Khoon Bhari Maang

Ah the Eighties. When hair was big, shoulder pads were bigger and glitter eyeshadow was essential. Khoon Bhari Maang is a quintessential eighties movie that I love, despite its addiction to gore and systematic overuse of Khader Khan. I can’t say that it’s a good movie, or even that it falls into the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ category we all know and love, but somehow once I start watching I’m hooked by Rekha’s transformation and quest for revenge.  It’s over the top, trashy and melodramatic, but for a nostalgic wallow in the swamp that was eighties drama, you can’t go past Khoon Bhari Maang!

The film is based on an Australian miniseries from 1983 called Return to Eden. I’ve never seen the show, but Wikipedia makes sound like Australia does Dallas, so it may be worth tracking down online too.

The story starts with Aarti (Rekha), a young widow with 2 young children, who is also the heir to her father’s huge business empire. In the first 5 minutes her father (Saeed Jaffrey) is murdered by his close friend Hiralal (Kader Khan) who then wastes no time in introducing Aarti to his wastrel nephew Sanjay (Kabir Bedi). Sanjay has a penchant for removing his shirt and a plan to marry Aarti to gain control of her millions, despite carrying on an affair with Aarti’s best friend Nandini (Sonu Walia).

Aarti’s husband Vikram (Rakesh Roshan) was killed in a car accident some years before and she lives for her children, so Sanjay befriends Kavita (Baby Shweta) and Bobby (Master Gaurav) as the way to Aarti’s heart. There are a few flashbacks to happier times with Aarti and her husband where Rakesh Rohan looks incredibly uncomfortable on the other side of the camera, as he frolics with a frumpily dressed Rekha. And for the first part of the movie, Rekha does look rather dreary. She’s still Rekha, but has dark shadows under her eyes, a large mole on her face and rather protuberant teeth. Sanjay describes her as ugly, but she just looks exhausted and in need of a brighter wardrobe, especially when compared to the dazzling Nandini.

Nandini is a model who is drawn into Sanjay’s machinations because of her love for a man who can look good in swimming trunks and very short shorts. It has to be noted that Kabir Bedi does look rather fine, and he makes the most of scenes at the pool and every other possible opportunity to remove his shirt. However, rather than his sleek chat up lines and body flaunting, it’s his attentions to her children that convinces Aarti she should marry Sanjay and provide them with a father figure. With the bonus of someone she trusts to run the business.  

It doesn’t take long after the wedding (actually the next day), for Sanjay to rid himself of his troublesome wife by throwing her to the jaws of a waiting crocodile. Queue screams, lots of fake blood and Sanjay threatening Nandini to keep schtum about her part in his devious plan. But Aarti escapes! After being rescued by an old man (Paidi Jairaj) she sells the jewellery she was wearing at the time of her attempted murder and heads off to the US for some needlessly graphic plastic surgery. The now apparently unrecognisable Aarti returns home as model Jyoti and is immediately picked up by Nandini’s photographer J.D. (Shatrughan Sinha). Naturally this doesn’t go down well with Nandini, and the rivalry between the two models culminates in a wonderfully crazy dance-off where attitude and sheer sass seem to be the criteria needed to win. After destroying Nandini’s professional career, with her new glamourous looks and the support of JD, Jyoti sets out for her next goal: revenge on her murderous husband.

The story builds slowly during the first half, but this is more than made up for by the drama and total fashion insanity of the second half. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of craziness in the first half, but it’s off set by the annoying presence of Khader Khan and Rekha’s irritatingly meek Aarti. Once Rekha transforms into Jyoti, everything gets bigger, bolder and much more dramatic – and that’s just the fashion! Jyoti is determined to get her revenge and she sets out to destroy Sanjay with the sort of bloody single-mindedness usually reserved for male heroes in Bollywood. I love that Rekha is given the opportunity to have her revenge without relying on anyone else, and that revenge is just as satisfyingly gruesome as could be expected. Despite all its faults, the saving grace of the film is that Aarti is quite capable of rescuing herself, saving her family and getting her revenge, all without any male assistance or even advice. You go girl!

