Majboor (1974)

I watched this after reading Anu’s review, and am so glad I did. Majboor is a low key thriller, and apart from a couple of minor missteps, is both suspenseful and makes sense.

Ravi Khanna (Amitabh Bachchan) is a smart young man, working as a travel agent. One rainy night he deals with his last client Mr Surendra Sinha (Rehman), and accepts a lift from the man as there are no taxis around. Some time later the police (Iftekhar and Jagdish Rai) come to interview him as Mr Sinha was abducted that night, and found dead in a gutter. Ravi is innocent, but nervous as the police are taking a keen interest in him as the last known person to see Sinha. The stress seems to be triggering severe headaches, and he goes to the doctor. The diagnosis is far more serious than tension. Ravi has a brain tumour that must be removed. But the doctor scares him with a range of possible outcomes from paralysis to blindness or maybe being right as rain so he leaves without making a decision. Ravi has a widowed mother (Sulochana), a sister in a wheelchair (Farida Jalal), and little brother Billoo (Master Alankar). He is the sole provider and can’t contemplate a life where he becomes a dependant. Believing he is probably going to die either from the tumour or the surgery, he hatches a scheme to frame himself as the killer and collect the reward money for his family. But once in prison, he faints again and is taken to the hospital and operated on. He has a perfect recovery and then has to deal with the other death sentence. Ravi regrets his choice now he can live, and he escapes to go in search of the real killer.

Amitabh is perfectly cast. Ravi is educated, has a decent job, takes good care of his Ma and siblings, likes a lairy outfit or two, and has a pretty and very modern girlfriend in Neela (Parveen Babi). When Ravi is first questioned about the dead man he seems collected, but later goes to see his friend who is a lawyer. He knows how things can turn out when the police start paying attention to a person. When the headaches kick in, Amitabh does some excellent faces (see a small selection here).

Generally he plays Ravi as a down to earth guy with no superhero stuff. At least, not until the final scenes where Ravi is out for justice. When he realises he has escaped one death sentence but still has another looming he acts decisively and within the realms of what he can reasonably achieve. I liked his problem solving approach which was to ask questions and think about the answers, using force when needed but not at all if he could just look tall and threatening. Amitabh adds some little reactions and expressions that show Ravi can be spiteful or calculating too, and he really made the character feel solid and believable. Except for his bright red suede “on the run” outfit. What was Ravi thinking?

Parveen Babi got very little to do, and lots of spare hair to carry around while she did it. The 70s presented a few fashion challenges and I can’t say I like the micro-ruffled vesty thing she had to wear, nor the ear-blocking flowers. Neela was supportive of Ravi and he involved her in his plans in the same way luggage can be considered part of a trip. The film would be no worse off if her role hadn’t been written which is sad. And in the final scenes I had to wonder why Ravi left Neela to hold the fort when it would have made so much more sense for him to stay and her to go. Or you know, both of them tie the bad guy up. Anyway. As you can see, I haven’t much to say about Neela.

As Ravi investigates a significant ring that could lead back to the killer, he has some lucky breaks and benefits from his own logical procedural thinking. One very lucky break for him, and for the audience, is the arrival of Michael (Pran!). Michael is a thief, fencing his wares through Prakash (Mac Mohan). He is also the only witness to who killed Sinha. Pran rocks up committing a robbery then bouncing straight into the excellent Daru Ki Botal Mein. What a talented multi-instrumentalist Michael is.

Pran is flamboyant, theatrical and loads of fun. Michael is who he is, and is so comfortable in his own skin. Pran gets some excellent dialogue and makes the most of every moment without being obnoxiously OTT. And Michael is pivotal to the story. He wants to do well for himself but he made Ravi a promise. Will he sell Ravi out to the killer?

Ravi’s family mean the world to him. Ma (Sulochana) is quietly spoken and shy, but mustered up her courage to go and ask Narendra Sinha (Satyendra Kapoor) not to demand the death penalty. Renu (Farida Jalal) is in a wheelchair and the reason is never explained, there is no great drama about operations for her, she is just Renu who tries to make the best of things. Farida plays her with a veneer of manic happiness that can easily turn to tears but Renu is also quick witted. I liked that neither woman was required to have a tragic flash back or do anything other than be themselves. It was just a nice middle class family with sensible aspirations. Master Alankar is quite good as little Billoo, although when he started singing the dreary Dekh Sakhta Hoon in place of Ravi I began to hope for another kidnapping.

