So proclaims Bhanu Singh (Vinod Khanna) in English at about two hours into this epic, leading me to reflect that if I’ve learned nothing else from Hindi movies, I do know that an unhinged mind and a Rajput heritage are not as mutually exclusive as he thinks. Still, this is possibly my favorite line ever spoken in the history of movies, with the bonus of an unnecessary but hilarious subtitle: “I am not insane, I am a Rajput!”
Actually, the subtitles are one of my favorite things about this movie, and there are a lot of favorite things.
I guess my bias towards people behind the scenes is showing, since this is the second article of two (so far) that is all about a star’s wife’s point of view! Dharmendra’s wife Prakash, whom he married in 1954 at the age of 19 and with whom he has four children, Ajay (Sunny), Bobby, and two daughters, has mostly shunned the spotlight; but a persistent Stardust reporter cornered her in her home in 1981 and this was the result. Of course verifying its accuracy is impossible, but I think it is an interesting read and a glimpse into how Prakash has managed to retain her dignity and (hopefully) peace of mind in the face of Dharmendra’s well-publicized affairs and eventual second marriage to Hema Malini.
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!
If you are enticed by a story built on more than a few ludicrous suppositions and where skin color informs character, you might enjoy Gora Aur Kala. Or you might think—as I did more than once—that the racism inherent in all of it is so despicable that even Madan Puri atop a Disco Throne (before disco!) and the delicious irony of medically separated Siamese twin princes being separated again by fate hardly make up for it. But then again, it is all so very very over-the-top that I giggled at least as much as I cringed.
I don’t know if this film was made for children or not, given the number of cute baby animals etc. in it, but it is chock full of dumb messages like “Go ahead and pick up a wild baby lion cub even if its protective mother is lurking nearby!” and “If you are chased by a tiger, climb a tree because it can’t get you then!” all of which are followed by “…oh wait…ohhhhh.” Attention to detail is such that leopards are misidentified as cheetahs and the mama lioness has a mane. It is painfully stupid, over-long, harrowing to watch if you’re an animal sympathizer, and Nirupa Roy (as Dharam’s Maa) is the only sensible character in the movie!
So how and why did I make it through? Well, because I knew from the dvd cover blurb that eventually Dharmendra’s character was going to GET HIS from a mother elephant, and within the first five minutes of the film that became something I really wanted to see.
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.
How many dvd versions of Sholay does one need to have? Depending upon your level of OCD, it could be three or even four. Sadly, there is no definitive version—they all have their issues, plus there are two different endings: the theatrical release with a censor-imposed ending, and the “director’s cut” with Ramesh Sippy’s original—and much much more powerful—one intact. Plus, none of the dvd versions have subtitled songs, one of my biggest pet peeves. I have no idea why the Sippys or anybody else have not bothered to try and do something wonderful with this film, but nothing surprises me when it comes to the Indian film and dvd industry anymore.
It’s time to return to beloved Shammi: my eyes have been roving of late (Chandramohan, Shyam, the Shash)—but they will always come back to my favorite! One of my goals for this blog is to write about all his movies that I can find and comprehend (i.e. with subtitles). This is one I haven’t watched in a very long time despite remembering it as a wonderfully romantic story which I enjoyed very much. And I love Shammi in this film; he shows a subdued maturity that is really appealing without losing the Melt Factor that I so adore in him. And although Hema is obviously much younger (she is so gorgeous in this), her character has a gravity that makes it work. The kids are not as annoying as they might be either, especially Master Alankar as Hema’s really cute son Deepu. Baby Gauri—Shammi’s daughter Munni—is a hilarious little monkey, if a little *too* spoiled rotten at times.
Sometimes a film’s music is so fabulous that you don’t even care if the film itself is bad. But when you get a soundtrack like that and a film that is highly entertaining if a *teeny bit* flawed, then life is good! So it is with this one. Kalyanji Anandji have delivered what may be my favorite of all their many awesome soundtracks—every single song, and the background music, is sublime. Toss in Dharmendra, the Indian Luke Perry, a young Shabana Azmi and a very fine Masala Death Trap indeed (operated in part by Helen), and let the fun begin! Just listen to this: