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!

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Mr Natwarlal (1979)

mr-natwarlal-poster

I love Mr Natwarlal. It has so much masala goodness, it always puts a smile on my face. We are given Amitabh as a hero with some unheroic ideas, Rekha as a gorgeous and quick witted village belle, Amjad Khan as a typical Amjad Khan villain, more familiar faces than you can poke a stick at, a catchy Rajesh Roshan soundtrack and writer/director Rakesh Kumar continues working out his tiger wrestling fetish. The only major negative is that some of the horse stunts have a look of careless finality for the horses that always makes me queasy.

Mr Natwarlal-playground

The film is framed with Amitabh narrating the story of a child that turns out to be himself, telling the story of his past to his own child. I only mention that so I have an excuse to post this picture of an awesome playground complete with lion statue. I suspected immediately that despite the plethora of cute kid actors I was going to love this.

Natwarlal (Amitabh Bachchan) is a smooth talking fast thinking criminal with Robin Hood tendencies. This dates back to a traumatic childhood incident when he was played by Master Laddu, and his older brother Ghirdharilal (Ajit) was entrapped by Evil Vikram (Amjad Khan). Natwarlal has been raised by his brother and sister-in-law (Indrani Mukherjee), who treats him as a son. Grown up Nattu is tricked by a heavily scarred man into stealing a diamond necklace and smuggling it out of the country. Scarface is actually Micky (Satyendra Kapoor), Vikram’s old (betrayed) business partner who is pretending to be one of Vikram’s Victims. Vikram likes his V symbolism. Poor Ghirdharilal keeps trying to nab his little brother to set him straight but Natwarlal easily produces alibi after alibi. He is determined to become a big enough crook to go after Vikram and set things to rights. Micky wants to use Natwarlal to take Vikram other out so he can take over the secret diamond mines. Revenge is a long and complex game, especially in masala films.

Natwarlal is an audacious crook and easily carries off the heist, even under the watchful eye of his brother. He heads to Chandanpur as instructed, arriving to find the village under a siege of sorts. Vikram is using a tiger (pleasingly, she is credited as Bharati) as a smokescreen for kidnapping villagers in small batches and forcing them to work in the mines. Now. Since the mining operation seems to take place on the river bank just a stroll or a long and desperate horse ride from the village, I would have thought people might notice their “dead” loved ones wandering about. But thanks to the filmi laws of locality blindness it seems not.

Natwarlal arrives suited and booted, toting a gun, unaware that village leader Baba (Kader Khan) has sent for a hunter to come and deal with their tiger issue. He isn’t interested at first in the village problems, being more focussed on the diamonds, but agrees that he is Avtar Singh, the hunter.  Amitabh makes switching from high drama to slapstick comedy look effortless. He is also nattily dressed for the country and Natwarlal must have been very efficient at packing such an extensive wardrobe into one small valise. And I suspect his boots have bullet evading properties.

That tree covered in people always makes me wonder how they got them up there, how long were they up there, and how they got down safely again. Also, given the speed and agility of those ladies the villagers may have been better advised to let them go battle the tiger while the menfolk stayed safely indoors. Sassy Shanno (Rekha) quickly sets her cap at the tall dance-challenged stranger, so Natwarlal gets a little distracted and seems quite happy to wait around.

Zimbo is despatched to check out the impostor as Vikram is quite certain he slapped the real Avtar Singh with a dead pigeon before having him killed. Poor Zimbo wasn’t mourned for long, if at all, when he disappeared under the quicksand. Ah well. No one is irreplaceable. Vikram is a surprisingly rational villain despite being completely nuts, and Amjad Khan seems to be having some fun with the grandiose threats. Vikram tries not to draw police attention, he acts with moderation to achieve a logical goal. But he can’t help branding everyone and everything he owns with a V and can’t just move on quietly or shoot the hero from a safe distance. Nooooo.

