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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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

Sunehri Nagin (1963)

Sunehri Nagin_Movie title

Sunehri Nagin is a sword and sorcery fantasy featuring Helen in a lead role, so of course I had to see it. She stars opposite genre film stalwart Mahipal, along with Anwar Hussain as a flamboyant villain. Babubhai Mistry directs in a fairly pedestrian style, but the film has loads of charm. There are lovely songs (in colour), some very good dancers, a snake goddess delivering some divine assistance, ye olde fairytale elements, special effects and some enthusiastic visual design.

Sunehri Nagin_RajkumariSunehri Nagin_Vijay

The Rajkumari (Helen) is out on a hunting expedition with her handmaidens when her chariot horses are spooked by a nearby panther. Bolting off into the blue, she screams for help. Luckily her pleas are heard by Vijay (Mahipal) who has been languishing in the forest while wearing a splendid fur trimmed suit. Within minutes he has saved Helen and taken her home to meet his blind Ma (Sulochana Latkar) and comedy bro (Kamal Mehra). They are all on their way to a pooja at the snake temple so Princess Helen goes along. The ritual involves placing bowls of milk at the base of a statue and then dancing to invoke the Naag Devi. The owner of the milk the snake drinks will be blessed. That all leads to an excellent dance by Helen and some enthusiastic ‘tribal’ dudes.

Those backward leaning kneeling statues reappear a few times throughout the film so perhaps Mistry was really commited to recycling.

Of course the snake goddess chooses Helen. So does Anwar Hussain who is lurking in the crowd. He is an evil not quite magician who seems intent on taking as much power as he can – and he needs to marry the princess to do that. He is also involved with a sorceress, Sadhna, played by the lovely Preeti Bala. Sadhna supplies Anwar with a magical laddoo that will let him travel at will, and a flying carpet. Sadhna seems to be in love with Vijay but terribly naïve when it comes to believing an earthman in a gladiator outfit. The story then falls into a cycle of Helen and Vijay making eyes, Anwar kidnapping Helen, and Vijay and his comedy sidekick going to rescue her. Add some divine intervention thanks to Sulochana’s prayers and a magic sword. Overcome the King’s (DK Sapru) objections to Helen marrying a commoner. Repeat, rinse, repeat. Until everyone realises Anwar cannot be trusted and then things go a bit pear shaped (for him).

The plot elements are pure fairytale, sometimes even pantomime, inspired. The designs are sometimes lovely and sometimes a bit mystifying. Vijay and his Ma live in this carefully geometrical tumbledown shack. The royal palace interiors are sumptuous. But I don’t know why Helen and Anwar appear to fly over 1960s Marine Drive when he kidnaps her on a flying carpet.

Vijay and sidekick encounter many fabulous perils. I think my favourite would have to be the evil grasping trees on rolling platforms but the cannibal cat man in the secret caves is a close second. Or maybe the jousting. I’m indecisive, but so many fun things happen that maybe they’re all my favourite.

The special effects team kept busy with a number of nifty transitions. Sadhna transforms herself into Helen, and is later miniaturised and captured in a bottle. The ladies change places in an attempt to fit in another song steal a magical sword back from Anwar and there are lots of flying and disappearing effects. And when Anwar says look into his eyes – don’t!

Kalyanji-Anandji are credited with the soundtrack, and Laxmikant Pyarelal appear in the playback/recording credits so the songs have some serious pedigree. The playback singers include Lata and Usha Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Mukesh, and Kamal Barot. I have to admit I did cheer when Helen stole Mahipal’s been in one song as I only have so much love for snake music but overall it is a pleasure to listen to this soundtrack. Babubhai Mistry switches from B&W to colour film for the song sequences and they are so pretty to look at. I had high expectations from Helen, of course. Mahipal doesn’t have such a natural flair for frolicking in meadows as his leading lady does. Apart from the lead actors,  there are other entertaining dances including this court piece performed by Bela Bose and Madhumati.

I watched this online and then bought the VCD. I haven’t seen a version with subtitles but most of the story was clear. I had a little moment of wondering who loved who when Sadhna and Anwar were bickering about a marriage but of course she loved the hero, everyone loves a hero, so I was not confused for long. Although I think the wardrobe team showed their love for Anwar Hussain in their own special way.

It’s quite a glamorous looking film. Helen was very pretty and princess like, and Preeti Bala and the featured dancers all looked lovely too.

This is not a film to watch for deep insights into the human condition, but it does have a pleasing internal order of justice and right. People can try and welch on their bets or lie their way out of trouble but they will have to face the consequences at some stage. And it isn’t just the bad guys who learn that. Some people are a bit more resistant to enlightenment than they should be. The final fight sequence takes place at the snake temple, mostly on and around a giant bell. Seeing the not very sprightly figures of Mahipal and Anwar Hussain clambering about added an extra, and maybe unintended, level of tension. But Anwar pushed his luck with the wrong deity. Perhaps the lesson here is don’t bite the hand that can bite you.

South Indian fantasy films from the same time seem more technically accomplished but I am guessing that this was probably not a big budget production so the comparison is probably unfair. It is obvious where some corners were cut in Sunehri Nagin, but it doesn’t really detract from the enjoyment of watching. See this for a good old ripping yarn of love and heroics, a likeable and competent cast (especially Helen) and the array of visual delights on offer. 3 ½  stars!