Saturday, August 24, 2002

The Pardes action of Des Pardes and some jungle hijinks

To quote Magnus Magnusson, I have started so I will finish. I devoted my Friday evening to the entertainment as defined and dished out by Mr. Dev Anand via Des Pardes. I had hoped for just a few minutes of on-screen howlers but Mr. Anand being the congenial generous host that he is provided me with more than that. The film has all the ingredients of a dvidevi (meaning a Dev Anand venture with him behind and before the camera...but aren't they all??) enterprise:

* A new face that is at least marginally cute or a looker or has a good figure (as judged by the Anand panel of corrective therapy) but has little to no acting abilities and has the gift of ticking the hell out of well-intentioned hapless viewers tired of average mainstream Bollywood fare and expected more from a matinee idol of yore: Tina Munim (who now has no reason to complain since she's part of the Ambani clan now!)

* Interesting to good music (in this case Rajesh Roshan) subjected to an inappropriate, bad, outrageous, grotesque or vicious onscreen treatment (My favourite composition would have been Aap Kahen, another decent Lata Mangeshkar number ruined online by the histrionics of debutante Munim, under the direction of choreographer Dev Anand, oops, Madhav Krishna

* Dialogue which is either prolixly or is built up from platitudes, answers to unasked questions, questions deserving no answers and oversimplification of obvious facts strung together against shots combined in a meaningless montage that predates the style in Fight Club by years

* Simple plot ideas exploded to explore subtexts that would ordinarily not matter either to the audience or the filmmaker. Consider the complexity of the task for the protagonist (read: person who inflicts the most agony on the senses of the viewer, usually played by Dev Anand himself), Veer in this case, of finding out that Gurnam (Ajit) has indeed killed his elder brother Sameer (Pran). Clearly, it's much ado about nothing, since the good old Bollywood Coincidence Meter (BCM) is on his side

* Ridiculous characters played by actors who were either handed a pretty pay packet, or were on the skids or too high on LSDev to realize how corny they looked on screen. For example, Dr. Shreeram Lagoo (famous for defining principled wizened patriarchs with a smouldering anguish within) playing Sameer's godfather Mr. Barnes. With a name like that, I would expect him to have an accent more tinged with the British rather than the Indian accent, and certainly not (as in this case) that of the cliché Goan father seen so often in the Bollywood genre of films that sought to first represent and then completely caricature the fun-loving community. Of course, by the time I see his daughter Sylvia (Bindu) dressed in loud clothes and enough makeup to grab the attention of the deaf

* At least one "look Ma, cool camera gimmick no?" token in the film: Here it's a camera shot from inside a liquour barrel that Anwar (Mehmood) dips a goon's head into during a skirmish

* Technical contributions to scenes that do not benefit from them: the high-angle/overhead shot of two people involved in a fistfight as they move parallel to each other in opposite directions, one towards the top of the screen and one towards the bottom. This recurs in a skirmish near the end of the film, which shows that more than one person on board had lost their ability to make a cogent decision on the matter

* Dev Anand emulates Groucho Marx. Now Groucho had good jokes and only turned to the audience to give them the benefit of a punchline that they might miss in the rich train of puns he had lined up. Mr. Anand on the other hand insists on displaying his dexterity at a forgettable home-brewed sign language of mannerisms (derived from ancient jungle traditions and backwater anorexic orangutans no doubt) and overshadows any performer on the screen (unfortunately!)


In this film, Mr. Anand decides to flog the dead horse of the problem of illegal immigrants (especially Indians) in UK and tie it up with some sentiments of nationalism. But let's not let our emotions get the best of us shall we? So, on with the story. The family in question is that of Mr. Balbir Singh Sahni, a station master living in Kartarpur, Punjab, with his wife and sons. The elder son Sameer (Pran) works in London (presumably, using movie math, in the pub circuit) and 'looks good in a grey flannel suit', but more about that later. Back in Kartarpur we have his wife Rama (Indrani Mukherjee) lives in India with a daughter Geeta and a soon-to-be-born-and-remain-unnamed-for-the-rest-of-the-film-yet-referred-to-using-the-general-epithet-of-Munna son. Also part of the household is Sameer's younger brother Veer (Dev Anand), whose handwriting is identical to that of Sameer's (one of those handy plot devices). When the film opens, we see Sameer, Rama, Geeta and Veer walking on railway tracks (ostensibly to provide a visual counterpoint to the fact that there is travel in the future). This is a time of farewell, the end of a 3 month vacation (which comes once in 3 years) for Sameer. Rama, of course, doesn't like it, but has to live with it. We have the usual moments of sentiment (with the context of separation) as also Veer saving Geeta from coming in contact with a defective telephone pole, from potential electrocution. The camera (traditional Bollywood zoom-in/zoom-out/close-up/montage approach) and Sameer's dialogue tell us that the skull-and-crossbones symbol is going to resurface later on.

In the UK, the place where all the action will happen is Charlie's Tavern, a pub that's up for a 35K lease. Sameer has saved £ 20K and is waiting for a response to a request for a bank-sanctioned loan, so that he can take the pub. He was once thrown out of English pub because of his colour and has since vowed to own one someday where 'Englishman and Indian can drink together'. We meet his godfather Mr. Barnes (Shreeram Lagoo) a widower (his late wife was Indian too) and his daughter Sylvia (Bindu), who is engaged to Gurnam (Ajit), who is axiomatically the villain of the piece. Gurnam offers to put up the balance of £ 10K in return for some share in the article. In obeisance to the demands to move the film forward with some semblance of a storyline, Sameer agrees (against the cries of the audience: "Can't you see it's Ajit? How can you trust him???"). Another important thing we are told about Sameer is that he is punctual, always. And 7pm is a time that he reserves for 'cheers' with Mr. Barnes (something the two look forward to). We are now taken to Scotland Yard to meet two more unimportant players: Mr. Martin (Tom Alter) who is important in the London Immigration Department only because he converse with Indians in Hindi ('their own language') and his Indian sidekick Kashyap (who of course, thanks to the BCM knows Sameer very well). As the head of the Indian Workers Association in London (and thus a respected member of the community) Sameer has been invited to the Yard to discuss the problem of illegal immigrants (especially Indians) into the UK using false passports. Sameer offers his support to the cause. The error in his judgement (the deal with Gurnam) receives further foundation in the next few scenes. These tell us that Gurnam and his friend Bansilal (Prem Chopra) are involved in one such racket. Some of our important characters brought in using a false passport include Buta Singh (Amjad Khan), whose real name is Avtar Singh, bus conductors Gangaram (Sujit Kumar) and Murarilal (Bharat Kapoor), and unnamed characters played by Paintal and Sharat Saxena, as well as Murarilal's nephew played by staple child actor Master Alankar (remember the young Amitabh in Deewar?). Gurnam and Bansi exploit the helplessness of the illegal immigrants and exact a 50% cut of their wages as a commission, 2/3 of which go to Mr. A. Tupper (Keith Stevenson) who runs Horizon Tours, a travel agency. Anyways, Sameer cuts Gurnam in for a 33-and-a-half(!!) partnership. Of course, Gurnam (with Sylvia's help and her contacts with Mr. Tupper's lawyer, a certain never-seen-never-heard Mr. Smith) schemes to add a clause to the deed papers so that in lieu of the death of one partner, the other partner gets complete rights to the pub. Gurnam also apparently cannot read (we are not sure if it's English or Hindi, but who cares. This is just another wasted character embelishment). The day comes to inaugurate the pub. It's a Saturday and Sameer leaves Mr. Barnes (who is now living with him) at 10am, heading for the pub. At the pub, Gurnam and Sylvia prepare a poisoned drink for Sameer. Murarilal, soused out completely, swims across from a boat (convenient location for the pub, evidently) to cuss Gurnam and threaten to expose his deeds to a reporter he has been hanging out with. Sameer arrives in time to see Gurnam throw Murarilal's body over the side (after stabbing him). Gurnam kills Sameer as he attempts to call the cops and the engaged couple proceed to hide Sameer's body in the pub and clean up all signs of a struggle, besides fending off a stuffed toy black cat (black cat = unlucky omen! get it??). Sameer meanwhile gets his moment of solitude to curse and rant as he dies in fake blood before sealing an envelope addressed home with a cross that he traces out with the murder weapon drenched in blood {Look out for a scene later in the film where Veer employs his amateur deductive skills to deduce that a certain knife dipped in varnish was used to knock off his brother}. He manages to drop the letter out of a nearby window. The BCM rears its ugly head again as Gangaram passing by on his way for groceries finds the letter and sends it on its way. Kashyap arrives at the club for the hawan (a traditional fire ceremony to ward off evil and sanctify the dwelling) as well as Buta Singh (now in Gurnam's employ) with Shastriji (A. K. Hangal), the Pandit at the Trimurti Ashram (who also knows Sameer, of course, but you figured that out already, didn't you?). Of course, they wait and wait but there's no Sameer. Back at home, Mr. Barnes waits for Sameer to 'come at 7 and say cheers'.

In all this ... where was Bansilal? Well, he flew to India, making his annual recruitment drive for fresh unsuspecting hopefuls to get in the illegal way. He also has another assignment: to get a soni kudi for Gurnam (whose relationship with Sylvia is a loveless selfish business-minded one). BCM again, as we discover that Bansilal is the son of Dayaram (Jankidas)'s paternal uncle. Dayaram, of course, is next-door neighbour to the Simpsons... oops...the Sahnis. A radio broadcast, and two letters (one, the letter from Sameer and the other from Kashyap) and some deductions by jasoos Veer and everyone is worried for Sameer. Veer decides to go to London to investigate. His co-passenger on the Air India flight is a decked-up Indian bride Gauri (Tina Munim). Yes, you guessed it! BCM again: she's the soni kudi that Bansi procured for Rs. 1000 only for Gurnam. Gauri indicates her displeasure at the relationship which is 'not a marriage, but just a business transaction'. Veer aides her to get out of the airport (after a quick change of clothes). A forgotten undergarment leads airport cleaning employee Anwar Sayeed (Mehmood) to Veer, and it's BCM time again. Captain (yes Captain) Veer had saved Anwar's life in the war of Bangladesh (indicated by a flashback set in non-existent sets and fake smoke). Gauri is of course a naive (Ms. Munim was 16 when she made her dé) God-fearing lass who has her prayer times for Lord Krishna.

The stage is set now for Veer to infiltrate the Sam-and-Nam pub (Sam for Sameer, and Nam for Gurnam. get it?) and track down the killers of his brother. The remaining length of film stock also gives him time to indulge in some song-and-dance as well as ridiculous stunts like setting Gauri up as a mute bartender at the pub and cooking up a complicated procedure (involving a song-and-dance-routine and another cross-dressing venture by Mehmood) to kidnap Bansilal before he can get in touch with Gurnam and spill the beans about Gauri and Veer. Along the way, Veer must also clash with the irate illegal immigrant squad led by Gangaram who are hot for revenge for the now-deceased Murarilal.

Mercifully, there is no romantic angle explored on screen between Veer and Gauri. Mr. Anand also does not attempt to tie up too many ends by the end of the film: we do not explicitly see what happens to Gurnam and Bansi and the clique (including Mr. Tupper), although Veer's letter home helps us conclude that they are all behind bars. There is the inevitable final fallout of thieves (Buta, Sylvia and Gurnam). Adding to the fun is the expected climactic fight sequence between Veer and Gurnam. This involves a crescendo involving gas cylinders, rubber, dry wood and water (including dialogue to explain its ostensible scientific correctness). It ends with Veer pounding Gurnam with a machine gun (talk about wasted machinery).

Classic lines:

{Buta to Veer, when he persists with questions about Sameer}: zyaada sawaal poochhoge to itna hi kahoonga-glass khatam karo rasta naapo baar band ho chuki hai. Quite a few Amjad Khan tributes include this moment

{Veer to Gurnam, at the end the final fight}: zinda kabr mein rahoge to pataa chalega maut kya cheez hai


Pran who plays Dev Anand's elder brother here plays his father in Warrant.

In-joke: When Gauri presents herself before Sylvia for the position of bartender, Sylvia asks her for her name. Gauri responds (via written notes) 'Shabnam'. Bindu (who plays Sylvia) became famous as the vamp Shabnam in Kati Patang(1970) (immortalised by Mera Naam Shabnam an R. D. Burman composition with an unconventional song form). She is perhaps best remembered for this role. Another character that she immortalized (but few would associate her with) was Mona Darling in Zanjeer (1973).

Stats: Des Pardes : 159 minutes : colour : the Eros/B4U DVD mistakenly credits R. D. Burman for the music

Tarzan (1985) was the next movie for the evening.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.