April 18, 2012: The Wah!-Wah!-WayBack Machine

Since the local Hindi cinemas have been stuck in Houseful mode since Kahaani left town (and I have to draw the line, somewhere!) Julie and I have been digging back, on dvd,  with our own “WayBack Machine” to see what we could have been watching in our elementary school days, if we had known what we were missing…and had been in Bombay.  Wah!  Wah!  Wonderful!

 

Jenny K:  I finished watching Namak Haraam (1973), the second film that Jayesh loaned me, and he didn’t steer me wrong!  You and I are both an easy sell on Amitabh Bachchan films, and this has the bonus of being a classic Indian Bromance (aren’t they all!) opposite Rajesh Khanna.  I  hadn’t seen Rajesh in anything except cameo appearances in more recent films (Aa Ab Laut Chalen, the huge group number in OSO).  Add to this a very, very young Rekha (practically didn’t recognize her without her now patented glamour look!) and well, what’s not to like?

The basic plot is predictable, but the performances make it well worth watching.   Somu (Rajesh) is the poorer half of two best buddies in Delhi.  The rich half is Vicky (Amitabh).  Both have lost parents at a very young age, and the boys “adopted” the other’s to fill in the gaps.  Vicky calls Somu’s mother and sister “Maa” and “Behen,” while Somu sees Vicky’s father as the hard-boiled business mogul he never had.  They’d both gone to law school and were clerking at the same firm, until one got fired, so the other quit in solidarity.  Vicky, despite his wealth, is a bit of a lost soul, and keeps turning to the bottle, drinking and going to see the nautch girls (in upscale joints, of course) and dragging Somu along with him to try to keep him on the ragged edge of the straight and narrow.

The trouble ramps up when Vicky’s father has a heart attack and asks Vicky to take his place as the head of the family millworks.  He agrees reluctantly (too much like actual work) and leaves for home.  Somu can’t handle being away from his Bro for more than a week or two and comes to join him.   Vicky doesn’t know how to handle the union boss, Bipinlal (the omnipresent AK Hangal) and insults him, not realizing the union will go on strike.  To end it, his father forces Vicky to apologize to Bipinlal, in public, advising him to revenge himself in secret, after the mill is operational.  Somu offers to go undercover and undermine Bipinlal’s position from the inside…getting Vicky’s revenge by humiliating the older man.

It goes fairly well, until soft-hearted Somu finds “seeing how the other half lives” can be a profoundly affecting experience.  Vicky had no idea what life-changing results would come of his seemingly harmless plans.  Will they even still be friends at the end???  On Youtube for free…

Julie M:  I’ve really gotten a taste for these heartfelt, 1970s “best buds” movies.  It’s a part of Indian culture that I find very sweet, and something that’s just not explored enough here.  Maybe because in the US there’s no way to talk about this kind of bond without bringing either sex or disgusting bodily functions into it.

 

Jenny K:  Don’t speak of such things!  Shudder

The performances were good, as one would expect from a gifted “actor’s director” like Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Abhimaan), and our heroes made the twists rather touching, if not exactly surprising.  Rajesh comes off a bit better, because he isn’t presented as a confused juvenile in an extremely long three piece suit.  You never doubt Vicky’s feelings, but often doubt he’ll ever grow up. Somu definitely does. Spoilers in this video, but you see what I mean…

My favorite actor in a lesser role is Raza Murad as Alam the poet.  Six foot three, with the rakish grin of a young Clark Gable when we meet him careening down a dark street, spouting his ghazals.  Somu is attracted to him immediately, and so was I.  The scene where he’s defending his neighbor’s wife and his final scene are both very touching, and I mean to keep a look out for him in some of his other films (over 270!).  What a great voice and why haven’t I seen him before? 

Julie M:  Wow.  Great performance in that clip.  I’m glad you are getting into the glory that is Rajesh Khanna.  We already spoke about how much I loved Anurodh, and tonight’s feature was Ajnabee (Stranger, 1974), a typical romance/thriller of the era starring lots of garish costumes and Rajesh Khanna’s perennially bad hair. No bromances, though—just good-old-fashioned thwarted lovers.

Rohit Kumar Saxena (Khanna) is the night stationmaster at a remote rail outpost, when his sleepy duties are interrupted by a young woman Sonia (Yogita Bali) rushing to get to Bombay. She misses the last train and he offers her his apartment, rather than having to sleep on the platform overnight. She agrees, giving him her attache case to hold in his safe: it is filled with jewelry given to her by her estranged mother. In his apartment she remarks on a painting; he tells her it was painted by his wife, from whom he is separated.

This disclosure prompts a lengthy flashback to the meet-cute between Rohit and Rashmi (Zeenat Aman), a young, attractive heiress. They accidentally re-meet at his cousin’s wedding, and he entertains the gathering with a story of how he met a girl that day (shades of Anurodh, 3 years earlier!).

Of course they fall in love. She is being pursued by her deceased sister’s widower Moti (Prem Chopra), who wants to marry her to keep his grip on the family’s fortune. Moti runs Rohit out of town but at the train station Rashmi catches up to him, and they elope to Bombay.  

Wedded bliss ensues, but she soon grows bored at home and starts a modeling career to Rohit’s dismay. A tragic misunderstanding estranges the couple, Rashmi runs back to her father and Moti, and so Rohit takes his stationmaster position.

Back in the present, Sonia has turned up dead in Rohit’s apartment, and he’s charged with killing her to steal the jewelry. The case against him seems solid: will Rohit be convicted and never see Rashmi again? If not Rohit, who really killed Sonia and why? Will Moti succeed in his plan to get Rashmi and her money?

I found Ajnabee quite enjoyable. Khanna and Aman had great chemistry and made a very convincing couple-in-love.  He rocked some awesome leisure suits (complete with pit-stains, chee!) and her wardrobe of flashy chiffon saris sometimes made my eyes burn, but I overlooked all that because of one number called “Satrah Baras Ki Chhokariyan” where she gets high on bhang and imagines herself in a particularly saucy dance performance. The thriller aspects are quite effective even with the horribly tinny soundtrack, and the pacing, quick. I’m growing an appreciation for Rajesh Khanna…Ajnabee is definitely worth a watch if you run across it.

 

Jenny K:  Sounds like fun, even if I’m not overly fond of the Seventies ooh-ooh-ouvre.

 

Julie M:  Oh, but you HAVE to love Zeenat.  I haven’t seen her in much, but this has her all over it.  By the way, this film shouldn’t be confused with the 2001 thriller by the same name, starring Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Kareena and Bipasha. The newer movie has a character named Sonia who is mysteriously found dead and the lead character (Bobby) is accused of her murder, but that’s where the similarity ends. It’s not a remake. But the 2001 one sounds really cool, I love Akshay in thriller-mysteries, and I’ll have to try and find it. Or maybe I’ll just watch this video over and over.

Jenny K:  I saw the 2001 Ajnabee and it’s a remake of Consenting Adults (1992).  Let’s just say that Akshay (even with his oh-so-charming smile), Bobby Deol, and Kareena Kapoor can’t hold up to the original cast: Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. With their combined acting chops, the earlier cast made even a fairly salacious film idea palatable. Consenting Adults  is on Youtube, in pieces, for comparisons.

 

Julie M:  I never saw Consenting Adults, but Kevin Kline…one of my faves.

Adding one more old movie to the list…I watched Teen Deviyan (Three Beauties, 1965).  It must have been quite the sensation when it came out…but more on that later.

Plot summary: handsome Dev (Dev Anand) is an amateur poet who has just taken a job as a clerk in a music store and rented a room in a big house. As he is moving in he meets Nanda (Nanda), a feisty, attractive secretary who also has a room in the house, and they start a very close friendship.

Next, he has an automotive encounter with another woman, who turns out to be the glamorous and fun-loving actress Kalpana (Kalpana Mohan).  They begin to see each other.

Then, on the job, he delivers a piano to the wealthy and sophisticated Simi (Simi Garewal), who takes an interest in his career and sponsors him–and they fall in love. As Dev’s fame as a poet grows, he continues to see all of the women and his relationship with each becomes more intense. Although he is happy seeing all of them, and they all know about each other, he feels that it’s not right to string them all along: he must choose.

 

Jenny K:  Does Simi Garewal always play the wealthy and sophisticated girl who the hero doesn’t end up with?  That could have been her character description as Manisha in Namak Haraam, too.  Such a small, thankless part (the girl Amitabh’s father wanted him to marry) that I didn’t even bother to include her.

 

Julie M: Poor Dev.  Equally in love with three beautiful women, and he can’t decide which one to focus on. So what else is there to do but see a hypnotist, who helps Dev look deep in his soul and find the girl his heart desires the most. I’m going to leave that part a mystery, but let’s just say it’s kind of predictable.

The thing about this movie is that nearly all the DVD copies leave out a key scene, the one at the hypnotist’s, where he sees what his life would be with each of his potential mates, that helps him makes his decision. Although the rest of the film is in black and white, this scene is in full color. My DVD did not have the scene: I’d love to find it, because as it played out it was kind of choppy–he is at the hypnotist, looks into a crystal ball and then BAM, he’s rushing out of there to find his true love.  Everyone who’s seen it says that it’s freaky, amazing, and sufficiently weird to have caused a few social issues among the viewing public.

The most groundbreaking thing about this film is that it has NO FAMILY DRAMA AT ALL. No parents–all the characters are independent, modern grownups–and family considerations don’t even play into their decisions. Everyone is quite contemporary and urban, and the women are all forward and very sensual with no moral judgment implied for being so. Again, I can see why it caused such a sensation when it first came out.

I found the songs boring (except for one village scene where Kalpana lets loose and dances her heart out,  and another where she wigs out at a party), but the relationships he has with each woman are fairly interesting.

The film is available free on YouTube but not with English subtitles.  You’d have to pay $1.99 to get those, but it’s worth the expense to see this classic.

 

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