Sachaa Jhutha (1970)

Written by Jeevanprabha M Desai and directed by her husband (Manmohan Desai), Sachaa Jhutha is a neat little tale of mistaken identity, thieves and honest men, and proves that dogs are smarter than most people.

Simple village musician Bhola (Rajesh Khanna) leaves home to seek his fortune in Bombay. His sister Belu (Naaz) had an accident in her childhood and has needed crutches since. He wants to get her married and having any kind of disability means she is expected to come with a hefty dowry. Through a series of unlikely but expected coincidences, he stumbles into a fancy masquerade party and the path of Ranjit Kumar (Rajesh Khanna) a cunning jewel thief. Ranjit sees the possibilities in having an exact duplicate of himself to parade around town so he dupes innocent to the point of being backward Bhola into perfecting his Ranjit act. Ranjit gets his minxy girlfriend Ruby (Faryal) to keep a watchful eye on Bhola, give him deportment lessons, and keep him from discovering his new BFF is a thief. Inspector Pradhan (Vinod Khanna) is determined to put Ranjit in jail but he can’t get the evidence he needs. He coopts a lovely young policewoman, Lina (Mumtaz), into playing a diamond heiress called Rita. It is well known that Ranjit cannot resist a pretty face or a sparkly rock. Bhola as Ranjit falls head over heels for Lina/Rita and his simplicity wins her over despite her misgivings. And then a flood devastates Belu’s village, killing her abusive stepmother too. She comes to the city with little other than her love for Bhola, a Significant Song, and the super smart and faithful dog, Moti. Will she find Bhola, or will she be found by Ranjit? What will become of these clueless bumpkins in the big city? Will Lina get her man? Will Inspector Pradhan get his?

Rajesh Khanna is quite enjoyable as Ranjit. He is suave, a narcissist, and wears some very snazzy outfits. He is never conflicted about his life of crime, and thoroughly enjoys his lifestyle funded by ill-gotten gains. As Bhola he overacts like there’s no tomorrow, grimacing and spouting proverbs to show he is pure and innocent. Bhola is a quick study though and it is amusing to see Ranjit getting a dose of his own medicine. Ranjit is a traditional filmi evil mastermind and he loves a needlessly complex plan so there are many silly hijinks to enjoy including a secret lair, tunnels, mysterious drugs that paralyse, disguises, and a gang of suited and booted henchmen. If you’ve ever wanted to see Rajesh Khanna fight a duel with himself, this is the film for you.

Mumtaz is gorgeous and bubbly as Lina/Rita. She seems like a competent young woman, and has a good head and a good heart. Question – were fancy chiffon sarees standard police issue? She is attracted to Bhola’s honesty and can’t reconcile her impression of him with her assignment of entrapping Ranjit the jewel thief. Lina doesn’t waste too much time sighing over her maybe potential slightly forbidden love, and just gets on with the job in the belief that the law will make her decision for her. She does get stuck with some silly “truth drug” shenanigans, but generally avoids the worst of the slapstick.

Vinod Khanna’s Inspector Pradhan is the driving force in the chase to get Ranjit. He is a little too good to be true. The perfect son to a doting mother, a genius police investigator, the golden boy. He has a strong sense of duty and what is right and he hates that Ranjit thumbs his nose at the law. There is nothing very real or interesting about the character but Vinod Khanna plays Pradhan with just the right degree of straight faced pomposity to make it funny yet still vaguely believable.

At first glance I expected to find Belu (Naaz) tiresome. But while people write Belu off as a cripple, and she herself would much rather not have a disability, she’s not completely passive. When a bunch of goons assaulted her she fought back with everything she had. When she came looking for her brother she made the most of the Desai coincidences that littered her path. Sure there was a lot of hobbling and crying but she isn’t pathetic, just overwhelmed. Naaz can handle the teary self-pity through to the more sparky repartee. She has a gentle presence that played well opposite the more extrovert characters in the ensemble.

But the real star and the brains in the family is Moti (Rexy). Moti protects Belu, fetches her crutches, fights off thugs, navigates Bombay traffic with heart stopping disregard for traffic lights, eludes gangs of armed assailants, and is generally a sound judge of what is going on. And when all else fails, trust Moti to sort the sheep from the goats.

The Kalyanji-Anandji soundtrack gives Mumtaz some opportunity to dance, but the duets are tailored to Rajesh Khanna’s awkward posturing so I felt there was an opportunity missed. And what lunatic casts Faryal and doesn’t include a dance number for her?

While the film is visually pleasing, it isn’t a blinged up special effects laden experience. The drama is generated by people, the confusion and near misses, the things we know that the characters don’t. It’s an undemanding and entertaining movie, stylish and fun. 3 ½ stars!

 

 

 

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Khoon Pasina (1977)

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Sometimes when the world has gone mad, you just need the reassuring presence of The Big B dishing out dishoom and justice.

Shiva and Aslam grow up besties in one of those happily diverse communities. Their dads are also friends, teasing each other about being rubbish at being a Muslim or a Hindu because they can’t even remember their own religious celebrations. Both dads make a powerful enemy when they stop a flamboyantly bewigged and fringed Kader Khan killing a bloke. He decides to foment communal strife in order to kill them without the police suspecting him, and somehow this is linked via a montage to Partition. The family is torn apart by a house fire that kills Ram and Rahim, leaves Aslam lost, and places young Shiva with Aslam’s ma (Nirupa Roy) as his only family.

The kids are indifferent actors, probably chosen for their evolutionary potential to end up looking like neighbourhood thug Shiva, aka Tiger (Amitabh Bachchan), and principled dacoit Shera (Vinod Khanna). Tiger hasn’t forgotten his past despite being raised by Nirupa Roy while Shera is trying to find death, but even death is worried by his body count.

Amitabh gets the best and worst of the film. Shiva/Tiger is an impulsive thug who is motivated by the right reasons but doesn’t stop to think about collateral damage or even just stop to think, a dictator in his own manner. He also gets stuck with a wardrobe that I wish I could say was part of the comedy track. It annoys me so much that he is called Tiger yet wears leopard print. Really! But Amitabh has such charm that the glib one-liners work a treat and he can switch effortlessly to show Shiva’s darker side. And some of the comedy track is funny despite itself. I particularly enjoyed the wedding party being entertained and fed by the crooks who had come to steal the bride. I suppose in a different film, Tiger could always have picked up work as an event planner.

Tiger sees the curvaceous and feisty Chanda (Rekha) at the market and is smitten. She challenges him to back up his bragging by wrestling a tiger for her. So he does. But Chanda has been engaged to gangster Raghu (Ranjeet) since childhood, and he is not inclined to give up his claim. Raghu tries to get Shera to kill Tiger but Shera says it would be better if Raghu died. Raghu has other ideas and starts messing with Zaleem Singh who is still alive and scheming.

Shera still mourns his lost family, and believes himself alone in the world. Like Shiva, he has a strong commitment to justice as he sees it, and like Shiva he doesn’t pay attention to the law. Vinod Khanna was saddled with some dodgy hair and a lot of pleather, but Shera is certainly the cooler of the grown up boys. Probably because he doesn’t have his mummy choosing his outfits. But he is also afflicted with the faux leopard trim. Vinod delivers his cheesy lines with a detached and weary cynicism threaded with sentimentality about families and honour. It’s the kind of role that I usually expect to see Danny Denzongpa in and I think he might have added a little more spark to the pathos. The long lost friends spend almost all the film apart and their few scenes together are good. I wish they had interacted a bit more to ramp up the tension a bit.

Chanda faces Raghu down with the full support of her father who says she cannot be married off against her will. Hurrah for that dad! Naturally Raghu decides to eliminate Tiger, but being a weasel he takes many indirect routes rather than simple confrontation. Rekha’s body language is quite masculine and often aggressive in Chanda’s pre-marriage scenes. She owns her space and doesn’t let unwanted contact go past without payback. She falls for Tiger but then he plays hard to get. They have a push and pull in their dynamic that is amusing but not emotionally healthy. And when it comes to Tiger choosing between his wife or his ma, you’d better believe he is a mummy’s boy who will slap his wife into the middle of next week if she disagrees with Ma. Rekha and Amitabh have that chemistry of course, but I enjoyed Chanda’s scenes where she was going about her daily routine alone and her interactions with other people in the village. Rekha can be funny as well as dramatic, and despite a few airhead moments Chanda is quick-witted and interesting.

Shanno or Shantidevi (Aruna Irani) is another defiant woman. She loves her husband Mohan (a very restrained Asrani) who is a gentle, law abiding man and they talk about their conflicting beliefs and all seems really respectful and solid. Except when Mohan is threatening Shanno to prevent her from telling her brothers or when Shanno is telling Mohan to pop on some bangles and let her be the man of the family. Shanno also happens to be Zaleem Singh’s daughter and bears her Monobrow of Fury with elan. Her immediate reaction to any insult is to grab a gun and try and kill the offender, saying her brothers will clean up the legal issues. When Raghu burns down their farm and pretends he is Tiger, it sets up yet another conflict. After a tense family visit, and a huge random edit, Mohan decides to go kill Tiger so Shanti also runs off after him with a gun.

Shiva relocates to the jungle and ends up working on a plantation owned by Zaleem Singh. He gets a nice Kalyanji-Anandji number that looks like a rehearsal for Mr Natwarlal, and Helen makes an appearance to dance for the landlords. He builds new relationships and becomes the voice of workers’ rights and social justice. There’s even an “I’m Spartacus” scene. Chanda is gradually sidelined but she remains a strong force in the film and in Shiva’s life. Nirupa continues to give him pointless and conflicting instructions. The lack of emotional blackmail opportunities drives her to almost commit a crime so she can stop herself and “Nahiiiiin!” about it.

There are so many bad guys! Ranjeet gets his shirt off for no reason, Kader Khan is slimy and arrogant as Zaleem Singh, Mac Mohan is natty in pleather as Singh’s flunkey, Vinod Khanna is a cut above this material, and there are so many beefy shirtless dudes running around beating people up that I suspect that was the main industry for the village. There are also abundant good guys, many of whom speak with sense, logic, and empathy. It’s quite pleasing to have some good life advice doled out to the hero.

And all the while Shera is on Tiger’s trail, paid to hand Tiger over to Zaleem Singh but not really believing that he is a miscreant.

What happens next? Please, you already know. And yet there is always that bit extra that makes you go “Huh?” The action scenes are woeful as I don’t think Rakesh Kumar had the faintest idea of how to shoot or stage a fight so there is minimal choreography of the stunts and lots of bizarre angles and edits to skip over the lack of detail. There is a very long and quite unnecessary horse chase, although it did prove Moti knew what was what. It’s the kind of film where wallowing in quicksand is not enough, you have to simultaneously wrestle a snake. It’s the kind of film where if you want to kill someone you have to first build an enormous wooden edifice and tie them to a stake at the top. It’s the kind of film where Moti the horse should have been making key decisions.

Despite being quite slapdash, the story contains some interesting little bits and pieces. See it for Amitabh and Vinod emoting fiercely with Rekha and Aruna Irani being fierce. 3 ½ stars!

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Nache Nagin Gali Gali

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I’m surprised there isn’t more written about Mohanji Prasad’s Nache Nagin Gali Gali. It’s a late 80s B movie, sure, but it stars Meenakshi Seshadri  and is full of dancing and snakey masala plot twists. I was lucky enough to watch this with the virtual company of two most excellent friendly bloggers and snake film fanciers, Beth and Liz and with access to the helpful Filmi Snake Spotter’s Field Guide.

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Mohini (Meenakshi) and Nagesh (Nitish Bharadwaj) are Icchadhaari Nagin; snakes who can transform into human shape. A magician (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) wants to steal Nagesh’s naag mani so he can enter a magical realm and find a cure for his leprosy.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-cursed(He has a curse laid upon him by a grieving mother, the fiery Suhas Joshi, as payback for killing her son.) He could have asked his guru (Satyendra Kapoor) for help except he had him trapped in a giant bird cage and stole his power. He interrupts Mohini and Nagesh on their full moon night of love and they transform into children, hoping to hide in the crowd at a nearby fair.

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In all the confusion the children are separated. Nagesh is mistaken for Kamal, a landlord’s son who he saved from being sacrificed by ‘tribal’ people, and taken home despite his denials. Kamal is taken by the sorcerer who thinks he has captured the snake. His wife Subhadra pleads to keep the boy and raise him as their son, which Kamal takes to easily thanks to some filmi amnesia. And poor distraught Mohini is rescued by kindly gypsies and raised as their own. Time passes, and the magician is running out of time to find a cure. Kamal/Nagesh takes a vow not to leave Kamal’s ma as she becomes dangerously ill when stressed so he is stuck, waiting for a solution but not doing much to find one. Nagesh and Mohini find each other, Kamal and the baddies find them, and things rattle along to the exciting final confrontation.