The supporting cast is chock full of quality actors. There’s Iftekhar and Jagdish Rai as the competent and sensible police officers, Satyendra Kapoor as the brother hell-bent on seeing Ravi hang, D.K Sapru as Neela’s understanding and non-judgemental dad, Mac Mohan as a squeaky voiced dealer in objets of dubious provenance, and the list goes on. All of their characters seems to be a good fit for their milieu, acting in ways that are consistent with their positions. It is nice to see a thriller stay grounded through the minor characters and how they go about things.

Ravi Tandon keeps the tension up and Salim-Jhaved’s screenplay weaves all the characters into a convincing world for this story. There are a couple of things I question in the final confrontation but I suppose if you pay for a leading lady like Parveen you may as well drag her along for the ride. The soundtrack (Laxmikant Pyarelal) is more effective in the background than in the songs, but the songs are well integrated and part of the action.

Amitabh is at his peak, and this is a ripping story told in a more realistic style than many of his hits. See it for the super cast, and enjoy the suspenseful story. 4 stars!

Advertisements

Khal Nayak

Khal Nayak poster

Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak is a fairly predictable cops and robbers story twined with references to the Ramayana which adds depth and resonance.  There are some excellent performances, stylish visuals and excellent music. But at a shade over 3 hours, the pace is stately to the point of plodding and there is too much emphasis on the meaning, and not quite enough on the drama.

Ram (Jackie Shroff) is assigned a case to bring down a terrorist organisation. Ballu (Sanjay Dutt) is the poster boy for Roshida’s (Pramod Muthu) gang. When Ballu escapes from jail, Ram is accused of neglecting his duty to go spend time with his girlfriend Ganga (Madhuri Dixit). When what looks like every policeman in India is put on Ballus’ trail with no success, Ganga finds a way to infiltrate the gang. She sees that Ballu is not quite as bad as he seems, although he is far from being misunderstood. Eventually the police close in, and Ganga is caught between Ram, duty, and her empathy with Ballu.

Madhuri looks stunning and delivers a strong and engaging characterisation. There is nothing simpering or weak about prison officer Ganga. When she sees an opportunity to help Ram restore his reputation, she asks for his support. Then she does it anyway. When she sees Ballu needs medical help, she just goes and gets a doctor because it is the right thing to do. Madhuri does some wonderful deliberately bad acting when Ganga, having captivated Ballu, joins the gang and goes on the run.

Then in Aaja Sajan Aaja she is simply incandescent as she dances for her Ram. Madhuri was also lucky as Ganga dresses in Indian attire, not the hideous synthetic 80s gear that Ballu wears when he tries to impress.

 

Sanjay Dutt is so very good in some scenes that it makes me angry at how bad he is for much of the film. He adopted a range of bizarre grimaces and physical tics that I think were meant to emphasise the animal side of Ballu, but just made him look ridiculous and clumsy. When he dropped the exaggerated mannerisms and just channelled the emotions, he was compelling and raw. While asserting his ownership of Ganga, Ballu accidentally defends democracy and becomes a Nayak for those people. His awakening to being respected and enjoying that feeling was nicely done, even though there was a lot of literal flag waving to make sure the point didn’t escape unnoticed.

Jackie Shroff is perfectly competent as Ram, and only tries to tear his clothes off once so that was good. For my money Ram is the least interesting character. He knows he is right, everyone knows he is right and he is not averse to using extreme force against Ballu to prove how right he is. While there is an interesting dynamic between hero and villain, there is minimal character development for Ram. A relationship between Ganga and Ballu would be a Very Bad Idea but I thought marrying Ram could be a bit suffocating.

The Ramayana elements were more obvious to me on a recent re-watch than when I first saw it, particularly the twists on that narrative. I couldn’t help but compare this with Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan (which I greatly prefer to the Hindi Raavan). In Raavanan, Ram revealed his darker side and could become as Ravana but Khal Nayak seems to say rather that Ravana has the potential to be Rama. I liked that the question of what makes a hero or a villain was articulated and that this was more than a glorification of Rama. Ganga didn’t sway from her beliefs when she was frightened, and kept her faith in Ram. Ram wanted to believe Ganga but society and the law demanded she was still put to trial. I was annoyed that she had to have her virtue validated by a thief and murderer, a man so despicable in the eyes of the law that he had besmirched her just by his proximity but whose word was still worth more than hers. I know she is Sita and he is Ravana, but still. The film plays with some of the conventions especially around the notion of hero and villain. Ram is also helped by Ballu’s testimony, his reputation restored by the hand of a sinner.

