Karate (1983)

Karate title

Karate is a terrible film, and yet I watched it. Another of my ‘if it’s under a dollar, I’ll buy it’ VCD collection, this adventure without subtitles was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Mithun Chakraborty and Deb Mukherjee star as brothers separated well past the age at which they should remember their own names and that they have siblings. They are each out for revenge on Kader Khan. And there’s the Karate.

The film opens with the Karate boys, Desh and Vijay, and their Karate uncle Jai training on a beach under the watchful eye of their parents, Mr and Mrs Karate. There is a horrible family singalong and terrible child actors (Kajal and Tanisha are credited as junior artistes but I can’t say I noticed the unibrow). Thankfully, we soon discover that Mr Karate is in fact a Scientific Genius and has invented? a diamond that will focus a laser so powerfully it cuts through anything. He hides the diamond in a necklace but master criminal Kader Khan had the room under surveillance so he knows what to do. He kills Karate Dad and terrorises Karate Ma and children. Desh escapes on horseback and starts a whole new life with carnival folk about 2 kilometres away, where no one will ever find him or be able to trace his origins. Vijay is adopted by Uncle Karate who renames him Danny. Finally it is Kader Khan who sort of reunites the Karate Kids. He finds Karate Uncle Jai and threatens him so of course Jai stabs himself with a broken bottle and dies – after a long explanatory speech to Danny/Vijay.

Revenge, brooding, slomo acrobatics, disco and clumsy Bond homage round out the next couple of hours. And Karate. So much “Karate”.

In order to shield you from the worst and perhaps enliven the viewing experience, I propose a simple drinking game. Even if you stick to non-alcoholic beverages, at least you’ll be nicely hydrated by the end of the film. Here are some clues and the rules.

Take a drink when:

  • Deb Mukherjee brandishes nunchaku (take a double shot when he makes them himself mid fight)
  • Deb and his faux-bro hug (that one’s going to hurt you)
  • Mithun looks like he’d rather be elsewhere.
  • You witness Mac Mohan and Tun Tun cavorting poolside.

Karate -Mac Mohan and Tun Tun

  • You spot a direct rip-off of a Bond film.
  • You hear the word “Karate”.

Deb Mukherjee directed and tries to make himself look dashing and daring.  He lifted several scenes from Bond films, and I suspect even used footage from The Man With the Golden Gun. His character Desh is a thief (preferably diamonds) and a chancer, even stealing a statue from a temple. The ladies love him, and this is shown by a traditional gypsy mud-wrestle between two of his admirers.

Desh and his faux-bro Imran (Mazhar Khan) also perform a nightclub disco karate routine that is almost guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.

Danny/Vijay (Mithun) is sulky for most of the film – maybe he just felt the burden of perfection. He crosses paths with Desh and his long lost Ma so many times that it is ridiculous even by filmi coincidence measures. Mithun does a lot of his signature ‘dancing’, including one excellent nightclub scene where the baddies don’t know the choreo and can’t anticipate the swings and kicks that block their way. He even survives an attack involving flaming kebabs.

Despite their roles being quite strong and motivated, the actresses are generally filmed in the sleaziest way possible (except for Karate Ma of course). I did like that Kaajal took on anyone who threated her man, extricating the fairly dim Desh from trouble even if it meant running him over and kidnapping him. Deb and Mithun are not exactly miscast (who else would have done this kind of film in 1983?), but don’t convince as martial arts heroes no matter how much you bling up their costumes.

There are some really quite remarkable plot twists. Desh tries to escape the police at a wedding he is robbing so he poses as the groom and ends up married to Kaajal Kiran. This doesn’t go down well with the very assertive Prema Narayan and the ladies have a karate catfight as well as a fight that is inspired by From Russia With Love. Luckily Danny turns up and starts shooting people and stops the skank off. There are fabulously ridiculous low budget stunts and effects, including some great Dukes of Hazzard driving skills. Even poor Yogita Bali ends up dangling from a conveniently placed rope ladder outside her apartment as she tries to protect the diamond necklace. People turn out to be related to key characters and there are a few moments when subtitles would have helped as I thought ‘dude … is she your sister?’ And what is not to like about a film that resolves major conflicts through disco Karate in a bizarre set?  Here is a snippet for your viewing pleasure.

The music is exactly what you expect when you combine Bappi Lahiri and Mithun. It is dire yet, when compared to Mithun’s endless speeches, a joy to hear. The costumes range from pedestrian to eye searing, and I would demand nothing less from an 80s B movie. It did confirm to me that my love for Chiru is not just about the silver go-go boots.

