Khoon Pasina (1977)

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Sometimes when the world has gone mad, you just need the reassuring presence of The Big B dishing out dishoom and justice.

Shiva and Aslam grow up besties in one of those happily diverse communities. Their dads are also friends, teasing each other about being rubbish at being a Muslim or a Hindu because they can’t even remember their own religious celebrations. Both dads make a powerful enemy when they stop a flamboyantly bewigged and fringed Kader Khan killing a bloke. He decides to foment communal strife in order to kill them without the police suspecting him, and somehow this is linked via a montage to Partition. The family is torn apart by a house fire that kills Ram and Rahim, leaves Aslam lost, and places young Shiva with Aslam’s ma (Nirupa Roy) as his only family.

The kids are indifferent actors, probably chosen for their evolutionary potential to end up looking like neighbourhood thug Shiva, aka Tiger (Amitabh Bachchan), and principled dacoit Shera (Vinod Khanna). Tiger hasn’t forgotten his past despite being raised by Nirupa Roy while Shera is trying to find death, but even death is worried by his body count.

Amitabh gets the best and worst of the film. Shiva/Tiger is an impulsive thug who is motivated by the right reasons but doesn’t stop to think about collateral damage or even just stop to think, a dictator in his own manner. He also gets stuck with a wardrobe that I wish I could say was part of the comedy track. It annoys me so much that he is called Tiger yet wears leopard print. Really! But Amitabh has such charm that the glib one-liners work a treat and he can switch effortlessly to show Shiva’s darker side. And some of the comedy track is funny despite itself. I particularly enjoyed the wedding party being entertained and fed by the crooks who had come to steal the bride. I suppose in a different film, Tiger could always have picked up work as an event planner.

Tiger sees the curvaceous and feisty Chanda (Rekha) at the market and is smitten. She challenges him to back up his bragging by wrestling a tiger for her. So he does. But Chanda has been engaged to gangster Raghu (Ranjeet) since childhood, and he is not inclined to give up his claim. Raghu tries to get Shera to kill Tiger but Shera says it would be better if Raghu died. Raghu has other ideas and starts messing with Zaleem Singh who is still alive and scheming.

Shera still mourns his lost family, and believes himself alone in the world. Like Shiva, he has a strong commitment to justice as he sees it, and like Shiva he doesn’t pay attention to the law. Vinod Khanna was saddled with some dodgy hair and a lot of pleather, but Shera is certainly the cooler of the grown up boys. Probably because he doesn’t have his mummy choosing his outfits. But he is also afflicted with the faux leopard trim. Vinod delivers his cheesy lines with a detached and weary cynicism threaded with sentimentality about families and honour. It’s the kind of role that I usually expect to see Danny Denzongpa in and I think he might have added a little more spark to the pathos. The long lost friends spend almost all the film apart and their few scenes together are good. I wish they had interacted a bit more to ramp up the tension a bit.

Chanda faces Raghu down with the full support of her father who says she cannot be married off against her will. Hurrah for that dad! Naturally Raghu decides to eliminate Tiger, but being a weasel he takes many indirect routes rather than simple confrontation. Rekha’s body language is quite masculine and often aggressive in Chanda’s pre-marriage scenes. She owns her space and doesn’t let unwanted contact go past without payback. She falls for Tiger but then he plays hard to get. They have a push and pull in their dynamic that is amusing but not emotionally healthy. And when it comes to Tiger choosing between his wife or his ma, you’d better believe he is a mummy’s boy who will slap his wife into the middle of next week if she disagrees with Ma. Rekha and Amitabh have that chemistry of course, but I enjoyed Chanda’s scenes where she was going about her daily routine alone and her interactions with other people in the village. Rekha can be funny as well as dramatic, and despite a few airhead moments Chanda is quick-witted and interesting.

Shanno or Shantidevi (Aruna Irani) is another defiant woman. She loves her husband Mohan (a very restrained Asrani) who is a gentle, law abiding man and they talk about their conflicting beliefs and all seems really respectful and solid. Except when Mohan is threatening Shanno to prevent her from telling her brothers or when Shanno is telling Mohan to pop on some bangles and let her be the man of the family. Shanno also happens to be Zaleem Singh’s daughter and bears her Monobrow of Fury with elan. Her immediate reaction to any insult is to grab a gun and try and kill the offender, saying her brothers will clean up the legal issues. When Raghu burns down their farm and pretends he is Tiger, it sets up yet another conflict. After a tense family visit, and a huge random edit, Mohan decides to go kill Tiger so Shanti also runs off after him with a gun.

