of deceit while retaining enough sincerity that his relationships seem real. So much conflict. Also, the transformative power of a contact lens is really something. In some scenes it may be used to show the duality of his nature, in others just a costly error.

It pains me to say this but SRK cannot hold a candle to Chiru in the horseback or cape swishing stakes. I think the hat was to stop his hood blowing back. And he has no dynamic swish control of his cape. But compared to Manic Pixie Bride Kajol he does seem to get the better deal.

Shilpa Shetty is not given a huge acting challenge with Seema, but she is pretty and lively, and has a warm rapport with Ajay. She is a victim of 90s camera work and if you don’t recognise her butt instantly it might take a while before you realise it is indeed Shilpa arriving on the scene. Serious Fashion Question. Were zippers really such a novelty or was that moment in Kitabein Bahut Si just another chance to focus on Shilpa’s shapely derriere? I recall odd zippercentric choreo from some other films around this time so who knows. I suspect the answer is obviously the latter.

Kajol makes a bad girl entrance, strutting around, shouting, and snapping a belt like a whip, and cannot communicate in anything less than a shriek. She even expects big sister Seema to ditch her exams just to go be rich and idle at the races. But as Priya experiences more real emotions – loss, grief, anger and romantic love – Kajol takes it down a notch. Priya becomes more subdued but also harder, and she starts to notice, and question, some of the little details that don’t add up. She thinks she has a lead when Seema’s friend Ravi says there are photos from a party that show Seema and her mysterious boyfriend. But the killer hears of this and follows Ravi, staging another suicide. Priya takes matters into her own hands when her father, her fiancé, and even her old friend Karan (a policeman with a sad crush on Priya), all tell her to drop any investigation. It’s quietly impressive for a heroine to disregard the men in her life so thoroughly.

Raakhee is impressive as Mrs Sharma. She had minimal dialogue but her suffering was evident, as was her painful realisation about her beloved son. It’s all about loving your family…I felt bad for Priya that even if she stuck by Vicky to the end, she still got shut out by a filmi Ma.

Dalip Tahil plays Madan Chopra with spite and a dash of sleaze. He is very urbane and successful, and his daughters (who really were old enough to form memories but seemed not to have any clue) had no recall of how he became so wealthy. The veneer cracks as soon as his good name is threatened by scandal or by the complicated revenge plot, and Madan becomes a snarling dog in an expensively hideous microfibre suit. Siddharth Ray is chunky and despondent as Inspector Karan. And if ever there was a story that did not need Johnny Lever, this is it.

The Anu Malik soundtrack is so familiar, and so cheesy. Ah, the porno sax background version of Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein. But the picturisation on SRK and Kajol is iconic, taking place in one of those not for profit nightclubs that sacrifices paying patron seating for a dance floor the size of an ice rink. Even Batman seems to be a fan.

Ajay’s own crimes are shown with more realistic detail, and somehow the struggle adds to the disturbing attraction repulsion thing Shahrukh has going on. He is given to exposition and declaiming and I quite liked his line :“You are like the invalid who needs crutches to walk but has no hands to hold them” Food for thought. Overall though the film takes an energetic but not very realistic approach to the action and violence. Bullets cannot kill a man but drop a fishtank on someone and they’re a goner. The finale is full throttle and the props department lashed out for a really big tin of red paint.  It’s almost 20 minutes from the first gunshot to the very end.

If you’ve already seen Baazigar, maybe it’s time to dust it off for a rewatch. Some things in the film haven’t aged so well as its stars. The story wouldn’t work in our digital/social media world as Facebook would have tagged Ajay before he knew it. And people today answer their own phones which they carry everywhere. But if you are one of the 973 people on earth who haven’t seen it yet, maybe it is time to experience this classic. 4 stars! (Johnny Lever, you cost the movie a star. You and your comedy sidekicks. Repent!)

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Aaj Ka Goonda Raj

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Aaj Ka Goonda Raj is a Hindi remake of Chiranjeevi’s Telugu blockbuster, Gang Leader. The dishoom sound effects are quite subdued by Telugu standards but Chiru’s hair is even bigger than a regulation police hat and he goes all out in the action and dances.

