Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seven days of 70s Bollywood: Geetaa Mera Naam

[This post is part of a week long blog-a-thon, masterminded by Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood, paying tribute to the films of 1970s Bollywood. Be sure to check out the other participating blogs for more about the best decade ever in the history of Indian film-making!]

Geetaa Mera Naam (1974)
Directed by Sadhana Shivdasani
Written by R.K. Nayyar, Madan Joshi
Starring: Sadhana Shivdasani, Sunil Dutt, Feroz Khan, Helen
Music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal


Sunil Dutt's stuffed monkey? The human waxworks? Helen unzipping Feroz Khan's shirt with her teeth? Sadhana's mad kung fu skills? The all-pervading S&M obsession? The comic book color scheme? Helen's weirdest item number perhaps ever? Where exactly does one start with Geetaa Mera Naam? I know: with watching it. NOW!

Read my review of Geetaa Mera Naam at Teleport City



Honorable Mentions:

Charas
Khoon Khoon
Be-Sharam
Inkaar
Warrant
Faraar
Nagin

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Seven days of 70s Bollywood: Qurbani

[This post is part of a week long blog-a-thon, masterminded by Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood, paying tribute to the films of 1970s Bollywood. Be sure to check out the other participating blogs for more about the best decade ever in the history of Indian film-making!]

Qurbani (1980)
Directed by Feroz Khan
Written by K.K. Shukla
Starring: Feroz Khan, Vinod Khanna, Zeenat Aman, Amjad Khan, Amrish Puri, Aruna Irani, Shakti Kapoor
Music by Kalyani-Anandji


Despite it's 1980 release date, I doubt anyone who's seen Qurbani would disagree that it is a quintessentially 1970s film. It's as if director/star Feroz Khan looked back upon the preceding decade of masala excess and distilled it down to its very essence. Thus we get bikini-clad disco divas, careening muscle cars, musky bromance, and shameless bare-chested ascot wearing, all set to what has to be Kalyani-Anandji's most downright funky score ever. Qurbani IS the 70s!

Read my review of Qurbani at Teleport City

Friday, February 26, 2010

Boo! We're on drugs

Dracula's Music Cabinet is essentially the soundtrack to a nonexistent Jess Franco film crafted by some German session musicians who then crowded it with all kinds of homemade spook show sound effects and random screaming. It's kind of awesome. Read my full review of the recent CD reissue of this audio treasure over at Teleport City.

Seven days of 70s Bollywood: Yaadon Ki Baaraat

[This post is part of a week long blog-a-thon, masterminded by Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood, paying tribute to the films of 1970s Bollywood. Be sure to check out the other participating blogs for more about the best decade ever in the history of Indian film-making!]

Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973)
Directed by Nasir Hussain
Written by Javed Akhtar, Salim Khan, Nasir Hussain
Starring: Dharmendra, Zeenat Aman, Vijay Arora, Tariq, Ajit
Music by R.D. Burman


It's a sad fact that not all masala films are equal to the sum of their parts, but Yaadon Ki Baaraat is one example where everything comes together perfectly: romance, action, family drama -- all equally fascinating as individual elements while at the same time complimenting and enriching one another. Add to this a flat out brilliant R.D. Burman score, Zeenat Aman at her loveliest, and one of Dharmendra's best performances of the decade and you have just about the best introduction to 1970s Bollywood that a novice could hope for. Be warned, however: You will cry!

Read my review of Yaadon Ki Baaraat on 4DK

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Friday's best pop song ever

Seven days of 70s Bollywood: Kaala Sona

[This post is part of a week long blog-a-thon, masterminded by Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood, paying tribute to the films of 1970s Bollywood. Be sure to check out the other participating blogs for more about the best decade ever in the history of Indian film-making!]

Kaala-Sona (1975)
Directed by Ravikant Nagaich
Written by Harish Khatri, Ramesh Pant, V.D. Puranik
Starring: Feroz Khan, Danny Denzongpa, Parveen Babi, Prem Chopra, Helen
Music by R.D. Burman


Yes, of course I love Sholay. But I figured it was safe to assume that it would be paid enough lip service elsewhere during this blog-a-thon that I could afford to dedicate some space to one of my other favorite "curry westerns". Sure, Kaala-Sona may not be as soulful as Ramesh Sippy's classic, but it makes up for that with the kind of violent, pulpy thrills that make it even closer kin to the Italian oaters that inspired it. That is, until the final act, when we find ourselves playing in villain Prem Chopra's surreal realm of boundless, Wizard of Oz inspired poppy fields, at which point Kaala Sona becomes something entirely crack-headed and uniquely its own,

Read my review of Kaala Sona at Teleport City


KAALA SONA - Iqraar jane jaana
Uploaded by bearsurfer. - See the latest featured music videos.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Joe Walker, defender of womankind

In Three Golden Serpents, the sixth film in the Kommissar X series, super sleuths Joe Walker and Tom Rowland head to Thailand on a very important mission. No, unfortunately, it's not to stop Sompote Sands before he can make Phra Rot Meri. To find out, you'll just have to read my full review, which has just been posted over at Teleport City.

Seven days of 70s Bollywood: Don

[This post is part of a week long blog-a-thon, masterminded by Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood, paying tribute to the films of 1970s Bollywood. Be sure to check out the other participating blogs for more about the best decade ever in the history of Indian film-making!]

Don (1978)
Directed by Chandra Barot
Written by Javed Akhtar & Salim Khan
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Pran, Iftekhar
Music by Kalyani-Anandji


For many a ferangi viewer, Don was the gateway drug into 70s Bollywood. And while some were later disappointed to find that not all Hindi films from the period borrowed so liberally from American blaxploitation films, or had heroines quite so kick-ass as Zeenat Aman's Roma, many more found much that lived up to the promise of that initial dose. After all, the badassery of Bachchan, the killer funk of Kalyanji-Anandji, and the mad convolutions of masala appeared to have been in near inexhaustible supply during that decade. Of course, seldom did they come together quite so irresistibly as in this sure-fire little addiction starter.

Read Keith's review of Don at Teleport City.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Seven days of 70s Bollywood: Rani Aur Jaani

[This post is part of a week long blog-a-thon, masterminded by Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood, paying tribute to the films of 1970s Bollywood. Be sure to check out the other participating blogs for more about the best decade ever in the history of Indian film-making!]

Rani Aur Jaani (1973)
Directed by K.S.R. Doss
Written by K.S.R. Doss, Prem Kapoor
Starring: Aruna Irani, Jyothi Laxmi, Anil Dhawan Narendra Nath, Jagdeep
Music by Satyam


Rani Aur Jaani sees Tollywood director K.S.R. Doss bringing his distinctive brand of trashy, female-centric action cinema to Bollywood -- and with it comes his muse apparent, the fugalicious and disturbingly habit forming Jyothi Laxmi. Taking the oft told filmi tale of siblings separated at birth who grow up on opposite sides of the law and giving it an estrogen-injected spin, Rani Aur Jaani comes across like Deewar as directed by the Hindi version of John Waters. Add to that Peter the sharp-shooting wonder dog, a rare and very enjoyable leading turn by the under-appreciated Aruna Irani, and one of the best rear-projection enabled motorcycle chases in film history, and you have the makings of a classic. Currently only available on VCD, this is at the top of my wish list for a subtitled DVD release.

Read my review of Rani Aur Jaani on 4DK

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seven days of 70s Bollywood: Dharam-Veer

[This post is part of a week long blog-a-thon, masterminded by Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood, paying tribute to the films of 1970s Bollywood. Be sure to check out the other participating blogs for more about the best decade ever in the history of Indian film-making!]

Dharam-Veer (1977)
Directed by Manmohan Desai
Written by J.M. Desai, Kader Khan, K.B. Pathak, Prayag Raj & Pushpa Sharma
Starring: Dharmendra, Zeenat Aman, Jeetendra, Pran, Neetu Singh, Jeevan, Sheroo the Wonder Bird
Music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal


You'll find that most of the films in this countdown of mine are contemporary urban thrillers, with one notable exception being Dharam-Veer. Which is... what exactly? Well, in short, it's knights in shining armor, pirates, gladiators, gypsies, samurai, midgets, Dharmendra in a black leather mini-skirt, and Sheroo the Wonder Bird -- all of which, once discovered, beg the question: How could I not have known this existed?

