Tuesday, May 26, 2009

James Bond 777 (India, 1971)

Given my extremely limited exposure to the Telegu language cinema of the 1970s, the fact that I could pick out three familiar faces among James Bond 777's cast makes the film, for me at least, something of an all-star affair. Of course, given the abysmal condition of the copy that I watched, picking out the actors was a task similar to trying to identify animal shapes in cloud formations. Still, when the Tollywood galaxy of stars plays host to such distinctive celestial bodies as these, its hard to be mistaken. Ladies and gentlemen, our stars:

Tollywood superstar Krishna, who also starred in the previously reviewed Kaun Saccha Kaun Jhoota, as secret agent James Bond 777, aka Kishore. (Apparently, in this instance, "James Bond" is just a job title, rather than someone's actual name.)

Vijaya Lalitha, who also starred in Kaun Saccha Kaun Jhoota, again fighting alongside Krishna, this time in the role of Sopa, the two-fisted female counterpart to agent 777.

Jyothi Laxmi, the star of the previously reviewed Pistolwali, playing a dual role as both femme fatale Jamilla and her less evil duplicate, a stroke of casting genius that allows her to have a catfight with herself during the film's rousing finale.

Oh, and also: at the helm, director K.S.R. Doss, the man behind Pistolwali, as well as a bunch of other female-centric Telegu action films, including the awesome sounding Rani Mera Naam.

As you can clearly see, Krishna's pompadour is as majestically towering as ever in James Bond 777, but there is another man on the scene whose 'do is every bit as formidable. That man is the evil mastermind known by his underlings as "Boss". Needless to say, the presence of two hairstyles of such equally monolithic proportions necessitates a battle to the death. In this Kishore is aided both by his righteousness and the able assistance of lady cop Sopa, as well as a comic relief sidekick who seems for all intents and purposes to be Tollywood's answer to Jagdeep. For his part, the Boss has at his disposal a small army of robotic goons in referee shirts and Panama hats, as well as a couple of female lieutenants ready and willing to do his dirty work. The first of these lieutenants is the aforementioned Jamilla, who operates from a secret lair hidden beneath a "Beauty Paralour". The other is Cindy, who seems to spend an awful lot of her time berating her minions, calling them "bloody fools" and whatnot.

The Boss also commands a trio of the most friendly-looking attack dogs in cinema history. The onus for portraying these beasts' menace falls entirely upon the film's human actors, who must react to their adorableness with expressions of abject terror.

James Bond 777 offered pretty much everything that I'm now learning to expect from these old Tollywood actioners: weird hair, crotch-grinding dance numbers filmed from uncomfortably intimate angles, and lots of crazy fights. It also managed to squeeze the familiar tropes of the James Bond series into the more comfortable Tollywood format of the family revenge film. In classic fashion, a prologue shows young Kishore's parents being murdered before his eyes by the movie's main villain, an injury that drives him to become the super secret agent of the film's title. Similarly, Sopa's father is also murdered by the heavy, which proves to be her motivation for joining Kishore in his fight. Of course, true to spy movie conventions, the villains also have some kind of grand diabolical scheme that the heroes are trying to prevent, but the film's lack of English subs prevents me from telling you what it is. I do know that it in part involved having the dogs rob a bank, though.

The movie -- as if you needed to be told -- is a glaringly low-budget affair, and in trying to cover up for its shortcomings employs a device that struck me as being very similar to the one used in the equally cash-strapped Mithun Chrakraborty-fronted James Bond knock-off, Gunmaster G-9, which was made several years later. In that film, whenever something took place on screen that was perhaps less spectacular than what the filmmakers had envisioned in their heads, the soundtrack blared with the character's theme tune, accompanied by an enthusiastic off-screen voice shouting "Gunmaster! G-9!" -- as if you could simply be hectored into getting excited over a pathetically underwhelming miniature effect or the sight of Mithun stepping out of a VW van while wiping sandwich crumbs off his lips. Similarly, James Bond 777 kicks in with a rousing theme tune and a female voice excitedly cooing "James Bond, triple seven!" whenever we're forced to confront, say, a motorcycle chase that's composed of lots of embarrassingly obvious rear projection.

Not that James Bond 777 doesn't provide its fair share of legitimate thrills, mind you. I was especially impressed by a pole fight sequence involving Vijaya Lalitha that looked like it was taken straight out of an old Shaw Brothers movie. I'd read that Hong Kong martial arts films were particularly popular in southern India during this period, and here is the visual proof.

I know that this is a broken record lament of mine, but I don't care. Will somebody please, please, pleeeease release James Bond 777 on an English subtitled DVD -- preferably one that, if at all possible, doesn't look like its mastering process involved using the surviving negative to snare bottom-dwellers from the bed of a stagnant lake? The fact that I enjoyed it despite all of the impediments that an angry god threw in my way indicates that, were said impediments removed, I would be moved to spout solid blocks of gold-tinged hyperbole from my mouth like some kind of xtacy-fueled verbal Pez dispenser. Want! Want! Want!

Um, was that clear enough for y'all?

calling XLU. Pompadour containment
breach imminent. Do you read me?


Michael Barnum said...

Todd, I am not sure any of your past reviews has made me laught out loud as much as this one!

James Bond 777, what a find! It makes one wonder how many other regional spy films are out there just waiting to be discovered by us!

And those screen caps of the dogs and human reactions had me rolling on the floor! You have made my week!

memsaab said...

Ah, I second your request to the DVD-makers-that-be. Esp. for the vicious dogs (scarier even than the pack of beagle puppies that kill Sunil Dutt in Shaan?)...

Todd said...

Michael, those pictures with the dogs had me cracking up, too -- but, believe me, the actual sequence in the film is much funnier. As far as other Telegu spy films, I know that Jyothi Laxmi did a movie called Lady James Bond, which I'm of course dying to see. By the way, it just occurred to me that Jyothi Laxmi looks like she was drawn by R. Crumb.

Memsaab, you're right. Indian cinema has a long tradition of people being friendly-ed to death by adorable canines. In many cases the victim's last words are reported to be "Who's a good boy?"

Eric said...

I don't even have to see this film to know that it's brilliant.

Tars Tarkas said...

I've had this one sitting around for a while, if I knew it had fierce, friendly dogs I would have bumped it higher on the to-see list!

Prof. Grewbeard said...

sooo, i've never seen a Tollywood film, are they as long as Bollywood films?

word verification - "muneys". what i would pay to see this movie. maybe.

Todd said...

Prof., this one was just a bit over two hours, and the time went by very quickly.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I stopped reading as soon as I got to "catfight with herself" and zoomed down here to say OMG! BRILLIANT USE OF DOUBLE ROLE THAT I HAVE NOT YET SEEN! Wow.

Okay, back to my regularly scheduled reading.

My word verification is "zatongle," which perhaps is French for "catfight between the dual roles of the same actor"?

Todd said...

And I realize that "actress in dual role having a catfight with herself" seems like one of those concepts whose manifestation on screen could never possibly live up to the glorious potential it evokes. But, honestly, the way it plays out in the movie is every bit as awesome as that idea sounds. The fact that it in part involves the employment of a whip by one of the Jyothi Laxmis goes a long way toward explaining why.

Anonymous said...

1971, most movies had dodgy backgrounds{ budgeting at its best}. These were entertaining crowds who wanted to "pass time", enjoy and forget worries for three hours! This movie was followed by Eastern Western movies -- Revolver Rani and Rowdy Rani amongst others-- female lead in the Rani movies is something even Hollywood did not try for a long time,,,,,,,,