Dharam Veer

Sometimes in a world full of mean spirited decision making and demonstrations of crushing privilege it really does the soul good to see some unambiguous comeuppances and outrageous costumes. This being a Desai film, I got my wish. But the exercise of privilege and bad decision making was never too far away, although usually dressed up in fabulous boots and an explosion of ruffles.

However. The very sensible and worthy women in this film get short shrift and I did have the occasional moment of murderous rage.

Princess Meenakshi (Indrani Mukherjee) is out in her gilded chariot, searching for game to hunt. She spies a stuffed tiger on a rock in the river and goes to kill it even more. Villains appear, paid off by her brother Satpal Singh (Jeevan, aka Creepy Jeevan). Just as her death seems imminent, a stranger appears. The unknown warrior is Jwala (Pran!), who had been alerted to the kerfuffle by his trusty falcon Sheroo (Sheroo). Meenakshi offers him any reward he names, and he names her. Jwala has been harbouring a secret love for the princess, and had made a hideous statue of her. She is a woman who believes in keeping her word, and I think was swayed by his artistic flair, and they marry there and then with the fire as their witness.

Then follows some tiger wrestling, a misidentified corpse, and Meenakshi becoming catatonic with shock.

She remains in shock long enough for her father to get her married off to Pratap Singh (Pradeep Kumar) who says he doesn’t mind that she is basically a living doll.

How good was Pratap Singh to stop her killing herself, and accepting that she had an heir in the oven while acknowledging that he had no right over Meenakshi’s body. But how does a headache provide a pregnancy diagnosis? But how creepy is Pratap Singh to marry an unconscious woman and plan to consummate the marriage. You know you’re in a topsy turvy world when that is one of the good guys.

Satpal Singh steps up his efforts to rid himself of rivals and avoid unpleasant destiny. More bad decisions help the chaos along and babies are swapped, swapped again, and face near certain death. It’s only about 20 minutes in the movie at this stage and already there is so much plot.

Question: If you picked up a baby swaddled in red velvet who had been delivered by a falcon, and you worked for the palace that was awash with rumours of a baby swaddled in red velvet who had been stolen by a falcon, would you not put two and two together? I’m not blaming Sheroo for protecting his family. But come on humans!

In what represents the present day Meenakshi’s babies have grown up (a lot) to be Dharam (Dharmendra) the adopted son of the blacksmith, and Veer (Jeetendra) the prince.

And Satpal’s son Ranjeet Singh is played by Ranjeet so you already know all you need to know about him. But here are some of his many moods.

Will Dharam and Veer ever find out they’re twins, not just bromantic soulmates? Will Ranjeet ever meet a woman without trying to rape her? Will the family be reunited, true love win, and villains get their just deserts? Whose couture will reign supreme? And what of highly intelligent and faithful Sheroo?

The heroes are the least interesting people in the film, which may explain the costume choices. If you lack substance, add more ruffles. Perhaps a fringed leather mini dress will distract from the absence of matter between your ears. They have some cracking dialogues, especially when their friendship is under strain and Dharam calls Veer out on his privilege. But they also do bad comedy costumes and behave boorishly to the people they supposedly love. Pran is my pick of the heroic litter. His costumes and wigs are a sight, he has a sparkle in his eye when he leaps into the fray, and he has integrity. He isn’t great at decision making, but who is in this world. Luckily Desai amped up the action with jousting, gladiator style fights, and pirate action on shonky looking ships so there is no need for nuanced acting. Now if 80’s Chiranjeevi had some of these fancy duds added to his wardrobe, I’d be delighted. There might be some boot plagiarism afoot as this is a Megastar-less Megaboot treasure trove.

Meenakshi is a stickler for the law and honour but she understands her son and sees through his flouncing. Her weakness is that she expects everyone to be as honourable as she is. And Indrani Mukherjee’s probably younger than her “children”. She and Jwala are kept apart due to their own unbending principles. But she is warm and approachable as a mother, and is affectionate to Veer and Dharam.

However women aren’t actually people with individuality, needs, or rights. When Dharam’s mother is murdered and the royal family is framed, he demands a mother to replace his mother. The queen must go be his Ma. And he is genuinely delighted. It’s like his poor deceased mother never existed, as long as he had someone to feed him and tell him he was perfect. And he had no remorse about taking the queen, his bestie’s mother, away because a manly man’s man needs his mummy.

