Karz (1980)

I love this film! I first watched it after seeing the amazing Om Shanti Om on a song compilation DVD and thought the rest of the film was just as awesome. It helps that I’m a big fan of Rishi, but there is just so much about Karz that is excellent – the sets, sing-along music and Rishi’s wonderfully sparkly outfits just to name a few. It also features a compelling performance by Simi Garewal as the villainess of the piece with Pran and even the ever-present Iftekhar in support. Although it’s basically a reincarnation/revenge story there’s quite a lot of detail to the plot and it even features dancing skeletons – so much to enjoy!

Rishi Kapoor plays Monty, a successful singer and musician who has a penchant for glitter and flamboyant backing dancers.  He’s an orphan and has seemingly has never reconciled to the lack of a mother in his life making him rather melancholy despite his screaming fan club.

Monty tries to put his mercenary manager Mr GG Oberoi (Pinchoo Kapoor) in the role of his father and Mrs Oberoi as his mother, but Oberoi is firm on his stance that Monty is an employee under contract even though he lives with the family.  Rejected by Oberoi, in his search for love Monty becomes enamoured of a young girl he sees at a party for his friend Dr Dayal (Jalal Agha) and is inspired by her to sing the beautiful Dard-E-Dil. Normally I get irritated by actors pretending to play the violin and completely messing it up, but here Rishi gets it (almost) right. Just another reason to love Rishi (as if I needed one!)

However the girl leaves before Monty has a chance to speak to her and since Dr Dayal reports that she has left Bombay that same night it seems unlikely that he ever will.  But Monty starts to suffer flashbacks of a fatal car accident which seem to be brought on by an old song he plays on his guitar.  After a battery of tests fails to reveal the cause for his condition (but did provide me with a lot of amusement), his doctors, including Iftekar as Dr Daniel, prescribe total rest.  Monty has discovered that the girl from the party was from Ooty, so he decides to head to the hill stations in the hope that he will find his love there and maybe get rid of his visions too.

Rather coincidentally he ends up in the place where 21 years ago Mr Ravi Verma (Raj Kiran) was murdered by his new wife Kamini (Simi Garewal) as he was returning to his family home. His father’s ex-business partner Sir Judah (Premnath) enlisted Kamini in his plot to steal the Verma tea plantations, promising her a life-long pension and the Verma family mansion for her assistance in removing Ravi. Kamini disposed of Ravi by running him over with her jeep and then evicted his mother and sister for good measure, installing herself as ‘queen’ and enjoying the spoils of her crimes.

Just as coincidentally Kamini happens to be the guardian of Tina (Tina Munim), the girl Monty fell in love with in Bombay, but it’s not a coincidence at all that Monty meets Tina again while boating and singing out on a lake. Because that is the obvious place to find someone – isn’t it?

Monty is the reincarnation of Ravi Verma which he slowly discovers as the various landmarks in the area cause yet more flashbacks. Despite the recurrent dreams of his own death, Monty has time to persuade Tina to marry him even although she is still at school and allegedly 16 while Monty is supposedly 21 (but doesn’t manage to look 21, let alone the 17 he claims in this song). This is still one of my favourite songs though since they manage to look very coy while discussing all the things they are supposedly too young for, but obviously aren’t!

The romance does feel a little uncomfortable when Tina is in her school uniform, particularly since Tina Munim gives her character plenty of childish mannerisms but thankfully the relationship doesn’t get too detailed and most of the rest of the film is centred on Monty and Kamini. However the romance is probably why I don’t enjoy the second half of the film quite as much as the first even though the songs with Monty and Tina are great.

Along with Tina’s uncle Kabira (Pran), Monty sets about making Kamini confess to her evil past which involves a number of elaborate set-ups including the dancing skeletons.  I totally love the skeletons which don’t seem particularly scary to me but a guy with a fake scarred face who breaks in and attacks Kamini is much more frightening and makes me jump every single time – even though I know he is hiding outside the window!

