Wednesday, April 20, 2011

James Bond 777

I've tried so many times to write about this movie—usually with post titles like "Come for the Espionage; Stay for the Pompadours!"—but each attempt has been defeated by a combination of dissolving into squees, dance breaks, and the weird contradiction of knowing absolutely nothing about it while simultaneously notating an ever-growing list of why it's so good. What little knowledge of this 1971 Telugu film by K. S. R. Doss (alas, no subtitles) I have is thanks to Todd of Die Danger Die Die Kill, whose writeup provides his usual hilarious summary and commentary on the actual filmmaking and cinematic context, which I will leave to him since he knows so much more about them and phrases them just so.

In brief, James Bond 777 is approximately two-thirds chases and fights spread over and among the various characters: the titular hero Kishore (Krishna),

I wonder if Mahesh Babu, like Ranbir Kapoor, ever catches stuff like this on late-night tv and thinks "...yeah, that's my dad."
his partner in crime-fighting Sopa (Vijaya Lalitha),

This is the same picture Todd used to introduce Sopa—I think it must be the only time she held still long enough to get a good shot of her.
a bad guy named Boss,

and his principal henchperson Jamilla (Jyothi Laxmi, who also plays Jamilla's twin, whose raison d'ĂȘtre can be explained by one scene that I will come to in a moment).


The remainder of its run time is filled with many elements we know and love and even a few we don't (or at least I didn't): childhood trauma and family tragedy exactly as Desai and friends would write; several fabulous songs, linked by some of the most enjoyable background music I have ever heard; a huge range of disguises and outfits that beg detailed study;

Stumped about what to wear when you plan to push someone off a cliff? Why, darling, a kerchief and fur-trimmed leather coat are just the thing!
lairs and control rooms;

This is Cindy, another of Boss's top staff.
a seduction-of-the-hero scene that would make Austin Powers proud;

This baby spins fast—hold on tight!
adorable dogs who attack their master's enemies and rob a bank;

and dance-off and fight between Jamilla and her twin, one dressed in cabaret wear and the other in tight knits with gaping holes.


Side note: this song sounds very much like "Piya Tu" with the melody sometimes sung in a two-part round by the two Jyothis.
When Todd wrote up this film almost two years ago, I commented that I was so delighted to see a use of a dual role in such an innovative (or at least "new to me") way. As I mull over the question, I can't remember if good and evil Shashi Kapoors fight in Haseena Maan Jayegi (though there is at least a dance-off between them), and of course there's Sanjeev Kumar trying to get the better of his worse nature in Chehre Pe Chehra. Apart from the difficulties in fight choreography and filming, I can't imagine why more films don't use this device—think of the moral struggles it can illustrate, not to mention the good plain fun of the staging and stunts.

The music of James Bond 777 could make its own post. It is fab and mod and groovy and every other positive adjective from ca. 1963 to 1971 you can think of. It is a great tragedy that none of the songs are on youtube, but you can find this movie online very easily and I recommend just playing it in the background while you go about your daily affairs to give yourself a certain air of adventure and fabulousness. If I had to pick a favorite song, it's Sopa and Kishore's cabaret number, in which she is undercover as a dancer named Miss Kismet (or possibly Miss Kiss-Miss, I couldn't quite tell) and shaking all she's got in a way that would make Bindu proud. In fact, parts of this song bring to mind Bindu's "Mera Naam Shabanam," right down to the panting. Her outfit is all feathers and dangling crystals and neck-to-ankle sequins, and she and Kishore dance all over a club themed around the suits in a deck of cards

with a light-up floor like a giant Simon game. There's also a great solo dance in the multi-story villain HQ; I'm have no idea who this woman is, but like almost every other component of this film, she gave it her all.

The view from above looks like an eye!
The background score is also phenomenal. It may overuse the hero's theme—a strong female voice wails "James Bond! Triple seven!" while a chorus punctuates with "Seven seven seven!"—but it's so full of surf guitars and scampering vocables that all is forgiven. It's strangely reminiscent of the Swingle Singers

and the Russian "trololo" guy from youtube,

a combination that conjures up the swinginest' club you and I will never get to go to because, sadly, we are neither Dick Dale, Sean Connery, nor Lawrence Welk.

I love the Emma Peel-ness of both female leads—not just in mod clothes (though those are very awesome) but in can-do attitude and kick-ass-ery. In addition to the Jyothi Laxmi twin fight, Vijaya Lalitha is involved in several stunts and brawls as befits her character.

Before fighting off a handful of baddies with big wooden sticks, Sopa takes a second to tuck her sari skirt up into its waistband to form trousers that enable much better range of motion for ass-kicking.
And even better, all of the female characters are as important as the men: they do things, they have responsibilities, and they forward and are integrated into the plot. It's truly a team effort.

My only complaint about this film might be due just to the version I watched, but it seems to be missing almost all transitions between scenes. I've seen two other K. S. R. Doss films and they certainly move from action to action, but this one was especially full of a style based on the idea that as soon as one chase is over it's immediately time to show a different chase with different people in a different location without any build-up or context. For example, early in the film, a man is kidnapped from a train station, tucked into a car, and sped across the city. The bad guys press a button and fill his car with poisonous gas and he screams. A split second later we see a lovely row of trees in a park, violins surge, and in a long-distance shot Kishore spreads his arms and bellows, launching us into a hero-glamorizing romp of a song in which he frolics in a park with eight leggings-and-tunics-clad women as he wiggles, pants, and shouts "Yahoooo!"


All while wearing geisha whiteface.
Speaking of, I've yet to see why Superstar Krishna deserves such an appellation. In the two films I've seen him in, he evokes a baked potato, perfectly pleasant, neither adding to nor distracting from the film.* Maybe it's his ability to rock both a cowboy hat and a pompadour?

I have so much to learn!

James Bond 777 may not make a lot of sense—and somehow I suspect not knowing the language is not quite the usual level of hindrance—but it's so incredibly spirited and big-hearted that it produced the happiest confusion I've had since Sheshnaag. "Nary a dull moment" doesn't do justice to Doss and company's rollicking, stylish, exuberant spree. Is James Bond 777 the best movie you probably haven't seen yet? Probably not. Is it the most 1971-Indian-spy-flavored fun you can have with a horrible print, probably some missing scenes and transitions, and no subtitles? Hell yes.

* In fact, in a yet-to-air episode of Masala Zindabad, I raved on about this very point for a good five minutes, a fit of opinion-spewing that Amrita now refers to as "the potato rant."

9 comments:

suja said...

You made me smile this morning - "it's so incredibly spirited and big-hearted that it produced the happiest confusion I've had since Sheshnaag" :) I enjoyed your write up, thank you.
Suja

Beth said...

Heehee! Glad you liked it - and hope you get to enjoy the film soon too :)

Temple said...

Clearly I need to see this! Great write up Beth. I'm neither here nor there on the potato issue as, well, you know where my loyalties lie.
And in HMJ one Shashi did indeed fight the other Shashi and tried to kill him with a stick.
Ooh my verification wordy thing is 'singemen'. It sounds like it should mean something.

Ellie said...

Another, and far more loathsome in my opinion, good-v-bad dual role which you've seen is Dev Anand in Guide-- a version which left no nuance of the moral quandary to the imagination. But this one sounds like fun!

The Bolly 'Hood said...

Ok, I have nothing useful to say but I didn't even know James Bond 777 was a real movie?! I thought your post title was a joke! Haha, shows how much I suck at really old films!

Also on an unrelated note, I just noticed that every time I refresh your page, your banner picture changes. THAT'S SO COOL! :)

memsaab said...

Curse you and Todd!!! I don't have TIME to get addicted to old Telugu films! >:(

Michael Barnum said...

My kind of flick! I really need to hunt this one down!!

Krupa Shah said...

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http://www.petaindia.com/features/Anoushka-Shankar-Says-No-to-Zoos.aspx

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