Shiva relocates to the jungle and ends up working on a plantation owned by Zaleem Singh. He gets a nice Kalyanji-Anandji number that looks like a rehearsal for Mr Natwarlal, and Helen makes an appearance to dance for the landlords. He builds new relationships and becomes the voice of workers’ rights and social justice. There’s even an “I’m Spartacus” scene. Chanda is gradually sidelined but she remains a strong force in the film and in Shiva’s life. Nirupa continues to give him pointless and conflicting instructions. The lack of emotional blackmail opportunities drives her to almost commit a crime so she can stop herself and “Nahiiiiin!” about it.

There are so many bad guys! Ranjeet gets his shirt off for no reason, Kader Khan is slimy and arrogant as Zaleem Singh, Mac Mohan is natty in pleather as Singh’s flunkey, Vinod Khanna is a cut above this material, and there are so many beefy shirtless dudes running around beating people up that I suspect that was the main industry for the village. There are also abundant good guys, many of whom speak with sense, logic, and empathy. It’s quite pleasing to have some good life advice doled out to the hero.

And all the while Shera is on Tiger’s trail, paid to hand Tiger over to Zaleem Singh but not really believing that he is a miscreant.

What happens next? Please, you already know. And yet there is always that bit extra that makes you go “Huh?” The action scenes are woeful as I don’t think Rakesh Kumar had the faintest idea of how to shoot or stage a fight so there is minimal choreography of the stunts and lots of bizarre angles and edits to skip over the lack of detail. There is a very long and quite unnecessary horse chase, although it did prove Moti knew what was what. It’s the kind of film where wallowing in quicksand is not enough, you have to simultaneously wrestle a snake. It’s the kind of film where if you want to kill someone you have to first build an enormous wooden edifice and tie them to a stake at the top. It’s the kind of film where Moti the horse should have been making key decisions.

Despite being quite slapdash, the story contains some interesting little bits and pieces. See it for Amitabh and Vinod emoting fiercely with Rekha and Aruna Irani being fierce. 3 ½ stars!

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Dilwale

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Kaali (Sharukh) and Meera (Kajol) fall in love. Kaali tells Meera he is a gangster, son of don Randhir (Vinod Khanna). Meera tells Kaali she is an artist and they do lots of picturesque and cutesy romancing. But Kaali finds out there is more to Meera than being a simple artist. Eventually they part and go their own ways. Fifteen years later, Veer (Varun Dhawan) meets Ishita (Kriti Sanon) and they fall in love. Veer is Kaali’s little brother, although Kaali now calls himself Raj and is a simple mechanic and car modifier. Ishu’s big sister? Yeah. Will Veer and Ishu ever get together in the face of such strong family opposition? And why did neither Kaali nor Meera ever move on and marry someone else?

My love for Shahrukh goes way, way back, and I was not disappointed at all by him in Dilwale. I’ve always liked him most in roles where he is not too sugary sweet. I particularly liked the moments when, as Raj, he let the calculating menace of Kaali show through. He seemed completely at home in his character’s skin without looking like he’d phoned this one in. The fight scenes showed Kaali as a relentless and brutal machine. Careful angles and editing made it seem as though Shahrukh was doing all his own work in the action sequences so there was no break in the dramatic tension. I’m sure his stunt guy was working overtime but I think they’ve done a great job when it is hard to pick who is who.

His stylist also did a great job of making the 15 year gap between timelines seem believable. Plus I enjoyed the double layered linen shirts, sometimes matching or in a monochrome mix, and always with a hint of cleavage. Well done, that person.

And after Janam Janam, all I can say is “move over Mr Darcy”. (Plus, as far as I know, Colin Firth has not fixed a VW Beetle in the rain while dancing and wearing his Mr Darcy puffy shirt.)

