Friday, October 3, 2008

Lootera (India, 1965)

It's time to dip once again into the filmography of that other professional wrestling champ turned 1960's B movie star--the one who's not from Mexico and doesn't wear a mask--Dara Singh. 1965's Lootera was produced by Raj Kumar Kohli, who, as a director, would later give us the colorful fantasies Nagin and Jaani Dushman (as well as, most recently and notoriously, Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani), and boasts production values a bit more on the lavish side than those of the other Dara Singh vehicles I've watched. There are a number of opulent sets, and the whole business is rendered in glorious Eastman Color.

In fact, this film has a great deal in common with yet another colorful fantasy film made years later, Manmohan Desai's Dharam Veer. As with that film, Lootera's period setting is a dizzying mash-up of both medieval and eighteenth century Europe and ancient Rome, with rebellious galley slaves, high seas pirates and jousting matches in castle courtyards all sharing the same crowded temporal space. To add an extra bit of One Million B.C.-like flavor, Lootera also introduces into the mix a treacherous river of molten lava encircling the kingdom where much of the action takes place. That lava river gets so much play in the first act, with all kinds of people falling or nearly falling into it, that I was sure it would end up playing some dramatic role in the climax, but, sadly, by the time we get to the movie's halfway point, the screenwriters seem to have forgotten that it existed.

Also like Dharam Veer (Which, as I may have mentioned elsewhere, I love. Have I mentioned that I love it? I love it, love it, love it. I -- what? Shut up?), Lootera features a hero named Dharam, a goateed Jeevan as its villain, an upbeat Laxmikant-Pyarelal song score, and a plot involving lost-and-found family drama. On the other hand, what it has that Dharam Veer does not have is the ever-welcome Helen and lots and lots of wrestling, which makes deciding the relative merits of the two difficult. (Hmmm... Dharmendra in a mini-skirt vs. Helen... and wrestling? Lord, give me strength.) In fact, there are enough of Dara Singh's professional wrestling buddies on hand to insure that you will never see anything but regulation holds in any of the film's many scenes of hand-to-hand combat.

Because I watched Lootera without subtitles, I'll refrain from trying to give much in the way of plot synopsis for fear of sounding like this. I'll just say that Dara Singh/Dharam is one of those aforementioned rebellious galley slaves, and that his manly, rebelling ways, while less popular with the rest of the royal family, end up winning him the heart of a beautiful princess, After being thrown into a dungeon to rot, Dara discovers his long lost mom, who is promptly killed while trying to defend him during an escape attempt. Vowing revenge, he flees with the princess, and the two of them embark together on a life of frilly-shirted piracy on the high seas. (Yes, there are lady pirates in this movie, which is awesome.) A lot more stuff happens than that, but I won't even try to parse it, other than to say that there's also a pirate king who, unknown to Dara, is actually his father.

Fortunately, there is enough swashbuckling action, dazzling color, and rousing song in Lootera to render comprehension of its storyline little more than a luxury. In other words, its a nice to have, but not a need to have in terms of making it an enjoyable viewing experience. Actually, there are a few instances where it's probably best not to know why a certain event took place, such as the scene where Dara Singh and his men perform a musical number in drag--while miming to female playback singers, no less. (Which prompts me to return to that earlier question: In an admittedly nauseating match-off between Dharmendra in a mini-skirt and Dara Singh in drag, I'd definitely have to go with Dharmendra.) Add to those previously enumerated charms the gallons of cherry red fake blood that are painted all over everyone and everything during the final battle scene and you've got a formula for pure B movie fun.

What really cinches it for me when it comes to Lootera, though, are the gloriously awful miniature effects. Man, I can't help it. I love old school Bollywood special effects. Those people would have had no qualms whatsoever about depicting the Battle of Orleans with some Weebles and a fort made out of an overturned Happy Meal box. But, wow, talk about the sum being more than its parts:

No one will be able to remain seated during Lootera's spectacular climactic battle.


Anonymous said...

I think I'd just watch Dharam Veer again (although....Helen.....hmmmm).

Thanks for the link to Valerie's blog. I almost died laughing. I'm not sure if her posts are funnier, or the people commenting.

Todd said...

Yes, those fanboys sure do get their shorts in a bunch, don't they? The best responses are to her Star Wars review where she (or whoever it is) states that Star Wars eps. 3-6 were straight-to-dvd sequels to 1-3. You can just see the veins in these people's foreheads bursting.

Anonymous said...

I fell off my chair at that post. Also the Batman one. And I love the illiterate people criticizing her writing. She sent me an email after I wrote a comment saying "Glad you like my blog more than some other people do."