Zorro (1975)

“Zorro” doesn’t even begin to cover it. “Zorro meets Robin Hood meets the Wild Wild West meets Arabian Nights meets Ugly Bridesmaid Dresses and everybody’s last name is Singh!” is a fair start. Dharam-Veer wasn’t this much of a potluck! My friend Mike, who watched some of it with me, remarked that it looks like the wardrobe and set people went crazy in a bunch of studio warehouses and used every single item they found in them. While they were doing that, I think the writers were combing through as much world literature as they could find for their own influences. I’m also pretty sure a lot of the original film is edited out or lost, because transitions between scenes are very abrupt and the whole thing quite choppy, so Lord only knows what other cultural and historical references have gone missing along with that footage.

Almost everything is also very weirdly played for laughs, even atrocities being meted out to villagers. This sort of defeats the whole purpose of atrocities. But never mind: there is just so much to look at, much of it shiny.

Maharaja Bahadur Singh (Om Shivpuri) lives in a mirror-covered palace with his shrewish Maharani (Urmila Bhatt), his oldest son Gunawar (Master Romi) and infant son Vikram. He dotes on Gunawar, but the Maharani hates him as he is not her son; he is the result of an affair Bahadur had before marrying. She is insistent on her son Vikram being named the true heir. Gunawar is a large-hearted and generous boy, and his fencing guru (P Jairaj) takes him under his wing. Guruji is a man of strong principles, as evidenced by his ginormous statue of Lady Justice standing blindfolded in front of a large colored spinning wheel. (My grandmother had a wheel like that under her silver Christmas tree when I was a little girl, and I loved watching that tree change colors.)

Gunawar (Navin Nischol) grows up to be a very good swordsman thanks to Guruji, which is a good thing because Bahadur Singh is not paying very close attention to what his Senapati Shamsher Singh (Imtiaz) is doing. Shamsher Singh has befriended Chhote Rajkumar Vikram (Sudhir) and is plotting to take over the kingdom while his girlfriend Nisha (Bindu) distracts Vikram by pretending to be his girlfriend. In the meantime Shamsher and his army are looting, raping, and killing all of his future subjects.

I really need to write a post one of these days about my Sudhir pyaar. I adore him.

Shiny!

After soldiers kill an old man whose daughter commits suicide rather than be raped by Shamsher, leaving a really really cute little boy (Master Asif) all alone, Guruji confronts Bahadur Singh about Shamsher’s bad behavior. Bahadur Singh is horrified and boots Shamsher Singh out of the palace, and gives Guruji some money as compensation for the villagers. Guruji never makes to the village of course: a soldier named Zalim Singh throws a knife topped with a “Z” into his back.

Guruji reaches home where he stands there with the knife protruding out of him and has what seems like a casual conversation with an oblivious Gunawar. This cracks me up enormously.

The death of his Guruji causes Gunawar to run to the local costume shop for a Zorro outfit and wig. He transforms himself magically into Errol Flynn! I am thrilled beyond words.

Comedic swashbuckling ensues, with Zorro turning up everywhere accompanied by reverse-action stunts and loony sound effects. Asit Sen takes front and center as a completely inept if corrupt daroga who makes Zorro’s job that much easier. Zorro stops the king’s carriages and distributes the treasure inside to the poor and prevents the army from collecting taxes (thereby also pissing off Shamsher Singh, who despite being kicked out of the palace has maintained the loyalty of his men).

Meanwhile in a neighboring kingdom, a Rajkumari named Rekha (Rekha) makes preparations to visit Bahadur Singh and her betrothed Gunawar (engaged as children by their fathers). She is reluctant and insists on traveling without an armed escort. Big mistake! although not as big a mistake as her outfits.

Rekha doesn’t have much to do in this fillum except stand around (in fact none of the women do much), but she stands around in some of the most hideous dresses I’ve ever seen, anywhere. In any case, when Zorro arrives to save her from the comedy troop soldiers they are each smitten with the other. Rekha is even more smitten with Zorro when she gets her first look at her fiance:

He arrives at court (I am totally unclear as to where he lives or whether he visits the palace often or if he’s always acted like an idiot there) riding an unfortunate wee donkey, accompanied by his CSP guys (Mukri and Johny). Rekha is unimpressed with the buffoon in front of her, although they sing a fun song together. At some point in here Shamsher Singh manages to imprison Bahadur with Vikram’s compliance (Vikram being the declared heir) and he takes over.

