Toofani Tarzan (1937)

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It’s historic! No, I’m not talking about the election (although: YEAH BABY!!!!); I’m talking about this fabulously campy Wadia Movietones flick featuring an Indian Tarzan, his (literally) lunatic mother, cannibals, the nectar of immortality, Dada the ape man, and more animals than you can shake a stick at (including lions, tigers, bears—oh my—hyenas, elephants, crocodiles, etc). It may also give us a first in Hindi cinema history: a dog named Moti.

And before I do anything else, I must thank my new BFF and faithful reader Michael for sending it—and more treasures that you will be reading about—to me. Thanks Mike!!

Ramu, a scientist, lives with his wife Uma (Nazira) and their little son Leher in a jungle.

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He has just discovered the “nectar of immortality” when his compound is attacked by rogue lions. Ramu tucks the formula into a locket which he puts around Leher’s neck and they try to escape (I’m not sure why they don’t just stay inside their house, which would seem to be more lion-proof than the outdoors where they run straight into the maws of death, but it’s not my film).

Ramu is killed, and Uma loses both her son and her sanity when Dada—Leher’s apelike friend—hops aboard a hot air balloon with Leher and a cute puppy (that he’s also rescued from the lions, thank goodness) and they soar away.

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Dada is a fantastic half-ape half-man creature, who speaks only in grunts and largely resembles a golliwog. He and Leher and Moti the puppy sail along happily for a while, then crash during a thunderstorm through the thick canopy of trees covering the jungle.

Cut to fifteen years later, and Ramu’s father, a professor, has come to Vanrajpur (a town on the edge of the jungle) with his adopted daughter Leela (Gulshan) to search for his grandson. Leela believes that the jungle man called Tarzan may be Ramu’s son Leher. They are joined on their quest by a pith-helmeted guy named Bihari whose ulterior motives include finding the legendary nectar of immortality and romancing Leela.

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Also accompanying them is their guide Dilawar (Ahmed Dilawar) and a servant named Bundle (Bandal) who additionally serves as the comic side plot.

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They set off into the jungle to search for Tarzan, accompanied by many coolies bearing their tents and other supplies. They have traveled for some time when the party is attacked by crazily painted cannibals with poisoned arrows. Chaos reigns and draws the attention of a little white dog. It’s Moti, rescued years before by Dada. He runs off barking madly to fetch Tarzan (John Cawas).

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John Cawas, by the way, was Fearless Nadia’s frequent co-star; he’s very handsome (I think he somewhat resembles Arjun Rampal).

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Tarzan and Dada come to the rescue with some of their elephant friends. Thrilling stuff! After the cannibals are vanquished, the Professor and Leela coax Tarzan into approaching them. Bihari sees the locket hanging around Tarzan’s neck and guesses that the formula is in it.

They are interrupted by mad laughter; it’s Uma, still crazy after all these years. She wears a pair of skulls like water wings and cackles a lot, and warns Tarzan against the strangers.

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The Professor doesn’t recognize her; I’m not sure if he had never met his son’s wife or if her craziness has changed her appearance. In any case, Tarzan takes her advice and runs away, and Bihari—loath to let him go off with the formula—shoots at him. Luckily he misses, but the Professor is sad.

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They set up camp near a waterfall, and Moti reappears, drawn by the smell of meat cooking. Unfortunately, Dada comes to get him and trigger-happy Bihari shoots him in the arm. Leela prevents Bihari from doing further damage by pulling her own gun on him, and Dada gets away. Tarzan finds him and takes him home.

The next morning, Leela is doing her hair and makeup when Bihari comes into her tent and attempts to molest her. Tarzan arrives just in time to save her from Bihari; he kidnaps her instead and takes her back to his lair in the trees.

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Her screams are more of the “thou dost protest too much” kind than they are real cries for help. Tarzan has brought her to help Dada, who is in a lot of pain from the bullet still lodged in his arm. She takes it out using Tarzan’s knife and bandages Dada up. He’s instantly better, and there is much joy. So much joy, in fact, that Leela decides to stay for a while.

She dons a new (skimpier) frock made from leopard skin, gets used to swinging through vines, and bonds with Tarzan. This involves a lot of wrestling and hair pulling and slapping of each other, sort of like puppies playing.

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Back at camp, the Professor frets while Dilawar sings the first song we’ve had yet (I’ve seen the music credited to both Iqbal Qureshi and Master Mohd). The Professor is worried that they’ll have to leave Leela behind if they don’t find her soon. Uma arrives and shrieks some more, and then cannibals attack once more and take the entire party prisoner.

