Kaala Patthar

Kaala Patthar is a total masala package that has something for everyone, plus a dollop of social justice. The essential characters are present – heroes, anti-heroes, spirited heroines, eye candy, villains. The main players are outsiders who find themselves caught in the conflict between profit and humanity played out in a privately owned coal mine. There are no surprises in the plot, but some excellent performances give the drama added substance. And director Yash Chopra also provides fights, songs, romance, bromance and dodgy science to complete the masala formula.

Amitabh is recognisable from the first glimpse of his tall figure and loping stride. Vijay is an enigma, full of smouldering anger and despair as the man trying to escape his past and perhaps make his future a short one. He is educated, and has an uncanny ability to wear white trousers in a coal mine without getting too grubby. The mines were a place to hide as he served his largely self-imposed punishment. A former ship’s captain, he made the wrong decision in a moment of stress and paid the price, although how a private shipping line captain could be court-martialled is never explained. Vijay was with the workers but didn’t consider himself one of them, constantly speaking of their struggle and their lives. He was friendly enough, and is seen to have a smile and a laugh in several scenes, but it is clear this is his own personal purgatory. Time and time again he risks his own safety to prove to himself that he is not a coward. Amitabh’s performance is outstanding, convincing even as he utters the most pompous dialogues. He plays Vijay with compelling restraint and brooding energy.

Sudha (Rakhee), the company doctor, is drawn to the educated, articulate miner and he is attracted to her integrity and dedication. They have strong chemistry in their understated scenes alone together even though at times she looks more like his Ma – but perhaps that’s just the caretaker in her character coming through. And Rakhee does look like a mature woman, not a fluffy girly heroine. Sudha and Vijay appear as adults weighing up a future relationship, not kids chasing each other around a park. Sudha seems to have a greater capacity for forgiveness, or at least the understanding that we need to let ourselves off the hook sometimes.

Ravi Malhotra (Shashi Kapoor), the new engineer, is all shiny and action oriented, a stark contrast to the weary and bitter Vijay. Ravi is concerned about the miners but doesn’t seek to be one of the masses, just to manage them in a more humane way. He isn’t all talk – he buys new machinery and makes changes to try and improve worker safety, and forces management to pay a promised bonus. The people rejoice!

I like that the ladies dance neatly in lines and are mostly segregated from Mac Mohan and the rest of the miners who seem to prefer a freestyle approach.

Ravi’s popularity and success irks money hungry boss Puri Dhanraj (Prem Chopra). Ravi is charismatic and the role is a good fit for the charming and articulate Shashi. He has a light but not frivolous energy that helps keep the moralising from bogging the story down.

Anita (Parveen Babi) is supposedly an investigative reporter, but if she ever investigated anything more complex than choosing a lipgloss I will be very surprised. She is very pretty but it’s not always enough. Anita writes an article that is highly critical of the privatised mine, and while this annoys Dhanraj, it pleases Ravi which might be Anita’s priority. Although Anita’s character was interesting, Parveen’s screechy acting in the more dramatic exchanges was painful so I was relieved when she reverted to flouncing around the countryside with Shashi.

Mangal (Shatrughan Sinha) is an escaped criminal who has taken refuge in the anonymity of the mining camp. I don’t think of Shotgun as a particularly subtle actor and this performance didn’t change that perception, although it is very enjoyable. Mangal swaggers around camp, stirring up trouble and trying to be the top dog. He is bad through and through, until he comes good when it counts. His final scene is totally unbelievable, he overacts wildly, and I don’t think his decision could really have been that helpful, yet it is a perfect masala redemption.

Channo (a radiant Neetu Singh) makes a living selling ornaments and trinkets to the miners and their wives. She is boisterous and bright, and even Vijay responds to her warm personality. She and Mangal have an unconvincing romance and I got the impression that Channo picked him more because he was new blood rather than any real attraction in the first instance. Channo has a couple of significant scenes, and one decision is pivotal. There is a very suspenseful scene where Channo is pursued and almost raped by some ne’er-do-wells from the camp, saved in the nick of time by Mangal. It seemed odd that a girl who knew the area so well would take a lonely path she was clearly a little nervous about, no matter how big her hurry. So while it was dramatic and Neetu was very convincing, it jarred and I wondered if there was a better way for the plot to turn.

