Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Maha Badmaash (India, 1977)

I was convinced that I needed to see Maha Badmaash for myself by the brilliant, Comics Digest style recap of it over at MemsaabStory -- despite Memsaabstory coming far short of recommending it, of course. It's a film filled with mystery, intrigue, and, unfortunately, naked racism potent enough to make your head snap back like a well-aimed haymaker. It is also a film that features an early instance of a Bollywood villain being named Mogambo. Because of that -- and in disregard of all of the evidence to the contrary that Maha Badmaash presents -- I decided to view the movie as a prequel to 1987's Mr. India, as if Mogambo were Hindi cinema's answer to Hannibal Lecter. However, it's likely that the real truth of the matter is that someone thought Mogambo was simply too good of a villain name to use only once. Or, like me, they just liked hearing people say "Mogambo" a lot.

The Mogambo of Maha Badmaash is a villain whose identity, motives, and plans are not revealed until the movie's final moments, presenting the filmmakers with quite a challenge in terms of having to convince us, their audience, that we should give a toss in the first place -- and it's a challenge that they ultimately prove unable to meet. Whatever scheme Mogambo has in mind, however, the one thing that is clear is that he really wants Vinod Khanna's Ratan -- a renowned "thug" and operator of a Bombay casino -- to carry it out. To this end, he sends forth from his African hideout his "black" henchman, Mamba, who is portrayed by Indian actor Rajan Haksar sporting an afro wig, fake muttonchops and green face paint.

Ratan has a right-hand-man named Reddy who is a pure idiot, and, when Mamba shows up at the casino, he is quick to notify Ratan of the presence of a "negro" in his establishment. (Granted, I am relying on the English subtitles here, and given the Yoda-like syntax that they display throughout the film, I certainly wouldn't vouch for the accuracy of their translation.) Ratan is quick to unmask Mamba as a card cheat, and violently ejects him from the casino -- while, according to the subs, repeatedly referring to him as "black man". Later, Mamba is found murdered, and Mogambo, now in Bombay, uses photographs of Ratan's confrontation with the man to blackmail him into carrying out his mysterious plan. For the task of overseeing the rigorous training that Ratan must undergo in preparation for this mission -- which mostly involves him holding his breath for a long time and sitting in a deep freeze -- Mogambo recruits Pinky (Neetu Singh), another innocent whom he has coerced into service by dastardly means.

Though quite short at just two hours, Maha Badmaash still seems to spend a lot of its middle section spinning its wheels, and once the caper that it has not been doing a very good job of building anticipation for finally transpires, it turns out to be pretty much of a letdown. There aren't even any crappy miniatures on display to give it that Parvarish-like something extra. On top of that, the confusion of identities that results from the introduction into the plot of twins and numerous red herrings, rather than providing that loopy masala movie sense of fun that we might hope for, only ends up taxing our ability to care.

As far as the look of the movie, I know that I've repeatedly used phrases like "comic book palette" and "cartoon color scheme" to describe 1970s Bollywood movies, so I won't go there. I'll just say, in all honesty, that there were parts of Maha Badmaash that literally made my eyes hurt. The film contains combinations of pink and green that simply never should have happened. On the plus side, the driving, guitar twang-heavy instrumental score by Ravindra Jain is outstanding, and, for the ladies, there's a nice scene of Vinnod Khanna in tight swimming trunks. You can save yourself a lot of pain and rage by simply checking out the clip of it on YouTube here. (Don't say I never did you any favors, y'all.)

So Maha Badmaash brought the hurt, but it was a pain that I endured for the greater good of achieving a wider knowledge of 1970s Bollywood action cinema -- a pursuit that has, on balance, provided me with far more pleasure than it has agony. I guess sometimes you just have to take the hits.

And Robert Downey Jr. as "Mamba"


Anonymous said...

Heh. Can't say I didn't warn you. But the beauty of 70s Bollywood (I know I say this ad nauseum, but it's still true) is that there's almost ALWAYS something entertaining in there amongst the dreck.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I just had this in my shopping cart at Shemaroo! But then I remembered how I'd already spent $150 more on movies than I meant to this summer.

I did rush right to that clip, and I'm both delighted and horrified. (As the 70s does to us, as Memsaab says.)

Todd said...

I'm not sure why I love 1970s Bollywood movies so much--yes, even the bad ones. Maybe it's because--by way of their crazy, funhouse mirror reflection of the times--they somehow validate my sneaking suspicion that the seventies played a large part in me being the pitiable, twisted soul that I am today.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

70s Bollywood can do no real wrong in my book. Great stars, fun and generous plots, super music, whacked out aesthetics. What could be better?

Todd said...

Beth, I think that pretty much sums it up. Except you forgot to mention all the fake kung fu.

Anonymous said...

Kung fu punctuated by the sound of dishum-dishum :-)

I think you are right about the validation reminder too.

Todd said...

Which reminds me: One of the many things that Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani taught me is that dishum-dishum even occurs under water.