a semi-pictorial review of
by Muffy St. Bernard
for informational tidbits about this film, continue reading after the review!
Imagine my dismay -- just imagine it! -- when, after writing most of this review, I discovered that the computer I use for screen captures was refusing to read the "Shaan" DVD. This is not altogether strange, since the computer is a little wacky and sometimes needs 'coaxing,' so I decided that, if it didn't read the DVD after 7 insertions, I would give up and make a review without screen shots. Then I decided 7 was a dumb number, and I settled on 10 insertions instead. After 10 insertions I said "15 insertions and that's final," and when that didn't work, I wept: I felt like I'd failed somehow and -- more depressingly -- I'd just spent over half an hour opening and closing the drawer of the DVD player, which is a pretty stupid thing to do.
So for those expecting screen shots: I'm very sorry, they're not forthcoming. Fortunately, since this film stars Amitabh Bachchan, I've managed to scrape together some pictures from other unethical sites on the net. Some of the pictures in this review aren't even from the film at all, so this may turn out to be a little odder than the usual BollyBob review. But at least it will be entertaining.
My only regret is that I can't present the graphical tour of Shakaal's island hideaway. You'll just need to see the movie, I guess.
I don't know much about James Bond. I'll admit that
right away. In fact, the only James Bond film I've ever seen is "On
Her Majesty's Secret Service" which I understand is the most un-Bond-like
James Bond film around...just my luck. But while I don't know much about
the specifics of the genre, I can tell immediately when somebody is drawing
inspiration from it...and just in case there was any doubt: RAMESH SIPPY WATCHED
AT LEAST ONE JAMES BOND MOVIE. Though it probably wasn't the same one I
But there are more things happening in this film than just an homage to Bond. If you've ever seen Mr. India, you might have been curious about "what came before." Did Mogambo -- evil villain of Mr. India -- have a younger brother, who also lived on an isolated island and devised gigantic, ridiculous plots instead of just doing things in a straightforward way? If you've been wondering this -- and I know you have -- you can feel free to view "Shaan" as a sort of prequel, an "Episode 1" of the Mogambo story. Except in this case the villain is Shakaal, and while Mogambo had a thing for acid and robots, Shakaal likes to push buttons and hang around really big fish.
Shaan is an example of a film with a big budget and a big bunch of ideas that don't necessarily relate to each other at all. The filmmakers have managed to cram in a whole bunch of exciting visuals and gadgets...but few of them make any sense, leading to a sort of explosive, patchwork atmosphere. I have a feeling they really WERE trying to make a Bond film...which they may have been able to pull off if they hadn't combined it with heavy-handed family melodrama and long, long, LONG stretches of exposition on behalf of...well, everybody.
Speaking of 'everybody,' in Shaan you've got the standard plotline of a clash between the "virtuous" brother and the "criminal" brother (though in this case, the criminal brother is played by both Amitabh and Shashi...but don't worry, they are two different people in the film, not a two-headed monster, an idea which surely occurred to the screenwriters but was abandoned so they could afford a bigger crocodile). Vijay and Ravi -- the scandalous but good-hearted brothers -- spend most of their time engaged in wild, ridiculous schemes which I suspect they perform not because they're profitable, but just because they're fun. One of these plots involves Amitabh tricking an unscrupulous hotel owner, and one of Amitabh's ingenious techniques is to constantly suck on his coat collar. A brilliant and subtle moment of characterization.
The two brothers meet their matches in a pair of women -- the glamorous Parveen Babi and the somewhat gawky Bindiya Goswami -- who are also good-hearted con artists (both of whom, in my opinion, have more masculinity and street-smart savvy in their little fingers than the somewhat fey and goofy Shashi Kapoor) Parveen, besides being a deft-fingered little minx, also displays more cleavage than you have any right to expect in a Bollywood film, if you ask me. In fact, cleavage seems to take the 'center stage' in this movie...and now's as good a time as any to mention the spandex-clad, voluptuous Bond Girl who gyrates to the opening song with highlights of the film projected onto her body. If you decide to watch the film just for that scene alone...try to ignore the fact there's a hole in her outfit. I suspect that, after splurging for the final "island blowing-up" scene, they couldn't afford a second costume for her.
Oops, I just gave away the ending, I'm sorry. But don't worry...lots of stuff happens before the island explodes. In fact, up to this point, there hasn't even been an island in the film. But just you wait...
