Khal Nayak

Khal Nayak poster

Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak is a fairly predictable cops and robbers story twined with references to the Ramayana which adds depth and resonance.  There are some excellent performances, stylish visuals and excellent music. But at a shade over 3 hours, the pace is stately to the point of plodding and there is too much emphasis on the meaning, and not quite enough on the drama.

Ram (Jackie Shroff) is assigned a case to bring down a terrorist organisation. Ballu (Sanjay Dutt) is the poster boy for Roshida’s (Pramod Muthu) gang. When Ballu escapes from jail, Ram is accused of neglecting his duty to go spend time with his girlfriend Ganga (Madhuri Dixit). When what looks like every policeman in India is put on Ballus’ trail with no success, Ganga finds a way to infiltrate the gang. She sees that Ballu is not quite as bad as he seems, although he is far from being misunderstood. Eventually the police close in, and Ganga is caught between Ram, duty, and her empathy with Ballu.

Madhuri looks stunning and delivers a strong and engaging characterisation. There is nothing simpering or weak about prison officer Ganga. When she sees an opportunity to help Ram restore his reputation, she asks for his support. Then she does it anyway. When she sees Ballu needs medical help, she just goes and gets a doctor because it is the right thing to do. Madhuri does some wonderful deliberately bad acting when Ganga, having captivated Ballu, joins the gang and goes on the run.

Then in Aaja Sajan Aaja she is simply incandescent as she dances for her Ram. Madhuri was also lucky as Ganga dresses in Indian attire, not the hideous synthetic 80s gear that Ballu wears when he tries to impress.

 

Sanjay Dutt is so very good in some scenes that it makes me angry at how bad he is for much of the film. He adopted a range of bizarre grimaces and physical tics that I think were meant to emphasise the animal side of Ballu, but just made him look ridiculous and clumsy. When he dropped the exaggerated mannerisms and just channelled the emotions, he was compelling and raw. While asserting his ownership of Ganga, Ballu accidentally defends democracy and becomes a Nayak for those people. His awakening to being respected and enjoying that feeling was nicely done, even though there was a lot of literal flag waving to make sure the point didn’t escape unnoticed.

Jackie Shroff is perfectly competent as Ram, and only tries to tear his clothes off once so that was good. For my money Ram is the least interesting character. He knows he is right, everyone knows he is right and he is not averse to using extreme force against Ballu to prove how right he is. While there is an interesting dynamic between hero and villain, there is minimal character development for Ram. A relationship between Ganga and Ballu would be a Very Bad Idea but I thought marrying Ram could be a bit suffocating.

The Ramayana elements were more obvious to me on a recent re-watch than when I first saw it, particularly the twists on that narrative. I couldn’t help but compare this with Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan (which I greatly prefer to the Hindi Raavan). In Raavanan, Ram revealed his darker side and could become as Ravana but Khal Nayak seems to say rather that Ravana has the potential to be Rama. I liked that the question of what makes a hero or a villain was articulated and that this was more than a glorification of Rama. Ganga didn’t sway from her beliefs when she was frightened, and kept her faith in Ram. Ram wanted to believe Ganga but society and the law demanded she was still put to trial. I was annoyed that she had to have her virtue validated by a thief and murderer, a man so despicable in the eyes of the law that he had besmirched her just by his proximity but whose word was still worth more than hers. I know she is Sita and he is Ravana, but still. The film plays with some of the conventions especially around the notion of hero and villain. Ram is also helped by Ballu’s testimony, his reputation restored by the hand of a sinner.

Ghai doesn’t quite go the whole hog but he does use a range of staple masala ingredients and has a lush visual style. Ram and Ballu have bloody fights that crash through walls and take to the treetops. There are long lost childhood friends and dreary paeans to motherhood. There are coincidences, speechifying and tearful reconciliations galore. The evil mastermind Roshida has a nasty disposition and lots of cats who do a fabulous job of reacting to stuff.

Rakhee gets a lot of screen time as Arti, not all of it crying. Neena Gupta makes an impression as the striking Champa. Ramya Krishnan is charismatic as Ballu’s girlfriend Sophia, and also gets both versions of the title song. What a waste to have her in such a small role, but how great to have so many powerful actresses in one film. The female characters are strong and quite distinct, but Subhash Ghai stays firmly within the conventions of 90s masala so none of them break the mould of Ma, the friend, bad girl etc.  Oh, and Anupam Kher does his customary shtick as Pandey the prison warden.

