Monday, April 19, 2010

Mosagallaku Mosagaadu (India, 1971)



In this 2007 interview with the website telegucinema.com, Tollywood director K.S.R. Doss (or Das, as they spell it) makes the claim that his Mosagallaku Mosagaadu was India’s first cowboy film. And who am I to disagree? It certainly predates the country’s most well known example of the genre, 1975’s Sholay, as well as earlier Bollywood oaters like the Feroz Khan starrers Khotte Sikkay and Kaala Sona. Though I think it has to be said that there are some older films in the less well respected and recorded stunt genre -- the recently reviewed Awara Abdula among them -- that could arguably be described at least in part as being cowboy films. Even though my saying so is more of an act of compulsive nerdery than anything else.

In that same interview, Doss emphatically denies that Mosagallaku Mosagaadu is a remake of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And while that denial is true in spirit, it’s nonetheless impossible to miss the signs of TGTBTU’s influence on Mosagallaku -- especially given that the latter takes great pains to recreate several of the former’s key scenes.

These include, memorably, Clint Eastwood’s forced march through the desert at the hands of Eli Wallach -- although here the filmmakers use that scenario as an opportunity to have Jyothi Laxmi and Nagabhushanam perform a jaunty musical number, during which they dance around and mock Krishna, the film’s hero, as he dies of heat exposure. The vertigo-inducing overlap of sensibilities that this particular bit embodies made for one of the more surreal cinematic moments I’ve witnessed of late -- and, keep in mind that I just saw Hausu again, so that’s really saying quite a lot.



Those familiar with Indian cinema’s often freewheeling approach to period won’t be surprised to learn that Mosagallaku Mosagaadu’s is a bit hard to nail down. Its opening narration places its plastic-Stetson-wearing, gun-slinging, Wild West action somewhat preposterously around the time of the Battle of Bobbili -- in other words, sometime near the middle of the 1700s. Chances are that the writers were simply trying to capture some of the aura of heroism projected by that pivotal event in the history of Andhra Pradesh -- as well as find an excuse to use all of the stock footage we see of the French storming the fortress walls that obviously came from another, much more well funded movie.

Suffice it to say that the event that sets the film’s story in motion is the fall of a mythical kingdom called Amaravedu, which is invaded and taken over by the awful British. Before this can take place, however, two of the kingdom’s loyal sons spirit its vast treasure away and secure it in a cave hiding place that can only be accessed with five special keys.



Another loyal son of Amaravedu is Prasad (Krishna), whose disgust with the corruption that thrives under British rule spurs him to leave the kingdom and style himself as a Robin Hood-like defender of the poor and oppressed. Now, we never actually see Prasad doing any of this defending of the poor and oppressed, mind you, and instead see him partaking in a lot more of what, to the uninformed eye, might appear to be run-of-the-mill banditry. Nonetheless, I’m sure that all of that stolen loot will find its way into the hands of the needy eventually.

Ultimately, Prasad becomes one of a number of people who become aware of the existence of the treasure and sets out to find it. Arrayed against him in this endeavor, this being a 1970s Tollywood film, are an assortment of villains with identical mustaches and greasy, towering pompadours. This cast of lookalike scoundrels combines with a plot rife with shifting allegiances and mistaken identities to make MM’s overall story a bit difficult to parse at times, but its of no matter. What matters is that Mosagallaku Mosagaadu delivers on all of the hyperactive violence, thunder-thighed leading ladies, and compulsive use of camera angles shot from between peoples’ legs that the Doss name promises.

And toward that noble end we have on hand the aforementioned Jyothi Laxmi, playing a mean cowgirl named Bijili, one of whose musical numbers literally involves her lustily chasing a visibly perturbed Krishna hither and thither across the prairie (or, at least, the South Indian equivalent of the prairie).

Providing a yin to Jyothi’s yang is good cowgirl Radha, played by Vijaya Nirmala, who just a couple of years previous had become Mrs. Superstar Krishna. Never mind that Nirmala herself was a director of numerous films and, as such, a heroic crasher of gender barriers in the Indian film industry. What matters for our purposes is that her presence in a K.S.R. Doss film, so evenly paired off against Jyothi Laxmi, can only mean one thing:



Catfights!

For the most part, Mosagallaku chronicles the assorted double-crosses and skullduggery -- not to mention the many, many fistfights -- that the race between all involved parties to find the treasure entails. Yet, at a later point, one of the subsets of mustache and pompadour sporting no-goods manages to murder both of Prasad’s parents, temporarily transforming the film, for a good portion of its final third, into a bloody revenge thriller a la… well a la pretty much every one of K.S.R. Doss’s other films. Though this episodes ends with Prasad retrieving all five of the needed keys, it’s still digressive enough to feel like another movie nested within the larger one. Perhaps this was due to the filmmakers feeling that a South Indian action film without these revenge elements would be too outside the norm for their audience to relate to. But, whatever the case, it affords us the opportunity to see the righteous and true hearted Prasad gorily chopping people with axes, beating them to death with branches, and totally going postal on a bunch of angry tribals who are this film’s stand-ins for “renegade” native Americans.

While Mosagallaku Mosagaadu delivers in spades on all of the trashy thrills that I’ve come to expect from K.S.R. Doss’s films, I have to say that its primary visual attraction is its wardrobe. Krishna’s ever-changing assortment of all-one-color cowboy outfits -- ranging from powder blue to deep purple to olive green -- are really something to behold. I imagine that the free-spirited female retiree from Florida whom they were obviously designed for would describe them as “fun” and wear them on her holidays (while her husband wore the white pants with pictures of classic cars printed all over them). Clearly, being a thief with a conscience such as Prasad is requires a lot of things, but the element of surprise isn’t one of them.


13 comments:

King Viswa said...

Amazing.

Yes, I have seen this film and though i disagree with the fact that this is the 1st ever Cowboy film in India.

As for as my memory goes, Modern cinema House from Tamil Nadu (Founded By The Legendary T.R.Sundaram) is the first film production house to make a cowboy adventure film.

Will come back with the exact details very soon.

Vinayak Razdan said...

I guess Das would be Bengali where as Doss is certainly South Indian.

memsaab said...

I'm so glad that you watch these---and describe them with such eloquent finesse---so I don't have to!

Todd said...

King Viswa: I eagerly await your update.

Vinayak: Thanks for the info. Forgive my ignorance, but is that the way the name is pronounced in the different languages, or are they actually two different names?

Memsaab: Why wouldn't you want to see this movie?!

Vinayak Razdan said...

Both are two different surnames with different pronunciations. Doss like Floss and Dass like Grass :)

King Viswa said...

//director K.S.R. Doss (or Das, as they spell it)//

it is pronounced as "Dhaas" (As rightly said by Vinayak).

Todd said...

Thanks, guys! Syllable by syllable, I'm struggling my way out of ignorance and toward... well, an ignorance that is hopefully somewhat less glaring.

dfordoom said...

I had no idea there were Bollywood cowboy movies! I must see some. I got hooked on Bollywood horror a year or two back.

Todd said...

A great place to start is Sholay, not only the most famous Bollywood Western, but one of the most well known Bollywood films, period.

dfordoom said...

Sholay sounds like great fun, but I've heard negative reports on the quality of the DVD release from Eros.

Todd said...

Unfortunately, if you're a stickler for pristine image quality, Indian DVDs in general can be a bit of a mine field. I don't remember having any particular problems with my DVD of Sholay, but, then again, my standards, by necessity, have gotten pretty low.

dfordoom said...

Todd, I found a fairly cheap copy of this movie so I ordered it anyway. I'm fairly tolerant of non-pristine DVD quality as long as the price is reasonable.

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