Chor Sipahee (1977)

Ahhhh masala. The very very best filmi masala has at the very very least most of these twenty-one ingredients:

  1. Scenery-chewing
  2. Prodigious use of religious symbolism, preferably encompassing at least The Big Three: Hindu/Muslim/Judeo-Christian
  3. Squishy dil™ (ppcc) (aka “Oh! the humanity!”)
  4. Fabulously mod fashions
  5. Outlandish nonsensically fun plots
  6. At least one weeping mother
  7. Brothers/friends on opposite sides of the law
  8. Incredibly pretty hero(es) and heroine(s)
  9. Disguises, preferably which mock some ethnic or cultural group
  10. At least one child lost at a fair, preferably two who are childhood sweethearts
  11. Orphan(s)
  12. Over-the-top villain(s) with lair(s) and death trap(s)
  13. Comic side plots, in general not that funny
  14. Excellent songs including at least one qawwali
  15. At least one vamp, preferably a dancer with scanty but sparkly clothing
  16. Scotch whiskey, preferably VAT 69
  17. Copious amounts of chest hair on display, preferably decorated with gold chains and/or amulets
  18. Impassioned speeches on behalf of the poor and disabled
  19. Futuristic props and gadgets, preferably with many beeping and blinking elements
  20. Henchmen, preferably dumb as rocks and wearing matching outfits
  21. Dubious medical diagnoses

The list could go on and on. In any case, Chor Sipahee has almost all of these ingredients and more. Shashi in a scruffy beard! Vinod in bell-bottoms and platform heels! Parveen Babi in a floppy hat! Shabana Azmi as a good-girl-gone-bad! Ranjeet as a faux middle-eastern Village Person!

I am a) too shallow; b) too lazy; and c) too much of an atheist to go into the religious implications of this film. For a wonderful explication of same, please see the ppcc’s excellent review if you have not already read it. I will instead focus on the many other treasures which were ample enough to keep my attention, even when the film kind of lost focus and the resolution dragged on too long so that I felt clobbered over the head with the message.

We begin, appropriately enough, with a weeping Maa at the feet of Bhagwan:

Ten days is nothing compared to the more commonplace twenty-odd years, but still. This mother (Durga Khote) is worried about her son, who at that very moment is trying to break into a safe (the alarm, luckily, is right next to it with a convenient on/off switch).

Despite this advantage, Raja (Vinod Khanna) is caught by the police—betrayed by scorpion-in-the-grass Bichchu (Macmohan).

Next to come along is itinerant CBI Inspector Shankar (Shashi Kapoor), a one-man crime-fighting machine and all-around nice guy. His feats are choreographed to “Mujhse Mera Naam Na Poocho”—the first of several very nice songs by Laxmikant Pyarelal.

By now, Raja has been released from jail and one of his liquor joints is on Shankar’s path. He challenges Raja to a bout of fisticuffs and they prove equal to each other (they knock each other out—male bonding at its finest). Raja’s sister Bharti (Parveen Babi) has gotten fed up with his criminal ways and thrown him out of the house. She is earning a living by photographing criminals in the act for a publication.

This puts her at odds with Shankar: he firmly believes in reforming criminals instead of punishing them, because his own father was hanged—prompting his mother to commit suicide. OP Ralhan would approve!

He takes her film reel and she has him arrested, landing them both at the police station. He identifies himself to Inspector Apte (Narendranath). He has come to Bombay at his uncle’s (Om Shivpuri) behest to help fight Raja and his gang.

When he visits Bharti and her ma the next day on the pretext of returning Bharti’s film, he finds them in tears after a row with Raja over Bharti’s refusal to tie a rakhi on him. He treats his mother and sister like he treats the goons who work for him, that is to say: he bullies them.

On his arrival, Shankar endears himself permanently to Ma by eating the kheer Raja had refused on his visit.

I love Durga Khote’s face, it’s so kind. In true Indian fashion, she immediately declares him to be her son and begs him to reform her “other” son. He promises to do so. Later he tells Bharti that he expects a reward:

*So sweet!*

Raja has fallen for Priya (Shabana Azmi), the daughter of a corrupt and greedy businessman. She is contemptuous of her father, and doesn’t care for Raja’s criminal endeavours either.

