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!

Advertisements

Geeta Mera Naam

Geeta-mera-naam

Sadhana’s Geeta Mera Naam is masala with an added dimension of weird.  The cast includes Sadhana, Sunil Dutt and Feroz Khan; all veteran stars with a diverse portfolio of work. Add in the usual suspects like Helen, Rajendranath, Keshto Mukherjee and even Jr Mehmood and you’ve got the ingredients for entertaining excess at your fingertips.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-monkey 1

Widowed Ma Saraswati (Achala Sachdev) takes her four children to the fair. Experienced masala watchers know that any visit to any amusement with a child is bound to end in tears and separation. Bandits raid the fair, as they do, and in the ensuing mayhem Saraswati keeps hold of Geeta but loses her twin Kavita. The boys are swept away before their matching tattoos could be completed, leaving Chandu with half a monkey on his forearm. If only some people had worn short sleeves in key scenes. Suraj is taken by the bandit leader as a replacement for his dead son while his brother is adopted locally. Years pass. Geeta (Sadhana) is a petty criminal, in and out of the cells at the police station run by her(unknown to either of them) long lost brother Inspector Chandu (Ramesh Deo). Kavita, now called Nita (also Sadhana), is a nice girl who teaches orphans in her spare time.  Nita’s adoptive parents sell her to Mohanbabu who wants her for a few months, or until he loses interest. Then they can sell her again. As she fights to escape someone kills Mohan. Nita sees a shadowy figure in a hat but the police charge her with the murder. And what of Suraj? Now called Johny (Sunil Dutt) he is a successful smuggler with a gang and a pretty good lair and a masala death trap and … a man called Sheroo who whips him, and a toy monkey, his memento of that day at the fair. Johny’s best friend (other than the monkey) and lieutenant is Raja (Feroz Khan), equally ruthless and pragmatic about the business at hand but with more of an eye for the ladies.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-NitaGeeta-Mera-Naam-Geeta

Sadhana didn’t exactly challenge herself with a double role as Nita, the good twin, is only seen for a short time and Geeta does all the heavy lifting. But Geeta is a great character. Feminine but independent and strong, she insists on being seen as an individual not someone who answers to “hey girl”. Sadhana’s clothes as Geeta were quite mid 70s frumpy and not what I expected from such a fashion icon. Geeta discovers her sister Nita in jail and decides to find the real killer. Learning that Johny did the deed, she infiltrates the gang through Raja.

Geeta uses her fearless attitude, kickarse fighting skills and feminine charms to gain his interest and for some reason, her feelings are also engaged, making vengeance a little more complicated.

Sadhana is a very capable actress but I found her direction more interesting than her performance. The film is a bit darker and more low key than the average masala flick, and there is an undercurrent of violence and power. Johny kills with tear filled eyes, then atones for his murders by having Sheroo flog him as penance. He is obsessed with rules and justice and blood in the sense of blood ties. Blood doesn’t recognise blood, but people do recognise their long lost identical twins and significant tattoos and remember where they were lost, all of which is handy. Geeta uses sex or at least the promise of sex to lure men but she has right on her side. She takes a strong stand against Johny partly to save her sister but also because she just doesn’t believe in his rules and why Raja feels bound by them. And his bad jokes should not be encouraged. I’m used to the first view of the heroine being restricted to various body parts, but Sadhana tries to level that playing field by having Sunil Dutt’s butt be his introduction.  Common masala themes of redemption, family, moral righteousness and the law are explored through characters struggles and insights. The standard masala requirements of separated siblings, elaborate death traps, convoluted revenge and audacious yet pointless criminal gangs are all present and accounted for.

Feroz Khan, or Fur-Roz as I mentally called him throughout, plays Raja with minimal facial expression but maximum wardrobe impact. I think there was some kind of battle raging in the costume department as he spends about half the film shirtless and the remaining half in puffy shirts. Raja is Johny’s most loyal friend but of course, once you add in such elements as a gold heist and Helen as the woman scorned, things get tricky. I’m not a fan of Feroz the actor but he did make some interesting films even if I am not always completely on board. Raja is not a very developed character but he does have presence and it is easy to believe in his authority within the gang.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-tormentGeeta-Mera-Naam-Sheroo at work

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Johny and gangGeeta-Mera-Naam-insight

Sunil Dutt turns in a solid performance although I would not say it is his finest moment. His portrayal of Johny is over the top but he does give a sense of the troubled person under the trappings of villainy (and the pleather outfits).

Geeta-Mera-Naam-jokesGeeta-Mera-Naam-lairHe and Feroz are in a race to see who can get their teeth into most of the scenery first but considering Johny disposes of disappointing employees by turning them into his own version of Madame Tussauds, realism was never on the cards. I did like that he didn’t play Johny as obviously crazy.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-evil laughGeeta-Mera-Naam-a cunning planDespite the occasional evil laugh, the peculiar behaviour was shown in a matter of fact way, so Johny seemed like a credible threat. He was capable of friendship despite his inner demons. Sure, the gang must have had rules about things like “Never mention the monkey” and “Don’t ask Sheroo where he buys his corsets”.

The background score is fantastic and I loved the punchy brassy tracks as well as the forays into surf rock and swing. Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s  featured songs are far less interesting although they do further the narrative somewhat. Helen plays Raja’s girlfriend and finds herself dumped for Geeta. She gets one big dance number, the incredibly strange and eyeball searing Mujhe Maar Dala. Geeta intends to sacrifice herself to save Raja who wants to save Geeta as Helen gleefully gyrates in a bubble filled water feature with Oscar, singing about pain, suffering and love.

Poor Oscar. A flesh coloured onesie is difficult for anyone to carry off, and the black belt doesn’t have the slimming effect that may have been intended.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Helen and OscarGeeta-Mera-Naam-teeth

And I’d like to give Helen a special acting award for the bit where she unzipped Raja’s jacket with her teeth. There was not a flicker of expression on her face to indicate how traumatic it must have been as his fuzzy torso was revealed.

Johny’s lair is part suburban living room, part gallery and part obstacle course.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Feroz and SunilGeeta-Mera-Naam-the other cat wall hangingThe famous Cat Wall Hanging appears. Raja’s apartment is the height of 70s bachelor style, complete with round rotating bed. Johny ends up with a cast of thousands in his relatively modest abode for the grand finish.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-carpet

I was amused to see some carpet placed over sections of the tiled floor and wondered if it was due to health and safety concerns for the actors, or reflected Johny’s experience of having to get bloodstains off the marble.

This is unlike most other 70s masala in terms of the psychology of the characters and the prominence of the women within the story. Sadhana chose Geeta Mera Naam as both her comeback and a farewell, wanting to go out as a memorable heroine.  I wish she had directed more films as this is highly entertaining and all the elements are well balanced.  3 ½ stars!

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Mayhem