Now with English subtitles!
I’ve said it before and I’m likely to say it again: I love Sunil Dutt as a dacoit. He is just so perfectly suited to the black tilak, the mouche, the gold hoop earrings, the manly bullets slung around his tall form.
Regular readers here know that by and large I adore Manmohan Desai and his films and can mostly forgive him for anything except Ganga Jamuna Saraswati. It has long been my great sorrow that two of his movies, Shararat and this one, are not available with subtitles. Manmohan Desai’s complicated plotting has always seemed daunting without them and though I have had both films for a long time I never quite had the courage to watch them. So imagine my great joy when I finally sat down with this one and (despite no doubt missing many nuances) could actually follow what was going on. There is a lot going on!
As is usual for him, he sets up the many characters and plot threads masterfully. Creating a web of relationships torn apart by misunderstandings and loss, he carries us along breathlessly rooting for our protagonists to *just stop already* missing each other by mere inches and find their way back to the lives they should be leading. As is also usual for him, the last 45 minutes or so go completely and a tad disappointingly off the rails into Crazy-land, taking the focus away from the pure emotional joy of the reunion(s), but never mind.
I still love this film.
Sometimes after sitting through a spate of truly abysmal films (not worth writing about even) I feel a tinge of despair, thinking that *maybe* there are no more good ones to be seen out there. Then Shalini sends one like this and Raja subtitles it for me, and I am made to realize how much I love Hindi cinema (and my friends!) all over again.
In a nutshell, it’s a fabulously sweet film full of romance and humor. There are no thought-provoking messages, but they aren’t always necessary or even welcome, especially when the movie stars Rehman (oh! the floppy hair falling on that face!), Nigar Sultana (so feisty and funny!), Jairaj (so charming and handsome!) and Meena Kumari (angelically beautiful!). They are supported by two grande old dames of cinema history, Durga Khote and Jilloo, the able and funny Mirza Musharraf, and a poor little put-upon cat (it sadly seems a little tortured at times, but it’s also fun to see a feline anipal, especially one that isn’t stuffed and doesn’t have stripes and big sharp teeth at that).
Here, daughter Shilpi reveals the real man behind the villains Tarun Bose played so convincingly!
The soft-hearted villain: that is what I call dad, soft-hearted being the literal translation of the Hindi ‘Naram Dil’.
He was a very affectionate man; he bestowed fatherly affection on everybody without discrimination. I once asked him, “What kind of role do you like playing the most?” “The villain; a villain’s role provides you with a greater scope to perform”, he said. But given his nature, it was not surprising that although he loved playing the villain, he hated roughing up his female co-stars or any of the child actors.
One of my dad’s favorite boyhood films was 1935’s Captain Blood with Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland. I never knew that until a couple of years ago, but in the meantime it had become one of my favorites too. I love a good pirate movie! Guru Dutt’s film Baaz was an early favorite when I began watching Hindi films, especially since the pirate in question was a girl, and Geeta Bali at that. So imagine my joy when I discovered that around the time Errol Flynn was making Captain Blood, Prabhat’s own V. Shantaram was making a film starring the statuesque and beautiful Durga Khote as Pirate Queen Saudamini. Imagine! And furthermore, my beloved Chandramohan—he of the startling green eyes and overpowering charisma—is in it too!
Hackneyed fairy-tale featuring a lost prince returning home? Check. Shrill Saira Banu opposite preternaturally youthful Dev Anand? Check. Portly Premnath as an evil Senapati? Check again. Did I like the film? Oh hell yes! What’s not to love about a movie that advertises a cast of “about 500 Indian & International junior Artistes” and delivers on that promise? Who cares if the plot is silly? Not I, given a frothy sixties travelogue with ports of call in a Middle East populated by blonde belly dancers and stoned hippie extras. I love to see my people in Hindi movies. Plus, Shankar Jaikishan provide some seriously catchy tunes to accompany all the onscreen antics.
Apparently this film only released in 1989, but it was made in 1971 and clearly looks it so that’s what I’m going with. It’s a pretty entertaining potboiler, but even if it weren’t there is one compelling reason to see it: a scene with uber-villain Tiwari in a bright pink and white lace negligee admitting that he gets his kicks from cross-dressing. Yes, really. And it has nothing to do with the plot, either. The story itself is in service to a criminal reform message which probably didn’t play as well in the late eighties as it might have in the early seventies. It is weak in places, but there is a plethora of lovely songs (by Ravi, with lyrics by Sahir) and an assortment of fine character actors with lashings of clever humor (no annoying CSP!). Leena Chandavarkar, a feisty heroine I always love, is paired with Sanjay Khan and backed by Pran and Rehman as lifelong foes on either side of the law.
There is a lot to appreciate in this Bimal Roy production (Moni Bhattacharjee directs), but for me anyway not a lot to LOVE. It is meticulously crafted; I enjoyed the settings and portrayal of life in small-town India, but everything is so picture-postcard perfect that it began to get on my nerves (I like a bit of “messy”). Even the war scenes in the second half feel far too carefully arranged. In the long run, it somehow lacks the heart to really be a classic although it certainly looks like one; but it’s more a coffee-table book of pretty photographs than an engrossing movie. It didn’t help that the painstaking care taken over the characterizations, photography, songs and script was all in service of a complete downer of a plot! But I didn’t mind the gloomy story as much as I missed that intangible sense of life—it just wasn’t there.
At last! I have seen a film where I liked Biswajeet! He suits his role here perfectly, and the movie is good fun despite nothing really new story-wise. The music is wonderful, by Hemant Kumar, and it co-stars the lovely Rajshree, the ever-elegant Durga Khote, baby-faced Mumtaz and PRAN. It also illustrates the value of a good director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee. He takes the somewhat hackneyed fairy-tale plot and lifts it up a notch by getting good performances out of his actors (keeping some of them *cough* Mehmood *cough* under better control than is often the case) and keeping everything moving along at a good pace (he edited the film too). Plus, the locations in Jaipur and the Amber Fort add authenticity and are beautifully photographed, which is a visual treat.
One of the best things about Hindi movies for me is that they are a window into the growing pains—and hopes and joys—of a brand new nation. (I’m talking mostly about north India only since I don’t watch south Indian movies yet, but still. It’s there, in front of you.) Most cinema is reflective of its origins and time to some extent of course; but the timing of India’s independence, and the fledgling country’s tenacious adherence to specifically Indian traditions and issues, makes Hindi cinema particularly so (this is also true of the pre-independence period, although in a more veiled way). For this reason, I try to slog my way through the 1940s, although I find films from the era sometimes a little too melodramatic and preachy, and a little too song-saturated, to make it easy.
But I really enjoyed this one! It’s feminist! Chock-full of woman power, seriously! Sure, it’s heavy-handed (and laughably idealistic if one is a wee bit cynical), but it has such charm and youthful optimism (that same unknown cynic might call it naivete) that I got sucked right in. Plus, the incredibly young Dev Anand and Madan Puri are so…incredibly young!