Read my review of Dharam-Veer at Teleport City.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bobby Suarez 1942 - 2010

I'm a bit late with this news, but I felt it shouldn't go unremarked upon on this blog. I've just learned that Filipino exploitation movie producer and director Bobby Suarez passed away on February 8th at the age of 67. Teleport City has covered Mr. Suarez's work fairly extensively, with Keith especially giving a lot of background on both the man and his films. To read a few of our reviews of those films, follow the links below.

Keith's review of Warriors of the Apocalypse

My review of They Call Her... Cleopatra Wong

My review of Dynamite Johnson

Rest in peace, Bobby.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Friday's best pop song ever

Seven days of 70s Bollywood

Starting on Monday, I'll be participating in a week long blog-a-thon -- masterminded by my pal Beth over at Beth Loves Bollywood -- paying tribute to the films of 1970s Bollywood. Each day I'll be focusing on one of my favorite Bollywood films from that decade, resulting, I hope, in you novices out there ending the week with a handy guide to some of the best that Hindi cinema has to offer. As I told Beth, a list of my favorite Bollywood films from the 70s is a list of my favorite Bollywood films period; you just can't beat that era's films for dazzling color, alluring stars, outlandish action and irresistible tunes. And I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these seven films to anybody, regardless of taste.

Be sure to also check out the other blogs, in addition to Beth's and mine, that are participating in this event, who at this point include:

Indiequill
Memsaab Story
Filmi Girl
Octoberzine
Filmiholic
Doc Bollywood
Old is Gold
Samrat Sharma
V Love Movies
Roti Kapada aur Rum
Bollywood Fangirl
Choti Rani's Ongaku
ThinK TanK or KanT ThinK??
Totally Filmi
The Fabulous Empire of Pitu Sultan
A Fairy Filmi Ending

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The 4DK Animalympics: Vote for your favorite NOW!

In these past twenty weeks that the Animalympics have been raging, we've seen in competition seven dogs, three chimps, two elephants, three birds, one snake, two horses, a static photograph of something that is either a marmoset or an owl monkey, and a slightly past-his-prime Bollywood hero in a bear costume -- in other words, a comprehensive cross-section of the entire animal kingdom. It's been a gas and a giggle, but we all knew that in the end there had to be a winner, one anipal who dominated over all the rest.

And now it's time for you to choose. Please avail yourselves of the homely but effective Blogger polling gadget up top of yon sidebar to let everyone know how you feel -- how you really, really feel -- about the revenge-crazed and perhaps even gun-wielding South Asian animal star that is closest to your heart. As you'll see, I have broken up the competitors into two tiers, with the first ten anipals up for voting this week, and the remaining ten submitted for your harsh but fair appraisal two weeks hence. When all the votes are in, the winner from each group will face off in a completely figurative battle to the death, from which will emerge our supreme victor. Huzzah!

And now, in order to refresh your memory, a re-introduction to our first ten competitors, with links to their full profiles:

Sheroo The Wonder Bird from Dharam Veer
"A chicken in every pot!"




Moti from Mard
"Beware of imitations!"




Pedro The Ape Bomb
"Vote for Pedro!"




Peter from Raani aur Jaani
"I'm not afraid to get my paws dirty!"




Allah Rakha from Coolie
"I'm not here to make friends!"




Badal from Mard
"A vote for Moti is a wasted vote!"




Zippy from Insaniyat
"I wuv you!"




Puppy from Hunterwali
"Leadership you can believe in!"




Chimp in a Fez from Jaani Dost
"I'm throwing my hat in the ring!"




The Terrifying, Adorable Dog from James Bond 777
"Look me in the eye and tell me you're not going to vote for me!"




I've got to say that, when I started this competition, I thought that it was going to be a pretty easy one to call. But that was before I was introduced to such strong contenders as Moti, the weeping serial killer canine from Teri Meherbaniyan and Charles, the breast-fixated, self-launching snake from Doodh Ka Karz, to name just two. Now I think it's fair to say that the field is wide open. All the more reason not to let your certainty of your anipal's shoo-in status render you complacent. Vote! Vote! Vote!

And one final note: Though it might seem that I have preferences of my own in this matter, I swear to undertake my duties as arbiter of this competition in a spirit of complete impartiality. (Oh, and BTW, those of you who would prefer to can send your vote by email to luchadiaries[at]gmail[dot]com -- just make sure to put the word "PEDRO" in the subject line.]

