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!

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Gair Kaanooni

Gair-Kanooni-Title Gair Kaanooni is a cracktastic masala film that I overlook far too often. Director Prayag Raj was responsible for the story or screenplay of many of my favourites – Ajooba, Mard, Geraftaar, Coolie, Suhaag, Dharam Veer, Parvarish, Amar Akbar Anthony – so that should tell you what you need to know about plot and logic. Plus it has a killer cast.

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Just look at the lineup in the opening credits! (Question: Who is Sunny Bee? I love them just for the name but know nothing about them.)

Gair-Kanooni-Don't moveGair-Kanooni-they start revenge young

Kapil Khanna (a portly Shashi Kapoor) is a zealous policeman out to bring down underworld don D’Costa (Ranjeet). He leans on an informer, and sadly the goodhearted crook Azam Khan (Rajinikanth) is killed (stabbed AND electrocuted) by D’Costa and Dalal (Kader Khan) leaving an orphaned son. Meanwhile Mrs Khanna and Mrs Dalal are both in the maternity hospital. When Mrs Dalal has a baby girl, D’Costa repays his friend by switching the ‘worthless’ girl for a newborn boy – The Khanna’s son. Oh lord. Three kiddies to keep track of and we haven’t even started…Kapil Khanna rejects the infant girl and demands his son back. He will not accept his ‘daughter’ and sends her off to be raised by strangers, paying what he needs to but not giving her any familial affection or contact. Travel through time and we have Laxmi (Sri Devi), a petty thief introduced in a lovely song as she fleeces worshippers at a temple. Hey, she is Laxmi after all (or so she reasons). Om Narayan is the son of Kapil Khanna who has been raised by Jutawala Dalal, and Rajinikanth is back as Azam’s son Akbar Khan. Of course they cross paths and naturally, vengeful hijinks ensue.

Gair-Kanooni-Kapil KhannaGair-Kanooni-Shashi and Sri Devi

Shashi is, dare I say, a bit past it as Kapil Khanna but he knows his way around and has mastered the art of bromance. There is lots of “Yeh jhoot hai!” and insistence on setting things right. Kapil cannot accept Laxmi as, to him that means giving up on his son and leaving his wife’s last wish unfulfilled. Shashi kind of phones it in but every now and then he shows a gleam of vintage Kapoor masala style. I like his scenes with Rajinikanth, especially when they compete with dialogues to see who can be more pompous.

Gair-Kanooni-Sri Devi as LaxmiGair-Kanooni-Laxmi is her namesake

Sri Devi is perfectly cast as Laxmi. Fostered by Bantho (Aruna Irani) and Nathulal (Satyendra Kapoor) Laxmi imbibes her guardians’ world view and skillset. (Nathulal is the man who went to jail for killing Azaam Khan, just in case we needed a Sign that there were going to be Coincidences and Revelations.) Laxmi makes her money via illegal means but she is not a bad person at heart. Similar to other roles Sri Devi essayed – Kumari in S.P Parasuram, Seema in Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja and even Seema in Mr India – Laxmi is brave, funny and generally smart with interludes of ditziness. Her focus is on getting by and doing what she needs to do to survive.

Gair-Kanooni-Sri Devi

Laxmi falls for Om but their romance is a lesser subplot compared to the goings on between the villains. She describes him at one point as her friend and her future husband, which I liked.

That song has to be one of the most eye-popping introductions ever. Govinda is partly overshadowed by Rita’s (Kimi Katkar’s) hideous skirt, but still! Om and his dad have a scam whereby he accepts dowry and then weasels out of the marriage. Like Laxmi, Om isn’t an actively bad person but he doesn’t try too hard to stay on the straight and narrow. Generally he sails through all fine and dandy until he falls in love for real. At least Laxmi had an equally flexible approach to ethics so they were well suited. Govinda is a great choice in this kind of role – lots of colour and movement. It needs an actor who just goes all in for the entertainment factor and he does that, boots and all.

