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.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-monkey 1

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.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-NitaGeeta-Mera-Naam-Geeta

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.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-tormentGeeta-Mera-Naam-Sheroo at work

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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.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Helen and OscarGeeta-Mera-Naam-teeth

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.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-carpet

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!

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Mayhem

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Sunehri Nagin (1963)

Sunehri Nagin_Movie title

Sunehri Nagin is a sword and sorcery fantasy featuring Helen in a lead role, so of course I had to see it. She stars opposite genre film stalwart Mahipal, along with Anwar Hussain as a flamboyant villain. Babubhai Mistry directs in a fairly pedestrian style, but the film has loads of charm. There are lovely songs (in colour), some very good dancers, a snake goddess delivering some divine assistance, ye olde fairytale elements, special effects and some enthusiastic visual design.

Sunehri Nagin_RajkumariSunehri Nagin_Vijay

The Rajkumari (Helen) is out on a hunting expedition with her handmaidens when her chariot horses are spooked by a nearby panther. Bolting off into the blue, she screams for help. Luckily her pleas are heard by Vijay (Mahipal) who has been languishing in the forest while wearing a splendid fur trimmed suit. Within minutes he has saved Helen and taken her home to meet his blind Ma (Sulochana Latkar) and comedy bro (Kamal Mehra). They are all on their way to a pooja at the snake temple so Princess Helen goes along. The ritual involves placing bowls of milk at the base of a statue and then dancing to invoke the Naag Devi. The owner of the milk the snake drinks will be blessed. That all leads to an excellent dance by Helen and some enthusiastic ‘tribal’ dudes.

Those backward leaning kneeling statues reappear a few times throughout the film so perhaps Mistry was really commited to recycling.

Of course the snake goddess chooses Helen. So does Anwar Hussain who is lurking in the crowd. He is an evil not quite magician who seems intent on taking as much power as he can – and he needs to marry the princess to do that. He is also involved with a sorceress, Sadhna, played by the lovely Preeti Bala. Sadhna supplies Anwar with a magical laddoo that will let him travel at will, and a flying carpet. Sadhna seems to be in love with Vijay but terribly naïve when it comes to believing an earthman in a gladiator outfit. The story then falls into a cycle of Helen and Vijay making eyes, Anwar kidnapping Helen, and Vijay and his comedy sidekick going to rescue her. Add some divine intervention thanks to Sulochana’s prayers and a magic sword. Overcome the King’s (DK Sapru) objections to Helen marrying a commoner. Repeat, rinse, repeat. Until everyone realises Anwar cannot be trusted and then things go a bit pear shaped (for him).

The plot elements are pure fairytale, sometimes even pantomime, inspired. The designs are sometimes lovely and sometimes a bit mystifying. Vijay and his Ma live in this carefully geometrical tumbledown shack. The royal palace interiors are sumptuous. But I don’t know why Helen and Anwar appear to fly over 1960s Marine Drive when he kidnaps her on a flying carpet.

Vijay and sidekick encounter many fabulous perils. I think my favourite would have to be the evil grasping trees on rolling platforms but the cannibal cat man in the secret caves is a close second. Or maybe the jousting. I’m indecisive, but so many fun things happen that maybe they’re all my favourite.

The special effects team kept busy with a number of nifty transitions. Sadhna transforms herself into Helen, and is later miniaturised and captured in a bottle. The ladies change places in an attempt to fit in another song steal a magical sword back from Anwar and there are lots of flying and disappearing effects. And when Anwar says look into his eyes – don’t!

Kalyanji-Anandji are credited with the soundtrack, and Laxmikant Pyarelal appear in the playback/recording credits so the songs have some serious pedigree. The playback singers include Lata and Usha Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Mukesh, and Kamal Barot. I have to admit I did cheer when Helen stole Mahipal’s been in one song as I only have so much love for snake music but overall it is a pleasure to listen to this soundtrack. Babubhai Mistry switches from B&W to colour film for the song sequences and they are so pretty to look at. I had high expectations from Helen, of course. Mahipal doesn’t have such a natural flair for frolicking in meadows as his leading lady does. Apart from the lead actors,  there are other entertaining dances including this court piece performed by Bela Bose and Madhumati.

I watched this online and then bought the VCD. I haven’t seen a version with subtitles but most of the story was clear. I had a little moment of wondering who loved who when Sadhna and Anwar were bickering about a marriage but of course she loved the hero, everyone loves a hero, so I was not confused for long. Although I think the wardrobe team showed their love for Anwar Hussain in their own special way.

It’s quite a glamorous looking film. Helen was very pretty and princess like, and Preeti Bala and the featured dancers all looked lovely too.

This is not a film to watch for deep insights into the human condition, but it does have a pleasing internal order of justice and right. People can try and welch on their bets or lie their way out of trouble but they will have to face the consequences at some stage. And it isn’t just the bad guys who learn that. Some people are a bit more resistant to enlightenment than they should be. The final fight sequence takes place at the snake temple, mostly on and around a giant bell. Seeing the not very sprightly figures of Mahipal and Anwar Hussain clambering about added an extra, and maybe unintended, level of tension. But Anwar pushed his luck with the wrong deity. Perhaps the lesson here is don’t bite the hand that can bite you.

South Indian fantasy films from the same time seem more technically accomplished but I am guessing that this was probably not a big budget production so the comparison is probably unfair. It is obvious where some corners were cut in Sunehri Nagin, but it doesn’t really detract from the enjoyment of watching. See this for a good old ripping yarn of love and heroics, a likeable and competent cast (especially Helen) and the array of visual delights on offer. 3 ½  stars!

Jalte Badan

jalte_badan-Cover

Once again, I was sucked in to buying a DVD based on the cover. This time it was the bold quote above the title that said “Picture has a moral…” But I was finally motivated to watch it by Memsaab Story’s excellent and very funny review. What a delight – Jalte Badan is so wrong it has to be right. Ramanand Sagar subscribes to the ‘more is more’ style of direction, and he is not stingy with the sequins, drama, emotion and ridiculous consequences.

Kiran (Kiran Kumar) is an innocent country lad sent to study in Mumbai. Easily drawn to alcohol, drugs, loose women and hideous décor, Jalte Badan traces his journey into degradation, blindness and woe-is-me-ness.

Jalte Badan_KumKumJalte Badan_crisis of conscience

Kiran and Ganga (Kum Kum) meet when he shoots a bird and she tells him off, waving the poor red paint splattered pigeon in his face for emphasis. Stunned by her compassion or maybe her tiny outfits, he falls in love. She is swept off her feet by…um. I don’t really know. His forlorn puppy face. Or something.

Jalte Badan_Ganga and GaneshJalte Badan_Ganga and her brother

Ganga lives with her father and an assortment of snakes, including her brother and favourite accessory, Ganesh.

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But the youngsters cannot get married and live happily ever after just yet. Ganga endures a trial by fire to prove her purity and to save her father’s reputation. Her dad didn’t actually want her to do that which I found pleasing. But the Snake God and propriety must be appeased so she prances about on hot coals, waving some very synthetic and flammable looking scarves.

Kiran goes to college and attracts the ire of the groovy students who don’t want to be shown up by a tall skinny nerd. He was already headed for trouble though – Malti (Padma Khanna), local nautch girl also relocating to Mumbai to pursue business opportunities, had her fabulously made up eyes on him.

Jalte Badan_the in setJalte Badan_nerds

All the women seem to resent his declared love for Ganga and set out to prove that he cannot be in love, as men never really are (they say). It’s silly and a bit unpleasant as the girls are quite strident and pretend feminism is doing what a man would do. But mostly it’s ridiculous. Malti is outwardly a cynic but she respects Kiran’s steadfast love for Ganga even as she tries to prove it is false. She is a softy under all the bling, spare hair and eyeliner. Despite his goody goody intentions, Kiran takes to iniquity like a duck to water.

Jalte Badan_drug cultureJalte Badan_the cure

Kuljeet (Kuljeet) is a sleazy sidekick to the Boss (Manmohan), Malti’s employer and owner of a club designed to get the kids drugged, fleeced and blackmailed.

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They take advantage of Kiran’s complete inability to say no to anyone or anything. From then on the film is a parade of Kiran’s drug faces and poor decision making.

Jalte Badan_drug faces

Ganga and Malti are feisty and foxy B movie ladies, much more fun than any simpering good girl heroines. Both love Kiran and in their own ways do what they can to free him. Ganga comes to town to find him and is also lead to Boss’s lair.

Jalte Badan_Ganga and her dadJalte Badan_control your snake

Jalte Badan_Ganga and the BossJalte Badan_feisty

Where her snake clears the dancefloor, and she kicks the bejesus out of the boss. Her snake bhai Ganesh gives his life to save her which made me sad. A note on Kum Kum and the snakes – she is fearless! I know the snakes were probably defanged, but Ganesh (lead snake) often lunges at her and she never flinches, often making it seem like part of the scene. I would not have maintained my sangfroid in such circumstances.

Jalte Badan_Malti and KiranJalte Badan_always someone elses fault

Malti also takes things into her own hands and decides the Boss and the Boss’s Boss are not her kind of people after all. It is Ganga and Malti that eventually save the day and save the gormless Kiran.

Jalte Badan_you go girl

Girija (Alka) is a peripheral character but awesome. She is sold to the Boss by her addict brother and finds herself in the Pink Rape Room, the unwilling star in the Boss’s latest film production. She escapes after turning the tables on her ‘co-star’, and is then threatened with blackmail. Girija coolly tells the Boss that she doesn’t give a rats and he can publish the mildly indecent pictures of her if he wishes.

Jalte Badan_mummy and son at the shooting gallery

Almost no one in the film possesses any common sense. Kiran’s own mother (Sumati Gupta) takes him back to the club for an ‘injection’ as she can’t stand to see her son cry. He needs help because he has gone blind from the drugs so I do question the thinking. The ‘only in films’ medicine is quite remarkable.

Jalte Badan_fire in the discoRaza Murad plays student leader Shashikant and looks like he should be sensible. So I was slightly surprised to see him leading a mob complete with flaming torches as that seemed a tad dramatic for a dancefloor invasion. And I was not expecting a speedboat chase.

The Laxmikant Pyarelal soundtrack is groovy and melodic, although I never remember much about the songs. But they add a bit of unwarranted quality and I appreciated the drug freak out item interspersed with Ganga pining away in her (miniscule) virginal white outfit.

Will Jalte Badan change the mind of The Youth about recreational drugs? I don’t know but after looking at the interior design for a couple of hours, I needed a drink! 3 stars!