Kasturi Nivasa

Kasturi_Nivasa

I keep an eye out for any early Dr Rajkumar films with subtitles, and was lucky enough to find this 1971 classic on DVD. It’s a simple story, but one that’s beautifully told with mesmerising performances from the main leads. The film was written and directed by Dorairaj and Bhagawan, who were also responsible for the excellent CID 999 films, Operation Jackpot Nalli and Operation Diamond Racket, also with Dr Rajkumar. Although quite dissimilar in terms of content, Kasturi Nivasa has the same attention to detail as these movies, with creative cinematography and memorable songs and music from G.K. Venkatesh. The film was re-released in colour in 2014 and is available (but without subtitles) on YouTube in both versions.

Kasturi Nivasa is the ancestral home of Ravi Varma (Rajkumar), an industrialist who runs a successful match factory. Ravi is a widower whose only daughter also died in an accident, which has left him alone in the large house except for his servant Ramaiah (K.S. Ashwath). At the factory, Ravi notices new employee Chandru (Rajashankar) because he doesn’t laugh at Ravi’s jokes. Appreciating his honesty, Ravi makes Chandru the Chief Foreman and decides to send him to America for further training. But Chandru is also a widower and has a young daughter, so he is reluctant to make the trip and leave Rani behind. However, Chandru’s situation is so similar to Ravi’s that he offers to look after Rani until Chandru returns.

The early part of the film sets up the character of Ravi as a rich but philanthropic businessman. He has inherited wealth and knows that his place in society is to function as a role model while also helping others who are less fortunate. Ravi is very aware of his lofty status but attempts to bridge the gap between himself and his workers by telling jokes and by generally treating them well, although he still seems himself as being of a higher class than his workers. In contrast Bhojarajaiah (Balakrishna) is a terrible owner and suffers financial loss due to his poor treatment of his workers. While that sounds potentially revolutionary and egalitarian, Balakrishna forms part of the comedy track, so his loss of money and face is more about his poor attitude rather than any real concern about workers’ rights – although to be fair, at least there is acknowledgement that everyone deserves a living wage.

Bhojarajaiah also tries to set Ravi up with his daughter Prabhu, but she prefers Bhojarajaiah’s brother-in-law Sampath (Narasimharaju) and the various contortions the couple go through to avoid Bhojarajaiah make up the rest of the comedy track. While Balakrishna and Narasimharaju are acknowledged comedic actors, their performances here seem somewhat flat in comparison to other films I’ve seen, while the comedy track doesn’t fit well with the rest of the narrative. I’m guessing that it was added because there ‘has’ to be a comedy track, since otherwise there seems to be added value to the characters of Bhojarajaiah and Sampath.

Ravi looks after Rani and recruits his secretary Neela (Jayanthi) to be a substitute mother for the little girl. (My subtitles say Leela, but Ravi seems to be saying Neela which is the name given on most character lists that I’ve seen.) The child actress here is excellent and very sweet, although she’s a fair way towards being spoiled given that Ravi caters to her every whim. Neela too sets Rani up as the sole purpose for her existence, so it’s hardly surprising that Rani throws tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wishes. When Chandru comes back, Rani is so used to Neela as her mother that she insists Chandru and Neela sleep with her together in their bed. This leads to Neela and Chandru getting married, which devastates Ravi as he was in love with Neela, but never actually approached her about his feelings.

Things continue to go wrong for Ravi as he loses business when Chandru starts up his own factory using more modern manufacturing methods. As Ravi’s situation deteriorates further, Chandru buys Kasturi Nivasa and to his credit tries to help his former boss. However, Ravi’s pride leads him to refuse all offers of help, which in turn seriously affects Neela who still has feelings for her ‘boss’. Jayanthi looks stunning and she does a fantastic job of portraying Neela’s conflicting emotions and loyalties as she is torn between her former employer and her husband. The situation leads to problems between Chandru and Neela, and eventually Ravi succumbs to a suitably dramatic and tragic end, symbolising the end of an era.

