Kalicharan (1976)

Kalicharan poster

Kalicharan is a modest film in many respects. Subhash Ghai directed with masala verve while Jainendra Jain wrote a fairly staid screenplay, sometimes seemingly at odds with each other. Relying more on the cast than on gimmickry, there are still some surprises.

Prabhakar (Shatrughan Sinha) is an outstanding policeman on the trail of a mysterious crimelord. He deduces that the man known as Lion is none other than respectable businessman Din Dayal (Ajit), a close friend of his boss and father figure I.G. Khanna (Prem Nath).  Prabhakar is ambushed and has a serious car accident, which eventually kills him, but not before he leaves a cryptic note. I.G. Khanna is mourning the loss of his protégé and wondering how to break the news to his own daughter Anju (Alka) who saw Prabhakar as a brother. Then there is the question of Prabhakar’s kids, Pinky and Chinky (Master Bittoo and some other kid). Fate brings retired jailer David (David Abraham) into the picture. He recognises the corpse of Prabhakar as his prisoner Kalicharan. So I.G. Khanna does the only sensible thing. He gets Kalicharan released from jail, takes him to Simla and tries to train him to act as Prabhakar. Of course Kalicharan had his own troubled past, but in true masala style, all paths lead to Lion.

Kalicharan-the denKalicharan-its a tiger Lion

Well they might have lead to Lion a lot sooner if Lion could consistently tell the difference between a lion and a tiger as a decorative motif.

Shatrughan Sinha has the power to out-ham almost any other actor in almost every film he has made. I have an equally amazing power, that of being able to forget Shotgun is in almost any film. I love Aa Gale Lag Ja and Kaala Patthar and yet am always mildly surprised when he turns up. Anyway. He plays both Prabhakar and Kalicharan with bluster and supreme self-confidence.

There is little to distinguish between the two characters other than the dialogue they utter and he makes minimal efforts to differentiate them (a grimace here, a furrowed brow there). I was more impressed by his costumes. Some appeared to have been provided by the upholstery department.

Kalicharan-David and Prem Nath

Prem Nath was that rare man who out-hammed Shotgun in this instance. Almost all of his dialogue is delivered as a shout, and if there was an award for Most Enthusiastic Cursing, he would romp it in for his use of “BASTAAAAAARD!”. He was also ambushed by the wardrobe team a couple of times but it’s not like there was any subtlety being smothered by his outfits.

Reena Roy’s Sapna is an educated girl who swears profusely and decides to take revenge for her brother’s death. Sapna just gets on with things. Including this dance which she invited Prabhakar/Kalicharan to attend as it might give him more hope for his life and make him less depressed.

The wardrobe department seemed to be fascinated by Sapna and tried out many looks, not all of them successful.

Kalicharan-Sapna as a bad girl

I was amused by her undercover bad gal attire. But Reena Roy managed to overcome the fabric based challenges and her performance is both well-constructed and masala appropriate.

Kalicharan-more outfits

She is generally good even in a terrible film, and makes the most of the opportunities to expand her character beyond the standard dialogues.

Kalicharan-Alka

Alka was less memorable as Anju, the saree wearing good girl and sister figure, but she was more of a plot device than a character.  She called on Kalicharan’s humanity when I.G. Khanna was more intent on curbing the criminals’ baser instincts. Oh the transformative power of tying a rakhee!

Kalicharan-Danny DenzongpaKalicharan-one legged Trishul fight

Danny Denzongpa has a small role as a one legged bootlegger, Shaka. I love Danny as a villain with heart of gold. Plus seeing him hop around trying to stab Shotgun with a trishul was quite fabulous. Kalicharan was such a manly man’s man that to level the playing field he also fought on one leg.

Kalicharan-Danny and Shotgun

That is the stuff masala bromance is made of.

Kalicharan-ShettyKalicharan-Shetty and co

Shetty is the stuff masala villainy is made of, and this role is one of many cookie cutter bad guys he played so effortlessly. He is at the start and finish of Kalicharan’s life of crime, the career goon who will do anything without qualm. Of course, Shetty also provided Shotgun with a tragic back story as his motivation for going off the rails.

