Shaan (1980)


5 years after his masterpiece Sholay, Ramesh Sippy returned to the big screen with the big action adventure Shaan.  Written by Salim-Javed, the story is a suspense thriller with many of the film elements seemingly inspired by a hotchpotch of James Bond films. Just have a look at the Bondesque opening title sequence for instance.

The movie is still Bollywood at heart though with Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor playing two personable rogues at odds with a police officer who also just happens to be their older brother. In addition to the sibling conflict there is a villain with a fabulous island lair, car chases, helicopters, sharks and even a man-eating crocodile thrown into the mix, adding up to a great masala movie and one definitely well worth a watch.

Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) are con-artists who make a living by fleecing money from corrupt officials and small time crooks. A little in the style of Robin Hood except that Vijay and Ravi keep the money rather than giving it to the poor. However the shoe is on the other foot when they themselves are conned by uncle and niece team Chacha (Johnny Walker) and Renu (Bindiya Goswami). To get their money back Vijay and Ravi join up with Renu and Chacha to carry out a daring jewellery heist, but are again pipped at the post by fellow thief Sunita (Parveen Babi).  Sunita not only manages to steal the necklace before anyone else but has an audacious method for getting it out past the police search; although I do think recovery might have proved a little difficult if things hadn’t gone exactly to plan. Her introduction is rather fab too as she appears in a wonderfully sparkly dress with glamorous backing dancers who have silver tassels everywhere, even on their boots.

Needless to say Sunita is added to the merry band of thieves who go ahead with another con based on the old ‘holy men walking on water’ scam. This time though they are caught by Police Officer Shiv Kumar (Sunil Dutt), who goes ahead and arrests Vijay and Ravi, even though they are his two younger brothers. Above all else Shiv is a police officer sworn to uphold the law, and that is what he does. Shiv’s character is established early on when he rescues some hostages in a beautifully choreographed action sequence. His wife Sheetal (Rakhee Gulzar) shares the same values although she has a soft spot for Shiv’s two brothers and is altogether more forgiving than her husband. However, once the brothers are released from jail they make a vow to ‘go straight’ and move in with Shiv and Sheetal in their house in Mumbai.

While Vijay and Ravi have been in jail, Shiv has been making inroads into the criminal empire of a villain known only as Shakaal (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and his efforts are starting to seriously impact on criminal business. Shakaal sends an assassin Rakesh (Shatrughan Sinha) after Shiv and his family, but after two attempts on Shiv’s life fail, Shakaal ups the ante and sends his henchman Jagmohan (Mac Mohan) instead. After one of the best kidnap attempts I’ve seen onscreen, Jagmohan manages to spirit Shiv to the island hideaway while leaving everyone else totally baffled as to Shiv’s whereabouts.

Shakaal’s lair is absolutely wonderful and mixes many of the best elements from various other villain hideouts. It’s located on an island some 300km off the coast of India but in reality was filmed on the island of Steep Holm near the UK. The lair has long corridors with rough-hewn rock for walls but fancy modern automatic doors and nifty surveillance cameras. Shakaal lords it over his minions, Blofeld-style in a conference room with a rotating circular table and a retractable floor, underneath which lurks a man-eating crocodile. This allows Shakaal to indulge in a form of roulette to dispose of unsatisfactory employees or anyone else he doesn’t like. Meanwhile sharks (and the odd oversized goldfish) can be seen swimming past the green tinted windows for extra menace. Adding to the ambience in a large audience hall is a massive golden statue of an eagle, and Shakaal has a throne strategically placed underneath for those moments when you just have to be seen to be the head villain! And of course there are plenty of panels with flashing lights and hidden switches– everything your discerning villain could require for world domination, although Shakaal has more modest aims despite his grandiose lair and petulant manner.

Shakaal has his own distinctive look too combining his bald head with black or white military style tunics featuring his ‘S’ logo prominently displayed. His henchmen all wear identical smart white suits, and later on his henchwomen are attired in silver miniskirts and fetching black blouson style shirts – always good to see a properly style-conscious villain!

Shakaal finally manages to dispose of Shiv although it takes him quite a few attempts and the stage is set for Ravi and Vijay to avenge his death. Naturally this involves infiltrating Shakaal’s lair with a song and dance troupe (how else could you possibly sneak into an impenetrable hideaway?) which also features the inimitable Helen leading the way in this excellent song.

There is a lot going on in Shaan, but the plot follows a mostly logical and clear progression building up to the grand showdown in Shakaal’s lair. The comedy works well, the romances are mainly just an excuse for a few songs, but the action sequences and special effects are first-rate. The camaraderie between the two brothers is one of the major assets to the film and Shashi and Amitabh have great chemistry together. Perhaps it’s the enmity between Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha, but even once Rakesh turns on Shakaal and joins the brothers, there is still just a frisson of tension which makes the shaky relationship between the marksman and the brothers that little bit more believable. Generally the addition of Rakesh halfway into the film is a masterstroke, adding uncertainty to the second half and also an opportunity for another good car chase and action scene. Rakhee Gulzar is also excellent as Shiv Kumar’s wife, both in playing a steadying influence to the brothers and as the grieving and vengeful widow. She has a major part to play in the final proceedings too and she plays her role with grace and elegance throughout. Bindiya Goswami and Parveen Babi have rather less to do, but they get a chance to throw a few punches in the final scene and both do a good job with their rather limited roles.

