Rishi-licious disco masala: Karz

My favorite thing about Karz just might be that it helped bring about Om Shanti Om. I don't know how exaclty OSO came about or how strong the ties are in Farah Khan's mind between the two films (and I don't mean to overstate them), but I think she did some great work with what she found in Karz. Personally, I think OSO is the stronger and more enjoyable film - it's a lot sharper and funnier, and that's what I tend to like.* That's probably not a very fair assessment ot make, though (but might be a good discussion for later: what responsibilities does an original work have for what later people do based on it or how they interpret it?) So let's pretend for a minute that we live in a terrible world in which Farah never saw Karz - nahiiiin! - or, more easily, that I saw this movie about a year ago, before Om Shanti Om came out. In that case, I'd have to say the best, self-contained thing about the movie is Rishi. I'm sort of surprised to hear myself say that; I've liked Rishi in other things, but I would never have called him the greatest strength of any of the movies I've seen him in so far. In an impromptu North American Karz watch-along, Apni East India Company, Old Is Gold, Filmi Girl Bol!, and I all agreed that Rishi was workin' it really well in this film, playing all his masala-required faces with equal starry appeal. Pop star Rishi (named Monty, as the back of his silver sequined jacket helpfully tells us)!

Violin-playing, emo Rishi!

O Rishi, you're so fine! You're so fine you blow my mind!
Manic, weird, flashbacking, stalking Rishi!

Jacket-without-shirt Rishi! And most of all, disco-dancing Rishi! I'd really like to assemble the songs and funny segments from this with the best moments of Disco Dancer and create one fantastically groovy disco-laden movie that puts too much emphasis on electric guitars...and just ignore the parts about going bonkers while avenging historic wrongs done to one's mother.

Karz is masala-y - and we can all agree that "disco masala" is a concept with a lot of potential, no? - but its balance of R(ecommended) M(asala) A(llowance) ingredients was not my favorite. Too little comedy and romance, too much revenge and convenient coincidence. I think what nudged it over the edge for me was the reincarnation storyline. When a masala hero finds his long-lost family and discovers that all the other people in his life are relevant to his previously unknown true identity, that's pretty convenient. But when a masala hero finds his long-lost family and learns that all the other people in his life are connected to his true identity only after he has deciphered mysterious flashbacks to figure out that in fact he is the reincarnation of a different person who was murdered by his wife 21 years ago as part of an evil plan to control a tea estate, that's really convenient. (So many italics are necessary to explain these things!) Convenient - yet so convoluted and complicated. It's meta-masala! Reincarnation is more difficult for me to get on board with than plain ol' ordinary mistaken identity or unknown past. Here is where I have to admit that I was really confused at the beginning of the movie, and had it not been for the others watching with me, it might have taken me a long time to realize that the actor playing the man Simi Garewal (evil Kamini) ran over with her jeep (Raj Kiran, playing Ravi Verma) was not in fact just Rishi with an icky mustache.

The casting of Raj and Rishi as reflections of each other was smart - they definitely work as relatives.

Now that I've thought about Karz some more, my bigger complaint is that there was no explanation of how the reincarnation was supposed to have happened or why Ravi's soul ended up in Monty in particular. If you want me to accept that Monty is actually dead Ravi, give me some documentation of how (and preferably why) Ravi got into baby Monty (whom we never see) - like the way the link is set up in Om Shanti Om. I don't think the filmmakers were trying to be subtle about it - "subtle" is not really a part of this film - so I'm left thinking maybe they just didn't want to bother.

Long story short: Karz never fully inspired me to suspend disbelief. But apart from no explanation as to how Ravi became Monty, the story fit their lives together well. One loved his mother and sister; the other felt the bitter sting of not having any family. One was duped by his beloved; the other dished out deceit as payback. One talked about learning to play guitar; the other was a...I was going to say "virtuoso" but let's settle for "pop star who is presented as adept with at least three instruments."

Aside on set design: speaking of instruments, what is with the guitars all over the place? If they meant something other than reminding us of Monty's musicality, I missed it. Also, there are repeated visual references to mothers and mother's milk (or else somebody had a breast fetish); I'll leave it to Filmi Girl analyze that one, since she pointed it out, but in the meantime here are some bits of evidence (or maybe they're all references to Kali from the pre-reincarnation scenes?).

