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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Geeta Mera Naam

Geeta-mera-naam

Sadhana’s Geeta Mera Naam is masala with an added dimension of weird.  The cast includes Sadhana, Sunil Dutt and Feroz Khan; all veteran stars with a diverse portfolio of work. Add in the usual suspects like Helen, Rajendranath, Keshto Mukherjee and even Jr Mehmood and you’ve got the ingredients for entertaining excess at your fingertips.

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Widowed Ma Saraswati (Achala Sachdev) takes her four children to the fair. Experienced masala watchers know that any visit to any amusement with a child is bound to end in tears and separation. Bandits raid the fair, as they do, and in the ensuing mayhem Saraswati keeps hold of Geeta but loses her twin Kavita. The boys are swept away before their matching tattoos could be completed, leaving Chandu with half a monkey on his forearm. If only some people had worn short sleeves in key scenes. Suraj is taken by the bandit leader as a replacement for his dead son while his brother is adopted locally. Years pass. Geeta (Sadhana) is a petty criminal, in and out of the cells at the police station run by her(unknown to either of them) long lost brother Inspector Chandu (Ramesh Deo). Kavita, now called Nita (also Sadhana), is a nice girl who teaches orphans in her spare time.  Nita’s adoptive parents sell her to Mohanbabu who wants her for a few months, or until he loses interest. Then they can sell her again. As she fights to escape someone kills Mohan. Nita sees a shadowy figure in a hat but the police charge her with the murder. And what of Suraj? Now called Johny (Sunil Dutt) he is a successful smuggler with a gang and a pretty good lair and a masala death trap and … a man called Sheroo who whips him, and a toy monkey, his memento of that day at the fair. Johny’s best friend (other than the monkey) and lieutenant is Raja (Feroz Khan), equally ruthless and pragmatic about the business at hand but with more of an eye for the ladies.

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Sadhana didn’t exactly challenge herself with a double role as Nita, the good twin, is only seen for a short time and Geeta does all the heavy lifting. But Geeta is a great character. Feminine but independent and strong, she insists on being seen as an individual not someone who answers to “hey girl”. Sadhana’s clothes as Geeta were quite mid 70s frumpy and not what I expected from such a fashion icon. Geeta discovers her sister Nita in jail and decides to find the real killer. Learning that Johny did the deed, she infiltrates the gang through Raja.

Geeta uses her fearless attitude, kickarse fighting skills and feminine charms to gain his interest and for some reason, her feelings are also engaged, making vengeance a little more complicated.

Sadhana is a very capable actress but I found her direction more interesting than her performance. The film is a bit darker and more low key than the average masala flick, and there is an undercurrent of violence and power. Johny kills with tear filled eyes, then atones for his murders by having Sheroo flog him as penance. He is obsessed with rules and justice and blood in the sense of blood ties. Blood doesn’t recognise blood, but people do recognise their long lost identical twins and significant tattoos and remember where they were lost, all of which is handy. Geeta uses sex or at least the promise of sex to lure men but she has right on her side. She takes a strong stand against Johny partly to save her sister but also because she just doesn’t believe in his rules and why Raja feels bound by them. And his bad jokes should not be encouraged. I’m used to the first view of the heroine being restricted to various body parts, but Sadhana tries to level that playing field by having Sunil Dutt’s butt be his introduction.  Common masala themes of redemption, family, moral righteousness and the law are explored through characters struggles and insights. The standard masala requirements of separated siblings, elaborate death traps, convoluted revenge and audacious yet pointless criminal gangs are all present and accounted for.

Feroz Khan, or Fur-Roz as I mentally called him throughout, plays Raja with minimal facial expression but maximum wardrobe impact. I think there was some kind of battle raging in the costume department as he spends about half the film shirtless and the remaining half in puffy shirts. Raja is Johny’s most loyal friend but of course, once you add in such elements as a gold heist and Helen as the woman scorned, things get tricky. I’m not a fan of Feroz the actor but he did make some interesting films even if I am not always completely on board. Raja is not a very developed character but he does have presence and it is easy to believe in his authority within the gang.

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Sunil Dutt turns in a solid performance although I would not say it is his finest moment. His portrayal of Johny is over the top but he does give a sense of the troubled person under the trappings of villainy (and the pleather outfits).

Geeta-Mera-Naam-jokesGeeta-Mera-Naam-lairHe and Feroz are in a race to see who can get their teeth into most of the scenery first but considering Johny disposes of disappointing employees by turning them into his own version of Madame Tussauds, realism was never on the cards. I did like that he didn’t play Johny as obviously crazy.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-evil laughGeeta-Mera-Naam-a cunning planDespite the occasional evil laugh, the peculiar behaviour was shown in a matter of fact way, so Johny seemed like a credible threat. He was capable of friendship despite his inner demons. Sure, the gang must have had rules about things like “Never mention the monkey” and “Don’t ask Sheroo where he buys his corsets”.

The background score is fantastic and I loved the punchy brassy tracks as well as the forays into surf rock and swing. Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s  featured songs are far less interesting although they do further the narrative somewhat. Helen plays Raja’s girlfriend and finds herself dumped for Geeta. She gets one big dance number, the incredibly strange and eyeball searing Mujhe Maar Dala. Geeta intends to sacrifice herself to save Raja who wants to save Geeta as Helen gleefully gyrates in a bubble filled water feature with Oscar, singing about pain, suffering and love.

Poor Oscar. A flesh coloured onesie is difficult for anyone to carry off, and the black belt doesn’t have the slimming effect that may have been intended.

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And I’d like to give Helen a special acting award for the bit where she unzipped Raja’s jacket with her teeth. There was not a flicker of expression on her face to indicate how traumatic it must have been as his fuzzy torso was revealed.

Johny’s lair is part suburban living room, part gallery and part obstacle course.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Feroz and SunilGeeta-Mera-Naam-the other cat wall hangingThe famous Cat Wall Hanging appears. Raja’s apartment is the height of 70s bachelor style, complete with round rotating bed. Johny ends up with a cast of thousands in his relatively modest abode for the grand finish.

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I was amused to see some carpet placed over sections of the tiled floor and wondered if it was due to health and safety concerns for the actors, or reflected Johny’s experience of having to get bloodstains off the marble.

This is unlike most other 70s masala in terms of the psychology of the characters and the prominence of the women within the story. Sadhana chose Geeta Mera Naam as both her comeback and a farewell, wanting to go out as a memorable heroine.  I wish she had directed more films as this is highly entertaining and all the elements are well balanced.  3 ½ stars!

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