Sheshnaag

Sheshnaag is an excellent masala snakefest starring Jeetendra and Rekha, with a starry supporting cast and the added delight of Danny Denzongpa as the EVIL Aghoori. The Laxmikant Pyarelal soundtrack is mostly snake dance related, which means lots of snaky dancing! And I think director KR Reddy captured a vintage feel with Sheshnaag which doesn’t seem like a film released in 1990.

Allow Aghoori to describe his origins as a creation of the devil and show you around his cave:

 

 

My DVD has the worst picture quality but the most marvellous subtitles. Aghoori is hunting a nagin couple, Pritam and Banu, who unlock a treasure trove every lunar eclipse using amazing special effects.

They give the wealth to the needy and hold the key to immortality. Aghoori is obsessed with power and filled with venom, determined to become more powerful than the gods.

Identifying the snakes in this film is very easy as they are a) not shy and b) one of them is Jeetendra (ref The Jeetendra Effect).

While this epic battle between good and bad is being waged, there is evil afoot in the human domain. Champa (Rekha) is left to look after her mentally backward brother Bhola (Rishi Kapoor) and her horrible husband (Anupam Kher) after her father dies. Bhola is protective of all animals including snakes and he can charm any animal by playing his flute. He falls afoul of Aghoori’s henchman when he saves the female snake Banu (Madhavi), thus winning her gratitude. Champa’s husband wagers her mangalsutra and then her person in a game of cards – he is really vile. After calling on Krishna to help her escape a rape attempt, she runs away and leaps from a cliff to escape her pursuers. Just as I was bemoaning an appalling under-utilisation of Rekha, Banu uses her powers to transform into a replica of Champa and come to Bhola’s aid to repay her debt. They move into a nicely decorated mansion with excellent snaky decor and are set for the good life.

 

Jeetendra joins the household as a servant so he can be close to his wife and help look after Bhola. The rest of the story is then a crazy race to see if Aghoori will take over the world.

I really disliked Rishi’s acting, character and storyline in this. Bhola’s under-developed intelligence would have been challenging for any actor, but Rishi just opted for flattening his hair and mugging for the camera.

There is a romance track for him, as Kamini (Mandakini – not a snake despite those eyes and some questionable outfits) is driven into his arms by a startling bear attack. She’s a hunting, shooting type of gal from a family of animal hide dealers but clearly life had not prepared her for finding a small person in a bear suit humping her leg.

It doesn’t seem to be a good match, and Bhola’s utter stupidity doesn’t help matters. If you knew someone wanted to hunt game, would you call more of your animal friends to stand in front of the armed lunatics? Honestly. It’s a revolting episode and apart from all the fake blood pouring from animals, I think Rishi stepped on a pigeon for real. Bhola wins Kamini over with his gormless vapidity, and takes from her intended, a creepy gun toting cousin.  He swaggers around, confident that his sister will always protect him. When Jeetendra decides to make Bhola a warrior to protect everyone…well I’m sure you can imagine. Beth queried whether headbutting clay pots was a documented snake fighting technique. I suspect the technique was chosen as Bhola’s head was solid wood.

Rekha is a powerful actor and being a vengeful snake allowed her to unleash her forceful side. I question whether it was really worth jeopardising your immortality and powers just to save a backward fool. On the plus side she gets some awesome outfits. I preferred Madhavi’s dancing, but Rekha does handle the venom spitting (her venom strips paint) with aplomb and has mastered The Look.

 

Banu/Champa’s resolve and certainty drives much of the action and she takes responsibility for her family in both her human and snake roles. When Bhola drags her human husband back and expects Champa to accept him, she is unrelenting and cold despite the combined anger of the men.

I mentioned Bhola was annoying? Even allowing for times and morality having changed, how could anyone demand someone they love take back into their household a man who brutalised and humiliated them? It’s all wrong, and not helped by the bad acting. Rishi was lucky he had Anupam Kher in the same cast as it makes Bhola look marginally better. Anyway. Back to the snakes.

 

Rekha’s scenes with Jeetendra are sometimes quite touching as Banu/Champa is aware of the consequences of committing to helping the idiot human, and knows they are in danger from Aghoori too. They also get some more of those special effects. When (WHY?) she decides to sacrifice herself to save Bhola I was quite upset. WHY REKHA WHY???

Jeetendra is there. He really doesn’t have all that much to do apart from dancing, flying, biffo, biting, duelling and housework. He is not the dominant snake in the marriage and I think it’s safe to say that Madhavi/Rekha wears the lurex pants in the relationship. I swear he’d never seen a broom until this film, and he seems to torment Bhola more than he does anything else in that household. Jeetendra got some excellent snake powers including an array of coloured lighting effects and a unique fighting style.

 

His first fight with Aghoori is hilarious, and he also has a nice line in venom spitting (his is flammable).  His dancing…He is not good at partnering the ladies in their dancing. Luckily they seem to manage to navigate around him. He also did an interpretative vengeful Snake Dance which was memorable.

Madhavi had a much smaller presence in the film than Rekha, but her dancing is lovely and she had some fabulous snaky accessories.

She and Jeetendra employed a fighting style that involved jabbing the victim with their fingers rather than biting so I think maybe they had venomous manicures.  The outfits for all the snakes really are worth a look.

 

Danny Denzongpa owns the film. He is insanely evil and in cackling good form as Aghoori. I loved this performance and I cheered extra loud when Aghoori sent Bhola flying with a few well placed kicks. Not everything an evil person does is necessarily bad!

And what happens? I really can’t say. But I do give the film 3 1/2 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!

