Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Planeta de las Mujeres Invasoras (Mexico, 1965)

In my recent review of Gigantes Planetarios, I characterized that film as being a departure from the typical Mexican sci-fi films of its era, my point being that the typical Mexican sci-fi films of its era were incorrigibly good natured and horny. Instead, Gigantes Planetarios was a fairly straight-faced space opera, with a ladling on of good ol’ Cold War anxiety for added frisson, and with little of the cheesecake and burlesque antics common to its peers. To make up for this lapse, the makers of the film’s rapidly following sequel, Planeta de las Mujeres Invasoras, made that film’s cast top heavy with a virtual who’s who of Mexican B movie bombshells.

Chief among these bombshells is former Miss Mexico Lorena Velazquez, who had a lengthy run as Mexican genre cinema’s leading lady of choice, meaning that she played opposite Santo on more than a few occasions. She was also one of the titular stars of the first three Las Luchadoras films, the only female driven series in the lucha genre. Starring alongside Velazquez in those films was American actress Elizabeth Campbell, who also appears here. Campbell was no slouch herself when it came to racking up an impressive slate of appearances in Mexican pulp productions, and even continued on in the Las Luchadoras series after Velazquez’s departure, making the loopy Las Mujeres Panteras in 1966. And last but not least, we have Italian beauty Maura Monti, whom you’re probably already sick of me going on and on about.

Alongside this top billed trio we see returning to Planeta all of the major players, both in front of and behind the camera, from Gigantes Planetarios, including prolific, German born director Alfredo B. Crevenna. And along with them come many of the costumes, props, sets, locations and special effects from Gigantes Planetarios. All of this suggests the possibility that the two films were filmed back to back, a practice that was not uncommon in the Mexican film industry of the day -- not to mention a specialty of Crevenna’s, who boasted of having a system that allowed him to complete four films in just eight weeks.

The first act of Planeta catches us up with our band of intrepid space travelers from the first film, which includes fearless scientist Daniel Wolf (Guillermo Murray), his faithful secretary Silvia (Adriana Roel), the prizefighter Marco (Rogelio Guerra), and Taquito, Marco’s manager (played by Jose Angel Espinosa, whose quotation mark bracketed nickname, “Ferrusquilla”, in the grand Mexican movie tradition, sounds a grave warning of comic relief hijinks to come). As we join them, Marco is trying to restart his fight career on a clean slate, and has promised Silvia that he won’t throw his upcoming fight as he has been known to do in the past. Marco stays true to his word, but, unknown to Silvia, he has accepted a payoff in exchange for taking a dive, which means that, in winning the fight, he has crossed the two bumbling mobsters who paid him.

Those mobsters catch up with Marco the next night, when he is out on a date with Silvia at an amusement park, aboard a flying saucer shaped “Trip to the Moon” ride. (In a nice bit of self referential humor, Silvia at first playfully objects to going on the ride, calling it “childish”, and adding, “They simulate the Moon with painted backdrops”.) Little do Marco, Silvia, the thugs, and the assembled other passengers realize, but the ride has been substituted for by an actual flying saucer piloted by the sexy space ladies Martesia (Campbell) and Eritrea (Monti), a ruse that makes it that much easier for the two to whisk these unsuspecting Earthlings to their home planet.

That planet turns out to be the “Planet of Perpetual Day” (keeping in mind that the planet our crew traveled to in Gigantes Planetarios was the “Planet of Eternal Night”) a world whose constant blinding sunlight makes living on its surface impossible. And inhabiting that planet is a subterranean race of “heartless” women ruled over by their extra-heartless Queen, Adastrea (Velazquez). In a refreshing change of pace from most old school space operas depicting planets inhabited by Amazonian races, it’s not men that Adastrea and her people are after this time. Instead what they want is to harvest these Earth peoples’ lungs so that the femaliens themselves might be able to survive in Earth’s hostile atmosphere, thus making it easier for them to invade and take over.

Fortunately for Adastrea’s unhappy new guests, she has a twin sister, Alburnia (Velazquez again), who, by some bizarre accident of birth, is every bit as kind and virtuous as Adastrea is a ravening bitch. The perpetually mini-toga’d Alburnia pledges to help the Earthlings and, at Marco and Silvia’s urging, sends her servant Fitia (Monica Miguel) to Earth to fetch Wolf and Taquito. Though Fitia ends up, through a chain of circumstances I can’t be troubled to explicate, dying in the trunk of Taquito’s car, she does manage to pass on Alburnia’s message at least in part, and, with the aid of some recycled footage from Gigantes Planetarios, Daniel is soon jetting off to Adastrea’s planet in his rocket ship with Taquito at his side.