Monday, February 15, 2010

El Charro de las Calaveras (Mexico, 1965)



If you love goofy-ass, poverty row Mexican monster mash-ups like Santo and Blue Demon vs. The Monsters -- and if you don't, have someone check your pulse, seriously -- the horror western mash-up El Charro de las Calaveras has your name written all over it.







In fact, if you love such movies, you owe a gigantic debt to El Charro director Alfredo Salazar, who contributed his screenwriting skills to almost every touchstone film in that exalted sub-genre, from the Aztec Mummy trilogy, to the creature-rich Wrestling Women films, to such standout lucha-goths as Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolfman, to name a mere few.

El Charro marks Salazar's first time taking on the directing responsibilities in addition to writing, coming after a prolific, almost twenty year run working primarily as a screen scribe. He even steps out from behind the camera for an inspired, Hitchcock-style cameo as the hapless victim of a vampire.

The film's title character -- whose name in English translates as "Rider of the Skulls" -- is a masked, Zorro-like figure in a skull-and-crossbones emblazoned shirt who rides the range fighting monsters and supernatural threats whenever they pop up, which appears to be quite frequently. Salazar shot the film in three separate, roughly thirty-minute-long episodes, which might suggest that they were intended for television broadcast, though that's not necessarily the case. The labyrinthine regulations of Mexico's film unions at the time limited certain studios to the making of short subjects, and as a way of circumnavigating said regulations, some studios shot their films as a series of short subjects, only to assemble them into feature length later. In short, this is simply how many movies were shot in Mexico at the time.

Still, some continuity shifts between the segments suggest that they weren't quite filmed back-to-back. There are some very noticeable changes in El Charro's costume between the first segment and the remaining two, as well as a turnover in the actors playing his kid sidekick -- not to mention the fact that El Charro's weight fluctuates radically, going from long and lean to el gordo in a matter of minutes. One unfortunate constant, however, is El Charro's comic relief sidekick, who is on hand for the sole purpose of being too drunk or frightened to be of any use whatsoever whenever danger arises.

El Charro de las Calaveras' key selling point is that it is very generous with its monsters, even though those monsters are uniformly cheap and crappy looking. It's sort of like one of those tourist restaurants that tries to compensate for how awful its margaritas are by serving them in fishbowl sized glasses, only without the resulting nausea and self-loathing. That the film dedicates so much of its screen time to its rubber-faced creatures is a blessing for many reasons, but not the least for the fact that, when it doesn't, it tends to focus on our masked hero just sort of aimlessly cooling his heels, sitting around with his two sidekicks either playing cards or just staring off into the middle distance.

The film's first episode concerns El Charro's efforts to protect a young mother and her son from a rampaging werewolf. It has to be said that he fails pretty spectacularly in this. The werewolf eventually kills the woman. El Charro then gets in a fistfight with the werewolf and loses, after which the werewolf accidentally falls off a cliff while chasing the kid. This episode also features a cackling witch and an oatmeal-faced dead guy who sits up in his grave to deliver some kind of expository information in Spanish.



The next episode follows pretty much the exact same outline as the first, but this time with a bat-headed vampire who strikes all kinds of hilarious "RAAAAR!" poses in the manner of the suburban dad vampire from Santo and Blue Demon contra los Monstruos. This time, although El Charro is once again unable to protect the young woman in his charge -- with the result that she gets bitten and apparently turned into a vampire -- he seems to be able to reverse the damage once the monster is vanquished. This segment also features some excellent transformation sequences involving an over-sized dangly white rubber bat.

The final episode is the weirdest, involving a headless horseman type figure whose head, for some reason, is in the possession of a rich lady who is keeping it in a box. Amusingly, she keeps trying to get rid of it, only to have it pop up again at her bedside, talking to her.





It's also interesting to note, continuity-wise, that this is the first of the episodes to place the action in the present day, with people being shown driving cars and the rich lady lounging in a bathing suit by the pool outside her modern home.

Anyway, the headless horsemen is eventually reunited with his head, after which, with the help of some hooded skeleton guys, he captures El Charro, the lady, and El Charro's comic relief sidekick and holds them captive. Diluting the sense of peril somewhat here is the markedly distracted acting style of some of the supporting players, which really comes to the fore in this sequence. El Charro finally escapes from his bonds and has a sword fight with the now headed horseman, which is hands down the coolest thing that El Charro does in the entire movie. Lastly, I've been trying to resist mentioning how much the headless horseman's head looks like Michael Jackson, but it just does. I'm sorry.