Pallavi (Zeenat Aman) is a bossy, entitled, aristocrat. Sadly she fails to put a stop to Dharam and Veer who tag team with dated shtick about having to keep a woman on a tight rein so you can be sure to break her. That would have been justifiable homicide I reckon. Dharam thinking that he can just take any woman because he is so awesome is very unpleasant and when he ties Pallavi up and sings to her about how he is worthy of her love…blergh. Dharam’s amazing super strength and very short skirts eventually win her over, because it’s not like she has a day job or anything to occupy her mind. On the upside Zeenat gets some fabulously OTT costumes and some kickarse action scenes which slightly compensate for her “dancing”.

Speaking of “dancing” – Jeetendra is literally carried around for most of this.

Veer meets Rupa (Neetu Singh) when he is hiding from Pallavi’s brother and fiancée and of course has to scrub Rupa’s back while she is in the bath. It’s interesting that the older generation in this film are no nonsense about sex and relationships but the “boys” are quite sleazy. It’s a shame Veer wasn’t more like his progressive but creepy dad. Oh that’s not a good aspiration.

Veer falls for Rupa but like his BFF, decides that treating her mean will keep her keen. Rupa is almost raped by Ranjeet. And then when she is traumatised and shaken, Veer pretends he has no feelings for her. Unfortunately before Veer can sort out their engagement, Ranjeet wins Rupa from the gypsy king and things look grim. Rupa was indignant at the injustice but she didn’t get anywhere with actually changing the outcome. It took Dharam speechifying to make the men decide they could do the right thing. But generally, Rupa was up for rescuing herself and others and never sat back waiting for a miserable fate. Neetu is feisty and fun, and certainly made the choreographer’s life easier.

Manmohan Desai is a master of apparently throwing random masala ingredients together but actually having a tightly plotted and well planned story to tell. Dharam Veer has the stars, the spectacle and the silliness in spades. 4 stars!

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Badle Ki Aag

Badle Ki Aag is insane.

There are SEVEN children in peril as the film opens, from three different families. I had to make notes to work out who was who. Normally I might not care so much but as one of the kids grows up to be the object of love or lust for several of the others, I felt I needed to be clear on who was related to who just to stop my shrieking ‘No! What? She’s your SISTER…oh um … hang on …OK”.  So just in case you find yourself in that same position, please feel free to use this cheat sheet. Extra points if you can read it!

So much happens in the first twenty minutes that I expected the rest of the film to fizzle out, but it is packed with incident, conflict, coincidence, horrible outfits and so much melodrama I almost passed out from the effort of keeping up.

And there is little time wasted on explanations or boring logic. This song for instance has NOTHING to do with anything. I suspect it was just an excuse for Jeetu to bust out his salsa hip swivels. (Link is to the whole film but the video should start at the song. If not, zip along to 34.30 and enjoy the greatness.)

I really like all the people standing around in the background – are they interested onlookers or disgruntled commuters?

Amar is an upright and uptight policeman, the perennial goody-goody. He is quite inept despite all the dedication. Persisting with motorised transport he fails to catch crooks if they are on foot or on horseback no matter how slim their lead is. He is a poor shot, is bad at disguises and the criminal element don’t seem to fear him at all.  Even when he had Lakhan tied to a post in front of a firing squad he managed to bugger it up. Amar has a controlling streak in his personal life, perhaps because he is hopeless at his job. Jeetendra’s expressions range from “Who farted?” to “I’ll kill you all” with a touch of “Lovesick Puppy”. He is in touch with his dark side, maybe because he is forced to wear these:

Dharmendra as Shera Singh generally looks hungover or drunk. And his wigs are terrible. (I hope they were wigs.)

Dharmendra looked bleary and puffy for most of the film, and Jeetendra looked a little the worse for wear too. Anyway, I wondered if he and Jeetendra might have been enjoying a glass or two or ten of an evening.  I’m not a big fan of Dharmendra and he is certainly overshadowed here by Reena Roy, Smita Patil and Sunil Dutt. Shera is a horrible character with no redeeming features, and I really pitied anyone who had to put up with his mood swings.

Sunil Dutt plays Lakhan in swashbuckling style and seems to have decided that since almost everyone else in the film is stupid, he will talk directly to the camera. He declaims some hilariously over the top dialogues with his typical conviction and manages to make it seem almost sensible at times. He is the honourable dacoit, protecting women and doing god’s work as he evades the law. Of course he did start his career in crime by killing a man who was assaulting his Ma. He is competent and resourceful – good in a fist fight and able to rig up a jeep as wrecking ball for a spectacular jailbreak.

Nirupa Roy is the worst mother ever. If she isn’t just plain losing her children she is warping their delicate minds with psychological torment. One minute Lakhan is her golden child and favourite tiny axe murderer, next he is being berated for his crimes. Sheesh.