I really like Meenakshi as Mohini, but was even more impressed that this is a film where the entire climax sequence happens without the purported hero. Mohini and the good guru take on the evil tantric to try and prevent him from gaining more power and overcoming his creeping rot.

There are loads of special effects and there is a fairytale feel to the battle between good and evil that contrasts nicely with a quite earthy romance. I was saddened by the use of animals in some scenes, but there is only one incident where I thought there was a genuine prospect of injury or death (a snake versus mongoose battle). For the most the death and destruction is stylised so the drama plays out as engaging and a bit exciting without being at all realistic.

Meenakshi is lovely despite the hair and wardrobe choices in most scenes.

My only explanation for the backward bustle or peplum on the white dress was that perhaps it was really an egg pouch. I know if I was a self willed married lady snake I would not want to be bothering with 40 weeks of gestation plus labour. Her Mohini is heartbroken and wants to find Nagesh more than anything. But she also forms a strong loving relationship with her adopted family, and retains her sense of self-worth.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-RomeoNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-never mess with a snakeThere are some unfortunate comedy incidents, but I quite liked seeing a creepy Romeo terrorised by the pretty snake lady.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-The Look stage 2 with lensesNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Mohini attacksMohini dance-fights her way through the final encounter and Meenakshi shows both the disadvantage of a small woman trying to beat a man in a physical fight and the power of her will and determination to be victorious. Her posture and energy changes to show the gradual loss of strength and the corresponding increase in desperation.

Nitish Bharadwaj plays adult Nagesh and Kamal. I have to say, apart from his mullet and some interesting outfits in songs, he made little impression. The highlight of his performance is probably his comic aversion to Roop, the girl his parents want him to marry. There is a brilliant meta moment when Roop makes Nagesh/Kamal watch her dance against the background of Sri Devi in Nagin. Roop does a terribly cheesy and not at all alluring ‘snake dance’ as Nagesh is captivated by the music, leading to his, ahem, premature transformation. I love that even in that silly scene, there is room for more plot development and film references. Nitish is adequate without being particularly good or bad.  Since his characters main contribution to the plot is just to be who they are, it all works out.

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Was that book some kind of compulsory family reading? There are stacks of copies in the house. Perplexing.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-in chargeNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-new interior designSadashiv Amrapurkar throws himself into the villainous role with gusto. He goes from ashram to megalomaniacal dictator décor in a heartbeat and seems content with being bad. If only he could get rid of that pesky leprosy! He spends much of the film trudging up hill and down dale, looking for the snake with the naag mani.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Satyendra KapoorSatyendra Kapoor is stately and saintly in his flowing wig. He is like the voice of your conscience that never quiet goes silent. A lot of his role is done by voice over as the parrot got the most screen time. The final duel between guru and wayward disciple is something else as they transform into a series of animals with rich inner monologues.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-sporty bridal wearNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Sahila ChaddhaSahila Chaddha is Roop, but you could also call her Sporty Bridal Wear Lady or WTF Is She Wearing Lady. She is bubbly and determined to get her man.

I enjoyed her antics as she tried to anticipate his objections and overcome them, usually through multiple costume changes and a dance. Kamal’s mother enjoyed watching her son’s discomfort and encouraged Roop too. I never felt sorry for Roop as Kamal/Nagesh was so obviously not keen and yet she persisted. Plus she was needlessly vindictive and nearly got Mohini killed. Not cool Roop.

The songs (by Kalyanji-Anandji) are colourful and mostly uptempo. They didn’t have a huge budget for sets but they did get a good bulk deal on sequins so there is lots of sparkle.

Meenakshi does most of the dancing as Nitish Jeetendras his way around the set. He did do some slithering which was kind of interesting if not strictly speaking good. Or to quote Beth “Kya slither hai!” Both the hero and heroine were submerged in the water feature so were each subjected to the lingering clingy clothing shots. Considering snake attire, the subject matter, and the era, this film largely eschews sleaze.

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There was some conversation about a certain “pajamas – now you see them now you don’t” scene, but these are married snakes of legal age so it is really no one business but their own.

If you want an entertaining film tinged with fantasy and magic, with baddies you can really dislike and goodies that are mostly likeable and right, packed with songs and visual effects, this would be an excellent choice. It is now available on YouTube with subtitles so why wait? 4 stars!