While Kader Khan’s lair looks rather spectacular, the spy gadgets and bombs are as realistic as if my nine year old self had made them from egg cartons and gaffer tape.

Karate is kind of fun although highly questionable. One for the Mithun completists, and anyone who has ever considered a career as a diamond thief/cabaret performer.  No stars. Wait! 2 stars! My inner Margaret and David cannot agree.  Maybe I’m a victim of my own drinking game.

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!

Hum (1991)

The late director Mukul S. Anand made 3 films with Amitabh Bachchan in the early nineties; Agneepath, Khuda Gawah and Hum. Although my favourite is Khuda Gawah I do have a soft spot for Hum which has a veritable who’s who of actors from the time including Rajnikanth, Govinda, Kimi Katkar, Anupam Kher and Danny Dengzongpa. The story combines the angry young man from Amitabh’s heyday with the sensible and authoritarian father figure he went on to portray in his later movies  and he does a good job of transitioning between the two personas. The film was a big hit at the time, and although it does drag a little in the middle, it’s still a great performance by Amitabh as the man whose past comes back to haunt him.

The movie starts as fairly typical masala fare. All round bad guy Bakhtawar (Danny Denzongpa) rules over the docks in Mumbai, treating his workers as slaves and killing anyone who dares to go against his despotic will. Despite his general dissatisfaction with this regime, Tiger (Amitabh Bachchan) extorts money from the workers for his father Pratap (Deepak Shirke), who in turn works as an enforcer for Bakhtawar and struggles to keep the peace between his son and his employer.

Tiger is in love with Jumma (Kimi Katkar) and the two have a rather stormy relationship, although we don’t get to see very much of them on-screen together. During one rebellion Tiger’s best friend Gonsalves (Romesh Sharma) is killed by Bakhtawar and in the subsequent fall-out Tiger’s father and step-mother also die, leaving two young step-brothers in Tiger’s charge.

Tiger immediately sets out to kill Bakhtawar in revenge but is stopped by Inspector Girdhar (Anupam Kher) who has his own agenda, and has set up the whole situation by playing Gonsalves and his revolutionaries against Bakhtawar and his gang of thugs. Girdhar intercepts Tiger and convinces him to fulfil his dying step-mother’s wish and take care of his young brothers while leaving the police to deal with Bakhtawar. In the confusion Girdhar and his faithful sidekick Havaldar Arjun Singh break into Bakhtawar’s safe and steal everything. To cover up their crime they set fire to Bakhtawar’s house, killing his wife and children in the process. At the same time they arrest Bakhtawar and send him to jail, while finally Girdhar blows up the train carrying Tiger and his brothers to eliminate any possible witnesses of his crime.

It’s all action in the first half of the film! Amitabh plays his classic role of the angry young man as only he can, even though he looks his age here and actually looks older than his supposed father and step-mother. But there is so much emotion and energy behind the character that apart from moments where the angled lighting shows up the wrinkles, it easy to put aside disbelief and accept Tiger as the slightly tarnished but still heroic saviour of the poor.

The first half of the film also features Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s classic song Jumma Chumma De De. Chinni Prakash won the Filmfare award for best choreographer in 1992 for his work on this. I’m not sure why the men have mugs of foam, although I presume it’s meant to represent beer and the water hose does seem a little excessive, but do enjoy what is actually a good song.

The second half of the film shows an older Tiger (we can tell because he now wears spectacles) who goes by the name of Shekhar and is a respectable farmer and timber merchant in Ooty. Kumar (Rajnikanth) is a police officer and is married to Aarti (Deepa Sahi) with a young daughter Jyoti. The youngest brother Vijay (Govinda) is a student pursuing Anita (Shilpa Shirodkar), the beautiful daughter of General Rana Pratap Singh (Kader Khan). Neither of the two brothers seems to have any memory of their time in Mumbai and both regard their step-brother as a rather staid and authoritarian figure, whose rules they generally ignore.

Meanwhile, Jumma has managed to overcome her early life and is now a successful actress while Girdhar and Havaldar are living well on their stolen riches and selling tanks from their base in Bombay.