Reena Roy is wonderful as Gita. Gita was adopted by a lady who seems to run a small scale brothel – and Gita only ‘dances’ so she is a virgin prostitute. Amar falls for Gita and she loves him too, but love cannot get in the way of her revenge mission. When she realises that Lakhan might put her closer to her goal she decides he might be the best prospect.

Love is less compelling than killing Rajaram. Given that her profession closes many doors to family and relationships, Gita is quite self reliant and philosophical, and doesn’t waste too much time on self pity. She doesn’t wait for the menfolk to sort out her revenge, she goes for it herself. I really enjoyed Reena Roy’s performance and she has some amazing outfits.

Smita Patil doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in this madness but seems to be so determined to deliver a quality performance regardless of the material. I felt really bad for Bijli. She had to wear fringed Annie Oakley outfits, and was hopelessly in love with Shera. What a thankless life. When she got him drunk and had her way with him, his reaction was quite insulting.

I thought he might be more circumspect considering she was a professional knife-thrower. Poor Bijli.

She doesn’t take rejection as the final nail in the coffin, and continues to fight for ‘her’ man.

Badle ki Aag does some things so well and others so very badly. When Gita is half drowned, Lakhan saves her but does not resort to the Shashi Kapoor school of hypothermia cure. He is a sensible man who uses a blanket to cover her body and keeps his own kit on. He is also a filmi hero so he knows that now he has touched her, he must marry her lest they both lose honour. On the downside some stunts are so ill conceived and poorly executed that they went beyond funny and into ouch territory. Especially for the horses. I liked the blatant use of plastic horses in some scenes, but then they used real ones and it looked horrific.

Kader Khan is double the fun as the arch villain and his twin brother, and lots of well loved character actors turn up in uncredited supporting roles.  Pran is a police officer, Om Prakash is a dithering fool with good intentions, Sulochana Latkar is a nanny and load of others from Madan Puri to Jankidas to Shakti Kapoor do their thing. Sarika was OK in her small role as Lakhan’s sister. Asha is another of the interesting women in the film – a law student who stands up against her boyfriend Suraj’s harsher views on capital punishment.

The Laxmikant-Pyarelal songs are a highlight, not just because of the costumes. Reena Roy does lots of dancing, and there is a fun qawwali with all three leading men in flimsy disguises. Most of the dances take place at Rajaram’s palace and the carpet is a sight to behold.

Shera lives in a lair reached through a cave, but one that includes a spacious living area with silver tiled dome and chandeliers. Lakhan’s cave complex is more traditional. Rajaram’s place is a fabulous eyesore. And the costumes are just crazy. Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra are in basic white (Lakhan) and black (Shera), but everyone else seems to be at the mercy of the some very creative designers. There are crazy camera angles, amazing interiors and colour and movement everywhere you look.

Rajkumar Kohli has certainly fulfilled the commandment to be entertaining. I have a soft spot for Badle ki Aag and its cavalier disregard for facts, logic, physics and colour coordination. I highly recommend it – with a caveat regarding the horses. 5 stars for fun, maybe 3 for quality. Do yourselves a favour and watch it!

Heather says: This has to be one of the most OTT masala films I’ve seen, and I was literally reeling (and laughing hysterically) after just the first 20 minutes of mayhem. It’s no wonder that I started to get confused when all the children turned up as adults – thank heavens Temple had already told me that no-one erroneously hooked up with their long-lost sibling! But the beauty of Badle Ki Aag is that it all makes sense eventually and getting to the end is just so much fun.  I loved the fake fight scenes, the not-so-special special effects, incredibly awful costumes and fabulous dialogues. ‘I’ll take your eyes for my shirt buttons’ has become my preferred threat and I’m sure ‘Even those who have no feet leave their footprints’ will come in useful at some stage too. Every single utterance appears to be a matter of life or death and there is so much scenery chewing that it’s surprising the sets hold up under the strain. But underneath all that masala-y goodness and after getting through the truckloads of plot, there is more happening than just lost children, murder, revenge and all that velour.

There is an underlying commitment to at least some form of justice throughout the film and I liked how people finally had to pay for their crimes, no matter who they were. I also enjoyed the rather novel concept (at least in Bollywood) of a hero who was prepared to stand up and fight for woman’s rights. Lakhan’s commitment to respect women makes him a more interesting character even though I’m not a big fan of Sunil Dutt and he didn’t endear himself to me with his performance here. Jeetendra was OK, and I do generally like him in these roles, but I agree with Temple that Dharmendra was particularly irritating as Shera.  In comparison the women were excellent! Gita had a practical streak when she debated over which one of her suitors would give her the best chance to gain her revenge and I loved that she was well prepared and methodical in her approach. There had also been some thought put into Asha’s character in the way that she decided to fight injustice against her family in a different way and was studying to be a lawyer. Every female character was more than just a romantic love interest, and I did love Bijli’s knife-throwing as a means of gainful employment.

