Dharam Veer

Sometimes in a world full of mean spirited decision making and demonstrations of crushing privilege it really does the soul good to see some unambiguous comeuppances and outrageous costumes. This being a Desai film, I got my wish. But the exercise of privilege and bad decision making was never too far away, although usually dressed up in fabulous boots and an explosion of ruffles.

However. The very sensible and worthy women in this film get short shrift and I did have the occasional moment of murderous rage.

Princess Meenakshi (Indrani Mukherjee) is out in her gilded chariot, searching for game to hunt. She spies a stuffed tiger on a rock in the river and goes to kill it even more. Villains appear, paid off by her brother Satpal Singh (Jeevan, aka Creepy Jeevan). Just as her death seems imminent, a stranger appears. The unknown warrior is Jwala (Pran!), who had been alerted to the kerfuffle by his trusty falcon Sheroo (Sheroo). Meenakshi offers him any reward he names, and he names her. Jwala has been harbouring a secret love for the princess, and had made a hideous statue of her. She is a woman who believes in keeping her word, and I think was swayed by his artistic flair, and they marry there and then with the fire as their witness.

Then follows some tiger wrestling, a misidentified corpse, and Meenakshi becoming catatonic with shock.

She remains in shock long enough for her father to get her married off to Pratap Singh (Pradeep Kumar) who says he doesn’t mind that she is basically a living doll.

How good was Pratap Singh to stop her killing herself, and accepting that she had an heir in the oven while acknowledging that he had no right over Meenakshi’s body. But how does a headache provide a pregnancy diagnosis? But how creepy is Pratap Singh to marry an unconscious woman and plan to consummate the marriage. You know you’re in a topsy turvy world when that is one of the good guys.

Satpal Singh steps up his efforts to rid himself of rivals and avoid unpleasant destiny. More bad decisions help the chaos along and babies are swapped, swapped again, and face near certain death. It’s only about 20 minutes in the movie at this stage and already there is so much plot.

Question: If you picked up a baby swaddled in red velvet who had been delivered by a falcon, and you worked for the palace that was awash with rumours of a baby swaddled in red velvet who had been stolen by a falcon, would you not put two and two together? I’m not blaming Sheroo for protecting his family. But come on humans!

In what represents the present day Meenakshi’s babies have grown up (a lot) to be Dharam (Dharmendra) the adopted son of the blacksmith, and Veer (Jeetendra) the prince.

And Satpal’s son Ranjeet Singh is played by Ranjeet so you already know all you need to know about him. But here are some of his many moods.

Will Dharam and Veer ever find out they’re twins, not just bromantic soulmates? Will Ranjeet ever meet a woman without trying to rape her? Will the family be reunited, true love win, and villains get their just deserts? Whose couture will reign supreme? And what of highly intelligent and faithful Sheroo?

The heroes are the least interesting people in the film, which may explain the costume choices. If you lack substance, add more ruffles. Perhaps a fringed leather mini dress will distract from the absence of matter between your ears. They have some cracking dialogues, especially when their friendship is under strain and Dharam calls Veer out on his privilege. But they also do bad comedy costumes and behave boorishly to the people they supposedly love. Pran is my pick of the heroic litter. His costumes and wigs are a sight, he has a sparkle in his eye when he leaps into the fray, and he has integrity. He isn’t great at decision making, but who is in this world. Luckily Desai amped up the action with jousting, gladiator style fights, and pirate action on shonky looking ships so there is no need for nuanced acting. Now if 80’s Chiranjeevi had some of these fancy duds added to his wardrobe, I’d be delighted. There might be some boot plagiarism afoot as this is a Megastar-less Megaboot treasure trove.

Meenakshi is a stickler for the law and honour but she understands her son and sees through his flouncing. Her weakness is that she expects everyone to be as honourable as she is. And Indrani Mukherjee’s probably younger than her “children”. She and Jwala are kept apart due to their own unbending principles. But she is warm and approachable as a mother, and is affectionate to Veer and Dharam.

However women aren’t actually people with individuality, needs, or rights. When Dharam’s mother is murdered and the royal family is framed, he demands a mother to replace his mother. The queen must go be his Ma. And he is genuinely delighted. It’s like his poor deceased mother never existed, as long as he had someone to feed him and tell him he was perfect. And he had no remorse about taking the queen, his bestie’s mother, away because a manly man’s man needs his mummy.

Pallavi (Zeenat Aman) is a bossy, entitled, aristocrat. Sadly she fails to put a stop to Dharam and Veer who tag team with dated shtick about having to keep a woman on a tight rein so you can be sure to break her. That would have been justifiable homicide I reckon. Dharam thinking that he can just take any woman because he is so awesome is very unpleasant and when he ties Pallavi up and sings to her about how he is worthy of her love…blergh. Dharam’s amazing super strength and very short skirts eventually win her over, because it’s not like she has a day job or anything to occupy her mind. On the upside Zeenat gets some fabulously OTT costumes and some kickarse action scenes which slightly compensate for her “dancing”.

Speaking of “dancing” – Jeetendra is literally carried around for most of this.

Veer meets Rupa (Neetu Singh) when he is hiding from Pallavi’s brother and fiancée and of course has to scrub Rupa’s back while she is in the bath. It’s interesting that the older generation in this film are no nonsense about sex and relationships but the “boys” are quite sleazy. It’s a shame Veer wasn’t more like his progressive but creepy dad. Oh that’s not a good aspiration.

Veer falls for Rupa but like his BFF, decides that treating her mean will keep her keen. Rupa is almost raped by Ranjeet. And then when she is traumatised and shaken, Veer pretends he has no feelings for her. Unfortunately before Veer can sort out their engagement, Ranjeet wins Rupa from the gypsy king and things look grim. Rupa was indignant at the injustice but she didn’t get anywhere with actually changing the outcome. It took Dharam speechifying to make the men decide they could do the right thing. But generally, Rupa was up for rescuing herself and others and never sat back waiting for a miserable fate. Neetu is feisty and fun, and certainly made the choreographer’s life easier.

Manmohan Desai is a master of apparently throwing random masala ingredients together but actually having a tightly plotted and well planned story to tell. Dharam Veer has the stars, the spectacle and the silliness in spades. 4 stars!

Advertisements

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!

Dus Lakh (1966)

What happens when a vain and money hungry old man inherits millions? He alienates his family and hooks up with ne’er-do-wells who intend to part him from the money. Is this entertaining? Yes, surprisingly so. It’s the 60s so the design is of the more is more school, the songs are brought to life by Asha Bhosle and Rafi among others, and the cast is spot on. Devendra Goel keeps it all moving along despite the actors sometimes lapsing into melodramatic wallowing and scenery chewing.

Gokulchand (Om Prakash) is a widower, living comfortably with his married son and daughter-in-law (Ramesh Deo and Seema Deo), younger son (Sanjay Khan) and grandchildren (Master Ripple and Baby Sonia aka Neetu Singh). He is obsessed with money and feels that anyone else’s good fortune has somehow been at his expense. But finally his prayers are answered when his reviled brother dies and leaves him everything. Gokulchand tells Manohar to quit working, buys a big fancy house, and goes to a hill station to practice being rich and snobby. He meets Jerry (Pran!) and Dolly (Manorama), con artists who see him as easy pickings once they get his kids out of the picture. Is blood thicker than whisky and soda?

Om Prakash and Manorama get the bulk of screen time. While I have no patience with a vain, horny old man and his poor decision making I did quite like seeing the story develop around an older less glam pairing. But it is both funny and infuriating to see Gokulchand preening as Jerry and Dolly manipulate him so easily. Om Prakash is at his best when Gokulchand is very angry or very sad, and his moods permeate the whole family.

