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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Suhaag (1979)

Whatever you do, don’t confuse this classic Manmohan Desai masala treat with this.

(General Beverage Warning: We advise persons of a nervous disposition not to watch the clip and also warn anyone holding a beverage to put it down as we do not wish to be responsible for any damage to electronic devices.)

Suhaag opens on a dark and stormy night, as Durga (Nirupa Roy) gives birth to twin boys. Denied legitimacy by their father Vikram (Amjad Khan), Durga is forced onto the streets but not before vowing her sons will take revenge. In desperation Durga follows Jaggi (Kader Khan), the first man she meets straight to a brothel where he sells her to the madam. We don’t know why anyone would want a crying, knuckle-biting nahiiin-ing prostitute but they seem to. Her first client is an undercover (really!) police officer who bungles the arrest, allowing Jaggi to escape with one of the babies. So now we have a villainous father, virtuous mother and twins separated at birth!

Years go by, depicted in a neat montage. Amit was sold by Jaggi to a begging gang run by (according to the subtitles) Pascal (Jeevan) before becoming the chappal obsessed Amitabh. Kishan grows up with the support of his mother and the helpful Inspector Khan. After many years, the brothers clash in a fight sequence with lots of banter and silly choreography.  Jennifer Kapoor had fun playing dress-ups with her husband as Shashi models an excellent superfly pleather suit as well as his police uniform.  Amitabh wears his neck scarves and white flares with customary panache.

We learn that Kishan is a ranking police officer, while Amit is a hard drinking petty crim with a good heart but weak resolve. Amit is in love with Basanti (Rekha) and spends a lot of time disrupting her workplace – the local brothel. These two really do have some chemistry. Check out the expressions in this song as he reminds her she can’t dance forever so she may as well pick him.

In a raid to track down cop killers, Kishan  invades Basanti’s brothel, and rescues Amit into the bargain.  The men quickly become friends. Kishan is cranky and intolerant, used to giving the orders, and likes having another guy around to absorb some of his mother’s fussing. Amit is drawn to the warmth of a family and home, and sees what he might have had if not for his orphan’s fate. Durga does lots of pining over her lost son as she stuffs food into Amit and Kishan. There was no significant song, birthmark or locket to help identify the lost boy, so there was ample opportunity for the Coincidence Department to run amok before the truth came out.

Kishan goes undercover to a disco run by Gopal (Ranjeet in an eyepatch!) and there meets Annu (Parveen Babi). He takes his policing very seriously, even when Boney M’s Daddy Cool kicks in.

Many masala laced incidents ensure that Annu and Kishan are headed for marriage. Amit acts as go between and Amitabh gets to show his comic flair in these scenes as he tries to please Kishan and his adopted Ma. It wouldn’t be complete masala without another set of separated siblings – and guess who Annu’s sister is? Basanti!

The heroines are minor characters, but do have some important scenes. Parveen is the lightweight – she doesn’t do much other than fall for Shashi and play a fun but unconvincing drunk scene. Rekha’s Basanti is shown as a more complex woman and one who could be the perfect life partner for Amit. When he needs to clean up his act and stop drinking, he relies on her to help him through the first night of sobriety.

She isn’t a plaything for men despite her occupation and has her own very good reasons for working in the brothel. Nirupa Roy as Durga is a frustrating character. On the one hand she is strong enough to be a single mother and raise a successful son, and imposes her will on the impulsive Amit. But she is so spineless and wishy-washy when it comes to Vikram, it just beggars belief.

The film plays with many masala conventions (read this excellent post by Beth at Beth Loves Bollywood). Amitabh and Rekha appear as Annu’s Punjabi brother-in-law and sister and no one recognises them, Amit directs dialogue at the audience, Shashi flashes a smile at the camera after meeting Annu. There are lots of teasing references to family in the dialogue – Amit calling Durga Ma, Vikram calling to threaten the zealous policeman and identifying himself to Kishan as ‘tumhara baap’, and a whole lot of bromance. Vikram has a very ornate lair replete with design features like a dragon wall decoration and a stuffed tiger – although it suffers from some serious design flaws including being above ground and having abundant natural light which isn’t really lair-like. He has a kind of ticket booth in the middle of the lair, and retires behind the smoked glass to deliver his edicts. Who thought that one up? And there’s even some extremely dubious Bollywood Medicine.

