Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Faraar (India, 1975)

Faraar is sort of a Bollywood take on the 1955 William Wyler film The Desperate Hours, but with enough twists of its own to make it far more than a simple remake or retread. Given my recent diet of overblown masala films, it was nice to be reminded that seventies Bollywood was capable of turning out taut, small ensemble dramas like this one.

In the film, Amitabh Bachchan plays a young artist who takes the law into his own hands after a rich man murders his sister and uses his wealth and influence to walk free. Now a murderer himself, Bachchan ends up hiding out in the house of the very police investigator (Sanjeev Kumar) who has been charged with tracking him down, taking the investigator and his family hostage. Complicating things considerably is the fact that the policeman's wife (Sharmila Tagore) turns out to be a former lover of Amitabh's -- and that Amitabh is privy to a secret former life of hers of which her husband is unaware.

Faraar is seriously entertaining, thanks to crisp direction by Shankar Mukherjee and good performances all around -- in particular a lean and hungry turn by Amitabh in the days just before the double whammy of Deewaar and Sholay would launch him into the upper reaches of superstardom. Almost overshadowing all of those contributions, however, is the film's set design, which, in the case of the family home where most of the action takes place, is simply masterful. The incorporation of marbled and tinted glass and a variety of latticework provides opportunities for all kinds of striking effects of light and shadow, as well as a number of evocatively constricting framing devices for the shots of the actors. As a result, rarely is anyone seen entirely clearly, making the house a perfect physical manifestation of the murky moral landscape in which its adult inhabitants find themselves.

I also really enjoyed Mukherjee's reliance on some somewhat old fashioned, but totally charming graphic-oriented visual storytelling devices:

After a flashback shows us the prosecution's version of events, the defendant has his say...

...but the psychedelically-colored negative effect tells us that it's all just a crazy tissue of lies.

Who will Sharmila choose? Sanjeev....

...or Amitabh?
The Amitabh-o-gram not only reads itself to you, but shows you Amitabh's face as it does.

All in all, Faraar brings to mind classic cinematic melodrama in the tradition of Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray, That, to me, adds up to a pretty high recommendation.

And, of course, Weng Weng as "Bobby".

8 comments:

duriandave said...

Nice screen grabs! That Swiss cheese lattice is pretty awesome!

memsaabstory said...

This looks v.v. cool! Love the photography and sets! I have it and maybe now I'll watch it. Especially if Master Raju is in it, I adore that little boy (and I'm not a great one for kids in general ;-) Just looking at him makes me laugh.

Todd said...

You're probably not one for Filipino midget spy movies, either, but--unless the very concept sends you screaming toward the hills--you might want to check out For Y'ur Height Only just so you can behold the uncanny resemblance between that film's star, Weng Weng, and Master Raju.

Faraar spent a long time in my "to be watched" pile, as well. Definitely glad I finally got around to it, though!

memsaabstory said...

I have **hard to believe** never seen a Filipino midget spy movie! Worse, I did not even knew they existed!! But now I know of them---and Master Raju's alter ego there---I.must.watch.

Where do you acquire such things?

memsaabstory said...

ps I'm embarrassed (rightfully) to say this, but I have often thought that Master Raju is like other baby animals: he should never ever be allowed to grow up.

Todd said...

Well, I may have exaggerated *slightly* in that, as far as I know, the Filipino midget spy genre is one comprised of only two movies, For Your Height Only and The Impossible Kid, both starring Weng Weng. Last I checked, For Your Height Only was available from Netflix.

In the meantime--or to save you the agony--here's a YouTube Clip. You can let me know if I hallucinated the resemblance.

memsaabstory said...

Oh my goodness! You are DEAD ON. They could be relatives! and though yet another obsession is the last thing I need, I think I must see these two films (thank god there aren't any more than that).

Todd said...

Well, you can take comfort in the fact that you'll probably never become this obsessed.