Monday, February 9, 2009

Jugnu (India, 1973)

Somewhere along the line, and without my quite realizing it, I became a fan of Dharmendra. For the longest time I only thought of him as that other guy from Sholay, or as the fellow who popped up from time to time in the Bollywood movies from the eighties and nineties I watched to play characters, wear clothes and woo women that were entirely age inappropriate for him. But gradually, by way of his starring roles in favorites like Dharam Veer and Yaadon Ki Baaraat, as well as in oddly endearing trash like Saazish, he wormed his way into my heart, to the point that I now consider his presence in a film a selling point, rather than just something to regard with total indifference.

That said, Jugnu isn’t my favorite Dharmendra film – I found its first hour to be slow going – but, once it gets rolling, it provides some key Dharmendra moments. That’s because, in his role as a hero who is a charming philanthropist by day and, Jugnu, a notorious bandit and champion of the downtrodden by night, Dharmendra gets to do a lot of what Dharmendra does best, which is make lots of chest-thumping proclamations of defiance to corrupt holders of power and issue bone-chilling threats of vengeance to same while referring to himself in the third person. Of course, I’m a sucker for these gentleman (and gentlewoman) thief films, so it’s no surprise that I found a lot to like in this one.

Like, for instance, Jugnu’s Jugnu-mobile, which is just a normal car, but with a small, side-mounted spotlight that projects Jugnu’s name at whoever he’s pursuing. Judging by how the car tests out in the film, it might have been wiser for Jugnu to invest in a bullet-proof windshield, but, as they say, it pays to advertise. Jugnu also features one of the most obviously conjured-up-at-the-last-moment-with-whatever-was -at-hand death traps I’ve seen in a masala film, a thing that involves saw blades precariously spinning on the ends of sticks like plates in a variety act. We also get a daring robbery set piece that involves one of movie heist-doms silliest “priceless” objet d’arts, a big jewel encrusted fish, which is protected by one of those sophisticated laser systems that is actually a bunch of neon tubing, and which Jugnu can only see by wearing some infrared goggles that are clearly just a regular old scuba mask.

Jugnu is also the second Bollywood movie I’ve seen in recent months – the other being Warrant – that incorporates actual footage stolen from the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice. In this case it was the scene in which a helicopter uses a giant magnet to pick up the baddies’ car and drop it into the ocean. I’ve determined that You Only Live Twice was the movie that every third movie made in the world between 1967 and 1977 wanted to be, and someday I will write a book cataloguing all of the films that steal footage, musical cues and ideas from it. Hey, I can relate. You Only Live Twice is my favorite James Bond movie, and if I were to make a movie myself, it would be a Supermarionation version of You Only Live Twice featuring suitmation giant monsters and lavish musical numbers set to the tunes of Kalyani-Ananji. (It would so sweep the Oscars. Oh, and M.I.A. would be in it. But as a puppet.)

With appearances by the mighty Pran, Prem Chopra at his sleaziest, classic Bollywood mustache-twirling villain Ajit, and Hema Malini in some intensely colorful numbers set to the tunes of S.D. Burman, Jugnu is classic 1970s masala in all its discretion-numbing, credulity-straining glory. In homage to its star, I will state my recommendation as follows; Todd will see the day that you watch Jugnu or, heaven help you, not even the dogs will chew your bones!


a ppcc representative said...

*happy sigh*

Todd, I love your reviews like you love Dharmendra.

...Or the PPCC's name isn't THE PPCC!

houseinrlyeh said...

But, but why would I want dogs tampering with my dead bones!?

Anonymous said...

Dharmendra did the same thing to me---he snuck into my heart surreptitiously without me even noticing, until one day---VOILA! I was a huge Dharmendra fan.

I love Jugnu in all its silly glory. Love your review of it too :-)

Todd said...

Aw, ppcc, Memsaab, you're too kind. I'm honored to have you all as readers. And House, that's a very good question. All I know is that a similar sentiment is expressed in Jugnu and the clear implication is that not getting your bones chewed on by dogs is a bad thing. Maybe that's because it's better to have your bones all shiny and picked clean than a bit gristly, because, you know, ew.

Michael Barnum said...

Oh, you have no idea how many DVDs I have purchased simply because Dharmendra's name was listed.

Beth said...

I think whenever we do all get to meet up in person, we should have a death trap building contest. A disinterested party will give us each a box of random crap and we have to build model masala movie sets out of whatever we get. Like Project Runway, but with more bear costumes and spikes!

Todd, remember that time we were talking about how sometimes it's hard to know what to say other than "Great review! I must see this!"? Insert code for that here. I'm totally suckered in and must experience this ASAP, even though my to-watch pile is so high it actually fell over last weekend.

Todd said...

Or.. Lego deathtrap challenge! (You guys are sooo sad I won't be there this year.)

I'd definitely say that this one is worth nudging up toward the top of the stack.

Beth said...

Legos! Yes! Far less deadly, but we can test our designs with minifigs!

Netflix has this as "unknown" status. RRRR.