Sunday, November 30, 2014

Himmat (1970): Starring Mumtaz, Jeetendra, Aruna Irani and PAAGAL STUNTS

In terms of '70s Hindi-film watching, if last year was the year of Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra ... this year just might belong to Ravikant Nagaich.

Having seen one of his films (Mere Jeevan Saathi) during the Rajesh binge last year, I had no idea what other delights lay in store. Dec/January brought The Train (1970); in March/April came Kaala Sona (1975), Surakksha (1979), and Wardaat (1981) with varying degrees of satisfaction; October brought a failed [for now] try of Raksha (1981); and this week ... Himmat (1970).

Watching every Nagaich film is a dubious goal, to be sure, but I can't help wondering if I *can* actually do it. *Should* is perhaps not relevant. I mean, why do people climb Everest? Because it's there. (Also because by the time you get high enough to regret your choice, the air's too thin to allow good decision-making.) Though both released in 1970, The Train "looks" better than Himmat, seems less rushed, and has Helen in an amazing femme-fatale role. What Himmat does have more of, semi-appropriately, is heart. [Ok, and the aformentioned crazy stuntwork.]



Note: I did not see this with subtitles, but the dialogue was simple and the action plentiful, so, I don't think I missed too much.

In pleasant Nagaich style, the film cuts immediately to the action, leaving the hero's backstory for flashbacks. [Translation: no masala childhood prologue]. Raghu (Jeetendra) is just getting out of good ol' Central Jail, and is immediately brought forcibly to his old crime boss (Prem Chopra). Boss wants Raghu's cat burglar talents, but Raghu gets in his face and tells him he's on naya raasta, going straight.



Note #2: One thing I do like about Prem Chopra (even if I'd rather have Pran) is how inept he is willing to look. In this scene, in probably an ad libbed diologue, he screams a series of louder and louder statements in Jeetendra's face, which Jeetendra mirrors back to him. "Yeh tumhara challenge hai?" "Ha! Yeh mera challenge hai!

Raghu gets a truck driving position from his best friend (Jagdeep--not completely awful role, surprisingly). But on the first long trip, he discovers he has a stowaway ... a "boy" who claims to be running away from a girl he doesn't want to marry.



Of course, the boy soon turns out to be a girl, Malti (Mumtaz). [Props: She manages to stow away on Jeetendra's truck before Asha!]

Note #3: Is it just me or is this whole truck driver masala romance a sub-genre? And what should we call this category? Lorry Lurv? I've seen it enough to think it has to be (actually, I've seen Jeetendra in this genre at least 3 x already).

In a high-strung hill chase, Raghu taunts Malti with "Agar Tu Ladki Hoti ..." giving Mumtaz and Jeetendra a chance to use their talents for humorous physicality. In keeping with its middle-school flavor, the song ends in tears and remonstrations when Raghu takes the playfulness a step too far ... pushing Malti into the pond.

But an apology from him and a change of clothes from her instantly alters the dynamic.



Raghu, in a It Happened One Night-fashion, tries to return Malti for a reward against her will. But this plan quickly fizzles when he sees for himself what kind of lecherous person has advertised for her. [In perhaps an untintentionally hilarious sequence, they open the door to see her brother or maybe uncle on the couch with three floozies and lots of liquor.]

 This prompts Raghu to stop being a douche and do right by Malti. Embarrassed by her thanks, he decides to put all his cards on the table and tell her about his past.

We learn that Raghu's mother died when he was falsely arrested for stealing as a child. He is found by his Fagin (Prem Chopra) and grows up to be an accomplished con-man/thief, with a charmed, decadent existence ...


... complete with fun heist sequences and stunts.



The end of the line comes when Raghu is ordered to kidnap a child [for ransom, maybe?]. The mother's horrified reaction prompts an almost instant change of heart, and he quickly tries to return the kid. But it's too late. The mother has died of shock [too many fragile mothers in this film] and the ghost of his mother rises from her dead body to scold him. Raghu turns himself into the police.



Malti isn't much worried by Raghu's confession, and well, she has no one else ... and they soon get married. Clearly inspired by the exploits of Inspector Javert, police inspector Mathur (K.N. Singh) leaks that whole "former-convict" thing, and they are driven out of their home on their wedding night. It doesn't bother them for too long.

Now in the running for best honeymoon location ever: Mumtaz and Jeetendra In the park under this family planning poster that reads, "Do ya teen bacche, bas." (Two or three children, only.)

A flirtatious song takes us through the next several years and the growth of their baby daughter, all while the pair continues to try to steal romantic moments. They finally are stopped/caught by their six or seven year old daughter (who acts more sensible than they do for the second half of the film).














Unfortunately, the opposing forces of greedy boss and suspicious policeman eventually begin to tear the family's world apart. Think shades of Les Miserables plus maybe North by Northwest. Right, yes, he becomes a murder suspect because of Former Boss's Evil Plan to win him back to the life of crime. Because of annoying inspector, Raghu also loses his lorry job and starts to work himself into the grave.





To feed her family, Malti has to nautch-herself out ... which doesn't go over well with feverish hubby. However, I'm ok with it, considering it means an "I'm forced to dance to save someone else" song from Mumtaz.



The answer to all Raghu's problems just might be a sting operation against the Boss ... both to end the harassment and to clear his own name.



But can Raghu manage to take down his former employer, reconcile with his wife, and stay out of prison for good?



Note #4: Though she doesn't have any lines to speak of, there are TWO excellent Aruna Irani dance sequences in this film, complete with choruses of nautch girls, slanted Nagaich camera-angles, debauched revelers, and a fabulously decorated villain lair.


I'll admit, there's a lot of borderline weepy/heartrending stuff here for a Nagaich film, but I didn't mind. He makes up for it with a profusion of his usual bells and whistles, if not quite as much trippy camera-work as I've come to expect. Along with a certain brevity in the moralizing material, you can count on the film building towards a non-stop, suspenseful climax ... complete with tremendous stunt work by Jeetendra and company. In terms of impressive action sequences (and I'm surprised to be saying this), Himmat actually gives Surakksha a run for its money.



[This long sequence on the moving train is terrifying, mostly because you know it's all Jeetendra, not doubles.]



















Mumtaz and Jeetendra (Jeetendraz?) are one of my favorite pairings. As such, I'm kind of surprised that their films together weren't considered hits at the time, and still haven't graduated to classic status. They both have a naive, cheerful flavor that errs on the side of ADORABLE. Jeetendra in this particular period of time has SO much energy, I think he's best with women of comparable good humor, playfulness, and restlessness ... people like Mumtaz, Asha, Hema.



Himmat can't beat Roop Tera Mastana's (1972) marks for chemistry or fantasy, but the duo still seem like such a natural team at this earlier stage ... an essential element in all these masala melodramas where the marriage plot is also supposed to be the symbol of a beleaguered path towards righteousness. Himmat's general arc resembles Rajesh/Sharmila's Raja Rani (a thief trying to go straight with former nautch-girl girlfriend is persecuted by the law & community) but Himmat is far more interested in action sequences than social statements.

By way of that, look! Famous tower-I-don't-know-the-name-of-from Surakksha!


If you can't already tell, Himmat is a very-watchable B film, with characters you can love--not just root for--and some fabulous stunt-film cred.

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