Rani Aur Lalpari might seem like your friend, because it offers you the opportunity to see some of Bollywood's biggest stars of the 70s in a context that you probably never could have imagined you would. But, kids, make no mistake about it: Rani Aur Lalpari hates you.
The film's title character, Rani, is one of those little girls who has developed a rich imaginary life as a buffer against everyday hardship. We see this demonstrated in an early song number in which the penniless and hungry kid fantasizes herself into what looks like one of those old drive-in theater "head to the snack bar" promos, in which she frolics through a landscape made up of garish, over-abundant displays of name brand candies. Looks like the Chiclet tree is in full bloom!
It seems that Rani's dad has been forced by circumstances to seek employment in another country, leaving Rani, her mom (Asha Parekh!), and Rani's pet rabbit Moti to seek shelter with relatives. These relatives turn out to be cruel, glutinous oafs, who, during the days when Rani's mom is off slaving away at her thankless seamstress job, heartlessly mistreat Rani and force her to act as their personal slave. Needless to say, there is a lot of crying.
Even Moti the rabbit cries.
BTW, don't get too used to Moti. He will die. Then again, this is a kid's movie, so how bad could it be?
The second tale is a very abbreviated version of Gulliver's Travels starring Feroz Khan. I kept waiting for Feroz to drink a boatload of ale and start smashing Liliputians with his fists, but it never happened. Still, it's an enjoyable bit, loaded with lots of dodgy process shots.
Somewhere in all this there's also a school pageant that I think is meant to be some kind of plea for world peace. The kids dress up as the people of many lands and then reenact warfare, shooting at and stabbing each other as explosions are projected behind them. At the end, the stage is littered with dead kids, and Rani, dressed as Mother India, spins around and cries.
Then Danny Denzongpa gets up on stage and gives a speech before handing Rani a trophy.
Finally the happy day arrives when Rani's dad is scheduled to make his return to India. Rani and her mom excitedly head out to the airport, only to see dad's plane, upon making its approach, plummet to the ground and explode. Rani's mom goes into shock and lapses into a coma, dying soon thereafter.
Little Rani then decides that she must travel to the netherworld to beseech Yamraj, the Hindu god of death, to bring her parents back to life. Calling for her mom, she runs out into the surf and plummets to the bottom of the ocean, where she is soon fleeing for her life from a badly rear-projected giant octopus.
Kaala Sona, and that this film sees him give full expression to his obvious love -- only hinted at in that other film -- for creating bizarre fantasy landscapes with copious crude applications of glass mattes and the Schufftan Process. I should also point out that Nagaich later went on to direct both of Mithun's Gunmaster G-9 films, which really isn't relevant to Rani Aur Lalpari, but establishes Nagaich's status as a filmmaker of great import.
One might think that plunging down this fiery hole would lead Rani to Hell. But, then again, one might be said to be held too heavily under the sway of Christian mythology for thinking so. Then again, when Rani gets to the bottom of this hole she finds angels, which makes this sequence confusing on an impressive number of levels. These angels lead Rani to a statue of the Fairy Godmother/Lalpari from the Cinderella segment of the movie. This vaguely reassuring turn of events aside, Rani Aur Lalpari quickly demonstrates that is far from done being one of the most harrowing children's movies you have ever seen, as Rani then takes a candle and walks in circles around the statue until her hands are covered in scalding hot wax.
Finally the statue turns into Reena Roy, who leads Rani to a place where there are a trio of scary talking heads on pedestals.
And then she and Rani run across a rainbow until they are, for some reason, on the Moon.
I have to admit that the events of the movie really began to blur for me at this point. There was a lot of falling through the abyss and crudely painted nightmare landscapes, and then a part where Rani, now wearing Cinderellas sparkled slippers, climbed up a ladder into the stars. I did perk up a bit, though, when Aruna Irani appeared on screen for a sapphic, mind-bendingly sexy dance number that involved her being bathed by handmaidens in a flower shaped bath.
Rather than proceed with this summary, I'm just going to end this review Memsaab style, with a series of questions: Will Rani survive her ordeal and make her way to Yamraj? And, if so, will he grant her wish and, in defiance of all that is right and holy, revive her dead parents? And, if so, will they be zombies? Did you make a child watch Rani Aur Lalpari, or watch it yourself under the influence of psychedelic drugs? And, if so, how sorry are you now?