Sunday, April 14, 2013

Madam X (India, 1994)

At some point in her career it was determined that Rekha, one of Bollywood’s more elegant and doll-like heroines, was the ideal centerpiece for outrageously gay female driven action vehicles. This is a good thing, because it gave us Khoon Bhari Maang, a film in which Rekha became a supermodel in order to get revenge against the men who threw her face first into a crocodile. Rekha honestly doesn’t do much for me in traditional leading lady roles, but I just love her in these pictures, where all she has to do is declaim dialog while modeling insane outfits and making crazy eyes.

Take her titular character in Madam X, for instance, a clotheshorse super villain who comes off like Mogambo by way of Lady Gaga. And while a gender reversed version of Mr. India would be a mighty fine idea on its own, Madam X goes several better by giving us a gender reversed version of Don. This is India after all, where, according to the movies, everyone is made in pairs, even if they don’t often realize it until it becomes narratively advantageous. Yes, you can rest assured that, before Madam X has exhausted itself, you will see Rekha vs. Rekha action accomplished via awkwardly composed process shots. And your life will be changed (though perhaps not as much as by the dueling Jyothi Laxmis in James Bond 777).

When we meet Madam X, she is in the process of stealing literally all of the gold, because that seems to be her thing. She has been at this racket long enough to become an obsession on the part of police Inspector Vijay (Mohsin Khan), who has dedicated himself to her case to the extent of neglecting his young marriage to Nita (Kiran Juneja). Vijay hopes to unravel the wider criminal network of which Madam X is a part, which we see also includes a cross dressing Shakti Kapoor. While perhaps not as larcenous, the Madam could also be found guilty of empire building in her closet; No matter how frequent her costume changes, you soon realize that you will never see every cape, cowl, turban, epaulette or veil in her wardrobe.

For Vijay, the claws really come out when Nita steps between him and a bullet Madam X had intended for him, dying as a result. A spectacular kung fu battle comprised of mostly leaping and quick cuts follows, and Vijay comes out the better after, I think, getting Madam X’s hair wet. We next see that Vijay has got Madam chained up in some remote spot, and that she is howling and caterwauling like a Pakistani she beast. Now, this is where most movies would “go dark”, but Madam X is not in touch enough with its own debased heart for that, so Vijay just hits the streets in hope of finding a means of extracting his pronouncedly uncooperative prisoner's secrets. He finds it when he stumbles upon Sonu (Rekha again!), a carefree juice wallah who happens to look exactly like Madam X.

Anyone who has seen either version of Don knows what follows from this point. Sonu’s position as caretaker of a crippled younger brother makes her especially susceptible to the promise of financial reward that Vijay offers, even though she is only qualified for the treacherous undercover mission by dint of pluck. Then comes the rigorous training and the mission itself, plagued by constant threat of exposure. And then, of course, because Sonu and Vijay are proximate humans of opposite genders in a Bollywood movie, they fall in love. This leads to a Dali-esque interlude during which Vijay plays a grand piano by a lakeside while Rekha dances around in one of her gigantic outfits.

There are reasons that the 90s weren’t known as the age of restraint in Bollywood, and Madam X demonstrates this by including more than a few scenes that look like they were lit by shining a klieg light at a disco ball, along with an overabundance of music cues that sound like the intro to “Beat It”. And, really, all of that is somehow appropriate. After all, you can’t say it undermines what would otherwise be a subtle character study. Madam X, like its furiously pantomiming star, should be sheathed in loud, glittery raiments like the queen it is. This is especially true given that English subtitles for it are hard to come by, and it’s actually helpful to have it furiously waving its arms at you the whole while. Not that subs wouldn’t be nice, mind you; From what I can see the dialog has to be priceless.


memsaab said...

Madam Rekha is so good when she's bad :)

Banno said...

Oh really good. Madam X and Rekha. I agree, she is wasted in her other typical heroine roles.

Todd said...

Thanks, Memsaab, Banno. Obviously, I agree. I want to see more of evil drag queen Rekha.