Ajit is suave and slimy as the urbane mastermind with an excess of phones and a deficit of scruples. I’m not sure the fluffy dog says “Evil Mastermind” but he seemed interested in proceedings. Din Dayal/Lion remains in the background for most of the film, but rapidly loses his cool as Kalicharan draws closer. I’ve seen his tiger strewn den before in Fakira and maybe something else.

Kalyanji-Anandji provided the soundtrack and the background score is great. Brassy, dramatic and a bit funky, the music lopes along and lifts the energy of the action scenes.

But of all the things I was expecting in the club item, Father Christmas was not one. The other songs are less successful but I blame some of that on the lyricist who decided that what we needed was lots of “lalalala’s” a few ‘OoohAaaahOOoohAaahhh” choruses and a repetitive “KALicharan KaaaalicharAN KalicharAN” vocal.

The action is directed in a fast and pacey style while Shotgun’s delivery is ponderous and he may as well have been carrying a sign that said ‘Look at me!’. But you need a certain amount of swagger to carry off this sort of role, and its knitwear, and he has that. There is an excellent transformation scene when Kalicharan first dons the police tunic. He twirls around, standing on what I picture to be a lazy susan, as I.G. Khanna looks on admiringly. And that is about it for special effects in this film. The compulsory fight in a godown full of things stacked up only to be knocked over is very entertaining. And there are clues hidden in books. A nice low tech solution to criminal communications.

Good masala films often reflect on social issues and personal integrity and while I don’t think this is a great film, Kalicharan also examines some big ideas. Redemption is a theme – from the titular hero’s transformation to smaller decisions made by the likes of Shaka. Sapna’s brother was killed for dobbing on Lion but his friend eventually tipped off the good guys in return. Respect and responsibility were often mentioned as things required in order to live a decent life. Kalicharan was a kind of Pygmalion as Khanna and David argued over whether a criminal could be reformed.

Most masala films also rely on needlessly elaborate schemes. Din Dayal hires a mute assassin with theatrical flair (who I think is in a few Telugu films as a baddie too) to go after Kalicharan. Shetty has an array of backup plans that require, say, a train to destroy a warehouse when a bomb is just not destructive enough. And a bit more communication and a lot less manly man brooding would probably have resolved things a bit sooner. But everyday common sense is not what I watch these films for. I did like the insistence that people have responsibilities as well as rights and that not everyone is a lost cause.

If you have low Shotgun tolerance, this is not for you. But if you like him or at least don’t break out into hives at his appearance, then give it a whirl. Reena Roy is delightful as usual. Subhash Ghai trots out some classic filmi moments, and had the good sense to include Helen and lots of balloons. 3 stars!

Advertisements

Badle Ki Aag

Badle Ki Aag is insane.

There are SEVEN children in peril as the film opens, from three different families. I had to make notes to work out who was who. Normally I might not care so much but as one of the kids grows up to be the object of love or lust for several of the others, I felt I needed to be clear on who was related to who just to stop my shrieking ‘No! What? She’s your SISTER…oh um … hang on …OK”.  So just in case you find yourself in that same position, please feel free to use this cheat sheet. Extra points if you can read it!

So much happens in the first twenty minutes that I expected the rest of the film to fizzle out, but it is packed with incident, conflict, coincidence, horrible outfits and so much melodrama I almost passed out from the effort of keeping up.

And there is little time wasted on explanations or boring logic. This song for instance has NOTHING to do with anything. I suspect it was just an excuse for Jeetu to bust out his salsa hip swivels. (Link is to the whole film but the video should start at the song. If not, zip along to 34.30 and enjoy the greatness.)

I really like all the people standing around in the background – are they interested onlookers or disgruntled commuters?

Amar is an upright and uptight policeman, the perennial goody-goody. He is quite inept despite all the dedication. Persisting with motorised transport he fails to catch crooks if they are on foot or on horseback no matter how slim their lead is. He is a poor shot, is bad at disguises and the criminal element don’t seem to fear him at all.  Even when he had Lakhan tied to a post in front of a firing squad he managed to bugger it up. Amar has a controlling streak in his personal life, perhaps because he is hopeless at his job. Jeetendra’s expressions range from “Who farted?” to “I’ll kill you all” with a touch of “Lovesick Puppy”. He is in touch with his dark side, maybe because he is forced to wear these:

Dharmendra as Shera Singh generally looks hungover or drunk. And his wigs are terrible. (I hope they were wigs.)

Dharmendra looked bleary and puffy for most of the film, and Jeetendra looked a little the worse for wear too. Anyway, I wondered if he and Jeetendra might have been enjoying a glass or two or ten of an evening.  I’m not a big fan of Dharmendra and he is certainly overshadowed here by Reena Roy, Smita Patil and Sunil Dutt. Shera is a horrible character with no redeeming features, and I really pitied anyone who had to put up with his mood swings.

Sunil Dutt plays Lakhan in swashbuckling style and seems to have decided that since almost everyone else in the film is stupid, he will talk directly to the camera. He declaims some hilariously over the top dialogues with his typical conviction and manages to make it seem almost sensible at times. He is the honourable dacoit, protecting women and doing god’s work as he evades the law. Of course he did start his career in crime by killing a man who was assaulting his Ma. He is competent and resourceful – good in a fist fight and able to rig up a jeep as wrecking ball for a spectacular jailbreak.

Nirupa Roy is the worst mother ever. If she isn’t just plain losing her children she is warping their delicate minds with psychological torment. One minute Lakhan is her golden child and favourite tiny axe murderer, next he is being berated for his crimes. Sheesh.

Reena Roy is wonderful as Gita. Gita was adopted by a lady who seems to run a small scale brothel – and Gita only ‘dances’ so she is a virgin prostitute. Amar falls for Gita and she loves him too, but love cannot get in the way of her revenge mission. When she realises that Lakhan might put her closer to her goal she decides he might be the best prospect.

Love is less compelling than killing Rajaram. Given that her profession closes many doors to family and relationships, Gita is quite self reliant and philosophical, and doesn’t waste too much time on self pity. She doesn’t wait for the menfolk to sort out her revenge, she goes for it herself. I really enjoyed Reena Roy’s performance and she has some amazing outfits.

Smita Patil doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in this madness but seems to be so determined to deliver a quality performance regardless of the material. I felt really bad for Bijli. She had to wear fringed Annie Oakley outfits, and was hopelessly in love with Shera. What a thankless life. When she got him drunk and had her way with him, his reaction was quite insulting.

I thought he might be more circumspect considering she was a professional knife-thrower. Poor Bijli.

She doesn’t take rejection as the final nail in the coffin, and continues to fight for ‘her’ man.

Badle ki Aag does some things so well and others so very badly. When Gita is half drowned, Lakhan saves her but does not resort to the Shashi Kapoor school of hypothermia cure. He is a sensible man who uses a blanket to cover her body and keeps his own kit on. He is also a filmi hero so he knows that now he has touched her, he must marry her lest they both lose honour. On the downside some stunts are so ill conceived and poorly executed that they went beyond funny and into ouch territory. Especially for the horses. I liked the blatant use of plastic horses in some scenes, but then they used real ones and it looked horrific.

Kader Khan is double the fun as the arch villain and his twin brother, and lots of well loved character actors turn up in uncredited supporting roles.  Pran is a police officer, Om Prakash is a dithering fool with good intentions, Sulochana Latkar is a nanny and load of others from Madan Puri to Jankidas to Shakti Kapoor do their thing. Sarika was OK in her small role as Lakhan’s sister. Asha is another of the interesting women in the film – a law student who stands up against her boyfriend Suraj’s harsher views on capital punishment.

The Laxmikant-Pyarelal songs are a highlight, not just because of the costumes. Reena Roy does lots of dancing, and there is a fun qawwali with all three leading men in flimsy disguises. Most of the dances take place at Rajaram’s palace and the carpet is a sight to behold.

Shera lives in a lair reached through a cave, but one that includes a spacious living area with silver tiled dome and chandeliers. Lakhan’s cave complex is more traditional. Rajaram’s place is a fabulous eyesore. And the costumes are just crazy. Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra are in basic white (Lakhan) and black (Shera), but everyone else seems to be at the mercy of the some very creative designers. There are crazy camera angles, amazing interiors and colour and movement everywhere you look.

Rajkumar Kohli has certainly fulfilled the commandment to be entertaining. I have a soft spot for Badle ki Aag and its cavalier disregard for facts, logic, physics and colour coordination. I highly recommend it – with a caveat regarding the horses. 5 stars for fun, maybe 3 for quality. Do yourselves a favour and watch it!

