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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Badle Ki Aag

Badle Ki Aag is insane.

There are SEVEN children in peril as the film opens, from three different families. I had to make notes to work out who was who. Normally I might not care so much but as one of the kids grows up to be the object of love or lust for several of the others, I felt I needed to be clear on who was related to who just to stop my shrieking ‘No! What? She’s your SISTER…oh um … hang on …OK”.  So just in case you find yourself in that same position, please feel free to use this cheat sheet. Extra points if you can read it!

So much happens in the first twenty minutes that I expected the rest of the film to fizzle out, but it is packed with incident, conflict, coincidence, horrible outfits and so much melodrama I almost passed out from the effort of keeping up.

And there is little time wasted on explanations or boring logic. This song for instance has NOTHING to do with anything. I suspect it was just an excuse for Jeetu to bust out his salsa hip swivels. (Link is to the whole film but the video should start at the song. If not, zip along to 34.30 and enjoy the greatness.)

I really like all the people standing around in the background – are they interested onlookers or disgruntled commuters?

Amar is an upright and uptight policeman, the perennial goody-goody. He is quite inept despite all the dedication. Persisting with motorised transport he fails to catch crooks if they are on foot or on horseback no matter how slim their lead is. He is a poor shot, is bad at disguises and the criminal element don’t seem to fear him at all.  Even when he had Lakhan tied to a post in front of a firing squad he managed to bugger it up. Amar has a controlling streak in his personal life, perhaps because he is hopeless at his job. Jeetendra’s expressions range from “Who farted?” to “I’ll kill you all” with a touch of “Lovesick Puppy”. He is in touch with his dark side, maybe because he is forced to wear these:

Dharmendra as Shera Singh generally looks hungover or drunk. And his wigs are terrible. (I hope they were wigs.)

Dharmendra looked bleary and puffy for most of the film, and Jeetendra looked a little the worse for wear too. Anyway, I wondered if he and Jeetendra might have been enjoying a glass or two or ten of an evening.  I’m not a big fan of Dharmendra and he is certainly overshadowed here by Reena Roy, Smita Patil and Sunil Dutt. Shera is a horrible character with no redeeming features, and I really pitied anyone who had to put up with his mood swings.

Sunil Dutt plays Lakhan in swashbuckling style and seems to have decided that since almost everyone else in the film is stupid, he will talk directly to the camera. He declaims some hilariously over the top dialogues with his typical conviction and manages to make it seem almost sensible at times. He is the honourable dacoit, protecting women and doing god’s work as he evades the law. Of course he did start his career in crime by killing a man who was assaulting his Ma. He is competent and resourceful – good in a fist fight and able to rig up a jeep as wrecking ball for a spectacular jailbreak.

Nirupa Roy is the worst mother ever. If she isn’t just plain losing her children she is warping their delicate minds with psychological torment. One minute Lakhan is her golden child and favourite tiny axe murderer, next he is being berated for his crimes. Sheesh.

Reena Roy is wonderful as Gita. Gita was adopted by a lady who seems to run a small scale brothel – and Gita only ‘dances’ so she is a virgin prostitute. Amar falls for Gita and she loves him too, but love cannot get in the way of her revenge mission. When she realises that Lakhan might put her closer to her goal she decides he might be the best prospect.

Love is less compelling than killing Rajaram. Given that her profession closes many doors to family and relationships, Gita is quite self reliant and philosophical, and doesn’t waste too much time on self pity. She doesn’t wait for the menfolk to sort out her revenge, she goes for it herself. I really enjoyed Reena Roy’s performance and she has some amazing outfits.

Smita Patil doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in this madness but seems to be so determined to deliver a quality performance regardless of the material. I felt really bad for Bijli. She had to wear fringed Annie Oakley outfits, and was hopelessly in love with Shera. What a thankless life. When she got him drunk and had her way with him, his reaction was quite insulting.

I thought he might be more circumspect considering she was a professional knife-thrower. Poor Bijli.

She doesn’t take rejection as the final nail in the coffin, and continues to fight for ‘her’ man.

Badle ki Aag does some things so well and others so very badly. When Gita is half drowned, Lakhan saves her but does not resort to the Shashi Kapoor school of hypothermia cure. He is a sensible man who uses a blanket to cover her body and keeps his own kit on. He is also a filmi hero so he knows that now he has touched her, he must marry her lest they both lose honour. On the downside some stunts are so ill conceived and poorly executed that they went beyond funny and into ouch territory. Especially for the horses. I liked the blatant use of plastic horses in some scenes, but then they used real ones and it looked horrific.

