Aaj Ka Goonda Raj

AajKaGoondaRajPoster

Aaj Ka Goonda Raj is a Hindi remake of Chiranjeevi’s Telugu blockbuster, Gang Leader. The dishoom sound effects are quite subdued by Telugu standards but Chiru’s hair is even bigger than a regulation police hat and he goes all out in the action and dances.

Raja (Chiranjeevi) is an unemployed specimen and lives with his grandmother (Dina Pathak), brothers Ravi (Raj Babbar) and Amar (Parikshit Sahni), and Amar’s wife (Sudha). He dreams of being Robin Hood, but is more likely to get into a scuffle with the police on the way to the disco than righting any larger scale wrongs.

Admire his awesome moves, even as you may recoil at the sweat flicking and floor humping. Plus bonus Ravi Teja!

Raja takes a job to evict a squatter – Shalu (Meenakshi Sheshadri). She turns up at his house spinning a sob story, looking to move in. His family turn on him of course and take Shalu’s side, or at least feel they need to protect a poor defenceless girl all alone in the world blah blah blah.

Raja agrees to go to jail over a car accident to protect the driver, a father trying to marry his daughter off. Or something. He gets paid for the time served and the cash helps Golden Boy Ravi take the exams for whatever he wants to be. The father (Satish Shah) is actually the jailer. Oh so filmi. Raja is treated well while he is a jailbird. Except that they let Shalu in to see him as she says she is his wife so I think they failed in their duty of care towards him, although I admire her persistence and the power of her imagination. Who says Mass films are simplistic? I get conflicted all over the place.

Reluctant hero and pushy heroine can be very amusing or not at all, and this is a bit too slapstick for my taste. But once Shalu stops just obsessing about Raja she gets a lot more interesting and Meenakshi seems more comfortable in the role. She and Chiru have nice chemistry and Meenakshi certainly gives him a run for his money in the songs and in the drama.

Raja can’t win as he is criticised for not working and then berated when he does. His family love him but despair of him ever getting his life sorted out. He occasionally impersonates his deceased grandfather who ostensibly appears to ask Grandma to go easy on the boy. It’s all silly but the family are there for each other when it counts.

Amar sees something he shouldn’t and villain Tejpal (Prem Chopra) has him eliminated. Tejpal’s pet police officer Saxena (Dalip Tahil) has been trying to get Raja out of the way for most of the film, and finally marries his sister Ritu (Geetha) to Ravi. She is tasked with tearing the brothers asunder, but sorely underestimates the power of filmi bro-dom and the effect on her own psyche of being around decent human beings.

Finally Tejpal and his weirdo sidekick (a very creepy Sharat Saxena) stage a fatal accident using Raja’s taxi, and his friends. Raja goes to trial and is devastated to see what happened to his poor harmless mates.

Raja escapes, thanks to Shalu driving the getaway car and looking striking in huge puffy yellow sleeves. She tells him her sad story of how Tejpal killed her mother and then she shoots Raja’s handcuffs off. Most of Raja’s family are useful in a fight and Shalu gets in there, boots and all too. No one waits for Raja when they can do something for themselves, so the final confrontation is epic and random and had me cheering them all on. I do love a needlessly complex plan and the film obliges.

Apart from the murdering aspect (because it is wrong, even when Chiru is doing it), I liked that Raja simply stepped back and let Shalu deal with Tejpal. He didn’t take her revenge from her or make his own need for justice more important than hers. And anyway, he had Saxena so there was plenty of vengeance to go round.

Despite all the death and mayhem, it’s quite a cheerful and upbeat film for the most part. The songs are not as good as Gang Leader but they are filmed well and I can never be unhappy with Chiru dancing on giant props.

Aaj Ka Goonda Raj-Dragon

Side note: This wall decoration is in several Telugu films and now turns up here. Was it a common item in that day, or did some poor set dresser lug it around from house to house?

This was Chiranjeevi’s second Hindi film. It is hardly a stretch for Chiru but might have been a bit confronting for the mainstream Hindi film audiences of the day. I mean, he can actually dance. Mithun would have been spewing to have his moves put to shame so easily. And the action is energetic and athletic and a bit brutal although there is less fake blood than I recall in the original. It’s a good vehicle for him as it retains the mass flavour of the original and his heroics need no tweaking to be transplanted to Bombay. Sadly, I don’t think Bollywood was ready for this jelly. And that is their loss, as there was a golden opportunity for less of this:

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And more of this:

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See this for a ripping yarn of family and revenge, Chiranjeevi at possibly peak mullet, and Meenakshi as a feisty heroine. Then go watch Gang Leader! 3 ½ stars!

