I was telling my friend Suhan the other night that I have stopped writing reviews mostly because I felt like I was endlessly repeating myself, and my threshold for lunacy had become so ridiculous that very little made me sit up and say “OOOOH!” any more. But lately I have been missing my daily masala dosage, so when this Feroz Khan-Vinod Khanna starrer appeared on my radar I couldn’t resist it. It is—not unexpectedly—a predictable and formulaic film, but it moves along at a fast clip thanks to relegating large portions of the action to narration by the characters (often to each other via telephone) after the fact (“Shankar and Shambhu have escaped from jail!” “We have kidnapped your daughter!”) instead of actually showing it to us, leaving details like “How?” “Why?” “Where?” and “When?” up to the viewer’s imagination. Screen time is largely devoted to Ornament with a capital “O”: a mish-mash of dacoit hideaways, corrupt rich people mansions dotted with crazy, and eye-popping disguises. This is okay with me.
The story I can make up; the insane set pieces, wigs, and outfits not so much.
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.
“Zorro” doesn’t even begin to cover it. “Zorro meets Robin Hood meets the Wild Wild West meets Arabian Nights meets Ugly Bridesmaid Dresses and everybody’s last name is Singh!” is a fair start. Dharam-Veer wasn’t this much of a potluck! My friend Mike, who watched some of it with me, remarked that it looks like the wardrobe and set people went crazy in a bunch of studio warehouses and used every single item they found in them. While they were doing that, I think the writers were combing through as much world literature as they could find for their own influences. I’m also pretty sure a lot of the original film is edited out or lost, because transitions between scenes are very abrupt and the whole thing quite choppy, so Lord only knows what other cultural and historical references have gone missing along with that footage.
Almost everything is also very weirdly played for laughs, even atrocities being meted out to villagers. This sort of defeats the whole purpose of atrocities. But never mind: there is just so much to look at, much of it shiny.
This is a very silly adaptation of “Crocodile Dundee” which I love frankly because Sanjay Dutt is so freaking sexy in it. I’m even glad there are no subtitles, because it would be sad to have text cluttering up the screen and possibly partially obscuring him. There is other fun stuff too, like a wooden killer crocodile a la Khoon Bhari Maang and a “Pagal Gorilla” (actual dialogue not made up by me), but the main reason I watch this is Sanju. If he doesn’t do it for you, there’s Juhi Chawla, who would definitely be on any list of superb comediennes that I might make. In a role which could have been grating she is just adorable and hilarious, despite being flogged by the frilly excesses of Nineties ishtyle and a lot of mud.
The first hour and 45 minutes of this film are solid entertainment: an interesting suspense plot, pretty songs, beautiful Darjeeling, and plenty of sparks between Dev Anand (playing a 28-year-old and basically pulling it off at the age of 46) and Asha Parekh. Plus young Farida Jalal as a seductive nurse! But as so sadly often happens the last 45 minutes or so disappoint. This could be because there seem to be some scenes missing as the story reaches its dramatic peak which make subsequent events confusing and out of place. How edifying would it be to discover the place where all these thoughtlessly excised scenes and songs go to die a largely unmourned death?
Still and all, Mahal is a lot of fun and I’d watch it again.
We all have our guilty pleasures (if you don’t, I recommend you get some)…and Baadshah is one of mine. Shah Rukh Khan is the first Indian actor that I truly fell head over heels for, and although I have hardly written about any of his movies here it’s not because I haven’t seen them all. I saw this film very early on in my pyaar and what stuck in my head was that although it struck me as incredibly stupid, it was also immensely fun; there was a ridiculous eye-transplant side plot that I found ludicrous at the time which—given what I know now—barely registered on this watch. There is a fair amount of painful hamming and silly slapstick (yes, someone even slips on a banana peel at one point) which puzzled me more than anything (“Does anyone actually find this funny?”), although now of course I realize that it has its roots in a very rich (if mostly unloved by me) CSP tradition.
It is amazing what a mere eight years of devotion to Hindi cinema can teach a person.
So. For days now I’ve been prancing around singing “Prooooooo-feeeeeeeee-ssor PYARE-lal!” I can’t stop, and it’s seriously beginning to make me want to kill myself. Perhaps I can purge myself of it if I write the film up and share a shortened version of the title song here to move the voodoo along. Sorry—but it’s a last-ditch effort for some peace! Hoo Haa!
On this film’s plus side are that it is an homage to (some might say stolen from) Masalameister Manmohan Desai, and it contains my Beloved Shammi with the Always Utterly Fabulous Nadira by his side, villains Amjad Khan and Jeevan, flanked by an assortment of sideys like Sudhir, Yusuf Khan and Narendranath, Dharmendra (he may be older, but he is in FINE shape), Simi, whom I inexplicably love, and the catchy (sometimes too catchy, see above) tunes by Kalyanji Anandji.
I watched a lot of films early on because they were on lists of Hindi film “classics” that one should watch. Some I remember well, some I do not. This is one that I didn’t think I remembered, until I began to watch it again and realized: “Oh this is where I saw that!” Turns out that a lot of my memories from “some movie” are all from this one. I’m hoping that the memories got fragmented because Hindi cinema was all so new to me back then—I was absorbing so many things, many of which I can take for granted now so they don’t distract me. Otherwise, I need to worry about my brain, because this is a great movie. The script and the performances are pure gold. If I had to put it simply I’d say it’s a story about choices, and the things that influence those choices and shape a human being, and it is done with such finesse that I am left speechless (okay, not really; this is a long post, even for me). It is a brilliantly crafted psychological portrait of the damaged Vijay in particular, supported by simply stunning performances from Amitabh Bachchan and Alankar Joshi, who plays Vijay as a boy. There is nothing wasted—not a word, not a look, not a nuance, not a scene.
I normally would not bother writing about this film since Beth and the PPCC have already covered it in their usual stellar and thorough fashion. But they mostly liked this, and I hated it. Part of the reason is that it was *almost* good. It should have been, could have been! It had a great cast and good songs! But even the goodness of Shashi+Amitabh is not adequate compensation for being smashed over the head with a sermon that I disagree with, especially when it’s done largely to compensate for the lack of a real script (by Salim-Javed, no less). “Clutch your [Bible, Quran, Gita, other] and trust in your blind faith!” it trumpets. Just the kind of pablum that a world overrun with corruption, greed and poverty needs, right?
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!