Monday, June 2, 2008

Ganga Ki Saugand (India, 1978)

Ganga Ki Saugand is another one of those movies that I was going to watch eventually no matter what. It's an Amitabh Bachchan action thriller from his peak year of 1978 that not only pairs him with his greatest onscreen foe, Amjad Khan, but also with one of his greatest leading ladies, Rekha, and also features a score by the fantastic Kalyanji Anandji (Don, Qurbani, Bombay 405 Miles, etc.). And it's got Pran in it. That it still manages to be pretty mediocre just goes to show that there was no surefire formula when it came to these movies, though one suggestion might have been to not poop them out with such alarming frequency (this is just one of at least nineteen movies that the Big B appeared in between 1977 and 1979) and instead focus more on things like maintaining consistent narrative momentum and making sure that those things that are interesting about your film get more play than those things that aren't. Just a thought.

Things do pick up a lot during the last hour when Amitabh finally makes the transformation from village simpleton with a funny haircut to badass dacoit with a manly 'stache. It must also be said that Amjad Khan, for all his many dastardly turns, comes off as a particularly nasty little shit here, playing a thakur who banishes his own mom when she threatens to come between him and his apparent plan to rape every innocent young girl on his estate. Pran also has a nice role as a noble untouchable with a proverb for every occasion. My favorite line of his -- and I liberally paraphrase -- is when he tells a corrupt priest that bathing in the Ganges won't make him any purer because, after all, the fish that swim in it everyday don't stink any less.

Because it lacks the urban setting that would occasion some of their funkier freak-outs, K-A's score is relatively subdued, though still features some nice tunes. My favorite among these is a choice example of the "Prophetic Item Number", which is picturized in classic style. Khan's Jaswant Singh is simply too arrogant and filled with self regard to realize that the nautch girl is singing about what a douche he is and the terrible fate that awaits him, but Jeevan, playing one of his minions, keeps making these "Oh no, she di'n't" faces.

Ganga Ki Saugand ends with an Amitabh vs. The Airplane scene that presages the finale of Toofan, though it is in no way as wicked awesome (Amitabh refrains from going airborne). Still it does lead to a great/awful miniature shot in which a toy plane putatively containing Amjad Khan crashes into the Ganges. This conclusion underlines one of the picture's main themes: the Ganges as ultimate equalizer, making a mockery of man's systems of caste and class with it's unbiased giving and taking of life. I didn't hate Ganga Ki Saugand, and, if I hadn't come to it hoping for something brisk and funky along the lines of Be-Sharam, I might have enjoyed it more. Still it wasn't a star-on-the-calendar moment in terms of my ongoing relationship with Amitabh. Maybe next time.

No comments: