Mr. India (1987)
If you were to take a survey of Indians across the world you would find quite a bit of diversity regarding their favourite films. But if you took a survey of all the Indian ORPHANS in the world, and included us here at BollyBob, you'd have one clear winner: MR. INDIA, the movie that has everything. And I do mean everything, including an extraneous robot and a kid who almost gets gored by a roulette wheel.
I admit to an certain sentimentality regarding MR. INDIA. It was the first full-length piece of Bollywood I ever saw (well, third if you count "Suparman" and "The Adventures Of Tarzan," which nobody can actually prove I watched all the way through). It was the first time I experienced the fabulousness of an Anil Kapoor/Sridevi coupling. And it was the first rental videotape that BollyJay accidentally melted, prompting a stern reprimand from a woman at the local spice shop and no doubt starting an uproar amongst orphaned Indians here in town. I can safely say that by destroying the only rental copy of MR. INDIA in the Kitchener/Waterloo area BollyJay has made a lot of children cry. In this uncertain world of today, who can they look up to? Who will save them from the cruelty of heartless, power-hungry foreign fascists? Who will make them wet while they're sleeping in their beds?
Well, that sort of brings us to the central message of MR. INDIA (or one of them, anyway): even though Arun -- the hero -- stumbles across a device that can make him invisible (and make him laugh like a hyena), he's still just "an ordinary Indian." Near the end of the movie you'll probably be so bogged down with trinkets, explosions and endless shots of Sridevi's butt that you might miss this, but when it all comes down...Arun defeats the villain WITHOUT the invisibility gadget. He finally realizes that "an ordinary Indian" can destroy the forces of evil without any superpowers, which is a beautiful concept, certainly, and also a load of sentimental horsepucky. Beautiful sentimental horsepucky, I should say.
The other important message of MR. INDIA -- that invisibility gadgets are useless in the presence of red light -- hardly needs mentioning.
But MR. INDIA isn't just about moralistic messages...in fact, they're few and far between (and often subtle, if not a bit insidious). Most of the movie is about exciting, silly, slam-bang action, featuring a range of villains and heroes that are a joy to watch and even wackier than your usual stock of Bollywood villains. If you're saying "Muffy, I'm not an orphan, will I still appreciate this movie?" my only reply is "yes you goofball, it is required viewing for Bollywood fans, even ones with legitimate parentage!" I'm no orphan and I've watched it more times than I can count.
MR. INDIA presents one of the most interesting Indian villains I've ever seen, and also one of the weirdest characters of all time: Mogambo, an oatmeal-faced foreigner who lives on a secret island and conjures up bizarre plans for world domination, one of which includes a lever and a button.
Does this sound familiar? Check out the equally nefarious Shakaal from SHAAN, an earlier James Bond-type Bollywood film also written by Salim-Javed. For those who don't have the time or the inclination to draw up a list of similarities between the two villains, here's one off the top of my head:
|Has many ridiculous plans for world domination.||Has only one, but it's still ridiculous.|
|He looks funny.||The same, with hair.|
|He lives on an island, which he blows up in the end.||Surprise! So does Mogambo.|
|He looks like a mad scientist.||Well, Mogambo looks more like a fascist.|
|He is obsessed with buttons (a sign of under-stimulation as an infant).||He likes buttons too, but he doesn't tend to press them himself. He usually yells out his commands and they just happen, meaning that his nefarious devices are either voice-activated or manually operated by island labour (stagehands).|
|Has a penchant for oversized killer animals (a notable exception: his crack team of killer beagle puppies, which are pretty small).||Goes more for acid, robots and explosions.|
So on the evolutionary scale of villainous behaviour we can see that Mogambo is a bit further along: he's more diverse and bizarre than Shakaal, though he seems to have paid for this genetic advancement by having a face like undercooked meat, probably the misguided attempt of the filmmakers to make Amrish Puri look less like an Indian, This makes me wonder what an Indian sees when he looks at my face, which could explain why lots of them scream and go "ai-yai-yai!" when I'm around. One could view MR. INDIA as a sort of SHAAN revisited, except that Mogambo is quite a convincing psychopath, right down to his oft-times mincing delivery and his endlessly repeated -- and creepier-every-time-you-hear-it -- "Mogambo khush hua!"
As if Mogambo weren't a convincing and entertaining enough bad-guy, he also has lackeys...a whole comic-book full! MR. INDIA has been compared to an old Republic serial in other reviews and I'd like to confirm that it IS like a Republic serial, but WEIRDER. On his Island compound Mogambo is supported by a bizarre trio of stereotypes, inserted into the plot in Bollywood's "it doesn't matter if it makes sense as long as it's FUN!" style. While the characters themselves don't do very much (they're mainly there to be beaten up by an unusually strong invisible guy) it's worth giving each some special attention, just to highlight their silliness.
First, my personal favourite: Doctor Fu-Manchu. He's an Indian with a Fu-Manchu moustache (well, the top half of one, anyway), a strange manner of speech, and a penchant for vaguely oriental clothing. During pre-production, seeing this radical transformation of an ordinary Indian into a far-east caricature for the first time, Shekhar Kapoor must have dropped his samosa in disgust and shouted, "Harami! What about the glasses?" So they put some glasses on him too. The actor who plays Doctor Fu-Manchu doesn't get much of an opportunity to express himself but he has perfected a sort of tense, broad-mouthed smile which finishes the job that the costume department couldn't do: making him look somewhat but not completely unlike a near-sighted man on a tight budget trying to look Japanese for a costume party that he didn't have enough time to prepare for. Only more Indian.
Another thing that's funny about the Japanese doctor is that he is loud and blustery and seemingly indispensable, but he's not a particularly good lackey. For instance, many years ago he killed Anil Kapoor's father while trying to steal his invisibility formula. This murder was witnessed by another professor -- one who tends to fly into violent denial nowadays at the mere mention of invisibility -- and Doctor Fu-Manchu was put in charge of finding him but never could. This is because the missing professor is very, very clever: he continued to work at the same university and live in the same house that he always did, which is the last place Fu-Manchu would have expected to find him. This "right-under-your-nose" technique of disappearance is a more traditional sort of invisibility than the one Anil's father discovered (and it isn't foiled by red light, I might add). We can only assume that one of Doctor Fu-Manchu's superpowers is an inability to see anything closer than the next city or hill station.
In charge of the island's computer and security divisions is Captain Zorro, a man who bears no resemblance whatsoever to the legendary swashbuckler of the same name but is funny anyway. He wears an eye patch and spends most of his time walking from place to place in Mogambo's compound, staring menacingly at people and failing to notice important things, such as a long line of belts reaching through prison bars and attached to a set of keys. This might have something to do with his only having one eye. Or maybe he's dumb.
His real shining moment of the film comes when he tells Mogambo that the computers have calculated that "Mr. India loves all Indians." I think that Captain Zorro uses the same sort of fuzzy-logic computer that Batman had in the batcave, one that can reach startlingly vague conclusions without even being asked. I'd love to have a computer like this, one capable of telling me what sort of ice cream I prefer or whether or not people in Japan are comfortable. Sadly, we're years from that sort of technology so we must just be content with just laughing at it.
Rounding out the inner circle of Mogambo's formidable forces is Doctor Watson, a man with mutton chop sideburns (or perhaps furry mandibles) who has very few lines and looks uncannily like one of the MARD time/space transplants: a 60's Get Smart scientist sent back to the Victorian Era by accident. Like the rest of the lackeys, however, he does serve a useful function: he has built a series of nuclear missiles that will do one of two things:
a) Blow up India, or
b) blow up Mogambo's island, killing everybody on it.
You might think this is a design flaw but trust me, this is the sort of self-destruct feature built into all the best islands. It allows the villain to have a sort of "last laugh" on everybody before he dies. Mogambo goes one further and uses this feature to give Anil Kapoor -- and the viewing audience -- an important test of character: will Anil save himself, or will he save India? And since Anil Kapoor is the sort of ordinary Indian who spends all of his life sheltering orphans and voluntarily inspecting their fingernails, you can guess which one he chooses.
Which would you choose?
I thought so.
Still, even if you wouldn't save the orphans, we all know that they're traditionally cute and marketable in the movie business. This is a film positively OVERRUN with them, and they are the cutest little kids you've ever seen (especially the ones with skeletal deformities who are always breakdancing). I've said before -- in reviews, in casual conversations, and in screaming matches with frightened strangers in supermarkets -- that children "as a group" disgust me and annoy me. In fact, I'd go one further and agree with one of Sridevi's funnier statements in the film: "Why do children exist. Couldn't they be born as grown ups?"
But these kids...well, there's something sort of genuine about them, and it gives me an uncharacteristic migraine just admitting such a thing. Most child actors have a snotty, superficially saccharine fakery to their behaviour, but not the MR. INDIA kids; they come across as so sweet and real it almost hurts to watch them, though it's kind of fun when they get thrown around by Karga, an "off-the-island" Mogambo lackey who dresses like Bluto.
