Monday, September 28, 2009

Ver Ni Aag (India, 1982)

So I feel there’s some urgency to my finding a more woman-friendly film to post about this week. After all, it’s been kind of smelling like a locker room up in here, what with all the yelling Pakistani men and weird Taiwanese movies about flaming comets seeking out lady parts. Clearly if I don’t flip the script my female readers are going to quite understandably flee en masse, leaving this just one more of those countless cult film blogs whose readership is exclusively male. (Hey, I love you guys, but you know it can’t be all about you, right?) As is, one of my ill-considered recommendations has already got poor Memsaab busy building a time machine so that she can go back and prevent Haseena Atom Bomb from ever being made. 4DK needs an estrogen infusion STAT, and I was thinking that Ver Ni Aag just might fit the bill.

Back in my review of Rani Aur Jaani, I remarked upon how much I enjoyed seeing Aruna Irani in a rare action heroine role. For those who don’t know, Irani was a Bollywood actress and item girl of the 60s and 70s who, as the former, never managed to make it beyond supporting roles and, as the latter, never quite made it out from under the shadow of the ubiquitous Helen. Her turn in Rani Aur Jaani made me hopeful for the possibility that she had, like Helen, forged an alternate career as a leading lady outside the Bollywood mainstream, perhaps either in B films or in one of the many regional cinemas of India. Well, sure enough, it turns out that Irani did indeed find considerable popularity as a heroine in Gujarati language action films, of which Ver Ni Aag is one example.

There’s a new D.I.G. in town, Inspector Jaydeep Singh (Kiran Kumar), and he’s determined to clean things up, as is exemplified in a rapid-fire series of scenes in which he shuts down four operations representing a litany of all the most un-Indian of criminal enterprises: those being the smuggling out of grain and religious artifacts, and the smuggling in of narcotics and liquor. The leaders of these respective operations then band together to combat this new threat to their villainous livelihoods, dubbing themselves “The Mischievous Four” – an appellation which falls somewhere well below “The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants” and “COBRA” on the scale of intimidating-sounding names for a cabal of super-villains. It’s quite fitting, then, that the Mischievous Four’s initial attempts at shutting Jaydeep Singh down meet with all the success of Wile E Coyote’s efforts to catch the Road Runner.

For starters, they attempt to kidnap Jaydeep’s sister. Jaydeep’s sister, however, turns out to be Parul, played by Aruna Irani, who responds to their threatening advances by kung fu-ing them all into the middle of next week, all the while doling out pithy wisecracks at their expense. Those of the Mischievous Four’s minions who don’t immediately turn tail and run are then summarily dealt with by Parul with the help of handsome police cadet Amar (Firoz Irani, I think), who just happens upon the scene at a fortuitous moment. This affords Parul and Amar the opportunity to do a “meet cute” while simultaneously pummeling a bunch of thugs into unconsciousness.

The above-described scene put me in an optimistic frame of mind as to what the rest of Ver Ni Aag might be like. Unfortunately, I was to find myself a bit disappointed. Because, all told, Ver Ni Aag just isn’t all that well made of a film. For starters, its low budget is made overly apparent by its cramped, nondescript sets, it’s frequently under-lit look and it’s dodgy sound mix. Of course, it goes without saying that low-rent trappings like that don’t necessarily exclude a film from being, at the very least, entertaining, and frequently even awesome. Sadly, however, Ver Ni Aag also commits the all too frequent Indian B movie sin of relying far too heavily on comic relief and padding to fill out its running time, going so far as to include a superfluous scene set in a movie theater so that a sizeable portion of a musical number from an Amitabh Bachchan film can be shoehorned in. Gestures like that -- essentially trying to cajole the audience by showing them bits from an obviously better made film -- are the ultimate admission of defeat by a filmmaker, and amount to telling the audience straight out that they would have been better off staying at home.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that director S. J. Taluqdar just doesn’t seem all that good at filming action. The fights in Ver Ni Aag, when they do occur, are clearly the film’s reason for being, yet are frustratingly lacking in the excitement that a more dynamic approach to staging and filming would have engendered. While the film was refreshing for lacking the sleaziness that marks similar women-centric actioners from Tollywood and Lollywood (indeed, Aruna Irani’s outfits are all downright demure here), I sorely missed the hyperactive verve that a director like Tollywood’s K.S.R. Doss would have brought to the proceedings. As such, while the many dust-ups are a welcome break from the monotony that surrounds them -- and it’s certainly fun to watch Irani’s enthusiastic participation in them -- the somewhat nailed-down approach to filming them keeps them from being the suitably ample reward that our patience deserves.

