Monday, October 26, 2009

Tarzan & King Kong (India, 1965)

Tarzan & King Kong begins with a plane crash very similar to the one we saw in Boxer, a furious shuffling of stock footage in which the type and vintage of the imperiled plane changes several times from shot to shot.

As certain death approaches, we see intrepid pilot Dana Andrews heroically struggling to maintain control of the craft.

I think this particular footage comes from the 1960
Hollywood film
The Crowded Sky.

Finally the aircraft, now a WW II era fighter plane, crashes to the ground in flames, and with it disappears all traces of Laura and Hot Rods to Hell star Dana Andrews from the remainder of Tarzan & King Kong.

Fortunately, there are other actors who, unlike Dana, actually appeared in Tarzan & King Kong voluntarily. And one of them is Mumtaz, who plays crash survivor Sharmilla, who, along with her faithful manservant Bismilla (No! We will not let you go. Let him goooooo!... sorry), finds herself floating post-crash in a river in the middle of the jungle wilds. Also fortunately, on hand to save her is none other than Tarzan himself.

Now, despite the fact that Dara Singh is featured in the cast of Tarzan & King Kong -- and given prominent place on the packaging by those people who depend upon the sale of VCDs of Tarzan & King Kong to make their living -- and the additional fact that Dara Singh would portray Tarzan during the very same year in Tarzan Comes to Delhi, the lord of the jungle is here portrayed by Dara’s little bro Randhawa. Dara, it turns out, only makes a brief appearance, presumably to give his sibling’s movie a little extra box office “oomph”.

Anyway, Tarzan & King Kong is a rollicking, Bollywood B movie jungle adventure in the mold of Zimbo. As such, it runs through a checklist of all of those jungle perils that such a movie should contain: snakes, crocodiles, primitive traps filled with pointy sticks, etc. But just as in Zimbo, the jungle’s biggest threat turns out to be female jealousy, personified here in the form of evil jungle queen Shibani, played by 4DK favorite Bela Bose. Despite the fact that Tarzan is portrayed here as a great grunting dumbass, Shibani is downright heartsick over the big lug, and is none too happy to see that he has just had a new leopard-fur-clad playmate air delivered.

For a brief time, life is one big jungle idyll for Tarzan and Sharmilla, she being apparently not all that attached to civilization in the first place. Given that this is a movie from the mid-sixties, said idyll includes Sharmilla teaching Tarzan how to do the Twist.

But it’s not long before the wrath of Shibani comes down upon them, and their little cargo cult recreation of Shindig must come to an end. The queen’s first volley involves an outright attempt to nab Tarzan Sadie Hawkins-style with the help of her movie savage minions. Tarzan, however, manages to escape from her clutches before she is able to give him her evil jungle queen cooties.

The Queen’s next move is to recruit world famous Punjabi wrestling star and Bollywood B movie hero Dara Singh to work his patented moves on Tarzan, leading to a nail-biting brother-on-brother smack-down.

When this tactic somewhat unbelievably fails, Shibani then has Sharmilla kidnapped and chained up in her dungeon, where she is threatened by the Queen’s military commander Romy with his oversized prop carving fork.

All in all, Shibani, rather than being just a two dimensional villain, ends up being sort of a tragic figure here. She obviously loves Tarzan, and has followed all of the normal avenues in expressing those feelings to him, throwing him in a cage, abducting and threatening his loved ones, and hiring massive wrestlers to beat him to a pulp. Still his heart remains cold to her. Is there nothing she can do?

What makes matters worse is that, as she has been driven to distraction by her unrequited crush, her kingdom has meanwhile fallen into decadence and depravity, as represented by this staged wrestling match between two white women, which comes across more like a very sedate demonstration of some standard wrestling flips and holds.

Then it becomes time for the big guns. Paradoxically, though the title of the earlier King Kong turned out to simply refer to the ring name of an obese Hungarian wrestler, Tarzan & King Kong actually delivers as far as giving us a rampaging giant ape. Sort of.

But then the fat Hungarian wrestler is here too. Bonus!

A frenzied climactic battle rages between Tarzan and the ape, during which we can clearly see just how tore up the ape costume is, with one big piece flopping around in the back as if he were wearing a furry hoodie.

Finally Tarzan mercilessly stabs -- well, more like pokes -- the creature to death with his big knife, and the ape gets his Oscar moment by going through some fairly histrionic death throes. Then Queen Shibani meets her tragic end by taking a blade meant for Tarzan, to which Tarzan and Sharmilla both say “Sad” and make that little sarcastic tear drop gesture you do by running your finger down your cheek. Then they both jump onto an elephant and ride off into the sunset.

Sees ya!

While Tarzan & King Kong represents another case where my viewing experience would have been greatly enhanced by English subtitles, I must say that Moser Baer’s VCD was remarkably crisp looking as these things go. MB also gets big points for their relatively unobtrusive onscreen logo. I’ve come to accept that watching an Indian -- and, for that matter most any country’s -- VCD means having a company logo appear somewhere onscreen throughout, but other manufacturers would do well to follow MB’s example of making that logo semi-transparent. It gets the message across without being quite so obnoxious, basically. The VCD was also pleasingly round and quite shiny, which is always nice.


Rum said...

Omgg, a Singh brother smackdown sounds very good to me and of course watching how Mumtaz, queen of wearing leopard furry clothes a few years later became the more sedate Mumtaz of the sexy tight sarees phase! Lol in that one screencap Tarzan Singh looks very constipated while holding that rope! Thats the kind of acting i secretly admire!

sunil said...

So this film is represented by the law firm King Kong, King Kong, Tarzan & Tarzan?

4 for the price of 1(and promise of 2)!

sunil said...

And they didn't even begin to mention Mumtaz and Bella Bose. :)

Michael Barnum said...

Shabaaz, Todd! I so love this movie and have been awaiting your write up it forever!! Just seeing those screencapes makes me want to watch it all over again.

Someone needs to release a trip feature of KING KONG, TARZAN AND KING KONG, and SHIKARI!

Todd said...

Rum: There is much to secretly admire about Randhawa's performance here. There's also much to admire -- maybe not even secretly -- about Mumtaz's work ethic, seeing as she starred in dozens of these furry clothes movies at a time when most Bollywood actresses thought that starring alongside guys like Dara and Randhawa would be damaging to their careers, and then proved those actresses wrong by going on to become a mainstream star anyway.

Sunil: You're right. The only thing that prevents this movie from achieving perfect symmetry is its lack of a scene where King Kong the wrestler fights with King Kong the gorilla.

Michael: This movie is indeed pretty awesome, and a worthy entry in the pantheon of Bollywood guy-in-a-gorilla-suit movies.

memsaab said...

*sad that I don't have it*

*mopes away*

sunil said...


When Lou Thesz was alive and maintaining a presence on the net, I once asked him how good Dara Singh was (as they had sold out Albert Hall,London several times). He said he was good but distracted by his filmi career. Randhwa was more serious about his wrestling. :)

sunil said...

Forgot to ask: Who was the titular King Kong? Generally in India, due to his epic duels with Dara, people always think of the wrestler rather than the gorilla. :)

Todd said...

That is a very good question, Sunil, and one that I am unequipped to answer without the benefit of an English translation. I wouldn't be surprised, though, it the filmmakers were trying to have it both ways. After all, this seems like it could well be an instance where the title came first and everything else second.