Monday, November 10, 2008

Warrant (India, 1975)

The subject of today's review is Warrant. Not Warrant as in the band that sang "Cherry Pie", but Warrant as in, "Warrant you that creepy old guy who was repeatedly cast opposite starlets who were a generation younger than him throughout the Seventies?" That's right, Warrant is yet another starring vehicle for that boon to stunt doubles and toupee makers that was late period Dev Anand. And while I've already voiced my objections to this unctuous and unaccountably smug creature, my experience with the rollicking adventure yarn Kalabaaz taught me that not every movie that contains him necessarily has to suck. This emboldened me to give Warrant a try.

After all, I thought, how could a movie that stars Zeenat Aman as a ruthless assassin for hire, and also features the great Dara Singh in a prominent supporting role, be bad? I then braced myself for the worst, since that question usually serves to bring perilously large chunks of suckitude hailing down upon my head like some kind of malevolently rebounding magical incantation. This time, however, I was right, for Warrant turned out to be a prime example of fast-paced and colorful Seventies Indian action cinema at its flashiest, trashiest and, most importantly, mustache-iest.

Dev plays a jailer whose life is saved during a prison riot by Dinesh (Satish Kaul), an inmate who has been sentenced to death for a murder he says he did not commit. Dev becomes convinced of Dinesh's innocence and, when he cannot postpone his execution by legal means, breaks him out of prison, becoming a fugitive himself in the process. Unfortunately for Dev, his by-the-book police chief father (played by the mighty Pran, who was only three years senior to Dev) is not about to let family feeling stand in the way of his harsh conception of justice, and so issues a warrant ordering that Dev be captured dead or alive.

Meanwhile a white-suited Mr. Big called the Master (Ajit), the mastermind behind the murder Dinesh has been charged with, puts a hit out on Dev and Dinesh in order to prevent them from discovering the truth. To this end, he hires Rita, a stylish assassin played by Zeenat Aman who is so ruthlessly efficient that she only loads her pistol with one bullet for each intended victim. Rita, of course, turns out to be more than she seems, and eventually and depressingly ends up succumbing to Dev's wholly fictional charms. No matter though, because the Master also has at his disposal a small army of Smurf-like, blue-suited goons, as well as a roller-skating femme fatale named Saloni (Barbara Shankar) and an assortment of numerically designated lackeys to carry out his dirty work. The result is that Dev and Dinesh must conduct their Search For The Real Killer while being hunted from all sides, a state of affairs which forces them to resort to the use of a number of putatively clever disguises (involving mustaches) and ultimately to seek the assistance of a hulking, cab driving ex-con named Pyara Singh (played by -- guess who -- Dara Singh).

I kind of wish I'd seen Warrant before submitting my response to Beth's recent lair-themed poll over at Beth Loves Bollywood, because the Master's hideout is definitely one for the pages of Better Lairs and Dungeons, holding in store for Dev such diabolical tortures as the acid pit high-dive and the terrible room of clocks! And while it's suitably lavish on its own merits, the makers of Warrant greedily and shamelessly strive to make it even more so with the insertion of stolen footage of the volcano-based bad guy compound from the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, a spectacular construction that no doubt cost in excess of ten times Warrant's entire budget. It's hard to imagine that anyone was ever fooled by this, because the difference in film stock quality between the borrowed and original footage is pretty obvious, but that doesn't stop them from also using a generous amount of action footage from You Only Live Twice for the movie's climax. The result is sort of like if Pran made a YouTube video in which he took a famous scene from a Bond film and clumsily replaced all of the shots of Sean Connery with ones of himself acting against a poorly matched backdrop. Under those circumstances -- and if Pran was ten -- you might be pretty impressed, but, as is, it's kind of sad, but also awesome.

So, yes, Warrant is a movie that desperately wants to be a James Bond film -- perhaps, astoundingly, even more so than most other Bollywood action movies of its era -- and that desire burns so brightly that it blinds its proponents to even the most basic logic-based restrictions as they scramble toward their goal. Why, for instance, does Dev's character, being only a humble Jailer, come equipped with a watch that's tricked out with fancy secret gimmicks? And why does R.D. Burman compromise what is otherwise a typically original and accomplished bit of soundtrack work by incorporating immediately identifiable elements of the 007 theme into his instrumental score? Because, well, that's the type of movie this is, that's why. What really matters on our end is that Warrant is dizzying fun, barreling along at a breathless pace with a gleeful disregard for plausibility and a furious desire to entertain. To this end, it uses all of the iconic stars in its supporting cast to best advantage, meaning that fans of Zeenat, Pran and Dara Singh will all come away from it with toasty feelings. And if you're a fan of Dev Anand's movies from the Seventies, well, you'll obviously watch anything, so dig in.


Michael Barnum said...

There are two Bollywood films I have long wanted to see, but for the appearance of the "oldie" Dev Anad. Warrent is one and the other is Hare Raama Hare Krishna.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Dev Anand of the 50s and early 60s, but it is as if one day in 1967 he magically aged 40 years. And like a almost 60 year old Fred Astaire romancing waif-like Audrey Hepburn in FUNNY FACE, it just makes my skin crawl when Dev Anand is playing those romantic roles in the 1970s. I can suspend dis-belief as good as anyone...but really.

However, I do love me my Dara Singh, and I have yet to see a Zeenat I am now putting WARRANT into my Nehaflix cart.

Todd said...

Im right there with you, Michael. I have no quarrel with the Dev Anand of Baazi and the like, but having to watch his mid-life crisis play out on screen in those later movies... well, you said it, it makes the skin crawl. I think so far for me, Bullet, in which he drapes himself around Parveen Babi like a leering and perversely self-satisfied Halloween skeleton, has been the worst offender in that regard.

Yet to see a Zeenat Aman movie? (Gasp!) I'm not sure if Warrant is the best introduction to her, but it's not a bad one. That honor would have to go to Don, IMHO.

Nagesh Kumar CS said...