Natwarlal realises Vikram is behind everything and goes in search of trouble. Trouble finds him easily enough. Natwarlal rescues Shanno from Vikram’s not very bright goon squad. She is not good at taking orders not to stay out of harm’s way and actually rescues him back on multiple occasions. And they invent a new couples activity – tiger wrestling!

Rekha and The Big B’s on screen chemistry is always wonderful and while Shanno appears to fall for insta-love, Rekha plays her as funny and direct in their many scenes together so the relationship comes to life. Shanno gets her share of the big scenes too, and Rekha gave her fire and resolve. Amitabh also had good rapport with the tiger so I was vaguely hopeful that Bharati was not too traumatised by her many and varied fight scenes.

A lot of the humour comes from how the dialogues are delivered or those small beats in timing. There are some light Sholay references which made me laugh despite the drama brewing, especially Shanno’s Basanti-esque dance while she was being held captive at the diamond mine. I also enjoyed the irascible Natwarlal’s journey to loving something more than himself.

Will they overcome the dastardly Vikram and his all singing all dancing food juggling henchmen? Will Ghirdharilal and Natwarlal make their peace? Will Shanno get her man and her sheep? Will the starving villagers eat the tiger? (Spoiler – no!) Will Natwarlal ever stop blaspheming? Will Vikram get his comeuppance in a satisfyingly poetic manner? So much plot, so little time!

The locations are gorgeous and so is the cast. If you like masala with a modicum of moderation this is a great film.  4 stars! (Deductions for animal welfare concerns and annoying ghostly subtitles.)

Nache Nagin Gali Gali

nache nagin gali gali VCD cover

I’m surprised there isn’t more written about Mohanji Prasad’s Nache Nagin Gali Gali. It’s a late 80s B movie, sure, but it stars Meenakshi Seshadri  and is full of dancing and snakey masala plot twists. I was lucky enough to watch this with the virtual company of two most excellent friendly bloggers and snake film fanciers, Beth and Liz and with access to the helpful Filmi Snake Spotter’s Field Guide.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Meenakshi

Mohini (Meenakshi) and Nagesh (Nitish Bharadwaj) are Icchadhaari Nagin; snakes who can transform into human shape. A magician (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) wants to steal Nagesh’s naag mani so he can enter a magical realm and find a cure for his leprosy.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-cursed(He has a curse laid upon him by a grieving mother, the fiery Suhas Joshi, as payback for killing her son.) He could have asked his guru (Satyendra Kapoor) for help except he had him trapped in a giant bird cage and stole his power. He interrupts Mohini and Nagesh on their full moon night of love and they transform into children, hoping to hide in the crowd at a nearby fair.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-little MohiniNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Duplicates

In all the confusion the children are separated. Nagesh is mistaken for Kamal, a landlord’s son who he saved from being sacrificed by ‘tribal’ people, and taken home despite his denials. Kamal is taken by the sorcerer who thinks he has captured the snake. His wife Subhadra pleads to keep the boy and raise him as their son, which Kamal takes to easily thanks to some filmi amnesia. And poor distraught Mohini is rescued by kindly gypsies and raised as their own. Time passes, and the magician is running out of time to find a cure. Kamal/Nagesh takes a vow not to leave Kamal’s ma as she becomes dangerously ill when stressed so he is stuck, waiting for a solution but not doing much to find one. Nagesh and Mohini find each other, Kamal and the baddies find them, and things rattle along to the exciting final confrontation.

I really like Meenakshi as Mohini, but was even more impressed that this is a film where the entire climax sequence happens without the purported hero. Mohini and the good guru take on the evil tantric to try and prevent him from gaining more power and overcoming his creeping rot.

There are loads of special effects and there is a fairytale feel to the battle between good and evil that contrasts nicely with a quite earthy romance. I was saddened by the use of animals in some scenes, but there is only one incident where I thought there was a genuine prospect of injury or death (a snake versus mongoose battle). For the most the death and destruction is stylised so the drama plays out as engaging and a bit exciting without being at all realistic.

