the crooked straight, the rough places plane: Chor Sipahee
Chor + Sipahee = kaboom! The administrative staff of Shashi Pradesh stands staunchly and proudly by the institutional mission of uniting Shashizens world wide, and, to this end, two of the chief officers - namely Post-Punk Cinema Club and I - devoted some precious weekend time to a watch-along (or "chat cinema," some of the European bloggers call it) of Chor Sipahee. All in the name of the mission, you understand. Not for taking an extended gander at Shashi and Vinod Khanna in their bad-ass 70s street wear. No. Far nobler are we. The only trouble with such an undertaking is that sometimes one gets so distracted by chatting that one does not pay the movie sufficient attention, and sadly this is what happened to me. Even after re-watching most of the movie yesterday, I still wasn't sure what on earth I was going to write about it. Fortunately, PPCC really loves Chor Sipahee and has written about it extensively. Reading PPCC's post would be the right thing to do even if you'd already read it - but you probably haven't, because as of press time, I am the only person to have commented on that grand and epic tome. Go read it once you're done with my feeble observations and ridiculously extensive selection of screen captures. (In an appropriately filmi coincidence, PPCC has just written a post that starts like this, so even my fallback opener was better stated elsewhere. Le sigh.) It's Shashod time! Shashi Kapoor plays a son-of-a-thief cop (Shankar) (sound familiar?) who kicks ass and takes names. As PPCC said, he doesn't need to pack heat because he is the heat. Very un-Ravi like, as it turns out. That's Shankar, kickin' you in the face - which you clearly deserved, because if he shows up at your door, chances are you did something to bring him there. Shankar does in fact carry weapons from time to time, but the most merciless in his arsenal is (amongst his weaponry are...) his unwavering belief that criminals can and should be reformed, not through police being separate from and intimidating wrong-doers but by teaching them that there is a better way. Vinod Khanna plays an uneducated son-of-a-good-mother (Durga Khote) (sound familiar?) how-else-could-I-earn-for-my-family criminal (Raja) (sound familiar?). Shakes fist at society! Raja's sibling (Bharti, played by Parveen Babi) is horrified by his wrongdoings and threatens that until he changes his ways, he's not welcome at their house and she'll support their beloved mother (this sounds familiar!). PPCC and I could not decide what Raja's pendant meant. Sadly, upon closer inspection, it proved not to be the Jedi logo. Ma too wants the chor to mend his ways. No, I want you to die from being accidentally trampled by the hordes of women who can't get enough of my rugged, petulant yumminess. The officer and the thief meet...um, whatever the opposite of "meet cute" is...meet swarthy? meet menacing? and lock horns in an extended battle of stares, attitudes, and eventually blows, in the process destroying a ramshackle bar. The rambling bar fight from above - and for more thoughts on why we might have a heaven's-eye angle, keep reading. Mama said knock you out! What else could possibly happen when there are two angry young men? For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, Shankar takes it on himself to reform Raja Oh you will, will you? and entangles himself in a bigger crime group headed by the fantastically attired and debauched Sheikh Jamal (Ranjeet). So dedicated to his mission is reform-minded Shankar - like the Shashi Pradesh administration is to our own - that he loses sight of police principles and the bigger picture as he goes further undercover to show Raja the effects of a life of crime. The plot convolutes in filmi ways, assisted by Shankar's friend Kader Khan, Raja's gang of fellow cons (e.g. Mac Mohan) and helpers (e.g. a shyster doctor played by Asrani), and barely-there love interest Shabana Azmi (I'd tell you how her character fits into the story, but frankly I have no idea, but at least she rides a motorcycle). Lessons are learned and the ethical balance is restored and reset. Given the increasingly fevered pitch of my love of Shashi Kapoor, it was only a matter of time before I started seeing him as divine. But Shashi-as-Jesus actually is in this movie, I promise. That was water a second ago! Really! He's alone in the world with a mission and destiny shaped by not-present-on-earth father. He takes on the wrongs of others as his own and sacrifices himself to save them. His name is even one of a god (Shiva). (Quite appropriately, "Shankar" also means "causing happiness," according to the Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary.) In a twist that a dozen years of Presbyterian Sunday school did not prepare me for, it is the sinner who has stigmata. Or maybe that's just to indicate that the role of Christ has shifted from the do-gooder, lost lamb that he is, to the former wrong-doer, now suffering with the weight of the world's sins.... Aaaaah! (Why is it "do-gooder" but "wrong-doer"? English is so weird!) There you have it. Criminal who learns and reformer who gets lost in the muck he's trying to save people from. You could certainly get a lot more out of the movie than that - why does Shankar so seldom give his name, for example? how does the balance of good and evil work within each individual? does history, society, or the individual himself carry the burden of righting it? - but that's where I will leave it and turn you over to my watch-along companion. This movie spoke more complexly (is that a word?) to PPCC than it did to me, but I certainly did enjoy its layers and varying identities of badness and questions about responsibility and choice. And the songs (especially Shashi's entrance, "Don't Ask Me My Name") and the swanky villain lair, complete with slide, be-fez-ed guards and a gun-toting henchwoman, and a glass pod-based entrance system that reminds me of a life-size version of the plastic capsules at drive-up banks. My four-year-old self is so glad to see this technology can work for humans - she always hoped it could! There are many, many fun things in this movie. Many, many, many. Here are a few.
- This jail...it's in pretty much every 70s film, isn't it? I can't put my finger on where I've seen it before...Parvarish, maybe? It's very, very familiar.
- This pickpocket wears cartoon t-shirts: Spiderman, above, and a Pepe Le Pew emblazoned with "Little Stinker." Later, Shankar catcher her pickpocketing, restrains her with some kind of cord (it might be a whip, I can't tell), and shoves something cylindrical in her mouth to keep her from talking. She meanwhile squirms and moans. This might be completely over-the-top and out-of-context sexual. It's definitely weird.
- Let's just call her Parveen Barbie, shall we? Flawless with big eyes, shampoo-commercial-shiny hair, and sheer powder pink finery.
- Ranjeet has some great boots. Ziggy-Stardust-meets-Mogambo great!
- Shirtless Vinod?
- World-weary Shashi? Perhaps you prefer Errol Flynn? Sufi Shashi? (Sufshi?) White suit/dark shirt debonair? Professor Funk? There's something Rishi-ish about those sunglasses. And something familiar about that tie pattern. The parade of Shashi looks is brought to you mostly by the most excellent Jennifer Kendal.