I'm sure that
El Charro de las Calaveras is available on the gray market and from all kinds of torrent sites, but if you would like to enjoy it while giving money to The Man, it is also available on a pretty nice looking new DVD release from Lionsgate/Televisa, paired with another Mexican masked rider movie, El Asesino Enmascarado. It doesn't have English subtitles, but, then again, it really doesn't need them.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A dishoom by any other name: Kaen (Thailand, 197?)



It’s not impossible to find information in English about certain films featuring 1970s Thailand’s premiere screen super-couple Sombat Methanee and Aranya Namwong. It’s just that Kaen isn’t one of them. Thus, as is becoming sadly typical of my reviews of old Thai films, I come to you with an almost complete ignorance of its plot’s finer details.

Fortunately, the broader, more archetypal aspects of Kaen’s story speak a language that I, thanks to my having viewed hundreds of Bollywood films, am well versed in. We have deep interpersonal bonds (between siblings? Childhood friends? I’m not entirely sure.) severed in youth by an act of violence perpetrated by some leering OTT villains, and then those two separated parties rediscovering one another as adults in the course of much unnaturally loud punching as each seeks to avenge the wrongs done to his or her family. We even get a flashback in which we see the younger version of our male hero, seriously wounded, fleeing from the gang that has just massacred his family, only to collapse while crossing a river and be carried to safety by its waters -- safety, naturally, in the form of a kindly stranger who finds his unconscious form washed up on the river bank and decides right then and there to raise him as his own.

So, yes indeed, Kaen could conceivably be considered to be a sort of narratively leaner, Thai version of a “lost and found” style Indian masala film. And it’s not so surprising that such a thing should exist, given both the popularity of Bollywood films in Thailand and the affinities between Thai and Indian culture. But what does it all mean?

It seems to me that the message of the lost-and-found film is that the bonds of family and community exert an irresistible, even magical pull that can neither be weakened by the expanse of time nor broken by even man’s most destructive acts of violence. These stories frequently play out within the context of the type of action-oriented revenge dramas with which Western audiences are well familiar, and, as such, offer up the opportunity to make some interesting comparisons.

Both Indian and Western action films romanticize the figure of the loner, but in Indian films the loner’s state is seen as being a temporary one; in the end, community, rather than isolation, is presented as being the natural state of things. By contrast, in his Western incarnation, the loner, despite whatever connections he might make in the course of his adventures, is often presented as having to “move on” at the end of the day, once again alone and free of entanglements to face what ever challenges lie ahead. And there is usually no explanation for this beyond the implicit understanding between filmmaker and audience -- based, more often than not, on the simple fact that all of us have seen the scenario played out so often that it’s come to assume the weight of established truth -- that this is simply “how it has to be”.

This last approach suggests that such connections are a source of weakness, which is about as far from the Indian lost-and-found film’s point of view as you could get. For an especially blunt allegorical example of this, look no further than the scene in Charas in which the reunited brother and sister played by Dharmendra and Aruna Irani use the handcuffs with which they have been bound as a weapon against their captors -- this physical manifestation of the ties that bind having only made them more formidable as opponents. As Bollywood sees it, the loner, while occasionally presented as the locus of Amitabh-style cool, must always come home -- even if it is, as so frequently happens, in death.

And so, while so much of Kaen’s unsubtitled goings on escape me, I can tell you that in it the characters played by Methanee and Namwong do indeed come home, and in doing so must face the forces that initially tore them asunder. And those forces come in the form of an especially motley gang of thugs -- the kind whose feral machismo drives them to casually beat one another up when they’re not terrorizing others. Of course, I can’t say exactly what it is that this lot is up to, but as they’re presiding over an encampment where what appears to be a small army is being trained for some dire purpose, they obviously must be stopped. And so policeman Methanee and civilian-of-unknown-occupation Namwong -- accompanied by what appear to be two younger, equally martial arts skilled siblings -- set their punch happy, spin-kicking sights upon doing just that.