Things accelerate once Vikram decides to eliminate the pesky policeman Kishan , and hires Amit to kill him. Jaggi is back on the scene, and it turns out Gopal is his son so we  have the whole gamut of family drama. There is a pivotal incident at the Navratri celebration which results in Kishan suffering chandelier related blindness, and demanding Amit avenge him.

Kishan refuses to give up despite his injury, although we did wonder how helpful Amit’s hand signals would be to a blind man:

All the tangled threads start to draw into one gigantic ball of string as the film nears its end. Why Durga would be so complaisant about taking Vikram back into her life is beyond us, but that is truly not the strangest thing that happens. Amit and Kishan discover their relationship, and Durga cries. We learn how Gopal lost his eye, Annu and Basanti are reunited, helicopters, explosions, Vikram reveals his true colours before repenting, Durga cries, Pascal schemes, and Amit and Kishan kick some villainous butt. And don’t forget the dubious medical procedures. Did we mention Durga cries?

There is a pleasing symmetry in the love stories of Amit and Basanti, who might represent the better versions of Vikram and Durga if things had been different, and of Kishan and Annu who are every filmi Ma’s aspiration. The ending of the film resolves most of the loose ends and there is a sense that some justice has been served even if there are questions as to how and why and WTF?

The soundtrack is vintage Laxmikant Pyarelal and their lush big band sound is perfect for both the rollercoaster plot twists and the more intimate moments. The songs are excellent and serve to further the story so are an integral part of the film, and the stars all seemed to have a great time performing them.  The set design and costumes reflect a big budget and minimal restraint, which is very pleasing to see!

Temple says: The first time I watched Suhaag I was mildly annoyed by what seemed to be excessive coincidences. Once I thought about it further I have come around to thinking those coincidences help give the film a satisfying internal logic and structure as things link together. As I wrote that I pictured a helix…Good heavens! It may be Masala DNA! It does actually make sense to me that if you live and work in one area all your life then you do know everyone or at least cross paths with the same people over and over. Coincidences in this film arise from people and what they know rather than lockets and birthmarks, and I enjoyed seeing the minor characters having their own stories going on throughout the film. Most of the characters behave in ways that are consistent with their earlier actions and so they have a whiff of credibility, albeit in bizarre circumstances. Even Durga behaved consistently, although I do think she was stupid about a few things. If I have a disappointment it is that Parveen’s character was dull but there was so much going on, I don’t think there was room for more complexity. I liked the Amit/Basanti relationship as the writers gave Rekha a lot more to work with than they might have, Amitabh was in his element and they got a couple of great songs into the bargain. Rafi’s voice was perfect for Amit’s mix of sentiment and cheek. I am a fan of Shashi Kapoor and his pairing with Amitabh (aka the Shashitabh) is a delight. It’s strange to think that this frothy entertainment released in the same year as the much darker and also amazing Kaala Patthar. The heroes get some snappy dialogue (Amit and his chappals is just classic), and the humour is actually funny. That’s reason enough to praise Manmohan Desai! I have to admit that I didn’t think twice about the ‘only in Bollywood’ medicine, or villains escaping a blazing warehouse in a boat…on dry land… so perhaps my masala consumption has had a lasting effect. Nevertheless, I have watched this film so many times and I always enjoy it and never fast forward. I give Suhaag 5 stars!

Heather says: Suhaag isn’t one of my favourite Shashitabh films, nor do I think it’s one of Manmohan Desai’s best. This is despite the fact that it has every single Masala plot point possible, which really should ensure a great film. Perhaps it’s the sheer number of co-incidences which litter the story at every turn, or that occasionally it feels as if the actors have played these roles so often that I’ve seen it all before. But it just doesn’t work as well for me as many of Manmohan Desai’s other excellent films. My biggest problem with Suhaag however is the very dodgy medicine when Kishan is blinded. Now normally I can just brush this off and treat the absurdness of typical Bollywood medicine with the disregard it deserves, but I just can’t in this case. It really annoys me! My subtitles call Kishan’s problem cortical blindness, which should mean that the part of the brain that sees is not working. In which case an eye transplant, even if that were possible, would do no good whatsoever. Temple has told me that her copy calls it corneal blindness which is just as ridiculous for a whole heap of different reasons. Even with careful listening I can’t work out what the doctor says but since his other pronouncements which follow are also totally anatomically and physiologically incorrect it doesn’t really make any difference. I’m not sure why this particular Bollywood medicine irritates me so much but it really does taint the whole film for me, no matter how many times I’ve watched and tried to ignore it.

Despite the problems I have with the second half of the film, there is still plenty that I do like. The costumes are fab and I love the interactions between Amit and Basanti. For me Rekha is the standout in Suhaag with spot on characterisation. She is as dazzling as ever, and the film comes alive whenever she is on screen. Shashi and Amitabh are always watchable together and make the most of their partnership particularly in the comedy scenes. The inclusion of more than one bad guy and so many threads to the story ensures plenty of Masala mayhem and I do enjoy the first half of this film. I just skip the rest. 3 ½ stars from me.

Surakksha

As a suitable end to silly season, we sat through one of the most ridiculous films we have found in recent times. While we have to conclude that it was immensely silly, it was also quite fab!

Surakksha features the exploits of Agent Gopi aka Gunmaster G9, (Mithun Chakraborty) a Bond inspired character with a memorable theme song.

There is a plot, but it hardly seems relevant as the director/producer Raveekant Nagaich and writer Ramesh Pant seem to take their favourite scenes from a number of Bond movies (as well as a few other classics) and string them together in no particular sequence. These random episodes are glued together with some outlandish effects (more on those later) and usually showcase Mithun in the tightest whitest flares he can squeeze himself into.

While we’re talking about the pants,  they did inspire some lengthy discussion. Not only are they incredibly tight, they also have the largest bell bottoms we have seen. Surely this must make sneaking into buildings, cemeteries, warehouses and various other assorted locations difficult – not to mention the problems caused when dancing on the beach. And we suspect a constant flapping noise from the enormous flares would have undermined his attempts at stealth, even if the yards of fabric remained unseen. However Mithun seems unconcerned by this choice of clothing, while we feel it may explain some of the dance moves. Or then again, maybe not. We concluded that Amitabh is a man who can wear tight white flares and actually carry them off. Mithun can’t.

In fact, generally the outfits were rather wonderful with an abundance of pleather in various shades and some nifty pantsuits. We owe this bounty to Bhanu Athaiya and their team! Mithun also seems to be either waxed to within an inch of his life, or perhaps is just not a particularly hairy man. For whatever reason he really was quite shiny in his (fairly frequent) shirtless scenes. Since we didn’t have to keep track of the plot (the writers hadn’t so why would we?), we had time for this philosophical pondering.

Other highlights of the film are the amazing leaping animals and their sound effects. Who knew that sharks can both sound like dolphins and growl (well OK, other than anyone who has seen Chatrapathi) as they leap from the water in search of their prey. There is also a diminutive snake that manages to make impressively athletic lunges at Mithun as he ably fends it off with a dish lid.  Sadly the snake doesn’t growl, but does manage to leave considerable damage in the plasterboard thanks to its amazing leaping skills and velocity. It was sad to see the snake dispatched by means of a pillow and a toilet – that snake deserved better than being flushed.

We don’t think ‘enjoyed’ is the right word to describe our reaction, but the nightclub dance number featuring Aruna Irani and some fabulous decor is very memorable.

 

 

Overall the effects are spectacularly bad with any number of toy cars and trucks being employed to demonstrate the amazing properties of Gunmaster G9’s chosen mode of transport, the talents of the design team and the effects of combustion.

Although G9’s car is small, and rather impractical considering the number of women he attempts to fit in at the beginning of the film, it does boast the usual accoutrements essential for any spy about town. There are pop-up guns, a device to pour oil on the road, one to squirt soapy water on a pursuers windscreen, and of course a parachute for those moments when you find yourself driving off the edge of a cliff because you haven’t been looking where you are going. Doctor Who fans will also be delighted by the appearance of what looks like a sonic screwdriver (but sounds like a jackhammer), a particularly useful device if you find yourself interred in a polystyrene grave.

There were also a couple of toy boats that looked Significant, but we never did learn their fate as we had a few technical difficulties. Despite the best efforts of the DVD player and computer to spare us the full film, we managed to soldier on. With two copies of the DVD and Temple’s technical skills we were not going to be beaten by some inanimate electronic equipment!  The copies we had also suffered from being a VCD with no subtitles, but as we mentioned, the plot really didn’t seem to be the point of this film anyway. It did lead us to discover that Mithun mumbles – he was really very hard to make out, while the other actors were much clearer although still never really made any sense.

