Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lady James Bond (India, 1980)

Given that its priority is to arrange its heroine -- Telegu “erotic” film star Silk Smitha -- into as many crotch-flaunting action poses as possible, Lady James Bond doesn’t have much time for exposition. Instead what we get is a montage of a bunch of stuff blowing up -- buildings, a toy helicopter, a train -- before going to a bunch of grave looking suits sitting around a conference table. These guys huff and puff for a bit before declaring that the only person for the job is “Lady James Bond”. And, yes, they really do call her “Lady James Bond” (“Lady” for short).

As I pointed out earlier, in a review of Smitha’s Toofan Rani, Indian dirty movies -- especially when compared to the sexploitation output of other nations’ film industries -- are not really all that dirty. Missing, for instance, are sex of either the simulated or actual variety, as is any kind of exposure of the naughty bits, both of which, I imagine, are deal breakers to those who come to it with plans for an evening’s self pleasuring. Indeed, if any of you came to this blog in hopes of reading about a movie that does feature those elements, I suggest you instead head over to my write-up of the movie where Isabel Sarli cradles her own boobs for 95% of her time on screen.

However, if you are of a different bent and simply want to be offended by Lady James Bond, it has much in store for you. I refer here, primarily, to a dance number in which Smitha sports full blackface -- well, black everything, really -- and writhes around as the musicians accompanying her, actual black people, are shown leering in exaggerated close-up to accentuate their scary otherness. Southern India’s tribal peoples are also given rather shoddy representation, to say the least. Oh, and lest I forget to mention: what films like Lady James Bond offer in place of actual sex is a point of view for which the term “the male gaze” is too genteel a description -- as in, they give interested parties an opportunity to observe women from vantage points that, in a just society, would get them slapped or arrested were they to attempt them on the train platform or sidewalk.

Anyway, given that narrow agenda, director and writer P. Chandrasekhar Reddy puts an admirable amount of effort into ensuring that Lady James Bond contains all the boilerplate trappings of a spy film of its era (not to mention providing a showcase for a lot of interesting 70s Modern architecture). To wit, we have an older, professorial type in possession of a coveted brief case containing a file marked “SPECIAL RESEARCH REPORT”, which certain parties will do anything -- anything! -- to get their hands on. Chief among those doing the coveting is a mysterious, lap cat stroking villain whom his underlings only refer to as “Superior”. There is some mystery surrounding Superior’s identity, but out of a reluctance to spoil Lady James Bond, I will only give you a hint: He has a mustache. Granted, this is a Telegu film, so I can pretty much guaranty that everyone involved but Silk Smitha and the makeup lady had a mustache, so take that for what it’s worth.

Reddy also introduces a truckload of characters into the mix. As one has come to expect, the professor comes complete with an attractive niece (I think) named Indu, whose luxuriously permed boyfriend, Kapil, turns out to be another spy with his sights set on the “SPECIAL RESEARCH REPORT”. This pair is introduced in a musical number so eye shredding that it reads like a rap sheet of all of the 80s’ worst aesthetic offenses. This brings me to Lady James Bond’s music, which is a curious and haphazard mix of orchestral and electronic sounds. It’s as if someone drunkenly took scissors to a traditional Bollywood score and then filled the resulting gaps with a random tone generator. The film’s credits, which are written in Telegu script, deny me the name of the perpetrator, but, if I could smell music, my guess would be that Disco Dancer’s Bappi Lahiri was somehow involved.

Following along with the template, Smitha’s Lady JB, upon being named the ideal person for the case, is immediately set upon by goons. This conveniently takes place while she is having a swim, meaning she is clad in the type of swimsuit any woman would deem ideal for partaking in a kung fu fight involving many undercarriage-revealing high kicks. Lady then flees the pool, only to have the goons assailing her turn from what could reasonably be called a “passel” to an army, which leads one to wonder exactly whose pool she was swimming in. After this, she is assigned to guard over the Professor’s family and the much desired brief case, setting the stage for the many, many goon battles that will make up most of the remainder of Lady James Bond’s running time.


As she proved in Toofan Rani, Smitha, while every inch the glamor girl, is well up to the demands of the pure action film that Lady James Bond is at its core. Setting aside the many instances of obvious wire and trampoline work, she fights convincingly, seemingly channeling a lot of anger in doing so, and sports an icy glare that is perfectly suited to staring down the barrel of a drawn pistol. Basically, she effectively combines the appearance of being eternally pissed off with a powerful, big-boned physical presence, much as her forebear Jyothi Laxmi, also the star of a film called Lady James Bond, did a decade earlier. Still, it must be said that, while the action in Lady James Bond is plentiful, it is also somewhat repetitive, mainly, I think, due to the limitations placed upon Smitha by the need to rely so heavily on scissor kicks.

In Lady James Bond’s final act, Lady and Kapil team up to lay siege to Superior’s lair, which, once revealed, appears to be a public school building dolled up with fascist iconography. First, however, unfilled screen time and racism decree that they must be kidnapped by a bunch of ooga-booga savages standing in for tribals. This scenario provides for Smitha to be tied to a tree and have most of her clothes ripped off by the natives, after which she intoxicates them with a lascivious jungle dance. This, of course, is meant to entice us, the dupes at home, into anticipating, against all empirical logic, that we might actually get to see Silk Smitha getting it on with a muscular black dude. In a pig’s eye.

Given current sensitivities, there are no doubt many people who would prefer to see a film like Lady James Bond launched into the sun and forgotten forever. For the more recalcitrant bros among you to understand that, simply imagine Daniel Craig being obligated by the mere fact of having a dick to pause his Bondian exploits at regular intervals to splay his legs toward the camera. One must also consider that, as with Pashto horrors like Haseena Atom Bomb, the suggestion that its intended male audience could be satisfied by such juvenile panty peeping speaks to a level of sexual benightedness that is almost as poignant as it is pathetic.

The fact stands, however, that Lady James Bond, like the rest of Silk Smitha’s filmography, is trash ennobled by tragedy. It’s a shame that it took Smitha’s suicide at the age of 35 for us to see her today, rather than as just “the chick in that movie”, as a human being who suffered just as we do on our less lucky days. Still, to automatically see Lady James Bond as inseparable from the sad trajectory of her life would be to heap further undeserved indignities upon her name. Smitha had a life and history independent of her status as a future Bollywood casualty as surely as she did from her career as a star of sexy movies. If she comes across to us as anything less, it is the reductivism implicit in the whole movie star/fan compact that’s likely to blame.

In light of all that, how is the beleaguered blogger, having assigned himself the task of reviewing Lady James Bond, to neatly wrap things up? Perhaps he should respect its star by calling it for what it is: a junky little film that, in being totally idiotic, is sometimes very enjoyably so. Now let’s let the poor woman rest, shall we?

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