Gair-Kanooni-Shashi and RajnikanthGair-Kanooni-Rajini as Akbar

Often I feel Hindi film-makers missed the point of Rajini – they either cast him as a bit of an idiot (like in Hum) or a grim chain-smoking vengeful type. He is such a great actor and he can handle any kind of filmi ridiculousness with aplomb. Initially I expected his appearance as Aazam to be it, and was lamenting the wasted opportunity. But who better to play vengeful son of Rajnikanth than Rajini himself! Akbar is the grown up son and soon gets tangled up with the plot, quickly finding out who the real bad guys are. Rita (Kimi Katkar) falls for him despite his harsh criticism of her morals as apparently evinced by her skirt length and his generally bleak outlook on life.

Rajini gets to declaim elaborate threats and back them up with flashy fighting (choreographed by Judo Rathnam, who did such amusing work in Geraftaar). I especially love one dramatic escape where he launches himself head first through a breeze-block wall. Amazing. Dancing is not his forte however so it is good that the total entertainment burden does not rest on his shoulders.

Ranjeet and Kader Khan play their usual villainous types and they are truly, irredeemably, despicable. D’Costa and Dalal are locked in a dysfunctional relationship where neither likes or trusts the other but just can’t walk out. There is a large supporting cast but they are a bit lost behind the histrionics of the main protagonists.

Gair-Kanooni-Govinda and KimiGair-Kanooni-soot free Kimi Katkar is feisty and over-accessorised as Doctor Rita, and I like her spirited self defence and addiction to ruffles. Tej Sapru has a very small role as D’Costa’s son Tony, prone to acid wash denim and hissy fits when he isn’t allowed to go kill people. Aruna Irani is memorable as Bantho who takes pride in her adopted daughter’s thieving abilities.

Gair-Kanooni-Shashi and Govinda

There are misunderstandings, confrontations and tearful confessions galore. The song lyrics often express what is happening or how characters see things, which I find refreshing and relevant compared to some modern efforts. Plus it must be helpful to the other characters to have things explained so melodically. Resolution arrives through forced proximity (jail is good like that) and … ‘tribal’ disco.

That song wasn’t such a good idea really, but it is memorable. Plus a kidnap and forced kidney donation brings the rest of the family together. And I have left out so much!

Sure, Shashi Kapoor in blackface is unnerving but Sri Devi and Govinda, a Bappi Lahiri soundtrack and Rajnikanth in dual roles make this pretty special. See it for the cast, the song picturisations and the the plot that hits the point of ridiculousness and accelerates, cheering itself on towards WTFery. 3 ½ stars!

Gair-Kanooni-no words

Namak Halaal (1982)

There is no shortage of plot in Prakash Mehra’s Namak Halaal and yet, when you boil it down, not a lot really happens. It is by no means a great film, but I am inordinately fond of the excesses of masala story telling and I have a sneaking affection for this one. Released in 1982, it has a very 70s masala feel right down to the casting and music, with a touch of cartoon action and comedy. Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor star, supported by Waheeda Rehman, Smita Patil, Om Prakash and Parveen Babi.

Savitri (Waheeda Rehman) and Bhim Singh (Suresh Oberoi) are devoted to their employer, Sanyal (Kamal Kapoor). When Sanyal is killed by enemy Girdhar in an ambush, a dying Bhim Singh makes his wife promise to look after Sanyal’s son Raja even if it means losing their own boy, Arjun. It is a veeeeeery long deathbed speech with lots of detail. Savitri takes Arjun to his grandfather (Om Prakash) and the old man blames her for his son’s death. She cannot prove her innocence so leaves and agrees to stay out of Arjun’s life. Savitri is honest and a competent businesswoman and manages the hotel empire while Raja is educated abroad.

The adult Raja is played by Shashi Kapoor. Looking a bit old and tired for the playboy role, Shashi nevertheless makes a stylish entry via a downhill ski race assassination attempt.

The beanie is not a good look, especially compared with Bob Christo’s splendid headgear.

Meanwhile Arjun has been raised poor but honest in Lakhanpur. His grandfather despairs of Arjun being able to stand on his own feet once the old man passes on, so decides to send him to the city to make a man of him. Prakash Mehra posits a correlation between libido and intelligence that I found quite amusing – hopefully it was meant to be a joke! Arjun is simple but not stupid, and quickly takes the measure of those around him. Amitabh’s performance is the element that holds everything together. He gives as much nuance and conviction to the silliest dialogues as he does to the most dramatic moments. His physical comedy is a treat and even when scenes drag on far too long (e.g. a fly induced slapstick fight) he keeps me watching.

