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!

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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!

Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki

I was meant to review another film this week, but I misplaced the DVD before I completely finished my post and it all just got too hard. As a result, you’ll have to wait for a sensible review. And it might be a very long wait. Looking for a substitute film, I decided I wanted something I wouldn’t feel obliged to think hard about, something with some sparkle and a lot of dancing. But I watched this instead.

The super groovy psychedelic titles seemed quite promising! Also, Amrish Puri.

The story opens with a child, the orphaned Prince Satish, being bullied by his uncle. The kid is the heir to an estate held in trust until he turns 20, but guess who has other plans? Evil Uncle Amrish Puri in some jaunty neckwear! I have to say the water torture was mild in comparison to any day at the pool for me and my brothers so I didn’t have immediate sympathy for the young fellow. Then the use of snakes as training aids turned the tide.

Satish is reduced to a snivelling wreck under all this duress, and is not improved by turning into Mithun Chakraborty. Years have gone by but still Uday Bhan Singh is terrorising his nephew. I really would have expected more efficient villainy from Amrish, but then the whole film would have been mercifully brief. Still, Satish is widely regarded as a drunken, insane rapist by the time he is in his teens.

I found the Uday Bhan family conferences of evil quite amusing:

Knowing that no good girl is likely to marry her Prince, his faithful maid tees up a wedding with the first likely orphan they meet. Sadly, the orphaned Aarti (Smita Patil) is a thief and intends to steal away before the wedding is consummated and take all the cash and jewels she can carry. This is not such a bad thing considering the helpful advice Satish receives about women:

WTF?

It’s obvious that we are supposed to believe Satish is such a halfwit that he has no idea his wife really might not want him pouncing on her, but it’s just so badly acted and written that I felt a bit queasy. She….well , I suggest you fast forward past the ‘rape or is it romance?’ montage, bypass blossoming True Love,  continue past the revelations and betrayal and rejoin the film when Satish is long dead (Amrish Puri has knife skills), leaving Aarti with a son who looks eerily as though he will soon be played by Mithun.  Although, you would then miss an excellent attempt by Smita to use her own Eyeballs of Hate (TM PPCC) against Amrish Puri – go girl!

Aarti is not a soft mother figure – she is a tigress. She tells Avinash that if he ever loses a fight, he won’t be able to call her Ma. She really is a vengeful woman. Aarti is struggling financially so Avinash takes a job as a drummer (it is never really explained) to start earning. It is a bizarre career move but it is lucky in one way as it means lots of dodgy songs.

It’s at this point my DVD seemed to be possessed. You might remember that it took multiple DVDs and wily tactics when Heather and I watched Surakksha and it really seems that the universe is determined to protect me from Mithun. I eventually got to see the rest but couldn’t screencap, and the picture quality was woeful. However – the disco part of the revenge psychodrama kicks in from here so you can have some lurid songs to keep up the pictorial content.

Naina (Salma Agha) is your part time Disco Diva and full time student. She and Avinash bond after he saves her from a gang of drunken would-be rapists. Perhaps he is repaying the universe for his father’s misdeed? I doubt it’s anything that meaningful.

Mithun’s dancing highlights just how talented Michael Jackson was!

Avinash and Naina fall in love, of course, perhaps because they both have hideous fashion sense and share a love of white pants. Aarti hasn’t raised her son to be a loverboy and opposes the match until such time as Avinash settles the score with evil uncle Amrish, although she hasn’t told him about his family yet. But the past can never remain buried, and the truth comes out and then of course vengeance is sworn.

I’ve mentioned before that I like it when screeds of argy-bargy can be condensed into a song, and apart from the threats this also has scary outfits. I get the impression that there were different people directing sections of the extras who were supposed to be party guests. Some are having a toe tapping good time while others maintain the traditional glaze of boredom. And what better way to alert Uday Bhan Singh of his imminent doom than this?

After a court scene full of shouting, staring and more swearing of vengeance, Uday Bhan and his horrible son, Chandra Bhan get horribly drunk and sing. Then junior rapes a local girl as his father shoots the girl’s brother. It’s perfectly obvious they are vile people, and I don’t think all this was needed. I do feel B Subhash thought he was making a much more worthy film than this turned out to be, but struggled to interpret the story into an original film format and fell back on badly used clichés.

By this time, my DVD had only sparse subtitles and Naina’s name changed to Neena. She has been hanging around, adoring Avinash from afar, and goes undercover to get the information he needs (whatever that is) to crush the enemy. I‘m not recommending the sailor suit for potential Bond girls among you – it’s a hard look to carry off. She also has a ridiculously flat clutch purse that somehow contains a gun and a tape recorder and some kind of truth drug.

Chandra Bhan is a stupid as he is horrible, and falls for her tricks. The women then get together to map out the final revenge. All of a sudden Aarti seems to like her prospective daughter in law!

The evil Singhs get their come-uppance starting in a neat replay of the fake rape stunt that ruined Satish’s name. The film is effectively over now despite all attempts to add more drama, but it drags on for another 30 minutes and two more songs and a few explosions.  The final scenes are are most notable for the wardrobe, the Michael Jackson inspiration, the crappy effects and a chance to take one last look at some of the fab sets. Salma Agha is supposed to turn into a kickarse heroine but looks disoriented and more concerned about her lipgloss most of the time. Smita Patil gives this film a lot more than it deserves, and maintains her rage right til the end.

There was lots of significant symbolism, more injustices that had to be avenged, recurring motifs, but I stopped caring as soon as Mithun tried to ‘Thriller’ Chandra Bhan into madness. I can understand why the undead backing dancers were a bit messy, but really the choreography is terrible!

See this film if you really have to see every Mithun film ever made, have a penchant for horrible 70s/80s fashion, can tolerate Bappi Lahiri’s misuse of Billy Jean, or want to see Amrish Puri in a bowtie. Can I even give this a star rating? I don’t want to mislead anyone into seeing this film because it really is dire, and not So Bad It’s Good; it’s just Bad. And not in a Michael Jackson Bad way. There are too many men in tight white pants. Maybe 2 stars –for Smita Patil, Amrish Puri, and their duelling Eyeballs of Hate.