Thursday, October 2, 2008

Kalabaaz (India, 1977)

I decided a while ago that I couldn't stand Dev Anand in anything made after 1970. He's just creepy, especially when he's paired with a much younger actress like Parveen Babi or Zeenat Aman, which is always. I'm not quite talking Woody Allen creepy, but creepy nonetheless.

That said, I ended up really liking Kalabaaz. I say "ended up" because I found myself dozing off a couple of times during its first hour. It turned out, though, that Kalabaaz is one of those many Bollywood movies that executes a complete switcheroo halfway through its running time, in this case going from being an oddball romance set against a circus backdrop with a theme of spiritual awakening to becoming a ripping good little adventure yarn.

Dev Anand and Zeenat Aman play a pair of trapeze artists in love, one of whom is young and nubile and one of whom is old and creepy and whose body would snap in half like a twig if he were to actually try to perform any of the physical stunts he's depicted as performing here. But never mind that! What's important is that Zeenat is a woman with a deep faith in God and Dev is a man who believes that his fate is controlled by him alone.

Sadly, it is Zeenat who pays for Dev's hubris, because, as a result of his arrogance, he misses a catch during their act that results in her literally falling flat on her face. The resulting diagnosis, according to the doctor with the best bedside manner in all of India, is that she "will be ugly forever and ever". Not wishing to inflict her fuglitude upon Dev, Zeenat slips away, leaving him heartbroken, forlorn, and, of course, suddenly religious.

When thugs kidnap a priest from an ancient temple that is of special importance to Zeenat's family--and in the process, presumably steal the valuable statues of Radha and Krishna that reside there--Dev sees an opportunity to prove both his love and newfound piety to Zeenat, and recruits three of his circus pals (G. Asrani, Tarun Ghosh and Hercules) to go after the bandits. And once that happens, man, does this movie get good.

It turns out that the priest was nabbed by a gang lead by a character called King Mong, and Dev and company's attempts to flush him out involve them going to a series of psychedelically tricked-out underworld watering holes and getting involved in wild bar fights filled with all kinds of ridiculous acrobatic stunts. Finally they end up at King Mong's lair, and it turns out that he's Dev Kumar sporting some truly fearsome mutton chops, a lime green velvet leisure suit, and a pet leopard on a leash.

Dev and his pals rescue the priest, only to be told by him that, before being captured, he hid the precious statues in a cave located somewhere in the treacherous mountain region between India and Burma. And so an expedition is mounted which includes Zeenat's father (played by Pradeep Kumar, who we last saw kicking alien butt in Wahan Ke Log) and also Zeenat. Zeenat has had reconstructive surgery by this time--represented, for some reason, by her being given seriously plucked eyebrows and lipstick that makes her lips look like they're the same color as her skin--and, for reasons I won't go into, is pretending to be her cousin in order to fool Dev.

This whole section of Kalabaaz is marked by true thrill-a-minute pacing, with Dev and his party racing to find the statues while being thwarted at every turn by a competing party lead by the villainous King Mong. Adding to the danger and intrigue, there is yet another, mysterious party who are after the same prize, and they will stop at nothing--nothing, I tell you!--to get it. All of this leads to a classic you-won't-believe-your-eyes masala movie action climax involving Dev and Zeenat employing their trapeze skills on a rickety footbridge stretched precariously over some raging rapids.

To top things off, Kalabaaz comes complete with a thumping, catchy-as-all-get-out song score by my favorites, Kalyani-Ananji. To me, their tunes were the saving grace of the somewhat sleepy first act, especially in the number where Dev stalks Zeenat through the streets of Bombay on the back of an elephant.

So, all in all, Kalabaaz was pretty great, and so full of action, color, and foot-tapping songs that I barely noticed the creepy old man at its center.


Keith said...

I'd rank him a solid "Jackie Chan creepy." Watching Jackie scheme on young 20-somethings in most of his late-90s/early 2000 films always left me vaguely creeped out while still understanding perfectly why he was doing it.

Memsaab said...

I can tolerate him up until about 1973...but I made the mistake of reading his autobiography *shudder*

Anyway, have already put this in my shopping cart at Nehaflix. :-)