Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jagir (1984)

This is part of "Bob's Your Uncle", a multi-blog-extravaganza celebrating the memory of Bollywood's great Bob Christo, who died earlier this year, initiated by the fabulous Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood. Follow this link to find out what others have to say about the wonders of Bob.

The Maharajah of Anjangarh (Kamal Kapoor) and his forefathers have amassed an incredibly shiny treasure of jewellery and gold in their times. Because the Maharajah is incredibly virtuous and devout, he's hiding the treasure away in a cave quite out of reach of everyone to praise the gods with it, instead of, say, doing something for the people he's lording over with it. Only a map hidden away in an amulet shows the way to the treasure.

But the forces of evil in form of bandit leader Lakhan Singh (Amrish Puri, of course, though for some reason not quite as often doing his goggle eyes as usual) and the Maharajah's drunken brother think there are better things to do with treasure than nothing, and assault the Maharajah's palace. As this is a masala through and through, things don't end up as anyone had planned: the Maharajah and his brother don't survive the assault, the Maharajah's loyal friend and companion Mangal Singh (Pran) loses a hand to Lakhan's anger, the Maharajah's young son (of course carrying the treasure map amulet) disappears with the help of the family falcon, as does Mangal Singh's son - the latter believed dead after having been sacrificed by his father (whose "loyalty" to the Maharajah we are supposed to admire because of this; personally, I thought he deserved every punishment he got throughout the movie for it) to distract from the flight of the heir and the amulet, but in truth saved by "gypsies".

An amount of time the film calls twenty years, but that somehow has enabled the Maharajah's son - now called Shankar - to turn into fat middle-aged Dharmendra and Amrish Puri to age not at all, later, Lakhan Singh has become a beloved pillar of the community by day and evil-doer dressing up like a Catholic missionary also by day, while Shankar has gone into the whole Robin Hood business.

Because it's that kind of movie, Shankar meets Mangal Singh's son Sanga (Mithun Chakraborty) on a treasure hunt, and both hit it off after playing around with each other's hats in a spontaneous outburst of Freudian metaphors. They also meet and learn to love a certain Danny (Danny Denzongpa, looking like he has the time of his life), who just happens to be an enemy of Lankhar's too, though he doesn't know that at this time (let's just say it has something to do with Lankhar's foster son Ranjeet - played by Ranjeet, obviously - a dead wife, and a psychosomatically mute son). This still being that kind of movie, the three will soon enough cross paths with Lakhan again, and though nobody recognizes the other, there are still enough reasons for Lakhan for trying to kill our heroes in various ways. Namely, Sanga is in love with Lakhan's daughter Asha (Shoma Anand), and the bad guy does take that whole "overprotective father" role a wee bit too seriously, while Shankar is always trying to steal the same things as Lakhan.

Obviously, Shankar also has a right to a love interest, so the lucky bastard gets to romance Seema (Zeenat Aman, as often quite underutilized, but at least allowed to kick one or two asses and shoot a few people in the finale), who is of course also slightly connected with the whole family affair. Don't worry, please, this isn't a Japanese movie, so there's not too much risk of an incest plot. Anyway, lots of other stuff happens, until old secrets are revealed, families reunited, evil doers punished and Bob Christo kicked in the face.

Honestly, when I say that "lots of stuff happens", I really mean it. Pramod Chakravorty's Jagir is one of those masalas that pack so many minor plotlines, diversions, action scenes, and moments of random awesomeness in that a running time of 170 minutes actually feel a bit short for everything the director wants to show us. There's not just always something happening, but there's always something fun happening, as if Chakravorty and writer Sachin Bhowmick had taken a long hard look at the genre they were working in and decided that there's nothing wrong with its traditions and its structures that couldn't be fixed by replacing two thirds of the regular slots for comedy scenes and one third of the regular slots for melodrama with action sequences of the patented Bollywood style. Since the film is as long as it is (and 170 minutes are quite long even in Bollywood), there are still more than enough dramatic scenes and jokes (sometimes even funny ones) to give Jagir the expectedly baroque plot.

And, because it is also that sort of movie, Jagir includes so much ridiculously awesome stuff that I'd still be quite excited about it if it had no plot at all. To wit, apart from the things already described (padre Puri!) you will see: a Bollywood super animal in form of a falcon (often stunt-doubled by a stuffed falcon, making him doubly wonderful) who not only repeatedly saves Dharmendra's enormous behind, but also knows how to shoot a gun; a guy with steel teeth - obviously not at all inspired by a certain Bond character - having a car part throwing duel with our heroic trio; Pran doing one-armed Hindi kung fu like Wang Yu's long lost brother; Mithun in red cowboy boots that I suspect were initially part of Zeenat Aman's wardrobe; people calling Dharmendra a young man; one of the best death trap rooms with magnetic shackles and a spiky cross under a Christian graveyard in India ever; religious symbols and their use as lock picks; pneumatic jumping from everyone except Amrish Puri; and of course golden oldies like the obligatory scene where our heroes and their girlfriends (poor Danny's status as a widower alas means he doesn't have one) dress up as a "gypsie" dance troupe and sneak into a bad guy's base - well, tent camp. What's not to love?

But what, you might ask, does all this have to do with Bob Christo, the supposed target of today's ramblings? Well, in his career, Mister Christo might have been in every Bollywood movie made between 1980 and 1995, but because of this astonishing workload he was in many of them only for five or ten minutes, as is the case in Jagir. As you know, Bob was usually the actor a Bollywood director used when he needed a physically impressive white guy specialised in being evil to play the main henchman of the evil mastermind's main henchman, a position where his face made contact with all the great feet in Bollywood - like in this particular case those of Mithun and Danny (I suspect only Mac Mohan - also in Jagir of course - has been kicked or hit more). There is an obvious historical fairness (and a show of a re-growing self-confidence in a former colonized country) in having a white serial bad guy in post-colonial Hindi pop cinema getting punished by the hero of the hour. Watching Christo, I can't help but imagine (though I know it's probably not true) he knew that whenever Amitabh punched him in the groin in a movie, Amitabh was actually punching the British colonial reign (see also Mard). I imagine Christo accepting that, polishing his bald head, smiling about taking on a role that has to be taken by someone, so it might as well be him, and going on to the next movie.


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Here's the link!

PS I cannot believe you used the word "fabulous," but I'm honored nonetheless :)

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I'd have taken a more Lovecraftian descriptor, but scientists have found out that ladies don't like being called "eldritch", "squamous", etc.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

This sounds WONDERFUL! Very much like Dharam-Veer in all the right ways. I must see it. And Bob seems to have inspired particularly fine form from you as well - I snorted with laughter many times. Vah, my muffin! Vah!

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Thanks, Beth!

Yeah, I suspect this one might be pretty much up your alley - and I didn't even mention the scene where Mithun tries to murder Danny and Dharmendra because he's very hungry and hallucinates them into chicken. Comedy!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

"Comedy gold," I believe you mean?

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

That depends on your position regarding chicken.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Ooookay, as discovered on Twitter, I saw this, you thought it sounded great, and neither of us remembered you had already seen it AND written about it AND I commented on your writeup. Anyway, I agree 100% percent with everything you said, and I am very grateful to whatever force, possibly my deep subconscious, that led me to this film.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

It's an achievement we still remember our names.

The stars were right for this one.