Upon arriving on the planet, Daniel poses as a hard hearted rogue in order to seduce his way into Adastrea’s trust, which he easily does by liberally dishing out the kind of romantic sweet talk Earth scientists are known to be so adept at. Meanwhile, Adastrea has determined that it is the lungs of Earth’s children that are ideal for her purposes, and so aims a weapon called “The Thunder Mirror” at our world, calibrating it so that it will only kill adults. Once all the grownups are out of the way, Martesia and Eritrea wait Earthside to begin a massive kidnapping campaign. See, I told you these women are heartless!

Planeta de las Mujeres Invasoras represents just one front in an ongoing war of the sexes that raged throughout Mexican B cinema during the 50s and 60s. In many of those battles, the men were represented by wrestlers, and the women by vampires, fembots, harpies and witches (to name just a few). It’s hard to tell whether Mexican audiences at the time -- or at least their male half -- saw these films’ vision of a world under threat of malevolent female rule as laughable, or terrifying, or both (or, as certain laugh lines in Planeta seem to suggest, a fait acompli), but, whatever the case, the evidence suggests that they couldn’t get enough of it.

And when the result is a film as fun and ceaselessly dopey as Planeta, who can blame them? Typical of this kind of fare, the movie is just too silly to come across as mean spirited. And, though its sexual politics are backward, the way it so clumsily clubs you over the head with them only serves as a reminder of just what a relic of the Stone Age they are – or, at least, should be. In addition, despite all the heroics of the movie’s generically square jawed leading men, the players you walk away from the film remembering are the trio of female stars whose names appear above its title. Velazquez gets a perfect showcase here, tucking into the scenery like a true diva in both facets of her Janus-faced double role. The way she wrests the last drop of high melodrama from her every moment on screen demonstrates why she was such a popular and perfect choice for these kinds of comic book movies, and also provides a great example of the deceptively high amount of hard work that goes into being a B movie queen.

As for Campbell and Monti, it’s hard for me to argue that they are used for anything much beyond eye candy here. Though I must point out that it is eye candy that’s dressed in fetishistic retro-futurist space lady costumes, which is not really an argument for their performances having any objective value, really, but more an indication of the bias on my part that renders me incapable of judging. I am but a man, after all. And, until the evil space ladies come along to silence me, I have to tell it like it is.

Monday, July 25, 2011

General Invincible (Hong Kong, 1983)

To the extent that I can understand it, the basic plotline of General Invincible is fairly generic. Of course, in these old school wuxia films, the plots tend to matter less than the grace -- or, failing that, the insanity -- with which they’re pulled off. That said, General Invincible succeeds in pulling a little bit from both column “A” and column “B” -- provided your definition of “grace” can be stretched to include Chinese period costumes that draw equally for inspiration from the Baroque era and the Spiders From Mars.

General Invincible appears to be the final star turn of the mysterious Pearl Cheung Ling, coming directly on the heels of her lead role in Invincible director Cheung Paang-Yee’s The Elimination Pursuit (aka Three Famous Constables) and immediately preceding her supporting role in that most comically leering of all the skeletons in Jackie Chan’s closet, Fantasy Mission Force. That last, if available filmographies are to be believed, was her final major role. And it suits her that she would end her screen career on such a bizarre note, as it serves to make that career overall seem that much more dreamlike and maddeningly ephemeral.

In the case of General Invincible, we get to see a relatively sober and intense side of Pearl, one that contrast with the unfettered goofiness of her portrayals in self-directed efforts like Wolf Devil Woman and Matching Escort. This still leaves room for Pearl’s character to be afflicted with seizures that call upon the actress to roll her eyes around and literally foam at the mouth, so the term “relative” needs to be kept in mind. Said circumstance also leads to a recreation of the scene in Wolf Devil Woman where Pearl chomps down on her leading man’s hand. Seems you can take the Pearl Cheung Ling out of Wolf Devil Woman, but you can’t take.. well, you get my drift.