Like Kaali there is more to Meera than meets the eye, and Kajol is fantastic. She looks great and gives Meera a tough femininity that really works. Of course she has amazing chemistry with Shahrukh, and I think the film should have concentrated on their story. Kaali and Meera were like Romeo and Juliet who had survived and moved on in life, if not emotionally. I was more interested in what they had been up to since they last met, how they went legit, and what would happen next, than I was in Veer and Ishu’s sincere puppy love. One thing that I really liked is that the women drive the pace of developments in their relationships. Raj/Kaali told Meera she had got him all wrong. She didn’t budge just because he looked sad (and hot), but when she was ready she investigated further and she listened to the evidence.

Varun is pleasant, can dance, is good in action, but his dialogue delivery was odd. It sounded Shatneresque. Mumbled! And! Like! He! Spoke! With! An! Exclamation! He seemed to be pushing to make his action bigger, but instead it looked like his timing was off. His best moments were one on one with Shahrukh as the brothers dealt with the rocky road to true love. In one scene they are laughing through tears and it was genuinely touching, and then later a grim looking scene turned to sheepish laughter. I’d like Varun to do more action centred roles as I think he’d be great in that genre.

Kriti Sanon seems to be eminently qualified to be a romantic lead by virtue of not wearing much. Her acting is not offensively bad, but like Varun her shortcomings were all the more evident for the contrast. She fares better in scenes with either Shahrukh or Kajol as maybe she had something more to work off where Varun was a bit patchy.

Vinod Khanna and Kabir Bedi played Kaali and Meera’s respective fathers. They were charming and pragmatic, loving their families and hating their enemies with equal vigour. The stuff revenge sagas are made of.

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Shetty’s taste is hit and miss for me. The audience I saw this with was in stitches at the excruciating wordplay from Oscar (Sanjay Mishra). I loved the montage of lies that Anwar (Pankaj Tripathi) and Shakti (Mukesh Tiwari) spun, using snippets from what was on TV, to cover up Raj’s past. Veer cheekily does the SRK arms flung wide and lean when he needs help, channelling his inner filmi hero, and knowing that pose never ever fails. But when Mani (Johnny Lever) turned up in a fro, lungi, and mesh vest, masquerading as a South Indian thug I couldn’t understand why Shetty thought it was OK in Dilwale when he’d largely avoided such nonsense in Chennai Express. Boman Irani has settled comfortably into a half-arsed overacting groove that belies his abilities. There are lots of little references to DDLJ and other films from Love, Actually to Dude, Where’s My Car, and some laugh out loud lines so it pays to pay attention.

I was dying to see Gerua. I’ve recently been to Iceland and had visited several of the locations, not knowing Dilwale had been shooting there earlier in the year. I can assure you that the countryside really is THAT spectacular. Janam Janam is lush and full of longing, and showcased Kajol and Shahrukh’s chemistry with some age appropriate choreo. Varun got the best intro with the colourful Manma Emotion Jaage. Tukur Tukur plays over the end credits so if your audience is as annoying as mine was, you’ll probably just see a line of people’s butts shuffle past! The difference in style between Kajol and Shahrukh and Kriti and Varun is really evident as the youngsters act at the camera while the established stars know exactly where the camera is, but also know it will find them so they just do their thing.

This is definitely a good bet for the SRK or Kajol fans, but for others maybe not so much. I do think Dilwale delivers on the promise of being (fairly) entertaining, gorgeous to look at, and with loads of energy, but it falters when the film moves away from Raj and Meera. One I’d watch again on DVD and make judicious use of the fast forward button!

99 (2009)

99-Poster I generally enjoy heist or caper type films, and 99 is a fairly good example of the things I like most about the genre. Raj and DK have a keen eye for the little moments of absurdity and joy that pepper our lives, and the characters in 99 have hopes and schemes that are real world sized. Their ambitions fit within their neighbourhood – a really good coffee shop, a fresh start, a comfortable life with no running from the cops. Empathising with their flaws and stupid choices comes a little more easily when the dreams are so relatable. 99-the plan Sachin (Kunal Khemu) and Zaramud (Cyrus Broacha) are small time crims, working a technology angle rather than being standover merchants. They see themselves as perpetrating a victimless crime in a situation where nobody really gets hurt and lots of people benefit. Things go awry, as they often do, and while running from the police they steal and crash a Merc belonging to AGM (Mahesh Manjrekar).