Raja (Chiranjeevi) is an unemployed specimen and lives with his grandmother (Dina Pathak), brothers Ravi (Raj Babbar) and Amar (Parikshit Sahni), and Amar’s wife (Sudha). He dreams of being Robin Hood, but is more likely to get into a scuffle with the police on the way to the disco than righting any larger scale wrongs.

Admire his awesome moves, even as you may recoil at the sweat flicking and floor humping. Plus bonus Ravi Teja!

Raja takes a job to evict a squatter – Shalu (Meenakshi Sheshadri). She turns up at his house spinning a sob story, looking to move in. His family turn on him of course and take Shalu’s side, or at least feel they need to protect a poor defenceless girl all alone in the world blah blah blah.

Raja agrees to go to jail over a car accident to protect the driver, a father trying to marry his daughter off. Or something. He gets paid for the time served and the cash helps Golden Boy Ravi take the exams for whatever he wants to be. The father (Satish Shah) is actually the jailer. Oh so filmi. Raja is treated well while he is a jailbird. Except that they let Shalu in to see him as she says she is his wife so I think they failed in their duty of care towards him, although I admire her persistence and the power of her imagination. Who says Mass films are simplistic? I get conflicted all over the place.

Reluctant hero and pushy heroine can be very amusing or not at all, and this is a bit too slapstick for my taste. But once Shalu stops just obsessing about Raja she gets a lot more interesting and Meenakshi seems more comfortable in the role. She and Chiru have nice chemistry and Meenakshi certainly gives him a run for his money in the songs and in the drama.

Raja can’t win as he is criticised for not working and then berated when he does. His family love him but despair of him ever getting his life sorted out. He occasionally impersonates his deceased grandfather who ostensibly appears to ask Grandma to go easy on the boy. It’s all silly but the family are there for each other when it counts.

Amar sees something he shouldn’t and villain Tejpal (Prem Chopra) has him eliminated. Tejpal’s pet police officer Saxena (Dalip Tahil) has been trying to get Raja out of the way for most of the film, and finally marries his sister Ritu (Geetha) to Ravi. She is tasked with tearing the brothers asunder, but sorely underestimates the power of filmi bro-dom and the effect on her own psyche of being around decent human beings.

Finally Tejpal and his weirdo sidekick (a very creepy Sharat Saxena) stage a fatal accident using Raja’s taxi, and his friends. Raja goes to trial and is devastated to see what happened to his poor harmless mates.

Raja escapes, thanks to Shalu driving the getaway car and looking striking in huge puffy yellow sleeves. She tells him her sad story of how Tejpal killed her mother and then she shoots Raja’s handcuffs off. Most of Raja’s family are useful in a fight and Shalu gets in there, boots and all too. No one waits for Raja when they can do something for themselves, so the final confrontation is epic and random and had me cheering them all on. I do love a needlessly complex plan and the film obliges.

Apart from the murdering aspect (because it is wrong, even when Chiru is doing it), I liked that Raja simply stepped back and let Shalu deal with Tejpal. He didn’t take her revenge from her or make his own need for justice more important than hers. And anyway, he had Saxena so there was plenty of vengeance to go round.

Despite all the death and mayhem, it’s quite a cheerful and upbeat film for the most part. The songs are not as good as Gang Leader but they are filmed well and I can never be unhappy with Chiru dancing on giant props.

Aaj Ka Goonda Raj-Dragon

Side note: This wall decoration is in several Telugu films and now turns up here. Was it a common item in that day, or did some poor set dresser lug it around from house to house?

This was Chiranjeevi’s second Hindi film. It is hardly a stretch for Chiru but might have been a bit confronting for the mainstream Hindi film audiences of the day. I mean, he can actually dance. Mithun would have been spewing to have his moves put to shame so easily. And the action is energetic and athletic and a bit brutal although there is less fake blood than I recall in the original. It’s a good vehicle for him as it retains the mass flavour of the original and his heroics need no tweaking to be transplanted to Bombay. Sadly, I don’t think Bollywood was ready for this jelly. And that is their loss, as there was a golden opportunity for less of this:

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And more of this:

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See this for a ripping yarn of family and revenge, Chiranjeevi at possibly peak mullet, and Meenakshi as a feisty heroine. Then go watch Gang Leader! 3 ½ stars!

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!