Pearl here plays the daughter of a nobleman, the lord of the “Southern Castle”, who is assassinated by a gang known as the “Black Group”, whose leader (Tien Feng) seeks to take over whatever fanciful version of ancient China we’re being presented with in this instance. A broody free spirit who wants to distance herself from the Martial World’s constant warring, Pearl at first resists when her father’s loyal aide presses upon her to seek revenge. However, that aide’s bloodily committing ritual suicide before her eyes seems to provide the necessary motivation, and she is soon hitting the vengeance trail with her mute servant in tow. Along the way, she receives intermittent assistance from a handsome renegade swordsman (Zu’s Adam Cheng Siu-Chow), and intermittent hindrance from Ruh Yuh-Bai (Ding Laam), a leggy female minion of the ruthless Black Group who Pearl soon sees as a rival for said renegade swordsman’s affections.

Throughout her journey, Pearl is dogged by visions of her white-haired old master, who constantly harangues her with opaque encouragements like “sincerity can break the gold stone!” He further instructs her, no less cryptically, to look beyond the “border of emptiness”, which, it turns out, refers to skills that can only be learned from standing at the threshold between life and death (I think). When Pearl finally accomplishes this, during a moment of extravagant martyrdom, it is like General Invincible is suddenly being directed by Jodorowsky. The sea runs red, waterfalls flow backwards, and flowers instantly wither on the vine. At the end of it all, Pearl has had magically bestowed upon her “the fastest eyes in the world”, which will prove handy, as the secret weapon of her nemesis turns out to be the barely visible “Crystal Sword”.

This being a fantasy wuxia starring Cheung Ling, you would be right in assuming that the magic weaponry and techniques don’t just end with those mentioned above. Throughout the film, both Pearl and Adam Cheng wield something called the “Shapeless Sword” and also use a technique called “Shooting Star” that causes their swords to spark like downed power lines. The villain, for his part, uses something called “Magic Diving” to hand zap his opponents, and also has a delightful, mad-scientist-style subterranean lab in which ever newer threats to the righteous are being developed. And, of course, the films sees many instances of people flying, as well as of people throwing their swords and then riding on them like surf boards.

But, as suggested above, such things are par for the course in a Cheung Ling film, just as are wildly flamboyant costumes. Though I think that, on that last count, General Invincible may have topped all previous comers. The white poodle wigs and ornate, shiny gowns with poofy sleeves -- as well as Cheung Ling’s elaborate, jeweled head pieces -- all suggest sort of a 1970s Ken Russell take on the court of Louis XIV, with a heavy debt to the sartorial excesses of British glam rock. Cheung Ling alone has several costume changes and, while the film is briskly paced, the anticipation of her next blindingly colorful and absurdly impractical outfit would be enough on its own to keep any viewer glued to the screen.

Call me greedy, but the fact is that 4DK is just too epic of an endeavor to have only one muse. Yet Pearl Cheung Ling still holds a special place of honor in the pantheon, standing proudly alongside such awe inspiring female icons as Polly Shang Kwan, Jyothi Laxmi and Maura Monti in her Batwoman bikini. To find out why, one need only pick at random from her cinematic oeuvre, perhaps by utilizing some kind of dart board and blindfold ritual. If your point were to land on General Invincible, you could certainly do worse. And by the time you got to the part where Pearl engages in a magical battle with her former master, a sequence rife with crude animation and people going airborne in the lotus position, you would totally get it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Malam Satu Suro (Indonesia, 1988)

It could be said that the length and breadth of Indonesian horror queen Suzzanna’s career was, to a certain extent, determined by the number of vengeful female spirits that could be found in Indonesian folklore. Fortunately for her, there were a lot. The Queen of the South Seas, the Snake Queen, the White Alligator Queen: Suzzanna played them all. And then, of course, there is Sundel Bolong, the “Ghost With Hole”. Malam Satu Suro comes along several years after the actress first portrayed that gruesomely perforated ghost in 1982’s Sundel Bolong, and shows signs of its makers -- including original Sundel Bolong director and longtime Suzzanna collaborator Sisworo Gautama Putra -- making an attempt to shake up the formula a little bit.

The Indonesian Wikipedia page for Malam Satu Suro suggests that it stands apart from other Sundel Bolong films by treating its lead ghost as its protagonist. However, as I’ve said elsewhere, it was not atypical for the spirits played by Suzzanna to be portrayed in a sympathetic light, in that the wrongs done them were often tragic in dimension and made their motives for revenge relatable to the audience. In Sundel Bolong, it is only the guilty who suffer her wrath, and once her vengeance is complete she is laid to rest once again. In Malam Satu Suro, things follow a similar trajectory, though it has to be said with a markedly increased laying on of bathos.

