Hindi Film Reviews
Here is an alphabetical archive of pre-2005 films, or those I didn’t see in the theater, plus some links for some movies which have more extensive notes elsewhere on the website.
7 1/2 Phere (2005) Directed by Ishaan Trivedi. Juhi Chawla, Irfaan Khan.
Asmi (Juhi Chawla) an aspiring tv producer, has a bright idea for a reality show, to film a big joint family as they prepare for a wedding. The family refuses permission, but the youngest uncle of the bride, Manoj (Irfan Khan) is infatuated with Asmi, and allows the production team to hide their equipment and film secretly, as long as he has the last word about what goes on the air. The hidden camera documents more than preparation for the happy event, revealing unsavory family secrets. Juhi’s return to the screen has been low-key, and it’s nice to see her play a heroine again in this low budget comedy. Some reviews have carped at her for her appearance, but, while still beautiful, she looks like a real woman, not an overdieted teenaged starlet. Her leading man, Irfan, usually plays more intense roles, and must have wondered why he’s playing a romantic lead, but he responds by refusing to fulfill audience expectations. At first, it’s unclear if Manoj is mentally all there, but as the story progresses, he not only becomes the moral center of the film but forces the heroine to reevaluate her actions, as well. Rather than play the hero, he mumbles, stumbles and makes little private jokes, and ends up endowing Manoj with a refreshingly off-kilter charm. Just as one wonderswhy he has such nice shirts, Manoj volunteers that he designs them himself! The two lead actors construct a romance for grown-ups, a departure on the screen in any country’s cinema. There’s a little slapstick, and a bit of gentle media satire, reflecting not just reality tv, but the prying cameras in American films like The Truman Show and EDTV. Juhi plays an ambitious character, somewhat like her journalist in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, a greatly underrated film that is a much more stinging critique of the media than 7 ½ Phere. The joint family setting clearly references Hum Apke Hain Kaun, and the major joke is that close scrutiny turns that film’s relentless sunnyness inside out. The screenplay could be tighter, but there are some clever dialogues and well earned laughs. The main pleasure is that this quiet film does not overreach itself, and focuses on the two engaging lead actors and a warm relationship the audience urges towards a happy ending.
36 China Town (2006) Directed by Abbas Mustan. Shahid Kapur, Kareena Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Upen Patel
36 China Town’s glitzy comic murder mystery revolves around a kidnapped child, a shadowy Goan mansion, and a casino full of winners and losers. Shahid Kapur and Kareena Kapoor play a couple thrown together by chance, but unlike their puzzling lack of chemistry in Chup Chup Ke, here, the real life sweethearts are adorable. They play out their love hate film noir slapstick with zest, like Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in 1940s Hollywood films like The Ghost Breakers and The Cat and the Canary. Johny Lever and Paresh Ravel supply less labored comedy breaks than usual, although some of the funniest shtick is courtesy of Akshaye Khanna as the wry policeman unraveling it all. Hard bodied Upen Patel is given the New Hero hard sell—but his character is such an obnoxious masher—I’m not buying. Himesh Reshammiya’s songs are as catchy as ever, although Sameer seems to have written the lyrics in his sleep. “24 X 7 I Think of You” has a sprightly picturization, and the “Aashiqui Meri” remix over the end titles rocks. Shahid, the only dancer in the large cast has to look good on the dance floor for everyone, and seems to be edging closer to a real star-making role. The mystery is cleverly plotted, and the pieces fall neatly into place as all the characters gather for the solution. “36 China Town” is lightweight, but entertaining.
Aag (Fire)(1948) Directed by Raj Kapoor. Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Premnath
-I moved Aan, but left the beauteous Nimmi:
Aan (1952) Directed by Mehboob Khan. Dilip Kumar, Nimmi, Nadira, Premnath (161 min).
Nimmi in all her radiant dream sequence beauty
Aatish (Fire) (1994) Directed by Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay Dutt, Aditya Pancholi, Raveena Tandon, Atul Agnihotri, Karisma Kapoor. (155 min). Two brothers on opposite sides of the law, and two devoted friends who would sacrifice their lives for one another: it’s two sure fire filmi plots rolled into one! Baba (Sanjay) drinks the poison of violent crime to protect his younger brother, an aspiring police officer Avi (Atul). Their romances with Raveena and Karisma (respectively) provide the only distraction in this excessively violent crime film. The scenes with Sanjay and Raveena are quite hot, and easily found on You Tube. Sanjay Dutt, in full out gangster mode, is the only reason to see this bloody 1990s action movie, which also includes a bounty of scenery chewing villains, both Gulshan Grover and Shakti Kapoor. Atul is shockingly incompetent, as is a young Karisma; she’s seemingly dubbed in someone else’s voice. A bizarre harem-set night club item number, “Yeh Mustafa” is the one diverting song.
Don’t mess with Sanjay!
Agneepath (1990) Directed by Mukul S Anand. Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Danny Denzongpa (172 min).
In Agneepath, a child traumatized by the death of his righteous school teacher father joins the criminal gang who has decimated his village, while biding his time for revenge. This 1990 film, starring a gruff Amitabh, no longer an angry young man—let us say merely an angry man—has a mythical arc of destruction and renewal. His bloodshot eyes ringed with kajal, but his trademark white suit unsullied (mostly) this Vijay’s ferocity and blood lust could have made the film unrelentingly grim. Luckily, there is the lively humor of Krishnan Iyer, M.A., a country boy selling coconut water. A good deed entangles him with Vijay’s family. Krisnan, played with irresistible charm by Mithun Chakraborty, has the best song, as this Disco Dancer’s abilities are underrated by a somewhat retro crowd of nightclub revelers. Amitabh doesn’t have a song, contributing, perhaps, to his character’s gloom. The women in Vijay’s life are forgettable, except for Rohini Hatangadi as a Ma seemingly about the same age as her wayward son. Somewhat hampered by a 20 minute anti-climax (not unusual, of course) Agneepath’s extreme violence is superfluous and distasteful. Mention should also be made of Danny Denzongpa’s sinister sunglasses wearing villain, and the excellent actor (Master Manjunath?) playing Vijay as a boy with somber intensity. Abhishek Bachchan, in a Koffee With Karan interview singled out his father’s performance in Agneepath as one of his favorites. Amitabh’s 1990 Vijay, his voice coarsened and his face unsmiling, has more of the world’s weight on his shoulders than his younger, impulsive vigilante avatars.
Aitraaz (2004) Directed by Abbas Mastan. Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra.
After a meet cute mix-up, mobile phone engineer Akshay Kumar and law school graduate Kareena Kapoor fall in love and marry. Their bliss is shadowed by the arrival of sultry Priyanka Chopra, Akshay’s old lover, now the trophy bride of his aging boss (Amrish Puri). She is clearly still on the make, in spite of having married money, and assumes Akshay will agree to rekindle their hot and heavy affair. She’s outraged when her seduction plans go awry. Akshay accuses her of sexual harassment in court, she counters with a charge of attempted rape, and the stage is set for a gender politics showdown. Aitraaz moves at a brisk clip, and all the characters are well-written and believable. Yes, I even accepted Kareena as a lawyer. The music is enjoyable, especially Adnan Sami’s “Gela, Gela” (although the odd crouching dance hints at a rush job by the choreographer) who concentrated instead on the steamy, modern dance-ish “I Want to Make Love to You” picturized on Akshay and Priyanka in one astounding take.
Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) Directed by Manmohan Desai. Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Nirupa Roy, Jeevan, Pran. (163 min).
Andaz (1949) Directed by Mehboob Khan. Nargis, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor. (148 min) (7 photos)
Apradh (Crime) (1972) Written, directed by and starring Feroz Khan, with Mumtaz, Prem Chopra (128 min).
Meena (Mumtaz) and Ram (Feroz Khan) are made for each other. Both are beautiful, and brimming with youthful josh. They also share a remarkable weakness; they are easily coerced into committing crimes by a motley and madcap assortment of flamboyant supporting actors. Writer/director/hero Feroz Khan has a lively and unique camera eye, if a bit careless with his shot matching, but also a filthy mind. How on earth did he sneak such remarkable skin shots and double-entendre visual throw-aways past the censors? A mind-blowing, glowing villain’s lair, with writhing bikini girls, is the setting for a fabulous Helen song, “Aye Naujawan.” The cars (Ram’s a race car driver) and clothes are to die for, with many outfits sporting grommets and lacings, the better to expose hairy chests, heaving bosoms and plump thighs (already on display in hot pants and baby doll pajamas). Mumtaz also wears marvelous snake patterned bell bottoms in one scene. A little light on songs, there is a thumping, funky, background score by Kalyanji-Anandji. The film’s flimsy plot, divided with half in Europe and half in India (allowing two sets of dastardly dushman) provides a setting for fast cars, fast women, and shirtless shots of the hero/director. Compact at just over two hours, Apradh is a 1970s visual feast. This film was recommended by the fabulous Memsaab. Read her review, embellished with great frame grabs.