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Pagla Kahin Ka (1970)

Pagla Kahin Ka poster

I was supposed to be posting a review of a Jayalalitha film but I feel she has had quite enough publicity about now, and I shan’t add to it. Then I thought I would swap in something more upbeat as the world has been quite a trying place, but I remembered Pagla Kahin Ka. It has the perfect 70s cast, some great songs, and Shakti Samanta at the helm. But it’s a mostly sad story about love, friendship, and loss. I discovered this via the excellent Memsaab, and if you follow that link to her review you will also find a link to a subtitled download of the film.

Sujit (Shammi) and Shyam (Prem Chopra) are in a hotel nightclub band, and Jenny (Helen) is their featured artiste. Sujit and Jenny are madly in love and building plans for their future. Sujit proposes but Jenny is reluctant due to their different status. There are also rumours that Sujit is mad but Jenny doesn’t see his wildness as a problem.

Hotel boss Max (K.N Singh) is less enthusiastic about their union as he will lose his eyecandy and probably the associated income. Max and Shyam come to blows and Max is killed. Sujit takes the blame and pleads insanity, his sad past going a long way to convincing the judge despite his useless lawyer (Bhram Bardwaj). He goes to the asylum, leaving Shyam who is secretly in love with Jenny.

The asylum is full to the brim with overacting extras that make the place seem like a true Bedlam. Sujit is genuinely depressed and worried by his incarceration and his memories of his father who was committed following a breakdown. But that isn’t enough as he is meant to be an insane murderer and Shammi (over)indulges in some of his “crazy” acting. Shalu suspects he is faking and takes his case on.

Shalu asks him what would happen if Jenny had forgotten him. Oh the foreshadowing…

Meanwhile Shyam seems to be keeping things from Jenny and trying to make her doubt Sujit, and also keeping Sujit isolated. Things come to an emotional crescendo when Shalu hints at her feelings for Sujit, envying Jenny her love, at the same time Jenni is being raped by Shyam who has had enough of waiting. As if Prem Chopra was ever going to play a wholeheartedly good friend! Poor Sujit. He only has two real friends, and now things can never be the same.

Sujit’s release coincides with Shyam and Jenny’s wedding. Jenny looks very pretty and utterly miserable and I was pleased to see the movie gives the “marry your rapist” solution the side eye. At the wedding reception Madhumati dances a love triangle themed song in a very Helen-y outfit. And Sujit, clueless about why or how or even what but still wishing his dearest friends happiness, has a multi instrumental breakdown.

Now genuinely losing it, he is unable to process the shock and betrayal he feels at losing the friendship and loyalty that had been his foundation. Shalu sees the shocking difference in Sujit this time and immediately grasps that something devastating has happened. The other inmates welcome him back, some gently chiding him and some seeing his return from a cruel and inhospitable world as inevitable. It’s a nice change of tone from the more comedic first stint and Shammi plays it beautifully. He is heartbreaking as Sujit tries but fails to grapple with the facts, knowing there is something seriously awry but unable to process it or do anything to help himself.

Jenny visits Shalu and tells her the truth, hoping that Shalu will help set things right with Sujit. Shalu is quite conflicted through all of this as she can now see her chance with Sujit but is bound to try and treat him. Asha Parekh smiles approximately three times through the film, but her chemistry with Shammi is spot on. She shows a gentle empathy and tenderness with him and despite some questionable doctor patient interactions, I was glad to see someone wholeheartedly for Sujit. And he does blossom under her care, eventually regaining his memories and feeling robust enough to deal with losing Jenny.

He is able to declare his love for Shalu. But he still sees Shyam as his great friend and Shalu decides she must dispel that illusion so he can really move on. And by move on, I mean move on to her.

Does anyone ever run up against Prem Chopra and survive unscathed? Not Helen, sadly. Sujit and Shalu appeared to need about, oh, a nanosecond to deal with Jenny’s fate. I understood the plot point needed to be resolved but that was callous. And without wanting to be too spoilery I was hoping that random tree was sturdy and her aim was good.

Anyway.

The soundtrack is a delight and Shankar Jaikishan run from rollicking cabaret numbers to songs of quiet yearning. Helen gets a couple of good dances in before marriage and sarees end her career, and I liked seeing Madhumati as a clear Helen substitute and dancing up a storm. Shammi has always had great musicality and while he sometimes overdoes the hairography he really sells the swooning romance of the ballads.

See this for a star cast in a not so typical story, and for the bonus of Helen in a substantial if thankless role. Despite the downbeat elements, ultimately this is a story about finding your happiness where you can and learning to trust (but not indiscriminately, and never Prem Chopra). 4 stars!