The film opens with a swell little scene set in a grave yard, in which an old shaman resurrects Sundel Bolong amid an array of exactly the type of rudimentary yet uniquely thrilling special effects we’ve come to count on from the Indonesians. After a cackling Suzzanna flies around on a pretty obvious wire for a bit, the shaman does a back flip and drives a spike directly into the top of her head. This causes the ghost to revert to her human form, that of Suketi, a ringer for the attractive Indonesian horror actress Suzzanna. Then, for reasons that were unclear to me, the shaman decides to make Suketi his adopted daughter.

Flash forward an indefinite amount of time later, and Bardo, a Jakarta businessman on a hunting expedition in the forest (and played by Fendi Pradana, who would also star opposite Suzzanna in the Indo martial arts fantasy Pusaka Penyebar Maut) stumbles upon Suketi and is instantly smitten. In fairly short order, Bardo convinces Suketi’s adoptive father of his intentions and the two are married amid a pageant of Javanese ritual dancing and weird fairy costumes.

Flash forward yet another indefinite, but likely longer, amount of time, and Bardo and Suketi’s lives are a model of upper middle class marital bliss, with two adorable moppets having been issued forth to complete the picture. To drive all of this home, Suzzanna sits down at the family piano and lip synchs a syrupy M.O.R. ballad as her husband and offspring look on adoringly. It all comes across like a particularly maudlin wedding video, but, as we’ve learned from previous Suzzanna films, the more idyllic the picture, the more tragically will it be rent apart.

And said renting indeed comes, in the form of a crooked business rival of Bardo’s, who, after consulting with a creepy, red-faced female Shaman, learns of Suketi’s former spectral guise. He and his goons then proceed to break into Suketi’s home in Bardo’s absence and pull the spike from her head. Once again, Suketi becomes Sundel Bolong, complete with the rotten, maggoty hole in her lower back that distinguishes her particular species of spook. She hangs around just long enough to freak the fuck out of her kids and their nanny, and then disappears into the night. However, the bad guys are not through, and later return to the house to murder the nanny and kidnap Suketi and Bardo’s youngest. A tense hostage drama follows, ending tragically when one of the kidnappers accidentally kills the child while trying to stifle his cries.

To be honest, throughout the movie’s kidnapping episode, it does feel like Suzzanna is getting kind of a superhero build-up. It’s as if Sundel Bolong is off ensconced in her Fortress of Solitude while, back in Metropolis, chaos takes reign. Every moment of her absence is one in which we anticipate her arriving at the nick of time to set things right with her maggot-eaten-hole-related super powers. Unfortunately, she doesn’t end up mobilizing until after her child has been killed, so her actions end up being, as usual, limited to payback. But first, she sits down once again at the family piano, now in her ghastly spectral form, to reprise that syrupy M.O.R. ballad from the beginning of the movie.

Now let me make clear that, while Suzzanna does interact with her family during this part of the movie, this is no heartwarming “My Wife, the Ghost With Hole” style TV friendly family portrait. As Sundel Bolong, Suzzanna is every bit her usual scary self, and perhaps even more so. The choice was made this time around to spackle her face with stark, kabuki style make up, which often changes dramatically in pattern from shot to shot, making for an effect that is memorably chilling. On top of this, when she finally does set out on her quest for vengeance, she digs up her child’s coffin and drags it along behind her, much like Franco Nero in Django, but to far more unsettling effect.

That said, the actual kill scenes in Malam Satu Suro, when they come, are noticeably antic, featuring a particularly gleeful and wisecracking Suzzanna. In this way, they’re reminiscent of the very Nightmare on Elm Street films that Putra and Suzzanna would later explicitly emulate in 1991’s Perjanjian Di Malam Keramat. There’s even a bizarre fantasy sequence that precedes the death of one baddie, an apparent John Lennon impersonator, who imagines himself singing before an adoring crowd and then turning into superman and flying around over their heads. In another scene, Sundel Bolong animates her dead child’s favorite teddy bear, making it march up to one prone perp and bloodily stomp his face in.