There are interesting observations about the conventions of parenting and filial behaviour. Ganga tries to evoke Ballu’s sentimental side by talking wistfully of how much he must love his Ma and how hard it must be for him to live on the run. He calls Ganga out on trying to manipulate him through sentiment, but he rejects that as unimportant to him. Question – If a villain shouts ‘Ma!’ in his sleep and there is no one to hear it, does he have feelings?

Mind you, when Ballu is beating Ram up because why not, Arti hits Ballu for assaulting Ram, Ballu shoves her so Ram belts him for hitting a Ma, then Ballu fights back and Arti comes back at him to stop him using violence.  A move straight out of the Nirupa Roy Filmi Ma Manual.

The songs are extensions or amplifications of the narrative as well as being beautiful and usually pleasingly melodic.

I am not so fond of that title track, although it does epitomise early 90s style and Ramya Krishnan works that beaded gear for all it’s worth.

Khal Nayak-Fruitbat

I had to pity choreographer Saroj Khan. Between Dutt’s own ‘dance’ style and the outfit given to Ballu in the final song, he looked more like a demented fruitbat. Seeing Ballu and the boys try their seductive dance moves on Ganga was highly amusing. But she choreographed some beautiful dances for Madhuri. I went to see the Temptations Reloaded show up in Sydney last year, and the roof nearly came off when the opening bars of Choli Ke Peeche played.

The first hour of the film could be condensed to around 20 minutes with no great loss, but things get much more interesting once events are set in motion. While it is a visually strong and often darkly dramatic film, the pace suffers from Ghai’s concentration on symbols and stylised elements rather than closely following the emotional arcs of the characters. Very much worth watching, but some patience is required. 3 ½ stars!

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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!

Karz (1980)

I love this film! I first watched it after seeing the amazing Om Shanti Om on a song compilation DVD and thought the rest of the film was just as awesome. It helps that I’m a big fan of Rishi, but there is just so much about Karz that is excellent – the sets, sing-along music and Rishi’s wonderfully sparkly outfits just to name a few. It also features a compelling performance by Simi Garewal as the villainess of the piece with Pran and even the ever-present Iftekhar in support. Although it’s basically a reincarnation/revenge story there’s quite a lot of detail to the plot and it even features dancing skeletons – so much to enjoy!

Rishi Kapoor plays Monty, a successful singer and musician who has a penchant for glitter and flamboyant backing dancers.  He’s an orphan and has seemingly has never reconciled to the lack of a mother in his life making him rather melancholy despite his screaming fan club.

Monty tries to put his mercenary manager Mr GG Oberoi (Pinchoo Kapoor) in the role of his father and Mrs Oberoi as his mother, but Oberoi is firm on his stance that Monty is an employee under contract even though he lives with the family.  Rejected by Oberoi, in his search for love Monty becomes enamoured of a young girl he sees at a party for his friend Dr Dayal (Jalal Agha) and is inspired by her to sing the beautiful Dard-E-Dil. Normally I get irritated by actors pretending to play the violin and completely messing it up, but here Rishi gets it (almost) right. Just another reason to love Rishi (as if I needed one!)

However the girl leaves before Monty has a chance to speak to her and since Dr Dayal reports that she has left Bombay that same night it seems unlikely that he ever will.  But Monty starts to suffer flashbacks of a fatal car accident which seem to be brought on by an old song he plays on his guitar.  After a battery of tests fails to reveal the cause for his condition (but did provide me with a lot of amusement), his doctors, including Iftekar as Dr Daniel, prescribe total rest.  Monty has discovered that the girl from the party was from Ooty, so he decides to head to the hill stations in the hope that he will find his love there and maybe get rid of his visions too.

Rather coincidentally he ends up in the place where 21 years ago Mr Ravi Verma (Raj Kiran) was murdered by his new wife Kamini (Simi Garewal) as he was returning to his family home. His father’s ex-business partner Sir Judah (Premnath) enlisted Kamini in his plot to steal the Verma tea plantations, promising her a life-long pension and the Verma family mansion for her assistance in removing Ravi. Kamini disposed of Ravi by running him over with her jeep and then evicted his mother and sister for good measure, installing herself as ‘queen’ and enjoying the spoils of her crimes.

