Take Two: Movies We Love - Vol. 2
In April, various Desi Critics brought you the very first issue of Take Two, our homage to the Bollywood classics we love. This month Aspi, Deepti A, Sakshi Juneja, Amrita Rajan and Beth Watkins share a few more of their favorites.
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Aspi : Don (1978)
Every birthday of mine the family gets together and sits around a TV. We pop a DVD in and watch. It’s always a Hindi movie. In fact, it’s the same movie each time. It’s the first one I went back for repeat viewings as a little boy and the most enduring Bollymovie in my life: Don. Not the new Shahrukh Khan starrer, but Amitabh Bachchan’s 1978 thriller Don. In fact, I love Don so much I absolutely adored even the shaky remake.
There are several reasons I like Don so much.
The first one is that Amitabh Bachchan gets to play a badass. Not just any badass – but one who kills for purpose and mixes it with pleasure. He’s ruthless, unpredictable and magically avoids being mired in the swamp of Bollyvillian templates. He kills inventively (if somewhat unbelievably).
Early on, one of his gang members turns coat and is running away to a life free of crime. No one leaves the Don of course. Don shows up at his doorstep with the intent to kill plainly in view. The trapped man runs – out of his room, onto the streets and hails a cab. The cab takes off but stops suddenly and the driver turns. It’s Don! As a young boy, I remember being jolted out of my seat. How did he do it?
Second, it's got Zeenat Aman who plays Roma. And if you haven’t watched Zeenie-baby – this is the movie to watch. She’s absolutely dazzling here. Speaking in clipped tones (“Whatt-ddo-yyou-mmean!”), moving way too much like a model and looking too cute for words. She’s surly-gorgeous (she has an axe to grind with Don and has infiltrated his group) and resourceful (she finds Don when the entire Mumbai police force can’t). And best of all, she gets to kick some serious tush.
Speaking of which, another reason to love Don is the madcap, graveyard fight sequence at the climax. Vijay (Amitabh has a double role here), Roma and Jasjit (Pran) fight Narang and his gang with kicks, tumbles, karate chops, kushti and kabaddi. At one point, Jasjit – who has a pronounced limp from an old injury – jumps on a high bar and does a gymnastic routine to send opponents flying around him. There is genius in all of this – you just have to look hard for it.
Wait! There’s more to love! A terrific dance routine from that criminally unacknowledged Bollywood goddess – Helen. She plays Kamini who tries to stall Don by seducing him. And she goes so full tilt with her stuff that she appears to be having far too much fun for a woman who is trying to get in bed with her husband’s murderer. Fascination abounds!
Finally, there is Khaike Paan Banaras Waala. It’s a song about spicy women, love, passion, intoxication, rural displacement, urban crawl, betrayal and a very special river in India.
Tell me all of this doesn’t sound awesome!
Deepti A : Baaton Baaton Mein (1979)
Baaton Baaton Mein is a light-hearted movie that you can really sit down and enjoy. It has some great music, with some very hummable songs (music by Rajesh Roshan) such as the title song - Baaton Baaton Mein, Na Bole Tum, Uthe Sabke Kadam, Kahan Tak Yeh Man Ko (Raaga.com). It is a small-budget movie, but very delightful.
Made in 1979 by Basu Chaterjee, the movie starred Amol Palekar, Tina Munim, Asrani, David, Pearl Padamsee, Tun Tun and Mazhar Khan.
The story of a young Christian Boy and a young Christian girl in Bombay, it gets the boy, Tony Braganza (Amol Palekar) to see the girl, Nancy (Tina Munim looking really beautiful) in a Bombay local, and take a fancy to her. Her uncle Tom plays the introducer, and soon they are roaming around a bit, like good friends with a budding romance. He visits her house and meets with her family as well.
However, both of them are somewhat relationship phobic, in the sense that marriage is not talked about. She is getting over a past relationship, and soon she is ready for a relationship with Tony. Tony, however, does not seem ready. He does not talk about marriage (and her family is mystified at this - after all, if a couple is roaming around so much, they by now should be talking of marriage and getting the families together). His mother also thinks that he is too young, and overall, he is not seemingly ready for commitment.