And if the similarities to a 1970s Bollywood movie aren’t already enough for you, Kaen also manages to shoehorn in a couple of nightclub numbers as musical diversions:





As well as some pretty exuberant examples of 70s hipster fashion:



While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Kaen to my Bollywood loving readers, I will say that viewing it in its available form -- on a VCD struck from the kind of traumatized, deeply striated print that is pretty much par for the course for any Thai film made before the last twenty years -- might at least offer them some consolation as far as their own film preservation based frustrations. (See? It could be even worse, people.) Beyond that, though, until the action-packed finale, the lack of translation makes for a difficult haul.

Sadly, it is things such as this that leave me grasping for elements of formula in old Thai films when I should instead be appreciating them for their avoidance of transparent plotting. I can’t help it, though. And in the case of Kaen, I’m not ashamed to say that there were certain aspects that really made it feel like home.

Friday's best pop song ever

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's the 4DK Animalympics! Round 20



Rambo from Appu Raja

Skill Set: Stealth (for an elephant, I mean), gets high marks for both distance and accuracy in terms of villain-tossing

Rambo doesn't make his entrance until very late in Appu Raja, but, when he does, he ends up playing a very key role. 1980s masala movies take the dispatching of their villains very seriously. A mere bullet in the gut is never enough to settle scores with these cads -- not when so many dastardly deeds have been done, so many families torn apart, and so many virtuous Mother Indias kidnapped and abused. So how about having a giant pachyderm sneak up behind our malefactor, pick him up with his trunk, and toss him into a pen full of hungry lions? Yeah, that ought to do the trick. And note that this movie was made in 1989, so the pop culture reference embodied in our hero's name was no doubt intentional.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Dharmendra vs. drugs: Charas (India, 1976)



It had been a long time since I'd watched a really slam bang Indian action movie from the 70s, and Charas offered up pretty much everything I could ask for in that department. It's the kind of Bollywood movie where everyone has a brightly colored communications console with all kinds of superfluous flashing lights on it it in their office.









See? Even Tom Alter has one. Awesome!

And communicating with them through those consoles are folks who are using pretty much every type of object known to man as something to conceal a communication device within -- shoes, ektaras, even a delicious looking watermelon (I kid you not). On top of that we have Action Dharmendra, conspicuous lair escalation, and enough big name villainry on hand for two masalas. It's an embarrassment of riches, really. Read on!

Dharmendra and Aruna Irani play Suraj and Munni, the son and daughter of wealthy businessman Brindaban, whose work has, for reasons unexplained, necessitated that the family relocate to Uganda. When we first meet them, they are frantically preparing to flee that country and return to India due to the unrest and violence that has erupted. What they don't know is that the man Brindaban has put in charge of his affairs back in India, Kalicharan (Ajit), has sold all of his boss's legitimate business assets for the purpose of investing in his own opium smuggling operation.

Because Kalicharan is played by Ajit, we already know that he is evil. But do we know exactly how evil he is? Well, let me give you some idea. He's so evil that Amjad Khan is his second in command. That's like having The Joker for a valet! And I must say that Amjad is rocking some pretty distinctive looks here -- mostly achieved by the generous application of pomade and face oatmeal, combined with the sartorial sense of an MC for a lower tier regional beauty pageant.





I also must point out that Amjad's character Robert gets the absolute best line in the movie, when, in response to one of Dharmendra's angry proclamations about the karmic retribution that awaits him, he say, "I have never seen a man die because he committed crime!" And then, pointing his rifle at Dharmendra, "I have seen him die after being shot!"

Anyway, after learning of his boss's planned return, Kalicharan dispatches Robert to Africa with orders to kill Brindaban and his entire family. Robert acts upon this directive in record time, making the trip from Bombay to Uganda in what seems like minutes, whereupon he fatally shoots Brindaban before setting fire to the family mansion with Suraj and Munni inside. Suraj manages to escape but is unable to rescue Munni, and so assumes that she has perished. Little does he know that Munni has also escaped, only to be captured by Robert, who takes her back to his psychedelic, undersea-themed nightclub in Malta, where he keeps her strung out on drugs and forces her to do drunken item numbers for the club's white hippie patrons.