This film really does have almost everything – it’s a who’s who of the actors from the era and there is enough plot for at least 5 films! I’d recommend it for when you really need a dose of masala and don’t want logic or good acting to get in the way. 4 stars purely because it made me laugh so much!

Seeta aur Geeta

Seeta Aur Geeta is a classic dual role movie so common in Bollywood, but for a change it’s the heroine who has the double part to play and Hema Malini excels as both characters in this tale of separated sisters. This is my favourite film with her as she flawlessly provides drama, action and comedy and looks totally stunning throughout. It’s a pleasant change to have a heroine-centric film and although Dharmendra keeps trying to sneak a piece of the action, Hema always gets the last word. You go girl!

The film opens by explaining how the twin sisters get separated at birth and brought up by different families. But there are no mystical songs, lockets or other identifying objects needed because the two just happen to be identical, which means of course that there will be confusion between the two when they grow up.

First of all we meet Seeta and her family. Her parents are dead and Seeta is living with her Aunt Kaushalya, Uncle Badrinath and their two children. Also living in the house is Kaushalya’s brother Ranjeet (Roopesh Kumar) and Seeta’s grandmother.

Kaushalya and her daughter Sheila treat Seeta as a slave and she is constantly abused and overworked. Seeta is the weak-as-water type of heroine I usually want to slap and tell to pull herself together, but since her rather pathetic and hopeless character is the whole point of this part of the film, I can live with it. Anyway, the focus at this point is much more on Kaushalya who is the best wicked aunt ever. Manorama is outstanding in her role as Kaushalya and has the best selection of grimaces I have seen outside of a gurning competition. Here is just a selection of some of her expressions which she uses to excellent effect.

Honey Irani appears in front of the camera in one of her first roles as an actress playing the mean and spoilt mommy’s girl Sheila. I love the way she stands and screams as an iron burns her sari rather than just lifting out a hand to move it away. She really does seem to believe she is the delicate flower her mother calls her and she wonderfully nasty towards her cousin. Ranjeet is appropriately sleazy and obviously the villain once he turns up in a selection of increasingly bad shirts and terrible scarves.

After Seeta’s trials and troubles have been established we are introduced to Geeta. What a difference! Seeta is introduced in a scene where she is scrubbing the floor and her evil aunt is yelling at her. Geeta is introduced by a song – upbeat, full of life and fun, it’s an apt description of Geeta and her outlook despite her humble status.

Geeta lives with her mother and works as a street performer with Raka (Dharmendra) and Jhumroo (Master Ravi). She’s loud, vivacious, a bit of a crook and nothing at all like her twin sister. There is much made of the differences between the two: Geeta’s fiery nature and her loving relationship with her mother for example, compared to Seeta’s meek obedience and her constant craving for her lost parents. It all sets the scene for the inevitable switch between the two sisters.

After further abuse and inappropriate attentions from the slimy Ranjeet, Seeta finally escapes from the house and Kaushalya reports her as missing to the police. However Geeta happens to be at the local police station where she is ‘recognised’ as the missing Seeta and picked up by her ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.

On the way home Geeta decides she doesn’t want anything to do with the crazy fat lady and escapes, ending up hiding in a car with Dr Ravi (Sanjeev Kumar) in a coincidence that is only ever possible in Bollywood. Dr Ravi has already met Seeta as a possible marriage candidate and at the time wasn’t impressed at the way Kaushalya presented her niece, but he finds the new ‘Seeta’ intriguing and the two end up falling in love.

Since she feels sorry for the grandmother, Geeta ends up back in the mansion living with Seeta’s family, but she doesn’t appreciate the idea of being their servant and certainly won’t put up with any abuse. It’s a shock for everyone in the family when their previously docile slave lashes out and forces everyone else to work instead. Geeta is hilarious as she pretends to be Seeta and turns the tables on Kaushalya and Ranjeet. There is so much to laugh at, but also plenty of drama and a good balance between the two. It all works so well because of the excellent performance by Hema Malini as the two different sisters. Geeta is a strong and determined character and Hema conveys this resolution with body language and expression just as much as by the dialogue. Seeta is quieter and more submissive, keeping her eyes downcast and her voice softer, but in her own way is just as determined to get what she wants once she breaks free of her restrictive family. It’s hard to believe that no-one seems to question the identity of the two sisters, especially since Hema makes them two very different people but no-one ever seems to consider the possibility and that allows the chaos to continue.

