Sharmeelee, 1971

Directed by: Samir Ganguli (Ganguly)

This contains spoilers. Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be. The plot is readily available everywhere  and I’m terrible at secrets.

When you, as a DVDwallah, hand me Sharmeelee and say “Oh, you will like this one, if ‘Shashi Kapoor is your man'” you are assuming a lot of things about me based on 10 minutes or so of conversation.

I think my DVDwallah is my soul mate.

He knows.

Everything and anything there is about my personality he has pegged, because this film has it all: Raakhee, Shashi, twins, goons, scars, moments of hatred and love, explosions, The Voice, cute sequences with animals, Kishore Kumar on playback, songs by Burman…

I could go on but I’ll stop, lest my post turn into a laundry list of perfection.

This film also did something miraculous. It converted my mother to the ways of Masala! We were snuggled up watching this film while our Thanksgiving dinner cooked and for nothing could I tear my momma away from the movie!

Magic!

She is, after all, the same woman who sat through Pyar Kiye Jaa and was unmoved, even hostile.  (As if that were even possible!)

Sharmeelee is so interesting! It’s Masala but there is something tangibly different about it that I cannot put my finger on. Trying to explain my feelings on this is like giving a speech and forgetting a very obvious word that you just cannot remember.

On the whole the film is engrossing and the pace is kept fresh by twists in the plot whenever there is a  threat of listlessness, either on screen or in the audience. There is also an interesting “need to know” feel established wherein, for example, after pulling off a heist (that goes largely unseen) the Bad Guy says “now we’re rich”. You aren’t informed why they might be rich or what they had to do to become so, they just are. It is an amusing if unhelpful path to take. The ploy is used several times, mainly to establish back story or to introduce characters, but it should have been reworked when one of the main characters turns pure evil for apparently no reason what-so-ever. More on that later.

On paper Sharmeelee could easily have been read as a bit campy. Two twins (Raakhee), a shy, “traditional” one (Kanchan) and the rambunctious, “Westernized” Kamini fall in love with the same man, Captain Ajit Kapoor (Shashi Kapoor). Arranged to marry Kanchan Ajit instead chooses Kamini after discovering that she is the girl he met and fell in love with on a night in Kashmir. When Kamini comes into some trouble and “dies” (disappears, more or less) Ajit is tricked into marrying Kanchan and runs away from her after learning the truth.

The saving grace to this film (besides its outright brilliance) is the abilities and the strengths of the lead actors. Shashi Kapoor and Raakhee give their characters such earnestness and complexity that it is easy enough to slip along with them into their experiences.

In playing both twins Raakhee gives a superb performance. Not only does each twin have their implied characteristics but they are also given different temperaments, expressions, voices and attitudes. Even when she is Kamini pretending to be Kanchan you can still tell that it is Kamini; this is more easily identifiable when Kanchan is forced to play the outgoing Kamini, there is still a sense of ill ease and shyness  that pervades her person.

Raakhee’s skill is further displayed when she becomes the “evil” Kamini. The effect is chilling and a total abandonment from the care free Kamini seen earlier in the film.

What I wonder about concerning evil Kamini is why she became that way. Sure there is some slight suggestion that she is mixed up with the wrong people, and she has a few terrible encounters* with the Baddies; but it is never shown or described why she became (or if she always was) as ruthless and terrible as she is at the end of the film. Of course she has her moment of redemption as she draws her last breath and uses it to save her sister but I feel as if it was the one moment where the “need to know” curtain should have been lifted and more insight into the making of evil Kamini would have been greatly appreciated.

Another thing that outrageously miffed me the first time but only slightly gnawed at me in subsequent watchings was the self-sacrifice of Kanchan’s personality to appease and enable Ajit. Sure he had lost the will to live and had been tricked into a marriage to someone he was not expecting (and I can understand all of these reasons) but… ugh… why force Kanchan to be Kamini anyway? Who cares if the wedding doesn’t happen? Who cares if Ajit is depressed for a while? Who cares about telling the truth? It was so painful. Kanchan didn’t want to be Kamini as much as she did want to be Ajit’s wife, so why not make the story about how Ajit falls for Kanchan as Kanchan, not as Kanchan pretending to be Kamini so that her parents’ reputation is upheld and so that Ajit doesn’t suffer disappointment and heartbreak?

Oh wait… he still suffers through all of that anyway, so why not just out the truth and be done without the added heartache of having been lied to?