Dolly has a son, William (Brahmachari), to her Indian husband and a daughter, Kitty (Helen) to her English husband. Jerry fancies Kitty and money, Dolly likes booze and money, and Gokulchand takes to drinking and wearing shorty shorts like a duck to water. There is a lot made of English versus Indian manners and morals, with Dolly and Kitty representing the corrupting influence of Westernised women and Jerry as a Goan of convenient morality, and William as a simple lad who can’t afford long pants. Manorama does her usual shtick and her expressions are priceless. I really loathe Dolly as a character though, and not because she was a con. I allow that women had limited options and not everyone can be a builder’s labourer. But the way she pimped Kitty out was appalling, and William wasn’t treated much better.

Ramesh Deo and Seema Deo are charming as Manohar and Devki. Devki borrowed a diamond necklace from a friend to give to Rita as an engagement gift, promising to return it. Losing the necklace on top of being kicked out of the family home drove the little family to the brink. And while there was much agonising over loss of honour and standing, Manohar simply rolled up his sleeves and went to work as a labourer to make the money they needed. And so did Devki. I realised while watching the film again that their story reminded me a little of stories my Nan told me about how she and Poppy got through the Depression. I love a battler!

Manohar and Devki are too good to be true but even when the acting gets dialled up too many notches the actors stay connected to their characters and each other. Manohar slaps Devki in one scene but in context it was understandable while not being at all acceptable. And none of the bystanders held back on telling him off. So I was pleased to see the social rules in the film were anti wife-beating. They also had some really nice scenes talking about the family or their own relationship. And that is something that the film does well. People have to sort out their own problems, they need to talk about things, and then come up with a plan. And all that goes on in between everyone else erupting into dances, fights, and silly outfits.

Kishore (Sanjay Khan) is the youngest son, indulged by his older brother and sister-in-law, and the hope of his father. He’s an engineering student and like so many filmi heroes, appears to have been studying for a long long long time. He is in love with girl next door Rita (Babita). Rita seems to understand that Jerry is a crook and that Gokulchand is an idiot well before Kishore does. Kishore is both annoying and impractical without her influence. I don’t like Babita but he is a sap.

Rita is a bit of a drama queen and doesn’t mind a mock fight for the fun of making up afterwards. But essentially she is quite pragmatic and gets things done. When she sees an opportunity to get the necklace back, she bargains hard with Kitty. Rita did look like she’d rather lick a slug but she lets Jerry hold her hand and then executes her plan perfectly. Babita faced Helen in a dance-off and then again in a collaborative dance of pre-nuptial snark so I give her points for trying.

Kitty (Helen) is not happy at being raffled off like the meat tray at an RSL, but she can’t just up and leave her family so she treads a line. She steals the necklace from Jerry, which Dolly thinks is brilliant. Kitty agrees to help Rita in exchange for Rita winning Jerry’s dubious affections and thus freeing her up for a more salubrious affair with Kishore.

While the kids are crooks, they look out for each other and try to help Kishore as they know he is being unfairly accused. Her brother William is probably the most decent of this bunch. He might steal but he doesn’t like to lie. Kishore apologises to Kitty at one point for misleading her and while she is too quick to forgive, I liked that he still felt she deserved an apology despite the taint of association with Dolly and Jerry.

Pran plays the reprehensible Jerry for laughs, and the occasional flashes of menace don’t quite land. He speaks a Yoda-esque English, saying things like “Leave not father rich” and wears loud checked suits. His expressions are even less subtle than Manorama.

I realise this doesn’t sound all that entertaining or comedic. But if you know that the finale takes place during Gokulchand and Dolly’s wedding which is also a costume party complete with a man in a giraffe suit, Helen and Babita playing keepings off with a bag of money, a duel between Kishore and Jerry, and Manohar languishing in hospital being transfused with what looks like a bottle of tomato sauce, then all is indeed well that ends well.

I have a lot of affection for Dus Lakh despite feeling that watching a family torn apart because of greed is not comedy gold. Babita and Sanjay do nothing for me but luckily they are not the main event. See it for excellent use of Helen and a whole lot of decent character actors getting more than just a comedy subplot. 4 stars!