The middle part of the film tends to drag as it concentrates on the unity of the family and a rather involved romance track with Vijay and Anita slows the pace considerably. There is an unconvincing and unnecessary thread where Girdhar finds a duplicate General as the original has refused to buy his tanks and the whole character of the renegade Captain Attack would have been best avoided.. But things pick up when Bakhtawar is released from jail, still wearing his now rather grimy white suit, desperate for revenge on Tiger for the death of his family. As Shekhar’s past catches up with him, everyone ends up in Bangalore together before somehow managing to get back to the Bombay docks in record time for an exciting and action packed showdown.

There are some things that are just never explained. Why there is a giant stuffed dodo in the army officers’ lounge, or a type of puffer fish above the bar we will never know.

Amitabh suits the role of the older Shekhar much better as he finally looks the correct age. His realisation that his somewhat shady past has finally caught up to Shekhar is brilliantly portrayed and the re-emergence of his Tiger character is excellent. Who knew that all it takes to become an efficient and competent fighter again is a shake of the head and a tiger’s roar! While Rajnikanth has a limited role as Kumar, the scenes where he faces off with Shekhar are excellent and the two actors are very natural together. Govinda is good as the more innocent Vijay, but as his character is there more to add comedy and some light-hearted romance he makes less of an impact. However he does have the best ever disco dance/fight scene and I do like his Crocodile Dundee inspired outfit.

Danny Denzongpa can always be relied on as a villain and here he brings depth and character to the role of Bakhtawar. He contrasts the money obsessed businessman with scenes of the family man, although even here his basic nastiness is still clear. As the revenge obsessed ex-prisoner his conviction that Tiger is still alive somewhere is perfectly shown as the driving force behind his increasingly agitated behaviour. The whole character of Bakhtawar is very well written and I like the way flashbacks to his family’s deaths help humanise him and make Bakhtawar more three-dimensional than the typical Hindi film villain.

Anupam Kher’s Girdhar is a much more buffoonish character and although his initial scenes as the police inspector are good and at times almost menacing, he becomes more irritating and cartoonish as the film progresses.  Deepa Sahi is the best of the actresses and also has the most convincing role as Kumar’s wife. Her attempts to look after the entire family struck a chord, although I wouldn’t have been as happy as she is to be fobbed off with the very annoying song that the family sing together at opportune moments. The music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal is generally good, although apart from Jumma Chumma De De none of it is particularly memorable.

This is a masala film that reaches back to some of the classic Amitabh films of the early eighties and he delivers a great performance throughout. Although there are some flaws in the film, particularly in the middle section, there are plenty of great action scenes and excellent performances from the rest of the cast. Worth watching for Amitabh and Danny Denzongpa who steal the show. 3 ½ stars.

Temple says:

On paper, this looks like it should be really good. It has a great cast and many of the required masala elements. And I really like a good socialist masala. Sadly, it fails to live up to that promise on almost every count. Mukul S Anand directs with a leaden hand and what little zest resides in the story is overwhelmed by clunky plotting and some poor casting.

Amitabh didn’t really convince me as Tiger – not just on his physical appearance, but his performance. He had some great moments, especially when Tiger was just hanging around shooting the breeze or drunkenly trying to warn Jumma’s brother, but he sometimes looked like he was just going through the motions of his patented Angry Young Man. Shekhar suited Amitabh’s air of authority, but was so relentlessly dour. Rajnikanth is cast as an airhead policeman, too dumb to know if the gun he lets his daughter play with is loaded. He just isn’t frivolous enough, and Kumar doesn’t get much to do. Rajnikanth and Amitabh share a nice rapport, but what a waste of a fine actor. Govinda’s role was totally unnecessary and I wondered if Vijay was added in just to have a dancer in the cast. Kimi Katkar is introduced by having her chest heave into view and that is all you need to know about Jumma. The only thing I recall about Deepa Sahi is a scene where she apologises for her inability to cope with the brothers’ demands and they basically reassure her that she’ll get better at housework with practice. There is a terrible family song, and many trite ‘together we five fingers make a fist’ speeches. I’d rather be an orphan! Danny Denzongpa is excellent but Bakhtawar is sidelined for the middle of the film so the best bad guy is largely missing. Anupam Kher is both comic relief and villain, and does neither well. The comedy track is hammy and misguided, and he doesn’t portray Girdhar with enough menace. The plot goes off the rails a bit when Girdhar carries the story and Anupam Kher’s performance does nothing to help the situation.

Hum is tedious and ponderous where it needed to be a fizzy blend of melodrama, action and humour. It’s a sad misuse of some excellent talent and resources. 2 stars.