Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saaheb (1985)

Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee enthralled many in the 1970s with their uncomplicated approach to film-making. Their simple tales set in the middle class India acted like a breath of fresh air during the times when Masala potboilers were ruling the roost. In the 1980s however, both these maestros started losing their steam. During that time there were many directors who tried to follow their template and come up with their own takes on the urban middle class people and their day to day living. But most films ended up being a pale shadow of the kind of cinema that was seen in the 1970s. A few notable exceptions were few and far between- for instance Sai Paranjpe most certainly offered something to cheer about with her troika of Katha, Sparsh, and Chashme Buddoor. But still the standard of film-making in the 1980s wasn’t as high as the preceding decades.

Anil Ganguly’s 1985 family drama Saheb starring Anil Kapoor as the central protagonist is one of those rare good movies in the 80s that managed to enliven the spirit of the kind of films made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the 1970s. It is an ensemble cast film, but the focus is mostly on Anil Kapoor’s character Saaheb who is the fourth and the youngest son of a retired patriarch Badri Prasad Sharma (Utpal Dutt in a remarkably restrained role). His family is a typical middle class joint family headed by a sexagenarian and ably run by the eldest mother-like ‘Bhabhi’ (Rakhee Gulzar in a quintessential middle aged woman role). Saaheb’s elder brothers and their wives (except Bhabhi) are too much into their own little world and hardly care about the issues and worries of the household. Saaheb’s younger sister ‘Bulti’ has reached the marriageable age post completing her graduation, which, incidentally Saaheb has not been able to complete despite three attempts. The reason for Saaheb’s lack of interest in studies is his love and passion for football. He is the star of his university football team in which he plays as the goalkeeper.

The movie has got not story till about the last half an hour. It is just a pleasant depiction of the world in which Saaheb breathes and aspires. His interactions with his family folk are really interesting. His three brothers and two younger Bhabhis consider him to be a good for nothing fellow, and are always ready with scathing remarks at his idleness despite him doing all their menial jobs with a smile on his face. Saaheb’s father appreciates his zeal for the sport but at the same time is skeptical at his future prospects, especially because he is unable to land even a decent job owing to his lack of qualification. He shares a lovely relationship with his younger sister who respects him despite not knowing anything about the sport he loves. As for his eldest Bhabhi, she is more of a mother to him than a sister-in-law. There is romance too in his life, with Natasha (Amrita Singh in a boisterous role she would repeat in Chameli ki Shaadi), a girl next door having a huge crush on him and making it loud and clear at more instance than once. This romance leads to a few unnecessary songs, including ‘Yaar Bina Chen Kahan Re’ (a really popular and rhythmic song- vintage Bappi Lahri). These songs obstruct the narrative but one can’t really mind them in a film of this nature.

The last half an hour is what elevates this movie from being ‘just average’ to ‘good’. When his father and their home faces a huge financial challenge, Saaheb makes a great personal sacrifice to bail everyone out of the trouble.

Utpal Dutt having a heart to heart with his family
This is a movie that needed strong performances, and the stalwart Utpal Dutt leads the way with a completely natural portrayal of a helpless man just wanting to see his children happy. Recognized for his comic roles and highly energetic characters, here he does a complete U-turn and takes up a laidback character that lacks much drama. Watch him in the scene when he explains his financial position to all his children and asks his sons to take the responsibility of getting their young sister married off. Rakhee Gulzar comes up with an amazing performance by bringing to her character the right amount of affection and selflessness. But the star of the show is a young Anil Kapoor. He is in the title role and the entire drama centers around him, and for such a young actor lacking experience, he does a remarkable job. Post watching Saaheb, I have a completely different impression of Anil Kapoor the actor.

Parting Note: Saaheb is pleasant watch that excels because of its performances and its lack of pretensions. Although it is not the perfect film (with a shoddy comic side-track involving Deven Verma, and 2-3 unnecessary songs), it still has a likeability attached to it that is a result of its honest intentions.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Madhumati (1958)

So when one of the biggest superstars of our country is reliving a cult character from the much loved Amitabh Bachchan classic Don in cinemas this week, me recalling one of the most popular Dilip Kumar classic from the 1950s- instead of the usual lesser known stuff.

  • A rainy night with the hero finding it tough to navigate his car through the sloppy slippery roads. CHECK
  • The car breaking down and no help in sight. CHECK 
  • A ‘purani’ desolate ‘haveli’ where the hero decides to take shelter for the night. CHECK 
  • An old and rickety caretaker with a ‘lalten’ in his hand. CHECK 
  • A huge photograph of the haveli’s one time owner. CHECK 
  • The hero finding many things familiar about the haveli and the setting which evidently he is visiting for the first time. CHECK 
  • The hero remembering his past life. CHECK 
  • The hero falling in love with a village belle. CHECK 
  • The hero singing songs with the village belle. CHECK 
  • The hero not getting along well with his boss and the owner of the estate he manages. CHECK 
  • The owner being a lecherous fellow starts lusting for the hero’s love interest. CHECK 
  • The disapproving father of the girl. CHECK 
  • The disapproving father of the girl giving his approval after the hero’s show of honesty and integrity. CHECK 
  • The village celebration song with the hero’s girl joining in. CHECK 
  • The hero’s lecherous boss setting a trap for the hero to go away from the scene. CHECK 
  • The hero’s imbecile girl falling in the villain’s trap. CHECK 
  • The villain going after the girl like a mad animal. The girl escaping his claws and jumping of the terrace. CHECK 
  • The hero unable to forget his love. CHECK 
  • The hero laying a trap for the villain to confess to his crime (being helped by his girl’s look alike). The look-alike girl entering and scaring the daylights out of the villain. The villain shouting for penitence. The police coming forward and grabbing him by his neck. The look-alike standing there smiling after getting ‘her’ revenge.  The hero suddenly realizing that there is something weird going on. The actual look-alike bursting late on the scene. The spirit of the hero’s dead love luring him to salvation. OM SHANTI OM
All of the above points may sound familiar. In fact take any Hindi mystery/reincarnation movie; chances are that one or more of the above points will be a part of that enterprise too. Bimal Roy’s 1958 Dilip Kumar starrer MADHUMATI is a movie that had all of these points together for the first time in a Hindi movie.

Despite the familiarity born out of watching many rehashes of this movie over the years (some good some tacky), Madhumati is an extremely fresh watch owing to it’s well crafted scenes and some sparkling performances by Dilip Kumar, Pran, and Vyjayanthimala (the last especially for her ebullience in the songs and dance sequences). Moreover each and every song by Salil Chaudhary is a classic, and it was a pleasant surprise to see so many memorable songs back to back in a movie. Though it must be said that having eight songs in a two hour movie is like an overdose, and considerably hampers the otherwise fast paced narrative. Without the songs the story could have been said in an hour flat. But then, it wouldn’t have been this charming.

Parting Note: Madhumati is a highly enjoyable affair and people who love old Bollywood musicals should certainly watch this one. For them it would be an absolute treat.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Inkaar (1977)

After watching Chhoti Si Baat, I was browsing through Vidya Sinha’s filmography on Imdb, and there I discovered Inkaar. Described as a thriller on the website with an average rating of 7.9 (40 odd votes), I decided to check it out. And thankfully, watching this movie starring Vinod Khanna as a CID officer turned out to be quite a good call.

A taut, fast paced thriller from the 70s, Inkaar is a stylishly made highly entertaining movie directed by Raj Sippy. The movie is a kidnapping drama and has its central theme right in sight throughout its run-time. The movie opens with a very interesting scene in which Inspector Amarnath Gill (Vinod Khanna) enters a restaurant where a man has reportedly suffered from a heart attack causing quite a concern amongst its patrons. Inspector Gill, however, identifies in a jiffy that the man is faking the attack to escape from paying the restaurant bill. This scene firmly establishes Gill’s character as a sharp, no-frills inspector who keeps emotions out of his already very tough job.

The focus then shifts on the professional and personal world of a successful businessman Haridas Choudhary (Shreeram Lagu in a typical patriarchal role). He is shown to be living a near perfect life; a fact thumped down by a typical ‘sukhi ghar sansaar’ family song featuring a special appearance by Rakesh Roshan; and like it happens in so many of our Hindi movies, as soon as the song ends disaster strikes. Choudhary receives a ransom call from a maniacal criminal Raj Singh (Amjad Khan) and his two accomplices, claiming that they have kidnapped his son. Chaudhary starts hyperventilating and immediately agrees to pay the ransom. However things change rapidly when they realize that the kidnappers had taken the wrong kid with them. Instead of the businessman’s son, they had abducted his driver’s young boy (Master Raju) of the same age.

Things take an interesting turn here, as the story runs on two parallel paths. While a team of CID officers led by Amarnath Gill start chasing the kidnappers, on the other hand there is the emotional melodrama involving the faithful ‘almost family’ driver and the Choudhary family which also includes inspector Gill’s love interest (and Choudhary’s young sister) Geeta (Vidya Sinha). The movie then becomes a riveting crime thriller with an intelligent team of CID inspectors chasing an intelligent and dangerous villain. The good thing is that it stays that way till the end. The narrative is highly engrossing, and despite a few clich├ęs, manages to keep you interested. The last ten minutes or so are somewhat protracted, but the way they have been shot is very interesting (though they remind of the climax of another Vinod Khanna starrer Achanak).

Films like these don’t leave much scope for histrionics, but Vinod Khanna is superb as a plain clothes cop (mostly dressed in black suits throughout the movie). His character is suave and unrelenting and has a strange cool quotient that is hard to explain. Amjad Khan is equally impressive as the mad villain, and adds a lot of weight (no pun intended) to the enterprise. Shreeram Lagu gives the impression of overacting, and the same goes for the actor who plays his driver. Vidya Sinha has nothing much to do, and unfortunately neither does Master Raju.

The songs by Rakesh Roshan are forgettable. Ah wait! The movie also boasts of one of the most favour Helen number ever ‘Mungda Mungda’ (Katrina’s item number in the upcoming film Agneepath seems designed on the same lines). This song, and a small portion following it, seems forced into the otherwise hiccup free screenplay.

Parting Note: ‘Inkaar’ is an extremely engaging movie and fans of the thriller genre will definitely enjoy this one. It would have been rated as one of the best Hindi thrillers ever had it evidently not been a scene by scene copy of a Japanese classic Tengoku to Jigoku by Akira Kurosawa.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dillagi (1978)


Dharmendra and Hema Malini as professors in an all girls’ college, with a playful Dharmendra sprouting exotic Sanskrit poetry that border on the erotic, and an upright Hema teaching the girls Chemistry, literally adopting all its dryness and lack of fun. Sounds like fun? Basu Chatterjee’s little known 1977 film (and understandably so) is an interesting idea treated in a mundane manner, that many of the times, borders on the inane. Despite that there is a certain charm in watching the two stalwart actors (a couple in real life too) rise above the script at many instances and creating some genuine laughs by the sheer strength of their performances.

A simple premise (like almost all of Basu Chatterjee’s other films) of how an independent and well settled working woman, who is about to cross the acceptable marriageable age, is wooed by a charming man who she absolutely detests in the beginning- Dillagi is a kind of film that you would not mind watching on a Sunday afternoon while it plays on TV- nothing less, nothing more. Actually, when I come to think of it, I don’t really recall any other Hindi movie that has a setting like this (except maybe a terrible Anil Kapoor-Karishma Kapoor- Juhi Chawla film Andaaz which also talks about romance in high school). The movie has a host of side actors (either as students or as fellow professors of the star pair), and like all other light-hearted films of that time also stars Asrani (as Hema’s brother). The songs by Rajesh Roshan are nice, and ‘Main Kaun saa geet sunaaoon’ is the pick of the lot.

One thing about the film is pretty clear- it looks like one which was agreed upon by Dharmendra and Hema just to spend some quality time together while making of the film. The production values aren’t that great and Dharmendra looks quite jaded in many of the scenes. Basu Chatterjee perhaps wanted to create something on the lines of Chupke Chupke, but falls well short in terms of the entertainment and engagement quotient of the narrative. The first half is packed with intended humor (which many people won’t find as humorous), while the second half focuses on the romance between the two protagonists. I liked the simplistic second half more endearing. However the finale fight sequence is so shoddily done that it seems to be a sequence out of a low-budget B-grade movie.

Parting note: Harmless ‘almost’ fun. All in all, it is an average film that deserves a watch only because of its lead actors. It’s the kind during which you can attend to an errand for a few minutes and you won’t miss much…

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Namkeen (1982)

What would be the worst part of living a nomad’s life? The lack of a settled dwelling? Or the felling of constant disengagement with the society?

Human beings are not meant to live alone. People, who try to fool themselves into believing that they need no one else in their lives, are usually the ones who get the worst out of this unforgiving world.  One can never stop having attachments in the world around us, and one cannot really leave everything behind and move to another location taking everything away with him. This is because while moving from one place to the other, some small part of one’s heart always does get left behind. One cannot really escape this, however hard one tries. And that’s the reason people find it so hard to say goodbye.

Gulzar’s ‘Namkeen’ is a simple film about simple people who have to work very hard to make a decent living. It is a story of a nomadic truck driver Gerulal (Sanjeev Kumar in one of the last significant roles of his illustrious career) who picks up contractual work that requires him to travel to various towns, and that does not allow him to settle down at one place for long. For his latest assignment, he has to live in a small hilly village for a few days, and he picks up residence as a paying guest with a family of four ladies- one mother (Waheeda Rehman) and her three young daughters (Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi, and Kiran Vairale). Soon, he gets sucked into their world- their problems, their hopes, and their day to day living. But before he can truly make them a part of his life (although at one level that happens just days into his stay with them), he has to leave the village and move on.

This is one movie where the drama is understated, and a lot of time is given to the building up of the relationship between the three girls and Gerulal. How he becomes so important to them and how manages to win the trust of them all, including their mother, is shown with the help of a series of bitter-sweet exchanges between them, most of which leave a smile of the face of the viewer. There are subtle references to the hardships that a household, composed entirely of women, has to face in a rural setting. The bonding between the three sisters, their respect for their senile mother, and their warm acceptance of a complete stranger in their lives- all of this reflects the rootedness and simplicity of the people of our villages. On the other hand Gerulal, the foul mouthed-large hearted truck driver, is equally respectful and warm towards his hosts and he demonstrates this warmth through his genuine concern for the ladies and his efforts to alleviate the challenges they face.

Gulzar mounts the story (written by Samresh Basu who had collaborated with Gulzar previously for Kitaab) on a very realistic canvas. The proceedings gradually transport you to the quaint little world of a small hill-station, and therein lay the magical Gulzar touch that makes make-believe believable. The dialogues are crisp and witty- another of the man’s hallmark. The performances are quite good, which is somewhat needless to say for Gulzar could have made even logs act, and this movie boasted of few of the most celebrated performers of that time. Sanjeev Kumar is Sanjeev Kumar- restrained, believable, and completely natural. Sharmila Tagore pitches in with a much more polished act than her previous attempt in a Gulzar movie- Mausam. Shabana Azmi is saddled with one of her rare supporting roles. 
The scene stealer however is the youngest sister, played by Kiran Vairale. Hers is a fiery character with a streak of rebellion, and she manages to hold her own in front of the best actors of those times. Waheeda Rehman, the veteran, in the role of the mother is effective, but hers does seem to be a labored performance.

The music by RD Burman doesn’t boast of a truly memorable song, but all songs are melodious and go with the texture of the narrative. The best one is ‘Raah pe Rahte hain’, a song in the same philosophical mode as ‘Musafir Hoon Yaaron’ from Parichay.

Parting Note: Namkeen is another good movie from Gulzar’s stable; I guess there isn’t really any below the mark movie made by the maestro (just a few left for me to catch up on). I guess a thoughtful and articulate man as Gulzar who was primarily a writer (and a superb one at that) would have found it hard to make a movie which was not at least above average.