Just in case we didn't get the live mother/child pairing, the painting in the background clues us in.

This one is in Kamini's bedroom, and the only time I noticed it was when the camera swirls around her bed as she is attacked and almost raped by this guy,

who turns out to be someone hired by Monty to mess with her head. Personally, I don't think there's anything particularly maternal about that image, and I resent the movie linking female sexuality with sexual assault. And speaking of incongruous home decor, in the hallway outside Kamini's room, there's a poster of a bunch of kittens in a basket; we see it as Rishi collapses against the door frame and fires a gun at the creepy man. Weird!

Second best thing about Karz: songs! "Paisa Yeh Paisa" is a wonderful way to introduce the main character! Its outfits are inexplicably Euro-ish (see second image from top)! I kept wanting Rishi to do some of those Russian squatting kicks. The way the credits are integrated into the set is so clever!

Plus it adds another great Bollywood counting song to my repertoire in case I ever get tired of tired of "Ek Do Teen" from Tezaab. "Dard-e-Dil Dard-e-Jigar" gets stuck in my head all the time, and Rishi looks like he's having a great time performing it. "Om Shanti Om" is one of the best sets I've ever seen. I like its oversized record player even better than the oversized typewriter in Bombay Talkie, its Shashilessness notwithstanding.

The title theme is worked throughout the movie really well, even when potentially oveshadowed by giant drums, chimes, thunderclaps, and aesthetically displeasing disco riffs. Teeny downside about the songs: my viewing companions and I are not sure this movie sufficiently showed off Rishi's dancing skills.

Third best: Pran! In earrings! Being helpful! Dressing up in fun disguises!

Runners-up: Simi Garewal's wigs,

the many hats of dubious taste,

I don't know if you can see it, but in addition to Rishi's little furry cap, the women have flowers all over their heads and the men are wearing fedoras with plumes and one side of the brim pinned up (à la an unfortunate marching band).
and the skeleton suits that managed to convince Kamini she saw ghosts. What about these says "BHOOOOOOT!" to you?

The one on the right has glasses on over his mask. Oooh, scary.

Unless you're dealing with something along the lines of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani (recently excellently reviewed by Todd over at Teleport City), guys in skeleton leotards with glasses should be a sign that you've got nothing worthwhile left to say about a movie. So I'll stop and sum up. For all its wacky bits and excellent songs, Karz didn't do much for me, and I'm really glad it reincarnated into Shahrukhy, affectionately satirical Om Shanti Om. The upcoming Himmesh version, though...yech.

* To my mind, OSO is at its worst once the revenge plot really kicks in, with Om terrorizing Mukesh and staging the elaborate reenactment, and that's when it's most directly comparable to the action in Karz. When OSO lost its sense of fun towards the end, that's when I got unhappy with it.


Anonymous said…
Hmm, I always had the impression that Ravi Verma was literally reborn as Monty, as in Monty wasn't and wouldn't have been born until Ravi was dead and cremated at which point his wandering soul manifested itself as a baby in some woman's womb who then reciprocated by leaving said baby to be raised by wolves or money hungry millionaires (either / or, whichever found him first).

Your take on it suggests demonic possession :D Which isn't a bad theme but not how reincarnation works imo.

This is one of those movies that really works when you see it as an adolescent. I loved it as a child! And the songs were all pretty fantastic.

Actually my favorite performance of this movie, apart from Rishi, was Simi Garewal. That little bit about the wig going on and coming off was just fabulous and spot on.
Rum said…
i think a sixth masala pradesh has been named by you as disco masala! this is why i love subhash ghai, a true silly king of masala, with a usual dirty old man zoom-ups of boobs and many other stuff! rishi looks soo cute and emo, though i do love raj kiran, was he the same guy in arth? the bhoot skeletons were just hilarious, i got soo scared for nights!
Now, this sounds very much like my kind of film.
The reincarnation should prove to be no problem to me. "Oh, it's a revenge from the grave film Masala style! Excellent!"

(One of the fun underpinnings of films by -even slightly- religious people can be hard for us atheists too appreciate. See, it's not coincidence! It's destiny! God's will! etc. As long as no one is punished for decidedly non-evil things I'm all for it.)
Anarchivist said…
Karz! Yes! Rishi in the silver Om Shanti Om outfit is one of my Favorite Things Ever; as is the “bhoot!” scene.

I had the same thought about the electric guitars: not something disco music is exactly known for. The guitars in this movie and (especially) Disco Dancer have to be symbolic in some way, although I’d be making a wild guess about what they’re symbolic of. A Western attitude? Rock-n-roll cool? No idea.

I agree with Houseinryleh: I had no problem with the reincarnation stuff, probably because the phrase “beyond the grave” is so much a part of my normal vocabulary as well. But especially since the murder took place in front of the statue of Kali, I was like, well, these things happen!

Speaking of which, have you seen Karan Arjun? It’s a bit violent, and I can’t say it’s good, but it made me laugh a lot. When 1st half Om in OSO talks about playing brothers who are killed before the interval and reincarnated in the second half, I felt it was a sweet little shout-out. Except in the real movie it was him and Salman Khan, which was much scarier.
ajnabi said…
Karan Arjun is hilarious. I absolutely recommend watching it yourself, but if you choose not to I wrote an Adventures in YouTube post on it.

Anyway, I have to say that reincarnation storylines are among my least favorite, for the logistics of the thing if nothing else. I don't think I'll be watching Karz anytime soon, especially given your lukewarm take on it.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
This movie for me falls solidly into the "So bad that it's almost good" category. Sir Juda and his tapping fingers, Rishi's medical diagnosis (and hospital brain-scan paraphernalia)...I tend to focus on details like that and ignore the bigger picture, which I think works better sometimes.

I hated the songs, they reminded me of DD's songs in that they are so bad they are laughable, but not listenable.

Sorry I missed the watch-along, but life beckoned...sigh.
Thanks for referencing me into your post! I really think it is v interesting how this movie almost like a launch pad for all of Ghai's future movies: flamboyant, with big musical numbers.

Raj Kiran is cute! And I really beleive RIshi was wearing gloss/lipstick in the majority of the movie- I guess a lot of em did...:D
Anonymous said…
"Rishi-licious Disco masala" sums it up admirably. The movie had plenty of Rishi in all modes - loverboy, dico-dancer (even if he didnt get to show his moves too much), emo, stalker, revenge seeker, etc. And to me that in itself is a recommendation over OSO - plus the fact that I had seen this (and liked it) years before OSO. But I agree with you that there could have been more romance - especially for the Rishi-Simi pair.
Filmi Girl said…
Ah - I fall squarely in the camp of those people who do not need reincarnation explained to them. I actually didn't care for the SRK soul-transformation bit in OSO. If something is going to be mysteriously religious, I'd prefer to NOT have it rationally explained. I suppose this is where we differ on the masala film. :D

I thought the transition from Ravi Verma - who has a family, an estate, a wife, and a community - to poor orphaned Monty - who has his talent and not much else - was really well done. The plot then is less about the mechanics of how and more about the why.

Just my two cents, of course... I should write this one up, too! I'm getting my screen capping finger ready right now!
Todd said…
Thanks for the shout-out, Beth! I never would have found JD:EAK had you not alerted me to its dubious charms, so thanks(?) for that, as well.

As for this one, ehhh... I'm usually partial to Bollywood films with supernatural elements, but Rishi Kapoor? *shudder* I just can't stand the man.
Unknown said…
Like many here, I enjoyed this film as a kid. Not sure now, because, in general I do not like Subhash Ghai movies. His songs are always good though. I think most of his movies run because of the songs.

The final revenge scene in OSO was inspired by an old black&white Dilip Kumar film, 'Madhumati'. You might wanna watch that. It has beautiful songs.
Anonymous said…
“…and I resent the movie linking female sexuality with sexual assault.”

That, sadly, seems to be typical Bollywood. After all, “a woman traveling alone is an unlocked treasure box” (an oft repeated quote in Jab We Met)

This kind of attitude was why I can’t stand the first half of Dil Se. You were much kinder in your review of that film than I was.
Amrita - Ohhhhh! That makes more sense. Clearly I have zero understanding of how this works and the components of the process are timed, and as always I'm glad you explain :)

I can definitely understand really digging this movie as a kid (if I wouldn't have been afraid of the creepy rapist and guns and stuff). Simi was great!

Rum - Oh yes, a disco state! It must be. I think this is only my second Ghai film; clearly I must investigate further. And post on Taal, which I've seen multiple times but somehow never written about.

house - I'd never thought about that approach, either ;)

Anarchivist - It is a might fine outfit, agreed. I have hinted to various people I might try to replicate it for Halloween; when I wondered out loud about how to get the silver shoes, Shweta piped right up with a maker and style AND said she has some! Clearly I must pursue this idea. The real question is, do I put MONTY or BETH on the back of the shirt?

Re: electric guitars, if you think back to White Snack et al., I think the guitars were phallic, and I wouldn't be surprised it that were true here too (as a balance to the mother imagery? as a reminder of the strength and power of our heroes?) (in addition to the things you suggest too).

I totally get that "these things happen" in masala movies - I just don't always get how or why. Which may mean that I don't in fact truly get them after all. Argh! Brain, stop worrying and just go with it.

I haven't seen Karun Arjun. I'm pretty intrigued by the cast....

ajnabi - Oooh I like the "Advetures" idea and will explore over the weekend. That might be the right way to explore Karz - I can't imagine you won't dig disco-y songs.

memsaab - Ha! I can imagine that. The finger tapping is awesome, and I had decided upon seeing it that I would make a banner out of a capture of Rishi with the head full of electrodes and wires :) We think alike.

"Life"? What is THAT?

Shweta - You're making me even more curious about Ghai's stuff!

Agreed re: Raj and Rishi.

bollyviewer - Ah, the many faces of Rishi!

Filmi - It's not uncommon for me have trouble getting my brain around mysteriously religious things - not just in movies, either. I like your point about the contrast between Ravi and Monty - I hadn't thought about that. You should definitely write it up! :)

Todd - But of course! Your JD:EAK piece mightily improved my work day when I read it.

Like with Ajnabi, I recommend you youtube a few bits of this and see what you think. At least to see Rishi faking the violin!

Vatsala - The childhood familiarity with movies is such an interesting factor. As I read these comments, I tried to think of my favorite childhood films and how I think of them as an adult, and I'm not coming up with any suitable parallels so far.

Dave - Definitely a problematic theme, as is stalking=affection. I need to see Dil Se again, now that I have more context for it.
Temple said…
Hey Beth - Karz is excellent! I often bung the soundtrack on and prance about my living room in high-stepping Rishi style (minus silver suit) and wish for a revolving stage of my own...The reincarnation thing worked for me as I did think it was a rebirth in a completely new life, but the remembering the previous life thing took a while to digest. I saw this well before I had seen OSO so the parallels increased my enjoyment of OSO as I spotted the obvious references (and had a friend explain the rest). I don't get so scared by Bollywood Plasticine scarring and deformity so some of the horror elements missed their mark, but I am very fond of the skeletons. They are almost as good as the ones in Bhoot Bungla (although the BB ones have groovy dance moves so the playing field is not level).
Musically Karz is a hit with me. I love the giant turntable and the zippy editing that disguises Rishi stumbling by turning the shot upside down. I love that he feels the music and prances happily, but I do look away when he starts feeling himself (not as dirtographic as that sounds but I know you all know the bit I mean)from the knees up to the chest.
All in all, and so many others have commented so much more insightfully than I would, I do rate this as a foundation masala movie that should be seen to appreciate what came after.
Temple - I'm laughing so hard at the idea of prancing around one's living room in high-stepping Rishi style that I can hardly finish reading the rest of your comment! First, you must invent a term that encompasses "prancing around one's living room in high-stepping Rishi style," partly because it's such a great concept but so cumbersome to type and partly because I do it often myself and would just like a name for it.