Iftekhar plays the head of the organisation Mithun works for and checks in periodically to see what his spy is up to; generally warning him to stay away from women, and fretting when he doesn’t call on time. Mithun’s love interest is ably played by Ranjeeta Kaur who does a good job of keeping a straight face throughout the more bizarre of Mithun’s dance moves. At times we did wonder what the choreographer’s direction could possibly have been!

The story involves the hunt for G9’s colleague, Jackson, kidnapped by the nefarious Hiralal (Jeevan obviously enjoying himself as the villain and bearing a resemblance to Dick Dastardly in this screencap) and his glamorous sidekick Neelam (Mala Jaggi). These two are mere lackeys of the real bad guy – the mad scientist Dr Shiva (?) who lives in an underwater lair seemingly surrounded by giant goldfish. The lair is very well appointed, complete with a robot controlled by the buttons on Dr Shiva’s metal hand and amazingly ineffectual female guards armed with red plastic guns (or hairdryers).

To ensure everyone turns up for the final showdown, Jackson’s wife and son have been kidnapped along with Mithun’s trusty sidekick Kabari (Jagdeep as the comedy relief). We have yet more action as air ducts are explored (children do have their uses) and crutches are reassembled into a ‘machine gun’ (hello Day of the Jackal!) – although it looked much more like a shotgun to us but what do we know. We are not the Gunmaster G9. Like any well schooled villain Dr Shiva pontificates about his plans for world domination using his death ray thingy that appears to be able to cause gigantic waves. Or something. It really doesn’t matter because we know that Gunmaster G9 will save the day, get the woman and exasperate his boss.

Everyone spends a really long time explaining their secret plans to anyone who will listen, before a dance off between G9 and Hiralal to settle the question of…well, we don’t know for sure, but we do know Jeevan lost. Mithun then has to fight several champions in several fighting styles (hello Bruce Lee!) although no one seemed particularly committed to the biffo.

The music is by Bappi Lahiri and is really quite terrible although often unforgettable as we tried to work out which song he had copied so badly. This was such a terrible film we have decided we absolutely must have a better copy with subtitles to really be able to get the full effect and to fully appreciate our favourites, the snake and the shark. And we both love a good lair and a death ray thingy contraption:

Many thanks to the people who inspired us to watch this masterpiece: take a bow Shalini Akhil and Memsaab! An absolute classic of the So Bad Its Good variety!

Temple says: I can’t think how I have gone so long without seeing this. Really – it has everything and more, and yet sort of adds up to so much less. I love the film makers determination to make a Bond film with no Bond, no budget and no idea how to replicate the style, and it really is very entertaining. I am a fan of Bond, and could happily pick out scenes lifted from Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice and Live and Let Die to name a few.  Heather had to put up with me cheerfully predicting what was to happen and I have to give this to Ramesh Pant – he knows his Bond too. Iftekhar was excellent as the equivalent of M and Jeevan excelled as the evil flunky.  There is something delightfully optimistic about a death ray thingy made mostly from tin foil and tupperware and that just makes me happy. Unfortunately the VCD we had didn’t allow for good screencaps so we can’t show you the real magnificence of the set design and the ‘special’ effects. I think you’ll just have to watch this for yourself! 3 stars from me, maybe 3 and 1/2 if I’d had a glass or several of wine.

Heather says: This was a fabulous fun film for all the best reasons. There were super sets and seventies decor, amazing outfits, dreadful choreography and the worst special effects I have seen for a very long time. I really loved some of the lights and lamps, and at one point there were exactly the same tiles as my parents had in their bathroom back in the seventies – just fab! I’m not such a big Bond fan as Temple – I do like the movies but the last time I watched most of them was years ago –  but to me, apart from the lack of cocktails, this film had every bit of 007 squeezed in. A bit like Mithun and those pants – no more could possibly fit! There were time bombs, listening devices, a machine that spat out strips of paper for no apparent reason and of course the end-of-the-world-death-ray-wave-maker machine. This film really deserves no stars whatsoever – it actually is that bad, but I give it 4 stars for the whole experience. One to watch with friends who can appreciate the finer details!