Baazigar (1993) Directed by Abbas-Mustan. Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Shilpa Shetty (175 min). Baazigar is based on a Hollywood film, A Kiss Before Dying (1956). The Hindi film is twice as long as the American one, and differs in interesting ways. Shah Rukh plays Robert Wagner’s role; a handsome, untrustworthy murderer. The viewer hates Wagner from the first frame of film, in which he fails to comfort his sobbing, pregnant girlfriend (Joanne Woodward). There is never a moment of sympathy for him. Typically, Shah Rukh’s character has a lot of backstory, which is a tale of multigenerational injustice and revenge. His character is much more likeable at the beginning, so much so, that when he commits his first murder, it’s genuinely shocking. When Moviediva, Jr., and I first saw it during our first rush of true love for Hindi cinema in the early 2000s, we were appalled, the reaction I’m sure the filmmakers would have wanted! Wagner’s character has already attempted murder, so his success on his second attempt does not have the same chill. There are interesting details that are appropriated from A Kiss… the marriage bureau closed for lunch, two fake suicide notes, one typed using rubber gloves. But, the characters in the Hollywood version are much stupider! Both sisters are shockingly unperceptive, the police officers are useless, and all the peripheral characters frustratingly clueless. I do have to give credit for Wagner for playing such an unsympathetic character in midst of his teen heartthrob years, but his acting is much more limited than Shah Rukh’s (although the acting style is quite different). Kajol sees the light much earlier and takes decisive action in a much more satisfying way than Virginia Leith. She is the hero of her own story. As always, the Johnny Lever comedy relief is lost on me, and I get bored with the protracted battle at the end (unique to the Hindi film version, of course). Robert Wagner is a sharp dresser, and A Kiss Before Dying has lovely Technicolor Cinemascope cinematography of Tucson, Arizona, an unusual location. Baazigar has eye searing early 90s clothing, and the big hair and full make-up for the female characters, and the camera work is typical masala style, nothing too distinctive. A Kiss has a tepid theme song heard on a juke box: so, Baazigar for the win with “Yeh Kali Kali Aankhen” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhKXq5dhTag
Shah Rukh’s attire designed by his wife, Gauri Khan
Bombay (1995) Directed by Mani Ratnam. Arvind Swamy, Manisha Koirala (141 min).
On a trip back home to his village, Hindu Shekhar (Arvind Swamy) falls recklessly in love with Muslim Shaila Banu (Manisha Koirala). Their parents disown them, but they find fleeting happiness in the cosmopolitan anonymity of Bombay, until the riots of 1992-93 tear their family asunder. Mani Ratnam’s film is intense and heartbreaking. The romantic, family-centered melodrama, rather than being a hindrance to telling a serious story, enhances and personalizes it. Shekar and Shaila’s love is warm and believable, and unlike many Romeo and Juliet stories, the couple’s devotion clearly outlasts the first flames of attraction. Concern for their family is vital to invest the disturbing images of the post-interval section with emotion. The couple’s twin boys, each with a half Hindu, half Muslim name embody the story’s spirit, when asked in one terrifying moment if they are Hindu or Muslim, they say, confusedly, “both.” Although the film created protests as various factions felt their side of the story had been slighted, the director in every symbolic manner tries to be even handed, spreading the blame for the violence equally and blaming the politicians who incite the masses for their own gain. A. R. Rahman’s music is superb. Each song moves the story forward and is photographed in unique and engaging style, from the flirtations at the wedding during “Kehna Hi Kya”, to the stormy song of longing at the fort, “Tu Hi Re,” to Sonali Bendre’s “Humma Humma” item number symbolizing the wedding night to the teasing “Kuchi Kuchi Rakma” in which Shekhar begs his wife for a little daughter. The sweepingly innovative steadicam photography places the viewer inside the narrative. Arvind Swamy is utterly convincing as an everyman swept away by his love, and Manisha, sometimes rather a limited actress, is outstanding in her challenging role. An inter-faith family’s loves, hopes and fears must weather horrific religious violence, and Bombay concludes with a vital and heart-felt plea for peace and brotherhood.
Chhupa Rustam (1973) Written and directed by Vijay Anand.(151 min).
Dev Anand stars as Chuppa Rustom, translated as a cool guy, or smooth operator. He’s a police inspector AND the son of a noted archeologist, and the only one who can translate a diary, written in cuneiform (?) revealing the location of a legendary buried city of gold. This sparks the hot pursuit and serial kidnappings by a criminal gang headed by Williams, (Premnath), Vikram Singh (Ajit) and his son Bahadur (Prem Chopra). Writer-director Vijay Anand (Dev’s brother) co-stars as the flamboyant Jimmy Fernandes. If you are in need of a coherent plot, look elsewhere. But, if you can enjoy tremendous, hammy performances by some of Hindi film’s great character actors, fab music by R.D. Burman and a peerless fashion review of incredibly eye-searing 1970s clothes, you are in luck. Is my favorite Prem Chopra’s garish plaid suit, with matching tie and cap worn with giant, fluffy animal spotted mittens, or the kaleidoscopic knitwear worn by Bindu as she shimmies in a snow bank? There is a love song about (and close ups of) bedbugs and a shoot out in the City of Gold (Paint) where the actors shake their guns and the shooting is heard on the soundtrack. If the hero is a little past his sell-by date—the Beatles wig doesn’t help—and it’s unclear why dewy Hema Malini would be interested in him, that doesn’t keep the mad, mad Chuppa Rustam from adding up into a great time, if not exactly a great movie.
Ajit, Prem Chopra and Dev Anand demonstrate the male peacockery of Chhupa Rustam
Caravan (1971) Directed by Nasir Hussain. Jeetendra, Asha Parekh, Helen, Aruna Irani
Helen’s iconic item number, “Piya Tu AbTo Aaja,” in 1971’s Caravan, has gained such a disproportionate amount of fame (the birdcage! the matador! the easily snagged sparkly red dress!) it comes as some surprise that in spite of her billing, the DVD cover, etc., her part in the film is (sadly) no bigger than usual and the beauteous Monica’s fate is never even resolved. Instead, the film is the tale of Soni (Asha Parekh) a newlywed on the run from her homicidal husband. She falls in with the carefree Jeetendra, traveling with a band of gypsies and driving a van painted like a movie hoarding with portraits of giant dancing girls. Passing herself off as a simple village girl escaping a threatened marriage to an older man, Soni accompanies the colorfully garbed company on their cross-country jaunt. The plot isn’t particularly novel, including story elements, and even a few shots of producer Nasir Hussain’s earlier hit, Teesri Manzil (not unusual for him, apparently). But the meandering journey is spiced by Jeetendra’s boyish charm and a spitfire performance by his spurned gypsy lover, Nisha (Aruna Irani) who growls her endearment “garam masala” as a punning insult. Asha Parekh plays her role as a stunned victim, waking up only for a spirited chicken song sung before an audience of drunken louts. R.D. Burman’s score, and Asha Bhosle’s voice are, as always, among the film’s major pleasures.
China Town (1962) Directed by Shakti Samanta. Shammi Kapoor, Shakila, Helen (143 min).
Set in an imaginary China Town somewhere in India, this 1960s Shammi Kapoor starrer combines two classic Hindi film themes, the good and bad brother, and the innocent who impersonates a criminal (who happens to look just like him) to help the police. The good Shammi is in love with Shakila, and the bad Shammi is loved by the peerless Helen, who sings and dances wearing a cheongsam in an underworld nightclub. Her “Yamma Yamma” is irresistible, although “Bar Bar Dekko” sung by Mohammad Rafi for Shammi is a classic. This amalgam of 1960s grooviness with sinister film noir moves quickly, and rock and roll loafer Shammi and snarling evil Shammi together (transparently double exposed in the same frame) make for a lighthearted, enjoyable film.
Chocolate (2005) Directed by Vivek Agnihotri. Anil Kapoor, Irfaan Khan, Suniel Shetty, Arshad Warshi. (159 min).
