Friday, November 21, 2008

Suhaag (1979) - whoa...

First things first, 'Suhaag' is madness, sheer madness. In fact there is so much insanity crammed into this movie that one review on it just wouldn't be enough. Today's review is another joint project between me and Beth from Beth Loves Bollywood & I encourage you to visit her site for lots of great insight as well as a plethora of dazzling screen shots. Manmohan Desai arguably directed three of the greatest masala films of the 70's ('Amar Akbar Anthony' and 'Naseeb' being the other two) and with this one quite possibly broke the glorious mold that made them up. This film squarely falls into what my friends & I refer to as Bollyweed movies meaning that either the filmmakers were smoking something during production or that you needed to be smoking something while watching. Bollyweed movies have several requirements to be considered as such so let's take a few minutes to review what those would be...

~ stars, stars and more stars. In fact you need a minimum of 2 heroes and thus a minimum of 2 heroines & goondas with plenty of henchman. Just watching your favorite actor or actors act their way through these delicious messes of movies is worth the price of admission.

~ a generous dash of masala but beware, Bollyweed movies are not just your standard masala fare. Yes, you do get the drama, comedy, fight scenes and tragedy - just on a whole other level.

~ a plot line that borders on ridiculous yet manages to remain coherent by being connected with the most implausible coincidences.

~ fantastic seventies fashion, lots of color in every scene and insane camera angles galore. In fact the visual overload in these movies actually can make the movie enjoyable to someone even if there aren't any subtitles.

~ last but not least it's the tunes. The songs in any Bollyweed movie are the glue that holds them together and the reason the movies are remembered with such affection even after all these years. Yes, you could say that about most Bollywood movies but the music composers of the seventies were experimenting with so many styles borrowed from the West while remaining true to Hindustani filmi music and thus created an altogether new sound.

Which bring us to 'Suhaag', a movie that not only meets all the above requirements but exceeds them to a delicious new level. I won't even try to do a blow by blow of the plot but instead will go through some of my favorite parts in chronological order - trust me, not knowing the plot may actually enhance the fun factor of this movie. We recently saw this with a bunch of our Desi friends and while we did have to fast forward all the non Amitabh/Shashi parts due to time constraints, we did have an amazing time and yes, everyone knew all the tunes and sang along to all of them :)

The opening few scenes are just dizzying and as my friend Gurmanjit said - more happens in the first twenty minutes of this movie than happens in the entirety of most other ones. Suffice it to say that 2 twin brothers (fraternal) get separated and one of them ends up with a very bad man. In this scene what appears to be a crippled zombie is trying to get the stolen baby...

Nirupa Roy's character (aka the eternal mother in virtually every Hindi movie ever made) goes to the mandir with her one remaining child and her sari is grabbed by the missing one. Oh the humanity! The sheer number of coincidences in this movie is just staggering.

Stay with me here - the 'good' twin is trying to raise money to buy his mother medicine and has been challenged to a very evil game of quarters to get it. He passes out from the ridiculous amount of straight whiskey he consumes and is brought home by - yes you guessed it - his 'bad' twin brother.

After getting the 'good' brother home safely, the 'bad' one is given a book as a reward for his good deed. Unbeknownst to the involved parties they are all related to eachother! My friend Nehal described this as the smallest and most ironic village in all of India.

Fast forward a few dozen years and this is where the movie gets really good. Amitabh with a killer outfit does the old 'beat em with a sandal trick because they can never tell a Size 6 from a Size 9' and does this throughout the movie with whistles and cheers each time he does so.

And nothing, I mean nothing will prepare you for the fantastic fight scene between Amitabh and Shashi that is depicted below. Not only are the two brothers but Shashi enters the movie wearing an all black leather outfit complete with a cane AND a cape. The great cowboy western score in the background elevates this meeting of our two heroes to something that modern movies can never hope to replicate.

Enter Rekha who looks radiant in every scene she appears in and playing a prostitute yet one more time. The song that follows the below exchange between the two is as memorable as the one they did together in 'Muqaddar Ka Sikander' but with far less pathos.

We all agreed that night that if we were to ever go to Bombay together to party - it would be at this club where Shashi dons the most excellent undercover outfit EVER to bust Ranjeet's illegal opium den. Mind you, the movie is not even a third over yet the audience has already gotten more than their money's worth.

Great tune/great scene/introduction of Parveen Babi (anointed Parveen Barbie by Beth for her dazzling good looks and perfect figure) but I ask you to notice the background in the below scene. They are clearly not in Bombay but these are mere details when you are dealing with a movie of this caliber. Continuity? We don't need no stinking continuity!

Through a series of even MORE coincidences we find out that Rekha and Parveen are actually sisters but Parveen doesn't know Rekha is Amitabh's girlfriend. Of course given the fact that Amitabh and Shashi don't know that they are brothers kind of cancels everything out but at least another great bhangra song follows the scene below.

This song may be the first time that garba raas (a style of dance unique to Gujarat) was picturized in a Bollywood movie. Oh yeah, the scene below is one in which Amitabh is to kill Shashi but instead accidentally blinds him. Really.

To make amends for his botched assassination attempt (it was actually a set up to catch another bad guy and he didn't mean to... oh never mind) Amitabh is asked to join the police force in Shashi's place but to do so he must stop drinking. He asks Rekha's help in doing so and what follows is not just ANOTHER amazing tune but the first (and last) appearance of mini-Amitabh in a Bollywood film.

After Amitabh jumps on the wagon of sobriety he teaches the now blind Shashi how to drive a motorcycle (yes really, you really gotta suspend a heck of alot of reality in this movie - a whole heck of alot) and to shoot a pistol (use the force Shashi!). After which they proceed to bust Amitabh's old drinking/gambling dens but not before Amitabh shows just why he is just one of the coolest cats around and does a little dance with the go go girls while the place is being raided.

That does it for the screenshots and I didn't even get to the ones where the two brothers hang on to a helicopter for what seems an eternity in order to catch the bad guys or the ones which show how Shashi gets his vision back. Get 'Suhaag', call over some friends, open some bottles of wine and have some of the most fun you can legally have with this gem of a movie.

Originally I was very resistant to the soundtrack of this movie as regular readers to this blog know that I am very partial to having Kishore Kumar songs be a regular part of my Bollywood experience. Kishore was THE voice of Amitabh during this time period so it's still puzzling to me to this day as to why Rafi was chosen to sing. Over the years I have warmed up to the tunes and now count them among my all time faves. The songs for today are Athara Baras Ki by Mohd Rafi and Lata (the one where we are introduced to Rekha) & Teri Rab Ne by Mohd Rafi, Shailendra Singh & Lata (the bhangra song). But I would be remiss if I didn't put my other favorites up as well so click below for the song where we are introduced to Parveen Babi and also the song where 'mini-Amitabh' makes his first and only appearance.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Baiju Bawra (1952)

Long before a single frame of this movie flickered on the screen, there was no doubt I would absolutely adore this classic from Bollywood's b/w era. A period piece dating from the Mughal era coupled with the music and songs of Naushad were enough to know that this movie would be something special and indeed it was. Starring Bharat Bhushan (who often got the nod as the lead only after the script was turned down by the Big Three of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar & Dev Anand) and Meena Kumari, 'Baiju Bawra' was a landmark film in the era of post-partition India. The story is a grand one and based on the true legend of Baiju, the son of a musician during the reign of King Akbar. Set in a time when emperors and their courts carried great weight across the land, Baiju challenges the king's singer Tansen (often considered the greatest musician insofar as Indian classical music is concerned) to avenge a promise he made to his dying father. Along the way he meets and then falls in love with a lovely village girl played by THE tragedy queen of her day, Meena Kumari.

'Baiju Bawra' went on to become a huge commercial as well as critical success. Meena Kumari won the inaugral Filmfare Award for best actress, the first of four statuettes during her illustrious career. Naushad also won the inaugral Filmfare Award for best musical director, his first and only win. His greatest contribution to Bollywood was to bring Indian classical music into the medium of film. Many of his compositions were inspired by Ragas and he used many distinguished classical artists in an industry that up to that point had largely ignored them. To quote Lata Mangeshkar (who sang for him in the film):
"The music he composed for Baiju Bawra surprised even me as it was entirely different from what he had done before. Different ragas were used for different situations and the purity of the ragas were maintained to the greatest possible extent."

The songs for today are wonderfully original and visually paint an India in my mind that evokes a romantic vision of my ancestral homeland. Since the plot of the movie revolved around music it was essential that the songs be special and blend both classical as well as the music of the day - Naushad did so with incredible deft and grace. The first one, Door Koi Gaye showcases the talents of two very different singers, Shamshad Begum with her classical nasally delivery as well as Lata who was in the infancy of her career with her trademark high but sweet voice. The sound of 'matlas' (earthen pots used to carry water on the heads of the fair maidens) mixed in with the sound of the sitar and flute that lead into a full fledged orchestra was just something not heard in filmi songs back then or even now. The video provides a great contrast between the (sometimes) overblown production values of today's films and the simple yet elegant ones of yesteryear.

The second one, Tu Ganga Ki Mauj is the song that won Naushad his version of India's Oscar and cemented Mohammed Rafi's status as one of Bollywood's leading playback singers until his death in 1980. Again it's the music that provides the foundation for the Rafi's amazing vocals. This romantic tune's video culminates with a very 'Wizard of Oz' type ending in which all the villagers tell Meena Kumari's character to essentially, follow the yellow brick road to her true love.