Heather says: This has to be one of the most OTT masala films I’ve seen, and I was literally reeling (and laughing hysterically) after just the first 20 minutes of mayhem. It’s no wonder that I started to get confused when all the children turned up as adults – thank heavens Temple had already told me that no-one erroneously hooked up with their long-lost sibling! But the beauty of Badle Ki Aag is that it all makes sense eventually and getting to the end is just so much fun.  I loved the fake fight scenes, the not-so-special special effects, incredibly awful costumes and fabulous dialogues. ‘I’ll take your eyes for my shirt buttons’ has become my preferred threat and I’m sure ‘Even those who have no feet leave their footprints’ will come in useful at some stage too. Every single utterance appears to be a matter of life or death and there is so much scenery chewing that it’s surprising the sets hold up under the strain. But underneath all that masala-y goodness and after getting through the truckloads of plot, there is more happening than just lost children, murder, revenge and all that velour.

There is an underlying commitment to at least some form of justice throughout the film and I liked how people finally had to pay for their crimes, no matter who they were. I also enjoyed the rather novel concept (at least in Bollywood) of a hero who was prepared to stand up and fight for woman’s rights. Lakhan’s commitment to respect women makes him a more interesting character even though I’m not a big fan of Sunil Dutt and he didn’t endear himself to me with his performance here. Jeetendra was OK, and I do generally like him in these roles, but I agree with Temple that Dharmendra was particularly irritating as Shera.  In comparison the women were excellent! Gita had a practical streak when she debated over which one of her suitors would give her the best chance to gain her revenge and I loved that she was well prepared and methodical in her approach. There had also been some thought put into Asha’s character in the way that she decided to fight injustice against her family in a different way and was studying to be a lawyer. Every female character was more than just a romantic love interest, and I did love Bijli’s knife-throwing as a means of gainful employment.

This film really does have almost everything – it’s a who’s who of the actors from the era and there is enough plot for at least 5 films! I’d recommend it for when you really need a dose of masala and don’t want logic or good acting to get in the way. 4 stars purely because it made me laugh so much!

Yari Dushmani

Or:

Should you buy a DVD just because Sunil Dutt is wearing a hat on the cover?

 Yari Dushmani is a crazy masala bromance starring Sunil Dutt, Amjad Khan and Reena Roy among others. Directed at a cracking pace by Sikander Khanna, with an incident packed screenplay and zingy dialogue (Aziz Qaisi) and music by Laxmikant Pyarelal, it’s not really a film to analyse but there was loads to enjoy.

Apologies/warning: It’s Easter Sunday and I’ve been surrounded by a gaggle of toddlers under the influence of chocolate for the last few hours, so I’ll be taking the easy way out and relying heavily on pictures for this post.

I happened to start watching this at the same time that Beth was watching another Sunil Dutt film. The films were different but the reason for buying the DVDs was the same – the cover featured Sunil Dutt in a striking hat. I’ve bought a number of DVDs on the strength of the cover and have been bitterly disappointed to find that there were no giant parrots or women dressed as Cleopatra in the film. Naturally we were each curious to see if the movie lived up to the promise of headgear, and if the hats enhanced the film in any way. Oh, and was the film any good. Are hats a reliable indicator of entertainment in a film?

The story opens with two feisty and foul mouthed urchins (one is Master Bittoo but I’m not sure who the other kid is) living on the streets. They are resourceful, try to help people in need and they have a creative approach to finding paid opportunities.

They grow up into Shankar (Sunil Dutt) and Birju (Amjad Khan). Thugs, thieves, crims call them what you will. They have a significant cigarette lighter and a jaunty song (Hai Hum Galiyon Ke if you’re interested) which includes a fight, the hats on the DVD cover, and a flashback to their orphan days.

Pammi (Reena Roy) is also on the shady side of the law. She uses her charms to entrap men, and then threatens to cry rape unless they pay up. Her virtue is intact and she is a good bad girl, which is spelled out in the dialogue with her would be pimp Jumbo (Jankidas). She fleeces Shankar and Birju, but Shankar still comes to her aid when Jumbo threatens to sell her.

In an effort to make amends and help herself out of a tricky situation, she tells the chaps of a plan to rob a wealthy wedding and suggests they knock the place over first. This is a good idea as it includes Amjad Khan in bandleader get-up, and a qawwali featuring Reena Roy and Sunil Dutt (and more hats).