Chocolate is a stylish exercise in labyrinthine plotting, diverting while on the screen but evaporating from memory as soon as the DVD is ejected from the player. Storytelling layers are peeled away from the alibis of two South Asians in London accused of being terrorists and defended by a showboating lawyer. Chocolate’s screenwriters have bitten off a couple of big chunks of The Usual Suspects, as well as a flash of Basic Instinct. But, the intriguing cast and gorgeous cinematography, as well as some pointed post 9/11 complications keep proceedings diverting. Anil Kapoor has never been my cup of tea as a hero (Mr. India excepted) nor has Suniel Shetty. Reinvented as character actors, however, they have revealed unsuspected depths and considerable magnetism. Anil’s unlucky Lucky in Musafir, and Suniel’s duplicitous chemistry teacher in Main Hoon Na (not to mention Rakht’s loony car mechanic) are diverting fun. Here, Anil’s egomaniacal lawyer faces off against the slyly soft-spoken, alibi-spinning Irfaan Khan. Completing the accused gang is Arshad Warsi (irresistible whether shooting off his mouth or a pistol) Emran Hashni, (a pretty boy with the spoiled face of a schooyard bully) and Tanashree Dutta as the gang’s slutty bad girl. Doesn’t every gang have one? Sushma Reddy is rather appealing as the intrepid girl reporter with the improbable name of Monsoon. The photography is glitzy, whether a steadycam chase through the streets or an off-hand song, picturized in front of the always amusing gaping crowds of passers by. What would thrillers do without all those Godard-ian jump cuts? Nobody just walks to their car, but is sampled in several brief shots in process. The London locations are well used and seem fresh, especially lawyer Kishen’s high rise, glassed-in office overlooking St. Paul’s dome. Once the plot starts to come full circle back to a fancy-schmancy robbery—am I the only one weary of hacking into security cameras and dancing over lasers?—well let’s just say one of the characters isn’t named Rashomon for nothing.
CID 909. (1967) Directed by Mohammad Hussain. Feroz Khan, Mumtaz, Helen, Bela Bose (123 min).
The action never flags in this swinging sixties spy caper. The Professor has The Formula, a bomb for peace (?) that Oddjobby villain Mr. Wong desires for his own nefarious purposes. A baby-faced Feroz Khan is agent 909, and like a Sweded (see Be Kind, Rewind) James Bond movie (or perhaps, just the black and white, 40 year old version of OSS 117, Cairo Nest of Spies) wacky intrigue abounds. Three sixties minxes, the Professor’s daughter and assistant, Reshma (Mumtaz) pretty resourceful even in her skin tight salwar kameez (and able to change her hairdo several times within the same sequence) Helen, who dances to “Yaar Badshaah” (My Lover is my Emperor) and sends messages using a pair of radio-wired cat’s eye shades, and 909’s assistant, twist instructor Rosie (Bela Bose) secret agenting even while performing a desi-style hula dance. The fight scenes showcase a remarkable agile Feroz, but even saving the world from The Formula leaves plenty of time for musical digression. O.P. Nayyar’s pastiche score appropriates the Goldfinger theme, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherezade and adds frenzied bongos and pounding mod rock and roll. This makes all the scenes breathtakingly exciting, even the frequent speeded up (in the editing room) car chases, close-ups filmed in front of a cheesy rear projection screen and the expected incoherent plot twists. Some scene changes are rather abrupt, due to the use of a charmingly raggedy print for DVD transfer. CID 909 is much more delightfully entertaining than such a passionately slap-dash effort has any right to be. Another recommedation by the invaluable Memsaab.
Helen vamps Feroz Khan in “Yaar Badshaah, Yaar Dilruba”
Daud (Run) (1997) Directed by Ram Gopal Varma. Sanjay Dutt, Urmila Matondkar, Paresh Rawel.
Devdas (2002) Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, Jackie Shroff. A narrative poem by Moviediva, jr.
Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke (The Word is Love) (2000) Written and directed by Raj Kanwar. Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Amrish Puri (167 min).Army Captain Karan (Abhishek Bachchan) saves Sahiba (Aishwarya Rai) from some railway platform goons, and gallantly offers to escort her home. She’s in disgrace for refusing a marriage offer, and when they arrive at her palatial mansion, they just can’t seem to find the right time to explain that they are not married to each other. Speak up, kids–really! Of course, by the time they pluck up their courage (after having spent a wedding night together, one on the couch, of course) Sahiba has fallen in love with Karan, and he, an orphan, has fallen in love with her preternaturally harmonious Hum Apke Hain Kaun style extended family. The music is unmemorable, except for “O Mere Rabba” where Aishwarya flings herself around some sand dunes. 7/8s sappy love story and 1/8 rip-roaring action picture, including gun-toting Daddy Amrish Puri, this one is for Abhi-Ash completists, only.
Dharam Veer (1977) Directed by Manmohan Desai. Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Zeenat Aman, Neetu Singh.
Set in a fantasy world where Roman gladiators, medieval jousting and Helen’s bird cage from Caravan exist simultaneously, Manmohan Desai’s Dharam Veer makes his comic masterpiece, Amar Akbar Anthony, look like an exercise in gritty realism. Calling D V a masala film is a vast understatement, since the cast even dresses in wardrobes apparently originating on different planets. Brawny Dharmendra wears a variety of fetching Romanesque miniskirts, Jeetendra dresses in the height of 1970s disco chic, Neetu Singh as a colorful gypsy-pirate and the magnificent Zeenat Aman as “Zeenat, Warrior Princess.” The two heroes are twins separated at birth by scheming relatives, leaving plenty of scope for a frightening tiger fight between Pran’s stunt double and a big cranky cat, a falcon billed as Sheroo, the Wonder Bird, a cameo appearance by Dharmendra’s son, little Bobby Deol, along with never ending plot twists and thrills. The director likes spirited women characters, and rather than cowering during the climactic battle, Neetu and Zeenat join right in. Manmohan Desai’s fertile imagination creates yet another bizarre setting reminiscent both of his film with Amitabh Bachchan, Mard and Rakesh Roshan’s oddball Shah Rukh Khan movie, Koyla, which, along with Dharam-Veer, not only seem to exist out of time, but are impossible to place in any cinema history context, either. Not a film for everyone, but those who delight in passionate, offbeat moviemaking won’t be disappointed.
Dharmendra and Jeetendra have wildly differing wardrobes.
Pran, with Sheroo the Wonder Bird
Disco Dancer (1982) Directed by Babbar Subhash. Mithun Chakraborty, Kim Kalpana Iyer, Om Puri (135 min).
Disco Dancer, recommended by the irresistible listing in the excellent “100 Bollywood Films” by Rachel Dwyer, is an inimitable fusion of rags to riches musical and the ’70s Hindi film mother love/revenge saga. Fatherless little Anil is a street singer in the company of 70s heartthrob Rajesh Khanna (in a star cameo). Tempted inside a gated yard for a few minutes of innocent frolic with a girl, his song comes to an abrupt end as her father arrives, thrashing Anil—and worse, his mother. Humiliated, he bears a grudge against the evil patriarch even as Anil (renamed Jimmy by his manager, an impossibly slim young Om Puri) becomes the Disco King, displacing Sam, the former Disco King and conveniently, the son of his sworn enemy. Jimmy’s loyalty to both his calling as a disco dancer and to his mother never wavers. Made after the disco craze had waned in the West, this collision of spirited performance, John Travolta-esque clothes adorned with chicken feathers and songs like the title tune and a disco ode to Krishna result in financially cheap but emotionally passionate filmmaking. Technically, the film relies on trendy techniques like an abundance (over-abundance) of hand-held camera work and filters that make all the lights look like twinkling stars, as well as strange montages and freeze frames. Mithun, rather cute and appropriately intense as well as light on his feet, gives Jimmy a fervent dedication to his art, such as it is. Unceasingly entertaining in every way, from decor to wardrobe to musical numbers, Disco Dancer is a jaw-dropping low budget treat.
Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani. (The Immortal Story of Dr. Kotnis) (1946) Directed by and starring V. Shantaram, with Jayashree. (120 min).
Dr. Kotnis takes his medical skills to the China/Japan front during World War II and falls in love with his Chinese nurse. One of the earliest Hindi language films readily available on DVD, and one of the few to deal with India’s WW II experience (India was still a colony of Britain) Dr Kotnis is quaint, but still emotionally affecting. Although the Chinese characters are quite unconvincing (and speak excellent Hindi, with a Chinese accent) the film reconciles two cultures through the selfless contributions of Dr. Kotnis, and his love for Chin, and thus the Chinese nation; “Two hands, two hearts, two countries” are one. Director V. Shantaram also effectively stars in the title role, with his wife, Jayashree as Chin. The film is clearly propaganda, carefully crafted to please the British, the Indian nationalists and the Communists, and containing buck toothed caricatures of the Japanese shockingly similar to those in Hollywood propaganda films of the era. Sprinkled with a little gentle humor (Chin doesn’t know how to “namaste” or wear a sari) it’s filmed primarily on painted cardboard sets with some exterior documentary footage interspersed. Yet Shantaram’s noble doctor, and his devotion to the medical arts, his nation, and to his duty is touching.
Ek Hasina Thi (There was a Beautiful Girl) (2004) Directed by Sriram Raghavan. Urmila Matondkar, Saif Ali Khan (138 min).
