Sunday, October 20, 2013

Zakhmee (India, 1975)

Zakhmee proves a good example of how Bollywood’s strict moral code clangored against its mandate to provide its audience with thrills and glamor. The film’s protagonists, two sanctimonious paragons of virtue played by Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh, are boring. To compensate, director Raja Thakur and all involved take pains to show us just how much fun those on the other side of the moral divide are having. And, hey, given that the formula damns all of them to meet with their richly deserved karmic comeuppance by the final curtain, what’s the harm in it?

In the film, Dutt plays Anand, who is framed for the murder of his crooked partner by uber baddie Tiger (Imtiaz). Because Tiger has threatened his family, Anand stays mum and is thrown in jail to await trial. His well meaning but hapless younger brothers Amar (Rakesh Roshan) and Pawan (Tariq) are nonetheless convinced of his innocence. Armed with more enthusiasm than intelligence or cogent planning, the two decide to pursue the judge in the case, Ganguly (Iftekhar). They first attempt this by unsuccessfully trying to woo the judge’s free spirited daughter Nisha (Reena Roy), who turns out to be a hot pants wearing, motorcycle riding young hellion. When an attempt to bribe the judge directly by shoving handfuls of cash at him ends in them having to throw themselves from a moving car, they decide to instead simply kidnap Nisha in return for Anand’s release. This plan backfires when Nisha, by all appearances, is delighted to be kidnapped, seeming to take a shine to both of her hapless captors, Amar in particular.

Zakhmee marks the young Tariq’s return to the screen after being introduced by his Uncle, director Nassir Hussain, in 1973’s phenomenally successful Yaadon Ki Baaraat. It’s easy to see why stardom never seemed to take to Tariq -- or perhaps him to it -- while at the same time recognizing in him a quirky, bug eyed appeal, one that is put to very good use in Zakhmee. He has a puppyish quality that makes the spectacle of him and Amar trying to pass themselves off as hardened kidnappers one that can’t help but bear comic fruit, especially when that pair is pitted against a gleefully volatile cat girl in the mold of Reena Roy’s Nisha. As a result, director Thakur is wise to devote much of the film’s screen time to this trio’s antics -- not the least because their forays into Nisha’s day glo nocturnal world offer some of the film’s most wildly colorful moments.

And colorful moments there indeed are, such that a diaphonously gowned Helen doing a go-go dance to Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” on the leering Tiger’s bed is reduced to a mere sidelight. At The Eagle, the nightclub where Roy’s Nisha hangs out, both she and the all girl band rock out frenziedly to a Bappi Lahiri composition called “Nothing is Impossible” which, despite being chaotic to the point of being nonmusical, is nonetheless infectious and debauchedly celebratory while affording Tariq the opportunity to reprise some of his wigged out flailing from Yaadon ki Baaraat. Then we have the expected lair showcase when the otherwise conventional masala plot sees the vengeful villains kidnap Anand’s entire family and imprison them within their decadent digs. Unfortunately for them, the fact that they have included Nisha in their captive roll call insures that they have sewn the seeds less of revenge than of their own resounding ass kicking.

And by the way, if this isn’t Reena Roy’s shining moment as an action heroine, I have a lot of catching up to do. One need only witness Nisha’s entrance during the climactic brawl, crashing her motorcycle through a picture window to then whomp every minion in her path while popping some mean wheelies, to wonder why it is Dutt, rather than her, that gets top billing. Furthermore, this same sequence incorporates a clothes ripping, Sapphic cat fight between Roy and Helen that’s kinky even by the furiously sublimating standards of old Bollywood. Clearly, Zakhmee should stand beside Nagin as an essential representation of this underappreciated starlet’s unique talents and appeal.

With the aforementioned colorful lairs, wild costuming (check out the mesh peek-a-boo windows on the shirts worn by Tiger’s minions), frenetic action, Helen as a classic moll turned angel of death, and tantalizing glimpses of a pop-driven psychedelic demimonde, Zakhmee is no game changer in the world of 1970s Indian action cinema, but it certainly provides almost everything you might want from it. Just don’t pay too much attention to those nice people who are its ostensible protagonists; it is within Reena Roy’s shiny go-go boots that this film’s trashy, pulp addled heart truly lies.


Beth Watkins said...

This is one of those films that keeps my faith in the limitless numbers of yet-to-be-discovered-by-me treasures of Indian cinema. I hadn't heard of it til two years ago and then instantly could not understand why I hadn't known of it. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE, ZAKHMEE?

A friend was recently stressing about a meeting with Rakesh Roshan and I advised that keeping "Nothing Is Impossible" in mind during it would surely provide the right attitude for approaching a major industry figure.

Todd said...

I didn't hear of it until about six months ago. Why has Zakhmee been hiding from us? Perhaps it's shy?

Gialloman and DontIgnoreMe said...

does the DVD have subtitles?

Todd said...

Yes. I watched this on the Shemaroo DVD, which has English subs.