All of this leads up to a classic, only-in-Indonesia finale: A duel with the red-faced female shaman that sees her transforming into a person-sized suitmation frog as a cackling Suzzanna -- now turned into a leak -- flies around crazily above. Once this battle has concluded, Malam Satu Suro tries to again ratchet up the pathos for a last tearful moment between Sundel Bolong and her surviving family, but I doubt it could leave any but dry eyes in any house it played. In the end, the film only distinguishes itself from the original Sundel Bolong by how it flat out whups you upside the head with its tragic aspects, whereas, in the former, those aspects felt more organic and, as a result, more legitimately affecting. Sure, it’s possible to make a sad movie about a flying ghost lady with a rotting hole, but adding treacly power ballads and Vaseline-lensed romantic interludes will only make it… well, something different. Amazingly, though, that something different is still pretty entertaining.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jalte Badan (India, 1973)

Jalte Badan is a cautionary tale about drugs and the youth of "today" (1973) that combines the tone of the most overwrought and clueless high school scare films of the 60s with everything that's great about 1970s masala cinema. What's more, it may be the only film in which the movie magic of Indian special effects pioneer Baubhai Mistry is put to the task of realizing a full blown psychedelic freak out. If that sounds wildly entertaining, well, it is. But, putting aside kitsch and unintentional comedy, the film also scores in a range of other unexpected areas, making it a surprisingly satisfying viewing experience for those, like myself, with a high tolerance for the more hysterically pitched aspects of Hindi popular cinema.

Our story concerns Kishore (Kiran Kumar), a young scion of a wealthy land owning family in a small Indian village.  Kishore,  to the chagrin of his elders, has fallen in love with Ganga (Kum Kum), a tribal girl from a community of snake charmers. Sadly, as the film opens, Kishore is heading off to Bombay to continue his studies, but has sworn to keep Ganga in his heart. Ganga, for her part, worries that life in the big city will change him and drive a wedge between them. On the train, Kishore runs into village bad girl Malti (Padma Khanna), also bound for Bombay, who expresses her own doubts about his being able to maintain his interest in the perpetually shoeless Ganga and her "family" of cobras once he's tasted a bit of Bombay night life.

However, what everyone but Kishore is underestimating is exactly how much of a tight ass Kishore is.  Once in Bombay, he finds himself deeply shocked by the rebellious attitudes of his classmates, in particular their public displays of affection, lack of respect of authority, and the very idea that a woman would expect him to ride on the back of her motor scooter. Because of this, Kishore is singled out by a gang of 30 and 40-something bad  kids lead by the wild eyed  Kuljit (Kuljeet), who make it their project to get him hooked on hard drugs.

Despite all their highfalutin talk about being the "new generation" and their desire to overturn oppressive social institutions like marriage, it turns out that Kuljit and his pals are merely pawns in a racket run by another one of those Bollywood villains who seems to only be referred to as "Boss" (Manmohan). The scam is to turn wealthy kids like Kishore into addicts so that Boss can then blackmail their parents with the threat of exposure. Malti, it turns out, is also part of the gang and, through her job as a dancer at Boss' nightclub, is used to lure the innocent into a life of debauchery and drug whoredom. Boss also has a Boss of his own to answer to, a mysterious, English speaking "European" (Sujit Kumar) whose motivations seem much more, er, philosophical than they are profit driven.

And Bollywood, ever eager to please, hears "youngsters drowning in a sea of drugs and sex" and replies, "Coming right up!" Honestly, I seriously considered making the scene that I am about to describe the entire subject of this review, rather than the movie that contained it, so great is its power to astonish and delight. First we get a view of Boss's nightclub, a cavernous, smoke saturated hell in which, among the usual blissed-out looking white hippie extras, the lost youth of India stagger into one another like loose strung puppets, a rock combo playing behind them on stage. (And BTW, as for the crazy music fueling this wild new generation's rebellion, all we get, aside from the very standard Laxmikant-Pyarelal original tunes penned for the film, are "Pipeline" by The Ventures, a galumphing bar band version of Tony Orlando's "Candida", and, during a particularly boisterous moment, an impromptu singalong by the bad kids of "Underneath the Mango Tree" from the James Bond film Dr. No.)

After we've been allowed a moment to let this whole shameful spectacle sink it, Padma Khanna descends from the ceiling in a cage, wearing a nude body stocking. She then proceeds through a lascivious song and dance number whose high point, arguably, is the moment at which she gets on top of a table and starts tossing bottles of Vat 69 to the crowd. This provides the musical backdrop for Kishore's seduction into vice, which involves pretty much every person in the club shoving a smoking opium pipe into his face. Needless to say, throughout this, the effects of being under the influence of narcotics are presented in an unflinchingly sober and gritty manner.

Just to make the message that much clearer -- for those, I suppose, who have never been exposed to any kind of fictional narrative ever -- these scenes are interspersed with scenes of Kum Kum's character Ganga, dressed, to the extent that she's dressed at all, in pure white, standing alone on a high hilltop giving voice in song to her fears for Kishore's well being. Even considering the possibility that Ganga is able to, like the Mothra twins, project her song to its object over a great distance, she is outmatched in the battle for Kishore's soul. As a result, the young man falls like a house of cards, not only smoking the dope, but also guzzling the whisky, and, finally, taking to bed with one of the gang's female members.