The four crooks -- along with Bindiya's sneaky uncle -- form a team, sing some nice songs, and fall into a sweet double-dating sort of romance that perfectly compliments their thieving lifestyles. At one point they hijack a bus for a song-and-dance number. Left to their own devices, this happy-go-lucky bunch of cons would have provided an entertaining movie, posing as water-walking gurus and nightclub singers to defraud folks of their jewelry and hard-earned rupees. But as is always the case, Vijay and Ravi have an older brother -- Shiv Kumar -- who happens to be a moralistic police officer, a loving father, and a doting husband. Shiv Kumar is hell-bent on thwarting the evil Shakaal's insane plans for world domination -- Shakaal is a button-happy bald guy who spends most of his time coercing people into loyalty in his space-aged underwater den, located on a secret island that, as I've already mentioned, blows up in the end. Despite his busy schedule, Shiv Kumar finds time to mollycoddle his wayward brothers and -- with the help of his long-suffering and thermos-bearing wife -- start them on the path to righteous living.
All is not bound to go well, as you can imagine. Shiv Kumar is hunted down by Shakaal's team of vicious beagle puppies in one of those "way too long" scenes I've already mentioned. Vijay and Ravi become hell-bent on stopping Shakaal at any cost, and their goal is made considerably easier by the fact that none of Shakaal's rifle-bearing flunkies can shoot a darned thing...not even a motionless child in the middle of a barren field. I suspect this arch-villain should have spent less time breeding giant sturgeons and thinking up newer and better buttons, and could have redirected his time and money into training his men to shoot straight.
But, no. Instead, he takes the typically Shakaal way out (overcomplicating things) and he...kidnaps Rakesh's wife. Rakesh is a carnival sharp-shooter. Get it? By putting pressure on Rakesh, Shakaal believes he can force Rakesh to kill his enemies. It didn't take me long to think of better alternatives to this plan. I've jotted down my notes on "How To Assassinate Somebody" in the hopes that they are useful to future villains.
HOW TO ASSASSINATE SOMEBODY
| Just in case Shakaal is still out there, or there are little budding Shakaals waiting to take his place, I've thought of some alternatives to this
"hire a carnival sharp-shooter to kill my enemies" plan that
might be worth considering:
1) Teach your goons how to actually fire their guns. If you really CAN'T execute a plan without a button or a giant fish of some kind, you could teach them to shoot using a button-triggered, gigantic sturgeon (for example).
2) Use your incredible know-how to build and operate a bazooka or -- better yet -- a tactical nuclear weapon. Such things can't miss, and since you're willing to send a crazed, grief-stricken ex-carnie to assassinate a police officer at a carnival, you're probably not concerned about keeping a low profile.
3) Just HIRE a hit man. You've got the money, or did you spend it all on that enormous golden pigeon in your ballroom? This might be news to you, but carnival sharp-shooters aren't necessary ingredients for a murder...other people know how to fire guns too.
All lecturing aside, Shakaal's schemes are fascinating to watch. He's got a revolving conference table with exploding chairs, jets of poison gas, and an enormous crocodile that eats department store dummies (but only ones made out of p?t?, from the looks of it). Despite all his gimmiks, he's not exactly a FEARSOME man...the insanity lurking in his little bald skull is the kind of insanity that allows you to find loopholes in every plan he hatches. Consider this bit of criminal genius:
Shakaal is in a room with Ravi, and decides he would like to kill Ravi. Fortunately, he has a plan: fill the room with poisonous gas, and send in two murderous thugs wearing gas masks!
The loopholes -- which Ravi cunningly exploits -- are that the gas-masks can easily be ripped off, the thugs aren't particularly strong, and Shakaal himself has no gas-mask and suffers from the poison just like anybody else would. Good plan, Shakaal...you DESERVE to get your ass kicked!
Which, of course, he does, by both Ravi and Vijay (who had previously managed to kill the enormous crocodile, using a sharp piece of metal that just happened to be lying around, doubtless left behind by the contractors who built Shakaal's headquarters). But before Vijay can deliver the killing blow, Shiv Kumar's long-suffering widow (now bereft of her thermos AND her husband) intervenes..."don't sink to his level!" This bit of inappropriate moralizing gives Shakaal just enough time to trigger his most diabolical weapon -- a lever, this time -- and all hell breaks loose. This turn of events tells me two things:
1) Even considering the stupidity of Shakaal's employees, it's a good thing that he never hired Mrs. Shiv Kumar, or his island would have blown up much sooner, thanks to her bright ideas.
2) It's a good thing they stopped Shakaal when they did, because he was obviously graduating from buttons to levers...and what comes next, dials? Who knows what he could have accomplished with the mastery of such knowledge.
Under no circumstances could this movie be taken seriously, and I sincerely doubt it was meant to be. Maybe the filmmakers were just having fun. Most of the time this fun exploded onto my TV screen in a series of unbelievable scenes, energetic songs, and classic dialogues. But the rest of the time...well, it just dragged. People stood around and pontificated. Action sequences were never ending, and rarely suspenseful. Comic dialogues were allowed to go on far longer than they should have (for example, Vijay and Ravi's "I'm talking about a car, but you're talking about Bindiya" routine, and a scene where Vijay chats up an anonymous woman in a cafe for what seems like hours...they should have consulted my grandfather for advice on how to keep a joke short but sweet). It should have been shorter and faster: an action film -- especially not one hoping to move in a nonstop James Bond style -- should not spend half of the film with nothing happening.
In short: lots of fun times, but too many opportunities for smoke breaks. And I don't even smoke.
It was supposed to be a Bond movie & Shakaal was stereotype Bond
villian without the cat (or did he have a cat - I forgot saw this movie more
than 10 years back).
This was Ramesh Sippy's first movie after Sholay, hence it was much awaited. But didn't do very well at the BO inspite of the star-cast.
You missed the crowning glory of the movie. Amitabh & others disguise themselves so that Shakaal doesn't recognize them (for the Yamma Yamma sequence). What's their disguise - black handkerchiefs tied on the wrist - and Amitabh changes his voice to sing in a gravelly R.D. Burman voice - possibly because Shakaal would have heard him singing in his Kishore Kumar voice & would recognize it.
This was the first movie for both Kulbhushan Kharbanda (Shakaal) & Mazhar Khan (Abdul, IIRC, in the movie).? Kulbhushan shifted to art movies /uncle/father roles after this movie & Mazhar totally dissapeared I think. Mazhar was then relaunched in Ramesh Sippy's TV Soap Opera 'Buniyaad' in which he was one of the most popular characters.
Mazhar also played the absolutely incorrigible Psmith in the Hindi TV adaptation of PGWodehouse's "Leave it to Psmith" [ Saeed Jaffrey playing Lord Emsworth, Kiran Thakur playing Lady Constance, Ajit Pal playing Freddie Threepwood , Anu Aggarwal playing Eve Halliday, Mohnish Behl playing Mike Jackson ]
First, I remember this being the film which gave Kulbhushan Kharbanda a well-deserved break. His portrayal of Shaakaal was a curious mixture of mock evil (complete with the almost-subdued laughter, the lopsided grin, playing with the oversized bejewelled ring, the works), melodrama and - you got it - grandiosity.
Second, several aspects of the music deserve mention. R.D. Burman's score lives up to the requirements of the film. I think the first title song (played during the opening credits- there was another one later in the movie) was sung by Usha Uthup and is irresistable just for that reason!
"yamma yamma" that plays towards the end of the movie (with a gypsy dance or something) is notable for one "historical" fact. Apparently, it was to be sung by two legendary singers - Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. However, on a particular rehearsal/recording date, Kishore Kumar was unavailable or something and it was recorded by Rafi and R.D.Burman. In the subsequent days, Rafi fell ill (unfortunately, never to recover) and hence the song was retained as a Rafi-RDB duet, perhaps the only one of its kind.
There were other songs. One you mentioned in passing ("mai.n teraa tuu merii jaane saaraa hi.ndustaan") ended in a fashion that can be best identified with by Bombayites (oops, Mumbaites) - a doble-decker BEST bus being hijacked to the Khandala ghats! The holymen walking on water song enabled Johnny Walker (Bindiya's Uncle) to retain his near-perfect record of having at least one song picturized on him in every movie (notable exceptions to this record include some of his earlier work - like Jaal - and Anand. Any others?).
I'm sure you're right about the Shaakal/Mogambo connection: Salim Javed wrote both films, and Javed Akthar has described "Shaan" as one of their weakest scripts. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that "Mr. India" was deliberate self-parody.
Akthar was saying that the movie was mechanical and lacked passion, and he's certainly right about that. But if you take it as a collection of clever set pieces (best viewed in installments?) a lot of it is quite well-crafted. The set up in the first twenty-minutes or so, with the con men being conned, teaming up with their rivals, and then getting conned again, is really beautifully engineered. Not as easy to set up as they make it look. Amitabh is wonderful in those scenes, too, doing sneaky verbal comedy; too bad he didn't get to do that sort of thing more often.
The clincher, though, for me, is that Ramesh Sippy is a truly excellent action director; the best genre specialist I've come across in Hindi cinema, prior to the advent of movie brats like V.V. Chopra, R.K. Santoshi and R.G. Varma. The opening assault scene, the shoot out at the stable (with Shatrughan Sinha as a way cool "Magnificent Seven"-style sharpshooter), the kidnapping and killing of Sunil/Shiv (shot in England)---all world-class sequences.