Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Taal


Subhash Ghai's Taal and I have a complicated relationship. Part of me loves it, just absolutely loves it, and part of me has become wary of it after reading analysis by Filmi Geek and Philip's Filums and then considering it on my own in the cold light of...um...having finished rewatching it and therefore not, at this very moment, basking in its glow of relentless beauty and razzle-dazzle. In a handy convergence of media consumption, my recent preparing-for-a-trip-to-London-to-see-David-Tennant-as-Hamlet-at-the-RSC viewing of "The Fires of Pompeii" episode of Doctor Who has provided me a new system for sorting out my reactions. If your eyes are glazing over at the mention of Doctor Who - as mine used to do until recently, despite evangelistic* efforts by many friends over the years (somehow I've only grown to love Doctor Who** since falling for Bollywood, but that's another post entirely) - please hang on: this will only take a second, and I promise to outline a relevant idea.

In the story, the time-traveling alien Doctor and his human companion, Donna, show up at Pompeii the day before the eruption of 79. This is Donna's first trip through time, and she is distraught when the Doctor tells her they can't save the inhabitants of Pompeii from the disaster they know is about to happen. She pleads, pointing out that he's saved the world in their previous adventures. He admits that this is true but then explains that some history is fixed and some is in flux - and the destruction of Pompeii by Vesuvius is, unfortuantely, fixed. (If you want to know more, here are episode information, analysis, and quotes.) This becomes a really nifty idea if we expand it beyond the rare ability to alter a past we know to have happened a certain way to our very real, very personal-level ability to revisit our thoughts and impressions. We can't change the past, but we can change how we think about it. We can't change our contemporary reactions, but we can combine them with subsequent experiences and information to create new understanding. Anyway. Some aspects of how I react to Taal are fixed because they're tied to a very meaningful experience with the film, and others are in flux, changing with ongoing synthesis of what I have learned and thought about since that initial experience. The fact that I can even raise this point probably says something good about the film: it has enough interesting and thought-provoking elements in it to invite revisiting and to feed a discussion years after I first saw it.

Taal was one of the very first Hindi films I saw, and I was lucky enough to see it with a packed audience at a restored historic theater a few minutes' drive from my house. Local boy Roger Ebert included it in his Overlooked Film Festival in 2005 (his review/program notes here), and present for the panel discussion afterward was...Subhash Ghai. There's really nothing that could have made this a better experience, and I was completely overwhelmed by the visual beauty and music of the film. Watching it in that setting - and with my brand-new eyes - was like spending a few hours in the hot summer sun - beautiful, indulgent, and life-giving but likely to make you feel a bit stunned after. Or, to put it more cynically, this is a fantastically unsubtle movie, and it's quite possible that Ghai (and maybe A. R. Rahman) conked me with a sledgehammer while I was in the theater and I couldn't think clearly after that. Either way, I was in love with it from its opening scene, the heroine's modern-dance musical dream.

From that moment on, I was thrilled with its colors, its love story, its mountaintops and rain, its high drama, its gorgeous music, its giant dance numbers, its overall spectacle - frankly, all the usual stuff that people new to Indian films rave about. The audience was really into the movie too, and it got big reactions throughout. (The other panelist, Gerson da Cunha, said how pleased he was that the film's humor and other emotional moments translated so well and were effective in this foreign context.)


And yes, the Akshaye factor had begun (this was the first of his movies I saw). I thought he was cute, but I was also enamored of a male lead who dances. We don't get much of that in mainstream American cinema.


Also, it had scenes of my former stomping ground, Toronto and other bits of southwestern Ontario.

The joy I felt watching this movie is absolutely fixed, and I admit that every time I watch it I can look straight past the movie's shortcomings and just glow happily in my memories of seeing it for the first time. Probably dozens of other films would have made me feel the same way, especially in the film festival atmosphere with an involved, appreciative audience and a panel discussion with one of my favorite film critics and the director of the movie! There may not be anything particularly special about Taal - and I've since seen many movies that are more spectacular, beautiful, charming, and substantial - but the film will always be special to me.

Now when I read critiques of Taal, I wonder why I didn't see its problems more clearly. For me, the most brow-furrowing of them are the flat depiction of heroine Mansi (Aishwarya Rai), the demonization of the "modern" and "western" woman and her family,

and major portions of the personality of Akshaye's Manav, the stalker-y, arrogant romantic lead.

The dominance of the male gaze. There is a scene later of Anil Kapoor filming her too.
These are the kinds of things I tend to notice and get worked up about - so why didn't I see them the first time I watched the movie, before I had become familiar with these particular Bollywood tropes? I was that dazzled, I guess. And quite possibly put the movie on a pedestal, a status which the flux thoughts are helping to fix. When I read Prof. Lutgendorf's review, I kept nodding, thinking "Yep, those are completely fair criticisms, that analysis makes sense," yet none of them had struck me - and even knowing them as I re-watched, even with the evidence right in front of me, very few leaped to mind.

Poor Mansi. She has an interesting story arc, what with her huge fame and new life and their accompanying moral dilemmas, but nothing is made of these potential challenges and opportunities for character development. As Filmi Geek points out, her musical stardom seems to be included just as an excuse to situate the big song picturizations, and nothing more is done with it, even though clearly such a life event would really affect the character. Even her love life is presented without nuance: sure, she can choose between two guys, but they're pretty much the same guy. Should she pick the rich, musical, pushy, frank, bad-hair guy who offended her father, who might be slightly more earnest and is definitely more age-appropriate, or the rich, musical, pushy, frank, bad-jewelry guy who stole from her father (one-man music industry Vikrant, played by Anil Kapoor), who is sort of sweet in his own authority-figure, megalomaniacal way (but only sort of)?

Either option comes with a fur coat.
Yikes. Girl, take your money and run. (As a side note about their similarities and Mansi's non-developed character, both Manav and Vikrant compare themselves to filmi heroes; Mansi never says anything like that, even though her instant stardom actually is like something out of the movies.)

Oh, Manav. On one hand, he utterly fails to comprehend the basic life lesson "no means no" and sometime he's the tiresome moody-broody sort.

But on the other, his matter-of-factness about his love can be cute, like in his request for yoga lessons and the adorable copycat flirting scene.

One of the things I enjoyed about Manav initially is that he's eager to be with his family and to explore his new home. He sees India through newbie tourist eyes just like I was doing - and using him as a lens, the story indulges in some cheesy but satisfying shots of colorful markets, convivial crowded trains, folk art, etc.


I'm not against the technique, but its effect here is a little facile. (Especially when the director walks through a scene of a market as a toursit listening to a song from his own movie about the motherland and foreignness.)

In another angle of the movie's presentation of "Indianness," there is some interesting conversation about various values held by the traditional mountain folk (represented by Mansi's father, Tarababu [Alok Nath]),

who are artists, and the modern city folk (led by Manav's father [Amrish Puri] and aunt, the afore-mentioned "anglicized witch"),

who are, of course, part of a vaguely-sketched corporate world. The dichotomy of these two stereotyped kinds of Indian characters is completely predictable, but I like that the script sets up both groups as capable of snobbery and hypocrisy - and of learning, changing, and reconciling. Both families also have mediators (who are women, interestingly) who try to help the young'uns navigate their complicated situations. Mansi's aunt lives in the city and knows something about the media industry, and Manav's grandmother encourages him to stay true to his feelings (and gives us the movie's tagline).

The way Taal shows India and Indian culture has, thankfully, and as is only reasonable, fallen into my flux category. I certainly never thought Taal was documentary on most points, but I don't remember bothering to analyze its portrayals of traditional vs. modern or romanticized "India is alive with color!" very hard, either. Taal is not unique in trading in these elements, but now I understand a lot more about what Ghai was up to in using them. There is a lot of visual cheese in this movie that I am still moved by, even though I realize it's cheesy. Stunning mountaintops!

Melancholy boy and friends dance through the city streets in a windstorm!

He also rollerblades contemplatively. "Nahin Saamne" is super sappy (in a good way), but for a split second Akshaye looks straight at the camera with his classic half-smile and then he and the backup dancers sweep into - and hold - a balletic, ridiculously heroic, almost statue-like pose as the wind rages.

I read this as tongue-in-cheek (by the actor or by the character? I don't know!); that's probably not how it was meant, but sometimes I like a little pepper in my syrup. I am firmly in the "Aishwarya is the most beautiful woman in the world" camp and could watch this movie a dozen more times just to look at her in Mansi's staggering array of crazy stage costumes.



I love the glamazon outfits, but I actually thought she was prettiest while frolicking with her friends in the rain in the equally lovely title song.


Which brings me to a very important point: the songs of Taal, both in the context of the movie and on their own, are superb. If you haven't seen the songs from this movie, go do so right this minute. In the fixed/flux system, the songs are utterly fixed in all their glory, and I wouldn't have them any other way. (Now I'm wondering if I generally tend over time to change my mind less about music and picturizations than about other aspects of movies? Hmmm.)

Maybe I feel about Taal like Mansi feels about Manav: its early impression is the one that remains, and I still love it, even though I know better. The important thing is that I'm still thinking about it and can still love the parts of it that I know to be worth loving.

You can't watch a movie five times in the last few years without collecting some details, can you?

  • At Mansi's MTV party, we see a sign for the event organizer. Post-Clinton, I find this funny, even though the spelling is different.
  • At that same party, and then later at an airport, there's a guy in a Philadelphia Flyers jersey.

    I like to think this is included as an unspoken joke about Askhaye's "hockey hair," as my Canadian friends call a mullet.
  • Many reviewers have commented on how product placement-heavy this movie is - Coke-bottle flirting! jokes about Coke sponsorship! -

    so you'd think someone would have made sure Manav had the right brand in hand at the MTV party.
  • Vikrant's studio/rehearsal space is design hodge-podge, but I'm especially fond of his huge mural of himslef with a baton and the music-symbol-printed dance floor.
  • Awww, baby Shahid Kapoor!

* I assume many people have worked on the Doctor-as-Jesus idea, but I'm not going to look it up for a fear of a tidal wave of script(ural) analysis that I couldn't begin to process.
** Someone will ask, so: Eccleston.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

Soooo satisfying - a big ol' hunk of dil-nourishing masala cheese! Lost siblings! Misisng parents! Orphans! Violence! Tears! Religious identity! Shady authority figures! Shenanigans! Splashy piles of currency! Groovy title graphics! Stupid white people! Gangster hideouts! Outsider takes on the system! Very ironic and convenient coincidences! One true love! You have to eat this one carefully, predictable though it can be, because someone stuck bits of razor blade inside and then rolled it in jagged glass dredged up from the sewer. But but it's completely worth the risk if you love cheese (and some good movie-culture and -celebrity play). And I do.

For discussion: did the portrayals of poverty, violence against children, gangsters, police brutality and corruption, etc, sometimes become just as easy-cheesy and/or fantastical as those of the heart-warming parts? I haven't decided. But wow, is my heart ever warm.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

apparently violence is the answer: Ghajini

Note: I have seen neither Memento nor the Tamil original Ghajini, so I'm looking at the Hindi version on its own.

Ghajini is a cruel, depressing, and disjointed story. Last thing first: the tone of the movie lurched around so frustratingly. Even before the intermission, we leap from shadowy, brutal hand-to-hand death to blathering Asin (who was maybe instructed to act like Kareena Kapoor as Geet in Jab We Met? I don't have any other explanation for her character Kalpana's hyperactive act) to multiple hip-hopping Aamir Khans (and more of this, please - oh how I love his dancing). Jumpy editing and unusual camera angles might help the viewer get to know what it's like inside poor protagonist Sanjay (Aamir Khan)'s damaged brain, but the shifts between tones and components of the story went way beyond that. The nearly constant violence or aggression present in any scene with post-injury Sanjay combined with the sunny, silly romance of his previous self struck me as just awkward. Maybe these two very different feels (and visual styles - pre-injury Sanjay's world is sunny and yellow, and post- it is green and murky and bumpy) were supposed to reinforce for viewers the contrast between the pieces of Sanjay's life, but for me the effect was more often a frustrating jumble than a clever or meaningful juxtaposition. For example, we met Aamir's character in a lengthy attack and murder in a dirty washroom, then a confused ride through the city streets, then his dark and frantic apartment. Then we are introduced to Asin's in a big, chipper song-and-dance number. Huh? Is this to show that villain Ghajini's violence is so extreme that it turns Sanjay into a beast that the person on whose behalf he suffers all of this wouldn't even recognize him? It was like several different movies got chopped up and reshuffled. Sanjay used to be a jovial, normal (if significantly dishonest) person, and then he became an animal - and the two are only reconciled in the throw-away and very cheesy ending. I'd been wondering how the movie would fit chocolate hero arm-flings in the desert with a bug-eyed, grunting killer backed by sledgehammeringly persistent Carmina Burana-esque chanting, and my answer is that it didn't.

And anyway, why did Sanjay's doctor and manager let him go on and on in his life of rage and vengeance, clearly obsessive well beyond a mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy level?

Somebody saw Cape Fear!
If he had somehow disappeared or slipped through the cracks of society, I could understand how his psychosis and one-note life were incubated in his isolation, but he has a staff (but no family, interestingly). No one should let anyone live like that. If he must have eye-for-an-eye revenge, why not hire a bunch of private investigators, since he can't actually remember the puzzle pieces anyway, and let them do the footwork and then hand Ghajini over for his punishment?

Which is not to say the actors didn't do good things with what they had. They did. Aamir Khan is obviously effective as a psychopath, and of course he nails the major requirement of a dual role of making two separate characters - even though they aren't contemporaries in the plot, the interspersion of the parts of the story shows us one Sanjay next to the other, giving the story a sort of twin effect, and now that I think about it, I wonder if getting to do two very different characters was one of the attractions of the story for this actor. Maybe he's too good at the job, as it was very hard to find a link between the two Sanjays or even believe they were the same person, but that's really the writers' and director's fault, isn't it? Pradeep Rawat as Ghajini was interesting and menacing, and he was a creepily calm foil to Sanjay's fits and spasms. Asin's Kalpana really grew on me as the film went on. At first, I sent a silent mental barrage of "shut up, shut up, shut up" at Kalpana on the screen, but once the story shifted from her ridiculous lies to her kind, everyday life, I liked her a lot. Unfortunately, Kalpana really got the short end of the musical stick: she had little to do in "Guzarish" and "Behka" other than stand, strut, and beckon, and the picturizaiton of the musically disjointed "Aye Bachchu" painted her with traits that weren't relevant to the character we got to know through the rest of the film.

Here's where I must mention how the violence against women in this movie really bothered me. I don't know if I can fairly call it misogynistic, but it had some associations of ideas that I won't swallow. Kalpana's murder is disgusting, as is the threatened attack on medical student Sunita, which has the further taint of being committed with a sick joy and trivializing superfluousness. The scandal Kalpana uncovers is of course disturbing too (for those of you who haven't seen the movie, I won't say more); yes, it communicates that Ghajini and his crew are Very, Very Bad, but it seems to be done for a bit of shock value too. (Kaplana also behaves in a very foolish thriller-movie-victim way during part of this sub-story, so I lurched from eye-roll to peeking out from behind my fingers.) Sanjay's death-obsessed revenge motive throughout the film perpetuated an overall sense that rage against other people and violent vigilante action are legitimate responses to personal loss and violations against civilized society. Sanjay's violence is not against a woman, but in his impaired mind it is because of a woman, and I didn't like the combination of Kalpana's memory with Sanjay's spree. What made Kalpana lovable was her affection for other people and willingness to go out of her way to help and protect them. I don't think Kalpana would have wanted anything to do with the man Sanjay became, and I wish the writers had discussed this in some way, even if just shoved in as a voiceover of Sanjay's thoughts and memories at the end. Sanjay was all but a blank slate, why was he obsessed only with the evil associated with Kalpana's life? Because that would be a different movie, I guess. If Sanjay lived by Kalpana's life, it'd be Munna Bhai. But how dismal this movie was.

The smartest moment of the whole thing shows Sanjay, mid-chase of Ghajini and his henchmen, suddenly stop and look at the bodies he's knocked to the ground. We've been told repeatedly that his memory can only hold information for fifteen minutes, and the clock has just run out, leaving him totally confused about what he's done and what's going on. He just stands there breathing hard and looking around, and we all sit in silence looking with him at the results of his vengeance. It's brilliant. But then the chase continues, undoing and forgetting any intelligent analysis or synthesis that Sanjay has made (and encouraging viewers to forget theirs too, I think - it's like the film wants us to go "Oh my god, is all this violence worth it?" and then go "Hell yeah!"), and there's no more conversation offered about what happens when you live your life like he does.

One more complaint: the characterization of Sunita annoyed me (but Jiah Khan's performance was fine for what she had to work with). What kind of medical student brings patient files to a stranger, steals a newspaper from the research archives (feel my museum staff/librarian's wrath! feel it!), and goes "ew" at the sight of a few beaten-up bad guys in an alley? Her character gave us a way in to Sanjay's medical condition, but I think a conversation between his doctor and manager, or between his manager and any number of people he might encounter on a given day (the bus driver who knew him, for example), could have done the same thing. Sunita was totally unnecessary - and she didn't even provide a whole item number.*

Overall, Ghajini was not a successful film for me. It had its moments - adorable schoolchildren wanting to visit a museum, people using a library, "Behka," Sanjay's quick and heartfelt softening toward Kalpana, solving the mystery of what happened to Kalpana and why, the inclusion of my new favorite Useful and Comforting Mom-Like Figure of Authority Vibha Chhibber as the most helpful police officer - but they didn't cohere. I almost pulled out my mental checklist of recommended masala elements because so many of them seemed to be present, but they sure weren't combined in the right proportions or methods for my taste.

And oh, the sleeves. Rather more Salman than Aamir, no?

Pictures from the official site.
Aamir is pumped. Got it. We already knew that from the camera's and Sanjay's own lingering gazes over his flawlessly chiseled and inked torso in the morning bathroom scene. Not to belittle the work that went into said look - about which you can learn on the official website's videos. Me, I'm happy with the hip-hop fedoras.

* And that present she gives Sanjay at the end? Where did she get that?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

warm fuzzies

Much to my delight, Banno, Todd, Rum, and Ajnabi have included Beth Loves Bollywood in their list of blogs that believe in proximity. Yes, I was confused at first too, as to my knowledge none of them also lives in Champaign-Urbana, or Illinois*, or even the midwestern United States. But then I read what it means.

This award is given to a blog that invests and believes in PROXIMITY – nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.
That's so thoughtful! I am often stunned by how much richer my life has become through reading and writing about Bollywood. I count among my very favorite friends many kindred Bolly souls, many of whom I have never met in person and might not even recognize if I bumped into them on the street - because somehow the shared interest in Hindi films has led to discovering a ton of really interesting, creative, thoughtful, funny, kind, generous people. Movies wouldn't mean nearly as much to me as they do without people to share them with, to think with, to laugh with. Finding friends is one of the most essential things we can do as humans, and, quite unexpectedly, reading and writing about Bollywood has turned out to be a remarkably fertile ground for that goal. Talk about dil squish!

Here are eight writers whose abilities to create welcoming ideological and philosophical spaces - and generally great attitude towards other people - have made my life (and DVD collection) better. I might be cheating a little bit because I have met many of them in person and know them in their beyond-the-internet lives [what is this of which you speak?] - but I certainly wouldn't if they didn't have compelling, inviting, friendly blogs, so I hope that counts. (I'm also going to choose people who haven't already been included on any of the lists I've read so far, just to keep things lively.)

Antarra's Ramblings - A very unassuming little blog, not full of squealing or bright pink or tons of exclamation points, but wickedly funny. One of the things I like about this one is how it just does its own thing. Gebruss writes about the things she enjoys because she wants to - be it cataloging Rishi's sweaters or enjoy Sanjay in the 90s - not to try to get attention.

Aspi's Drift - Great storyteller, great reviewer, great interviewer - most importantly, great at connecting people and ideas, whether they are his or someone else's, people he actually talks with or people he watches on the screen. Also, I love how he highlights particular comments on posts; he helps me get to know his other readers.

Baba aur Bollywood - Babasko has an emotional honesty in her writing that I love. I can picture her face - and her wild hand gestures, and hear her expressive voice - when I read her words. She also writes in a way that is true to how she talks, which I always find appealing. Sometimes you wonder what you know about a person when you engage with their writing - with Babasko there is no doubt.

Bollywoodblog - Michael started both the internationally multi-authored Bollywoodbloggers and the international traveling Mini Khan project - it's hard to find someone more friend- and nearness- oriented than that!

Chronicus Skepticus - She's inviting without sacrificing her opinions. And have you ever heard anyone put such-and-such in just the right words so often? Neither have I.

Paint It Pink (and related site MissionBAS) - Kaddele usually writes in German these days, but we have always spoken the same language. I am in awe of how much fun she has, of how she can thoroughly enjoy the littlest thing, of the cheer with which she approaches everything and everyone (but is in no way a plastic smile type).

Saturation - A photo blog about Toronto, my adopted home, that makes me feel like I'm getting updates from the city about its everyday life.

Trivial Matters - Akshay Mahajan has already - and rightly - won some high-profile awards, but he absolutely must be included in any list I make of sites that make me feel closer to the subject and the writer. His photographs and stories bring you the big, the thoughtful, the heart through such simple, unfussy scenes.

* I'm so embarrassed about our governor. So foolish and delusional (not to mention the obvious "awash in the stink of corruption").

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh. My. Stars.

Eeeeeeee! If you happen to pick up the current issue of Filmfare - and what a cover! - please stop by p. 157.



Many, many thanks to Jugal Mody for including me. And be on the lookout for more Bloggers You Know soon!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shankar Dada

Is Shankar Dada an ahead-of-its time example of decline and fall masala, a.k.a. teetering towards embarrassingly debauched and past its prime/backwass masala? Or is it a brilliant synergy of style and substance? You decide!

Exhibit A: story
The description of Shankar Dada from the back of its Ultra DVD box says more about the movie than I could ever come up with. Here it is exactly:

Amarsingh an honest Police Officer deligent, hardworking, dutiful and devotee of nation leads a happy life with his loving wife Shante and twin sons Ram & Shankar.

Babu Dada an antinational, antisocial, criminal wants to buy Amarsingh the honest police officer, who defies and is trapped in a murder case. Innocent Amarsingh is sentence for life imprisonment.

The family of Amarsingh is scattered. All three are separated. Wife Shanta becomes Half-mad. Ram becomes a Police Officer and Shankar becomes a criminal.

Amarsing after serving his term in jail, comes out as a different person in disguise of docit Lakhan singh and takes a vow to un-earth all the antinational activities of Babu Dada alais Babu Bhai. He succeeds in his mission. How?

I. G. Praises Amarsingh's honest and dutiful role and recommends government to reopen his case and re-instate him as police officer. Amarsingh gets re-instatement or not?

Ram & Shanker could meet together again or not?

What happened to Amarsing's Wife Shanta? The answers to all this is available on Ultra DVD of 'Shankar Dada.'
At least all the answers is available! Be grateful for small consistencies.

Let me try to straighten this out a little bit for you, the esteemed jury. Pran is Amarsingh,

and after he is unjustly incarcerated, his twin sons and wife are separated. His twin sons grow up to be evil Shashi Kapoor (Shankar)

and good Shashi Kapoor (Ram),

and his wife (Anjali Kadam) is barely scraping by. After being duped in a song by dancer/gang member Bindiya (Bindu), Shankar joins forces with supreme baddie Babu (Anwar Hussain), not knowing that Babu was the one ultimately responsible for his pathetic orphan back story. Once out of prison, Amarsingh takes on the disguise of dacoit Lakhansingh to infiltrate the gang. Dedicated Amarsingh can't make do with just one disguise, though: he also becomes a near-deaf household servant (cue stupid comic relief) and a community-minded beggar. Shankar and Ram variously go under cover as each other, which is possibly less to do with the plot and more just an excuse to put Shashi in more disguises, but that's okay, because that is a Beth Loves Bollywood-approved goal for 1970s filmmaking. Ashok Kumar plays the superintendent of police, Ram's boss. Neetu Singh shows up as Roopa, the niece of Babu, and daughter of the head of the mint, whom the gang has kidnapped. She is coerced into seducing officer Ram in "Ek Main Ek Tu," one of the best Neetu songs ever (and a fine Shashi one too, because he is both flustered and manic), complete with a round spinning bed and fake-pretend drunkenness.





Neetu and Shashi make a cute couple, even though it's vaguely weird that she's his niece (ditto Babita) and that in another movie released the same year as this one she plays his son's girlfriend.
Somewhere in all of this, Ram and Shankar meet up with their long-lost parents,

and the parents themselves even have a near-miss that would be sad if I didn't know it'd be sorted out in another hour. More crazy stuff happens and there's a gigantic fight at the end involving every single extra who appears anywhere in the film.

Exhibit B: visuals



And that's just the credits! Throughout the movie, there are jarring juxtapositions of colors and patterns in the costumes and set design.








This last one is an oval spiral staircase at a hotel. If you know where this hotel is in real life, please let me know so I can book a stay immediately.
There is no safe place for your eyes in this film.

Update to post (December 14, 2008): Alert blogger Bollywood Food Club has posted some pictures from the 1970 film Sawan Bhadon, and the kaleidoscopic pattern that appears behind the producer's name in the titles of this film also appeared in the titles of that one!

Exhibit C: well done
I was so relieved to find out that Ashok Kumar was not going to be Shashi's long-lost twin. Shashi and Amitabh as twins, okay; Shashi and someone twenty-seven years his senior, no.

Shashilicious curls!


Yeah baby!


Ashok, here 65 years old, dances! And he's great!
He has a song with Bindu in which she tries to get money out of him and he, pretending to be a nawab (so yes, another disguise!), sings about all the starlets he has known (nudge nudge wink wink) - including Hema Malini, Parveen Babi, Helen, Bindu, and Shabana Azmi - so she'd be foolish to think she could pull anything over on him.

Babu's be-neckerchief-ed brigade of henchmen.


Shetty!


Disguises!





The gang's lair and its various outposts of evil have some neat touches, like a purple tunnel from the street, button-operated peep-holes at card games, and trapdoors at art galleries.


The sets, while totally eye-scarring, are exuberant, and either the production design team found some of the most god-awful interiors in Bombay or they spent a lot of money creating these things. Either way, I have to give them many points for effort.

When realizing that they are long-lost twins, Ram and Shankar have a conversation that goes like this: "Bhai?" "BHAI?" "BHAI?!?" "BHAI?!?!?!?!?!?" (For a discussion of the emotional efficacy of similar conversations, see PPCC on "A Joy like Knives.")

At one point, after evesdropping on the gang and discovering they have stolen the deity from the local temple, Amarsingh, now in disguise as a beggar, sings "Amiro Watan Se," an incongruous but awesome socialist, somewhat jingoistic
song about how the rich and powerful should set upon a course of social improvements.
O rich people, eradicate poverty from the country.... You buy the innocence of youth, liquor, and fair bodies, this beauty, this kohl, these anklets, these bells. Buy joys with the tinkle of money. If you save on tax, blow it up on sex. Blow it up! .... So many martyrs sacrificed their lives and got us freedom with great difficulty. Bapu’s death is immortal who gave his blood for peace of the country. Make the poor, too, a part of your progress. If the people of the country were with the government this country would make tremendous progress. There would be no theft, no corruption, no adulteration, and it would rain money in India. Wipe out poverty from the country. Everyone together say eradicate poverty from the country. Say it!
Both Helen and Gandhi make appearances in archival footage. I wonder if there's any other song that can make that claim!


An India made of people! Cool!

The movie has the very best secret identity revelation I have seen yet in Hindi cinema - and it's more fun than Keyser Söze (though with less overall impact for the story)!

Exhibit D: needs improvement
It is disingenuous to list Helen as a "guest appearance" in the opening credits when really she is just in a few seconds of archival footage. Everybody knows that the combination of the words "Helen" and "guest appearance" means she's doing a song.

Bindu's makeup and hair in her musical numbers, particularly the nightclub song, make her look like a drag queen. V unfortunate.

I don't think the outfit and its underpinnings help - she looks unreal up top. She looks perfectly pretty elsewhere in the movie, and it seems so unfair to make an item girl look freaky in her item.

While we're on the topic of not-quite-right musical numbers with sparkly red outfits, after conning a queen out of some jewels, Shankar hides out as tawaif. As in Haseena Maan Jayegi, our beautiful Shashi still makes one heck of an ugly woman.


He also still looks like a man, thus undermining the utility of the disguise.

And there's a third one! It's not really a song - just some people dancing in the background while Shankar plays cards. The man wears a white satin martial arts-ish outfit and the woman wears a red minidress and pleather boots. She does go-go moves and he...um, I guess does karate. All choreographed nicely under a disco ball, of course.

This number has potential for epic weirdness. But it's not given the attention it would need to be a full-on over-the-top song. It's a wasted opportunity but yet too distracting to be mere wallpaper. Not that you could overlook the wallpaper in this movie if you tried.

Occasional moments of horrible writing, like the scene in which officer Ram drives a jeep in pursuit of diamond-smuggler Shankar, who is in a helicopter. This guy is Ram's office contact and keeps bellowing the same completely obvious instructions - "Stay with the helicopter! Do you read me?" - to him over and over and over again.

Antarra's Ramblings proposed that this guy must be the director's uncle. I agree.

Lack of regular cast of bad guys like Mac Mohan and Yusuf Khan. Lack of regular half-mad mother Nirupa Roy or even Durga Khote.

Worst, though, Shankar Dada does not rollick along like one wants a 1976 masala movie to do. It clunks. There's really no excuse. It's 1976!
Neetu is not used to anything near her full potential (though she gets to do a little more than in Deewaar). Shashi looks tired through half of the film. Maybe he too was uninspired by the ramshackle plot. Maybe it's because he had eight other movies out that year and had been incredibly busy. Maybe it's because they kept putting Shankar in pants that are four inches too short and show off his red socks.


Beth Loves Bollywood's verdict
Overall it's just kind of a mess and never really takes off. There's too much scrambling around and not enough wackadoo and dil squish. Does not live up to potential. What say you, people of the court?