Mera Saaya (1966)

Mera Saaya-title

Raj Khosla directs Sunil Dutt and Sadhana in a courtroom procedural with a bit of a twist. Despite the melodramatic conceit at the centre of the plot, this is a sensible and well plotted film that is very satisfying.

Geeta (Sadhana) is lying ill in a very ornate room. The doctor sends a cable for her husband Thakur Rakesh Singh (Sunil Dutt) to come home immediately as the prognosis is poor. The Thakur arrives home – he puts his head down and power walks past the other passengers, urgency in every step. He opens the car door before it even stops. But it is too late and Geeta expires in his arms.

Rakesh mourns, sunk in grief, listening to ‘their song’ – Mera Saaya (My Shadow). Nothing seems to reach him. Until the inspector shows him a photo of a suspected female bandit who is the very image of Geeta.

The woman claims to be Geeta, which of course the Thakur rejects. But she seems to know so much, and looks so much like his recently deceased wife. When she goes on trial, her only defense is that she is Geeta not Raina the bandit, so the judge gives her some leeway to prove her identity. Since her husband is a famous lawyer, she wants him to represent her. But as he is a witness for the prosecution, instead she decides to defend herself and has him called as a witness.

How could she know so much about him? And about Geeta for that matter? And she looks so much like Geeta that he cannot help but feel drawn to her. The words of their shadow song have extra meaning for Rakesh now he is seeing the image of his wife everywhere, in memories, dreams, and in the dock. But who is she? And is she really a killer?

The servant, Sargam (the minxy Kumud Bole), seems to be up to something. And an old lady got arrested so she could pass a note in jail to Raina (and then ate the evidence). There are stories within stories and the evidence seems to point first one way then the other. I often find filmi law a bit unconvincing but the arguments within Mera Saaya are fairly logical. The avuncular judge (Jagdish Sethi) is a genial man. He is interested in a fair hearing for all rather than pushing a predetermined agenda, so he encourages the questions and reminds witnesses of their obligations. The dialogues have the ring of truth and the questions and revelations fall out so that the plot complications are developed and resolved in a sequence that helps reinforce the central question as well as hinting at the solution. There are questions I might have asked in addition to the ones in the script, but not many that I wouldn’t have thought relevant. Plus, you just can’t argue with a Significant Mole.

Sunil Dutt is quietly compelling as Rakesh. He desperately wants a reason to believe his wife still lives, but is a rational man and knows he cremated her. There are flashbacks of Rakesh and Geeta together, their happiness juxtaposed with the dreary days of waking alone. Even in the most confrontational moments in court Rakesh acts with his integrity and tells the truth though it might undermine his own position that the woman is an impostor. Dutt and Sadhana are warm and physically demonstrative in the flashback scenes. Rakesh’s loss and anger at the sheer presumption of this woman taking his wife’s name are born out of an equally passionate grief, and Dutt delivered with restraint. It’s a lovely, intelligent performance.

Sadhana plays her double role with gusto. Geeta is the sweet and dutiful wife, but she has personality and a cheeky streak. Raina is suspected of being in league with the local bandit gang leader. Nothing about her story makes much sense, but when Raina is trying to persuade Rakesh that she is his Geeta her desperation seems genuine. Both characters have enough similarities that Rakesh cannot outright say that Raina is nothing like his wife. But there are a few things that don’t add up and Sadhana’s expressions convey that there might be something dubious going on. Like her co-star, she focusses on delivering a balanced and believable characterisation that helps sustain the mystery.

As befits the story, this is not a movie chock full of big item numbers but the soundtrack has plenty to offer. The songs range from romantic ballads to more boisterous fare.

It was quite handy that Raina had a dark past as a dancer (and a good use for Asha Bhosle’s flirty upbeat vocals). The songs are often used to amplify the characters emotions, like giving Rakesh a glimpse of his happy past before the present crashes back in.

The support cast is generally excellent. I really liked the scenes between the police inspector (Anwar Hussain), the family doctor (Shivraj) and the prosecutor (K.N Singh) as they would sit around in the evenings and talk about the case, what they thought would happen, and how Rakesh was bearing up. They were gossipy, opinionated and yet pragmatic. Bankeji (Dhumal) and Munshiji (Mukri) are the comedy sidekicks – less entertaining although I was mildly taken aback by the casual references to Bankeji’s opium use. Ratnamala is warm and caring but quite ineffectual as the aunt. And while I am trying to avoid spoilers, Prem Chopra has a small role so you can guess who one of the bad guys is.

Partly filmed on location at the Lake Palace, Udaipur, this is a beautiful looking film. Sunil Dutt and Sadhana bring their characters to life and give a solid emotional core to the story.  Plus there is a lovely lush soundtrack by Madan Mohan with the golden trio of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Mohammad Rafi lending their vocals. 4 ½ stars!