As I've mentioned elsewhere, I have a pretty formidable stack of yet-to-be-viewed media sitting by my TV, comprised of various region DVDs, gray market DVD-Rs, countless dollar store two-fer discs, unsubtitled VCDs from an assortment of exotic countries, and even the odd VHS tape. Often I look at this stack and think, "If there was only time." But, alas, the requirements of work, maintaining meaningful relationships with other human beings, and the brute mechanics of sustenance have, until recently, kept me away from my dream of endless hours of uninterrupted viewing. What I needed, it turned out, was to contract a respiratory illness that would knock me flat on my ass for a period of weeks, leaving me no other choice but to lie in a half-conscious state of forced spectatorship from dawn to dusk. Never mind that I would be both too absorbed in my own misery and too doped up on various medications to comprehend a lot of what I was seeing. The point was to finally chip away at that stack and eventually, of course, share the fruits of that experience with you in the form of a series of half-baked capsule reviews full of questionable insights and no doubt erroneous detail. Here, now, are the first of those, focusing exclusively on the Bollywood films I watched during my convalescence, with the rest to follow.
Bond 303 (India, 1985). A fairly trashy Bond knock-off starring Jeetendra as CID Agent Bond 303 (honest, that's how he refers to himself), Parveen Babi in a good girl/bad girl double role, and Prem Chopra as the baddie. Sadly, the high point for me was probably a low point in the tragedy-marred career of Parveen Babi: a scene in which the actress is chased around a mad scientist's laboratory by a fellow in a screamingly awful sasquatch costume. All in all, a pretty painful exercise that rewards low expectations with a few instances of transcendent cheesiness, and also hits all of the required genre touchstones (most notably, the big bad guy base that go-a kaboom at the end) with the expected low level of ambition. Remarkably, still much better than A View to a Kill.
Jangal Mein Mangal (India, 1972). A film notable for featuring Pran in multiple roles, among them a hippy, a beardy college professor, an old lady, and, in the film's most egregious example of type casting, a gnarled piece of driftwood in the shape of a manatee. Two groups of students on a field trip in Southern India, one male and one female, cavort around endlessly and without point, with a cloaked figure in a skull mask occasionally showing up to make things interesting by killing someone. I would only recommend this one to Pran completists, of which I'm sure there are many.
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (India, 1952). Homi Wadia's adaptation of this classic tale was the absolute perfect film to watch in my recumbent state. It has a comforting patina of age, a familiar story, and, thanks to fantastic imagery rendered via charming old school special effects, a dream-like feel that's perfect for taking in while drifting in and out of consciousness.
Lalkar (India, 1972). World War II adventure set in a Bollywood version of the 1940s in which everyone dresses like it's the 1970s. Dharmendra and Rajendra Kumar are brothers who are both in the Indian armed forces, D as an Army commando and Rajendra as an Air Force pilot. Rajendra is shot down and captured while on a mission to bomb a Japanese airstrip just over the border with Burma and Dharmendra is sent in with a small commando unit to rescue him. Mala Sinha plays the woman that both men are in love with, and the adorable Kumkum (for my money, the best part of the movie) plays a tribal princess whose love for Dharmendra drives her to play a heroic part in the climactic raid. Enjoyable 1970s action silliness with plenty of the dishoom dishoom, exploding model airplanes, red paint gore, and an OTT evil Japanese general with an eye patch played by an obviously non-Japanese actor. Capped off with yet another great Kalyanji Anandji score that features a particularly nasty little number by Kumkum (something about her resisting her lover "all night long" or something).
Hanabari (India, 1952). A Bengali mystery/horror film concerning an old mansion "haunted" by a guy in a gorilla suit. Astute viewers of Scooby Doo will suss out early on that the "monster" is actually no such thing, which makes watching the rest of the cast's ponderous efforts to get to the bottom of things a chore by even the most charitable standards. Basically an old-fashioned parlor mystery with most of its action relegated to two sets, this one has its odd moments of artfully established creepyness, but ultimately taxes more than it rewards.
Past Misdeeds: Kokkuri-san (1997) - *Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious **Exploder Button** and the ensuing server changes, some of my old column...
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