By now fed up with Zorro’s constant interference, Shamsher Singh decides to enlist the help of one Sheru Singh (Danny Denzongpa), currently housed in the palace dungeon. He gives Sheru his freedom in exchange for Zorro “zinda ya maut”. I can’t help but wonder what Baburao Patel would have had to say about Bindu’s appearance in this shiny satin monstrosity; and when Sheru changes into his own clothes I dissolve in laughter. He’s obviously gone to the same costume store as Zorro and come away in a Robin Hood getup.

Oh the crazy joy that is Hindi B-grade cinema.

This joy is only reinforced by the next scene: Sheru shows up at the best dance-club-slash-restaurant I’ve seen since Apradh. Aruna Irani treats us to an Arabian Nights themed dance and looks gorgeous (and shiny). I am pleased to note that the decoration behind the bar is, well, Northwest Native American.

Mike says: “Classic Indian design, but wrong Indian.” I love the Persian carpet draped over the front of the bar too. The little boy who had been orphaned by the cruelty of Shamsher Singh earlier is for some reason dressed like an old man in a clown suit, and on stilts. In fact many in the audience are wearing strange clown outfits, although that isn’t the strangest thing about all of this. I don’t understand any of it, but I’m enthralled. Then Zorro arrives.

Let’s recap, shall we?

I want to live here.

The ensuing brawl between Zorro and Robin Hood is as epic as the setting demands (a chandelier! an argyle plaid floor! pink fleur-de-lys wedding-cake accents!), and ends with Shamsher Singh’s soldiers entering the club and trying to kill them both. Zorro sees Zalim Singh taking aim at Sheru and tosses him over the bar, where he manages to convince Sheru of Shamsher’s treachery. They join forces.

The CSP army is fairly easily defeated with the help of the little orphan boy and his slingshot. Sheru’s heart is melted by his sad little face. He adopts him on the spot as a brother and takes the boy home to his own Ma (Purnima). So sweet.

Back at the palace, Shamsher Singh has joined in the costume parade by donning a fringed buckskin jacket a la Davy Crockett. I am not going to talk about Bindu.

Poor Bahadur has been strapped to one of those faux-torture devices (I call this one the Wheel of Misfortune) so beloved in Indian cinema. The spikes look scary, sure, but they aren’t going to touch the person on the wheel. The worst that thing can do is spin him around really fast and make him nauseous. Zorro has been busy romancing Rekha, and she gets him into the palace. He shadows Shamsher Singh to the dungeon and rescues Bahadur, giving the poor thirsty prisoner water with one hand while fighting off the guards with the other. That is the greatness of Zorro.

He stashes Bahadur somewhere and then has to save the little boy from more of what Mike calls “the lamest villainy ever.”

Darogaji and his men tie the kid to a train track, but the boy is so short that his head and feet miss the track by a good five or six inches, making him pretty safe from harm. This does not stop Zorro from valiantly running along a speeding train to save the child from not being run over by it. Another thrilling rescue ruined by lack of danger!

We now discover the story behind Gunawar’s birth. The Maharaja was in love with a woman named Parvati but was told that she had died by his family. Despondent, he married the woman they wanted him to marry and then Parvati showed up at the palace with their son. Oh and hey guess what? Parvati is none other than Sheru’s Ma, making him and Gunawar half brothers. And you know what else? That candelabra is really poorly designed. How is it that hot wax from the tilted candles hasn’t destroyed the floor/carpet under it? Or do such trivialities not matter when you are a Maharaja and can just get a new floor/carpet?

I know I keep digressing, but it’s really all I can do when I have no idea what is going on. And I think I will leave you here to ponder what might happen next. Will Bahadur and Parvati be reunited? Will Zorro and Robin Hood figure out that they are kin? Will other half-brother Vikram ever catch on that his poorly-clad girlfriend is having an affair with his best friend? Will the parade of Ugly Bridesmaid Dresses ever end (no)?

Or the ruffled shirts? (Seriously, am I the only one who thinks Sudhir is hot?)

Just take it from me: this is no masterpiece of filmmaking, but it’s a dizzying splendiferous eyeful.

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68 Comments to “Zorro (1975)”

  1. In the early eighties my mother sewed a bunch of these excessively ruffled shirts and forced me to wear them! I wonder if she was copying designs from the movie! No wonder I was not a social success as a teen. But then I did not have a moustache either. I bet Sudhir was popular.

  2. I’m about to leave work, so I just skimmed the words and looked at the pictures. Splendiferous eyeful, indded!

  3. Fantastic write-up, memsaab!

    And fantastic screenshots too. In fact these screenshots are so dazzling that I can totally agree with Mike’s observation – they went to studio warehouses and picked up every single item there! Heck, they even made the donkey wear glasses. :-)

    Your comments on the screenshots – and the review as a whole – are very funny! Normally I pick specific lines but I’m not going to bother this time. The whole review is just awesome. Thank you.