Neetu is more than capable of handling the emotional range Channo requires. And her presence means at least one of the female cast can dance!

The supporting actors are excellent. Well, Prem Chopra played the usual Prem Chopra type sleazy villain with no redeeming qualities but he does it so well and he is pretty much the yardstick for that kind of role.  Mac Mohan as card sharp Rana and Parikshat Sahni as Jagga stood out, and it was nice to see Iftekhar in a fleeting appearance. While there is an impressive cast of supporting artists, most of the extras are an anonymous backdrop of the unacknowledged masses. There are some moving scenes of miners waiting in silent vigil outside the house of a dying colleague, or waiting for Vijay as he has treatment. They bide patiently, watching everything and waiting their turn.

The music by Rajesh Roshan is excellent and while there are only a couple of big song and dance moments, the songs are all integrated into the story and do reveal much about the characters and the environment. Shashi’s entrance to Ek Rasta Hai Zindagi perfectly expresses his nature and the different world he is coming from. Ishq aur Mushq has a bittersweet tone that matches Sudha and Vijay’s burgeoning relationship.

Yash Chopra is a talented story teller, and Salim-Javed’s script is excellent especially the dialogues. The mine is a bleak non-glamorous backdrop that allows the people to dominate. It’s a visually dark film, with lots of scenes in the tunnels or at night, so the performances draw the eye rather than fancy sets or costumes.

I have some issues with the decision making in the final scenes (I suspect that in real life, it would not have been a happy ending if people did what they did but you know, filmi physics and all that), and the set construction team relied a little too much on papier mache but these are small quibbles. You can’t beat Kaala Patthar for excellent character focussed vintage masala,  with the bonus of a fabulous cast. 5 stars!

Heather says: Kaala Pathar is vintage Yash Chopra from the days before he got tied up in NRI romance stories and when he was still producing films that were both novel and entertaining. It’s a great story full of action, melodrama and issues of social justice which speeds along to an exciting conclusion. The characters are compelling, and the female actors make up for their limited time onscreen by their impact on the story – softening their male counterpoints enough to allow more insight into their personalities.

I love the way the two leads Vijay and Ravi are introduced, and that their respective characters can be deduced after just a few moments in their opening scenes. Instantly the coal begrimed Vijay is established as anti-authority with heroic tendencies as he ignores the company line and charges into the mine to rescue some trapped workers. It’s Amitabh in his ‘angry young man persona’ and it’s no surprise to learn later on that he harbours a dark secret or that he believes pain is his destiny.  Ravi on the other hand, is immediately recognisable as a ladies man when he first appears via a song, wearing a jaunty cap and sporting a rather fabulous scarf with a motif of large white daisies. Happy and with a more relaxed attitude to life Ravi is idealistic with more socialist views and really not my view of a ‘typical’ engineer. But then again I’m rather prejudiced since I know so many engineers. Ravi’s drawing which demonstrates exactly why mine shaft number 4 is so dangerous is classic Bollywood engineering at work, and his skills in this area may explain why Ravi is working in such an undesirable job.  Shatrughan Sinha turns in a great performance as the escaped prisoner Mangal and allows yet more melodrama to be added to the story.

The various romances are handled in a subtle and subdued way which works well within the disaster movie format and I appreciate the restraint shown here. Rakhee Gulzar is beautiful as the doctor working under such difficult conditions while Parveen Babi gets a chance to show some teeth as the more feisty Anita, and Neetu Singh gets the best moves.  I even like Prem Chopra’s unrealistic and totally villainous mine owner who has no redeeming features whatsoever. It’s all very Dickensian and melodramatic, but so much fun. The story is generally well paced, although rather long, and I felt that the scenes of the inevitable disaster at the end did drag on a little. The mine walls were also a little shaky and I’m sure everyone could escape more easily, if not as spectacularly, if they’d just push the walls aside. Despite the occasional dodgy effects and rickety sets, the disaster theme is well depicted and I was interested to learn that the mine disaster portrayed here was based on real life events at Chasnala. A must see film for sure – 4 ½ stars.

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.