Mumbai being the vast metropolis it is, of course the same dozen or so people see each other everywhere. Thank heavens there are no actual bells that sound for every cosmic coincidence in the film or I would have been deafened. Arjun is helped by his friend Bhairon and via the classic Pag Ghungroo (mixing comedy, dancing and lyrics that give the club audience a dressing down), scores a job interview at a fancy hotel owned by Raja and managed by Girdhar’s son Ranjit (Ranjeet) who is out to kill Raja on daddy’s instructions.

Ranjit took very little persuasion to go to the dark side, but his outfits were very subdued, one of my few real disappointments in this film.

Raja has become convinced that Savitri is trying to kill him to inherit the family fortune. His bitterness is evident in cryptic dialogues and he tries to offend her at every turn. In contrast, Arjun is a happy, simple fellow whose life is good. Arjun is a loyal employee and quickly tumbles to the danger his boss is in.

Actually if you don’t already know what Namak Halaal means, you will by the end of the film it is said so often! He takes it upon himself to protect Raja.

Waheeda is elegant as ever, and she gives Savitri both backbone and presence. Savitri speaks up for herself and refuses to accept blame when she is not in the wrong, but is pragmatic about her ability to change anyone’s mind. It was odd seeing her as Shashi’s Ma when they are around the same age but she was far more convincing as Savitri than he was as Raja! The filmi principle that you can’t grow up to be a complete person without being raised by your birth mother is quite strange to me. I was really pleased to see Arjun stick up for Savitri when Raja dismissed her as not a ‘real’ mother.

Of course as soon as he finds out his mother is alive and who she is, his life is perfect and she insta-loves him back, but whatever. I did giggle a bit at his definition of maternal love.  Eventually even the very obtuse Raja forgives the blameless Savitri albeit for the flimsiest of reasons.

Poonam (Smita Patil) can’t resist Arjun and he is certainly smitten with her. She works at the hotel and lives alone with her blind brother, and I think feeling supported and having a laugh were probably the things missing in her life. Smita Patil is a good match for Amitabh and their characters are the most likeable in the film. They have issues, but after an initial jump to conclusions they talk things through and it seems so nice and sensible. Maybe that is just in comparison to everyone else. They share one of my all time favourite rain songs. I like the way their relationship plays out, Amitabh is so gleefully naughty, and the backdrop is like a mini-golf course version of Bombay. It’s just a delight. And Smita must have been in that rain for a while as the colour bleeding from her sari border is quite noticeable at some points.

Parveen Babi is terrible as Nisha, the femme fatale caught under the thumb of Girdhar. She has such a lovely face, but only one expression. The sparkly costumes display her figure to good effect but her dancing is awful. She has one of the best ever disco cabaret stages in Jawani Janeman and her sole contribution is to block the view of the sets.

As she is supposed to be a seductress it might have been nice if it looked like she had a pulse. But she and Shashi are well matched as both are at less than their best.

Om Prakash is his usual grandfatherly type here, and he does some not very funny comedy when he tries to surprise Arjun. It did result in the fun drunking song Thoda Si Jo Pee Lee but still, overall I could have done with less of Daddu and his woe-is-me-ing. The support cast includes Kamal Kapoor, Satyendra Kapoor, Suresh Oberoi, Viju Khote, Chandrashekhar, and Ram P Sethi all doing what they do. Tun Tun makes a brief but unforgettable appearance as a party guest.

Bappi Lahiri provided the music with Kishore Kumar in excellent singing form for Amitabh and Asha Bhosle adding fun and flirty vocals. It’s a fun soundtrack that works best in conjunction with the picturisations.

Beth kindly listed many of the insane goings on, so if you feel the need to do more research before jumping in do take a look at her review. Otherwise, just take the plunge! I can almost guarantee that you won’t have seen anything quite like this. 3 ½ stars!