Kader Khan is double the fun as the arch villain and his twin brother, and lots of well loved character actors turn up in uncredited supporting roles.  Pran is a police officer, Om Prakash is a dithering fool with good intentions, Sulochana Latkar is a nanny and load of others from Madan Puri to Jankidas to Shakti Kapoor do their thing. Sarika was OK in her small role as Lakhan’s sister. Asha is another of the interesting women in the film – a law student who stands up against her boyfriend Suraj’s harsher views on capital punishment.

The Laxmikant-Pyarelal songs are a highlight, not just because of the costumes. Reena Roy does lots of dancing, and there is a fun qawwali with all three leading men in flimsy disguises. Most of the dances take place at Rajaram’s palace and the carpet is a sight to behold.

Shera lives in a lair reached through a cave, but one that includes a spacious living area with silver tiled dome and chandeliers. Lakhan’s cave complex is more traditional. Rajaram’s place is a fabulous eyesore. And the costumes are just crazy. Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra are in basic white (Lakhan) and black (Shera), but everyone else seems to be at the mercy of the some very creative designers. There are crazy camera angles, amazing interiors and colour and movement everywhere you look.

Rajkumar Kohli has certainly fulfilled the commandment to be entertaining. I have a soft spot for Badle ki Aag and its cavalier disregard for facts, logic, physics and colour coordination. I highly recommend it – with a caveat regarding the horses. 5 stars for fun, maybe 3 for quality. Do yourselves a favour and watch it!

Heather says: This has to be one of the most OTT masala films I’ve seen, and I was literally reeling (and laughing hysterically) after just the first 20 minutes of mayhem. It’s no wonder that I started to get confused when all the children turned up as adults – thank heavens Temple had already told me that no-one erroneously hooked up with their long-lost sibling! But the beauty of Badle Ki Aag is that it all makes sense eventually and getting to the end is just so much fun.  I loved the fake fight scenes, the not-so-special special effects, incredibly awful costumes and fabulous dialogues. ‘I’ll take your eyes for my shirt buttons’ has become my preferred threat and I’m sure ‘Even those who have no feet leave their footprints’ will come in useful at some stage too. Every single utterance appears to be a matter of life or death and there is so much scenery chewing that it’s surprising the sets hold up under the strain. But underneath all that masala-y goodness and after getting through the truckloads of plot, there is more happening than just lost children, murder, revenge and all that velour.

There is an underlying commitment to at least some form of justice throughout the film and I liked how people finally had to pay for their crimes, no matter who they were. I also enjoyed the rather novel concept (at least in Bollywood) of a hero who was prepared to stand up and fight for woman’s rights. Lakhan’s commitment to respect women makes him a more interesting character even though I’m not a big fan of Sunil Dutt and he didn’t endear himself to me with his performance here. Jeetendra was OK, and I do generally like him in these roles, but I agree with Temple that Dharmendra was particularly irritating as Shera.  In comparison the women were excellent! Gita had a practical streak when she debated over which one of her suitors would give her the best chance to gain her revenge and I loved that she was well prepared and methodical in her approach. There had also been some thought put into Asha’s character in the way that she decided to fight injustice against her family in a different way and was studying to be a lawyer. Every female character was more than just a romantic love interest, and I did love Bijli’s knife-throwing as a means of gainful employment.

This film really does have almost everything – it’s a who’s who of the actors from the era and there is enough plot for at least 5 films! I’d recommend it for when you really need a dose of masala and don’t want logic or good acting to get in the way. 4 stars purely because it made me laugh so much!

Suhaag (1979)

Whatever you do, don’t confuse this classic Manmohan Desai masala treat with this.

(General Beverage Warning: We advise persons of a nervous disposition not to watch the clip and also warn anyone holding a beverage to put it down as we do not wish to be responsible for any damage to electronic devices.)

Suhaag opens on a dark and stormy night, as Durga (Nirupa Roy) gives birth to twin boys. Denied legitimacy by their father Vikram (Amjad Khan), Durga is forced onto the streets but not before vowing her sons will take revenge. In desperation Durga follows Jaggi (Kader Khan), the first man she meets straight to a brothel where he sells her to the madam. We don’t know why anyone would want a crying, knuckle-biting nahiiin-ing prostitute but they seem to. Her first client is an undercover (really!) police officer who bungles the arrest, allowing Jaggi to escape with one of the babies. So now we have a villainous father, virtuous mother and twins separated at birth!

Years go by, depicted in a neat montage. Amit was sold by Jaggi to a begging gang run by (according to the subtitles) Pascal (Jeevan) before becoming the chappal obsessed Amitabh. Kishan grows up with the support of his mother and the helpful Inspector Khan. After many years, the brothers clash in a fight sequence with lots of banter and silly choreography.  Jennifer Kapoor had fun playing dress-ups with her husband as Shashi models an excellent superfly pleather suit as well as his police uniform.  Amitabh wears his neck scarves and white flares with customary panache.

We learn that Kishan is a ranking police officer, while Amit is a hard drinking petty crim with a good heart but weak resolve. Amit is in love with Basanti (Rekha) and spends a lot of time disrupting her workplace – the local brothel. These two really do have some chemistry. Check out the expressions in this song as he reminds her she can’t dance forever so she may as well pick him.

In a raid to track down cop killers, Kishan  invades Basanti’s brothel, and rescues Amit into the bargain.  The men quickly become friends. Kishan is cranky and intolerant, used to giving the orders, and likes having another guy around to absorb some of his mother’s fussing. Amit is drawn to the warmth of a family and home, and sees what he might have had if not for his orphan’s fate. Durga does lots of pining over her lost son as she stuffs food into Amit and Kishan. There was no significant song, birthmark or locket to help identify the lost boy, so there was ample opportunity for the Coincidence Department to run amok before the truth came out.

Kishan goes undercover to a disco run by Gopal (Ranjeet in an eyepatch!) and there meets Annu (Parveen Babi). He takes his policing very seriously, even when Boney M’s Daddy Cool kicks in.

Many masala laced incidents ensure that Annu and Kishan are headed for marriage. Amit acts as go between and Amitabh gets to show his comic flair in these scenes as he tries to please Kishan and his adopted Ma. It wouldn’t be complete masala without another set of separated siblings – and guess who Annu’s sister is? Basanti!

The heroines are minor characters, but do have some important scenes. Parveen is the lightweight – she doesn’t do much other than fall for Shashi and play a fun but unconvincing drunk scene. Rekha’s Basanti is shown as a more complex woman and one who could be the perfect life partner for Amit. When he needs to clean up his act and stop drinking, he relies on her to help him through the first night of sobriety.

She isn’t a plaything for men despite her occupation and has her own very good reasons for working in the brothel. Nirupa Roy as Durga is a frustrating character. On the one hand she is strong enough to be a single mother and raise a successful son, and imposes her will on the impulsive Amit. But she is so spineless and wishy-washy when it comes to Vikram, it just beggars belief.

The film plays with many masala conventions (read this excellent post by Beth at Beth Loves Bollywood). Amitabh and Rekha appear as Annu’s Punjabi brother-in-law and sister and no one recognises them, Amit directs dialogue at the audience, Shashi flashes a smile at the camera after meeting Annu. There are lots of teasing references to family in the dialogue – Amit calling Durga Ma, Vikram calling to threaten the zealous policeman and identifying himself to Kishan as ‘tumhara baap’, and a whole lot of bromance. Vikram has a very ornate lair replete with design features like a dragon wall decoration and a stuffed tiger – although it suffers from some serious design flaws including being above ground and having abundant natural light which isn’t really lair-like. He has a kind of ticket booth in the middle of the lair, and retires behind the smoked glass to deliver his edicts. Who thought that one up? And there’s even some extremely dubious Bollywood Medicine.

Things accelerate once Vikram decides to eliminate the pesky policeman Kishan , and hires Amit to kill him. Jaggi is back on the scene, and it turns out Gopal is his son so we  have the whole gamut of family drama. There is a pivotal incident at the Navratri celebration which results in Kishan suffering chandelier related blindness, and demanding Amit avenge him.

Kishan refuses to give up despite his injury, although we did wonder how helpful Amit’s hand signals would be to a blind man:

All the tangled threads start to draw into one gigantic ball of string as the film nears its end. Why Durga would be so complaisant about taking Vikram back into her life is beyond us, but that is truly not the strangest thing that happens. Amit and Kishan discover their relationship, and Durga cries. We learn how Gopal lost his eye, Annu and Basanti are reunited, helicopters, explosions, Vikram reveals his true colours before repenting, Durga cries, Pascal schemes, and Amit and Kishan kick some villainous butt. And don’t forget the dubious medical procedures. Did we mention Durga cries?