Meanwhile, Suraj returns to India, only to learn of Kalicharan's betrayal. Much righteous pointing and hurling of bellowed oaths on Dharmendra's part follows -- the kind of thing that I would once have referred to as "The Full Dharmendra" but I am now forced to merely call "Sultan Rahi Lite", though it is no less awesome for it. Soon afterward, Suraj is contacted by Interpol, who want him to come on board as an agent in their efforts to smash, not just Kalicharan, but all of the scumsucking drug runners who are tarnishing Mother India's good name. Because, as we've seen in other Bollywood movies, the police love to recruit angry, grief-stricken people for delicate undercover operations.

Alongside all of this, we are introduced to "famous actress" Sudha, played by Hema Malini, who we first see performing in an Egyptian-themed production number that is confusingly set to a song about a ballerina. Kalicharan is using a combination of bogus incriminating photographs and threats against Sudha's family to blackmail her into helping him smuggle opium into Europe by concealing packets of the stuff within her dance troupe's traveling sets. Needless to say, it is not long before the paths of Suraj and Sudha meet, with both of them falling for one another while each remaining ignorant of the other's connection to Kalicharan.

What films like Eyes Wide Shut, Gigli and Shanghai Surprise have taught us is that we can't expect an on-screen couple to have sexual chemistry just because they are a couple in real life (especially if one part of that couple is Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck, or Madonna, all of whom its hard to imagine having sexual chemistry with anyone, even if they physically tried to mix their pheromones together in a test tube and held them over a bunsen burner until they created some kind of noxious sex gas). That said, the recently wed Dharmendra and Hema Malini really bring the heat to their scenes together here. In fact, for an Indian film, Charas gets downright racy in the extent to which it goes to show us just how much these two want to jump each others' bones. Of course, Hema is determined to behave like a proper Indian woman, but she's not above letting us now just how difficult that is under the circumstances. When Dharmendra asks if she is avoiding being alone with him because she is afraid of him, she replies, "I am afraid of myself." Given this obvious attraction, when the two finally do get to have their first sort-of-but-not-really-a-kiss at the film's conclusion, it feels especially gratifying and well earned.

In addition to some appealing performances, Charas boasts some pretty impressive production values for a film of its type -- especially if you compare it to some of Dharmendra's earlier action joints from the 70s like Saazish and International Crook, which were both about as chintzy as a movie could be while still being considered a movie at all. (Could this have been the result of a post-Sholay boost in Dharam's popularity?) There are multiple vehicular chases, shot on location in both India and Malta, and rather than simply stealing the footage of the car-being-airlifted-by-a-helicopter sequence from You Only Live Twice -- like cheap old Jugnu did -- Charas actually recreates it, using both a real helicopter and what looks like a real car. And for those moments of spectacle that can't be created in full scale, we have on hand our old friend, Indian FX wiz Babhubai Mistry, to contribute some fun and fairly intricate model work. Also worth mentioning are the sets, such as the Maltese hotel that allows us to see all of both Hema and Dharmendra's rooms via views through adjoining windows, while looking out upon a detailed miniature skyline and canal.

Finally, of course, there are the lairs. And, yes, I'm talking plural, because life for the Indian opium smuggler she is quite obviously very good indeed. Once Kalicharan is forced to flee from his hideout beneath the aforementioned undersea-themed nightclub, he simply switches refuge to a super-lair that's housed beneath a castle on a private island off the coast of Malta. This is mainly represented by a pretty cavernous looking indoor set of a subterranean dock with room for a number of launches and speedboats, overlooked by a catwalk and a system of balconies from which Kalicharan's uniformed minions can fire upon the invading forces of the law lead by Interpol's man in Malta, Tom Alter. In summation, I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that this set blows up real good.

Some masala fans may find Charas to be a bit lacking in heart, but those seeking old fashioned thrills will, I think, find that its heart is in exactly the right place. Sure, Munni and Suraj's eventual reunion is nowhere near as moving as those seen in other lost and found dramas, but once you're treated to the scene in which the two of them desperately flee from Amjad Khan and his goons, and then turn to fight them, all while handcuffed together at the wrist, I don't think you'll care -- as that is simply one of the most gripping action scenes that I've seen in an Indian film of its era.

And that's all that I'm going to tell you about Charas for now, because this is one of those happy occasions on which I can give a film my full recommendation. Not that it's a movie for everyone, mind you. But if it's for you, I'm pretty sure you know who you are.