Rishi is brilliant here as he changes from the rather naïve young singer to a driven and obsessed man out for revenge. I love his tormented ‘I want her’ to his future father in law as he confronts Kamini in her rather opulent bedroom. It’s nicely ambiguous and sets up Monty’s deceitful plan to force a confession.  But even better is Simi Garewal’s portrayal of a woman gradually falling in love and then slowly being driven insane as Monty various schemes convince her that her dead husband is back for revenge.  Which of course he is!

It is rather strange that Kamini doesn’t appear to have aged in the 21 years that have passed since Ravi Verma’s death but  Subhash Ghai tries to get round that by showing her wearing a succession of wigs which are presumably concealing her age. Plus it’s a touch of vanity to reinforce that Kamini is not a nice person at all.

There are a few other oddities.  While the sets for the songs are superb, there are some peculiar pictures scattered around the various rooms.  For example, Kamini’s bedroom features some very erotic statues and pictures but just outside the door to her room is a picture of cute kittens.  And in the guesthouse where Monty is staying there is a picture of a woman breastfeeding her baby which just seems an odd choice for a guest room.

In fact most of the pictures in this room are of a mother and her child which is perhaps a little too much symbolism – we get the point! I also have to mention the blanket/shawl Monty is wearing – it looks to me like this has pictures of people on it which just seems strange.

But to make up for that there are some wonderful lights in the various houses and guitars absolutely everywhere!

The film has all the requisite masala elements, including the long-suffering ma and disinherited sister, ably played by Durga Khote and Abha Dhulia. Pran is excellent as Kabira and along with his left and right hand men (Viju Khote and Birbal) provides some light relief from all the high drama. Raj Kiran is also good as Ravi Verma and his physical similarity to Rishi Kapoor is a plus too.  Premnath is menacing as Sir Judah and Mac Mohan equally sinister as his henchman, although the scariest part was Sir Judah in his bath!

The film highlight is definitely the songs by  Laxmikant-Pyarelal with some beautiful lyrics from Anand Bakshi. I love the spinning record set for Om Shanti Om with the flashing orbs that descend for no apparent reason.  My favourite part of Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om was the recreation of this set and it’s still one of my favourite songs. Just as awesome is the set for the final song, Ek Haseena Thi and it’s really just the item number featuring Aruna Irani which doesn’t seem to fit and is rather dull by comparison

I think this is Subhash Ghai’s best film and it’s one of my favourites with Rishi Kapoor too. I regularly play the soundtrack and sing along with the songs and if alone will quite happily dance along too – and even if I’m not alone to be honest! There are a few parts I could do without but overall it’s enjoyable and fun to watch – definitely a masala classic! 4½ stars.

Chori Mera Kaam

A child is kidnapped, only to see the criminal Amarchand (Anwar Hussain) stymied by Inspector Kumar (Policeman PRAN!). Kidnapping was clearly Amarchand’s go to plan as before long, Inspector Kumar’s eldest son is also abducted. This tactic fails, as Pran announces he would sacrifice all of his children, not just one, to bring a crook to justice.

Oh dear, such a promise made to the filmi forces of fate can only mean bad news. Things happen, as they do, especially when guns, alcohol and revenge are involved. Young Munna is abducted, rescued, caught, menaced, rescued, abducted again and finally taken in by a thief called Mr John (David Abraham).

Years pass and Munna becomes Bholanath (Shashi Kapoor).

He leaves jail after a delivering a ‘fortunately/unfortunately’ style monologue that exercises his range of facial and vocal expressions. His on/off girlfriend Sharmilee (Zeenat Aman) gets out at the same time and this delightful Kalyanji Anandji song gives us a fly on the wall view of their daily rounds:

While Bhola has a heart of gold he isn’t the brightest crayon in the box, and gets by on charm more than planning. He understands people and can take advantage of their weakness and stupidity but he doesn’t ever seem to think too far ahead. Bhola has many of the traits of a stock filmi heroine and Shashi seems quite unselfconscious about playing dim and pretty. And yes, Shashi naysayers, I do think he was acting. He could have been dressed prettier though – the brown highpants are not good especially with the Kapoor thighs.