Suave but creepy Karan (Saif Ali Khan) put the moves on a mousy office worker, Sarika (Urmila). His charm offensive can’t help but raise red flags, but lonely Sarika ignores her instincts, allowing herself to be wooed. Karan soon heartlessly frames her for a gangland crime and poor Sarika goes to jail. She gets mad, and schemes to get even, having to overcome her fear of all nature of rats. Cleverly plotted film from the Ram Gopal Varma Factory; Urmila sinks her teeth into this great part like it’s a piece of raw meat. Saif can be so charming in films like Kal Ho Na Ho and Hum Tum, it’s a little alarming how easily he channels his inner bad, bad boy. One of the few films I have ever walked out of was Being Cyrus, another negative Saif role. He heartlessly murders and old man, and Moviediva jr. looked at me and said, “I don’t care what happens.” But, I digress! The supporting cast is excellent, especially two of my favorite character actresses, Seema Biswas as a dogged police inspector, and Pratima Kazmi, a don’s wife who runs his empire while inside the Big House. This cautionary tale for single girls in the big city is also a quite satisfying thriller.
Fiza (2000) Directed by Khalid Mohamed. Jaya Bachchan, Karisma Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan.
A beloved son (Hrithik Roshan) is lost to the chaos of the 1993 Bombay riots, and a mother (Jaya Bachchan) and sister (Karisma Kapoor) search, mourn and wait for him in writer-director Khalid Mohamed’s Fiza. A well crafted drama—or melodrama—can sometimes communicate real life situations with more emotional accuracy than a documentary that prides itself on being “true.” How young Muslim men are radicalized is a fascinating and dramatic topic, and the Bollywood formula is not an inappropriate one to explore it. Fiza prompts comparisons to both Deepa Mehta’s 1947: Earth, about the trauma of Partition, which contains one of Aamir Khan’s best performances, and Dil Se’s an unforgettable portrait of a female suicide bomber. Fiza is admirable in its aspirations. The acting is first rate. A deglamorized Jaya is heartbreaking as the devout Muslim widow. She is joined by Karisma (a capable actress who has sometimes frittered her career away in trivialities) as an impassioned, strong-minded young woman. But Hrithik’s character is vaguely defined, and his fierce intelligence is difficult to disguise; it’s hard to believe that he is an aimless, uneducated youth, ripe for indoctrination in a radical sect. Aman in Fiza is better written than his terrorist character in Mission Kashmir, when the actor was forced to undergo so many personality transformations that the whole film became somewhat incomprehensible. Aman is taken under the wing of–who else but sinister terrorist played by Manoj Bajpai–and finds a temporary home in a radical organization. Briefly freed from it, Aman suffers from a post traumatic stress disorder, an interesting subplot and a topic rarely explored. The film’s photography is lovely, and Sushmita Sen’s item number “Muhje Mast..” is a welcome diversion. Fiza is so close to being a first rate drama, and the ending is so moving, that its unevenness is frustrating.
Guddi (1971) Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Jaya Bhaduri, Dharmendra, Utpal Dutt.
Was there ever a more charming movie debut than Jaya Bhaduri’s in Guddi? A frivolous school girl is obsessed with the movies, and particularly with Dharmendra (in his hunkiest days) much to the concern of the suitable boy who pines for her. A plan is hatched, but rather than one fraught with contrivance (he pretends to love and then betray her, perhaps) it is a simple plan. She’ll hang around the sets, getting to know her idol as an ordinary man surrounded by cinema’s laborers, the true illusion makers. Many well-known actors cameo (always fun) including future husband Amitabh in his Anand days. The most amusing appearance has to be that of Pran, his bubbly personality contrasting to that of his career villainy to delightful effect. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s gentle human touch is completely the opposite to a film with much the same plot, Mast (see below). Mast also deals with the idolizing of performers, but to considerably different results–perhaps the later film is a comment on the earlier? Intertextualization is everything in Bollywood. Jaya ages from a mischevious school girl showing her dimpled knees peeking out from her uniform, to a graceful, if still quite youthful beauty. She puts on a sari, and leaves her youthful fantasies behind…for now. A delight.
Gumnaam (Unknown) (1965) Directed by Raja Nawathe. Manoj Kumar, Nanda, Mehmood, Helen, Pran. 163 min.
Gumrah (1963) Directed by B.R. Chopra. Ashok Kumar, Mala Sinha, Sunil Dutt.
A straying wife must balance her desires with her responsibilities in this melodrama. Meena (Mala Sinha) abandons her boyfriend Rajinder (Sunil Dutt) and marries her brother-in-law Ashok (Ashok Kumar) to mother her niece and nephew when her sister dies. Meena adores the children, and her lawyer husband provides a comfortable life (two air conditioners in the bedroom) but she can’t forget her affection for painter and radio singer Rajinder. Is it love, or merely boredom with her housebound life that drives her to the pain and pleasure of the thik char baje (exactly 4:00) meetings with her suitor? Their passion is quite understated in comparison to her twitchy guilt, and the hearty obliviousness of her husband, who innocently pushes the two together. Quivering Mala Sinha wears a towering beehive hairdo, with an enticing sweep of bangs across her forehead accenting her bindi, and saris with 1950s style watercolory floral prints. The first two hours of Gumrah are extremely slow, although occasionally highlighted by an unusual scene, such as Rajinder singing in front of what appears the actual film studio orchestra, and secondary straying wife Deepa’s energetic jitterbug with an Elvis-y partner to the strains of “Tequila” although that is not what the lyric says, here. It’s not until the conniving Sashikala makes an appearance as a blackmailer, ominously twirling her pendant, that the story seems to kick into gear and head towards its mythologically predestined conclusion. The recent Bewafaa with Kareena Kapoor, Akshay Kumar and Anil Kapoor was obviously inspired by Gumrah. Even with modern flash and dash Bewafaa still failed to convey the lovers passion any more convincingly than the earlier model, Gumrah.
Hera Pheri (1978) Directed by Parkash Mehra. Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Saira Banu
A pair of small time con-men grift their way along until forced to resolve issues of friendship and parentage. Ajay’s (Vinod Khanna) father sold him when he was a boy in order to afford medicine for his gravely ill mother. His education means nothing without family, and a despondent Ajay attempts suicide by railway. He is saved by Vijay (Amitabh, of course) and Ajay bonds to his savior Vijay as his bhai. They flirt with two brassy girls, Saira Banu and Sulakshna Pandit, and everyone becomes involved with a master criminal masquerading as Vijay’s kindly uncle. The plot is extremely convoluted, and ends with a baffling cascade of climaxes and anti-climaxes in what appears to be a redressed set from Amar, Akbar, Anthony. In the spirit of films like Shaan and Do aur Do Panch Vinod Khanna tries to fill the shoes of Shashi Kapoor as Amitabh’s light-hearted and light-fingered partner in crime, but cannot quite ascend the heights of madness required. There is one great song, “Waqt Ki Hera Pheri” sung by Amitabh and Vinod disguised as gurus with a suspicious resemblance to John Lennon of the Beatles in his Maharishi Mahesh Yogi period. The film is an enjoyable ride, but the plot is quite difficult to sort out even on reflection. Amitabh, as alwyas is irresistible in his 1970s signature white bell bottom trousers.
Home Delivery (2005) Directed by Sujoy Gosh. Vivek Oberoi, Boman Irani, Mahima Choudhary
Vivek Oberoi plays Sunny, a newspaper advice columnist called Gyan Guru, with a serious case of writer’s block. His fiancée is pressuring him, and a deadline for a proposed Karan Johar screenplay looms. A virtually plotless film, Home Delivery meanders from mundane incidents to interior monologue as the clock ticks. Vivek isn’t necessarily a great actor, but he does have on-screen charisma. He’s appealing as he tries to resist temptations that range from simple procrastination to infidelity with a voluptuous screen siren slightly past her sell-by date, played with good humor by Mahima Choudhary. Sunny fantasizes himself into one of her old films to great effect and each of her entrances is underscored by Sanjay Dutt’s electronically enhanced growling of her name in the song, “Maya…(maya maya).” Boman Irani plays a rather bizarrely hirsute pizza delivery man who inadvertently comes to Sunny’s rescue. It’s a tender performance, with a bit of pathos cribbed from John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles although it’s too bad Boman doesn’t get to give the peppy theme song the full treatment in the film. Would someone please tell me why Home Delivery has been the target of so many vitriolic reviews? Some have even suggested that it is worst movie of 2005, this in the year of the headache-inducing No Entry. There are some amusing moments, cute guest star cameos, and the music isn’t bad, either. It’s thin on plot, but it’s harmless. Give Vivek, et al. a break.
Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (We’re No Less Than Anybody Else) (1977) Directed by Nasir Husain. Rishi Kapoor, Tariq, Amjad Khan, Kaajal Kiran, Zeenat Aman. (162 min).
Rishi Kapoor’s disco era movies must have transfixed a nation, because echoes of them reverberate through many contemporary films. It’s perfectly understandable how Rishi’s bubbly personality, dazzling wardrobe and RD Burman’s fabulous songs could create cinematic obsession. Here Rishi (as Rajesh, pretending to be Manjeet) romances (with ulterior motives) Kajal (Kaajal Kiran). Kajal yearns for her childhood sweetheart, Sanjay (Tariq). A wide leather belt, filled with diamonds and coveted by Amjad Khan is the monkey wrench thrown into their romantic machinery. It’s a little disturbing that Rajesh/Manjeet carries out his kidnap plot against the heroine, even as he suspects he’s being duped, but it’s all sorted out by the end. Even the faithless Sunita (Zeenat Aman) gets a chance at redemption. But, the main attraction is the excellent music. “Bachna Ae Haseeno” is sung by Rishi (in Kishore Kumar’s voice) in a white jumpsuit covered with paillettes, which pads him out to look like a snuggly bear. This song was remixed to excellent effect and sung by Rishi’s son, Ranbir, in a recent film of the same name. There is a 10 minute competition medley between Rishi and Tariq that includes many costume changes, familiar melodies and groups of dancing go-go girls who spring up from the audience. There’s also an excellent qwalli “Hai Agar Dushman” taunting Sunita’s father, a little reminiscent of the one Rishi sings in Amar Akbar Anthony, but still wonderful. The masala plot has all the proper touchstones, but HKKN’s primary pleasures are musical.
Watch out, beautiful girls!
Inner and Outer Worlds of Shah Rukh Khan (2005) Directed by Nasreen Munni Kabir
Writer and director Nasreen Munni Kabir and her camera crew spent one week with Shah Rukh on his home turf during the filming of Main Hoon Na, and several weeks on the road with him and the Temptations 2004 tour stopping in Britain, Canada and the US. When Ms. Kabir brought a rough cut of the Inner World to Duke University last year she was asked the most obvious question: “Shah Rukh is an actor, is he acting here?” She replied that she had known him long enough to be able to say, no, he was not acting. The man her film portrays is an introspective person, unusually thoughtful about the process of achievingand keeping stardom. Not coming from a filmi family meant that the process of becoming successful was not taken for granted, and he discusses keeping three aspects of himself, the actor, the star and the person, clearly delineated in his mind. He said he needs acting to combat his own depressive tendencies, surprisingly revealing that he needs the escapism of his films as much as his fans do. Whatever his reason for allowing access to his home, his work spaces and his reflections, Ms. Kabir has achieved aextraordinary level of intimacy in her portrait. No fan would want to miss this intensely personal three hour visit with Shah Rukh Khan.
Jaali Note (Counterfeit Bill) (1960) Directed by Shakti Samanta. Dev Anand, Madhubala, Helen, Om Prakash (129, originally 155 min).
Dev Anand relishes his role as Inspector Dinesh, master of disguise. He’s on the trail of a mob of counterfeiters, undermining India’s economy by passing tens of thousands of jaali notes. Intrepid reporter, Miss Renu (Madhubala), takes her press responsibilities quite seriously. She rebuffs Dinesh, but reluctantly falls for the considerable charms of flamboyant Prince Vijay, Dinesh’s undercover avatar, as he infiltrates the criminal gang led by Madan Puri. Fortunately, they run the Shangrila Hotel, where there is ample opportunity for Helen to perform O. P. Nayyar’s swinging cabaret numbers, including the rumba-tinged “Oh, Mr. Dil” (Oh, Mr. Heart). Madhubala’s heroine is quite liberated for the day, and fights crime quite nicely in her modest saris, thank you. Dev often played anti-heroes in his early days, and the Inspector so enjoys his shady disguise (and the wooing of Miss Renu in it) as to invite suspicion. The film was shot on location, and you can see much of 1950s Bombay, including an early scene grabbed at some risk between speeding local trains. The DVD is duped from a low quality video tape. VHS tapes only run two hours, necessitating chopping half an hour of songs, comedy subplots and linking scenes out of the film, bedeviling the continuity. The subtitling is adequate, songs included. A higher quality DVD might rate an extra star.
Poor DVD quality makes screencaps difficult. Here, Prince Vijay flirts with both Helen and Madhubala in“Oh, Mr. Dil.”
Jogger’s Park (2003) Directed by Asant Balani. Victor Banerjee, Perizaad Zorabian. (130 min).
A well known judge retires, and urged by his wife to find something to do outside the home, goes to Jogger’s Park in Mumbai. While exercising, he meets a bubbly young woman and begins to fall in love with her. Another film in which Hindi cinema tepidly examines the romantic emotions of older people, JP is graced by a thoughtful performance by Victor Banerjee, and then nearly derailed by Perizaad Zorabian, whose shrill, hyper-active Jenny, as a liberated urbanite, undermines the mature theme. Whose idea was it for her to behave this way? Director Asant Balani, who died suddenly before the film was released, was working from a script by Subhash Ghai, once a competent filmmaker, but whose more recent films have been out of touch. The insistent theme song, sung in Western pop style, is horribly grating and lingers, unwelcome, long after the film is over. Yet, the soundtrack also includes better songs sung by Asha Bhosle, Jagjit Singh and, especially, Adnan Sami. An opportunity squandered.
Julie (1975) Directed by K. S. Sethumadhavan. Laxmi, Vikram, Uttpal Dutt, Om Prakash, Nadira (145 min).
Julie is a modestly budgeted teen romance/morality play featuring a dysfunctional Anglo Indian family, alcoholic, snobby and argumentative. Naive eldest daughter, Julie (Tamil star Laxmi) prances about in tiny miniskirts, inviting the leering glances of young men and old. Her best friend, Usha,’s brother, Shashi (Vikram) is a rich Brahmin boy with a sense of entitlement. He seduces the hapless Julie, who fancies herself in love with the scoundrel. His LP record ravishment of the heroine (the needle lifts from the end of the record disc and the arm clicks firmly into place, signaling her ruination) leaves him sweaty and exhausted in bed, but for Julie, can only lead to abandonment, pregnancy, and weepy recriminations. The acting by the young couple (and a so young as to be unrecognizable Sridevi as Julie’s sister) is rudimentary, and they are overshadowed by Om Prakash as Morris, Julie’s tippling railway driver father, and Margaret, her alarmingly fierce mother, played by yesteryear seductress, Nadira. Interestingly, for all the appeals to Jesus and crossing by Margaret, and Ruby Auntie (Sulochana) who harbors Julie during her shameful pregnancy, these Christian ladies are played by the two most famous Jewish actresses of Hindi cinema. As shocking as Julie’s seduction was in the 70s, to an American viewer of today, Julie’s postnatal nightgown, dampened in the front by her leaking milk is a situation—in spite of seemingly uninhibited American films—you will never see enacted by a Hollywood heroine. “Julie” is passionate, if a bit clunky at times, and is notable for a wardrobe of clothes like real people wore in the 1970s, giving the film a sense of everyday realism in midst of the melodrama.
Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2000) Directed by Karan Johar. Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor.
Kala Bazar (Black Market) (1960 ) Directed by Vijay Anand. Starring Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman, Vijay Anand, Chetan Anand, Helen (150 min).
Kaala Paani (Life Sentence) (1958) Directed by Raj Khosla. Dev Anand, Madhubala, Nalini Jaywant. (164 min).
Karan (Dev Anand) a distraught son, discovers he is not an orphan, but that his father is serving a life sentence (kaala paani) for murder. He travels from Bombay to Hyderabad, determined to clear his father’s name. As Narendra Panjwani points out discussing the film in Emotion Pictures, “Heroes, unlike us, are not people who think ten times, weigh all the pros and cons before taking such big decisions. No, they act. They think on their feet, in motion….For they are the doubt-free projections of a doubt-filled public.” While combing through old Pre-Independence newspapers, Karan gleans enough clues to open his own investigation. A crucial bit of evidence is held by Kishori (Nalini Jaywant) a tawaif, who worked at the same brothel as the murdered woman. With the help of intrepid reporter Asha (Madhubala) Karan inches towards uncomfortable truths about prominent men and exposes institutionalized corruption in the justice system. Dev is always more appealing as an anti-hero than a straight out noble son, as he is here. The most interesting subplot is his wooing of Kishori, for her information only, of course, and his reluctance to exploit her as he had planned, when he sees how she, though wicked, also suffers. Nalini gives the most striking performance, although the beautiful Madhubala shows charm and spirit, especially in her teasing duet with Dev (sung by Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle) “Achha ji main haari.” Well done, but, in my opinion, not the best of black and white Dev.
Nevertheless, the film was extremely popular, and he won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor, and Nalini Jaywant for Best Supporting Actress in the film. In Dev’s autobiography, Romancing With Life, he writes, “Kala Pani also gave the world a story about me that has been circulating amongst my fans ever since–that I am forbidded to wear black, for women swoon when they see me dressed in that colour. A stupid myth! But I went along with it, humouring my fans. The yarn, perhaps, originated from the fact that I wore black throughout Kala Pani. The father of the character I played was undergoing “kala-pani” a life sentence, for a crime he had never committed. And that son had sworn to himself that he’d always be dressed in black, symbolizing mourning, until the time he freed his innnocent father from the clutches of the law.”
