Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Doodh Ka Karz (India, 1990)

If Bollywood has taught us anything, it's that animals have a limitless capacity for holding grudges and exacting bloody-minded vengeance. Even a gerbil, once crossed, is not safe to turn your back upon. And the same goes a hundred-fold when you're dealing with an animal as evolutionarily designed for the purpose of killing humans as a cobra. Especially when that cobra is bonded in spirit, as is the case in Doodh Ka Karz, with a human as evolutionarily designed for being angry and violent as Jackie Shroff.

Doodh Ka Karz begins on a somewhat biblical note, with snake charmer Gangu (Kuldip Pawar) and his very pregnant wife Parvati (Aruna Irani!) seeking shelter from inclement weather in a temple to the god Shiva.

Unfortunately, also in the vicinity are Amrish Puri, Prem Chopra and Sadashiv Amrapurkar, which is a sure indication that something even more messy and unpleasant than the miracle of childbirth is about to go down. And sure enough, just as Parvati is popping the bun from the oven, Amrish and his pals make off with the diamonds adorning the temple's idol, though not before killing a priest who catches them in the act. Gangu stumbles upon the scene and is framed for the crime by the three upper-caste villains.

What next transpires is Gangu being whipped to death in the public square by internet sex god Amrish Puri as Parvati, newborn in arms, watches helplessly.

Also watching, from within the confines of his basket, is Gangu's prize cobra, who I will call Charles -- just because it seems like, given the kind of movie this is and the role Charles plays in it, he should have been given a name, though one was never mentioned in the subtitles.

Anyway, while Charles cannot see all of the action from between the narrow slats of his basket, he makes a point of committing to memory the distinctive necklace worn by Amrish Puri.

Later, as a despairing Parvati nurses her baby, she notes that the loyal Charles, while lacking the means to communicate it, must also be a bit hungry. And so she squeezes out some of her breast milk and offers it to him. And he drinks it. Now, I've just recently completed a survey of the search terms that bring people to this blog, and while the term "Aruna Irani feeds her breast milk to a cobra" was not among them, given what was there, it certainly wouldn't have been out of place. Now I'm happy to know that, from this day on, anyone who does type those words into Google will be dumped directly into my lap. Perverts should also note that we do get a shot of some -- no doubt body-doubled -- lactating boobs during this sequence, which, though not presented in any way that would be titillating to a normally inclined person, are nonetheless quite shocking to see within the context of an Indian film.

Anyway, because she does not have the means to care for him, Parvati urges Charles to slither off on his own, which he does, after which she goes off to confront Amrish Puri. Unfortunately, she arrives at Amrish's estate just in time to see him murder his own father. What with giving birth, seeing her husband flayed alive before her eyes and witnessing two murders, this has been sort of a rough day for Parvati, and its not going to get any easier. Fortunately, once Amrish, Prem and Sadashiv have chased her and her baby off a cliff, they leave her for dead and she is rescued by a kindly blacksmith played by Goga Kapoor.

Goga pledges to raise Parvati's child as if he were his own son, and Parvati, taking a page from Mithun's psycho mom in Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, urges him not to spare the rod, and to give little Suraj the kind of upbringing that will basically result in him growing up to be a dead-eyed, vengeance crazed meat puppet.

Oh, and what's this? That's right, it's the opening credits to Doodh Ka Karz. Which means that I have just spent the last several paragraphs of what I was hoping would be a brief review describing only the prologue of Doodh Ka Karz. Obviously, it's time to speed thing up, because, while I enjoyed this movie well enough, it's not the kind of thing I want to while away hour after hour painting vivid word pictures of. Happily, much of what transpires from this point on in the movie is exactly the kind of thing that the term "needless to say" was designed for. As in, needless to say, little Suraj grows up to be Jackie Shroff, and while he is raised to be a blacksmith, he quickly finds that he has more of an affinity for snake charming.

But Jackie is not just any snake charmer. He is the KENNY G of snake charmers.

And needless to say, Charles the cobra, whose memory is as long for a solid done him as it is for wrongs that need to be avenged, eventually finds his way back to Suraj and his mom in time for him to act as an instrument in their plot to get payback against that damn Amrish Puri and his friends. This, needless to say, will involve him demonstrating the ability to do some very un-snake-like things, like unlocking doors and leaping through the air like some kind of self-propelled reptilian javelin, as well as more conventional Bollywood anipal antics like terrorizing Bob Christo. He will also prove himself to be the Douglas MacArthur of the snake world by leading a sizeable cobra army in a siege against the bad guys' hideout at the film's conclusion.

Yes, Doodh Ka Karz is indeed a weird and trashy film, but it is also a Bollywood film from the 90s, which means that calling it weird and trashy is like calling the ocean wet. In fact, you could say that it need not be said at all. Aside from all the snake business, which was uniformly awesome, I also liked that Amrish Puri's character, despite being a typically scummy villain in the Amrish Puri mold, was given a protracted and actually quite moving death scene -- something a lot more dignified and demonstrative of the great man's formidable acting chops than the usual bellowing-as-his-head-gets- chomped-on-by-a-crocodile exit he normally gets. (And by a long shot more dignified than having his ass handed to him by Anil Kapoor in a Gilligan hat.)