AGM is an old school boss, the kind of bookie that newspapers here would have called a colourful racing identity. Rahul (Boman Irani) is separated from his wife, probably because of his gambling addiction. He keeps bargaining with God to win another hand, win another bet, and thinks he can beat the house. He places a bet on the cricket while having his own away game on conference in Mumbai, and is referred to AGM as his bookie. He goes home to Delhi, skipping out on the debt.

AGM sends Sachin and Zaramud to Delhi to recover the losses from Rahul, part of their agreement to work off their debt. Another character says they looked like Laurel and Hardy, and they do have about the same degree of acuity. Sachin uses AGM’s credit card to put himself up at a fancy hotel and meets duty manager Pooja (Soha Ali Khan). In between waiting around and menacing Rahul, he romances Pooja and generally looks on the bright side.

Rahul wants to win one more big bet to settle all his debts and maybe even get his wife back. The boys won’t wait, and they steal the money he is ‘borrowing’ from a client to settle the outstanding. But in a classic Delhi taxi scam their bags, including The Bag, are stolen. Rahul and Laurel and Hardy team up to win back the cash in another bet on the cricket finals, targeting high-roller JC (Vinod Khanna) as the key to success. The game is afoot! The cricket theme permeates all aspects of the characters’ lives. They’re all stuck on 99, waiting for the opportunity to make their century and claim success. None of them wants world domination or is chasing the money just for the sake of it, except maybe Rahul, they just want to get ahead. The match fixing scandal of 1999-2000 is well known so that adds another dimension as honest crooks rely on a match controlled by bigger crooks.

Kunal Khemu has a boyish charm that works well for Sachin, who isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. He and Cyrus Broacha have an easy chemistry that makes their scenes seem fresh even though the plot direction may be predictable. I could be underestimating Sachin as the subtitle team were a law unto themselves and even I know enough Hindi to know some dialogue was a bit mystifying. The boys make it up as they go and I enjoyed their antics as they tried to stay one step ahead of all their pursuers.

Boman Irani is quite restrained in terms of comedy excesses, but doesn’t shy away from showing Rahul as a jerk who will lie and wheedle his way out of trouble. He’s kind of seedy but respectable at the same time, an average man with a secret addiction. He is plausible and can be charming but there is a glint in his eye whenever he sees a chance. Rahul never learned any lasting lesson, but continued to coast on his luck and maybe God coming through on a bet or two.

Soha Ali Khan is adequate but for a film that works hard to build a little world, Pooja’s character is a bit lacking. I would have liked to see more of Pooja’s own decision making articulated. Initially she only agreed to help because Sachin whined at her, and while she did strike her own deal I didn’t really get why she would even consider getting involved to begin with. Simone Singh plays Jahnavi, Rahul’s wife. Like Pooja, although she is set up as a smart and down to earth woman there is little sense of anything about her other than her tension with Rahul. I didn’t have so many quibbles the first time I watched the film, but on a repeat viewing I felt that they existed to provide a foil for the relevant male character and not much else.

Vinod Khanna is perfectly cast as the smooth, slightly larger than life, JC. He is understated but faintly menacing under all the expensive charm. Amit Mistry and Pitobash round out the supporting cast with an entertaining blend of comedy, histrionics and sharp eyed opportunism. The soundtrack by Ashu is more bland than not, and quite formulaic – the whimsical acoustic song, the bhangra number, the sights of Delhi song, you know the drill. But they are integrated into the drama well and don’t derail the story at all. The song montages were often quite entertaining and let Raj and DK get a lot of slapstick out of their systems without dragging the main narrative down.

I hate to sound all hipster about Raj and DK but I do prefer their earlier stuff (I wasn’t blown away by Go Goa Gone) and 99 is lots of fun. While I am slightly disappointed with the female characters I genuinely like the good natured feel, the slightly dodgy characters, and the great use of locations. Even the opening titles incorporate the cast in the locations and foreshadow the twists and turns with some quirky angles and animation. The jokes take a swipe at everything from intercity rivalries to the film industry, and there are some zingy one liners courtesy of writers Raj and DK with Sita Menon. Of recent films in a similar genre I slightly prefer Ko Antey Koti and Delhi Belly, but I really have no complaints about spending a couple of hours in 1999 with these dudes. See it for a good modern robbers and more robbers caper with an appealing cast and a sense of humour about itself. 3 ½ stars!