Sure, at the end Ajit realizes he is in love with Kanchan as Kanchan, maybe? It just seems too contrived to me that after being told the person he thinks is Kamini is actually her sister that he could just SNAP! say “Oh yes, I’ve loved her the entire time!”

I would have much preferred an honest relationship established on the premise that Ajit know what girl he was wooing. I can’t even imagine the pain and anguish that Kanchan had to endure in the name of saving face.

Gross.

And just one more tiny thing that vexed me about this film: you can see a TON of production helps. Characters in glasses have spots obviously pointing at them face-on and every time someone is in a car you can see the outline of the umbrella shielding the glare from the glass. In a film that is pretty spot on otherwise in terms of production quality and craftsmanship, these and other oversights are unfortunate.

I do not mean to take this film to task, I really do love it and it has sandwiched itself up on my “Favorites” list but when there are minor annoyances with such perfect (and I use that loosely) work, than generally we focus on the annoyances.

On to things I did like, shall we?

The music is to die for. There is something about Burman’s work that just sparkles and haunts at the same time. Combine his ear for melody and Kishore, Lata and Asha’s talents; hold me close and let me weep. I can’t get enough of this soundtrack. I wish, now more than ever, that films still had songs like these.

Locations, costumes, props, design… everything was so laid back! Alongside the effortless portrayal of our complex characters was the stunning “real life” feeling houses and hotels and clothing. I am all for the glitz and the glamor that tends to run rampant in Masala but it is also nice to see a restrained set that suggests “Yes, people might actually live here and they might actually wear these very common looking clothes”. Oh, and before I forget, I need ever sari featured in this film ASAP.

Thanks.

I want that salmon one on the hanger especially!
And this white one is a must have!
 It looks fairly similar to one I wore to a wedding in Dharavi, 
but more sparkly… and lacking in bubble-gum pink color. 
And just a little something to look for when you’re watching Sharmeelee: The twins wear different rings on their “wedding ring” fingers. In an odd twist Kachan’s is large and flashy and Kamini’s is small and understated. It bothered me from the beginning that Ajit simply couldn’t tell them apart from just this small detail, but I guess it’s frivolous to expect men to ever notice jewelry.

*I am choosing to omit reference to the EPIC battle between Kamini and her attacker. That, simply must be seen, and not described.

Oh, and just because I must…

Raffoo Chakkar, 1975

Directed by: Narender Bedi
I just had to start with that little sequence, mainly because the little Don Quixote figurine took me so completely off guard that I had to pause the film and chortle for a good five minutes before I could compose myself. It’s always the absurdly stupid things that get me…
Rafoo Chakkar is the most fabulously preposterous movie I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s so tempting not to stop writing this post and just start re-watching it, but I’ve kept ya’ll waiting far to long already.
Have you ever wanted to hug a film? The entire film, not just the DVD? That’s how I feel about this one. Oh, it’s magical.
Ranjit (Anwar Hussian) and Prakash (Madan Puri)–who you will never keep straight because they are all but identical and dressed so similarly through the whole film that you just have to go with it–are criminals that are arrested after they burn a man alive in efforts to avoid a police raid.
Ah! Stop dressing alike! 
Ranjit leaves behind his wife Shanti (Sulochana) and his young son, Dev (Rishi Kapoor).  The mother and son move in with a friend who also has a young son, Salim (Paintal).  Years pass (as evidenced by a sequence of days being torn off a calendar in rapid speed) and Salim and Dev have become band members who play for weddings and other functions.
Precious! 

We stumble upon our two darlings as they play for Prakash’s arranged marriage to Ritu (Neetu Singh). Ritu runs away from the wedding because she was being sold for money (essentially) by her aunt who had raised her. She with her friend speeds away to join an all-girl band.  After the wedding guests are shooed away from the failed matrimonial celebrations, Dev and Salim ask Prakash to pay them for playing at the wedding. Prakash denies their request and the two return home to their mothers who can no longer afford to feed them.  The next day they are taking a shortcut through a graveyard when they come across a funeral akin to the ones you see in The Godfather II (i.e. tortured band playing, sobbing Italian relatives, the overall sense that the mob has something to do with this, the feeling that there is about to be a really bad trick pulled on someone…etc). Dev and Salim witness Prakash and Ranjit murdering a man. The two musicians, laden down with massive drums, flee and return home only to see that henchmen are waiting for them.
I’m amazed still that those very unique instrument cases never gave them away…
They try their luck at getting into the same all girl band, but are rejected because they are male. The two only get in when two girls are forced home by their fathers leaving behind their luggage full of wigs and women’s apparel made just to fit like a glove on the men. “Devi” and “Salma” join the band on the train. On the train they befriend Ritu and both become quite attached to her, though Dev wins the upper hand by thwarting Salim in his advances of Ritu.
Ritu confides in Devi that she wants only to marry a rich man, (wasn’t she about to 40 minutes ago?), but wait, he has to be young. (Oh honey, marriages of convenience don’t work that way) Oh, and you want to be in love with him? (Darling girl, just take the rich old bogey and swim in diamonds. Who needs pyaar with a pool of diamonds and a bed made with silk sheets milled daily by your own farm of silk worms?)
Spin those pearls Rishi!

Of course Dev is crushed because he is a poor boy, and dressed as a woman he cannot expresses the love in his heart that he has for Ritu.
After they arrive at the hotel Dev devises a plan to woo Ritu by dressing as a very… colorfully plaid*… millionaire and masquerading under the name Esso, claiming to own the oil company under the same nomenclature.  He makes himself at home on the houseboat of the real millionaire who, is determined to make Salma love him.
He got her attention by hitting a golf ball at her butt.
Our boy Rishi is all class.

During their romantic interludes Esso (a.k.a. Dev or Devi) tells Ritu that he wants a girl to show him how to love. Acting very forward Ritu canoodles up to him and asks him to hold her. Before he can say “Okay” she runs away singing and Esso is left looking very confused and thinking “Girls are the most bizarre things on the planet” because it’s true, we are.  They sing and dance with joyful abandon, peaking around trees and indulging in sweet merriment.
I probably rewound this seven times. 

Meanwhile, Salma is getting engaged to the flashily dressed, REAL millionaire who also looks so much like the two Bad Guy Twins (BGT) that you think it’s one of them… maybe?… until they are all three on screen and your foolishness is exposed.
Back at the beginning of the plot, the two henchmen standing outside of Dev and Salim’s house are informed of their whereabouts via their mothers. Naturally, the Maas are kidnapped and held hostage while every villain in the entire world  swoops in to the same hotel as the traveling all-girl band.
While running from the thugs, Dev and Salim get trapped under the table at a Dinner and a Show/Evil Meeting of Henchmen where they hear the dastardly plans of all the villains. Somewhere in this scene the head honcho (whom for ease’s sake I will be calling Vito) makes a cat appear out of thin air. Ohhh, it gave me the creeps! Vito is very, very upset that the BGT have yet to catch and kill the two boys who witnessed the murder at the graveyard. Of course, it’s ironic because Dev and Salim are sitting at their feet! Oy!
All the villains watch a show wherein there is a lot of glitter and mirrors and my brain stopped working because of the brilliance of it.
I’m remodeling my bathroom.
Right. This. Second.

I’m forgetting the details now, because this film might have been to fantabulous to pay attention to (or more likely, I’ve only watched it once not thrice) but be content in knowing that they all end up at the villain’s… er… Technicolored Ski Lodge in the Jungle (TSLITJ) to rescue the Maas, Dev tells Ritu he is a man, and a poor man, she (of course) still loves him. There are also some floating cat heads and a cat-shaped bomb. (WHAT IS IT WITH THE CATS!?!?!)
It’s more New Orleans than Ski Lodge, now that I look at it…
Ok, technically this is shot from the underside of a glass table,
but still… it has a syringe in its neck! 
And its eyes are glowing!
Cat bomb! Cat bomb! I’m a cat bomb!

In the TSLITJ Ranjit recognizes Shanti and is introduced to his son. He begs Dev for forgiveness (even though up until 20 seconds previous he wanted to kill him) and asks for a hug in return for giving up his crooked way of life. Everyone in the scene apart from the happy, reuniting family, has the decency to look as if it is the most awkward moment in their lives, because it is. Nothing is going to top that.
Like a good boy, Dev hugs his daddy. That one little display of filial love sets off the most involved fight scene ever. All the villains, Vito, the Maas, Ritu, and all the henchmen get involved. There has to be 50 people flying about on chandeliers, doing back flips and hitting each other with large, ornate Styrofoam “statues”. There is even fencing! Rishi looks Oh-So-Fine fencing.
He’s the pinch-his-cheeks type.

Approximately 13.72 minutes later the director decided there needed to be an end to the fighting and a lot of loose end wrapping up to do, so he cut to a frame with Ritu and Dev hugging beautifully, and Salim being chased by his colorful, millionaire, wannabe boyfriend. And it ends. Just like that.
I don’ think I can describe how incredible I think this movie is. It is already written down on the very top of my “Buy of Die” list…
Everyone in the film gives an amazing performance, especially Neetu, who was SEVENTEEN during this movie! You could have fooled me! (Also, there were a lot of moments where she was spitting image of Rani Mukherji! Love!!)
The music, the sets, costumes, everything is just magnificent. I’ve never called a movie a “romp” before but if I were to do so, this would be the film the deserves it.
Also, they break through the “4th Wall” a lot and stare right at the camera. I don’t know why I’m so fond of that particular technique, but I just love it. It really brings the audience in on the jokes.
I’ve never seen Some Like it Hot, the film this mimics, but L has, and I plan to share this with her ASAP!
And, because I took 354 screen caps (yes, I counted) I leave you with some fun extras!
Oh nothing, my pal here is just trying to perfect her sad 
“seductively bitting the finger” technique.
FAB!
There is a new dimension and meaning to my life that I didn’t know existed 
before I saw Rishi in garters and feathers.
Everything I hate about engagement photos 
totally makes my heart melt in Bollywood.
Unfair.
Love the hat-wear. 
This is only made more amazing by the frame that came 2 seconds later…

* I’ve mentioned plaid a lot this week. I hated plaid, HAAATED plaid until I discovered 70s masala. Now I wear it every day!

Barsaat ki Raat, 1960

For me, watching Madhubala is like watching a very finely and perfectly choreographed dance. Every movement, look and thing she does is so perfectly timed and planned that I always end up watching more of her rather than what is going on in the film.  

She’s marvelous

Thankfully this film followed the classic and beloved Love Triangle story line, so apart from keeping faces in context I could sit back and enjoy Madhubala as much as I wanted to. And I did.

The story tells of a poet Aman (Bharat Bhushan) and his neighbors, the “singing girls” Shama (Shyama) and Shabab (Ratna). Shama is obviously in love with her crooning neighbor who moves to secure a post on the radio singing his poems, as he as only sold one copy of his collections and needs money.

On the way to the city he meets with a terrifying* rainstorm and runs into a girl who seeks shelter under the same bridge that Aman is standing under. He does not get a good look at the girl, but falls in love with her.

The next night we see Shabnam (Madhubala) hugging a collection of poems by Aman and listening to him on the radio. He sings of a stormy night and a girl that he met that he will never be able to forget. It does not take her long to figure out that the girl is her and that some how she must be introduced to Aman. Conveniently her father needs a tutor for her little sister and who else would he hire BUT the new poet in town? No one, that is for certain.

Of course she’s the only one with the copy of his poems! 
Of course!

I feel some love happening…..

Aman tries to tutor the little girl but gets distracted every three seconds when Shabnam walks by their schoolroom and they engage in passionate moments of silent staring.

Shabnam’s father makes an announcement that she should be married and says he knows just the man (we know where this is going, don’t we?). Her father invites Aman over for dinner and then accuses him of leading on his daughter and making a fool out of her. Aman is ordered from the house and Shabnam runs away with him to Lucknow.

The only option after being scorned in love.

There he tries to make a living out of singing but his voice on the radio gives away his identify.  Shabnam is taken back into her father’s house and is engaged to Aftab (Peace Kanwal).

Shama and Shabab are in Lucknow for a qawali competition and after loosing a few rounds are in desperate need of a poet. Luckily they run into the distraught and scorned-in-love Aman who agrees to write poetry for their songs.

Back in the palatial mansion Shabnam has fallen ill of heartbreak and will not agree to the marriage her father has set-up between her and Aftab. In a twist Shama becomes her nurse and takes care of her. Shama says she knows how to console a broken heart, since hers was only just recently mended. Eventually Shama finds out that Shabnam is the woman that broke Aman’s heart and Aman is the man for whom Shabnam pines.  Shama steps out of the picture and lets Aman and Shabnam reunite and rekindle their relationship. The two are allowed to wed only after Shabnam’s father receives consent from Aftab, who says he would not want to destroy the “love-match”.

Please notice the gun he is pointing at his wife. Class.

Once you get the permission from the fiancée, I guess you’re good-to-go.

I really enjoyed this film, all of the characters (and the females especially) were strong, independent and motivated. There was some pitter-pattering about life not going on after Aman and Shabnam were split up but they both moved on and almost got on with other people but of course they were reunited.
The picture quality was a little fuzzy and blury, but I suppose that’s just due to the age of the film. The sound was in excellent condition, thank goodness, since the music was fantastic!  Especially with the qawali scenes. The music is so integral to the plot and never distracts or takes away from the story line, but rather is built into the plot and is effective in the movement of the drama.
Now, some leftover Madhubala pretties:

*The scary “if you’re alone in a hotel room in Jackson, WY” kind of scary.

Kabhi Kabhie, 1976

I saw (2 years after hearing about his “supposed” wonderfulness) my first Shashi Kapoor film: Kabhi Kabhie.

The film is delightfully full of everything YRF-ish that I just drool over: Divided lovers, mountains, seasons that change at the drop of a hat, love triangles x100, undercover identities, dramatic confrontations…

And it has somethings that I just love anyway: Sexy Amitabh is sexy sweaters, bad mustaches, extreme reactions to adoptions, sexy Amitabh’s sexy hair, and lips, and hands… (I know, focus Erin!) silly actions scenes that are just somewhat out of place, and….my new super crush… Shashi Kapoor!

Now, I’m not saying that I’m ready for Shahrukh to step aside, but I am saying that it’s probably a good thing that they never did a film together, otherwise I might die upon watching it from extreme bliss and asphyxiation, since I can’t seems to pull myself together enough the breathe when SRK is smoldering away and Nose Acting; which is the same reaction I had to the wedding night scene in KK.

That scene made me agree to the idea of an arranged marriage.

And there is my now infamous Tweet (in my mind at least) reaction to Shashi that has been RT’ed on by Beth and mentioned in the comments of one of her Filmi Secret Santa blogs that I thought for good measure should just be added to my post:


oh. my. god. I think I’ve been Shashified.I get IT!! I can’t breathe when he’s on screen! eeeee!”


It’s amazing that I even had the mental capacity to type that, I had seriously lost it. I was almost in tears and I had the weird giggling of someone who was heavily drugged. 

I was very impressed with the movie, I’m not much of a 70s Bollywood fan, I like my 2000s and 90s (I know) but I really liked it. The pacing was good, which compared to the only other 70s film I’ve seen (and I can’t remember what it was, but it was about 5 hours long… and boring) was a huge plus.  The plot, while sometimes convoluted, was interesting and even though Shashi is not on screen the entire time it didn’t bother me because I was absorbed in everything else that was going on. Even the second plot of Shashi’s son (Rishi Kapoor) didn’t annoy me too much, because every time I was getting a little bored by them it would go back to the Amitabh/Shashi/Rakhee (who is another new favorite) story line.

The music wasn’t all that impressive to me, I guess it works well on screen and in context but I wasn’t really paying attention to it and it wasn’t stuck in my head when I turned it off.  The song sung above (Kabhi Kabhie) I liked, but I’m not rushing out to buy this soundtrack (a highly a-typical move for me).

There was something I was bothered by and it’s the same thing (permit me) that bothers me about the Twilight story line. Rakhee seemed genuinely happy  in her marriage to Shashi. He was upbeat, fun, nice, loving…etc. They laughed a lot, flirted and were just all-around a happy couple. However, whenever Amitabh is around (her ex-lover who told her to agree to her marriage) she acts like she’s been living for him the entire time and all he is is cold, hurtful, needy and boring. Ugh. Hello Edward and Jacob. In the end the right choice is made and Rakhee realizes her pyaar for Shashi (I’m sorry, but who wouldn’t?) but there was a moment where I thought it was going to go horribly wrong and she was going to run away with Edward, uh, I mean Amitabh.  And I’m sorry, but after 20 years of being without your ex-lover I really think it’s time to give up that dream. (Eh, what do I know, I’m not the romantic.)
Why take the man who’s always moping around and sucking life away when you can have the fun, realistic, happy one?

I watched this with K & L (of course) who didn’t know they were getting a non-SRK movie. L really liked it and K did too, but K was not pulled into the den of Shashi goodness. Pity.