Friday, April 10, 2009

Pistolwali (India, 1972)

Rejoice, world, for Pistolwali is a film filled with violence, raunchy go-go dancing, towering pompadours, even more violence (with gore), and garage guitar music. "Oh, then," I can hear you saying. "It must be one of those crazy, Telugu language, female revenge films from southern India." And your assumption is correct. Tollywood has struck again.

It feels strange to use the word "restraint" in any connection with 1970s Bollywood cinema, but it is exactly that, in degree, that most distinguishes films of Pistolwali's type from the action films that were being produced in India's filmmaking capital at the time. In the case of Pistolwali -- as with the previously reviewed Kaun Sachha Kaun Jhoota -- all efforts seem to have been expended to insure that the finished product would be nothing less than a chaotic and blood-soaked live action cartoon. No amount of under-cranked camera work, apparently, could be over-used toward the end of speeding up the numerous fights and chase scenes, nor of the use of fisheye lenses to accent the grotesquerie of a villain's face or send bodies hurling toward the audience. Furthermore, the camera is unafraid to go places that Bollywood cameramen might shy away from, often nestling in the crotches of the actors as if mounted on the head of an over-friendly dog.

The action in Pistolwali is correspondingly outlandish. At one point the villains, rather than simply stealing a woman from her bed, instead hitch her bed up to their horses and drag it and her out of her home and across the prairie, her screaming in protest throughout while still tucked snugly into her bedclothes. The actors contribute to this general state of over-ness by mugging and gesticulating to a degree seldom seen since the silent era. And this is not to mention the abandon with which they throw themselves into the plentiful stunt sequences -- a quality that, to my mind, makes these films just as close kin to the action films being made in Turkey at the time as they are to those being made in Bollywood. In fact, I think there could be no better demonstration of the aforementioned differences between these two branches of Indian cinema than to compare Sadhana's daintily staged fight scenes in Geetaa Mera Naam -- a film that, I'm now realizing, owes a heavy debt of inspiration to these woman-centric Telegu revenge films -- to the frenzied smack downs participated in by Pistolwali's female star, Jyothi Laxmi.

Laxmi, while far from a classic beauty, definitely has the whole ugly-sexy thing working for her. Our introduction to her, in which she does a hip-thrusting hoochie coochie while splashing around in a revealing -- by Indian cinema standards -- swimsuit, is not one to soon be discarded from memory. This is an actress who is an ultra-curvy example of 100% pure womanhood, and were she ever to meet with an unfortunate, Planet Terror-style accident, she could no doubt employ the whole of Keira Knightley as a peg leg. These generous proportions not only make her a welcome sight, but also lend a considerable amount of credibility to those scenes in which she is seen lustily hurling her male opponents about like so many pompadoured ragdolls.

Laxmi, while also a much in demand item girl, headlined quite a few of these Tollywood thrillers during the late sixties and seventies, a number of them for Pistolwali's director, K.S.R. Doss. These include the alluringly titled Lady James Bond, as well as a remake of Indian stunt queen Fearless Nadia's breakthrough film Hunterwali. (Pistolwali is also a remake of an old stunt film -- this time not starring Nadia -- that was released under the same title in 1942.) Director Doss was also responsible for the awesome-sounding revenge flick Rani Mera Naam, a vehicle for Kaun Sachha Kaun Jhoota star Vijaya Lalitha. Based on all of the above, you can rest assured that Doss and Laxmi are two figures whom we will be hearing much more about in the pages of 4DK.

One mild word of consumer warning for those wanting to seek out Pistolwali: Despite her prominent billing on the VCD packaging and in most internet listings for the film, Helen's appearance here is limited to one mid-film item number. That number, however, is a real keeper, more for the strange way in which it is edited and shot than for Helen's actual performance, though the translucent blue contact lenses she's wearing certainly make their contribution to the weirdness. Those with a more unsavory interest in Helen will also be pleased by the prevalence of friendly-dog-cam used in this sequence. Elsewhere, aside from an odd, Egyptian-themed number spotlighting Laxmi, the film's song picturizations are fairly stripped down. And while the songs themselves are suitably peppy, the real aural highlights are to be found in the film's background score, a fuzz-toned amalgam of Spaghetti Western guitar twang and farfisa-driven garage rock, with just enough Indian flavor thrown in to keep you from becoming hopelessly disoriented.

I must confess that, as much as I enjoyed Pistolwali, its sugar rush pacing and cyclical fight-chase-fight structure did eventually leave me feeling a bit fatigued. However, as my Tollywood hangover dissipates in the cool light of day, I find myself already looking forward to my next encounter with the work of Ms. Laxmi and Mr. Doss. As with all of those movies that I most enjoy covering on this site, these are films that, while cobbled together from familiar elements, offer an experience that cannot quite be duplicated by any other branch of world cinema. Their uniqueness alone is enough to warrant repeat visits, if only to re-verify that such a thing actually exists in the world.


Anonymous said...

Looks deliciously nappy! :D

sunil said...

often nestling in the crotches of the actors as if mounted on the head of an over-friendly dog.

That's such a wonderfully nice way to say something that used to make me physically ill watching snippets of them. :)

If Lady James Bond sounds good,
what about Hasina Atom Bomb (Ms Atom Bomb)? or my personal favorite for innovative title: Chinese Kama Sutra?

sunil said...

Did they bust out the zoom-in/zoom-out-from-the-crotch technique?

Todd said...

It looks like I'm about to finally get my hands on a copy of Hasina Atom Bomb. And believe me, when I do, you'll hear all about it.

Thankfully, Pistolwali doesn't feature any of those "whoo whoo" zooms on a person's whoo whoo that are so beloved by Lollywood. The camera just tends to park itself in that region like the aforementioned friendly Fido.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

1) You might be pleased to know that when I googled the title of this film, looking for videos, your site is the first to come up!

2) I want videos.

3) Maybe you answer this elsewhere on the site and I'm reading in the wrong order, but if one were to start investigating historical Tollywood, where might one begin?

Todd said...

1) That's great. Unless, of course, Jyothi Laxmi comes across it, somehow takes offense, and then wipes up the floor with me like some kind of pathetically pleading human swiffer.

2) YouTube has just proved itself completely useless. As if it hadn't already.

3) That's an excellent question -- one that I would love an answer to myself. Because the information I've found is pretty sketchy and usually just limited to whatever film I'm writing about at the time. If anyone has any suggestions for sources of such information, I'd love to hear them

Nagesh Kumar CS said...

Todd, You MUST watch Jaganmohini, another Telugu film starring Jyothi laxmi's 'buxom-er' sister Jayamalini...You Must and then write a review, if possible...LOL

Todd said...

That does indeed sound hard to resist, Nagesh. I'll have to seek it out.

Violet in Twilight said...

Yes, Jaganmohini is way more famous and have great special effects too. But look for old one (1978). I hear that new one is less on awesome, more on sleaze (and not in a so-bad-good way). Actually, all Vitalacharya (director) movies deserve a look.

RE: Historical Tollywood, has an overview up to 50s. But most of the reviews/history is in Telugu.

I think for the initiation in to popular Telugu cinema, one can't go wrong with movies starring

NTR (Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao Sr.), ANR (Akkineni Nageswara Rao), Krishna,

and going on to S.V. Ranga Rao, Kantha Rao, Jaggaiah, Chittoor Nagaiah, Sobhan Babu, Krishnam Raju, Chandra Mohan.

There is a whole class of 'middle class movies' by directors, K.Vishwanath, and Jandhyala.

I am sure to have offended fans of one actor or other with the ordering or omission from above names :). But the above are popular roughly between 50s to 80s. In 80s Chiranjeevi rose, and the rest of them are easier to find in English language websites (e.g,

There are entirely different categorizations possible based on actresses, play back singers, song writers, film studios and producers.

I am surprised that no one wrote anything comprehensive in English given so much love and popularity for old Telugu films among expats in North America.

Violet in Twilight said...

Video link for bikini song in Telugu version: