Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hatimtai Ki Beti (India, 1955)

Hatimtai Ki Beti begins with a title card that reads, “THE STORY OF HATIMTAI-KI-BETI HAS NO ANY HISTORICAL BACKGROUND”. So I can scratch off that particular avenue of research in determining what this unsubtitled Indian B movie is all about. Not that it matters, really, because HKB serves up everything I need with that amazing and possibly racist Satan figure pictured above. I mean, what better way to personify evil than with a bat-winged minstrel with male pattern baldness wearing a flocked leotard?

Hatimtai Ki Beti seems to be a sort of romantic fantasy adventure-cum-Islamic parable that exploits the added gimmick of celestial intervention both divine and demonic. Watching from on high as its action plays out are both Satan and Allah, each of whom dispatch emissaries to Earth to respectively hinder or help its heroine. That heroine is Roshanan, played by Chitra, a devout and ethereal young woman whose prayers seem to have a special path to Allah’s ear. And given the extraordinary degree to which Allah here comes through for his supplicants -- resurrecting their dead loved ones, freeing them from actual physical bonds, making them immune to fire -- it’s safe to view HKB as a strong work of advocacy for the efficacy of Muslim prayer.

Such blessings make it tough work for Satan’s dark angel on Earth, a young lady of sour demeanor who, upon her arrival, assumes a variety of guises -- your snake, your wizened old crone, your cooing temptress -- in order to sow seeds of acrimony among the mortal populace. This includes her attempts to poison the budding romance between Roshanan and her swashbuckling husband-to-be Salim, played by Mahipal. Further insuring her failure in these endeavors is her counterpart on the God squad, a more serene -- albeit manifestly judgy -- young woman garbed in regulation white, who does everything she can to set right what her malevolent opposite has disarranged.

Some of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while might recognize that Chitra was quite the leading lady of choice for Indian B movies during the 50s and 60s, with perhaps her most notable role being that of the off-brand Jane to a knock-off Tarzan in Homi Wadia’s hysterical Zimbo movies. Whether she ever made a dent in “A” list films, either as a star or supporting player, I don’t know, but if anyone else does, I’d love to hear about it. In any case, in Hatimtai Ki Beti she is startlingly young and lovely, as are a number of other Bollywood starlets who pop up throughout its convoluted story. This includes a teenaged Helen, who hoofs it up early on in an Orientalist number, Kumkum, who shows up briefly at the mid-point to participate in a tribal dance with a bunch of pretend savages, and Kammo, who has a kameo (see what I did there?) as -- I believe -- some kind of water sprite. The cumulative result of all of this nascent item girl pulchritude is that any male or lesbian fan of any of these actresses might walk away from HKB feeling like a bit of a pedo, so consider yourself warned.

In addition to its feuding duo of dark and light angels, Hatimtai Ki Beti seems to stress the concept of duality through the inclusion of other pairs of opposites. Roshanan has a haughty sister with whom she is rival for Salim’s affections, and Salim, in turn, has a brother whose competitive feelings the dark angel exploits to divisive ends. This inclusion of so many intermittently clashing characters in a Bollywood B fantasy also insures that there will be many people to end up chained to pillars at various points throughout the movie. The last to suffer this indignity is Roshanan herself, at the hands of what looks to be some kind of Roman Centurion, and her sung pleas to heaven are enough to finally bring down the totality of Allah’s wrath. The seas roil, the skies thunder, and the heaven’s themselves quake –- enough so that even Old Scratch himself is seen trembling at the terrible spectacle.

Whether you’re a Muslim, Christian, or just someone who’s spooked by creepy old blues records, HKB’s vision of the Devil is one that’s easily recognizable. He’s that grinning figure lurking just behind your shoulder, urging you toward the bad -- be it lying to your parents, cheating at Canasta, or having butt sex in exchange for Crack. Needless to say, that Angel on your opposite shoulder really has her work cut out for her. Hatimtai Ki Beti’s literal representation of this struggle, aided by cardboard clouds and cartoon sunbeams, makes it a joy to behold, no matter how incomprehensible the finer details of its plot or message might be to you. One unintended consequence, however, is that its funky looking, blackface-Fred-Mertz-meets-Manbat devil guy almost seems like a figure worthy of worship in himself. Hail, Bat-Mertz!

(This post is a part of Satan's School For Ghouls, a month long tribute to Satan and his hell spawn by the members to The Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit, a loose confederation of cult movie blogging weirdos of which 4DK is a proud member.)


memsaab said...

Who you calling a weirdo?!

Todd said...

Hey, at least you're in good company!