Ghai doesn’t quite go the whole hog but he does use a range of staple masala ingredients and has a lush visual style. Ram and Ballu have bloody fights that crash through walls and take to the treetops. There are long lost childhood friends and dreary paeans to motherhood. There are coincidences, speechifying and tearful reconciliations galore. The evil mastermind Roshida has a nasty disposition and lots of cats who do a fabulous job of reacting to stuff.

Rakhee gets a lot of screen time as Arti, not all of it crying. Neena Gupta makes an impression as the striking Champa. Ramya Krishnan is charismatic as Ballu’s girlfriend Sophia, and also gets both versions of the title song. What a waste to have her in such a small role, but how great to have so many powerful actresses in one film. The female characters are strong and quite distinct, but Subhash Ghai stays firmly within the conventions of 90s masala so none of them break the mould of Ma, the friend, bad girl etc.  Oh, and Anupam Kher does his customary shtick as Pandey the prison warden.

There are interesting observations about the conventions of parenting and filial behaviour. Ganga tries to evoke Ballu’s sentimental side by talking wistfully of how much he must love his Ma and how hard it must be for him to live on the run. He calls Ganga out on trying to manipulate him through sentiment, but he rejects that as unimportant to him. Question – If a villain shouts ‘Ma!’ in his sleep and there is no one to hear it, does he have feelings?

Mind you, when Ballu is beating Ram up because why not, Arti hits Ballu for assaulting Ram, Ballu shoves her so Ram belts him for hitting a Ma, then Ballu fights back and Arti comes back at him to stop him using violence.  A move straight out of the Nirupa Roy Filmi Ma Manual.

The songs are extensions or amplifications of the narrative as well as being beautiful and usually pleasingly melodic.

I am not so fond of that title track, although it does epitomise early 90s style and Ramya Krishnan works that beaded gear for all it’s worth.

Khal Nayak-Fruitbat

I had to pity choreographer Saroj Khan. Between Dutt’s own ‘dance’ style and the outfit given to Ballu in the final song, he looked more like a demented fruitbat. Seeing Ballu and the boys try their seductive dance moves on Ganga was highly amusing. But she choreographed some beautiful dances for Madhuri. I went to see the Temptations Reloaded show up in Sydney last year, and the roof nearly came off when the opening bars of Choli Ke Peeche played.

The first hour of the film could be condensed to around 20 minutes with no great loss, but things get much more interesting once events are set in motion. While it is a visually strong and often darkly dramatic film, the pace suffers from Ghai’s concentration on symbols and stylised elements rather than closely following the emotional arcs of the characters. Very much worth watching, but some patience is required. 3 ½ stars!

Jal Bin Machhli Nritya Bin Bijli

jal bin machhli

Back at the beginning of my Bollywood obsession, Temple lent me a double DVD of V. Shantaram films.  The first was the classic Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje which is still one of my favourite dance-based films and definitely well worth watching.  However the second film on the DVD was even more special – Jal Bin Machhli, Nritya Bin Bijli – a mix of interpretative dance, groovy sixties fabrics and more melodrama than I ever thought possible, even in Bollywood!  It’s one to watch for the dancing, décor and drama, rather than dwell too much on the rather ridiculous plot which allows almost everyone to declare their willingness to sacrifice themselves for love, or for dance, or for the love of dance.  In fact it’s amazing we get to the end without losing anyone, given how prone everyone is to explanatory declarations of their imminent demise.  But eventually, after dealing with treachery, betrayal, sacrifice and Hammond organ music, there is indeed a happy ending – or (and probably a better idea) just watch it for the songs!

The film opens with Alaknanda (Sandhya) attempting to follow in her dead mother’s footsteps and learn how to dance.  However her autocratic father Dr Verma (Iftekhar) has no time for such frivolous nonsense and bans her from dancing until she marries, presumably because it then will be her husband who has to listen to the incessant jangling of bells rather than him.

Jal Bin MachhliJal bin machhli

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately for her father, the family lives right next door to a huge mansion where Prince Kailash (Abhijeet) spends his days playing his Hammond organ and composing music for his resident dance troupe.  Despite an initial chilly reception, Alaknanda gets Kailash on her side by impersonating a dying fish she has rather callously flipped out of the water.  This song is an absolute must-watch as the spectacle of Alaknanda impersonating the fish out of water from the title really does have to be seen to be believed.  I could have done without all the shots of a fish in distress (or more likely a number of fish, as it’s rather a long song), so avoid if you prefer to see fish in their natural habitat.