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The cannibal leader has a strangely friendly grin, although his intentions are pretty obviously hostile.

Leela sings the second song of the film while bathing in a lagoon.

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Moti steals her leopard dress and runs off—she chases him and gets it back just in time for both of them to be captured by cannibals. Leela and Moti are tied up with the Professor, Bihari, Dilawar and Bundle. They all speculate about the cannibals’ next move.

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Luckily, Moti has skills. He unties (not chews through—unties) the ropes binding him and slips out the window. Can he reach Tarzan in time? Can Tarzan save our little group from being sacrificed to the Gorilla God that the cannibals worship? Yes, I said it: Gorilla God.

And if he does save them, can he save himself from greedy Bihari? Can Leela ever be happy as a jungle girl?

Toofani Tarzan has all the answers. And more. Waaay more!

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35 Comments to “Toofani Tarzan (1937)”

  1. What a great write up Greta! I am still laughing!

    I just love this movie, and you will be happy to know that Dog Moti (aka Professor Moti) had a long and fruitful career at Wadia Movietones and, I think, even on into the Basant era.

  2. I loved it :) Moti is a great little dog. He could really jump! And do his own stunts! Kya baat hai. Wah!

  3. Wow, this one sounds quite interesting!

    You’re right, John Cawas totally does look like Arjun Rampal in the eighth screenshot. Do they ever explain how Uma and Tarzan find each other again? I wonder what happens in the fifteen years between him sailing away in the balloon and being found by his grandfather and Leela. And I wonder if Ramu’s dad was the inspiration for Col. Sanders, or vice versa!

  4. The Uma-Tarzan thing was a little ambiguous. Tarzan never really talked, he just grunted although he could say Moti, Dada and Raja (the elephant). And Uma only cackled crazily and pulled on her hair and talked nonsense.

    *SPOILER* I’m not clear if they even realized their relationship to each other before she gets back her memory/sanity at the end. *END SPOILER*

    Ramu’s father’s beard, wig and makeup was really laid on thick! ;-)

  5. OMG, Ramu’s father’s “wrinkles” look like a blind monkey’s attempts to put on eyeliner or something. You’re right, John Cawas *does* look like Arjun. Except in the screencap where he’s climbing the tree with her on his back; there he totally looks like Will Ferrell.

  6. Errr… if Dada can take Leher and Moti in hot air balloon and be safe, why can’t Ramu and Uma get a ride? All right, if I start applying logic, more than half movies would never happen. So go on…

  7. ajnabi: LOL @ Will Ferrell (I love him too, though!)…

    Amey: Well, Ramu didn’t need a ride by then because he’d been mauled by lions, and Uma had gotten separated from Dada and Leher, and didn’t get to the balloon until it was already too high up for her to climb aboard. Was very sad :(

  8. Didnt Uma age at all? In the screencap with the skulls she looks like Tarzan’s heroine, not his Mom! Who is the actress playing Leela? She looks more Hollywood than Bollywood!

    What an excellent find! And “more treasures that you will be reading about” coming up – WOW!!! :-)

  9. No, Uma and Leela could have easily been contemporaries :-) Maybe loony keeps you young, who knows? I wish I knew who played who, but except for the three I identified I have no idea. Nazira was either Uma or Leela, but I’m not sure which.

  10. Ohhhh my gawshhh! I must have found the funniest looking movie ever! Toofani Tarzan, the title just gives it away, I love how the subtitles are so literal “i need to stay close by you!” Uma must have swallowed the nectar of immortality as she looks like Tarzan’s girlfriend!
    I adore Ramu’s stupidly brilliant stick on beard, it looks like the same kind I used for my school movie!

  11. Leela was played by Gulshan (aka Miss Gulshan) who made several films for the Wadia Bros in the 1930s. She and John Cawas did another film together titled JUNGLE KING (1939) and she was in a few Fearless Nadia films. She certainly was a lovely actress and it would be wonderful to find out whatever became of her.

  12. What is BFF?

    I guess we should thank Michael too, for passing on this gem to you.

    I’ve heard about ‘golliwogs’ after a long, long time. They used to be in the Enid Blyton books, and I remember wanting one badly as a kid. Of course, unavailable in India. And unfortunately, I had no relatives abroad.

  13. Wow, this sounds amazing – I must try to get hold of it. And the lunatic idea of sending a child off in the midst of danger seems to be not too uncommon…. in Parasmani, the hero’s father gets caught in a bad storm at sea, so locks his infant son in a chest (with holes for breathing in the lid) and dumps it overboard. The kid survives (how come no water got in through those breathing holes?), but it did make me wonder why the doting parent didn’t try to go along as well. Seems to be one of those eternal mysteries of Hindi cinema!

