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!

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Shaan (1980)

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5 years after his masterpiece Sholay, Ramesh Sippy returned to the big screen with the big action adventure Shaan.  Written by Salim-Javed, the story is a suspense thriller with many of the film elements seemingly inspired by a hotchpotch of James Bond films. Just have a look at the Bondesque opening title sequence for instance.

The movie is still Bollywood at heart though with Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor playing two personable rogues at odds with a police officer who also just happens to be their older brother. In addition to the sibling conflict there is a villain with a fabulous island lair, car chases, helicopters, sharks and even a man-eating crocodile thrown into the mix, adding up to a great masala movie and one definitely well worth a watch.

Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) are con-artists who make a living by fleecing money from corrupt officials and small time crooks. A little in the style of Robin Hood except that Vijay and Ravi keep the money rather than giving it to the poor. However the shoe is on the other foot when they themselves are conned by uncle and niece team Chacha (Johnny Walker) and Renu (Bindiya Goswami). To get their money back Vijay and Ravi join up with Renu and Chacha to carry out a daring jewellery heist, but are again pipped at the post by fellow thief Sunita (Parveen Babi).  Sunita not only manages to steal the necklace before anyone else but has an audacious method for getting it out past the police search; although I do think recovery might have proved a little difficult if things hadn’t gone exactly to plan. Her introduction is rather fab too as she appears in a wonderfully sparkly dress with glamorous backing dancers who have silver tassels everywhere, even on their boots.

Needless to say Sunita is added to the merry band of thieves who go ahead with another con based on the old ‘holy men walking on water’ scam. This time though they are caught by Police Officer Shiv Kumar (Sunil Dutt), who goes ahead and arrests Vijay and Ravi, even though they are his two younger brothers. Above all else Shiv is a police officer sworn to uphold the law, and that is what he does. Shiv’s character is established early on when he rescues some hostages in a beautifully choreographed action sequence. His wife Sheetal (Rakhee Gulzar) shares the same values although she has a soft spot for Shiv’s two brothers and is altogether more forgiving than her husband. However, once the brothers are released from jail they make a vow to ‘go straight’ and move in with Shiv and Sheetal in their house in Mumbai.

While Vijay and Ravi have been in jail, Shiv has been making inroads into the criminal empire of a villain known only as Shakaal (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and his efforts are starting to seriously impact on criminal business. Shakaal sends an assassin Rakesh (Shatrughan Sinha) after Shiv and his family, but after two attempts on Shiv’s life fail, Shakaal ups the ante and sends his henchman Jagmohan (Mac Mohan) instead. After one of the best kidnap attempts I’ve seen onscreen, Jagmohan manages to spirit Shiv to the island hideaway while leaving everyone else totally baffled as to Shiv’s whereabouts.

Shakaal’s lair is absolutely wonderful and mixes many of the best elements from various other villain hideouts. It’s located on an island some 300km off the coast of India but in reality was filmed on the island of Steep Holm near the UK. The lair has long corridors with rough-hewn rock for walls but fancy modern automatic doors and nifty surveillance cameras. Shakaal lords it over his minions, Blofeld-style in a conference room with a rotating circular table and a retractable floor, underneath which lurks a man-eating crocodile. This allows Shakaal to indulge in a form of roulette to dispose of unsatisfactory employees or anyone else he doesn’t like. Meanwhile sharks (and the odd oversized goldfish) can be seen swimming past the green tinted windows for extra menace. Adding to the ambience in a large audience hall is a massive golden statue of an eagle, and Shakaal has a throne strategically placed underneath for those moments when you just have to be seen to be the head villain! And of course there are plenty of panels with flashing lights and hidden switches– everything your discerning villain could require for world domination, although Shakaal has more modest aims despite his grandiose lair and petulant manner.

Shakaal has his own distinctive look too combining his bald head with black or white military style tunics featuring his ‘S’ logo prominently displayed. His henchmen all wear identical smart white suits, and later on his henchwomen are attired in silver miniskirts and fetching black blouson style shirts – always good to see a properly style-conscious villain!