Endhiran

After all the hype, hysteria and build-up we finally made it to a packed showing of Endhiran.  There was a definite buzz in the air as we queued in disorderly fashion totally blocking both the main street and the exit to various shops and restaurants in the area.  As the opening credits rolled, the crowd went wild, and we were off into our first Tamil film with subtitles in the cinema.

The film starts well with an interestingly wigged and bearded Rajni working on his robot creation.  His lab is wonderfully futuristic and his lab assistants appropriately comedic.  We then had the introduction of his love interest in the form of  Sana (played by Aish), and this was where the film began to lose its way.  There was no chemistry between them as a couple, and the age difference was notable. Aish actually looked far too old to be playing a medical student, especially one who was too flaky to study for her exams.

Scenes between Rajni as Vasi (the scientist) and Chitti (the robot) were generally done well and conveyed the growing tension in the relationship between the man and his creation. Rajni’s performance in both roles was very polished and often compelling. Again though, the lack of chemistry between the leads undermined this as the plot hinged on Chitti falling in love with Sana and that failed to be really convincing. Once love drives the man and robot apart , the film turns into a revenge action drama and the pace picks up.

Danny Denzongpa makes a welcome return as Dr Vaseegaran’s old teacher, and current rival in robotics. He makes some fine points regarding ethics and behaviour, and seems to have more of a grasp on what it means to create sentient life than any of the good guys.  Unfortunately he seems to be much less well funded than the lone scientist Vasi, and this leads to some bad choices in his associates.

The film tosses up some really interesting ideas and questions, but fails to expand on or answer them which was frustrating.   The scene where Chitti rescues people from burning buildings had so much potential to expand on the theme of the value of life, but instead just served to point out how far removed from the realities of life the scientists had become.

The effects in general were really well done, but even for a sci-fi film like this there just seemed to be too much reliance on clever CGI and not enough on actual story.  For example, in the fire scene the robot could fly with no obvious means of propulsion and despite being hot enough for his silicone skin and clothes to burn away, his metallic frame wasn’t so hot that it burned any of the people he helped. It was obvious that the artistic vision didn’t extend to any basic logic or science.

Once we got to Chitti 2.0 the pace did pick up and the story did consolidate into a straight good guys versus bad guys. Rajni has a great line in evil laughs and his evil strut was a crowd favourite. The production design was excellent and the appearance of the various lairs, labs and other locations suited the theme of the film.

The basic question of why Chitti didn’t have the same rights as the men around him was never addressed, despite that being the reason for him turning to the dark side. Instead, we got more CGI and more Rajnis – not necessarily a bad thing but it did go on for longer than it needed to. We did love the snake! Once all the whizz bang technological effects were done with, the film failed to really reach a conclusion. It seemed that all the surviving characters would just go on with their lives as though this little episode had never happened. It was quite disappointing and not satisfying at all after so much build up and excitement to leave the film with no clear conclusion.

The songs were generally well placed in the film and were beautifully shot.  The outdoor locations were stunning with some excellent use of local fauna.  Aish’s outfits were beautiful and the costumes in Kilimanjaro do deserve special mention for the total exuberance of feathers.

Heather says: While I did enjoy this film I thought it could have benefited from longer in the editing room. The film seemed to be a collection of good scenes which were drawn out a little too long and too many ideas which were never fully developed.  The story had a tendency to lose its way when the focus was on the romance between the two lead characters and this tended to lose my attention.  Rajni however was fantastic and his scenes both as the scientist and as the robot worked very well. He was always the main focus of attention in any scene and made the most of his double role.  His assistants provided most of the comedy and I found them to be very funny and also quite well utilised in the story.  I’d been playing the music for weeks, and liked most of the songs.  Watching the film, even the two songs I hadn’t really liked on the CD worked well and although the dancing was perhaps a little lacking the locales and costumes were elaborate enough to make up for that.  I really didn’t like the bad medicine in one scene – always a pet hate for me, and even some of the physics was just a little too hard to swallow.  But then again it was a sci-fi film and not meant to be taken literally!  On that sci-fi note, the special effects really were special.  Overall the CGI was impressive, and the robot scenes in particular were very well done.  They did seem to get a little carried away towards the end, but the film did have enough of a futuristic feel and justifies at least some of its apparently massive budget.   Perhaps I just expected too much from a Rajni film, and it failed to be as good as anticipated.  But I did enjoy the film and with a little more thought on the editing felt that it could have been excellent.  In this current version, I give it 3 and 1/2 stars.

Temple says: There was a lot I enjoyed about Endhiran but also a lot that left me cold.  Rajni is the superstar, and he certainly dominated the screen whenever he appeared. He had to carry the whole film, and managed to make the biggest scenes and the smallest moments compelling and memorable. He was ably assisted by his wig designer! The first half of the film just dragged, and spent far too long on the unconvincing Rajni/Aish relationship. Aish’s acting was poor throughout, but having seen her give excellent performances in other films (Ravanan, Raincoat, Kandukondain Kandukondain, Devdas) I place a lot of the responsibility for that on a weak character/script and on the director. The second half of the film was much more successful and more enjoyable. It was clear that Shankar has been “inspired” by many other blockbuster films, and seemed determined to use scenes from many of them in Endhiran. This collage effect was spoiled by the lack of linking episodes and dialogues so it became a bit disjointed and messy. I can’t even begin to explain the mosquito skit. The supporting actors are good, and it was great to see Danny Denzongpa back as a villain of sorts.  I didn’t like the music before I saw the film, and thought that might change seeing the songs in situ. It didn’t. I still don’t like the soundtrack much at all, and found it boring despite the excellent production design for the song picturisations. With a good edit, and a bit more thought for the story, this could have been brilliant. I give it 3 stars.