  4. Dear Memsaab,
    Long I was under the impression that the hero was none other than our very own GARAM DHARAM, especially where a mother character existed. I still think he would have done better than N.N.
    Really, the costumes of the ladies is shabby, if not disgusting. Only Aroona dazzles in the cameo.
    I wish someone subtitles it soon. Then we would fully appreciate your magical spells again. Love to see(or hear) your opinions on the dialogues.
    Finally, I think DD is the most handsome here, not Sudhir. And from where did the orphan boy turn up?
    PS: How are your pets?

  5. As I read through this I laughed and laughed. Esp that candelabra comment, hehe. I don’t find Sudhir hot really. But I do remember watching an episode of Jeena Isi Ka naam hai which Farrukh Sheikh hosted where Sunil Dutt was a guest. Sudhir was also invited to the show as he was a close friend. Apparently, Sunil and Sudhir struggled together and Sudhir was the first to get a bit role in a movie. Sunil Dutt recalled that they were thrilled with that, and trooped off with a bunch of friends to see that movie. I still remember the happy grin that flashed across Sudhir’s face as Sunil was talking about that incident. I am not sure this link contains that scene, but it is a part of that show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ey4fKxPPdXM&feature=relmfu

  6. Memsaab, you are priceless and your reviews are to be treasured. The recap alone is worth the price of the ticket. Another fantasy film from the ’70s is Garam Masala in which the masked hero acts as a buffoon in his day job as the prince but is an expert swordsman by night, fencing with the masked heroine, (Aruna Irani in comely hot pants.)

  7. For the first few paragraphs, I thought this certainly resembled the plot of the Douglas Fairbanks (and, later, Tyrone Power) The Mark of Zorro movies. Then, what with the arrival of the Danny character, it seemed to go totally off the rails. So, sorry – not watching, not even if there’s Danny in it (and Sudhir – I do think he’s hot)! Since you like Sudhir too, here’s a song from a little-known film of his, Apna Ghar Apni Kahani (aka Pyaas), where he stars opposite Mumtaz.

  8. sudhir is super …in Deewaar , he just lurks below the surface , if Deewaar was a scorcese firm, sudhir would have had a major role . the way he irks amitabh in the film is amazing., and his timing when iftekhar announces AB as his successor . unsung hero

  9. Hahaha ! It is an awesome review. Like Raja, I too find the entire review quote worthy, so it is difficult to pick parts of review. The review is easily far more hilarious than the movie. In any case the movie is not supposed to be hilarious, I am sure.

    The makers of this movie must be given high marks for their imagination though. Too bad that there were not too many takers for this movie when it was released. I insisted on taking my brain with me to the movie hall, and as a result, I may not have been able to sit through this movie during my movie watching days. Now that I have read the review, I can see it in a different (and original) light. :)

    Incidentally, I watched one English movie called “Zorro” in late 1970s, and I found the movie so similar to Hindi movies. The fact that such movies do not have much “room talk” certainly helped me enjoy that movie.

    • The movie is hilarious, although I don’t think they intended it to be funny in the specific way that it is. It definitely requires that you leave your brain behind and I don’t think I missed all that much without subs, although of course I could be wrong.

  10. Wheel of Misfortune and “the lamest villainy ever”

    Oh priceless! Made me laugh out loud for real!

    Sudhir is possibly the creepiest guy I have ever seen on screen.

  11. Loved your comments on this unintentionally (but definitely) funny movie :))) The pictures are certainly dazzling…..it’s all so colourful!

  12. ZOMG I WANT TO BE WATCHING THIS RIGHT NOW!!!! And I love Sudhir too – in fact, he might even be featured in my WSJ column next week. :D

  13. Oh those shiny outfits were so much the in thing in the films of those era – they have not totally vanished either! Alas internet and cable tv has whitewashed fashion all over the world and made it all homogenized. Those fluffy sleeves of Rekha in her second cap is priceless (some of my Mother’s dresses had them – but they never looked so funny as here – I think its the hairdo which sends it through the roof :D). And don’t knock silky shiny dresses…. next best thing to skin ;-). I much prefer this outfits (so creative!) than the photocopied outfits of these days.

    And poor knifed Guruji – ZOMG truly. This cap rings a bell – and I just may have seen this film but don’t remember anything much about it.

    Sudhir always looked the ladies’ man … too much of a competition for us men to really like him. I am not surprised at the squeals of appreciation Grrrrr

  14. Wonderful review as always.

    Navin Nischal and Rekha seem to have worked in quite a few movies after debuting in “Sawan Bhadon” (1970). Considering that they weren’t nice to each other, its surely a record. Another movie that comes to mind is “Woh Main Nahin”(1974).