There is a pleasing symmetry in the love stories of Amit and Basanti, who might represent the better versions of Vikram and Durga if things had been different, and of Kishan and Annu who are every filmi Ma’s aspiration. The ending of the film resolves most of the loose ends and there is a sense that some justice has been served even if there are questions as to how and why and WTF?

The soundtrack is vintage Laxmikant Pyarelal and their lush big band sound is perfect for both the rollercoaster plot twists and the more intimate moments. The songs are excellent and serve to further the story so are an integral part of the film, and the stars all seemed to have a great time performing them.  The set design and costumes reflect a big budget and minimal restraint, which is very pleasing to see!

Temple says: The first time I watched Suhaag I was mildly annoyed by what seemed to be excessive coincidences. Once I thought about it further I have come around to thinking those coincidences help give the film a satisfying internal logic and structure as things link together. As I wrote that I pictured a helix…Good heavens! It may be Masala DNA! It does actually make sense to me that if you live and work in one area all your life then you do know everyone or at least cross paths with the same people over and over. Coincidences in this film arise from people and what they know rather than lockets and birthmarks, and I enjoyed seeing the minor characters having their own stories going on throughout the film. Most of the characters behave in ways that are consistent with their earlier actions and so they have a whiff of credibility, albeit in bizarre circumstances. Even Durga behaved consistently, although I do think she was stupid about a few things. If I have a disappointment it is that Parveen’s character was dull but there was so much going on, I don’t think there was room for more complexity. I liked the Amit/Basanti relationship as the writers gave Rekha a lot more to work with than they might have, Amitabh was in his element and they got a couple of great songs into the bargain. Rafi’s voice was perfect for Amit’s mix of sentiment and cheek. I am a fan of Shashi Kapoor and his pairing with Amitabh (aka the Shashitabh) is a delight. It’s strange to think that this frothy entertainment released in the same year as the much darker and also amazing Kaala Patthar. The heroes get some snappy dialogue (Amit and his chappals is just classic), and the humour is actually funny. That’s reason enough to praise Manmohan Desai! I have to admit that I didn’t think twice about the ‘only in Bollywood’ medicine, or villains escaping a blazing warehouse in a boat…on dry land… so perhaps my masala consumption has had a lasting effect. Nevertheless, I have watched this film so many times and I always enjoy it and never fast forward. I give Suhaag 5 stars!

Heather says: Suhaag isn’t one of my favourite Shashitabh films, nor do I think it’s one of Manmohan Desai’s best. This is despite the fact that it has every single Masala plot point possible, which really should ensure a great film. Perhaps it’s the sheer number of co-incidences which litter the story at every turn, or that occasionally it feels as if the actors have played these roles so often that I’ve seen it all before. But it just doesn’t work as well for me as many of Manmohan Desai’s other excellent films. My biggest problem with Suhaag however is the very dodgy medicine when Kishan is blinded. Now normally I can just brush this off and treat the absurdness of typical Bollywood medicine with the disregard it deserves, but I just can’t in this case. It really annoys me! My subtitles call Kishan’s problem cortical blindness, which should mean that the part of the brain that sees is not working. In which case an eye transplant, even if that were possible, would do no good whatsoever. Temple has told me that her copy calls it corneal blindness which is just as ridiculous for a whole heap of different reasons. Even with careful listening I can’t work out what the doctor says but since his other pronouncements which follow are also totally anatomically and physiologically incorrect it doesn’t really make any difference. I’m not sure why this particular Bollywood medicine irritates me so much but it really does taint the whole film for me, no matter how many times I’ve watched and tried to ignore it.

Despite the problems I have with the second half of the film, there is still plenty that I do like. The costumes are fab and I love the interactions between Amit and Basanti. For me Rekha is the standout in Suhaag with spot on characterisation. She is as dazzling as ever, and the film comes alive whenever she is on screen. Shashi and Amitabh are always watchable together and make the most of their partnership particularly in the comedy scenes. The inclusion of more than one bad guy and so many threads to the story ensures plenty of Masala mayhem and I do enjoy the first half of this film. I just skip the rest. 3 ½ stars from me.