Saturday, November 14, 2009

Teri Meherbaniyan (India, 1985)



I submit that no Bollywood movie is more of a love story between a man and his animal than Teri Meherbaniyan. For instance, notice that, while our hero is provided with a human love interest, she doesn't even survive until the interval. That's because no mere woman can compete for Ram's affections against his Moti, as played by Brownie, The Wonder Dog. At best, she'll only get in the way, hence Poonam Dhillon's summary dismissal via prophylactic suicide at roughly the one hour mark.

Teri Meherbaniyan begins with a motorcycle-riding Jackie Shroff running over a puppy. As harrowing as that may sound, this incident is actually meant to show us what a great guy Jackie's character is. Because, rather than charging bystanders a few rupees to watch the animal's death agonies or rushing it home to throw in the stew pot, he whisks it off to the vet for some puppy triage. The credits then roll as we watch a time-lapse montage of Jackie, aka Ram, tenderly nursing the pup back to health, ending with said pup having grown into a strapping, full-size Moti. And I have to admit, it's hard not to like the guy after witnessing this. Obviously Jackie's years of tending to that mustache have given him the small critter nurturing skills necessary to such ministrations.

Ram is a government officer of some kind, though exactly what his title might be is unclear. In any case, his job seems to entail him being some sort of agent of progress, sending him to backward, outlying villages with the message that feudalism is just so last century, and then driving that message home with his righteous fists. This message and mode of delivery is especially unwelcome in Lakhanpur, where Thakur Vijay Singh (Amrish Puri!) has got himself a nice little racket going exploiting and terrorizing the community of farmers under his charge. Thus Vijay Singh, who prefers to delegate his dirty work so that he may hide his viciousness behind a facade of benevolence, repeatedly dispatches his team of kung fu guys to deal with Ram, only to have those kung fu guys repeatedly sent packing by Ram's and Moti's superior martial arts skills.

Lakhanpur also boasts among its population a feisty, loudmouthed tomboy of a village belle by the name of Bijli (Poonam Dhillon), whose presence struck me as having the primary function of striking up pleasant audience associations with Hema Malini's similar role in Sholay. Be that as it may, it is not long before Ram and Bijli dutifully follow the script's directive to fall ass-over-teakettle in love with one another. No sooner have they proclaimed their affections, however, (during a song picturization in which Jackie Shroff wears an awesome tee-shirt labeling him a "SINGLE man") than Ram is called away for a brief assignment in the city. Given that Bijli is a target of Vijay Singh's unwanted and entirely unwholesome affections, Ram leaves Moti behind to guard over her in his absence.



The flaw in this plan becomes clear in a quite disturbing sequence that reveals Moti as being... well, a bit of a perv, really, and an interspecies one at that. Bijli responds to Ram's departure by immediately doing a really dirty wet sari dance and then stripping down to her, um, under-sari for a bath. Unfortunately, Moti won't stop peeking around the corner to get an eyeful, so Bijli ties him up in an adjoining room. This provides the perfect opportunity for Vijay Singh and his goons to burst in and try to make good on their rapacious designs, in a scene so liberally punctuated with lightning flashes and crashing thunder that I half expected Sultan Rahi to jump out from behind a curtain and start yelling and pointing at everybody. Bijli ultimately practices the preferred Bollywood method of rape prevention by plunging a dagger into her stomach and then using her dying breath to laugh in Vijay Singh's face as if she had somehow come out the winner in this situation.







Upon his return, Ram greets the news of Bijli's death by assuming that Moti has dropped the ball in his guard duties, leading him to beat the poor animal mercilessly. This is just one of many scenes that make Teri Meherbaniyan a film that, while appearing on paper as being geared toward animal lovers, would in reality be as distressing to them as watching actual vivisection. Ram is quickly alerted to the truth of the situation by Vijay Singh's kindly adopted-daughter/captive Sharada (I'm sorry, actress, I don't know your name), upon which he immediately falls to his knees and tearfully serenades Moti with the film's mournful theme tune. And it is at this moment that Brownie, The Wonder Dog, thespian, pulls out his secret weapon. He cries. HE FUCKING CRIES!



Though he has spent the first half of the movie proclaiming his love for Bijli, Vijay Singh quickly moves on after her death, simply transferring his rapey intentions to Sharada, despite the fact that she is his adopted daughter. Of course, we soon learn that he only adopted her in order to pilfer the fortune she inherited from her deceased father, a man whom Vijay Singh had claimed to be his best friend -- a fact which further establishes the depths of Vijay Singh's villainy while making his sexual proclivities no less vomit-conjuring. In any case, Ram somehow manages to deflect the Thakur's intentions by prodding Sharada into marrying the village's resident mute simpleton, Gopi. This turns out to be the move that finally tears it for Vijay Singh where Ram is concerned.

As we've already seen, tying up Moti does not bode well for those doing the tying, and so, when Ram, Sharada and Gopi do just that while enjoying a leisurely picnic in the countryside, we know that it is just a matter of seconds before Vijay Singh and his two right-hand men, Banwari and Sadarji, will emerge from the shadows to do their dirty work. With Gopi and Sharadi incapacitated, and Moti straining helplessly at his bonds, Vijay and his men viciously beat, choke and stab Ram to death, leaving behind manufactured evidence that will link Gopi to the crime. However, Ram had set up one of those newfangled camcorders in order to record his gang's bucolic interlude, and the device recorded the dastardly deed in its entirety. Of course, the machine was in Vijay Singh's plain view the whole time, but apparently, being essentially a bumpkin at heart, he assumed that it was just some kind of picnic-enabling robot that these city folks have nowadays. Thus he is blissfully unaware that he has just been Rodney King-ed several years before that name would have any significance as a verb.