After such a performance, the prince is completely won over and his sceptical dancers welcome Alaknanda with open arms.  I suspect because she seems just as crazy as Kailash and lets them all off the hook by possibly understanding what he is trying to convey in his choreography sessions.  At least she has no compunction in throwing her arms and lashing her hair around to a number of his compositions, immediately endearing her to the prince who realises that he has just found his latest muse.  Lord help us all!

jal bin machhliJal bin machhliJal Bin MachhliJal bin machhli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are added complications when Dr Verma tries to arrange Alaknanda’s marriage, and Kailash’s mother Rajmata (Dina Pathak) attempts to match make between her son and Princess Roopmati (Minal).  The latter is a bigger problem since Roopmati and her uncle Chaman Rai  (Raja Paranjpe) are staying in the palace, giving Rajmata plenty of opportunity to throw the two together.  I really liked Minal as the scheming ‘other woman’ and I wonder why she doesn’t seem to have made any other films.  She’s truculent, bratty and petulant – all some of my favourite qualities in Hindi villainess and not at all reluctant to mow down everyone else in her path.

Jal bin machhliJal bin machhli

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Roopmati, Minal gets to wear some very groovy saris while pandering to Rajmata’s traditional ideas by wearing transparent robes over her trendy Parisian outfits.  She also has a tendency to break out into petulant dance moves when crossed, although her rocking out to records is definitely not the type of dance the prince admires. Naturally she doesn’t understand Kailash’s obsession with his music and is even less enamoured of his obsession with his Alaknanda. Her initial attempts to separate the two however backfire when she proposes a trip tiger hunting.  I can think of no rational explanation for this in a movie all about dance but then again there is no explanation, rational or otherwise for the rest of the story either!  The point of the trip is for Alaknanda to save Kailash from a tiger, upstaging Roopmati in the process and therefore setting the stage for Roopmati’s revenge.

After such excitement, naturally Alaknanda turns to dance and performs a wonderful snake vs. peacock number in a glitzy snake costume with authentic snake coloured hair.

The drama gets more intense as Roopmati and Chaman Rai sabotage Alaknanda’s performance leaving her crippled and unable to dance.  There are more complications as Kailash proposes, Alaknanda refuses him and our heroine escapes to live in a bandit camp and ponder her future.  Indeed, Alaknanda has to face more challenges than usual for a filmi heroine and she meets them all with a distinct lack of composure and plenty of head tossing and brow beating. Sandhya’s histrionics make it difficult to feel any sympathy at all for Alaknanda’s ever worsening plight and her petulant cries of preferring to die rather than live without dance are wearying.  Luckily there are plenty more songs thrown in to provide relief from the exaggerated and theatrical affliction, and the various misfortunes are all brightened up by some inspired costuming.

Jal bin machhliJal bin machhlijal bin machhliJal bin machhliJal bin machhliJal bin machhli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Sandhya’s Alaknanda is irritatingly anguished, Abhijeet is fairly wimpy as Kailash and seems to deserve everything he gets with Alaknanda, although he does partially redeem himself with his bedside proposal of marriage.  His response to rejection is to shoot the heads off statues in his rehearsal room and then sob at the feet of a picture of his mother which seems to sum him up pretty well.  At least Dina Pathak and Iftekhar provide some much-needed class into the proceedings, but even they have a tendency to indulge in scenery chewing as the drama unfolds.

jal bin machhli

Jal bin machhli

 

 

 

 

 

 

V Shantaram seems to want to explore the passion of dance, but in Jal Bin Machhli he never gets beyond overblown and theatrical drama.  Alaknanda’s obsession for her mother’s dancing bells doesn’t translate into a believable hunger for the art itself, and seems to be derived more from an urge to flout her father.  Without that fervour, the focus is on the melodrama and while that is entertaining it’s not quite the film I wanted.  However there is still plenty to enjoy in the outlandish choreography by Praveen Kumar, including such delights as Sandhya dancing frenetically on a plate while balancing her way up a steep incline and demonstrating just how to dance while on crutches.  Just as good are the songs by Laxmikant Pyarelal who manage to incorporate the theme music from the Good the Bad and the Ugly into the stunning Taron Mein Sajkeh Apneh.  Despite all the drama and the totally bizarre plot, I still love this film for all the posturing and sheer silliness of the two lead characters and the sometimes bewildered support cast.  Worth a watch for the amazing songs and to really appreciate the Bollywood definition of melodrama, even if nothing else! 3 ½ stars.

Jal bin machhli