Just as coincidentally Kamini happens to be the guardian of Tina (Tina Munim), the girl Monty fell in love with in Bombay, but it’s not a coincidence at all that Monty meets Tina again while boating and singing out on a lake. Because that is the obvious place to find someone – isn’t it?

Monty is the reincarnation of Ravi Verma which he slowly discovers as the various landmarks in the area cause yet more flashbacks. Despite the recurrent dreams of his own death, Monty has time to persuade Tina to marry him even although she is still at school and allegedly 16 while Monty is supposedly 21 (but doesn’t manage to look 21, let alone the 17 he claims in this song). This is still one of my favourite songs though since they manage to look very coy while discussing all the things they are supposedly too young for, but obviously aren’t!

The romance does feel a little uncomfortable when Tina is in her school uniform, particularly since Tina Munim gives her character plenty of childish mannerisms but thankfully the relationship doesn’t get too detailed and most of the rest of the film is centred on Monty and Kamini. However the romance is probably why I don’t enjoy the second half of the film quite as much as the first even though the songs with Monty and Tina are great.

Along with Tina’s uncle Kabira (Pran), Monty sets about making Kamini confess to her evil past which involves a number of elaborate set-ups including the dancing skeletons.  I totally love the skeletons which don’t seem particularly scary to me but a guy with a fake scarred face who breaks in and attacks Kamini is much more frightening and makes me jump every single time – even though I know he is hiding outside the window!

Rishi is brilliant here as he changes from the rather naïve young singer to a driven and obsessed man out for revenge. I love his tormented ‘I want her’ to his future father in law as he confronts Kamini in her rather opulent bedroom. It’s nicely ambiguous and sets up Monty’s deceitful plan to force a confession.  But even better is Simi Garewal’s portrayal of a woman gradually falling in love and then slowly being driven insane as Monty various schemes convince her that her dead husband is back for revenge.  Which of course he is!

It is rather strange that Kamini doesn’t appear to have aged in the 21 years that have passed since Ravi Verma’s death but  Subhash Ghai tries to get round that by showing her wearing a succession of wigs which are presumably concealing her age. Plus it’s a touch of vanity to reinforce that Kamini is not a nice person at all.

There are a few other oddities.  While the sets for the songs are superb, there are some peculiar pictures scattered around the various rooms.  For example, Kamini’s bedroom features some very erotic statues and pictures but just outside the door to her room is a picture of cute kittens.  And in the guesthouse where Monty is staying there is a picture of a woman breastfeeding her baby which just seems an odd choice for a guest room.

In fact most of the pictures in this room are of a mother and her child which is perhaps a little too much symbolism – we get the point! I also have to mention the blanket/shawl Monty is wearing – it looks to me like this has pictures of people on it which just seems strange.

But to make up for that there are some wonderful lights in the various houses and guitars absolutely everywhere!

The film has all the requisite masala elements, including the long-suffering ma and disinherited sister, ably played by Durga Khote and Abha Dhulia. Pran is excellent as Kabira and along with his left and right hand men (Viju Khote and Birbal) provides some light relief from all the high drama. Raj Kiran is also good as Ravi Verma and his physical similarity to Rishi Kapoor is a plus too.  Premnath is menacing as Sir Judah and Mac Mohan equally sinister as his henchman, although the scariest part was Sir Judah in his bath!

The film highlight is definitely the songs by  Laxmikant-Pyarelal with some beautiful lyrics from Anand Bakshi. I love the spinning record set for Om Shanti Om with the flashing orbs that descend for no apparent reason.  My favourite part of Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om was the recreation of this set and it’s still one of my favourite songs. Just as awesome is the set for the final song, Ek Haseena Thi and it’s really just the item number featuring Aruna Irani which doesn’t seem to fit and is rather dull by comparison

I think this is Subhash Ghai’s best film and it’s one of my favourites with Rishi Kapoor too. I regularly play the soundtrack and sing along with the songs and if alone will quite happily dance along too – and even if I’m not alone to be honest! There are a few parts I could do without but overall it’s enjoyable and fun to watch – definitely a masala classic! 4½ stars.