Friday, May 30, 2014

*Ahem* Review Countdown: Dirty Diamonds

Every so often, you look at your watched films list, or your screencaps, and you see a growing file of favorites that you feel reluctant to recommend to or watch with others, for whatever combination of potentially objectionable factors. This is doubly annoying, because favorites clutter up our brain space if they aren't shared  . . . and lots of hypothetical folks are missing out by not seeing these films [with us], obviously!

So, here are a few of the films that I want to rave about endlessly and bring to every movie night . . . but don't, because they contain some "rough stretches of road," in content or quirks.


5. Gumnaam (1965)

Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" on Bollywood crack.

Speed bump(s): the Manoj Kumar pout, the Nanda pout, Mehmood antics, plot holes, Your-Favorite-Characters probably won't make it through the film.

Don't be fooled by this film's long list of stumbling blocks. This is the least objectionable of the entries on this countdown, perhaps because the overall tone is consistently reminiscent of flashy Hollywood thrillers of the 50's (which makes it more palatable to an American audience, at least).


Why I am not turned off:

*I find Manoj Kumar ridiculous, but in an amusing way. An ensemble thriller film is the perfect place for him in my opinion, because he's so naturally melodramatic and self-obsessed in his characterizations in the first place. Plus, he always seems to be purposefully channeling Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause, which tickles me, considering that that character is such a wet blanket.

*Nanda has some great facial expressions and isn't a size two. Enough said.

*My two favorite characters are "present" until the last twenty minutes or something. Close enough.

*Ahhhhhhhgh I'm in love with Pran and Helen together and I want to travel the world with them.

*The pleasant WTF content of this film is high enough to overcome initial frustrations, I think, and therefore, I will probably feel OK about forcing my friends to watch this one.


4. Sharafat (1970)

A courtesan (Hema Malini) who isn't really a courtesan is treated like one and might actually be high born *gasp*. Dharmendra doesn't agree with her unfair treatment and probably will sustain a few head injuries while sticking up for her (as a pacifist, so less dishooming than usual).

Speed bump(s): courtesan tale, slow sections, preachiness.

Why I am not turned off:

*I like courtesan films when I'm in the right mood, and I love it when they skip the tragic ending. This is a softer, creakier, and much filmier version of Pakeezah in some ways. It's the story of a "maiden courtesan" trying to keep her services list to Dancing Only. She is also the unrecognized daughter of a well-known, upstanding citizen (Ashok Kumar) . . .  who also happens to be the patron of Dharmendra's character, a teacher at an all boy's school. And what more do you need to know than Dharmendra as ethical and bookish prof?!

*The intellectual/philosophical arguments that Dharmendra and Hema's characters dive into with one another are quite enjoyable. It's always nice to see some angry nerd chemistry in Bollywood now and then.

*Hema's dance skills are at their best when she gets to be the morally superior outsider, doing some shaming (rather than shameful) kathak or a bit of passive aggressive bharatnatyam.

*The priggish morals here are balanced by semi-enlightened social politics. For all the preaching, at least 75% of it is worth listening to.


3. Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965)

A Kashmiri boy (Shashi Kapoor) falls in love with a girl (Nanda) from the Big City. Expect lots of Pardesi longing songs and and pretty vistas and pastoral naivete.

Speed bump(s): widespread stupidity, The Noble Savage, reactionary morals.

If you've seen this one, you probably fall into one of the following categories:


1. *Throws DVD out window* Why did I waste my time at this patriarchal shrine?!
2. Awww. Good songs. Good memories. (Typical desi reaction, probs).
3. What an enjoyable little artifact. Emphasis on "ARTIFACT."

Why I am not turned off:

*I fall into the last category. I didn't expect to like it and found the first 30 minutes silly and boring. And then found the rest of it silly and fabulous.

