Sunday, January 3, 2010

Masala Death Trap! Appu Raja

A word of advice to all you bloggers out there: If you're planning to launch a new recurring feature, make sure not to start off with your best material. I learned this hard lesson with Masala Death Trap!, whose inspiration was the elaborate people-squishing contraption employed in Main Balwaan. As auspicious a beginning as that was, I soon found that Bollywood offered few engines of destruction that could approach the majesty of that one (except for perhaps Azaad's Machine of Hell, which had already been well covered elsewhere). Not even a room full of thrift store clocks constructed with the laudable goal of tormenting Dev Anand could top it.

And so I tucked Masala Death Trap! into the back of the closet, as if it were some kind of mildly embarrassing white elephant that I was loathe to throw out for fear it might prove useful someday. In short, until today. Not that the death trap in Appu Raja is actually better than Main Balwaan's, mind you. But it certainly exhibits a degree of awesomeness that makes it worthy of being spotlighted, and I could think of no more appropriate context than Masala Death Trap! in which to do so.

Appu Raja is the Hindi dubbed version of Tamil superstar Kamal Hassan's massive 1989 hit Apoorva Sahodarargal. In it, Hassan stages a stunt casting coup that makes Amitabh Bachchan's turn in Paa look like an unassuming cameo, in that the normally-proportioned star not only plays a homicidal dwarf, but also that homicidal dwarf's brother and, in flashback, his father.

Now, unlike the impressive singularity of purpose of Main Balwaan's death trap, whose every separate function was designed to kill you just that little bit more, Appu Raja's is more a device of the classic Rube Goldberg variety, employing what appears to be an awful lot of wasted motion toward the end of creating one very simple action. The reasons for this, I think, are three-fold: (1) That Kamal Hassan's character, the dwarf Appu, is fucking crazy, (2) that, being a dwarf, he doesn't have the strength to lift and operate a bow and arrow on his own, and (3) that the nature of the device nicely compliments the off-kilter circus ambiance of Appu Raja as a whole (I think if you imagine demented calliope music playing as you view the following pictures, that will help a lot to give you the general idea).

And so with that preamble out of the way, let's begin:

The sequence begins with little Appu* luring his victim, the corrupt politician Franklin Anberson, into an abandoned building. You see, Anberson is one of the men responsible for making Appu's pregnant mom drink the snake venom that resulted in Appu being born a dwarf, so it's understandable that Appu might be a little tiffed at him.

At first, Anberson scoffs at the notion that a pint-sized half-deck like Appu could actually do him any physical harm, but Appu will show him. Of course, given the many convolutions that this death trap must go through in order to demonstrate its final purpose, this means that Anberson must spend a great deal of time standing in dumb contemplation in order for him to be shown -- a circumstance which may tax the credulity of some of you haters out there. Haters!

With obvious relish, Appu sets the machine in motion...

And then all of this happens.

Still watching.

Oh, snap!

But wait, there's more, says Appu.

Ohhh! Insert pun about getting the point here.

And now the coup de grace...

Aaand you're done.

Though it starts out like a particularly grim and violent little revenge thriller, by the time it's over, Apu Raja has spoiled our fun a bit by letting us know that it really doesn't take any of this all that seriously. Still, if the preceding was too mean spirited for you, it also gives us this:

*Just to clear up any confusion, Appu Raja is not part of Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy.


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I am SO delighted to see the return of MDT! And this is a great one - look how all the parts even fit into a color scheme that also goes with the stained glass windows, for example!

I also appreciate your warning about starting up themes. I had what I thought was a great project to document all the hand-lettered signs that the audience members hold up in all those college dance competitions we keep seeing. I really did feel like I saw them ALL THE TIME, except once I started trying to list and record them, I realized I didn't.

Rum said...

OMG, this masala death trap looks hilariously complicated but achieves a necessary purpose! Kamal hassan seems like a right loony to play soo many characters especially a dwarf, his brother and extended family!

Todd said...

Beth: I hadn't noticed the matching stained glass. That kind of obsessive detail is almost scarier than the death trap itself -- as if Appu Raja not only starred, but was also art directed by a maniacal dwarf.

Rum: Yep, Kamal is approaching late period Eddie Murphy with this one. He's just one fat suit away from Norbit.

sunil said...

Should I? There is a small 20 second cameo for the Rube Goldberg machine in Avvai Shanmugi, but it really is a movie for fans of Kamal's stunt casting. Regional comedy.
Wiki just broke my heart by showing
the Masala craziness(complete with Thaali sentiment) in Kamal's Indrudu Chandrudu was based on a Hollywood movie Moon over Parador.

Temple said...

that MDT looks uncannily like the end result of the game Mousetrap...

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

It's no wonder Anberson is just standing there staring. I mean, that's just the natural reaction to this trap, right?

Todd said...

Sunil, your recommendations are always welcome, if fear inspiring. Right now I have that Jackie Shroff snake movie at home waiting to blow my mind.

Temple: You're right. And if my childhood experiences with Mouse Trap are any indication, Dwarf Appu lost many of the key pieces to his death trap immediately after operating it that one time.

House: It really is brilliant, isn't it? A weapon that utilizes its own WTF quotient to kill.

memsaab said...

Ha hahahahahaaa!!! I brought up Masala Death Trap this weekend myself on an "Ek Se Badkar Ek"---coming soon!---watchalong.

MDT zindabad. I also love that the otherwise proportional-to-a-grown-man dwarf's knees go into his shoes.

Todd said...

I wanted to make a "Dorf on Golf" reference, but I was afraid that nobody would get it.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Oh we'd get it.

I LOVE the idea of "death by WTF." That idea (credited of course!) might have to work its way into a certain project that is still being cooked up....

Todd said...

Be my guest.