Sharmilee is smart and more practical, despite her predilection for ruffly outfits, and I never expected to see Zeenat stealing a chicken so that was noteworthy. Sharmilee has a sick father that she supports through her petty crimes, and she explains to him that her work is what takes her away. I liked this slight role reversal where the lady gets to come and go, citing ‘work’ and her responsibility as breadwinner. It isn’t a sustained element as she does get sidelined towards the finale, but it is fun to see the girl in charge for a while and Zeenat suits this kind of role. She directs Bhola during a break in and seems to coach him in what he needs to do to carry off a con.

Shashi and Zeenat have nice chemistry as the likeable criminals. They play out their scams with relish, and bounce dialogue back and forth with dash and enthusiasm. They also have some great outfits and Shashi scores some excellent shirts.

Escaping from the police after an attempted burglary, Bhola and Sharmilee make off with a briefcase which contains a manuscript called ‘Chori Mera Kaam’. They are spotted by the mysterious Shankar (Ashok Kumar), who has a history with Mr John and unbeknownst to Bhola, was instrumental in his early life. He also seems to be beloved by the wig department.

The obligatory comic relief  in this case is a protracted and very amusing scam involving Sharmilee being allegedly hit by a car ad killed. Pravinbhai (Deven Varma), the unfortunate driver is conned into paying compensation and digging a grave at the ruins near Borivili. By coincidence this is where Shankar hangs around. By an even more fortuitous coincidence, Pravin owns a publishing house.

Bhola becomes an overnight sensation, his illiteracy and lack of nous covered up by Shankar who blackmails Bhola and Sharmilee for a share of the proceeds. This manual on how to commit the perfect crime draws the attention of villains and the police. Amarchand aka arch-criminal Number 7 wants to find a mask maker as per page 165 of ‘Chori Mera Kaam’ so he can carry out even more heinous crimes. I love that the police seem totally mystified by how people keep getting away with crimes described in the book, although they also read it so surely they should be prepared. Number 7 does have an expensive looking lair to maintain, right down to the essential stuffed tiger, so I can imagine his cashflow was under some pressure.

And then the plot thickens.

There are cross and double cross manoeuvres, silly disguises and improbable schemes. So it’s all great fun but there is a pinch of substance. The film favours the ‘good’ criminals – those who steal because they are poor, have dependants and have no other means of making a livingl. These are the sympathetic and sentimentally appealing characters. Writer K A Narayan makes some observations about the hypocrisy of the wealthy educated criminal like Amarchand who has no such excuse for his choices.

Iftekhar as the Police Commissioner looks like he turned up on the wrong set but was too polite to just leave so stayed on and did his bit. I liked Ashok Kumar as a paunchy middle aged hero – he was smart, capable and took to the wigs with great enthusiasm.  Shetty made a flamboyant purple suited appearance so it was clear Number 7 had opted for the very best class of henchman. Raza Murad played Shyam, Pran’s policeman son, and didn’t get much to do apart from being a lot taller than anyone in his family. Urmila Bhatt’s small role as Amarchand’s independent and dignified wife was quite pivotal, and only once in her scenes did I yell ‘nooooooooo’ at the DVD.

Eventually Bhola finds out the truth about his parentage. His biological father and brother need help to clear their names and bring Amarchand to justice, and it’s a chance for the petty crim to change his fate. The final confrontation must have given director Brij food for thought – it involves Shashi, Ashok and Pran in disguise, rain, lots of mud, a tiger and a bucket.

You may imagine how these things combine to form a wacky but satisfying conclusion, or just go watch the film. 3 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!