Friday, August 22, 2008

Dharmendra vs. Fantomas

Saazish (India, 1975)

The Bollywood action thriller Saazish is sloppily constructed, incoherent, low budget trash. But it's also kind of fun if you're in the right mood. More importantly, it provides the answer to a question posed by Keith on the Teleport City forum many, many months ago -- that question being, "Who the heck is that blue guy on the cover of the Bombay the Hard Way, Volume 2: Electric Vindaloo CD?" Well it turns out that he is Saazish's chief heavy, Mr. Han (or, if you're Jim Kelly, Mr. Han Man), who is clearly inspired by the venerable French pulp villain Fantomas (who made an equally copyright-flaunting appearance in the 1969 Turkish film Iron Claw the Pirate).

The first half of Saazish takes place in Hong Kong, where Indian beauty queen Sunita (Saira Banu) has just won the title of Miss Cosmos. With barely enough time to bask in the warm attentions of the painfully stiff, English-speaking representatives of the press swarming around her, she is whisked away to perform her first order of duty, which is to present the trophy at an international racing competition. Here she meets and instantly falls in love with hunky race car driver Rai (Dharmendra). This leads to her relentlessly stalking him all over the island and singing at him, with the predictable--by Bollywood standards--result that he eventually wears down and falls hard for her, as well. (I was glad to at least see a gender reversal in this scenario, for once.)

All goes swimmingly, until a fateful trip on the ferry results in Sunita inadvertently learning of an international criminal gang's plot to smuggle two billion dollars worth of stolen gold out of the country. This, in turn, results in Sunita being relentlessly hunted down by the gang, which includes Madan Puri--making about as convincing a Chinese as Warner Oland--playing a character called Mr. Wong. Separated from his lady love, Rai is captured by the gang and taken to the big boss, Mr. Han. Somewhat surprisingly, Rai offers to kill Sunita himself (I mean, that breathy, Jane Mansfield impersonation that Saira Banu is doing is pretty annoying) in exchange for his life and a sizable chunk of cash. But is Rai on the level, or is this just a clever ruse? Rai's uncle (Iftekhar) is an inspector for Interpol, after all. Or IS he? Finally, Rai convinces Sunita to flee the country with him on a cruise ship, which happens to be the very cruise ship on which the gold is being smuggled. Also on board is the predictable assortment of eccentric characters, including, happily, Helen as both the ship's onboard entertainer and the film's delightful locus of female villainy.

Like International Crook before it, Saazish appears to have been filmed over a long period of time, with Dharmendra's girth, hair and acting style frequently changing dramatically from shot to shot. While this practice is not radical to the point of providing the dizzying sense of hopping back-and-forth through time that International Crook did, it does contribute to the film having a cobbled together feel, as if it was assembled from parts of two or three different films. Furthermore, much of the technical execution shows clear evidence of haste: For instance, the stunningly lazy use of rear projection in an early chase scene that makes Saira Banu's car appear to be traveling sideways through traffic--or the opening car race, which offers some of the most ham-handed blending of stock and studio-shot footage I've seen.

Still, the film has enough of a balance of scrappy energy and affably goofy elements to make it entertaining for the undemanding viewer... or, to be more specific, me. In fact, it's worth watching simply to behold Dharmendra, as only he can, throwing his hands on his hips, puffing out his chest, and telling Fantomas what time it is.


File under: SOLVED!

12 comments:

Beth said...

Ah blue guy, how you haunted me. How I hang my head in shame at my failure to identify you.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but is it worth $5.99? I'm curiously lacking in Dharmendra experience.

houseinrlyeh said...

Beth, there's a guy dressed up like Fantomas in it!
I can't imagine how this couldn't be worth $5.99.
Especially since it is very difficult to acquire "Hitlar" and Dharmendra's manliness should be a comfort about that.

(I should probably add that I haven't seen it. And: You know my taste in movies. And Todd's.).

Todd said...

I would say that it's worth exactly $5.99, and you can make of that what you will.

memsaabstory said...

IMHO it is totally worth 5.99...Helen is also in it. And we get to see Dharamji driving in the "most prestigious auto race in this part of the world." AND he spends the last half hour or so running around in his chaddies (see my review for screen caps of that!) :-)

My reader Yves informed me about Fantomas. I was so clueless before that!

Todd said...

Oh, how could I have forgotten to mention Dharmendra in his drawers? That said, Helen is definitely the second best thing about this movie, after Fantomas. (After all, you can see Helen in other Bollywood movies, but I doubt the same could be said for Fantomas.)

BTW, Memsaabstory, great review of Saazish. Can't believe I missed it the first time around. I did not, however, miss your review of Aaya Toofan--for better or worse--and hope to be posting something about that movie, as well as the phenomenon that is Dara Singh, in the next week or so.

Rum said...

this is the most idiotically brilliant movie ever, aahhh the evil blue man who escaped from las vegas to be a blue man villain. and the fact that Dharam walks around fighting the blue man and his bombs in his chuddhis is just why i love this movie

memsaabstory said...

Ooh, I can't wait for your Aaya Toofan/Dara Singh posts! :-)

Todd said...

Hopefully I'll get it up this weekend some time. I would have done so earlier this week, but I ended up getting caught up in writing a ridiculously detailed review of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani for Teleport City instead.

Keith said...

This one haunted me for years. "Who IS that guy???" I would scream unto the heavens. And for so long, there was no answer. And when finally the answer came, it also included Dharmendra. Good days, my friends, good days.

Keith said...

Oh man, now I've finally watched this (review forthcoming). I really need to do something other than get all excited about movies that end up starring late era Dharmendra, because they always let me down. After suffering through the first few minutes of Sunita, I was firmly int he camp of Mr. Han Man and, in fact, willing to offer my own services to kill her.

Although I did have fun watching Dharmendra's amazing sideburns, which are present in one shot then gone in the next. And I can appreciate how a random chick runs into the director if INTERPOL's office with no security problem, then gets a phone call there the second she walks in, and no one thinks it's weird, least of all the director of INTERPOL.

And I loved the least scenic musical number tour of Hong Kong ever. SEE! Highway on and off ramps! SEE! Highway guard rails! SEE! Dull gray cinderblock housing!

Todd said...

I'm looking forward to your review, but I don't envy you. Cataloguing the many continuity errors, plot holes and logical lapses in this movie will be a truly awesome task.

Poor Saazish. No on cared!

Todd said...

I meant "no one cared", of course. And with that correction, I have lavished more attention to detail on a comment that probably only two people will ever read than the whole crew of Saazish combined did on its entire production.