Happily for Raja though, she quickly forgives him when he does penance by asking one of his henchmen to hit him, and then never brings it up again. I honestly have no idea why Shabana would do this film, she had nothing to do and her role made no sense; but I’m glad she did anyway. She looked very pretty throughout, especially in the requisite qawwali (“Ek Taraf Hai Yeh Zamana”) with guest Aruna Irani and Shashi and Vinod dressed identically.

As hard as he tries, though, Shankar cannot reform Raja. When Raja is arrested on trumped-up charges of murdering Bichchu, Shankar rescues him by burning the evidence as Raja watches from his cell. Shankar is arrested and sent to prison.

When Shankar is released from jail (with another beard!), Raja has vacated his super-sweet former home atop an unfinished building and his liquor and gambling dens are gone. Filled with hope, Shankar goes to meet Bharti, who is thrilled to see him.

Was there ever a prettier pair, ever? memsaab asks, rhetorically.

Bharti tells Shankar that Raja hasn’t returned home and she doesn’t know where he is. He soon finds out though, as Raja sends a car and some goons to pick him up.

Raja has joined forces with Sheikh Jamal (Ranjeet), a smuggler with a fetish for the middle-east, and a very groovy lair complete with a people-mover canister thingy. They want Shankar to cast his lot in with them.

He refuses, disappointed (“Chor Sipahee Main Hoti”) and leaves; but on his way home he runs into an acquaintance (Kader Khan).

Idea! Shankar rethinks his approach, and joins Raja and Jamal’s gang, only to outdo them in cool badass-ness.

Can Shankar reform Raja? Or will he succumb to the temptations of wealth too? It takes a loooonnnnngggg time, but eventually you will have the answers if you watch the masala goodness that is this film. There were some glitches on my Sky DVD (possibly due to source film issues) at the end where scenes skipped forward, requiring some patching together of the story; also the subtitles were occasionally ahead or behind the dialogue (or missing), but it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

Okay, eye-candy (I cannot help myself)! Shashi rocked the grungy bearded Christ-figure thing, and his acting was pretty good too:

Vinod was appropriately battle-fatigued (being an OTT bad guy is not easy!):

Shabana managed to wolf down some scenery in the few minutes she was onscreen but she looked good:

And Parveen Babi, crying or not, also acted well and was luminously beautiful:

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29 Comments to “Chor Sipahee (1977)”

  1. Everybody seems to have enjoyed this – perhaps I should try to rewatch and see if the masala goodness can get to me. I cant remember when I saw Vinod Khanna in such scenery-swallowing mode before (or after) and Shashi Kapoor looked like he had a tel maalish (oil massage) and forgotten to shampoo in the entire movie. :-(

    Apparently in the midst of shooting for this movie Parveen Babi suddenly disappeared only to surface in Europe with her then-boyfriend Kabir Bedi!

  2. Scenery chewing is part and parcel of masala goodness! Vinod and Shabana both chewed it up thoroughly. Shashi and Parveen were more restrained.

    It did go on and on though. I got restless, even with all the eye-candy.

    Excellent gossip re: Parveen and Kabir! probably her illness was beginning to kick in as well.

  3. this could be the best movie ever made after suhaag! it has all the right components of a Rum loving movie, especially with shashi and vinod being broody! and the ammount of tight bell-bottoms being worn is enough to make me squeal! and ranjit looks so bad-ass(or silly) as a Saudi!

  4. I kind of found the movie meh but Mod! Shashi! – EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! *swoons*

  5. I think I remember this film vaguely. I do remember the fight between Shashi and Vinod, the mandatory fight before 2 heros can be friends.

  6. I remember seeing this one a couple of years back…had forgotten what it was called, but I do remember finding it a bit hard to follow all the twists and turns. Whatever: Parveen Babi, Shashi Kapoor, and Vinod Khanna are reason enough to watch! BTW, Parveen Babi did manage great chemistry with a lot of her heroes: Vinod Khanna in The Burning Train, Amitabh (often enough: Majboor and Do Aur Do Paanch are my favourites), even Amol Palekar, wasn’t it, in Rang-Birangi…


    This film holds a VERY special place in my squishy dil. My logic doesn’t function anymore. I just LOVE IT. And I positively imploded with joy when I saw that you’d seen it and enjoyed it as well!