While Geeta is busy reforming Seeta’s family, Seeta is found by Raka who naturally thinks she is Geeta and takes her back to Geeta’s foster mother Leela (Radhika Rani).  Seeta blossoms with the love of her new ‘mother’ while Leela is amazed to have a daughter who can cook, sew and volunteers to visit the temple.

Despite her abysmal attempts at street performing, Raka falls in love with Seeta while for no real apparent reason, Seeta falls in love with him. Although to be fair he is probably the first person she has met who is as self-absorbed about his orphan status as she is, and their shared misery does create a bond. Their wedding is set, as is Geeta’s to Dr Ravi but of course the path of true love never runs that smoothly and there is still the confusion between the two sisters to sort out. Although Raka tries to save the day, in the end it’s Geeta with a little help from her sister who proves that anything a Bollywood hero can do, a heroine can do even better. It’s all totally crazy, over the top and Hema seems to have an excellent time beating up all the bad guys in the fight scenes.

The cast here are all excellent and they are perfectly cast to fit well into their roles. Sanjeev Kumar is effortlessly charming and debonair as Dr Ravi. His assertion that he wants a good Hindustani girl as his ideal wife did make me groan, but despite his initial statement he doesn’t seem to mind when Geeta dresses in more Western style clothes and he positively encourages her to go roller-skating (which may actually be something that good Hindustani girls do considering the number of times it happens in films). I’m often quite ambivalent when it comes to Dharmendra, but since he is rather overshadowed by Hema Malini and his over acting goes almost totally unnoticed beside the caricature of Kaushalya, I really enjoyed his performance. Both Pratima Devi as the long-suffering grandmother and Satyendra Kapoor as Kaushalya’s hen-pecked husband provide excellent support, as do the various other members of the cast. But it’s  Hema and Manorama who are the two essential elements to the film and their scenes together still make me laugh every time.

The music is by R. D. Burman and his songs are lovely and well-integrated into the story.  Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar provide beautiful vocals for Hema while Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey provide the male voices for Sanjeev Kumar and Dharmendra. The songs are all pictured on Geeta rather than Seeta which is perhaps a shame, although there is one solo song with Dharmendra which works well. I love this famous song with Geeta pretending to be drunk to dissuade Dr Ravi from marrying her. It’s funny but very sad too and while Hema is excellent, Sanjeev Kumar provides excellent backing for her drama.

Javed Akhtar, Satish Bhatnagar and Salim Khan have done a great job adapting the ‘Prince and the Pauper’ storyline to suit a Bollywood audience and the dialogue is well written and very funny. Director Ramesh Sippy keeps everything moving along and despite knowing the switch is going to happen he still builds plenty of suspense into the story.  This is a total Bollywood classic for me – great performances, good songs and excellent comedy, all delivered with such style by Hema Malini. I absolutely love this film and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it. A full 5 stars!

Temple says:

I like Seeta aur Geeta, but I don’t love it. I first saw it several years ago and I really liked it at the time. I’ve watched it a couple of times since, and each time I enjoyed it a little less and fast forwarded a little more. I can’t quite warm to Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar is not my idea of hero material and I lack the Dharmendra Swoon gene. So it all comes down to the story and the characters.

I really like the way the story plays with the masala tradition of twins separated at birth, and there are lots of fun moments as Geeta impersonates Seeta. But it does drag on a bit once the twin swapping starts, and Seeta is such a wet dishrag that I get restless whenever she is at centre stage. Geeta is more lively but as with so many filmi heroines, she can only get a husband when she pretends to be something else – in this case, a demure young lass like her sister. So that detracts from the ‘you go girl’ mood as it turns into ‘you go girl and put on a nice sari and a long-sleeved high-necked blouse’. I also found the roller skate scene stupid and not in a good way – Geeta was a tightrope walker and acrobat and all of a sudden she can’t work out how to balance or control her body? Yes she was on wheels, but it was just a lazy way of asserting the hero’s superiority when there was no real need. Kickarse girls can only kick so much before decorum demands they are put in their place. And then to have Sanjeev Kumar as the vision of young love…oh dear. The romances didn’t grab me in the slightest as neither couple seemed to be well suited or even mildly interesting. There wasn’t really enough of a threat or menace to keep the dramatic tension either, as most of the ‘bad’ characters were more slapstick than villainous.

Overall, I like this enough to say see it as a good timepass. It’s colourful, the music is pleasant although I don’t think it’s great, the mood is generally upbeat (apart from all the attempted rapes and beatings). But it’s not a film that rewards repeated views and there are many other masala favourites I would rather see again. 3 stars.