Meenakshi is lovely despite the hair and wardrobe choices in most scenes.

My only explanation for the backward bustle or peplum on the white dress was that perhaps it was really an egg pouch. I know if I was a self willed married lady snake I would not want to be bothering with 40 weeks of gestation plus labour. Her Mohini is heartbroken and wants to find Nagesh more than anything. But she also forms a strong loving relationship with her adopted family, and retains her sense of self-worth.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-RomeoNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-never mess with a snakeThere are some unfortunate comedy incidents, but I quite liked seeing a creepy Romeo terrorised by the pretty snake lady.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-The Look stage 2 with lensesNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Mohini attacksMohini dance-fights her way through the final encounter and Meenakshi shows both the disadvantage of a small woman trying to beat a man in a physical fight and the power of her will and determination to be victorious. Her posture and energy changes to show the gradual loss of strength and the corresponding increase in desperation.

Nitish Bharadwaj plays adult Nagesh and Kamal. I have to say, apart from his mullet and some interesting outfits in songs, he made little impression. The highlight of his performance is probably his comic aversion to Roop, the girl his parents want him to marry. There is a brilliant meta moment when Roop makes Nagesh/Kamal watch her dance against the background of Sri Devi in Nagin. Roop does a terribly cheesy and not at all alluring ‘snake dance’ as Nagesh is captivated by the music, leading to his, ahem, premature transformation. I love that even in that silly scene, there is room for more plot development and film references. Nitish is adequate without being particularly good or bad.  Since his characters main contribution to the plot is just to be who they are, it all works out.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-romantic readingNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-the chase

 

Was that book some kind of compulsory family reading? There are stacks of copies in the house. Perplexing.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-in chargeNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-new interior designSadashiv Amrapurkar throws himself into the villainous role with gusto. He goes from ashram to megalomaniacal dictator décor in a heartbeat and seems content with being bad. If only he could get rid of that pesky leprosy! He spends much of the film trudging up hill and down dale, looking for the snake with the naag mani.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Satyendra KapoorSatyendra Kapoor is stately and saintly in his flowing wig. He is like the voice of your conscience that never quiet goes silent. A lot of his role is done by voice over as the parrot got the most screen time. The final duel between guru and wayward disciple is something else as they transform into a series of animals with rich inner monologues.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-sporty bridal wearNache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Sahila ChaddhaSahila Chaddha is Roop, but you could also call her Sporty Bridal Wear Lady or WTF Is She Wearing Lady. She is bubbly and determined to get her man.

I enjoyed her antics as she tried to anticipate his objections and overcome them, usually through multiple costume changes and a dance. Kamal’s mother enjoyed watching her son’s discomfort and encouraged Roop too. I never felt sorry for Roop as Kamal/Nagesh was so obviously not keen and yet she persisted. Plus she was needlessly vindictive and nearly got Mohini killed. Not cool Roop.

The songs (by Kalyanji-Anandji) are colourful and mostly uptempo. They didn’t have a huge budget for sets but they did get a good bulk deal on sequins so there is lots of sparkle.

Meenakshi does most of the dancing as Nitish Jeetendras his way around the set. He did do some slithering which was kind of interesting if not strictly speaking good. Or to quote Beth “Kya slither hai!” Both the hero and heroine were submerged in the water feature so were each subjected to the lingering clingy clothing shots. Considering snake attire, the subject matter, and the era, this film largely eschews sleaze.

Nache-Nagin-Gali-Gali-Reunited

There was some conversation about a certain “pajamas – now you see them now you don’t” scene, but these are married snakes of legal age so it is really no one business but their own.

If you want an entertaining film tinged with fantasy and magic, with baddies you can really dislike and goodies that are mostly likeable and right, packed with songs and visual effects, this would be an excellent choice. It is now available on YouTube with subtitles so why wait? 4 stars!