Thwarted in my previous snake-movie viewing attempt by Sky Entertainment’s poor quality control, I moved on to this long-overdue-for-watching one and was much happier in any case. Not only is heroine Neelam not smacked in the face every other minute (although her father does want to kill her at one point, but he is Amrish Puri so it’s to be expected); but there are a lot more snakes and Aruna Irani (or her representative) lactates onscreen. She also (a la Smita Patil before her) sets out to pump her newborn son full of hatred, albeit somewhat less successfully, possibly because Jackie Shroff doesn’t have to also learn disco. Or maybe because Jackie has more snake backup than Mithun so doesn’t need to be as angry. I don’t know. I just know that I would much rather watch snakes massing in military formation and launching themselves like missiles than watch men pounding each other to a bloody pulp (although there is some of that too).
We all have our guilty pleasures (if you don’t, I recommend you get some)…and Baadshah is one of mine. Shah Rukh Khan is the first Indian actor that I truly fell head over heels for, and although I have hardly written about any of his movies here it’s not because I haven’t seen them all. I saw this film very early on in my pyaar and what stuck in my head was that although it struck me as incredibly stupid, it was also immensely fun; there was a ridiculous eye-transplant side plot that I found ludicrous at the time which—given what I know now—barely registered on this watch. There is a fair amount of painful hamming and silly slapstick (yes, someone even slips on a banana peel at one point) which puzzled me more than anything (“Does anyone actually find this funny?”), although now of course I realize that it has its roots in a very rich (if mostly unloved by me) CSP tradition.
It is amazing what a mere eight years of devotion to Hindi cinema can teach a person.
My feisty best friend Asha P. calls to ask me to come cheer on the sports team she captains. Shashi offers to walk over with me and Gemma; since we are always proud to be seen with my stylish and handsome brother-in-law, and it is a beautiful afternoon, we happily set forth. Alas, we arrive at the playing field to discover that the opposing “Heroes” team is unfortunately anything but: led by their crazy-eyed coach Amrish Puri, they are cheating like mad.
Shetty says nothing, but his shiny bald head and bulging muscles are intimidating. Ajit on the other hand is quite vocal, shouting lunatic threats of world domination and lobbing firecrackers in all directions. The Heroes have in fact scored one goal already, probably by accident.
(Which shall henceforth be known to me as Hum PUNCH.)
I guess I should begin by talking about the really interesting cast of this film: Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Raj Babbar, Amrish Puri, Mithun Chakraborty, Deepti Naval, Sanjeev Kumar, AK Hangal and Kanhaiyalal. Crazy!! My eyes got wider and wider as the credits rolled by. Halfway into the film I scribbled on my notepad: I love this movie! And I did! It was thought-provoking, interesting, sensitively handled, well-acted and gorgeously photographed on location in Karnataka.
But then it went off the rails, combining revenge masala with religion-mythology in a recipe which I am certain my father would tell my mother to go ahead and throw away. Thoughtful became jingoistic, interesting turned to predictable and cliched, sensitive handling and good acting were tossed out the window in favor of bulging eyeballs and sequinned jumpsuits. What a shame!
As “THE END” faded to black onscreen, my sister pointed out that we have really been bottom-feeding for our entertainment recently. Crawling through the gutter looking for pleasure, as it were, although I would say that it hasn’t all been that pleasurable (Kambakkht Ishq, Ram Balram). This movie, though, left me with a guilty and somewhat sick sense of satisfaction—somewhat like the feeling I get after consuming an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, for example: “Ugh, why did I do that? Now I hate myself! But it tasted so good while I was eating it!”
I normally would not bother writing about this film since Beth and the PPCC have already covered it in their usual stellar and thorough fashion. But they mostly liked this, and I hated it. Part of the reason is that it was *almost* good. It should have been, could have been! It had a great cast and good songs! But even the goodness of Shashi+Amitabh is not adequate compensation for being smashed over the head with a sermon that I disagree with, especially when it’s done largely to compensate for the lack of a real script (by Salim-Javed, no less). “Clutch your [Bible, Quran, Gita, other] and trust in your blind faith!” it trumpets. Just the kind of pablum that a world overrun with corruption, greed and poverty needs, right?
I sometimes think of Manmohan Desai’s films as being like a rodeo saddle bronc ride: as they erupt from the gate, the rider (i.e. director) is in control of the horse (i.e. story), and excitement builds until the rider is either tossed off or jumps off after his 8 seconds are up. Either way it ends with an out-of-control animal loose in the arena and the cowboy sprawled in the dust. In Gangaa Jamuna Saraswathi the rider is tossed off about halfway through his 8 seconds. Up to that point, the movie entertains with its twists and turns and stunning visuals; but the second half goes haywire until it tires itself out and limps to its conclusion. Too bad! because it had real potential.
When I found this DVD I was puzzled as to how it had not registered before on my radar: Raj Khosla directed, Salim-Javed wrote the dialogues, and it stars Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Zeenat Aman, Prem Chopra, Amrish Puri, Helen AND PRAN along with a serious array of character actors (KN Singh, Iftekhar, Sudhir, MacMohan, Birbal, Paintal, Trilok Kapoor, Jagdish Raj and more!). How could that possibly go wrong?
And it didn’t, really, at least not terribly…but it is dull and predictable; and there is no chemistry whatsoever between Zeenat and AB or SS, or—more importantly, actually—between AB and SS. It is also a little sloppy at times: Pran has a young son who doesn’t age at all, for instance, although Pran himself does (going from dark hair in a flashback to completely gray hair in the present), and Prem Chopra fires a number of bullets from a gun inside his pocket—but somehow said pocket remains intact, without holes. These are just minor issues though, and if the story had been better, with actors not just going through the motions, they would hardly warrant a mention (at least from me).
I haven’t seen many Raaj Kumar films, a deficiency which I hope to correct this year. I chose to start with this film for several reasons: I already owned it, Hema Malini stars opposite him, Pran is in it, and it also stars Sanjay Dutt, Amrish Puri, and another object of my curiosity, Farha Naaz (Tabu’s older sister). Okay, so essentially my choice mostly came down to one thing: the cast, the cast, the cast. And the cast, the cast, the cast in the end is what made it such an enjoyable film.
The story is a relatively simple “good versus evil” fairytale, revolving around the rivalry of two Muslim landowners ruling a wild and hilly region: Rehmat Khan (Raaj Kumar)—a devout and good man; and Shahbaaz Khan (Amrish Puri)—a…well, it’s Amrish Puri. (I also love the Urdu-based language of Muslim-dominated films—the words are just so beautiful: begum, ammijaan, adaab, khuda hafiz…)