Stylistically, the film reminded me mostly of AAA, the first half of Apna Desh or even Satte Pe Satta. Unfortunately, I don't mean that as a compliment. The common denominator between them is par for the course in masala, so I probably shouldn’t even mention it. I'm annoyed regularly by it, though, so I will. Whether because they didn’t have a decent cinematographer, or just didn’t have the budget to worry about lighting or shot composure . . . a lot of masala films from this period are filmed like second-tier westerns from Hollywood's studio era. By that I mean that they demonstrate little regard for shadow or angle or color in the majority of the picture.
It's not just about which direction the money is being thrown. Don (1978), for example, didn't spend much, nor did Surakksha, and yet the cinematography in both is able to create a hum of satisfaction in the audience. Good Pulp stokes the suspense with weird shadows, strange sounds, funky lighting, and uses quick cuts to keep ADD folks on track. Weak Pulp sets up an ostensibly exciting situation and expects you to "get it" without any assistance. I like low-budget, I swear. I just don't like boring.
It IS significant that the usual fight sequence standbys (like the impossible hero-jumps) here are given to the ladies instead... but most of Ashanti is the shaky-cam, pulp cinema version of filming by-the-numbers. When the angles ARE interesting in Ashanti, they are often combined with nausea-inducing zooms (I love zooms, so believe me when I say that these were ill-advised).
The one notable pulp cinematography sequence in the film. I wish there had been more of this.
Also similar to the matinee Western, there’s a washed out look to the Ashanti's picture (that I don't think you can blame on a badly preserved print, although the upload IS cropped); which paired with a general lack of concern for lighting and a lot of loud dishooming, makes for a watch that I probably should have combined with alcohol.
Of course, the reason to seek out Ashanti in the first place is the unusual protagonists: female action heroes ... and the stars behind them. There's female empowerment and gender role-reversal in spades. Even Mithun's character is by far the most traditionally "feminine" among the main characters, serving a supporting function, and needing "his chastity" to be rescued by the ladies more often than not. His character actually seems to prefer being the sidekick and has no shame in begging the various martial-arts-trained women around him to finish off the villains when he can't manage on his own. (He's also a drunkard, so between him and Rajesh's handicapped mentor, the available male allies are rendered symbolically impotent.)
Some of Ashanti's gags are plain hilarious, especially an institutional infiltration (Shabana puts on this snooty Begum act that is out of character--but so quirky and specific--that I wonder if she wasn't mimicking someone she knew,
I could say that half of Ashanti is worth multiple re-watches. There are a lot of fun romps, if not exactly “good” cinematic sequences, and anytime Parveen and Zeenat were kicking ass together, my little 70’s loving heart overflowed. But then I'd also have to say that the other half annoyed me to no end.
Ashanti's slap-dash approach makes the movie unforgivably long (for me) at 2:40--especially considering that the action of the first 45 minutes could have easily been condensed into 10. Easily. [You know how I am about needlessly miserable masala prologues.] Given that the story is almost entirely focused on Rajesh’s harsh and uninteresting police inspector during that section, it’s even more incomprehensible to me. The only reason I kept watching was because the action was so overdrawn, that I couldn’t really skip any particular scene because I might miss an important bit of the set up. And there aren’t many songs to justify the run-time, even though they're all good fun. The "I'm not a drunkard, watch me drink" number with Mithun and Parveen is one of the best parts of the film. And I'm never going to say "no" to Zeenat + disco.
Watching something like this--it's clear that Mithun could change up his characterizations drastically when he wanted to--certainly a lot more easily than his later cookie cutter films might indicate. I seriously doubt that his lines hit home because he had better material to work with. He just knows who the character is and has fun with it.
And then there’s Rajesh who--I will be the first to admit--just can’t keep up with the rest of the cast. Thankfully, *ahem* he was supposed to be crippled for the better part of the film. The pity factor + facial hair + role as mentor does him a favor and makes him semi-watchable. It’s not that he’s bad, but he’s mostly running on hero fumes.
And yet, Rajput was released around the same time (in which he plays another highly-motivated lawman) and even though I winced through some of his scenes in that movie, I ended up liking his character more and more as the film moved along.
His character in Ashanti, on the other hand, is hardly sympathetic at all. The inspector is driven by nothing but revenge and justice from the first minute to the last, and you never really warm up to him. In Rajesh's hands, the lead character felt wooden and forced; merely a central agent to bring the different characters together. This could be more a writing and casting mistake than Rajesh’s problem, per say. After all, Amitabh could have done this role-and it still would have been one-dimensional. But Amitabh is more fun to watch being angry (obviously) and self righteous, bottom line. My ideal casting choice would have been Vinod Khanna or Feroz Khan (can't you just see it?!) as the Charlie to the Charlie's Angels, but that’s neither here nor there.
As far as the women go, I have zero complaints. Except that I wanted more!
Which leads me to my last thought. If you feel like I’m ripping this film apart unfairly, I think I should point out that if a film prompts this much frustration in me, it’s usually because it means that I liked it enough to actually bother to be upset. I'm *cough* downright greedy, I guess. It feels like this was a wasted opportunity for greatness. (The CAST ALONE, oh my gosh!) I so very badly wanted it to be a little more suave, a little better thought out, and a little less noisy. These folks (all of them) deserved something better. They probably had a fabulous time on set, though!