Sure, I've seen millions of better movies than Doodh Ka Karz, but none of them had a breast feeding projectile snake in them. Indeed, the fact that I can recount such things in anything approaching a blasé manner is indicative of just what a long and strange journey my mining the depths of Indian cinema has been. But that, of course, goes without saying.

(Thanks to Sunil -- who will someday start his own blog and render mine redundant -- for steering me toward this one.)


Rum said...

Oh my goodness, i think I have seen a filmi pet that vigilanteism rivals Brownie Moti! I was almost hoping Charles might just turn into a dancing squiggling Jeetendra like Naagin. But that would be putting down a snake's ability to act, which looks like he does well especially gaining strength from the breast-milk(MADNESS!)
I think i'll lose all respect from my aunty dvdwallah if i ask for this but i lost that when I ran out to get Teri Meherbaniyan!

sunil said...

standard Bollywood anipal antics like terrorizing Bob Christo
Line of the review! You are not a true anipal till you terrorize poor Bob Christo. Which makes me wonder, is Mr India Anil Kapoor bear enough to qualify as an anipal? :)

Aww, at the blog starting: my talent is in reading, not writing. :)

Vinayak Razdan said...

Yes, I have seem this sad sad film.
And I remember seeing an Old film...forgot the name...that had an entire song in which snakes play various musical instruments like flute, veena, tabla, sitar and all.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Vinayak, I just spent 15 minutes rummaging through my email and old facebook statuses because I KNOW I have seen that song, and I also knew Todd would like it, so here is a clip:

Todd, I had clever things to say about your review and this film but I don't remember them now. They might have been along the lines of how this film almost seems like a tautology - that, given the era and the ingredients, this film could have emerged no other way. Which does not in any way mean that it should not be written about in full, because there is much beauty in the discovery of ingredients and their rightful use.

memsaab said...

Sunil inspired me to buy this too (I'm with you on him writing a blog too although you will never be redundant), and it's next to my television. I think I will enjoy it :)

Your writing is sheer genius, BTW.

Michael Barnum said...

Oh Beth, that snake band is awesome!

And Bob Christo is awesome.

And so this is just an awesome page of posts!

Todd said...

Ah, where to start? So much love for Charles and his serpentine vigilantism. I must say that, even if I were run from my home and beaten in the streets for describing Amrish Puri as an "internet sex god", writing this post still would have been worth it for getting to see the clip of that song alone. Thanks Beth and Vinayak! I think I'm gonna have to post that one (with thanks, of course), if you all don't mind.

And Beth, you're right, there's a certain inevitability that hangs over Doodh Ka Karz. It's like the de facto insane 1990s Bollywood masala. And so early in the decade!

Sunil: Indeed, abusing Bob Christo in some manner should be part of the initiation ritual for joining the anipal club. And thinking about it, that is the only thing that Teri Meherbaniyan is lacking. If it had had a scene of Moti tossing Bob Christo into a wood chipper or something, then it would truly be the only Bollywood movie that matters.

Rum: From what I'd heard about it, I actually thought that this was going to be a Nagin type of movie, and that Jackie Shroff was at some point going to turn into a snake. Fortunately, it turned out to be something way more effed up than that.

Memsaab: I can't wait to read your take on this. As you'll see, there is a LOT in the film that I didn't cover, and plenty for you to sink your filmi scribe teeth into, so to speak.

Michael: What is it about Bob Christo? I was just so happy when I saw his name in the opening credits. On my part, I expect there's a bit of white male guilt based masochism, as in "Oh boy, I'm going to get to see a white guy humiliated and abused by precocious animals in this movie made by brown people. Yes! Yess!!"

On the other hand, the appeal of a band of instrument playing cobras needs no explanation

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Part of the appeal of Bob for me is that his presence is a guarantee of a very particular kind of goodness - like this film's grouping of Prem Chopra and Amrish Puri. Even when he showed up in Commando partially disguised in an Op cap. Tom Alter just does not carry the same delicious WTF baggage.

memsaab said...

The fact that Bob Christo moved to India and joined the film industry there just to meet Parveen Babi is enough to make me love him :D

Todd said...

I've been meaning to write up Bob's debut film Abdullah forever, but I've never gotten around to finishing watching it.

sunil said...

Abdullah! "Maine Pucha Chand Se" is one of the great (and one of the last) Md Rafi numbers.

But what REALLY matters is that
it has some villains doing pee pee when confronted with the coolness that is Sanjay Khan. :)

They screened it in a free to air open-air screen at the park next to my flats when I was three(probably was connected to some politician pleasing his constiuency), and THAT is all I remembered. :)

Todd said...

I'll have to give it another look. I don't think I got as far as the peeing part. I do remember that it had a pretty exceptional Zeenat Aman bathing scene it it, though.