He continues, “But, above all, I remember Kala Pani the most for Madhubala, its leading lady, the most beautiful of all the heroines in the fairyland of films, with her natural looks, always as fresh as morning dew, sans heavy make-up, false eyelashes, contact lenses or scanty dresses fashioned by designers to impart artificial glamour that would titillate male curiosity. Her childlike innocence was accenturated by the most noticable trait of her character, her famous giggle. Every time I think of her, I hear her giggle outside my make-up room, followed by a knock at the door that announced her arrival…Many times she would suddenly start giggling during a take when the camera was on. The lights had to be switched off indefinitely and tea ordered, until she was able to get a hold of herself and rein in her mirth…”
Karan gains the confidence of the courtesan, Kishori
Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) Directed by Shakti Samanta. Shammi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Pran.
Rich Shammi Kapoor sheds his wealthy appearance for an incognito Kashmiri vacation and falls in love with the village flower seller, played by a very young Sharmila Tagore. Sumptuously photographed by VN Reddy and taking full advantage of the beautiful mountain locale, the first half of Kashmir Ki Kali is devoted to the hero’s impassioned wooing of the shy heroine. Shammi is eccentric, but irresistible; he redefines the concept of a hero in every film, as he flings himself around the sets batting his eyelashes. At first, his manic behavior seems to overwhelm his beloved, Champa, but as the plot thickens, her confidence blooms. The dainty actress has a delightful traditional wardrobe, highlighted by a brocade coat with fur collar and cuffs, and elaborate silver jewellery, including a striking fish pendant necklace. The plot is not terribly unique. People aren’t who they seem, family secrets will be revealed, and Sharmila is threatened by a marriage with Pran. The cinematography thoughtfully uses the intense hues of the film stock, similar to those of the old three-strip Technicolor, and every thoughtfully composed shot is a pleasure to watch. The wonderful music by OP Nayyar includes a spirited dance at the village fair, and a gentle wooing from one slender boat to another on a deeply blue lake. But the hero’s despairing lament, “Hai duniya usiki ki” as he takes his first drink of alcohol in a nightclub deserted except for a wry drunk and a wailing saxophone, and sung with uncommon emotion by Mohammad Rafi, sends chills up the spine. By the time Shammi puts on a red jacket, reminiscent of James Dean’s in Rebel Without a Cause, and he and Pran (or rather, their fearless stunt doubles) tussle in the climactic fight, this meandering pastoral romance has become a most enjoyable movie experience. Director Shakti Samanta would direct Shammi and Sharmila in the color romantic adventure, An Evening in Paris (1967) and Sharmila in one of her signature roles in Amar Prem (1971).
Khiladi 420 (2000) Directed by Neeraj Vora. Akshay Kumar, Mahima Chaudhury
Khiladi 420 is a romantic thriller showcasing a flashy good/evil performance and incredible stunt work by Akshay Kumar. The first half rockets along, but then does an abrupt about face after the interval, and, like Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, it’s almost like starting over again with another movie. Mahima Chaudhury, usually so blandly unappealing, acquits herself remarkably well as Ritu, the heroine. Astonishingly, the film is the first directorial effort by Neeraj Vora, a favorite comic actor, notably in my #1 guilty pleasure movie, Ram Gopal Varma’s Daud. A writer as well, he’s supplied dialogue for a number of enjoyable films including Shah Rukh’s Baadshah and Josh, and Akshay’s recent Garam Masala. As a director, he extracts an unusual performance from Akshay but fails to meld the masala plot elements into a satisfying film. The music is diverting, especially Akshay’s “Mere Bibi Jawab Di.” But it’s the hero’s dual personalities and his chandelier, biplane and rollerblade stunts that are the main attraction.
Khoon Pasina (1977) Directed by Rakesh Kumar. Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rekha, Nirupa Roy (155 min.)
Blood and Sweat follows the predicable, but enjoyable formula of a 1970s Amitabh Bachchan action film. Two devoted boyhood friends are separated by the villainy of Zalim Singh (Kadar Khan) who delights in pitting Hindu against Muslim during the traumatic Independence period. Shiva (Amitabh) is raised by the Muslim Mom (Nirupa Roy) of his best friend, whom they believe has been killed. Shiva becomes an avenger, righting wrongs wherever he sees them. He’s taken the name Tiger, but who is this mysterious Shera (Vinod Khanna) whose name also means Tiger? The film boasts a strong cast, including two fiery females, Rehka, subdued too easily after she sees Tiger (and his stunt double) wrestle a real tiger amid a crowd in a rather terrifying scene, and Aruna Irani as Zalim Singh’s fierce daughter, trying to go straight as a chicken farmer’s wife. Ranjeet is most enjoyable as the sniveling bully, Raghu, and Vinod is intense and broody as Shera. But, it’s an Amitabh show all the way, from the ridiculously staged action scenes, to the gallops on his faithful steed, Moti, to his adorable clowning. In “Bane Rahe Jodi” (sung with gusto by Kishore Kumar) he pummels a bunch of thugs hired to kidnap a bride from her wedding, and forces them to sing and dance to welcome the groom. He also has the most toothsome wardrobe, including the square neck leather sport shirt and giant bell bottom jeans worn here, accessorized with bracelets and a purple scarf tied around his wrist. Can anyone else rock such extreme 70s threads?
Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989) Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya. Salman Khan, Bhagyashree
The offspring of estranged childhood friends find love in this teenaged romance which marked Salman Khan’s ascent to stardom. Salman’s charm has always eluded me. The mysterious formula which makes one film star appealing and another annoying is an extremely personal, and basically indefensible taste. But, in this early film, before he spent too much time at the gym (or with his dance instructor) and before his hard living began to be etched on his face, the origin of his popularity is obvious. As in so many such love stories (in any language) the heroine’s personality is vague and undefined, with beauty and modesty her only apparent attributes. In the tradition of great Bollywood bird performances, Handsome the Pigeon not only gets his own song, but some important plot actions as well.
Mast (1999) Directed by Ram Gopal Varma. Urmila Matondkar, Aftab Shivdasani
Aftab Shivdasani’s Kittu is a distracted college boy enthralled with movie star Mallika (Urmila Matondkar). Bunking school, he escapes to Mumbai clutching the scraps of a Mallika poster shredded by his disapproving father. He takes a job in a shop (run by the amusing Neeraj Vora) opposite his dream girl’s bungalow and hopes for a glimpse of his idol. Aftab is adorable in his first hero role, and Urmila is always appealing, even if her character is somewhat (intentionally?) a blank slate. Director Ram Gopal Varma’s look at movie star love examines the place of beloved icons in our daily lives, as illustrated by the musical fantasies constantly intruding into Kittu’s fevered brain. The viewer may identify with his plight, supposedly inspired by the director’s youthful fondness for Shridevi, an infatuation given here to a disillusioned rickshaw driver. But Ram Gopal Varma’s cinematic obsession with the actress Urmila adds another layer of meaning. A director creates an object of adoration for others, because he adores her, and then…? Thickening the plot is the debutante appearance of Antara Mali as Kittu’s friend, an actress who would soon assume Urmila’s place as the director’s muse. Is a creator in the dream factory any less immune from dreaming?
Neal N Nikki (2005) Directed by Arjun Sablok. Uday Chopra, Tanisha
A more dreadful “romantic comedy” than Neal N Nikki can hardly be imagined. Neal has allowed himself 21 days in Vancouver to have a series of quickies with dumb, scantily clad Canadian girls, but is thwarted by heedless Nikki at every turn. Two irritatingly immature characters, coupled with gratuitous naughtiness seems—not hot and happening—but desperate and distasteful. Uday Chopra is Mr. Show Business, giving his all, clothed and unclothed, to Neal’s selfish desires. Tanisha, trying to be cute and perky is merely shrill and bitchy. While both Neal and Nikki are shallow and unlikable, Neal does have a clear character. The writers couldn’t decide whether Nikki was a good girl or a bad girl. Her alcohol problem, slutty clothes and teasing manner (“I want to show my body…”) contradict the implication that she’s really nice, after all. Rehearsal footage shows Tanisha rehearsing this raunchy number wearing a dupatta to cover her skimpy top, concealing her figure to the crew, but revealing her personal conflict about this public display. In another extra, a stage show (not the music launch, though, because the Delhi audience already knows the songs) Uday is asked for his most embarrassing moment while making the film and he saysnothing embarrasses him. Sadly, there is much to be embarrassed about in Neal N Nikki.
Pocketmaar (Pickpocket) (1956) Directed by H. S. Rawail. Dev Anand, Geeta Bali, Nadira, Lalita Pawar (130 min).