But, like any good romantic story, there is a person who brings them together, in this case, in the shape of Henry (Mazhar Khan) who pines for Nancy and is ready to pop the question. At the last minute, Tony comes to his senses and is now ready for all commitments.
The movie does not have much of a masala, but there are many positive and endearing aspects to the movie. It is a simple straight movie, with a strong sense of romance, and coming of age. The music gives it a tremendous feeling, and the setting in a Christian milieu somehow seems very appropriate.
If somebody asked me as to which Hindi Film I consider the best in the
masala genre then without even giving it a second thought, my
reply would be K. Raghavendra Rao’s super-duper hit Himmatwala.
Released back in 1983, Himmatwala starred the dhamakedar jodi of
Jumping Jack aka. Jeetendra and South-Indian beauty aka. Sridevi.
The film’s script was nothing spectacular, just your regular ghasa-pita plot of the 80s: The victimized and eventually dead father, the ever-suffering mother (Waheeda Rahman), the prodigal dehati-turned shehri son who returns to fulfill retributive dreams and take revenge (Jeetendra), the spoilt-brat girlfriend (Sridevi), evil zamindar (Amjad Khan), and even more wicked munim (Kader Khan) with his luchcha son (Shakti Kapoor).
But still Himmatwala manages to entertain even till this day. The reason for this as I see is in its presentation. Right from simple things such as character names (Amjad Khan as Sher Singh Bandookwala, Kader Khan as Narayandas Gopaldas and Waheeda Rahman as Savitri D. Murti), village scenario and slapstick dialogues filled with uncultured verbal humor to critical factors like action sequences, perfect comic timing and right dosage of melodrama – everything was dipped in saucy glee.
And then who can forget Himmatwala’s asinine lyrics but infectious music; undoubtedly one of Bappi Lahiri’s finest compositions. Just talking about songs like “Naino Main Sapna” and “Ktaki Oh Taki” makes you quite nostalgic about the good old 1980s. Especially “Naino Main Sapna”, brilliantly choreographed by P. A.
Saleem; a Southern beach, thousands of matkas filled with colored powder, countless side-dancers and most striking of all apna hero vigorously bum-shaking and our heroine matching his every step with her thunderous thighs. This very dance (aerobics) jig could send even someone like Jane Fonda running for cover.
The other very impressive aspect of this film was the chemistry shared between late Amjad Khan and comedy master Kader Khan. In the 80s most movies had a secondary evil character ‘Munimji’, who would always be ready with an evil plan for his baddie boss which he could use in turn to hurt the ‘good guy’ and his family. Not many actors are able to strike a balance between pure evilness and comical antics at the very same time but in this case Kader Khan and Amjad Khan did their job so effortlessly.
In spite of its crass structure, Himmatwala managed to impress the masses since it contained all the ingredients (action, drama, sing-a-long-songs, etc) needed in a successful commercial flick. And therefore it definitely deserves a spot in the list of “great classics” of the eighties.
Amrita Rajan : Mard (1985)
Manmohan Desai's Mard isn't quite Amitabh Bachchan's worst movie (*cough*Ajooba*cough*) but it comes pretty darn close. And yet, this is probably one of my favorite movies, mainly because of one single sequence.
Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Amrita Singh, Prem Chopra, Dara Singh, and Bachchan mainstay Nirupa Roy, Mard is your quintessential Gothic romance, Bolly-fied 1980s style. There is a young(ish) man who lives under the dastardly bootheel of a tyrant, unaware that he is in fact the long-lost, betrayed heir to the miserable land in which he's just about eking out a living as a second class citizen. Eventually he falls in love with the tyrant's daughter and after many trials and tribulations, he frees his enslaved/tortured parents and his people, reclaims his land and lives happily ever after with his bride. The End.
Because this is a Desai movie, however, there are obviously other touches of 80s masala: a horse called Badal that can outrun a convertible, a dog called Moti that is billed as the Wonder Dog, etc. But the reason I love this movie is the complex relationship between the lead pair: Bachchan and Singh.
Bollywood doesn't believe in contemplating its navel and the last time someone (Jessica Hines) tried to write a no-holds barred biography of Bachchan, he threatened to sue, so credible information about the cinematic process in Hindi filmdom is severely restricted and erratic. Hence I have no idea if the filmmakers knew what they were up to or whether the whole thing just grew out of the 80s trend of Reformed Bitch as Heroine - but the fact is Singh's turn as the rich "white" chick who falls in love with the lowly brownie is at once bizarre and deeply fascinating.
