Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tuesday Feroz Khan two-fer: Chunaoti and Dharmatma

Chunaoti (India, 1980)

Chunaoti is another Feroz Khan/Danny Dezongpa curry western following in the bootprints of Kaala Sona and Khotte Sikkay. It also stars Dharmendra in what is billed as a "Dynamic Special Appearance". I think that means "In a wig". It also might mean, "Hey, Dharmendra has a break from that movie he's shooting across the way -- can we squeeze him into this one somehow?", because his character seems pretty superfluous and somewhat awkwardly tacked onto the proceedings.

This film definitely comes out the least in comparison to its aforementioned predecessors thanks to its pasted-together feel and some fairly anemic plotting. Basically, Feroz, Dharmendra and Neetu Singh are all out to get Danny Dezongpa's bandit character, Ajay Singh, and somehow manage to take two hours and forty-five minutes to do it, despite him not appearing all that elusive or inaccessible. Of course, a simple story like this can be satisfying when fleshed out with interesting character development and relationship arcs -- but, sadly, Sholay this is not.

Feroz here plays a pious, teetotaling bounty hunter, which is a lot less fun than the hard-drinking, hellraising Feroz so readily available in other masala movies from this period. Just how saintly is he? Well, pilgrim, he's so saintly that all the proceeds from his man-hunting go toward the upkeep of an orphanage built with his own sweat and blood (as well as, I imagine, some more conventional building materials -- not that I mean to cast doubt upon the mortar-like hardiness of Feroz's manly secretions). This orphanage provides the film with a Mr. India-like surfeit of cloyingly adorable urchins for the purpose of further demonstrating what a great guy Feroz is. One of the orphans is named "Chimpu", which is cool because, you know.. ha ha! Chimpu!

Rounding out the cast, Dharmendra -- in a wig, remember -- plays a reformed bandit who is trying to make an honest living farming the land and Neetu Singh plays a sort of Annie Oakley character out to get revenge for the murder of her parents. On the plus side, the two-fisted, tough girl role affords Neetu the opportunity to dole out a good share of the dishoom dishoom, which is pretty entertaining. Also, the fact that Danny Dezongpa and his female second-in-command are both masters of disguise adds a cool Fantomas-like touch to their otherwise pretty rote villain portrayals. Still, on the whole, the film is pretty forgetta... wait, what was I talking about?

Dharmatma (India, 1975)

Feroz Khan's directing debut, Dharmatma, is the actor's re-imagining of The Godfather, and, as such, corrects for Francis Ford Coppola's oversight in not including any motorcycle stunts in the original. The similarities to Dharmatma's source material are easy to see, as long as you can imaging a version of The Godfather in which Michael Corleone spends the middle third of the movie in Afghanistan chasing around gypsy girls and fighting with Danny Dezongpa.

This aforementioned middle act was, admittedly, a bit slow going for me, but once Feroz gets back to India and is seeking revenge for his father's murder by a rival gang we kick into exactly the type of non-stop, crazy action that the director/star delivered so plentifully in his classic Qurbani. Backing up Feroz in this endeavor is none other than Dara Singh himself in a very-special-guest-starring turn as the Godfather's chief enforcer. The highlight for me, however, was Ranjeet and Sudhir playing hitmen for the rival gangleader (Jeevan), cousins who wear a breathtaking range of matching outfits -- from baby-sized black mesh shirts to aqua sportsjackets worn over bare chests. Ranjeet alone is enough of a sartorial sideshow for any movie, so just imagine him in duplicate.

*Poster image from thehotspotonline.com


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen Chunaoti and it looks like I don't need to bother unless I run out of Hindi films someday (which doesn't seem likely since they've been made for seven decades before I even discovered them).

I have seen Dharmatma, but don't remember much about it. Isn't Helen in it too? I love me some Ranjeet though, he's a fave.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I was surprised by a few things in Dharmatma. It was my first Feroz Khan film, so I didn't know how bad an actor the man is when he isn't punching people or combing his chest hair.
I was equally surprised by the fact the he really isn't a bad director. I like directors who try to film everything from the weirdest angle possible. Feroz seems to have a natural talent for this.
Also a positive surprise was the fact that Rekha's rape didn't at once lead to her suicide. I'd nearly speak of an unwillingness of the film (Khan?)to victimize her (while of course still victimizing her - why are all B-films so complicated?).

Todd said...

Wait, was that Rekha who got raped? I thought it was some other actress who promptly disappeared afterward. I'm sooo confused (and sooo obviously wasn't paying as much attention as I should have).

Another thing I'm confused about is Helen's role in this movie. She's credited, but appears only very briefly -- and I would swear that, during that sequence, it's not even her in some of the shots.

What I DO know is that, yes, Feroz indeed has an eye for interesting compositions -- and Ranjeet, he is the MF'n man. Someday I need to go back through the DVDs I own of Ranjeet's movies and make screen caps of all of his outfits.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I'm reasonably sure it was Rekha, else I wasn't paying attention. Otherwise the scene would have been even more pointless.

Oh, I wasn't sure about Helen being all Helen, too, so we must be right. ;)

Todd said...

Okay, and on the subject of this whole Helen thing: Is it just that I happen to be becoming sensitized to this, or did that kind of haphazard sloppiness just begin to creep into Bollywood films during the seventies? I mean, I don't recall ever seeing any Guru Dutt or V. Shantaram movies in which the actors' hair styles and ages changed radically from shot to shot -- and I certainly don't recall ever seeing one of their films in which the actual actor playing a part changed in the course of a single scene.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

It's a theory worth keeping in mind at least. I haven't seen anything like that in films made before the Seventies at least...
If we are right, the next question must be: why the hell did that happen!?

Anonymous said...

Earlier films (40s/50s and even 60s) were much better continuity-wise.

I think the 70s were tough financially and lots of corners were cut :-) I just watched a film from 1943 and the sets and costumes were unbelievably gorgeous.

Todd said...

Yes, Prithvi Vallabh looks pretty amazing! My personal selectivity probably skews my judgment on this matter a bit. A large number of the films from the fifties and sixties that I've watched are the acknowledged classics (Awara, Mother India, etc.), while my taste in seventies movies definitely veers toward the trashy end of the spectrum. Still, I've also got to wonder whether, coinciding with a cutting of corners budget-wise, there was also an increase in the number of films being produced during the seventies. I know that the actors and crew -- unlike typical Hollwood personnel -- would work on more than one film at a time, and an increase in the number of films being worked on would also account for a greater incidence of continuity errors and other problems resulting from larger lapses in time between filming.

Of course, I could probably look this information up somewhere -- perhaps in one of those "books" that I read about occasionally on the internet. But, in typical fashion, I'd rather just speculate blindly on the matter and hope that someone more knowledgeable comes along to set me straight.;)