The orphans in this film have a pretty good life, comparatively speaking -- none of them are being dragged around the Taj Mahal by a panhandler pretending to be their mother, for instance -- and they owe their good fortune to Arun (Anil Kapoor), a soft-hearted violinist who seems to be trying to collect an entire set of orphans, perhaps so he can trade them later (I understand that the break-dancing ones -- of which there appear to be three in this movie -- are worth a lot of money nowadays). Besides the break-dancers there are three other orphan prototypes he's attracted to:
1) The smart and responsible ones (namely: Jugal, a nerdy kid with glasses who is the only person who knows about Arun's invisibility gadget, and Umi, a strikingly capable young actress who manages to hold things together during rough times, and whose eventual admission of helplessness made me cry more than any other tear-jerking scene in the movie).
2) The over-cute ones (this would be Tina, whose climactic situation in the film illustrates some of the fundamental differences between Western movies and Bollywood, that is, a recognition that children get hurt every day, and that such things can really make an audience weep).
3) The ones that don't matter and are only there to fill out the dance numbers. Purists may place the break-dancers in this category, and I'm a bit unsure about whether or not the kid who says "Hey, I've got a magnet!" near the end deserves his own designation...if he does, I would lump him in with:
3a) the otherwise faceless solution to a critical problem.
Arun is collecting orphans because his father -- inventor of a mysterious invisibility gadget -- was killed by the evil Doctor Fu-Manchu, as I've said previously. Along with his long-suffering cook (named "Calendar" because his parents wanted to give him an English name...ummm...) he looks after the children, giving them rides and singing to them in his spare time, and venting his long-repressed feelings of resentment by drenching them with water while they're sleeping.
Everything would be fine in Arun's world...if it wasn't for Mogambo.
Why should Mogambo care about a rag-tag bunch of orphans and a dim-witted, vacant, somewhat monkey-like violinist? Well, Mogambo's got big plans. Like every other non-Indian villain, he wants to take over India, and he plans to do this by sowing discord within the country. He figures that if he scatters enough guns, bombs, and drugs throughout Bharat everybody will kill each other and it will be easy for him to step in as the new ruler. And in order to further demoralize the population he's started an elaborate plan of food adulteration, that is, mixing cunningly-disguised stones into sacks of lentils. And if that doesn't work, he'll just blow India up with those nuclear missiles Doctor Watson built for him. To really get his plans in motion it turns out that Mogambo needs a good place to store his guns, bombs, drugs and fake lentils, and he's decided that Arun's house is perfect: it's on the beach, it has a beautiful garden, and it gets a cool evening breeze. If only those damn kids were out of the way...
Sridevi -- playing Seema, the hard-boiled but wacky reporter for a newspaper called "Crimes of India" -- shares Mogambo's feelings about children. She was duped by Arun into becoming a paying guest at "Chateau Orphan" under the assumption that he didn't have any kids. She doesn't care that the orphans are cute, not to mention excellent actors. She doesn't care that, if not for Arun, those children would just be hanging around the beach anyway, living in the bushes under her balcony. She doesn't care that they can break-dance almost as well as she can, and that they're willing to help her out by killing cockroaches and other insects around the house (possibly eating them, which is speculation based on the sorts of things I've seen children put in their mouths). She doesn't even care that most of them were probably born before Madonna's "Lucky Star" single was released (1982), a song which she obviously loved an awful lot since she still has the poster on her wall five years later. She just wants to find a quiet place to write her novel and manage the stress of dealing with her boss at the newspaper office, a man who looks like somebody's highly-eccentric, schizophrenic, coked-up uncle.
Let me take a break from my cheerful ribbing of dated Western references in Bollywood movies to mention Seema's boss. I don't remember his name but he's one of the funniest characters in the film...quite a tall order considering Sridevi's well-exploited comedic talents. The running gag with this boss -- besides his harassed and excitable demeanor -- is that his telephone doesn't work properly. He is always getting calls from people who think they're calling other businesses like a laundromat, a veterinary office, or a mental hospital. You'll just have to trust me that it's hilarious to see him scream "THIS IS A NEWSPAPER OFFICE! PLEASE TO UNDERSTAND MY PROBLEM!" over and over again, and that you'll find yourself trying to say "Please to understand my problem!" at least once a day after seeing this film, and you'll notice that people laugh when you say it, but they're laughing at you, not with you.
Still, this gag serves a purpose other than getting cheap laughs. In a wonderful three-way split-screen moment Seema hears a conversation between Mr. Daga -- a Mogambo lackey with a whip fetish -- and Mr. Wolcott, yet another foreign bad guy, in this case played by the grand poobah of all foreign bad guys: Bob Christo! Mr. Wolcott seems to be a symbol for slack-jawed, lazy, unconcerned foreigners who will do terrible things to India just to make a buck, as opposed to Mogambo, a foreigner who will do terrible things to India just because he's creepy. Mr. Wolcott has arranged to trade guns, bombs, and drugs for the famous "Golden Statue Of Hanuman," which shows just how much of a foreign jerk he is: he doesn't care that it's an important religious symbol, he just cares that it's made out of gold.
Hearing that Mr. Daga and Mr. Wolcott are getting together to discuss their plans, presumably over drinks and a raunchy performance by Awala's famous dancer Hawa Hawaii (translated in the subtitles as "Breeze Breezy"), Seema jumps right out of her depth and decides to impersonate this famous dancer...
...and the rest is cinema history. From her silly word-play to her eating the fruit off of her hat, Sridevi is funniest when she's doing her brief Hawa Hawaii impersonation. And when she starts dancing, hold onto your jumpy dholes: it's a Bollywood dance spectacle that nobody will forget! Just in case you HAVE forgotten it (shame!), I've put it on a separate page, along with a translation of the song for those of you who like to sing together during bus rides. But if you're sensitive about black-face routines or men with bare chests and afros, beware.
Anyway, Seema has gotten herself into trouble with her little act, because it didn't take long (just over 8 minutes) for the bad guys to realize she wasn't really Ms. Breeze Breezy. And how do criminals reward imposters for their stand-out performances? They chain them to a wall and threaten to whip them, of course, which should be a lesson to anybody out there planning on getting into the entertainment industry. I hear this happens to Neil Diamond impersonators all the time (but not often enough).
Much like the orphans, Seema must have asked herself this question while waiting for the whip to fall: who could save her now?
Why, Mr. India, of course! That dopey Arun -- simple-minded, bed-wetting violinist who hangs around kids too much and couldn't get a date even if he started washing his clothes -- finally got his hands on his father's invisibility formula, and after acting like a kid who's just discovered power windows and won't stop raising them and lowering them over and over, he's finally ready to take on Mogambo. They've been hassling him and trying to evict him, first by giving him "adulterated food" -- which must have been a real problem in India at one time and appears to actually kill children, though in my experience kids will eat a whole garden full of rocks and only ask for more -- then by convincing a local food vendor to starve him to death. Whenever this mole-spotted vendor sees Arun coming he says "There goes buffalo in the water," which makes no sense to me and appears to be idiomatic, unless he really DOES think Arun is a buffalo in the water, in which case he deserves our pity, not our derision.
But Arun is determined to no longer be just a buffalo in the water. After completing his first invisible trick -- muddy stop-motion footprints on the sidewalk -- he baffles Seema's none-too-bright captors by playing with their whips, slapping them, and breaking bottles on their heads. One of the more subtly funny moments in the movie occurs when, during a quiet moment, Bob Christo gets slapped in the background and falls down. BollyMike has been taking a class recently called "Bob Christo Falling Down" and he's a bit of an expert on this particular scene, and it's his opinion that the scene was an accident: Bob tripped and fell as he was walking across the frame, and the "slap" noise was added to cover it up. According to BollyMike, the other people in the scene look genuinely shocked and alarmed when Bob falls down, but you may need to be a true Bob Christo fanatic to notice this (or even care about it).
There's no stopping Mr. India after his first triumph over badness. He rescues Seema, and he rescues her again later on when she spends far too much film time dressed as Charlie Chaplin. He forces socially irresponsible people to -- literally -- eat rocks. He scares the willies out of a gang of thugs by animating the golden Hanuman, using a technique similar to that utilized by the Famous People Players. He becomes a freedom-fighter for repressed Indians everywhere, especially the poor ones. As Captain Zorro's computer tells us: Mr. India loves all Indians. And that's something Mogambo can't allow.
I am torn between exposing more plot elements. How does Seema grow to love small children, even the ones who bonked her on the head with a soccer ball? How can she fall in love with an invisible man? How did the censors ever pass the scene where she does fall in love with an invisible man and engages in a highly sexualized song, dance, and writhing-in-the-hay scene? What's the point of having cute kids in a film unless there is some element of tragedy involved?
But I apologize, perhaps I've lead you astray. I absolutely, positively, will not spoil this movie for you by telling you any more. Yes, Mr. India goes up against Mogambo, and yes, it's a spectacular blue-screen moment worthy of all the cheapest Journey To Atlantis features. I write some reviews in the hopes of sifting out the good bits from the overall tedium of the films...so you won't have to actually watch them. But my plan with this review -- a plan that doesn't involve buttons, levers, robots or giant manta-rays -- is to convince you to watch MR. INDIA yourself. If you don't rush out and see it, then I'll resort to the giant manta-ray, because they're scary-looking and they have big stingers.
Muffy khush hua!