Even with subtitles, I probably would have fast-forwarded through vast stretches of this film; without them I spent much of my time bewildered by the plot and bored by its meandering. I might not have bothered to write it up either except for there’s an absolute dearth of material about it out there, and it does have some very redeeming qualities. It seems to have had a decent budget: there are a lot of well-known character and comic actors; the costumes and sets are lush and colorful; Helen and Laxmi Chhaya each have dances. I suspect though I can’t confirm that none of the money lavished on it went to a script writer, however. Mohammed Hussain is a director whose name I am always happy to see in the credits, but he might have been rather worn out or bored himself by the time this was made. It lacks his trademark lunacy, and that craziness is sorely missed.
I love a good daku-drama, and Dara Singh makes one very satisfyingly manly dacoit (I mean, he is the guy who later carved “MARD” into his infant son’s chest). This film is surprisingly serious much of the time though, with an unexpected (at least to me) ending; it’s not his usual lighthearted type of stunt film although there is plenty of delicious fun to be had nonetheless. Director Mohammed Hussain has long been one of my more prolific and dependable favorites, having delivered the crazy likes of Faulad, Shikari, Main Hoon Aladdin, CID 909, Teesra Kaun, and on and on). For the cast he has roped in his usual stalwarts, including Helen as heroine and perpetually belligerent Shyam Kumar in a Prince Valiant wig. And of course, being a “B-movie” it has beautiful music too, with lively dances from the gorgeous Bela Bose, Madhumati and Rani, among others.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Reader Chris brought the sad lack of reviews on the internet of this film to my attention recently, and I am surprised. This is a really fun film, and though Shammi is admittedly towards the end of his career as a hero, he is still the Shammi who made hearts go pitter-patter. The songs are classic Shanker-Jaikishan-Rafi-Shammi, with the dance-off between Helen and Vijayanthimala probably its most well-known feature. But there’s so much more to it than that! Shammi is less exuberant than the Yahoo Shammi of early in the decade, which gives his performance a more subdued realism. He plays Prince Shamsher Singh, the jaded, bored, arrogant son of the Maharajah of Ramnagar (Ulhas); the film is about how wealth and privilege do not guarantee happiness, not by a long shot. This theme—and the setting, at the twilight of the Princely States—may be be trite, but they are no less valid; and the screenplay and story are penned by none other than Abrar Alvi. And the supporting cast…let’s just say it is a gift that keeps on giving.
This post is dedicated to dearest Edwina, whose husband of 52 years passed away this morning. She and Keith were married the year this film was released, and she has a small speaking part in addition to her song appearances. It is also the newest in the Edu Productions catalog, named in her honor. I have the Sky dvd, and this has about 15 minutes more footage than that, much better subtitles, and video that doesn’t jump around in such a manner as to make me nauseous. Details for watching it online or downloading it are on the Edu Productions page.
I adore this full-on 1940s Hollywood-style soap opera romance, with it’s thwarted love, stylish villainess, crashing ocean waves mirroring internal turmoil, and bonus bakwas filmi medicine. Even though Meena Kumari spends the whole movie dressed like the Flying Nun, you can practically taste the chemistry between her and Raaj Kumar (still blessed with his own hair and very handsome indeed), and Nadira makes a perfect Joan Crawford in a sari. Plus the songs are pure gems, including the one that would be my ring-tone if I had a cell phone (“Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh”). From an era when plots like this often devolved into ridiculous melodrama and pointless self-sacrifice this one stays relatively on point and the people in it remain relatively sane. Also woven into the main story is a simply delightful sub-plot about three patients, led by Om Prakash.
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!
Let’s face it: Dara Singh is reason enough for me to watch any film, and when the rare subtitled one comes along it’s practically Diwali in my household. So you will understand how much it pains me to say this, but Lootera is a really bad movie. How can a Dara pirate (subtitled “sea dacoit”) film be bad? I am not sure. But Dara and heroine Nishi have zero chemistry, unlike the better if rather less complete Nasihat, and the pacing is just abysmal. The writers keep writing themselves into corners from which they can only escape with overly glib plot developments, and the director fails to understand which parts of the story he should be lavishing time and attention on. It even manages to be sexist, and these sorts of movies are usually a refuge from that.
There were enough things to get me through it: Dara’s ruffled sea dacoit shirts, Prithviraj Kapoor, dancer Kammo as a female sea dacoit, lots of sparkle and terrible wigs, and lovely songs including a Bela Bose dance aboard a sea dacoit ship. Plus the subtitles, inept as they are, are often hilarious. And when I tell you that Memsaab favorites Hiralal, Jeevan and Rajan Haksar vigorously ply their histrionic powers you will understand that subtlety is no hallmark of the acting either (yes, I know I am putting that in the “plus” column, it needs the support).
I really wanted to like this movie—Faryal as a heroine! The Shash as her hero! Lalita Pawar! Pran!—but I was forced to ponder these things instead:
- Why is Faryal the heroine so much less likable than Faryal the vamp?
- Is it possible for Prithviraj Kapoor’s sons to pull off being “poor”? (no)
- How many wimpy roles did Shashi play in the Sixties anyway?
- Is it better to ignore psychological issues than to completely eff them up?
- Is there anything funnier than absolutely literal subtitles?
- Is Lalita Pawar Awesome No Matter What? (yes)
- Is Pran the Most Suave Villain Ever? (yes again)
- Have I really seen two movies in a row where Lots of Mehmood wasn’t Too Much?
*Sigh* So much goodness squandered on a story full of trite saccharine platitudes (if you are rich, be kind to the poor; they are people too!) which descends finally into that melodrama I so dread, where the females in the story are either blamed or worshipped and lose any bit of individuality and humanity they might have had.
Just when I fear that I may have seen all the crazy Indian spy films that there are to see, another one appears. This one is not quite as loony as my beloved Spy In Rome or Puraskar, but that is probably because it also had a larger budget and A-list stars (Waheeda Rehman and Rajendra Kumar). Still and all it is satisfyingly filled with many of the same tropes: an enemy country never called by its actual name, but whose denizens all have names like Comrades Ping and Chang and Shin Cho. They are led by an angry man we only ever see in silhouette until the end, who kills his loyal henchmen at the slightest provocation with weapons like machine guns mounted on turrets (and marvelous dying theatrics on the part of those men, although there is a sad lack of blood and gore). AND IT HAS SUBTITLES, hooray!
Plus, all the usual suspects—Madan Puri, Rajan Haksar, Ratan Gaurang—are present, sporting Fu Manchu moustaches and squinty eyes. Seriously satisfying.
This film is exactly what I would picture a big long LSD trip to be like (because of course I have no actual knowledge of one). Although if it were an acid trip, I’d probably be dead now. It is that crazy: I have a pretty high tolerance—some less charitable might even say need—for eye-popping candy-colored visuals, but by the abrupt (and non-existent) end of this my head was exploding. Truly it is a dizzying kaleidoscopic bombardment of Cracktastic that never lets up. Low on budget it might be, but the heights of jugad are certainly scaled.
I also really love the cinematography (Shyam Shiposkar): the camera angles are fantastic. Much of the candy color is probably a result of film deterioration, but here that sad state only adds to the charm.