There is a nigh immeasurable gulf between the Feroz Khan of the 60s and the Feroz Khan of the 70s. Someday, through close study of his films, I hope to identify the transition point, the missing link between the dewy-eyed faux Shammi of the early years and the hirsute, two-fisted manbeast that we've all come to know and love. Until then, I just plan to enjoy the hell out of movies like Char Dervesh.
The fact that Char Dervesh gives us a fresh-faced FK doing his best Douglas Fairbanks impression in an effects-driven Arabian Nights-style Bollywood fantasy is tantalizing enough. But that's nearly dwarfed in importance by the fact that the film gives us an opportunity to witness the old fashioned visual magic of the Wadia brothers in glorious, retina-searing Eastman Color. And, rather than on a murky VCD, it comes to us on a relatively crisp, English-subbed DVD from Shemaroo with most of its colors still displaying the full bloom of youth.
The film was directed by Homi Wadia, who is also credited as special effects supervisor, with the great Babubhai Mistry handling the art direction (and, I suspect, some of the effects work, as well). Together they bring us a colorful storybook world densely populated with genies, sorcerers, two-headed ogres, invisibility cloaks, underwater kingdoms, and flying just-about-everything (horses, carpets, etc.).
In addition to the above mentioned visual wonders, Char Dervesh also gives us a couple of wonderfully narcotic musical numbers set to the tunes of G.S. Kohli. One of these features Kumari Naaz singing in front of a chorus line of rubinesque women in cat costumes (all bearing a striking resemblance to the lead performer in that Pakistani Cat Woman movie), and breaks away to a fantasy sequence that looks to be inspired by a Les Baxter album cover, in which Kumari is caught in a giant web and threatened by villain B.M Vyas in the form of a grody, giant green spider. The women-in-prison themed number that brings us into the finale also deserves mention (and screencaps!).
The film actually begins on a darkly surreal and somewhat macabre note, with a grim and broken Feroz showing up at a temple with his skin mysteriously blackened. In the back of his carriage is a giant bird cage in which his two conniving brothers are imprisoned, and, in front of that, a throne on which sits a German Shepherd decked out in royal finery. Feroz tells the gathered seekers that this is what his sad life experience has taught him -- that it is this animal, the only creature in his life to show him consistent loyalty, who should be honored as a king, while his own betraying flesh-and-blood deserve to be caged like animals.
But rest assured that this is neither the beginning nor the end of the story, for Feroz then unfurls the tale of how he came to this state, and, despite the downbeat wrap-around, its one leavened with a fair share of humor and whimsy. In fact, the film even exhibits some instances of winking, contemporary humor suitable to a Warner Bros. cartoon, as when Feroz gets saddled with the world's laziest genie, who has a strict one-wish-a-day rule and is quick to remind his master of compulsory union holidays. Unfortunately, Shemaroo tries to get in on this spirit with some subtitles that seem to be putting an attempted colloquial spin on the dialog, with people telling each other to "cut the crap" and calling "bullshit" on one another. (Oh. well. At least it's a nice print.)
Rather than provide any further plot summary of Char Dervesh, I'm just going to recommend that you see it. If you're a fan of the Wadia Brothers' work -- or just of old school fantasy films in general -- there's a lot to embrace here. Plus, what other opportunity are you going to have to see a testosterone-sweating man-slab like Feroz flying around on a winged horsey?