Dr Rajkumar is simply wonderful here and imbues his character with dignity and charm that suits his rather old-fashioned persona. Ravi is wealthy and generous, seeing himself as a benefactor for the poor and as someone who upholds traditional values. Chandru in contrast is more modern and practical, and Rajashankar plays him as intelligent and hard-working but impatient with the old order. Chandru is the one who sees the potential in upgrading the factory and on moving with the times, ending up successful as a result of his own hard work. Both actors excel in their roles and work well together to accentuate these differences which lie at the heart of the story. Ravi is old money and the class system, Chandru is equality and success based on personal achievement. Kasturi Nivasa then is a lament for the old order, for rich landlords who looked after their poor tenants and for an opulent lifestyle that few can continue to afford. It charts the rise of the new order– modern manufacturing techniques, the loss of a class divide as workers rise up to become equal with their former bosses, but with an associated loss of morals, seen here by Chandru’s addiction to alcohol and his violent behaviour.

What I find most interesting here is the large amount of symbolism used throughout to convey the message. The way Ravi and Chandru are contrasted with each other is also cleverly done to enhance the story. Both men run match factories and believe in treating their workers well, but while Ravi sells Dove matches, Chandru has branded his product with an Eagle, presumably to signify his more aggressive nature. As Chandru comes up in the world he starts wearing suits like Ravi, while Ravi wears the same suit for long enough that it starts to develop visible holes. The transfer of power is seen by their appearance as well as by the changes in the living standards of the two men, but it’s also interesting how they are both affected by having money and prestige. Dorairaj and Bhagawan seem to be suggesting that you need to be born with money to know how to use it properly – wealth corrupts those who come into money later in life.

The songs too continue the symbolism, particularly this one about a doll that always gets back up and cannot be knocked down. Sadly for Ravi, although this may have been his philosophy, he appeared to be getting less able to get back up again after each successive set-back

Kasturi Nivasa is deservedly called a classic, with stirring dialogue and the captivating and powerful combination of Rajkumar, Rajashankar and Jayanthi. G.K. Venkatesh’s songs are wonderful and beautifully pictured, while there is a socially important message underlying the excellent screenplay. Although I watched the black and white version, the richness of the house comes thought well, and the contrast between Kasturi Nivasa and Chandru’s house is perfectly set out. Although the concepts addressed here are rather dated and some of the beliefs now seem quaint and old-fashioned, there is still a powerful message here, and regardless of the date, the film has an ageless quality due in part to the spellbinding performance from Dr Rajkumar. Highly recommended, this is one of those films that should be on everyone’s checklist – 5 stars.

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Operation Jackpot Nalli C.I.D. 999

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Since I started with the last film in Dorairaj and Bhagawan’s series of James Bond inspired films, it seems fitting that the next I review should be the third in the series – Operation Jackpot Nalli CID 999. Like Operation Diamond Racket, the film stars Dr Rajkumar as the suave and sophisticated Secret Agent 999 who is called in to investigate a series of outsider wins at the Bangalore race course. Naturally there is a devious villain with a convoluted plot and in keeping with the theme, the film has many other secret agent staples including handy gadgets, a revamped car and glamorous women out to distract Agent 999 from his task. Sadly, my DVD doesn’t have subtitles which means I can only make a guess at some of the plot intricacies, but at least the main storyline is relatively easy to follow.

The film starts with the kidnap of noted scientist Professor Shekar just when he has perfected a method of vaporising objects with his highly technical plasma beam machine. The criminal gang gain Professor Shekar’s trust by telling him which horses to bet on to win at the races, which works only because gang member Mena is surreptitiously drugging the horses to ensure the winner. The gang take Professor Shekar and hold him in a secret location, but to prevent his disappearance from making headline news, they have a duplicate who can take his place. Presumably the gang want Prof Shekar to use his annihilation machine to rule the world or some such megalomaniacal plan, but before going ahead they continue to drug horses to lure other businessmen into their clutches. Or possibly not, but they don’t get moving on using the plasma beam death ray thingy straight away and Mena keeps shooting darts at horses for a little longer. Intrepid Agent 444 is on the case, but is spotted by Mena who sends henchmen No 4 and No 6 off to get rid of 444. (Bad guys apparently only get 1 number as their name). After losing one secret agent, it means that there is only one possible man who can solve the problem – Agent 999 aka Prakash!