*Shashi as the noble savage who grows into a nobler savage shouldn't work. But it does. And it's a feat to take a character whose irrational possessiveness and anti-Westernization stance are actually the core beliefs of the film and make him lovable. Manipulative or not, it helps that his world and his personality are both far kinder than the family and ken of the heroine.

*My favorite "pardesi" song is here. [Only rivaled by this pardesi song. Both are recurring melody motifs in socially reactionary romantic dramas, which makes me want to trace the cultural history of pardesi songs.]


2. Dhuan (1981)

Shady underworld boss (Amjad Khan) attempts to defraud a widowed Rani (Rakhee Gulzar) of her jewels and estate by sending an agent (Mithun Chakraborty) claiming to be her dead brother-in-law (of whom he is not even a convenient look-alike!). The Rani is not amused and will surely be:
1. Treated badly
2. Unhinged, as a gaslighting victim is bound to be.

Speed bump(s): Mithun, mysogyny, gaslighting, confusing beginning, so-so picture quality, paagal Rakhee.

Why I am not turned off:

*The only substantial detractions from this film for me were the misogyny and the confusing beginning. Of those two, the first is pretty much resolved by the end. There's no excuse for the second. I hate bad beginnings.

*For all the cruelty towards women (albeit by shady characters), there is equal female kickback in the person of Ranjeeta Kaur's character, who dishes out retribution in her own (comedic) way. Also, did I mention it's weirdly resolved by the end? Wasn't expecting that.

*Being trapped in a claustrophobic mansion is always a pleasant Gothic trope.

*Between Rakhee and Padma Khanna's characters (yes Padma gets to be an actual character), this movie totally passes the Bechdel test, if that counts for anything.

*This film is weirdly engaging. It's not super-well executed cinematically, but as you go along you realize that the plot holes are intentional. It's a mystery cloaked as bad writing. Which turns out to be good writing as more is revealed.

1. Kucche Dhaage (1973)

Two dacoits (Vinod Khanna and Kabir Bedi) carry on the blood feud of their fathers against one another, and then band together to protect the woman they both love. Said village belle doesn't love either of them, adores personality-challenged boy-next-door. Things probably aren't going to end well.

Speed bump(s): Rapey dacoit antihero, annoying normals, It's NOT Happy.

Why I am not turned off:

*People pay for the terrible things they do. Bottom line. You can expect that.

*This film is one of the most epic Bollywood films in terms of resolution that I've ever seen. There's a clear three act structure as well, in fitting with the Shakspearean tone of it all.

*Out the Bollywood films that I feel reluctant to share with someone else in person, this is the one I also feel the highest respect towards. Like Dhuan, it may seem mediocre at first, but will impress by the end. Unlike Dhuan, this film stands out as an artistic achievement. It is not strictly entertaining, but it will keep your attention, and mayhaps a bit of your heart.

8 comments:

  1. Miranda, what a lovely, lovely theme for a list. (I might steal the idea myself. Fair warning here. *grin*) I quite like these mini reviews that give you the gist of what to expect. Of your list, I have watched Gumnaam and Jab Jab Phool Khile. I have wanted to watch Sharaafat because of Hema-Dharam but never quite got to it. Your encapsulations make me want to watch it and Kachche Dhaage, which is another film that inexplicably fell through my viewing cracks.

    For what it's worth, I fall into the first category where Jab Jab Phool Khile is concerned. I have never yet watched a film that made me so angry! (I love the songs though.) Just thinking about it makes me seethe all over again. I hated its remake as well, though that became as big a hit. Ugh!

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    1. Thanks, Anu! I would love to see a comparable list from you, so steal away :)

      I can't imagine that you wouldn't like Sharafat, given what I've seen of your tastes. I've gone out of my way to see a lot of the Dharam-Hema classics (if not the comprehensive list) over the last year, and if you were to ask me which onscreen relationship of theirs I liked the most, this would probably be in the top 3. They actually have an intellectual connection here, not just one of chemistry or circumstance.

      I'm not surprised you didn't like JJPK! It's totally dire, and Raja Hindustani is really no better. And yet, for some reason, I enjoyed both. *Personal values fail* It was so obviously set up as a moral fable, that I could look past the message and just enjoy the illogical histrionics. It's often the subtle patriarchal messages that annoy me more, I think. Also, as you mentioned, the songs/picturizations are beautiful and catchy . . .and probably are the real reason I feel fond of the film.

      Also, any silent readers take note: Anu has provided the correct transliterations for several films in her comment. Kucche Dhaage is one of the worst transliterations I've seen for a Bollywood film yet, but that's how it's been marketed, so we're stuck with it. Good luck trying to pronounce it with that spelling choice.

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  2. Gumnaam has some awesome moments, but as you mention it also has an excess of Mehmood. But so worth seeing for Helen and Nanda drunking, Pran and Helen just being wonderful, and the soundtrack is pretty good.

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    1. Oh the "drunking," lol. And so much Mehmood. But in comparison to other comedians of the time, I'm relatively fond of him. And I'd much rather it was him than Rajendra Nath's characters, who always need a good slap.

      For me, Gumnaam is one of those perfect movies to switch on when you don't want to care too much about the characters, but just want to be consistently entertained.

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  3. I recognise your new cover screen cap from Itefaq! I saw Kucche Daage after reading memsaab's review. I did not like it despite 2 good looking guys - Kabir Bedi and Vinod Khanna. Jab Jab Phool Khile is simply an awful movie - it belongs to my "hate list" too. Yrs ago I went to see this movie in a theatre with my cousin on a re-run (it was quite common for old movies to be released again in theatres and quite a few made money on their second innings too) just for that lovely Lata song - yeh sama sama hai ye pyaar ka - i had heard it before (audio) - had no idea what kind of movie this was other than Nanda as the lead. Imagine my horror. I dragged my cousin out of the theatre after the yeh sama song coz i simply couldn't sit through any more. I am told that this was a hit 60s movie for Nanda and Sashi Kapoor - some times you wonder why some films become a hit. Raja Hindustani was also a big hit but I think mainly for its songs.

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  4. *I thought you would recognize it, Rajesh Khanna film connoisseur that you are! P.S. the combo of the new header photo and the welcome icon span my favorite 15 year period of Hindi cinema.

    I guess these films turned out to be as controversial as I expected them to be :) I am surprised you didn't like Kucche Dhaage, but I am going to assume it was because nothing happy happens at all? It is very bleak.

    It's funny that you mention leaving the theatre at the Yeh Samaa song, since that was right where I thought it started to improve, lol. I don't know if it's because I am a consummate contrarian, but perhaps because I had been warned away from JJPK so much, and because I wasn't expecting anything except some pretty visuals, I came away a bit wooed. Don't get me wrong, I hate the plot as written, but I kind of like the story as a series of emotional vignettes. Especially the handling of the recurring theme of being smitten with an outsider. Raja Hindustani is even more full of WTFery (I wrote it up as a horror movie-lite), so much so, that I didn't take it seriously and just enjoyed the ride.

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  5. I found Kacche Dhagey weak in story line and script. Kabir Bedi is a good looking guy but some how he seemed to be ill at ease in hindi films. He was so dumb in the movie - couldn't act for nuts - in my view anyway. Vinod Khanna is one of my fav actors. I tolerated the movie for these 2. Raj Khosla is actually a very good director and I have liked most of his films but I think this is one of the weakest movies in his kitty - i think it was Raj Khosla who directed this - am i right?

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    1. Tis Raj Khosla all right. I understand how it could seem weak, scriptwise. To me, Kachche Dhaage emulates a lot of western tropes. It was slow in the way westerns are slow. And I have a soft spot for the genre (I've watched quite a bit over the years and taken quite a few vacations to the American west), so maybe that gave me more patience than I should have had.

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