Rekha is awesome throughout. She nails the meek and mild-mannered Aarti, but is so much better as the stunning model out for revenge. Her Jyoti is stardom personified with attitude that simply sizzles off the screen with a sneer sharp enough to draw blood. Rekha takes ownership of all the ridiculous outfits and outlandish hairstyles too, so that when she ends up in black leather and wielding a whip, it seems less an erotic fantasy and more a practical outfit for revenge – easier to get blood off leather I imagine.  Kabir Bedi is excellent too in this negative role where he hams it up as a seductive suitor who quickly shows his true colours once the knot is tied. It’s a great performance and who can complain if he spends most of his time by the pool in various stages of undress. I do draw the line though at the needless appropriation of Vangelis Chariots of Fire theme into a tacky song visualising a romp in the pool between Kabir Bedi and Sonu Walia. But for the rest, Kabir is nicely wicked and appropriately charming as he woos Aarti and then Jyoti. Poor Sonu Walia doesn’t have anything like as good a time as her Nandini is a bit of a wet blanket who falls over herself to do whatever Sanjay wants.

One of the best parts of the film for me is right near the end when Jyoti removes her green contact lenses. A move that makes her INSTANTLY RECOGNISABLE!!! Who knew just changing the colour of your eyes could have such an effect? Also worth looking out for are Aarti’s heroic dog Jumbo and smart horse Raja, who know what is going on well before any of the human characters, and the various servants and supporters of Aarti who add more drama to the proceedings whenever possible.

Khoon Bhari Maang is not a good film, but Rekha makes it worth watching for her crazy outfits, huge eighties hairstyles and bloodthirsty quest for revenge. I know most people skip straight to the second half, but I like the slow build-up through the first half and the gradual monsterisation of Kabir Bedi as his true colours start to show through. For fans of 80’s Bollywood, big hair, crocodiles and revenge, this is surely as good as it gets. 4 stars.

Mala Aai Vhhaychy / Mimi

Recent release Mimi is a remake of Marathi film Mala Aai Vhhaychy, and I thought it would be interesting to watch both before reviewing. Mala Aai Vhhaychy and Mimi are based on a story about surrogacy and what happens when the biological parents don’t want the child, but the approach and therefore the overall impact is quite different. Mala Aai Vhhaychy is the more successful of the two,  winning the National Film Award for best Marathi film in 2011. The remake Mimi skips many aspects of the original story, and unsuccessfully adds more comedy, ending up as a pale although overly melodramatic version of the story. Despite problems with both films, if you have a choice, opt for the original. Umila Kanetkar is wonderful and ultimately the story has more to offer.

Mala Aai Vhhaychy means ‘I want to be a mother’ and the film starts with the arrival of Mary (Stacy Bee) a rich American who has travelled to India with her husband to find a surrogate for their child. Mary appears to have organised everything by herself, and although there is a brief glimpse of her husband, mostly she appears alone. The surrogate Mary has found is Yashoda (Umila Kanetkar), a farmer’s wife whose husband has vanished on a pilgrimage and left her to run their small farm by herself. Yashoda’s farm is at the edge of a small village whose inhabitants are bewildered and fascinated by the arrival of Mary in her low cut tight white dress and high heels – understandably so to be honest! Perhaps writer/director Samruoddhi Porey wanted to foreshadow Mary’s shallowness and poor character by using the familiar tactic of revealing clothing, drinking and smoking to portray a ‘bad woman’, but instead Mary comes across as simply unrealistic given the wealth of information available to foreigners arriving in India.

However, despite her odd choice of wardrobe and tendency to flirt with Yashoda’s brother Ganpat (Vivek Raut) Stacy Bee does make a reasonable attempt at a woman desperate for a child and taps into the many emotional shifts well. A scene where she helps Yashoda cook along with her obvious joy when Yashoda is confirmed as pregnant help to make her a more sympathetic character than first appears. Mary does seem to connect with Yashoda too and she also has a basic, if limited understanding of the difficulties Yashoda faces which again helps make her less one dimensional. 

When a medical appointment reveals that the child may be born disabled, Mary shows her lack of empathy by giving Yashoda money and telling her to leave the child in an orphanage before she leaves India. Devastated by Mary’s abandonment of her child, Yashoda decides to keep the baby and when he is born perfectly healthy treats him as if he was her own child. 

Part of why this film works well is the rationale behind Yashoda’s decision to act as a surrogate and her attitude towards Madav (Aiden Barkeley). Yashoda’s daughter Surekha has a spinal condition and is confined to a wheelchair, so Yashoda uses the money she receives to pay for an operation for her daughter. Along with shining a light on the reality of farming life and the results of poor medical access and superstition in Indian villages, the film also briefly looks at the serious issue of farmer suicide. Yashoda’s best friend Nanda (played by the director) deciding to take her own life when her situation appears hopeless and the film doesn’t shy away from the overarching patriarchy that invades every aspect of Nanda’s life. In contrast, Yashoda is portrayed as someone able to work within the confines of her society to achieve the best outcome she can in the circumstances. Umila Kanetkar is simply brilliant in the role, getting her mixed emotions across as she comes to terms with the blows fate has dealt her while simultaneously looking after her daughter and unexpected son with equal amounts of love and affection. Aiden Barkeley too is excellent, and performs well as a white child trying to understand why he looks so different from his mother.

Even though the treatment of Mary is unrealistic, the rest of the characters all fit well into their landscape and apart from some ill-advised comedy around Ganpat and his fiancée, the screenplay unfolds naturally. It’s not until the end that the film veers into melodrama, but thankfully this is brief and reasonably well supported by the previous characterisations so doesn’t feel too out of proportion to the rest of the film.

Sadly the same cannot be said for Mimi.

Although the remake follows the same basic plot of a young woman acting as a surrogate who is then left to bring up the child herself, the situation is far less believable. This time Summer (Evelyn Edwards) and her husband John (Aiden Whytock) present a more rational picture of an American couple looking for a surrogate, but their choice of mother is rather less successful. Mimi (Kriti Sanon) is an aspiring actress and dancer who decides to have the couple’s child to give her the necessary funds to advance her career. This is such a bizarre choice that isn’t helped by the inclusion of Bhanu (Pankaj Tripathi) as the couple’s driver who ends up staying to help look after Mimi as her pregnancy advances and then later when she is left to raise the child herself. This includes some attempts at comedy such as his being mistaken for Mimi’s husband when she is forced to return to her family for assistance, but none of this works well. Mimi’s attempts to conceal her pregnancy from her family are farcical and further attempted comedy around Mimi staying with her Muslim friend Sharma (Sai Tamhankar) also fall woefully short. 

As in the original story, the child is thought to be disabled and Summer tells Mimi to abort the baby before leaving India. This leads to a clunky scene where Mimi gives an anti-abortion speech that feels outdated and completely out of place before she declares she will go ahead and have the baby. She’s in her final trimester so even a mention of the illegality of such a late-stage abortion would have been better than this terrible attempt at anti-abortion drivel, and even Kriti Sanon looks uncomfortable at delivering such woeful dialogue. Once the baby is born, the melodrama here keeps building leading to an unsatisfactory finale that is full of emotion but no substance. People make odd choices, and excellent opportunity to discuss divorce and childlessness is completely missed when Sharma offers to look after the baby, and is completely ignored. In fact, overall Sai Tamhankar is criminally underused for such an excellent actress and the relationship between the two women is glossed over when this would actually have been a useful avenue to explore.

Kriti Sanon puts in a terrific performance that holds the film together but ultimately the screenplay has so many problems that even she can’t save the day. Moving away from the original premise hasn’t served director Laxman Utekar well, as so much of the important social aspects of the film have been completely lost. The film doesn’t even work particularly well as a general entertainer with so many missteps and diversions that the main story seems continually at risk of being completely buried.

Tackling the subject of surrogacy can be a loaded issue with several different factors playing into the topic. The issue of childlessness is often fraught while the decision to act as a surrogate is emotional on many levels. Mala Aai Vhhaychy goes some way towards capturing these undercurrents and highlights many of the social problems associated with poverty and the simple struggle to survive. Mimi misses most of this and focuses on the surrogacy issue alone, which wouldn’t necessarily be such a problem if it had stuck to the story and avoided the pitfall of too many attempts at comedy and unnecessary diversion. I give Mimi 2 stars and Mala Aai Vhhaychy 3.5

AK vs AK (2020)

The premise of Vikramaditya Motwane’s latest film AK vs AK is immediately intriguing; a film director (Anurag Kashyap) kidnaps the daughter of a film star (Anil Kapoor) and then records the ensuing frantic search against the clock as a thrilling hostage drama. While I had a concern that the film would try too hard to be ‘clever’ and ‘edgy’, and not being a huge fan of Anurag Kashyap, I didn’t jump onto to Netflix straight away. But the story and the trailer were enough to pique my interest.  What I wasn’t expecting was just how funny the film turned out to be, or that it would be quite so entertaining – although it does occasionally almost fall into the trap of trying to be just a little too self-aware. The two AK’s play extreme caricatures of themselves (or at least of their public personas), and the film is peppered with references to their real (and reel) lives in a modern take on a meta film that retains a distinctive Bollywood flavour.

The film starts by introducing Yogita (Yogita Bihani) as a film school student who is recording Anurag for a school project. She follows him with a camera when he is interviewed, along with Anil Kapoor, by Sucharita Tyagi in front of a live audience. Anil is talking about his glory days in numerous hit films while Anurag adds digs about Anil’s recent lack of success. The sniping continues until an audience member asks which is more important, the actor or the director and in the ensuing argument, Anurag throws a glass of water over Anil. It’s brilliantly funny and the various references by each to their respective careers sets the rivalry between the two up beautifully.

As the media splash pictures of the contretemps across the front pages, Anurag is beset by problems, with actors withdrawing from his upcoming film (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a voice cameo) and backers pulling out. But just when the situation seems dire, Yogita comes up with a plan. Next, Anurag goes onto the set of Anil’s latest film where the actor is finishing early to go home and celebrate his birthday. After forcing his way in to speak to Anil, Anurag manages to convince the star that he has kidnaped his daughter Sonam Kapoor, and that Anil has until sunrise to find her. There are just 3 rules: no police, no outsiders and the camera has to remain on. The hunt is on, and as Anil becomes ever more frantic in his attempts to find his daughter, Yogita keeps the camera keeps rolling while Anurag keeps fanning the flames.

It definitely helps to have some idea about the two AK’s and to know something about their respective careers, families and the stories about each. At times the insults cut very close to the bone, but the film plays on this, aiming for the biggest shocks and the nastiest rumours. There are some brilliant moments; such as a scene in a police station where Anurag convinces everyone that Anil is just acting and an extended chase sequence where Yogita is struggling to keep up and the bouncing camera adds to the improvised feel of the film. But at the same time there are some scenes that drag on a little too long and Anurag’s overacting starts to become a tad annoying.

What I really loved in the film was Anil Kapoor and his ability to act, overact and be completely convincing as he changed from frantic father to consummate performer at the drop of a hat. The perils of stardom are shown everywhere as Anil is pressed into posing for selfies by almost every person he meets. Throughout it all there is no question at all that Anil Kapoor is a star. Even when he’s running through the streets, dashing along platforms and accosting taxi drivers, he is never put out by the attention he receives or the demands for selfies. He just smiles, poses and then resumes his search. That struck me as perhaps being the most true-to-life part of the entire film – this endless affirmation of stardom that becomes so all pervasive that it’s not even noticeable any more.

As part of the chase, Anil ends up at a Christmas party where the revellers won’t help him until he performs for them in a brilliant ad hoc dance performance. What makes it even better is Anurag clapping and cheering at the very edge of the crowd. Despite all his digs about Anil’s slide into obscurity, he seems happy to be watching the crowd’s reaction to their hero, or, is he just enjoying the delay to Anil’s hunt for his daughter? The manic look on Anurag’s face tends to suggest it’s much more likely to be the latter. There is ambiguity everywhere, a few unexpected twists and plenty of self-aware backslapping which somehow all works better than it should.

I enjoyed this film much more than I expected. The opening scenes are fantastic and create expectation for a perhaps more nuanced film, but once Sonam is kidnapped and the chase is on, we’re back into more familiar action territory. There is a lull in the middle before the film picks up again, but overall this is in turns funny, shocking, surprising but mostly just entertaining. Be warned though – there is a lot of swearing in this film. It was fun to see Anurag’s DVD library which I remember him talking about at a Q and A session here in Melbourne, and great to see such big Bollywood names such as Boney Kapoor taking part in the action. Other things to look out for are the preponderance of shots featuring images of the actors in mirrors and the glimpses of Jogita and her camera that can be seen reflected in windows, Anurag’s tablet and the car windows. All very meta.

So if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, that’s still very much entrenched in the world of Bollywood, find AK vs AK online, sit back and enjoy the mayhem. 3 ½ stars.