Prakash (Dr Rajkumar) lives in luxury with a bevy of beautiful women in his pad which features a circular bed and automated chairs, tables and a truly awesome telephone answering machine. However all of this is easily left behind when Prakash hears he’s needed to avenge 444’s death and find out exactly what is the Jackpot scheme at Bangalore race course. He takes with him Agent 888, aka Baby (Narasimharaju) who provides most of the comedy in the film. Sadly, without subtitles most of this doesn’t work particularly well and the scenes between Baby and his love interest Bunny are really terrible. However, as a Secret Agent side-kick Agent 888 is fine and Narasimharaju is funniest when he is simply reacting to whichever difficult situation Prakash has left him to deal with next.

Prakash has little trouble identifying Mena and persuading her to spill the beans on her employer. However the Boss knows about Mena’s betrayal and sends his hitmen to the hotel where Prakash and Mena are indulging in a song while frolicking in the pool – as you do. Prakash stops to dispose of one of the henchmen in the middle of the song, picking back up mid-tune without ever missing a beat, but sadly Mena is less successful at dodging the bad guys. This is a perfect scene where Mena’s body is found in her hotel room with ‘Jackpot’ written on the light so that with every swing the word moves back and forth across her body. Chilling, and very effective.

The Boss then switches to Girl No 2 – Mona. Mona is played by a very young Rekha and she makes an excellent ‘Bond’ girl as she attempts to distract Agent 999 from his investigation. Rekha gets to wear some very snazzy outfits, say ‘Yes, Boss’ frequently and even has a chance to torture Agent 999 when he is captured by the bad guys. Of course Prakash manages to escape and takes Mona along with him which prompts her to thank him rather profusely in song. Particularly enjoyable is the way she tells Prakash to proceed while blocking his driving view totally by sitting on the bonnet and dancing!

There are numerous fights, plenty of car chases, frequent audacious escapes and even appropriate use of an ejector seat as Agent 999 discovers what has happened to Professor Shekar and infiltrates the gang’s hidden lair. Adding to the mystery, the Boss is hidden behind a screen or seen from behind in a chair so that his identity is not revealed until the very end. The angled lighting too helps to increase the tension, with clever use of shadows and well thought out decor. It’s all very stylish and noir with added touches such as the ropes tying up Prof Shekar aligning perfectly with the lines painted on the wall and the wonderfully atmospheric arches in the lair.

Rajkumar makes an excellent James Bond, managing to look cool and unaffected by his capture and still charming the ladies even when tied up and threatened. No matter what happens, Agent 999 is in control. I think the character works so well because Rajkumar has plays Prakash with a mix of charm and competent action but also isn’t afraid to dress up and play a part when necessary. His bewigged guitar player disguise is wonderfully OTT and made just that little better by having a giant guitar for his dancing partner to use as a stage.

This is another excellent adventure with plenty of action and great performances from the main leads. B. Dorairaj’s cinematography ensures the film looks stylish and G.K. Venkatesh adds music that suits the mood of the film well. The Dorai – Bhagawan team build suspense and anticipation throughout the movie and although there are still plenty of fight scenes, here they are sharper and less intrusive than in the follow-up Operation Diamond Racket. There is plenty for everyone to enjoy in Operation Jackpot Nalli C.I.D. 999 and while Dr Rajkumar is the absolute star of the show, Rekha also shines and provides a good partner for Agent 999. Definitely one to see if you like James Bond, noir cinema or just a rollicking good story! 4 stars