Kulbhushan Kharbanda is fantastic as a rather different kind of villain; smiling and soft voiced one moment and angry the next. It’s a definite departure from the more usual thuggishly violent criminals and the more subtle psychological approach works well here and enhances the cracking good story. Kulbhushan Kharbanda uses his smile to project chill and menace while his initially affable demeanour serves well to mislead both friends and foes alike. It’s a great performance and Shaan is worth watching for his character alone, even without the good story, excellent action and R.D. Burman’s memorable songs. I love every minute of Shaan and recommend viewing for a great all-round entertainer. 4 stars.

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

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati LP

Some films benefit from being firmly of the past. Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati is a 1969 ‘romance’ that relies on pestering and stalking to cement the main romantic pairing. Distance and the lens of ‘then’ make this less unpalatable for me than a modern film that still relies on these notions. Bhappi Sonie gathers a charming hero, a reprehensible villain, a great soundtrack, an appearance by Helen in an acting role, and a whole lot of ‘they did what?’ only in films logic, and somehow the result is fun and melodramatic.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Deepali and Ajit

Deepali (Babita) enters and loses a beauty competition. Ajit (Prem Chopra) consoles her with a smooth line or two, and decides he might quite like a rich, pretty wife. Unfortunately for him he has a girlfriend, Sherry (Helen), who is pregnant. Nothing a short sharp shove off a cliff can’t solve, although there is time for a club number first.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Prem ChopraEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Helen

Sherry is saved by Preetam (Shashi Kapoor) and his friends. After a spot of mistaken identity Preetam also meets and falls for Deepali but she is in love with Ajit. Preetam decides to irritate her into loving him. Normally I would find this objectionable but when the alternative is Prem Chopra, I think stalking is the lesser evil. Preetam and Deepali eventually get together but fate and Ajit intervene. Multiple mothers and the whiff of incest or faux-cest add another layer of complexity. And there is more Drama and Act!Ing!  in the last 15 minutes than many films contain in their full running time.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Secrets and MasEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Preetam

The denouement is interesting. Most of the deception is justified by referring to a mother’s feelings or a woman’s duty to another woman. Even Sherry forgives Ajit because, you know, that’s what women are meant to do. Sigh. No one seems overly concerned with common sense or with the fallout from their decisions. Rama and Kaushaliya did what they did because of their superior sensitivity and feminine intuition and are beyond criticism. Just as well Preetam was a bit of an airhead and unlikely to sustain lasting damage.  But I did appreciate the explicit endorsement of the mother who raised a child being as much a mother as the one who gave birth to the child.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-unimpressedEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Babita and Shashi

Confession: I don’t particularly care for Babita. She is in many films I have enjoyed immensely but she is never the reason for liking a movie. Deepali is a spirited girl yet she doesn’t really do much apart from snipe at Preetam and simper at Ajit so she isn’t any more than The Heroine. I liked her forthright style when putting Preetam back in his place though Deepali doesn’t seem spiteful.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Deepali lays it downEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-so is Babita









When Preetam behaves himself she is happy enough to have a conversation or accept his help, but she is clear that her love is for Ajit. Until it isn’t. Babita’s performance is hampered somewhat by the vast amount of frosty blue eyeshadow she wears, and she was at the mercy of a vengeful yet slapdash hairdresser.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-ShashiEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-maybe not

Shashi is perfect casting for Preetam. He ranges from lovelorn swooning to silly pranks and gets more Ma drama than you can poke a stick at. Preetam struck me as a more of a manchild than a determined stalker. He just couldn’t quite see how anyone could find him resistible and also wanted to assure himself he had tried all he could to get the girl.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-mansplainingEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Beauty and brains

That he knew nothing about her to inspire this except what she looked like is beside the point. Shashi’s charm carries a lot of the story so if you don’t buy that, the first half of the film would be a struggle. Once things get more dramatic, Shashi emotes fiercely and often hilariously, and the pace accelerates towards the final showdown.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Deepali likes to cry

An urban middle class stalker romance doesn’t immediately hint at tribal shenanigans but since almost everyone is a keen hunter, we get a bonus comedy jungle interlude.

The gorgeous Laxmi Chhaya appears as a tribal princess, and is hooked up with Preetam’s bestie, perennial bachelor Ram Bharose (the sweetly daft Rajendranath) for her troubles. The support cast is rich with excellent character actors. Om Prakash is Deepali’s uncle who seems to be more in love with Preetam than she is, Dhumal plays the king of the jungle, Sudhir and Snehlata get substantial screen time despite having little to do with the main plot, Sulochana and Kamini Kaushal play Preetam’s mothers. Babita’s father, Hari Shivdasani, has a small role as a filmi doctor too.

I love everything about that song. I really like Kalyanji-Anandji’s tongue in cheek dramatic sensibility that plays beautifully with this very filmi drama. And Shashi’s muppety style works a treat with the bouncy Western infused dance music. I also like that we see Laxmi’s transformation into a groovy city chick in that song.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Shashi and Rajendranath

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati is a dated but entertaining muddle of romance and drama. The visuals are retro and stylish without being exceptional, and the performances are on a similar scale. See it if you like the appealing cast or have an interest in filmi medical ethics and philosophy. And if you don’t like regressive attitudes to the role of women, have a drink handy and warm up your eyerolling muscles. 3 ½ stars, mostly for Shashi and Helen.

Here, have a bonus screencap of Prem Chopra with a teacosy on his head.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Prem Chopra in a teacosy