I am also v v grateful to you for the term "foundation masala movie" and I think you should make a list of said films - I'm perfectly serious when I say I would take such a document as a study guide. Actually, I think everyone who reads this and wants to should make such a list - surely there would be some overlap, but I bet each person would come up with individual variations and preferences!

In the meantime, can I come visit you so we can prance around together Rishishtyle? I definitely need a dose of that.
Aaron Rester said…
Beth, I think you may have just spawned a half-dozen dissertations on "disco masala." I love it.
Temple said…
still working on the phrase...But if you're ever in Melbourne (Australia) you will find lots of folk happy to demonstrate their Rishishtyle both prancing and non-prancing. The choreo in Karz was a bit disappointing, in answer to your question over on the HMJ thread. I recently stumbled across the title song from a movie called Hum Aapke Deewane which featured Jeetendra, Rishi and wossisname Roshan in an awesome disco-masala number including bizarre costumes that looked like they had built in sequinned gunshot wounds, choreo that included some body percussion (slap those thighs gents)and a lot of glitz. I haven't managed to find it on youtube so I can't prove that it exists. But I will go looking for the movie as a result.
I will also think about my foundation movies - Karz, Sholay, Don (Big B) are all referenced so much by later films that they are essential viewing. I know there are more - I will go home and check my collection...
Unknown said…
Hi Beth!
my name is Saniya [contrary to my blog name] and I randomly came across your posts...they are thoroughly entertaining and you come off as extremely intelligent inthem! I enjoyed reading them immensely and love your point of view on bollywood. I myself am India, and watch bollywood movies all the time :) Just thought I'd let you know how much I enjoyed them!
This is my blog by the way:
though I have not yet discussed any bollywood [very new blog] I do hope to in the future!
red42 said…
Hi Beth,
So glad you reviewed this movie. It was one of the first Rishi movies I saw and I just loved him in it! I agree that it drags in the second half, but the first half was so wondrously masala that it's still a favourite - but then I am a fan of reincarnation movies generally. I love the skeletons - there is something so ridiculous about men in skintight suits with bones painted on that you just can't help but enjoy them! The soundtrack is great and would agree that this is a movie that should be seen by all despite it's flaws.
Anonymous said…
Hi Beth

Karz is a remake of the Hollywood movies " Re-incarnation of Peter Proud".

I saw the original ages ago, hence decided to give Karz a miss though it was a big hit in India esp the songs


Amey said…
So, did you decide to watch the original one before the new and imprrroved one comes along?

A question to ponder: If Rishi Kapoor had guitars lying around to remind us that he is a singer, what will Himmessshh have? Inverted mikes? Posters of noses? Caps?
Aaron - They'd better credit me. Since I'm clearly never going to write my own dissertation, I'd love to be mentioned in someone else's :)

Temple - I've been to Melbourne! I love it! I was there for almost 3 weeks back in 2001! But I didn't know about Bollywood then, so clearly I missed out :( I am going to have to find that song you're talking about. Clearly awesome.

Saniya - Thank you! I'm glad you've come by and posted.

red42 - I agree about the halves. Why do thinks so often tank?!? That's a question for someone to take up. I love the skeletons too - I laughed and laughed (but was not at all frightened, even though I startle really easily).

Meera - I don't know that one! I'll have to investigate.

Amey - Hells no. I am not watching Himmmmmmmesh do anything if I can possibly avoid it. I think you're dead on re: caps. It has to be caps.
Temple said…
Beth, next time you get to Melbourne, check out:
It's where I practice my tippy-toe Disco Dancer prancing and high-stepping Rishishtyle, and try and develop some semblance of coordination :)
Temple - I am sooooooo jeeeeeeeeeealous! I wanna prance and high step with yoooooou! That looks so fun. I'll have to tell my Melbourne friend he should go. HA. In the 11 years I've known him, I'm not sure I've ever seen him dance, though he does have an interest in India and has traveled there a bit, so maybe he would cave to peer pressure.
Anarchivist said…
I just borrowed your record player screenshot to post Rishi in my new cubicle. :)
MOST EXCELLENT! I am inspired to do the same.

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