Monday, August 17, 2009

Kabeela (India, 1976)

According to Kabeela, Gypsies -- despite the fact that they wear colorful scarves, love to sing and dance, and have a rakish, devil-may-care attitude toward life -- are bad. Of course, this is a difficult position to sell when the gypsies are represented by the late, great Feroz Khan at his man-furriest mid 70s peak, so you would be correct in guessing that Kabeela is really trying to have it two ways at once.

Feroz plays Mangal, son of the chief of a gypsy tribe who heed not the laws of mainstream Indian society. This heeding not extends to them being a bit bandit-y, as they often steal treasure at the behest of the whiskey swilling, van dyke sporting big city bad guy Mr. Dildaar (Trilok Kapoor). As gypsy prince, Mangal has a rival for succession to his father's seat in the form of the scheming Durjan (Imtiaz Khan), who will stop at nothing -- nothing! -- to seize control of the tribe.

This being Feroz Khan that we're dealing with here, Mangal's rakish, devil-may-care attitude also applies to upper body wear, and so we get ample opportunities to marvel at our star's richly upholstered torso. In fact, this particular tribe turns out to be an ideal milieu for Feroz, as much time is consumed with the men-folk engaging in various competitions to prove their manliness. At one point, a drinking contest between Mangal and his father devolves into the two of them drunkenly hurling knives at each other as the rest of the tribe cheers them on. Good times.

One day when the members of the tribe are in a nearby village plying their snake oil and ill-gotten gains, a runaway bull storms through the marketplace, and Sobha (Rekha), a village belle, falls directly into its path. Mangal beats the bull up and sends it scurrying away, which of course spells instant attraction for Sobha. Unfortunately, the laws of the tribe decree that Mangal cannot marry outside of it, and so the two must carry on their romance in secret. Later, when Dildaar orders Durjan to kidnap Sobha to be his concubine, Mangal disguises himself as a sort of minstrel pirate -- black face, eye patch -- in order to rescue her. This is a cool scene because, when Dildaar pulls out a sword and challenges Mangal, Mangal says that he doesn't need a sword, then takes off his shoe and beats Dildaar with it.

At some point in his relationship with Sobha, Mangal decides that, not just those laws restricting his marriage choices, but all of the tribal laws are bad, and that, for the good of Indian society as a whole, the tribe should subject itself to the laws of its mother country. Not surprisingly, this puts him at odds with pretty much everyone else in the tribe, especially once he starts aiding the determined policeman Inspector Ajay (Sudhir) in his quest to shut down the gypsy's criminal activity. Such perceived betrayal offers Durjan the perfect opportunity to poison Mangal in his father's eyes and thus secure his place as heir to the throne -- or fancy blanket, or whatever the gypsy chief sits on. I didn't do a lot of research for this review.

Among the supporting cast of Kabeela we have Bindu, who plays Bijli, the tribal bad girl who has her sights set on marrying Mangal. Bijli ends up meeting with one of the most ignominious fates I've ever seen befall a secondary female character in one of these films -- keeping in mind that such secondary female characters, especially if played by Helen, typically have a very slim chance of making it to the end credits alive. Once Mangal has been sent packing by the tribe, Bijli charges off on horseback into the dark of night to look for him, only to summarily smack her head against a low hanging tree branch and die. Kabeela really doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to tying up loose ends.

Kabeela is a solidly entertaining film, though, as with a lot of Bollywood films from the 70s, it's choppiness can be a bit distracting. For instance, Mangal's change of heart comes across as happening very abruptly, as if it transpired off-screen while we were busy watching something else. Still, the film has no shortage of swashbuckling thrills and colorful gypsy revelry, and comes complete with a set of appropriately rousing campfire rave-ups by songsmiths Kalyanji-Anandji. If you're looking for a Feroz fix -- and you've already seen Qurbani, Apradh and Kaala Sona -- you could definitely do worse.


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

So, basically, Feroz destroys his own tribal culture through mainstreaming so that he can marry Rekha?
Sounds like an uncomfortable watch. (Yeah, I am overthinking it.)

Todd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd said...

Well, it's definitely there to think about. The real challenge is whether you can maintain your sense of outrage in the face of the highly romanticized and fanciful depiction that the tribe is given.

Anonymous said...

Villains should ALWAYS be named Dildaar.

Is this on DVD with subs? or do we have to wing it?

sunil said...

Say Todd, you ever got around to mainlining Rajnikant? :)

Todd said...

Memsaab: Yeah, this guy was a total dildaar. Believe it our not, I actually decided to take a brief detour into Indian movies that have English subtitles, so, no , you don't have to wing it. To tell the truth, I feel like a bit of a sell-out!

Sunil: I was told by someone that Rajnikant's movies were heavy on comic relief spots that made watching them without subs tough going. That put the fear in me a bit, but I promise I will get to them eventually.