Shakaal finally manages to dispose of Shiv although it takes him quite a few attempts and the stage is set for Ravi and Vijay to avenge his death. Naturally this involves infiltrating Shakaal’s lair with a song and dance troupe (how else could you possibly sneak into an impenetrable hideaway?) which also features the inimitable Helen leading the way in this excellent song.

There is a lot going on in Shaan, but the plot follows a mostly logical and clear progression building up to the grand showdown in Shakaal’s lair. The comedy works well, the romances are mainly just an excuse for a few songs, but the action sequences and special effects are first-rate. The camaraderie between the two brothers is one of the major assets to the film and Shashi and Amitabh have great chemistry together. Perhaps it’s the enmity between Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha, but even once Rakesh turns on Shakaal and joins the brothers, there is still just a frisson of tension which makes the shaky relationship between the marksman and the brothers that little bit more believable. Generally the addition of Rakesh halfway into the film is a masterstroke, adding uncertainty to the second half and also an opportunity for another good car chase and action scene. Rakhee Gulzar is also excellent as Shiv Kumar’s wife, both in playing a steadying influence to the brothers and as the grieving and vengeful widow. She has a major part to play in the final proceedings too and she plays her role with grace and elegance throughout. Bindiya Goswami and Parveen Babi have rather less to do, but they get a chance to throw a few punches in the final scene and both do a good job with their rather limited roles.

Kulbhushan Kharbanda is fantastic as a rather different kind of villain; smiling and soft voiced one moment and angry the next. It’s a definite departure from the more usual thuggishly violent criminals and the more subtle psychological approach works well here and enhances the cracking good story. Kulbhushan Kharbanda uses his smile to project chill and menace while his initially affable demeanour serves well to mislead both friends and foes alike. It’s a great performance and Shaan is worth watching for his character alone, even without the good story, excellent action and R.D. Burman’s memorable songs. I love every minute of Shaan and recommend viewing for a great all-round entertainer. 4 stars.

Karz (1980)

I love this film! I first watched it after seeing the amazing Om Shanti Om on a song compilation DVD and thought the rest of the film was just as awesome. It helps that I’m a big fan of Rishi, but there is just so much about Karz that is excellent – the sets, sing-along music and Rishi’s wonderfully sparkly outfits just to name a few. It also features a compelling performance by Simi Garewal as the villainess of the piece with Pran and even the ever-present Iftekhar in support. Although it’s basically a reincarnation/revenge story there’s quite a lot of detail to the plot and it even features dancing skeletons – so much to enjoy!

Rishi Kapoor plays Monty, a successful singer and musician who has a penchant for glitter and flamboyant backing dancers.  He’s an orphan and has seemingly has never reconciled to the lack of a mother in his life making him rather melancholy despite his screaming fan club.

Monty tries to put his mercenary manager Mr GG Oberoi (Pinchoo Kapoor) in the role of his father and Mrs Oberoi as his mother, but Oberoi is firm on his stance that Monty is an employee under contract even though he lives with the family.  Rejected by Oberoi, in his search for love Monty becomes enamoured of a young girl he sees at a party for his friend Dr Dayal (Jalal Agha) and is inspired by her to sing the beautiful Dard-E-Dil. Normally I get irritated by actors pretending to play the violin and completely messing it up, but here Rishi gets it (almost) right. Just another reason to love Rishi (as if I needed one!)

However the girl leaves before Monty has a chance to speak to her and since Dr Dayal reports that she has left Bombay that same night it seems unlikely that he ever will.  But Monty starts to suffer flashbacks of a fatal car accident which seem to be brought on by an old song he plays on his guitar.  After a battery of tests fails to reveal the cause for his condition (but did provide me with a lot of amusement), his doctors, including Iftekar as Dr Daniel, prescribe total rest.  Monty has discovered that the girl from the party was from Ooty, so he decides to head to the hill stations in the hope that he will find his love there and maybe get rid of his visions too.

Rather coincidentally he ends up in the place where 21 years ago Mr Ravi Verma (Raj Kiran) was murdered by his new wife Kamini (Simi Garewal) as he was returning to his family home. His father’s ex-business partner Sir Judah (Premnath) enlisted Kamini in his plot to steal the Verma tea plantations, promising her a life-long pension and the Verma family mansion for her assistance in removing Ravi. Kamini disposed of Ravi by running him over with her jeep and then evicted his mother and sister for good measure, installing herself as ‘queen’ and enjoying the spoils of her crimes.