    • Yes, they did. As a pairing they don’t do much for me though, gotta admit :)

      • Haven`t you seen
        1973- “Barkha Bahaar”(Navin Nischol, Rekha)

        And the “Aastha-In the Prison of Spring(1997)”(at the fag end of his carreer)
        Those notoriously famous sleazy bed room scenes picturised between Navin Nischol(a High-fi Idustrialist who beds Rekha-a greedy poor housewife, who sell her body to rich customers-to buy a pair of costly shoes for her Baby daughter-eventhough she was paired opposite Om puri-who played a preachy middle class lecturer.
        Yes there are such scenes between Rekha and Ompuri also)

        • Speaking of Aastha, the scene of Rekha and Ompur (mentioned above) was unintentionally hilarious. The audience was ROFL at Om Puri’s face contortions :D Poor Om Puri, I like him as an actor and I hope that experience made him forebear from enacting such bed scenes ;-)

      • I NEVER WANT TO SEE THOSE MOVIES

  15. “Zorro . . . rescues Bahadur, giving the poor thirsty prisoner water with one hand while fighting off the guards with the other. That is the greatness of Zorro.”

    Who was that masked paani-wallah?

    I’m the “Mike” to whom Memsaab refers in her review, and I did watch parts of this film with her. It’s quite a treat–a deconstructive classic that cleverly lays bare the illusion inherent in the concept of “adventure,” of “danger,” of “heroism,” of “interior design.” Indeed, the “shininess” of this film tells a story (which is more than I can say for the script).

  16. @Memsaab – Thanks for your colorful review. A little less of color or shine in this movie might have made it easy on the eyes, but we would have missed out on some delightful observations :) In the filmmakers’ defense I’ll say that they were generous in their distribution of interesting attire. Even the horse got night-vision goggles.

  17. I just feel a bit giddy. Oh, the colors. How I’ve missed them. I’m beginning to be a Sudhir fan too. :)

  18. Greta ji

    On Ranjeet
    How about reviewing, 2 films directed by Ranjeet ??
    1)Kaarnamaa(1990)
    Starring Vinod Khanna, Farha,Kimmi Katkar & cp.,
    2)Gazab Tamasha(1992)
    Starring Rahul Roy,Anu Agarwal,Aruna Irani & co.,

    I am waiting for your reviews on above 2 movies.

  19. Memsaab, thanks for warning me off this one. :) I’m still partially blind from all the shiny screencaps. The wigs just added the necessary soupçon of horror to the whole thing. I find myself wanting to pour myself a stiff drink, and it’s early hours yet!

  20. This is just plain terrible hahahaha…Rekha’s talent seems to be exploited here and oh my, the ugly, ugly dresses…I wonder if she was forced to wear them…but your review really made my day…i just love ur distinctive n lively approach to movies, even the very bad ones that people would normally ignore…u truly are a pioneer in ur own right…

  21. Hahaha..funny, i can’t imagine myself wearing those dresses. But it’s really cute watching them wearing these dresses. I agree with everybody here, you definitely is a genius in giving reviews for these movies. I really enjoyed reading every sentences of it. You seem to make it fun, even if the movie is way back in the 20’s. Your review is still one interesting read.

  22. Sanam Wo Tu Hai sanam tu hai woh tu hi hai.is that song of kishore asha from this film or Woh Main Nahin starring the same pair. Song remains a hit till date though picture was a flop at that time.

  23. I am a net savvy but this is the first time that I read a good blog. I loved your language and they way you have dissected the movie. Who are you? and how you managed to watch these movies? Just curious. I will try to find about me section after this reply. regards Ripin

  24. Actually, all those psychedelic themed/coloured dresses make me nauseous, the ladies’ ones in particular — I am sorry to say.

    • Whoa, rummaging through the other replies, and I am glad I am not the only one feeling that way!

    • It isn’t even the color for me so much as the completely gaudy/tacky horrifying style :D And I even like shiny things, generally speaking.

      • > the completely gaudy/tacky horrifying style :D
        Agree. Those went without saying for me. Sometimes I feel Indian cinema is all about bad wigs, gaudy/tacky, outlandish fantasy etc…!

        But, even taking into account, the time frame of the film (or is it phillum), the colours were too much, I felt.

  25. This post reminds me of another movie “Guru Hoja Shuru” (1979). Another colorful, and entertaining movie, especially the last fight sequence , featuring a tiger. The scene with the tiger is definitely worthy of making it to your blog :).

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