So here we are with an hour remaining of Teri Meherbaniyan's running time and our apparent hero suddenly killed off. And it is at this point that something indescribably wonderful happens to Teri Meherbaniyan. By which I mean that our Moti steps up to take his rightful place in the spotlight in the most preposterously violent manner possible. Traumatized by seeing his master brutally murdered before his eyes, this most loyal of anipals sets out to single-pawedly hand out bloody payback to all those responsible. And with this, the remainder of the film takes on something of the look and tone of an 80s slasher film, complete with menacing stalker-vision sequences shot from Moti's point-of-view as he hunts down Vijay Singh's accomplices one by one, forcing one off a cliff and another into the river to drown, as he works his way up to the Thakur himself.









Each of these killings is immediately preceded by Moti experiencing a psychotic flashback to Ram's murder, communicated with quick cuts and repeated shock zooms to portray his fevered state of mind, and followed by a scene of him dropping flowers on Ram's grave and once again turning on the waterworks as the mournful theme reprises. Meanwhile, both Ram and Bijli manage to maintain a presence in the film by way of song and dance numbers that take place inside Moti's brain.

Nothing you might say could convince me that Teri Meherbaniyan is not the greatest Bollywood film about a revenge-obsessed, serial killing house pet ever made. I understand that the film -- along with, for obvious reasons, Brownie/Moti himself -- made something of a splash in its day, and I can see why. While its first half pretty much just trots out all of the standard Bollywood action movie tropes, it does so with the type of crude, reckless energy that I'm more accustomed to seeing in South Asia's regional pulp cinema -- complete, unfortunately, with much of the male-centric, Haseena Atom Bomb-like chauvinism that entails (for instance, the proximity of Bijli's wet sari dance to her attempted rape by Vijay Singh bears an uncomfortable suggestion of cause and effect). But it is its final act conversion into a sort of doggie Death Wish that makes Teri Meherbaniyan something all its own, something special. The very type of film, in fact, that is this humble blog's reason for being.

Ultimately, all of the humans in Teri Meherbaniyan prove to be pretty useless. Despite the presence of Ram's camcorder at the crime scene, it is only by the efforts of a solicitous snake from a neighboring shrine that the authorities are lead to the exonerating tape that it contained. And even then it is Moti who proves to be the ultimate instrument of justice, as demonstrated in a final confrontation in which Amrish Puri endures his fatal mauling with the same level of staunch professionalism he did having his head eaten by a giant crocodile at the end of Gangaa Jumanaa Saraswathi. If Teri Meherbaniyan has any message at all -- and it probably doesn't -- it is that the animals of the Earth are far from just acting as agents of an indifferent nature, and that, when they attack you, you better believe it's personal. See this movie.


11 comments:

memsaab said...

"Obviously Jackie's years of tending to that mustache have given him the small critter nurturing skills necessary to such ministrations."

*falls off chair laughing*

Must see this. MUST. Jackie is clearly murdered despite being the human hero because he had the temerity to beat his dog. Karma is a bitch named...uh...Moti-ette?

Take that, Jackie! Love, The Universe

Rum said...

OMGG I think i was crying with laughter after reading this! A vigilante dog who can rival a Vijay Vigilante is a movie I've always wished for! I think he might just beat Zippy in terms of animal histrionics!
i have to find this now!

houseinrlyeh said...

If I didn't know any better, I'd think you'd made this one up.
Although I have to say the dog SM does sound rather disturbing.

*walks off to ebay*

Michael Barnum said...

I am still laughing!

If this movie is even half as enjoyable as your write up of it, it will become one of my favorites!

TheDoug said...

Oh my God! This is available on Netflix!! I'm gonna watch this with my black lab and I'm wondering who'll be crying first, me or the dog!!!

Todd said...

Thanks, everybody. I understand why House might think I made this one up. I actually think that I made it up myself, but the evidence seems to indicate otherwise. In any case, I'd like to at least think that, if I did decide to hoax you all and invent a movie, it would be something as effed up as this.

I loved this one. Like I said, it starts out like a fun and ridiculous romp through well-worn masala territory, but then goes completely off the rails. The closest to its vigilante pet concept that I've seen is in Dario Argento's Phenomena, with its avenging, razor-wielding chimp, but Teri Meherbaniyan takes
the idea much farther, which is quite impressive when you think about it.

I'd highly recommend Netflix-ing or even purchasing the movie. I don't think any of you will regret it.

sunil said...

Ha! Being a dog is the next slur to being a bastard in middle-east/south asian context.

So naturally apart from crying and performing the funeral rites for Jackie, what really blew India's collective eight year old mind was that OMG Jackie loves Moti so much that Moti ate on the table using a proper dinner plate!

http://india90.blogspot.com/2008/04/remembertuffy-dog.html

sunil said...

Plus, you have succeeded in making Moti look disturbingly pervy with that screenshot. :-p

The title song really is a masterpiece of editing. Absolutely loved the dog flash-backing to his puppyhood. :-)

sunil said...

And for what it is worth, the sequence where Sharda marries was surprisingly progressive and effective - Sharda was a widow (NOT A VIRGIN!!!!!) and her marriage to Gopi was breaking hide-bound tradition.

Todd said...

I hate Tuffy! (Or maybe I just hate HAHK, it's hard to distinguish.)

Thanks for the info, Sunil. Yes, I remember that Sharada's marriage was really treated as a "teachable moment" in the film, with Jackie making a rousing speech about how her life wasn't over because she was a widow, etc. Certainly progressive, though it did seem like Jackie was strong-arming her into it a bit. At least he didn't make her marry Moti, though.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely written.