  8. Loved the list, man, loved the list.

  9. Rum: My favorite masala film of all time still has to be Jugnu, but this one had lots to look at for sure!

    Banno: That fight went on forever, but the injury makeup at the end when they are both lying there was pretty spectacular!

    madhu: Masala plots aren’t really meant to be followed, I’ve decided. Just ride the wave. And Parveen was so gorgeous—and a good actress, I think—that she did make any pair she was half of shine.

    ppcc: No thank YOU. It was you who inspired me to watch this, and your review of it is great.

    Hades: Thanks :-) I really think the masala film is India’s greatest contribution to the world (so far).

  10. I have to see this movie, if only for Jesus-Shashi. I totally got distracted from reading your review by the drool I had to wipe off my chin. Ohmygoodness. ;-)

  11. Yes—Shashi is always handsome, that’s a no-brainer; but he is SMOKIN’ in this film. I myself drooled uncontrollably, and Vinod sharing screen space with him didn’t help. I think Ranjeet is very handsome too, but he just looked incredibly silly in his desert prince outfit. But that was a good thing too.

  12. I can’t believe you watched a Shabana movie without me! *snif*


  13. Ha ha! I will *gladly* watch it again with you! :-D My sister saw the first half and is mad that I watched the rest of it without her too, so you can gang up on me.

  14. Amrita: You went into spam for some reason…but Shashi in his curls and beard was *to.die.for* It was not my favorite masala movie (too long and got lost at the end) but had plenty of goodness to make up for its faults.

  15. Hahaha loved the list…have to watch it now…BTW Memsaab visit my blog for our short film inspired by such Masala Movies of 70s done in tongue-in-cheek bollywood style…would like to have ur comments on it :)

  16. Ooh sounds like fun, toonfactory! I will definitely visit :-)

  17. So hotness crunched into 1 movie- Vinod, Pravin, Shabana AND Shashi!!! though Pravin takes the prize for max hotness- or is it VInod?? so conflicted between all these pretty people… but all for our benefit :)

  18. LOTS of hotness. Everybody is pretty.

    Some very bad acting. Some good acting too! But mostly, it’s eye candy.

  19. The list is fantastic! Perfect. I really liked this one:

    18. Impassioned speeches on behalf of the poor and disabled


  20. Thanks :-) The list flowed pretty easily from my masala-sodden brain. Scary, really.

  21. Well it was an impressive list. I woul have liked you to have included Johnnie Walker, red and often black label to this:
    16. Scotch whiskey, preferably VAT 69
    I’ve been screen cappig Johnnie Walker images (And sometimes Johnny Walker too) for some time and one day will do a grand post on how it’s used as a pivot point in film plots. :)

  22. Sitaji, I look forward to that post! :-)

  23. Ha! We are the same on this one, definitely. I echo the eye candy verdict – I usually hate beards, but not here, and Vinod OMG Vinod (it’s dueling 70s beefcake smackdown!) – and of course love the list. I’m hoping we can make a longer one out of the Foundation Masala Project (TM) and then assign everyone films to watch with list in hand to check off the items. :)

  24. It is of course only a *partial* list. :-)

    I think Shashi pretty much can’t look bad no matter what is done to him. Vinod too.

  25. khanna superb

  26. Hi!

    Does anyone know of a good dvd of this film? I have the SKY DVD, but the subs go crazy on this one near the end. A great movie, though. I enjoyed it thoroughly!

    I love your blog! keep up the good work!


  27. I cant really find the words to describe this movie, all I can say is that after searching high and low for this fantastic movie, I finally found it on a DVD with 3 other movies on it. The quality isnt the best, but I am able to enjoy this movie whenever I want. I think this is one of Shashi Kapoor’s best performances because of the diversity he displays in his character to reform Vinod Khanna’s character. I love the background music for him whenever he is in character, the trumpets…the curling cigarette smoke when he is in the jail cell….I will never get tired of watching this movie! Awesome does of bollywood masala!

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