Just as coincidentally Kamini happens to be the guardian of Tina (Tina Munim), the girl Monty fell in love with in Bombay, but it’s not a coincidence at all that Monty meets Tina again while boating and singing out on a lake. Because that is the obvious place to find someone – isn’t it?

Monty is the reincarnation of Ravi Verma which he slowly discovers as the various landmarks in the area cause yet more flashbacks. Despite the recurrent dreams of his own death, Monty has time to persuade Tina to marry him even although she is still at school and allegedly 16 while Monty is supposedly 21 (but doesn’t manage to look 21, let alone the 17 he claims in this song). This is still one of my favourite songs though since they manage to look very coy while discussing all the things they are supposedly too young for, but obviously aren’t!

The romance does feel a little uncomfortable when Tina is in her school uniform, particularly since Tina Munim gives her character plenty of childish mannerisms but thankfully the relationship doesn’t get too detailed and most of the rest of the film is centred on Monty and Kamini. However the romance is probably why I don’t enjoy the second half of the film quite as much as the first even though the songs with Monty and Tina are great.

Along with Tina’s uncle Kabira (Pran), Monty sets about making Kamini confess to her evil past which involves a number of elaborate set-ups including the dancing skeletons.  I totally love the skeletons which don’t seem particularly scary to me but a guy with a fake scarred face who breaks in and attacks Kamini is much more frightening and makes me jump every single time – even though I know he is hiding outside the window!

Rishi is brilliant here as he changes from the rather naïve young singer to a driven and obsessed man out for revenge. I love his tormented ‘I want her’ to his future father in law as he confronts Kamini in her rather opulent bedroom. It’s nicely ambiguous and sets up Monty’s deceitful plan to force a confession.  But even better is Simi Garewal’s portrayal of a woman gradually falling in love and then slowly being driven insane as Monty various schemes convince her that her dead husband is back for revenge.  Which of course he is!

It is rather strange that Kamini doesn’t appear to have aged in the 21 years that have passed since Ravi Verma’s death but  Subhash Ghai tries to get round that by showing her wearing a succession of wigs which are presumably concealing her age. Plus it’s a touch of vanity to reinforce that Kamini is not a nice person at all.

There are a few other oddities.  While the sets for the songs are superb, there are some peculiar pictures scattered around the various rooms.  For example, Kamini’s bedroom features some very erotic statues and pictures but just outside the door to her room is a picture of cute kittens.  And in the guesthouse where Monty is staying there is a picture of a woman breastfeeding her baby which just seems an odd choice for a guest room.

In fact most of the pictures in this room are of a mother and her child which is perhaps a little too much symbolism – we get the point! I also have to mention the blanket/shawl Monty is wearing – it looks to me like this has pictures of people on it which just seems strange.

But to make up for that there are some wonderful lights in the various houses and guitars absolutely everywhere!

The film has all the requisite masala elements, including the long-suffering ma and disinherited sister, ably played by Durga Khote and Abha Dhulia. Pran is excellent as Kabira and along with his left and right hand men (Viju Khote and Birbal) provides some light relief from all the high drama. Raj Kiran is also good as Ravi Verma and his physical similarity to Rishi Kapoor is a plus too.  Premnath is menacing as Sir Judah and Mac Mohan equally sinister as his henchman, although the scariest part was Sir Judah in his bath!

The film highlight is definitely the songs by  Laxmikant-Pyarelal with some beautiful lyrics from Anand Bakshi. I love the spinning record set for Om Shanti Om with the flashing orbs that descend for no apparent reason.  My favourite part of Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om was the recreation of this set and it’s still one of my favourite songs. Just as awesome is the set for the final song, Ek Haseena Thi and it’s really just the item number featuring Aruna Irani which doesn’t seem to fit and is rather dull by comparison

I think this is Subhash Ghai’s best film and it’s one of my favourites with Rishi Kapoor too. I regularly play the soundtrack and sing along with the songs and if alone will quite happily dance along too – and even if I’m not alone to be honest! There are a few parts I could do without but overall it’s enjoyable and fun to watch – definitely a masala classic! 4½ stars.