The confidence of a smooth pocketmaar is undone when 3 stolen thousand rupee notes lead to tragedy. Roshan is another of Dev Anand’s insouciant anti-heroes, here pursued by two romantic rivals, the duplicitous Miss Rita (zaftig Nadira) and Geeta Bali’s vivacious country girl. The especially flimsy cardboard sets contrast sharply with the fascinating, ( inadvertent) documentary footage of 1950s Bombay. This music is sweet, if not particularly memorable, except for the rumba-inflected “Duniya ke saath chel pyaare.” The contemporary reviewer in Film India griped it was a “none too palatable mixture of sex, song and crime.” As always, sin is decidedly more interesting than redemption, although for a welcome change, Geeta’s ebullient performance nearly upsets the balance. Film noir elements jostle against idealization of village life, in another entertaining Dev Anand underworld adventure.
Film noir often uses mirrors as symbols of a person’s dual nature.
Quote from Dev Anand: Dashing Debonair by Alpana Chowdhury (p.43).
Pyaar Mein Twist (2005) Directed by Hriday Shetty. Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Farida Jalal.
Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia, an iconic couple of Hindi cinema, are reunited in this melodrama about two older single parents whose friendship is threatened by the outrage of their grown children. I’ve never found Rishi Kapoor to be particularly attractive as a young and not so young lothario, but as a middle aged, somewhat portly fellow, in films like this and Hum Tum, finally freed of the responsibility to be a hero, he is relaxed and charming. He sings best song, “Khullan Khulla Pyaar Karenge” a lively new version of one of his old favorites. Dimple’s refined sensuousness is ageless, and she improves any film in which she appears. As a couple, they have both on-screen history and an easy personal chemistry, yet Pyaar Mein Twist has several obstacles to overcome. First, all the couple’s various children are shown to be strident and self-righteous, with the exception of Dimple’s daughter’s (Soha Ali Khan) fiancé, played with a bit of life by Sameer. One has to ask, if the parents are so engaging, why did they raise such distasteful offspring? The script, which is virtually devoid of dramatic incident, has a sleepy pace, but the third problem is the most severe. Rishi and Dimple’s desire for a relationship is explicitly described as being for companionship only, completely ignoring the fact that the couple is not so old (and unattractive) that they might not want a more passionate connection. There is little motivation for them to defy social convention if it is only for comfort and convenience. Why are the youngsters only shown to be seeking love? If Rishi and Dimple could have been depicted, however subtly, to have a bit of romantic spark, Pyaar Mein Twist would have been much more satisfying—for everyone.
Sangdil (Hard Hearted) (1952) Directed by R. C. Talwar. Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Leela Chitnis.
A dissolute landowner (Dilip Kumar) finds himself drawn to a young woman (Madhubala) about to become a temple priestess. They slowly recognize one another as the long separated childhood sweetheart they have been yearning for. Although it doesn’t sound like it, Sangdil is an Indianized version of the classic 19th century novel Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. The episodes from Jane Eyre are beautifully realized, particularly those involving the mansion’s haunting by a dark secret. The hero is played in typical understated Dilip style, which is a bit disappointing for those familiar with the flamboyant Mr. Rochester of Orson Welles. Dilip Kumar and the breathtakingly beautiful Madhubala were romantically involved in real life at this time, which no doubt added an extra frisson for audiences watching their on-screen romance. The disc is a murky black and white transfer, but the lovely songs (by Sajjad) as well as dialogue, are subtitled. The Thief of Bagdad inspired picturization of “Dharti Se Door..” sung by Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt is my favorite.
A scene familiar to all Jane Eyre fans…who has set the bed on fire?
Satya (1998) Directed by Ram Gopal Varma. Chakravarty, Urmila Matondkar, Manoj Bajpai
Satya is the first in a trio of Mumbai underworld films directed by Ram Gopal Varma, which includes Company and Sarkar. Satya, a sullen boy with no ma-baap or backstory arrives in Big Bad Bombay with nothing but an aptitude and appetite for crime. Taken under the wing of Bhiku (excellently portrayed by Manoj Bajpai) a boisterous family man with no conscience for killing, Satya emulates not only his bloodthirsty habits, but is inspired to court the mousy Vidya (Urmila Matondkar). Urmila is an appealing actress with a somewhat uneven track record. Here, her attempt to play a drab aspiring singer backfires with her overreliance on lowered eyelashes and coy looks. She was much more effective in Company, the strongest of this trilogy, as a fatalistic gangster’s moll. Varma is an iconoclastic director with aspirations towards the world cinema stage. Satya is an unsentimental look at a vicious underworld gang war, undone, perhaps by too strong an affinity for similar Hollywood offerings.
Silsila (1981) Directed by Yash Chopra. Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Rehka, Sanjev Kumar.
Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) marries his brother’s (Shashi Kapoor) pregnant fiancée (Jaya Bachchan) after his death, but can only sacrifice his own love, Chandni, (Rekha) for so long. Yash Chopra directs a beautifully nuanced story of two couples (Chandni is married to a physician played by Sanjev Kumar) who struggle with the balance between passion and duty. It’s rare a story of forbidden love takes into consideration everyone’s emotions, and even the audience is conflicted about how the story should resolve. Silsila is quite sexually frank for its time. There is a scene where Jaya tells her husband, Amit, that although she understands he is mourning the loss of his friend, and that he married her out of obligation, that she is a woman, too, intimating she wishes to have marital relations with him. And, when Amit and Chandni can no longer resist their physical attraction, they don’t just sing songs amongst the tulips in Amsterdam, but are actually shown in bed together. His shocking public recklessness with Chandni, especially during the high spirits of the wonderful “Rang Barse” Holi song, is startling to those used to the tradition of Hindi heroes and their silent suffering. Rehka is flawlessly beautiful in perfect makeup, her own personal jewellery and variety of salwars and saris (the halter neck choli and chiffon sari has a particular attractive rakishness). But the film also demonstrates an unusually voyeuristic interest in Amitabh’s body. His shirts are unbuttoned to the waist in 70s male style, but the camera also admires him both as he takes a shower side by side with his brother, and later, as he speaks to his wife from the bathtub. In a way, you’re asked to ponder how these two fabulous creatures can possibly resist one other. Jaya’s superb acting is unforced and natural, and you can almost read her mind from scene to scene. Sanjev Kumar has the smallest of the four roles, but balances the quartet with his likeable doctor. How much of this film references the alleged real-life affair between Rehka and Amitabh? This adds yet another layer of fascination to Silsila.
Tarzan ki Beti (Tarzan’s Daughter) is a bizaare cheapy, a cross between a children’s film and a sleazy exploitation movie. The opening titles, hand-lettered and misspelled on torn cardboard plaquards, rest in tree-branches. One poster slips aside in the breeze: no money for retakes! The story takes off when a free-spirited, animal-loving woman in tight white top and hot pants encounters a flabby he-man in the jungle, and is smitten. She quickly dons a leopard-print bikini and with much shimmying of her ample bosom, the beefy jungle man is behoshed and seduced by this scary Amazon lady. She has twins; Kirin returns to civilization with her after Tarzan—or Zango—nobody can agree on his name, is killed. But, Kirin’s twin, Aarti, is lost and grows up alone in the jungle. She is a sturdy lass, scantily attired in leaves, forever wandering the forest paths to be beset by leering hunters. Jungle babu Hemant to the rescue! His shirts change from one shot to the next, but it’s OK since none of the scenes match. Even on the DVD a couple of the reels seem to be out of order. There are constant cutaways to lions, tigers, elephants, deer, bears, birds, etc., some of which repeat several times, and others are the backs of animals only. I guess they couldn’t wait for them to turn around for the camera. There are awkward, slow motion fistfights, in which everyone sets up their punches and falls carefully, one is scored to the purloined theme from the James Bond movies. There are at least two attempted rapes, a very jiggly dance between Mrs. Tarzan/Zango and an equally zaftig “tribal” (they listen to one another’s hearts go “dhak, dhak”) and a sanctioned seduction that involves the removal of a leafy bra (under covers). Not from 1938 (as advertised) but more likely 1988, as indicated by the giant cordless phones. Only about 90 minutes long, but any longer would be more enjoyment than any one could stand.
Tarzan/Zango is puzzled by the attentions of the future Mrs. Tarzan/Zango.
There are elephants in India, but the friendly gorilla is a man in a furry suit.
Teesri Manzil (1966) Directed by Vijay Anand. Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh, Helen.
The collision of 1960s popular culture with India’s sumptuous aesthetics always creates visual delight. Shammi Kapoor’s uninhibited style, a spunky performance by Asha Parekh, a marvelous Bad Girl role for Helen plus a great R.D. Burman score sung by Asha Bhosle and Mohammad Rafi results in a zesty movie experience. Has any hero ever had a more stylized persona than Shammi? Twitching, mugging and shimmying, he commands the screen with his hyperactive performance and eye-popping hipster wardrobe. Asha Parekh is perky and determined, no shy doormat, she. Recruiting her field hockey team to both protect her honor, and avenge her sister’s death, she is a whirlwind in skin tight salwaar kameez. She and Shammi sing one of Bollywood’s great comic duets, “Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyaar Tera”, with Asha and Mohammad’s panting voices, as a chorus of girls in pink drainpipe pants gyrate madly in the background. Teesri Manzil’s imaginative clothing and décor prompts gasps of amazement from the viewer with every changing scene. The cinematography is full of unique camera angles and the background score is both rock and roll-y and James Bond-y. Sometimes older Hindi films seem to exist outside of time, but Shammi’s brief humming of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” as he opens a letter reminds American audiences of a certain age that he exists in the same time frame as British Invasion artists like Clark, who we remember from tv’s Ed Sullivan Show. The mystery of the heroine’s sister’s suicide from the third floor gets a bit lost from time to time, but once the plot refocuses on it towards the end there is a bit of excitement there, too. Aaja, aah aah aah Aaja!
Tumse Achha Kaun Hai Who is better than you? (1969) Directed by Pramod Chakravorty. Shammi Kapoor, Babita, Mehmood. (160 min).
A somewhat chaotic Shammi Kapoor lovefest, in which he undertakes the taming of three unruly girls, led by the oldest sister (Babita) a termagant in hiphuggers. Of course, he falls in love with her, but tearfully trades his love for the 15,000 rupees that will pay for his blind sister’s eye operation. The typical masala plot has its gaps and meanderings, and way too much of popular second banana Mehmood (who reminds me of the Stooges Moe). Bad, bad Pran wears cool sports shirts, some out of traditional silk sari fabrics, and the actresses have skyscrapingly high beehives and wear glittery chiffon saris. Lalita Pawar has a dual role as a rigid matriarch and a brothel keeper. There’s a cabaret number in the Mood Center by Aruna Irani, and best of all, Shammi, wriggling and rolling in two iconic Mohammad Rafi numbers, the title song and the exhilarating “Kiss Kiss Kisko Pyaar Karoon.” If only the whole movie was as good as those songs.
Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi! (2005) Directed by Mahesh Manjrekar. Shahid Kapoor, Amrita Rao, Sanjay Dutt.
Shahid Kapoor is Adi, an overworked uncle, the head of a seemingly endless joint family ensconced in a rambling mansion surrounded by urban sprawl. There’s no money, Didi needs a dowery, Dadi’s on dialysis, and bad luck: Adi is creamed by a truck on the way to an important business meeting. Yamraj (an unusually whimsical Sanjay Dutt) descends in a cherry red antique auto to collect his soul. Granted an extra week of grace to sort out his life, Adi acquires some magical powers courtesy of Hanuman (“Superman, Spiderman, Batman ka baap”) and a spirit medium played all too briefly by Arshad Warsi. The film is a mish-mash of inspirations, starting with Mr. India and moving on to Men in Black, Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Ghost, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and so on. Writer director Mahesh Manjrekar has crafted a plot of confusing complexity; the backstory quickly narrated under the titles would have been the first half hour of a movie from an earlier era. American movies for children are pretty simple-minded as a rule, and it’s an interesting cultural difference that the children who see this film are expected to untangle such convoluted goings-on. The special effects are quite imaginative, if sometimes a bit contradictory (how can you walk through a wall but sit in a chair?) but, I always say, if you accept any one part of a movie, you have to accept it all—no nitpicking! Amrita Rao is an appealing love interest, and she and Shahid are sweet together. Shahid can dance, but someday soon he may have to learn to act with more than his dazzling smile. The music isn’t much, although “Mere Yaad” does rattle around the brain for a while. There may be a bit too much silliness for the grown-ups, who will breathe a sigh of relief every time Yamraj descends in his magic car and Sanjay tosses off another delightful comic turn.
Yaadein Directed by Subhash Ghai. Jackie Shroff, Kareena Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan.
“Jub Dil Miley” is a great Hrithik Roshan dance number, even if the film Yaadein inexplicably excises the wacky outer space middle segment of the song shown in the music video. The mysteries woven in the throbbing beat (Why does he multiply into an army of commandos? What’s with the floppy hat?) are not solved when the entire film is seen. Yaadein, maligned as one of Hrithik’s post Kaho Na Pyaar Hai flops is, sadly, a laughably terrible movie. Wishing to tread in the heartwarming Hum Apke Hain Kaun territory as it meanders listlessly along, Yaadein cannot be judged other than a failure. It’s too bad. Hrithik, who never does anything halfway, labors mightily to create drama in a plot in which morose Jackie Shroff promises his dying wife to be a friend to his three frisky, marriageable daughters. The first two are settled quickly (happy arranged marriage, unhappy love marriage) and then the plot focuses on whether Hrithik and Kareena Kapoor’s childhood friendship will turn to love. Ridiculous filler (Kareena wins a Malaysian bicycle race, is then stranded on a remote island and menaced by uninterested crocodiles) leads to…you know all too well. Director Subhash Ghai, tagged a great showman, previously directed the fabulous Khalnayak. Like his later films Taal and Pardes, Yaadein leaves much to be desired.
Zahreelay (Poisonous) (1990) Directed by Jyotin Goel. Jeetendra, Sanjay Dutt, Chunky Pandey, Juhi Chawla. (163 min).
Captain Jaswant Kumar (Jeetendra), mustered out of the army after bravely losing his left arm in battle, retires to Shanti Nagar outside of Bombay to open an auto repair shop. The community is besieged by a hierarchy of savage goondas, extorting protection money (not too profitable, one imagines) beginning with Sharat Saxena, moving on to Sudhir (whose ill fitting white wig is because of his leprosy!) and ending with the glory of scenery chewing Kiran Kumar as the kingpin, Taneja. Jaswant has stirred resistance in his neighbors, and Taneja sends fierce Raaka (Sanjay Dutt) to straighten them all out. Sanjay makes his entrance from behind a movie screen filled with flames, he slices it open, and steps through, smoking a beedi, a baboon on his shoulders. He is wearing pleated tweed pants held up with suspenders over a white undershirt, a matching tweed cap, and Michael Jackson’s single glove. He soon vanquishes a foe with a game of Russian roulette scored to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” If this is your kind of movie, rejoice. All of the acting is above average for this sort of 80s action film (lots of bloodshed and explosions, endless fighting). Chunky Pandey and Juhi Chawla are much livelier than the usual lovey dovey subplot couple, and do an amusing parody of a singing in the rain song, “Batti Lal Hari Na Police Khadi.” This film owes a lot to the classic Sholay, but director Jyotin Goel has an unusually creative camera eye and keeps the plot moving along. The film, however, is owned by Sanjay, dominating with his patented, emotional good/badman.
Zubeidaa (2000) Directed by Shayam Benegal. Karisma Kapoor, Rekha, Manoj Bajpai
A son searching for the truth about his mother traces her story from the movie studios of Bombay to the royal palace of Jaipur. Screen writer Khalid Mohammed’s mother is the inspiration for this story of love and betrayal. The real-life Zubeida made 23 films in her career, one of them, Alam Ara (1931) was India’s first talking picture and, of course, first musical, inaugurating the form that is still the dominant one in Hindi film today. The plot of Alam Ara, in which Zubeida plays a gypsy girl who marries royalty (and co-stars with Pritviraj Kapoor, the patriarch of the Kapoor family and Karisma’s great grandfather) also echoes the plot of Shayam Benegal’s film, Zubeidaa. Rich material, but the film falters in the casting of Victor, the Maharaja whose passionate seduction of Zubeidaa causes her to abandon her child and consent to a restrictive marriage as his second wife. Sympathy for Zubeidaa depends on believing her love for Victor was so all consuming that she would risk everything, and Manoj Bajpai never seems either trustworthy or swoony enough to justify it. Was casting this sinister actor as Victor meant to signal that Zubeidaa’s confidence in him was ill-advised? She accuses him of wanting her only as a plaything, and yes, it seems that way from the moment he begins quoting romantic poetry in an attempt to seduce her (his even creepier brother has memorized similar couplets, but is less successful at deploying them). This makes it difficult to sympathize with Zubeidaa’s reckless emotional choices. The audience is supposed to accept Karisma’s character as a free spirit. Yet, she has apparently learned nothing from her traumatic first marriage, certainly nothing about men (her first husband had doormat written all over him, anyway) and her devotion to her little son is unconvincing…out of sight, out of mind. Women do abandon their children for hot love affairs, but Zubeidaa’s petulant obstinacy seems childish—it’s no wonder that Victor, with the companionship of his first wife, the mesmerizing Rekha, and his political aspirations would soon become bored with his immature chhoti rani. In spite of an appealing production design and excellent supporting performances by Lilette Dubey as well as Rekha, Zubeidaa is a disappointment.