Anyway, back in the business of Ver Ni Aag’s plot, the Mischievous Four, after further fumbling their attempts to stop the heroic Jaydeep Singh -- first with an unsuccessful assassination-by-sniper at a village festival (a toddler dressed as Krishna shoots the gun out of the sniper’s hand with an arrow), and then with a truly “what were they thinking” attempt to bribe Parul and Amar -- finally get it right by luring the inspector into a deserted area and running him down with a truck. This event, occurring at the film’s sixty-minute mark, finally lights the “fire of revenge” within Parul that will energize Ver Ni Aag’s remaining half. Though let’s not be too hasty about things. After all, that still leaves plenty of time for us to be treated to yet more of the comedic shenanigans of the same trio of bumbling policemen who have already taken up a sizeable chunk of the first half.

I had mixed feelings watching Ver Ni Aag. Aruna Irani was just as charming and appealingly scrappy as she was in Rani Aur Jaani, and I was happy to see her once again taking on a lead role of this type. I only hope that Ver Ni Aag isn’t indicative of the overall quality of her other ventures as a heroine of Gujarati cinema. She deserves better.


sunil said...

lord knows you don't need more movies to add to your netflix queue, but if you want a feminine actioner, you would do worse than see Dimple Kapadia's Zakhmi Aurat (wounded woman) whose USP is that the film anticipates John Bobbit's wife's actions by a good many years. :)

memsaab said...

@sunil: seriously!!!? Awesome!

Dearest Todd, do not worry that your female fans will flee. Those of us who come here are made of hardy stuff. Plus you make us laugh and we love your writing, about anything, including this. I had no idea Aruna had a sideline in Gujju films! Was this one subtitled? I guess I will need to look for more of its ilk...

ps I've gotten a lot of mileage out of suffering through Haseena. It wasn't a total loss! :-)

aruna fan said...

i watched this movie on etv long ago..
since then i m desperate to watch it again..
plz post some fighting action action of aruna irani.. plzzz

Todd said...

Sunil: Hey, and Aruna Irani is in Zakhmi Aurat, as well. (The IMDB listing credits her as playing "member of the feminine group of the victims of the violence").

Memsaab: Thank you for your kind words. I'll try to be worthy. And, yes, not only is this one subtitled in English, but it's also available from Netflix. So even though it's not very good, it at least gets points for accessibility. Do let me know if you're able to track down any more of Aruna's films of this type.

Aruna Fan: I'd love to, but I have to find more of it first.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I don't know how many female readers you have (clearly there are at least two of us), but I echo Memsaab that your writing will keep me here for a long time. I don't always get your taste, but I certainly haven't tried to follow in most of your footsteps, either. But I rest easily knowing that someone intelligent and with a sense of humor is on the job.

Memsaab offered to send me Haseena Atom Bomb and I had to think pretty hard about whether I wanted to try it. It's just so hard to know when "I'm warning you" comes with a resigned smile and when it is meant fully, seriously, and with "You will absolutely hate this and want those hours of your life back." Generally I figure that one never knows until one tries for oneself, but in this particular case, I'm going to be able to live with not knowing. I think. Unless someone brings it to a South Asian Cinema conference (i.e. blogger meetup) (with lots of drinks).

Speaking of warnings, I sat through "Turkish Rambo" (Rampage is its real name) last night and was neither amused nor interested.

Todd said...

Thanks, Beth. I'd picture me with a stern frown-y face when I say that I really don't think Haseena is for you. As for Turkish Rambo, I don't think I'd get much out of it, either, since I've never even seen American Rambo.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Stern frowny face, eh? Then I will consider the lesson learned.

I read Keith's review of "Turkish Rambo" this morning and clearly I am just not in on the kind of fun it offers. I was telling House earlier that sometimes I feel like I'm the My Little Pony fluffy-brained sparkle friend of the movie blog world since I never seem to _get_ all these other kinds of films that delight other people so much and am just content to wallow in my filmified corner with sequined songs and pretty actors with big eyelashes. But yeah, Korkosuz was definitely not my cup of tea.

Todd said...

Yes, Beth, you're our little sparkle friend and it's all of our jobs to protect you from any movie that might cast a cloud over your pretty princess world. (Except, of course, for that odd occasion when we insist that you watch Shaitani Dracula with us.)

Seriously, I think such things are largely just a matter of taste, but I also think that saturation plays a part. As I recall, you said you weren't that much of a film buff before your Bollywood viewing days. I think you kind of have to have an over-familiarity, born of obsessively watching thousands and thousands of movies over the course of your lifetime, with all of the cinematic conventions that these more "outside" movies are flaunting in order to really appreciate them.