1964’s Magic Carpet is another “Arabian Nights” style fantasy from director and Bollywood special effects pioneer Babhubai Mistry. I was really looking forward to this one, but unfortunately the quality of the Golden Plaza VCD that contained it was so awful that it actually defeated my attempts to watch it in its entirety. And if you only knew the amount of visual muck I’m willing to wade through in order to watch an obscure old Indian B movie, you would marvel at what a profound degree of awfulness that would have to be.
Ah well, sometimes we review, and at others we merely catalog. So in this case, having only watched half of Magic Carpet’s first disc and intermittent bits of its second, I can only report to you on its objective contents and provide a few impressions. In other words, I won’t be employing my critical faculties to much of an extent beyond simply confirming that Magic Carpet exists. Which it does. Of this I am certain.
And it has people in it. Actor-like people, in fact. And not only that, but ones that you will easily recognize if you are a fan of the Zimbo movies like I am. (And if you aren’t… pssst… come closer… yes, that’s it, right up to the monitor… WHY NOT!?!?!?!!!!!) As our handsome hero we have Zimbo himself, Azaad, continuing his trend toward pudginess from when we last saw him in Zimbo Comes to Town, and as his lovely leading lady, yes, it’s Chitra! Rounding out the Zimbosity of the proceedings is the presence of Master Bhagwan as Azaad’s roly poly comic relief sidekick, as with Chitra, inhabiting pretty much the same role he played in the Zimbo movies. At this point, one might think that he or she wasn’t being too optimistic in hoping for an appearance by Pedro, the Ape Bomb in Magic Carpet, but, alas, it is not to be. Pedro!
Also on hand is the phenomenal Bela Bose, whose appearance is probably the one factor that made me most regret my inability to watch the whole of Magic Carpet, and which is entirely to blame if I later express my frustrations by airmailing some poo to the offices of Golden Plaza. Bela fronts at least one musical number, as far as I could see, and also has a substantial supporting role. And as the villain of the piece we have B.M. Vyas, playing an identical role to the one he played in Char Dervesh, though without once changing into a giant spider. Vyas essentially plays a power hungry baddie who, with the assistance of an evil wizard, hopes to both seize control of Baghdad and seize the heart of the beauty Banafsha, played by Chitra. The only thing standing between him and his misguided dreams of regime change is our marginally doughy hero, Naseer (Azaad).
One thing that is obvious from even the most cursory examination of Magic Carpet is how direly cheap it is. The tight camera compositions do nothing to hide just how tiny and makeshift the sets are, and when we do get out into the open for some location shooting, it’s always in that little palm-tree lined clearing that seems to show up in all of these 1960s Bollywood stunt movies – and which it is only now dawning on me is the same place from film to film. Perhaps this is Babhubai Mistry’s backyard? What few special effects there are in the film are unambitious, leaving it to depend for its thrills on what seems to be an awful lot of swordfights, all of which appear to be limited in their choreography by the clearly cramped quarters in which they take place. This is definitely a film that fairs poorly when held up against a film of similar theme and vintage like Char Dervesh (on which Mistry served as art director), which I’m beginning to think of as the gold standard for this particular type of Indian fantasy film.
So, though I obviously can’t say for certain, I suspect that Magic Carpet is fairly minor, and likely only worth watching for those who are Babhubai Mistry, Bela Bose, or movies-that-star-more -than-half-the-cast-of- Zimbo completists. But I still wish that I had seen it all so that I could slag it off more authoritatively.
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