From here, Kishore's relationship to drugs follows the expected scare film trajectory, from opium and booze to mysterious "red pills" that cause hallucinations to a dependence on heroin, and from there to madness and rapid physical decline. Surprisingly, the closest thing he has to a savior throughout all of this is Malti, who, moved by Kishore's recounting of his love for Ganga, has started to see the error of her ways (and from which point on might as well be holding an "I am going to die" sign over her head). That is, until Ganga and her elderly father arrive in town, a situation that makes for a lot of amusing "fish out of water" hijinks, including a scene where Ganga's snakes get loose in Boss's nightclub and scare all the drugged out hippies.

As you might have gathered, Jalte Badan is a film that is indeed pretty conservative in its values. It's been said that the 70s were for India much like the 60s were throughout the West, with a marked increase in the type of student unrest that had been comparatively absent during the previous decade. As such, it's not surprising that some among the establishment might have viewed that unrest as being essentially "un-Indian" in character. Jalte Badan, following the classic "patriotic" Bollywood formula, goes so far as to imply that it is a willful and malignant import, and has the film's virtuous "straight" kids denounce the "bad" ones as being enemies of the country. Given that, I found those aspects of the film that were comparably progressive that much more startling.

For instance, I like that those aforementioned "good" kids are shown participating, along with the "bad" ones, in the student strike that's called early in the film. The only difference is in how each group spends their new found free time. While the bad kids' rebellion against authority is depicted as being essentially nihilistic and absent of any real political character ("long live youth, down with love", they chant at one point), the goodies dedicate their free time to activism in earnest, and launch a campaign to feed, clothe and house the poor of Bombay. Granted, it's an appropriately wholesome, socially approved form of activism, but the depiction shows that at least an effort was made on the part of the filmmakers to not present youth's passion for social change as a necessarily destructive force.

Even more surprising was a scene during the film's final act involving the character Girija, one of the straight kids, who is played by the actress Alka. Boss tries to entrap the unemployed Girija into a life of prostitution by luring her to his lair with the promise of a legitimate job, then having one of his thugs rape her. Girija, however, manages to fight the goon off and get the drop on both him and Boss. Boss then reveals to her that he's taken suggestive looking photographs of her grappling on the bed with his man, and threatens to release them publicly if she doesn't submit to his demands. At this point, I was fully expecting Girija to follow the old Bollywood route of offing herself in order to preserve her honor -- an expectation born of watching many Bollywood films in which just that happened, a majority of them being of more recent vintage than Jalte Badan. However, what we got instead was this:

Girija goes on to say: "Times have changed. You can go and print those photos everywhere. You can make posters of it. But remember, a decent girl's honor cannot be removed with her clothes." Pretty bad ass. (Of course, it helps a lot that she's holding a gun while saying all of this.)

Though Kiran Kumar does an impressive job of looking completely off his head on a variety of controlled substances, Jalte Badan is a film that truly belongs to its women. Alka's above described scene was, for me, the film's dramatic high point, even though the character of Girija disappears completely from the narrative from that point on. And Padma Khanna, by virtue of that one musical number alone, deserves to walk away with it all. As for Kum Kum, this film -- along with Lalkar -- proves that, in the early 70s, some ten plus years after we saw her starring opposite Dara Singh in King Kong, she was at her absolute peak of hotness. There's just something about Kum Kum's earthy sexuality that makes it seem like even the sight of her standing there fully clothed wouldn't have made it past India's strident censors, much less that of her doing a skimpily attired native fire dance, as she does here. Alongside that, she once again exhibits the flair for easy comedy that always makes her such an agreeable screen presence.

Overall, Jalte Badan is an effective, if florid, melodrama, the kind that, when there's no one else in the room, we can happily let ourselves be swept away by. And if its image of the threat posed by drugs is comically misjudged (which it is), we can perhaps, at least, luxuriate in the extravagant scorn it heaps upon those too quick to hand over control to lesser powers. ("You will lick the feet of the one who will kick you", spits one character at a strung-out Kishore.) Yet, for those of us who have lost people we care about to drugs, all of that tearing of hair and rending of garments might seem, in hindsight, like a more appropriate response -- in many cases preferable to the measured words and solicitous silences that, in the real world, so often enable the damage in the first place.