But Birju is in love with Komal (Daljit Kaur), a nightclub chanteuse. She sings about love, but only loves money. He cannot resist keeping the haul of diamonds to himself and he uses the loot to buy the discotheque Komal performs in, effectively buying her.

He gets a fancy house, flashy clothes, and a taste for the high life. His love for Komal seems to be tied to how much she is worth, and he expects her to entertain businessmen so he can win more contracts. His early Robin Hood ethic is nowhere in sight.

Shankar has no idea his friend betrayed him. He languishes in jail following the million dollar diamond heist, and obviously people are keen to know where he hid the gems. Doing time with him are murderer Peter Perera (Roopesh Kumar), thug Bhim Singh (Dev Kumar) and a little person. Bhim Singh is the brother of a notorious daku Darjan Singh (Shakti Kapoor). Peter killed his brother-in-law over 100 million dollars worth of diamonds.

Roopesh Kumar could not be accused of underplaying his flashback confession.

Shankar intervenes when Peter is beaten up. Now, I like to think I am not easily shocked or surprised but of all the things I fearfully anticipated happening when Shankar slung the dwarf over his shoulder, this was not one.

So added to the betrayal of friendship and the original theft, we now have a bigger stash of gems, a repentant murderer, a crazy and unrepentant daku, and a young mute boy who is the only living person who knows where the diamonds were hidden.

Shankar is released from jail, and thanks to Pammi he knows Birju has sold him out. Reena Roy gets some really entertaining scenes as Pammi outwits men who want to buy her, and uses the police to get rid of Jumbo. She is a smart girl in the midst of utter madness, and pretty handy in a fight. Reena Roy plays it to the hilt and I really enjoyed her presence in the film. Pammi moves into Birju’s house as his old friend. He suspects nothing, but she is working to protect Shankar from treachery. I will just digress again – what’s with the footprint motif on the bedhead?

Anyway. Birju makes several ill conceived attempts to kill Shankar as he cannot contemplate sharing his wealth.

He even sends a gang of Lego men (more headgear!) to beat up his old dost.

The two men journey into the hills, and things come to a head. Shankar leaves Birju with his neck in a noose and his feet precariously balanced on a handy wagon wheel. They go their separate ways. Or do they? Despite the silliness of the plot, they are both very good in their roles. I don’t think I’ve struck a Sunil Dutt film yet that hasn’t at least been interesting. And Amjad Khan gets to be more than a one dimensional baddie.

Everything and everyone converges on Girijapur, Peter Perera’s home, and the location of the priest (Bharat Bushan) who received his last confession. As with all secrets, everyone knows that the priest knows, and various parties set out to make him talk.

Shakti Kapoor and his gang raid the village in search of loot, interrupting a comedy wedding (Tun Tun and Rajendranath), and shoots the priest. And here is where I learned something never mentioned in my 12 years in a convent school.

So that’s how priests are made. My Jesuit friend will be gutted he wasted so many years studying. Whether for spiritual or other reasons, Sunil Dutt starts wearing a pith helmet.

Amjad Khan meanwhile decides to move into the village and impersonate the police, perhaps for the hat or maybe for the roomy uniform.

Reena Roy develops sharp shooting skills and has a nice line in 70s frocks and the occasional cap. She and Shankar are in love but I am not sure how that works with his being a priest and all. She is as active in defence of the village as he is, and she is also the caretaker for Komal who has turned up, pregnant and rejected by Birju. Pammi usually has a gun in her hand and the villagers accept her orders. And they develop some excellent defences including bombs and disguising themselves as haystacks.

Sunil gets to, well, joust in one fight with Shakti so I guess they felt the pressure to be really really macho.

The climax of the film involves gunfire, explosions, young Munna the no longer mute being tossed around like a rag doll, lots of punch ups and a moral dilemma. Will Birju finally value friendship over sparkly stones? Or will he take the money and run?

You’ll have to watch it to find out. But one thing I will share is a foolproof method for despatching Shakti Kapoor – the pointy end of a crucifix.

Happy Easter!

Oh I suppose I should make this a happy post. Here is how things look at the end:

And a little bit of advice next time you shop for DVDs.