This film is exactly why I feel blessed to have discovered Hindi cinema. As Beth said in her review of it this summer, I live in fear of running out of movies like this. Elaan is more fun than anyone ought to be allowed to have, and if it had subtitles my head would probably explode (but please, somebody, subtitle it anyway). The lunatic story (featuring a ring of invisibility that only works when you put it in your mouth) is presented with great relish and plenty of style, and manages to stay on track and is nicely paced. Even the flaws only add to its charms. And all this is embellished with the finest fashions and set decoration the Seventies had to offer!
Here we have another formulaic daku-drama, by which I mean I loved it. So many throbbing neck veins (Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Ajit)! So many ferocious eyeball-to-eyeball staredowns! So many lines spat out through clenched jaws—and Prem Chopra nowhere in sight! So many manly men named Singh!
It is chock-full of Man Candy; pretty, pretty horses; the usual assortment of terrible wigs that do nobody any favors; men in hoop earrings; and that love which passeth all understanding—the unconditional bhai-bhai rishtaa. Hema Malini provides the Woman Candy and is the feisty catalyst for the eventual showdown between brothers and rivals. Plus, wonderful music from Kalyanji Anandji, including some funked-up title music!
There is no power on earth that could stop me from watching a movie which begins like this. Raakhee as a vengeful dacoit?! Removing her bangles?! It just has to be awesome. I have a severe weakness for daku-dramas as it is, but toss in a girl gone bad (especially if it is Raakhee!) and I am even happier. Plus there are subtitles, although they are unreadable about fifty percent of the time. Female kickassery, a strong moral center and plenty of plot twists enable me to say that this film basically delivers on its promise.
Even though I have already watched an Eighties film this year, I decided to risk another since this looked basically harmless and kind of fluffy. And indeed it mostly does resemble a stuffed animal: cute on the outside (Vinod Khanna in mechanics’ overalls, Reena Roy in bright sarees, Ashok Kumar as a kindly benefactor) and comfortably squishy on the inside (story elements we’ve seen a gazillion times before). Even villain Amjad Khan is too well-fed and portly to seem threatening. It’s Bhappi Sonie at the helm, after all: he’s generally benign.
Until the end, when a woman’s honor is deemed more important than her happiness or her safety. Sigh. And Nirupa Roy turns on all the waterworks because she has ruined her own life, although naturally she blames fate and not herself. Sigh again. But I don’t expect much else from the era, and up to that point there is fun—and plenty of eye candy—to be had.
True confession: I really can’t sit still through an entire Hindi movie without getting up to fidget. I wake up Gemma and irritate pet her, check my email, pour another glass of wine. The films are just so long and my attention span so short. But during this one I didn’t want to MOVE—I was positively riveted to my chair. There is no romance, no hero-heroine (and only three songs, each one a gem): it is an ensemble film, and what an ensemble it is! The finest character-actor-villains of the time play cohorts in crime who are joined by thief Vinod Khanna when one of them betrays the others. It is stylish and suspenseful entertainment at its best.
Against an epic backdrop of one-sided sibling rivalry, rock-em sock-em lumberjack action, bizarro world medical pronouncements, ham-fisted Mahabharata references, unrequited puppy-love, puffy sleeves and big-budget musical excess lies a plot which I will mostly let speak for itself through screenshots, because all it left me with were questions.
Questions like: Why is Vinod Khanna in this film? Why is Saeed Jaffrey in this film? Why is anybody in this film? Why does this film exist at all? How did the actors keep their faces straight through their dialogues? How old were the people who wrote this, anyway? Were they even out of grade school yet? And above all, will I ever make it all the way through?!
I’ve said on these pages many times that actors in Hindi cinema become like family after you watch enough films over the years. The same faces, essentially playing the same roles…eventually you wake up one day and realize that they are as familiar to you as the people you grew up with (well, many of you DID grow up with them, you lucky souls!).
Anyway, I got to thinking the other day about what a Memsaab family photo might look like. Who would be in it, who would be cropped out. Of course, I would be at the center of it: me and my beloved Shammi, and little Gemma too—probably trying to lick Shammi’s hand. Sisters Laxmi Chhaya, Kumari Naaz, Bela Bose, and didi Helen would flank us, completely overdressed for the occasion. Moody and unstable brother Shyam Kumar would be off to the side, so that we could easily trim him out should he really go over the edge one day. Naughty-boy neighbors Ranjeet and Feroz Khan would lurk nearby, waiting for Shammi to turn his back so they could wink at me and maybe cop a feel. Faithful family retainer Nazir Kashmiri would water flowers with the “help” of dog Moti; but horses Raja and Badal would be absent, off grazing in the meadow and keeping an eye out for that rascal dacoit Vinod Khanna, who is constantly trying to kidnap me. Which is why Shammi hired Dharmendra as my bodyguard (he’s trusting, is my Shammi).
Ooh, yeah. This is a rarity in 1980’s Hindi cinema, a masala film that’s complete paisa vasool! It starts off with a bang and continues to entertain thoroughly right up to the end: a rollicking, swashbuckling good time. The screenplay was written by Jyoti Swaroop, who is one of those people I’d really like to find out more about, but whose presence on the web is mostly confined to the hilarious film Padosan, which he directed. He’s known to me also for directing the delightful Chorni, and also for writing Satte Pe Satte and Inkaar—two other Memsaab favorites. In any case, the fun quotient is greatly enhanced by the droolworthy presence of Vinod Khanna and Danny Denzongpa as bitter rivals who *might* also be long-lost brothers, and by some zany subtitles.
As many of you know already, I am bewildered by the fact that this charming and beautiful woman never made it big as a heroine. The closest she came was in Mere Gaon Mere Desh, where she absolutely shines as dacoit Vinod Khanna’s spy who falls in love with the object of her assignment—Dharmendra. I’ve loved her since I saw Gumnaam years ago and she tore up the dance floor with Herman and company. Like her contemporary Helen, she is able to dance to any kind of song: tawaif, night club, village entertainment. Her most captivating feature in my opinion is her smile—it lights up the screen with joy, and there’s no mistaking it for anyone else’s. Plus, nobody dances like she does—it gives me whiplash just watching her sometimes, but she comes through unscathed!