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!

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!