Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bombay 405 Miles (India, 1980)

The long form reviews of Bollywood movies that I do for Teleport City--like the one I just posted of Toofan--always take a lot out of me. Hell, sometimes just watching those movies is exhausting, let aside writing about them in painstaking detail. Given that, I probably won't be giving director Brij's 1980 film Bombay 405 Miles the full treatment any time soon. Still, I did want to mention it, as it provides a perfectly enjoyable way to piss away a Sunday afternoon, while holding a couple particular points of interest for Bollywood fans.

The main reasons to check out Bombay 405 Miles are a great cast and an excellent soundtrack. The film stars the sultry Zeenat Aman, rugged sex symbol Vinod Khanna, the mighty Pran, and Shatrughan Sinha in leading roles, and features Amjad Khan (Sholay's Gabbar Singh) in one of his more ruthless bad guy turns. The great Helen even makes a cameo, though, sadly, not one that involves any dancing. Despite the 1980s vintage, that odd Bollywood time lag that also accounted for the film Disco Dancer being made several years after the disco craze ended insures that this is a film with a solid 1970s feel, and, as such, we get to see all of these stars parading about in some typically head-slap worthy period finery. And isn't that exactly how we like to remember them?

Bombay 405 Miles' musical score is by the team of Kaylanji-Anandji, who have become something of a staple of hipster Bollywood music comps thanks to their hard hindi-funk soundtracks to films like Don and Qurbani, and here they firmly uphold their rep. In fact, the wah-wah drenched aural porn of Bombay 405's own "Na Na Na Yeh Kya karne Lage Ho" staked out a deservedly prominent place on last year's Bombay Connection CD, and curiosity about how that particular number might be "picturized' on screen is probably enough for many to merit giving the film a try. In addition to their pimpastic instrumentals, the team has a gift for writing catchy pop-flavored songs, and while most of those featured in this film aren't among their most memorable, they are all possessed of a buoyant charm that at least prevents them from slowing down the action.

In the film Aman, Khanna, Pran and Sinha play a fractious group of smalltime con artists who, through typically convoluted circumstances, find themselves in charge of a lost toddler who, unknown to them, is the survivor of a brutal revenge killing against her family. Thinking that the child might have been the subject of a kidnapping, the group hold onto the little girl, hoping to somehow get in on the payday. Of course, the warming powers of winsome tyke-dom eventually serve to melt these crooks' cynical hearts, and they decide to do the right thing--though not before they've done some pretty despicable things that no Hollywood film would ever dare have characters intended to be seen as sympathetic even consider.

The child actor who plays little Munni gets some pretty rough treatment over the course of the film, receiving a very close view of several wild fistfights while being held in whichever of Khanna's or Pran's arms they're not swinging at the time. One I-can't-believe-they-went-there moment even drew an audible gasp from me. It all goes to show that, when a Bollywood film wants to wring tears from its audience, no child, elderly mother or small animal is safe. Bombay 405 Miles does have its slow moments, but there are enough instances of colorful nonsense and outlandish action to provide the sort of "what on Earth could be next" anticipation needed to pull you through them. All in all, not a classic--and certainly not a good intro for the Bollywood novice--but, for the rest of us, a perfectly engaging way to enjoy some pleasantly familiar faces and good tunes.

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