Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sure It's Exotica, But Still: Roop Tera Mastana (1972)

You know how you run into those films every so often that are eminently watchable, unique, sexy, and yet no one ever talks about them? Well, this is one of those. I admit I haven't seen this one with subtitles (and maybe that makes all the difference . . . maybe), but even with a relatively mediocre Hindi vocabulary at one's disposal, it's not very hard to follow and enjoy. (I can always make adjustments to this post whenever I get my hands on a subtitled copy.) As it is, this film is too enjoyable not to share immediately.

The film begins in Cruella de Vil's mansion a Raajkumari's mahal.


It's one of the gaudiest places I've ever seen, and I desperately want to live there for like a month. After that it would either get to be too much, or I would become too much in order to fit in better with the decor. Of course, in such a garishly lit place, only one thing could be currently happening. That's right, a murder.


This is not a murder mystery film, so I might as well tell you that the victim is the owner of the palace, the Raajkumari. The murderer? Her personal assistant Ajit (Pran). . . who has hatched a complicated scheme to amass the princess' house, lands, and inheritance. The key to this scheme? A convenient (this is why fairy tale-villains should all flock to Bollywood) princess look-alike . . . happy village girl Kiran (Mumtaz) celebrating Diwali with her aging and kind of cute parents.


Of course, in a creepy and terrifying sequence (all the more because Pran's character looks so damn smug about it the whole way) Kiran is separated from the crowd, kidnapped, introduced to her dead doppleganger, framed for the murder of the princess, and blackmailed by way of threatening the sweet parental units.

Kiran puts up a good fight . . . unfortunately, her fingerprints on his gun was exactly what Ajit was hoping for. 


























And, you guessed it, Kiran is then coerced to play the role of princess until the issue of the pesky inheritance can be sorted out (or rather, sorted into Ajit's bank account). I highly approve of the instant jump-into-the-action formula of this film's first fifteen minutes, but this is where the movie starts to get really fun. Mostly because even though Kiran's real situation is dire, her external situation turns out to be quite unnervingly luxurious. As Ajit constantly reminds her, all she has do is act the part and enjoy the comforts of the good life for a few days. [And maybe some other stuff I didn't get, you tell me.]

After some amusingly disastrous attempts to literally walk in the princess's shoes, Kiran starts to get the hang of things. It doesn't hurt that her predecessor's clothes fit her *cough* perfectly.


But, of course, Ajit has to throw a wrench in the works. "Oh yeah, and one of those aforesaid comforts includes a prince, the late Raajkumari's husband to be. So, don't forget to be in love with him."

Kiran is quite upset about this. Until she goes to the airfield to meet Mr. daredevil fiancee (Jeetendra), that is.


Although she muffs the first impression--she won't kiss him and finds his mid-air antics more terrifying than a turn-on (two things the real princess apparently enjoyed)--she also doesn't seem too bothered because, well, the prince seems nice, can really rock some aviators, and is pleasantly age-appropriate boyish.

Fake princess must now convincingly keep up appearances with her prince, someone who is far more likely to discover her secret than the scared array of servants. Thankfully, this task doesn't prove very difficult at first. The prince is perfectly happy to while away the day, leaping and frolicking and playing the "I almost kissed you, you almost kissed me, aren't we naughty" game as long as the wardrobe changes hold out. Also, Kiran doesn't have exert much effort pretending that she likes him. She's smitten from day one.


All the fresh air and neck nuzzling does wonders for Kiran's complexion. But, day-at-the-spa effects or no, she can't keep away the pesky nay-saying voices.


Best case scenario:
The relationship is doomed, but she'll get the money for Ajit and escape with her life.

Worse case scenario:
The allegations that she is not the real princess will prevent her from getting the inheritance (her ransom for her freedom), her identity will be discovered, the charges of murder lodged against her, her family will die of sorrow, and her now beginning-to-be beloved fiancee will discover who she really is and reject her. Also she might/probably will get snuffed out by Ajit.



Unfortunately, any way she looks at it, it appears that her blooming love story is doomed. But there's no time to waste on ethical or strategic questions. She's got a marriage--of her own--to attend. And a wedding night.


Yes (if you're wondering) she actually DOES goes through with it . . . on false pretenses. It's a decidedly un-heroine-like move . . . and this was where the film really became:
(A) Exotica
(B) Something memorable

Jeetendra gives pretty good "I suspect you but I love you but I suspect you-face" in this film


But will hubby figure out that she's not the Raajkumari he knew? Will he still love Kiran and/or survive after learning that fact? Will Kiran survive Ajit's duplicity, greed, and endless lectures? Will there be even more dopplegangers than you first thought? Yes, maybe, kinda.

Other things to look forward to . . .  or look out for:


1. First, I should warn you that this film portrays A LOT of violence toward women. However, I didn't really mind because:

(A) The film doesn't seem to condone it in any way (only the villain resorts to it).

(B) There are few character actors that can act this horrid towards women and leave me feeling mostly zen. But Pran is the villain here. And no matter how bad he goes for a role, all I can think in the back of mind is how much I like the man behind the mask.

(C) Mumtaz shows a lot of spunk in this film. Despite getting slapped around, her character turns the tables on Pran's at every turn--which was really fun to watch. Even the final masala battle doesn't completely betray her own agency.

2. Pran is the fine and fabulous villain of many colors here. Literally.

Creepy-Ajit "visiting" Kiran in his robe, telling her to choose between"do raaste, zindagi aur mot!" 
[Note: if anyone knows if there's a lot more involved in Ajit's constant yelling at Kiran then let me know. He usually just seems to be berating her for not keeping up the the pretense well enough--for exposing multiple habits and fears that the real Raajkumari doesn't have. And of course, each mistake earns her a threatening and usually violent lecture.]

3. Also, I never would have thought to pair Mumtaz and Pran in a song, much less a seduction song, much less a revenge-seduction song. But yes. That happens. And it is magical.




Along with THAT song, there are a couple of just downright catchy tunes. But in general,  every one of the song picturizations here are extremely memorable (including a betrayal song, an afterglow song, and Jeetendra channeling Dick van Dyke dance. . . and all serve to tell the story . . . something I can't say about a lot of films.

4. Stylistically, this film is hard to forget. It looks like a candy factory on speed, only slowed down by moments of Byronic melancholia. Minute stacked against minute, this film just can't decide if it wants to be gaudy or gothic. And I'm thoroughly OK with that wobbly indecision. Because as soon as you get tired of this:

Gaudy brooding.


























You get this . . .

Gothic Brooding





Overall, this movie is both visually satisfying (albeit for someone who likes crazy eccentric locations), and surprisingly emotionally satisfying. It seems like the lovechild of two of my favorite 70's films, Caravan (1971) and Raja Jani (1972). Caravan obviously has the young-Jeetendra factor as well, but also, similar to Caravan, this film doesn't take itself too seriously. It focuses more on keeping the narrative flow tight than trying to say something important or logical.

And (my beloved) Raja Jani is a natural comparison, considering that it's another look-alike-princess deception plot/love story . . . released in the same year. While this film certainly doesn't have the emotional punch of Raja Jani, it does go some unusual places . . . yet never loses itself in masala madness.

Both movies also feature women who choose to do something wrong (pretend to be someone they're not, lie, romance via deception) in order to achieve something good. Not only does that create the chance for wonderful ethical dilemmas and convoluted relational tight-rope-walking, but it also gives the female characters a chance to bring their "A" game and actually have their efforts mean something. (Actually, Sharmilee and Seeta aur Geeta share this theme as well.) I LOVE this trope . . . and if you can point me to more of the same, I would be much obliged.



By now I've figured out (and you probably noticed, too) that the Desai brand of masala will never be my favorite, however much I appreciate it when I'm in the right mood. The thing is, if I have to work myself into the right mood in the first place, it's never going to be the first film I go to on a bad day. Rags to riches tales, grand blood feuds, one-man-crusades . . . they're all well and good . . . but they're not my first choice for casual entertainment. I prefer masala on a smaller scale most days: with less characters, smaller canvases, and climaxes riding on the intricacies of interpersonal relationships.

Casually filmy, casually meaningful, comfortable in focus and pace . . . these elements go a long way. So, even though Mumtaz and Jeetendra aren't my favorite leads EVAH, they don't have to be. Not only is this a solid film . . . it is the type of film I'm most likely to watch over and over again. It's exotica,  it's a fairy-tale masquerading as a thriller/romance, and it's silly. But that's the way I like it! 

4 comments:

  1. Mumtaz's costumes - me want! :) Not a film I will watch, so your review helps in appreciating its gloriousness. :) :)

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    1. Jeetendra and garishness is not for everyone ;) But honestly, I'm with you. I practically drooled over everything Mumtaz pulled out of the closet in this film. And she even gets to wear those fabulous Italian-esque widows' gown/veil because she's masquerading as a Christian character.

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  2. Hi Miranda - You've persuaded me to unearth this one from the pile sooner rather than later. I'd steer you towards Geeta Mera Naam for masala with a twisted element, Sadhana as a kickarse heroine, and the requisite excellent decor. Plus much much more. Cheers, Temple (from over the way, on Cinema Chaat)

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    1. Hi Temple :) I'm glad this film managed to catch your fancy. Geeta Mera Naam--that's a good reminder. I actually have tried to track that one down based on Todd's review. No luck finding it yet, but I'll def look for it again soon. I'm excited for the excellent decor--one can put up with a lot of plot holes and zero subtitles for the sake of a crazy set.

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