She dresses in cowboy boots, frilly off-the-shoulder dresses and wields a riding whip as a fashion accessory. At one moment she's in full Victorian get up, the next she's in a skimpy swimsuit getting a massage on the top of the palace (don't look at me - I didn't write it). To top it all off, her evil Daddy dearest - the Grand Poobah of those parts - is called Dr. Harry and is supported by other "white" guys dressed in vaguely British uniforms.
The initial clash of wills (involving a whip - see clip below) leads her to have him trussed up and selected for some exquisitely painful whipping from her own lily white hands. When he refuses to scream in pain, she orders salt to be rubbed into his wounds. Oooh!
Well, next thing you know, he's broken out of his chains and he grabs her, gets on a horse and heads for the salt mines! Don't ask me where they came from - they're the good part!
So... salt mines. And as they ride hell for leather, the vicious vegetation of the kingdom administers a whipping of its own to the delectably bared shoulders of the bitchy princess. At the end of a long hard ride, Bachchan flings her onto a pile of salt, then jumps on top of her and rubs her thoroughly all over with it. It's been a while since I saw the movie, but this is approximately how it goes:
"There!" he pants, his hand running all over her as she writhes underneath him. "Did that hurt? Did that hurt?!"
"No," she breathes, staring deep into his eyes. "I loved it!"
They exchange a Look of Great Meaning. Then his eyes fall bashfully from hers and she smiles a little smile of "Gotcha!"
Ladies and gentlemen, how can you not love Mard? Watch it. That one scene alone is thoroughly worth it.
Beth Watkins : Sharmeelee (1971)
Sharmeelee is hard to discuss without giving away the plot, but it has so many lovely moments and poses so many interesting questions that I'm going to give it a whirl. It's a beautiful movie, with dreamy locales, sweet romances, and a rainbow of fashions.
Rakhee plays identical twins, obedient and almost pathologically shy Kanchan and bold and independent Kamini, while Shashi Kapoor is Ajit, the army captain who loves them. Ajit's guardian arranges his marriage to Kanchan; meanwhile, unaware of this plan, Ajit and Kamini meet cute and fall in love over poetry and a roaring fire.
Shashi plays the good-natured but not-too-perfect Ajit with oodles of charm and truthful emotion - and smolders in the romantic moments. Rakhee, twice as beautiful as usual, gives different faces to each twin's pleasures, hurts, and secrets. It's especially fun to watch the leads flirt their way through the various couplings, especially when she smiles with big-hearted affection or when he leans in dangerously close with poetic sweet-talk.
Sharmeelee delights in typical masala ways: tears, fights, deception, soul-searching, family tensions, patriotism, and genuinely funny comedy.
But I think there's something else going on here too, and maybe readers can help me figure out what. If our three leads are Indian cultural tropes, then the movie has a lot to say about the tradition/modernity dilemma for Indian women and what it means to be an upstanding Indian man, and its statements aren't as simple as we've all seen in other teachy-preachy movies. No doubt you can guess which
twin is selfish and tarnished and which is rewarded with the happy ending. Ajit loves them both, but only one can be his bride and the mother in the smiling family scene at the end of the film. Impish, friendly, engaging Kamini is eventually disposed of, and the maladjusted, frightened, shy Kanchan learns to turn outward and forward.
Because she "wins" in the end - though only when accompanied by the brave, balanced hero - it's hard not to think that the filmmakers view her character as the better one. But I wonder if all of Kanchan is to be admired. What about her shrinking fearfulness and inability to interact with the world? And what about Kamini's bravery and affection? Are those traits also not valuable? Ajit too has contrasts - in addition to being the lover and soldier, he's also a dupe.
Sometimes he jokes and loves wholeheartedly, and sometimes he is dismissive and sulky. I find this movie so compelling because the models it gives us are complex and nuanced, unlike, for example, Rekha's selfish, treacherous wife in Do Anjaane. No character in Sharmeelee is flawless, which makes for a far more interesting time.
Take Two: Movies We Love - Vol. 2
- » Published on June 23, 2007
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Author: Amrita Rajan
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