  14. Rum: Yes, it’s a lot of fun :-)

    Michael: You are a fountain of information! Thank you! I’ll add Miss Gulshan to my list of people to look up when I camp out at the Film Archive in Pune ;-) and I’ve updated the post accordingly.

    Banno: BFF=Best Friend Forever ;-) I loved Enid Blyton; in Rhodesia I read her voraciously, and I too wanted a golliwog. My sister managed to get one somehow, but my parents refused to give me one because they disapproved of them as racist too. My sis was always able to talk them into stuff that i never could…

    madhu: LOL I remember that from Parasmani. But what kind of lunatic plots could we have without lunatic parents?

  15. Madhu (or anyone else), if you would like a copy of Toofani Tarzan just e-mail Memsaab and have her forward your info to me and a DVD-r copy will be on it’s way. I love to share! I myself know how difficult it is to find these ancient gems, and when one is available, everyone should be able to see it!

  16. Or just e-mail me at AOPP (at) aol.com

  17. Aah, seems we had logic in those good old days ;)

    BTW, isn’t it shameful of Hasbro to use Uma (or rather, her accessories) as inspiration for Iron Klaw without credit? :D

  18. Michael: You are kind and generous :-)

    Amey: I wouldn’t go that far :-) Logic in this film was not consistent by any means. And Uma could be Iron Klaw’s moll!

  19. I feel exhausted just reading the post :D You have to try the 80s Tarzan sometime though. There’s a circus in it! Evil circus wranglers!!!

    I had no idea what a golliwog was for years (this was before Google) and when I finally found out, I was appalled. Still want one though. You know, just to show my kids and tell them “No No”. Er…

  20. Evil circus wranglers! does it contain DISCO music too????

    :-) Yes, golliwogs are cute. Racist, but cute.

  21. hehe- i cant get over the balloon slying away w/ the ape, baby & dog idea- rofl. btw- that DOES look uncannily like Arjum Rampal! Also remarkably skimpy clothing for Leela, considering it was the 30s :)

  22. Brilliant! I can’t wait to see what obscurities you dig up next.

  23. Mike gets the credit for digging this one up :-) and he sent me several others including Watan Ke Log which you have already reviewed. Can’t wait! So many goodies to choose from!

  24. I collect unusuall Tarzan movies and this is one of the most enjoyable films I have found so far.

    Great fun!

    I posted a short clip from the film on my youtube chanel.

    http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=KINGOFTHEJUNGLEWORLD&view=videos

  25. Henrik, you have done a great service posting some of this on YouTube. It’s a wonderful film :)

  26. Thank you.

    I have also posted some clips from other Bollywood productions there.
    Tarzan and King Kong is a personal favorite.

    Best H.

  27. The storyline sounds suspiciously similar to Wadia’s 1958 film Zimbo (which even spawned sequels Zimbo Sheher mein a.ka. Zimbo comes to town in 1960 and Zimbo Comes To Town in 1966). Perhaps Wadia remade it. I haven’t had a chance to see the movies yet but the 58 and 60 movie had some lovely songs. Thanks for the nice review.

  28. oops did a typo above. The second movie was called Zimbo finds a son a.k.a. Zimbo Ka Beta.

  29. Hi Hildebrand :) Yes, Zimbo is a remake of this one. One of these days I will review it too, although Todd over at Die Danger Die Die Kill has covered Zimbo admirably!

  30. its one of the best movieas told by my father, now how I can see this movie.

  31. One of my kind readers sent me this, I am not sure how you’d be able to see it. I don’t think it’s commercially available yet, but keep your fingers crossed. More and more of these old ones are coming to light finally!

  32. Hi,

    I was searching Indian movies about Tarzan, and found your interesting article ! And about the ‘Arjun Rampal-like’ hunk John Cawas, there are some informations about our man … our he-man, instead !

    “… John Cawas, a strongman of Parsee background known for intrepid feats of bravery and brawn and a muscular body on which admiring cameras lingered. Winner of the 1930 all-India bodybuilding competition, he was already famed for such astonishing world records as carrying a Chevrolet containing four passengers on his bare back.” (Bollyworld: popular Indian cinema through a transnational lens, p.64)

    Wow … I think that he was the perfect Tarzan ! :D

  33. Has anyone seen Tarzan comes to Bombay. It has Feroze Khan and Simi Grewal in it.(her first or second film) Outstanding camp that takes itself seriously

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