Monday, April 6, 2009

The Thief of Baghdad (India, 1968)

It seems almost as superfluous as it does inevitable that Dara Singh would star in a version of The Thief of Baghdad. This is a Dara Singh movie, after all, and whether it be called The Thief of Baghdad or Advise & Consent, we know what it’s going to contain: A cruel tyrant, a beautiful princess, a buff commoner hero, lots of wrestling, and, if we’re really lucky, some kind of weird looking dinosaur. Were I given the task of naming this film, I would call it Genie vs. Cyclops – not just because that accurately describes one albeit brief portion of the film, but also because… well, who wouldn’t want to see a movie called Genie vs. Cyclops? In any case, there’s definitely the germ of a good Sci-FI Channel original movie in there somewhere. Now on with the visual evidence:

(Okay, maybe he’s more of a tri-clops.)

And then there’s this thing:

The film was produced under the banner of the Bohra Brothers, a team comprised of director Shreeram Bohra and his brother, producer Ramkumar Bohra. Like the Wadias before them, the Bohras were responsible for a number of low budget Indian stunt films, including the Dara Singh version of Hercules and the awesome sounding Doctor Shaitan, about a mad scientist who tries to conquer the world with an army of atomic zombies. In the best spirit of this type of filmmaking, the Bohras infuse their oft-told tale with a lot of funky energy, from the inclusion of a go-go dancing blood cult to the frequent use of the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” as musical accompaniment to the fight scenes. As can be seen from the screengrabs above, the brothers also don’t scrimp on the cut-rate special effects thrills – provided, this time around, by cinematographer/fx man B. Gupta – making sure that, in addition to the beasties already mentioned, we get more than our fair share of flying carpets, flying horses, spectral sorceresses, free-floating heads, and magically appearing wrestlers. The boys even throw in a talking dog for good measure.

Visual magic aside, one of the things I enjoyed most about The Thief of Baghdad – coming to it as I did fresh from watching Dara Singh’s acting debut in King Kong – is seeing how comfortable Dara had become in his role as movie star by the time of making it. No longer just relegated to stunts and mute flexing, he now gets to woo the leading lady and even has a couple of songs picturized on him, all the while projecting an effortless charisma. He even seems comfortable hamming it up through the many comic masquerades the plot requires him to undertake, including one pretty chilling instance of drag.

While it certainly has it’s fair share of visible seams, the film gets by to a large extent by way of a lot of audacious flash and color. My favorite aspect of its set design was the abundance of crazy looking giant idols, a welcome sight for me in any pulpy Bollywood adventure. Check out a few examples:

With a fast pace, perky tunes, popping color and a spirit of reckless fun, The Thief of Baghdad is a movie that’s easy for me to recommend. If for nothing else, see it for the genie and cyclops battle, Helen’s climactic knife dance, and Dara Singh looking like he’s having the absolute time of his life, whether he be flinging a bad guy over his head, crooning a love ballad, or queening in up in a veil and gown.

Moti sez: “I’m gonna tell all my bitches to see this movie!”


Michael Barnum said...

Todd, I just moved this one to the top of my VCD pile!

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

That sounds and looks absolutely fantastic - except for the drag part. That's obviously going to get frightening.

Todd said...

Michael, this is definitely a pile-topper, IMHO. I have to admit to always feeling a little pleased with myself when I discover that I've managed to see one of these before you have. Though it's always a given that you already own it.

House: Well, obviously someone wanted to see Dara Singh in drag, because this is the second film, after Lootera, in which I saw it happen.

Keith said...

"Helen’s climactic knife dance"

As always, I fall in love with Helen all over again.

memsaab said...

I no longer want to live unless I see this, fast.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Quite the coincidence that I am reading this mere hours after seeing the giant stone head in Zardoz.

Dara is prettier in drag than Shashi. What a topsy-turvy world!

Todd said...

But The Thief of Baghdad has more giant stone heads than Zardoz. Thus: Better than Zardoz.

Remind me to avoid ever seeing Shashi in drag.