Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shikari (India, 1963)

We now near the end of Jungle Adventure Month, a series that has tried to wring the most entertainment value possible out of the irony of a man who rarely goes out of doors trying to assess the value of films in which people venture deep into the wild. I mean, honestly, who am I to judge the verisimilitude of these movies? I’ve never encountered a gorilla in the wild. Maybe they really do look like this. And perhaps lions and tigers really do go all floppy and limp after they pounce on you. It just might be that those are older cats who are trying to preserve their energy by simply overcoming their opponent with dead weight. And it could be that the jungle really is populated by light-skinned people with bones in their hair who eat a steady diet of explorers, pith helmets, jodhpurs and all. I’m simply in no position to make that call.

But what I will tell you is that, if there is one film that truly represents the reality of jungle adventure, I hope that it’s Shikari. Not that Shikari is free of those clichés mentioned above. It’s not. But, in addition to those, it also features several things sorely absent from all of the jungle films I’ve reviewed in the past weeks -- those being a mad scientist, some giant monsters, zombies, and Bollywood’s premiere item girl Helen. It is also so beguilingly candy colored that even the lava looks like molten bubblegum:

I mean, where else are you going to find a movie that’s a collision between King Kong, Dr. Cyclops and Willy Wonka?

Shikari (which is not to be confused with Shikar, which is another shit awesome Bollywood jungle movie -- or with Shakira, which is some kind of South American werewolf or something) was directed by Mohammed Hussain, who, to me, is a towering figure in the world of Bollywood B movies. When he wasn’t doing other cool things -- like making a musical version of the original Dirty Harry, or one of Bollywood’s earliest rip-offs of Superman, or positioning Feroz Khan as India’s answer to James Bond -- Hussain was one of the Indian action directors who you could most count on to fill the screen with rubber beasties and other unhinged fantasy elements. Shikari shows him in fine form in this regard, while also demonstrating his ability to craft a cracking good -- albeit rough-hewn -- piece of briskly paced pulp entertainment.

The film concerns a jungle expedition on the part of a group of circus folk lead by Madan Puri. Also along for the trip are an eccentric scientist and Rita (Ragini), the lovely young daughter of the circus owner. Along the way, they also hook up with a heroic hunter by the name of Ajit, who is in fact played by Bollywood actor Ajit, still in those days before his Lo Lieh-like descent into ugliness and recurring villain roles. Now, without English subtitles, it is impossible for me to say with certainty what the object of this expedition is, but my guess is that those involved are searching for the legendary giant ape that the natives refer to as Otango.

In any case, whether they’re looking for him or not, Otango is indeed what they find, although not for a good while. In fact, the gang’s initial encounter with the beast is a bit anticlimactic, with Otango, rather than menacing them outright, really just kind of heckling them as he passes by. It’s like one of those brief traffic altercations that ends when the light changes. Anyway, we’ll eventually get a chance to see Otango in all his glory later...

...and, until then, there are plenty of perilous scrapes, upbeat musical numbers, and encounters with hostile natives to keep us interested.

Finally, our explorers come upon the remote underground laboratory of Dr. Cyclops, played by KN Singh. At first, Cyclops makes nice with the group, but it is not long before his -- I think -- daughter Shobha (Helen) is cluing them in to the fact that he is fucking cah-ray-zee. If the fact that Cyclops takes no pause at Helen walking around his cave lair dressed like a gypsy milkmaid all the time isn’t enough to bolster that claim, then the fact that he’s got a miniaturized lady in a jar in his lab and a horrible dinosaur chained up in his basement might be.

The viewer could also be forgiven for thinking that this whole section of Shikari is meant to be some kind of acid flashback on the part of the principles, as for most of it we see them traipsing around through upturned brontosaurus ribcages and caverns filled with giant mushrooms.

Dinosaurs, whimsical alpine attire, and happy drug associations aside, Shikari is not a perfect film. But even its flaws are kind of adorable. For one thing, its most egregious and lengthy instance of padding occurs within the first five minutes of the movie, in the form of a scene in which we see Madan Puri and co. watching some kind of protracted ice capades performance. I’m not even sure if the footage of that performance is original to the movie -- well, I’m pretty sure it isn’t, actually; the whole thing screams of stock footage. But that’s no matter, because, whatever its origin, that footage documents in part the performance of an ice skating chimpanzee, which is more than enough to justify its existence.

I was able to enjoy Shikari immensely without the aid of subtitles. In fact, this was my second time viewing it in that manner. Yet it’s another one of those Bollywood B films, like Wahan Ke Log, that I think would be quite a big cult item were it presented in a manner that would make it accessible to a wider audience. Lord knows I won’t do it, but I’m convinced that there is someone out there for whom forking out the cash to release a restored and subtitled DVD of Shikari is not only their solemn destiny but also a moral obligation. DAMMIT, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!

This review is part of "Stranded in the Jungle", a month of jungle adventure themed posts at 4DK.


memsaab said...

Sorry, have no idea why this spam-like hiccup occurred :(

memsaab said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Todd said...

That's cool. I fixed it -- though now it looks like you might've gone on some kind of sweary rant that I had to delete for the sake of the children!

I know what you're saying. I had watched Shikari a while ago, but didn't review it at first because you'd already done such a fine job of it. When I sat down to watch it for the sake of this write-up, my intention was just to quickly scan through it in order to refresh my memory. Instead I ended up watching the whole thing again from start to finish... and I'm sure it won't be the last time. It's just that entertaining.

And, yes, I do realize that there are enough of these movies to fuel several more Jungle Months, but for the time being I reached my goal of watching all of those that were in my teetering "to be watched" pile and then some. Which is not to say I won't do it again... just that I don't want to think about it now.

memsaab said...

I do understand completely. There could be lots of such months: Arabian Nights Month, Confused Historical Epic Month, and so on. But they should be approached with caution.


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Arun Brahma said...

was trying to remember the title of this amazing hindi movie for over a decade..didnt remember anything except for that it was a jungle adventure with a giant ape had an evil scientist who shrank a dancing girl and it was black and white...never searched for anything after 1930 since the movie there on were in colour....obviously no useful search results since i forgot a very important detail that i saw this movie on a black and white TV :)...thank you for this detailed review.

Todd said...

Thank you, Arun. I think that if you watch this film in color, it will be like experiencing it for the first time. You're in for a real treat.