Shankar Dada

Is Shankar Dada an ahead-of-its time example of decline and fall masala, a.k.a. teetering towards embarrassingly debauched and past its prime/backwass masala? Or is it a brilliant synergy of style and substance? You decide!

Exhibit A: story
The description of Shankar Dada from the back of its Ultra DVD box says more about the movie than I could ever come up with. Here it is exactly:
Amarsingh an honest Police Officer deligent, hardworking, dutiful and devotee of nation leads a happy life with his loving wife Shante and twin sons Ram & Shankar.

Babu Dada an antinational, antisocial, criminal wants to buy Amarsingh the honest police officer, who defies and is trapped in a murder case. Innocent Amarsingh is sentence for life imprisonment.

The family of Amarsingh is scattered. All three are separated. Wife Shanta becomes Half-mad. Ram becomes a Police Officer and Shankar becomes a criminal.

Amarsing after serving his term in jail, comes out as a different person in disguise of docit Lakhan singh and takes a vow to un-earth all the antinational activities of Babu Dada alais Babu Bhai. He succeeds in his mission. How?

I. G. Praises Amarsingh's honest and dutiful role and recommends government to reopen his case and re-instate him as police officer. Amarsingh gets re-instatement or not?

Ram & Shanker could meet together again or not?

What happened to Amarsing's Wife Shanta? The answers to all this is available on Ultra DVD of 'Shankar Dada.'
At least all the answers is available! Be grateful for small consistencies.

Let me try to straighten this out a little bit for you, the esteemed jury. Pran is Amarsingh,

and after he is unjustly incarcerated, his twin sons and wife are separated. His twin sons grow up to be evil Shashi Kapoor (Shankar)

and good Shashi Kapoor (Ram),

and his wife (Anjali Kadam) is barely scraping by. After being duped in a song by dancer/gang member Bindiya (Bindu), Shankar joins forces with supreme baddie Babu (Anwar Hussain), not knowing that Babu was the one ultimately responsible for his pathetic orphan back story. Once out of prison, Amarsingh takes on the disguise of dacoit Lakhansingh to infiltrate the gang. Dedicated Amarsingh can't make do with just one disguise, though: he also becomes a near-deaf household servant (cue stupid comic relief) and a community-minded beggar. Shankar and Ram variously go under cover as each other, which is possibly less to do with the plot and more just an excuse to put Shashi in more disguises, but that's okay, because that is a Beth Loves Bollywood-approved goal for 1970s filmmaking. Ashok Kumar plays the superintendent of police, Ram's boss. Neetu Singh shows up as Roopa, the niece of Babu, and daughter of the head of the mint, whom the gang has kidnapped. She is coerced into seducing officer Ram in "Ek Main Ek Tu," one of the best Neetu songs ever (and a fine Shashi one too, because he is both flustered and manic), complete with a round spinning bed and fake-pretend drunkenness.

Neetu and Shashi make a cute couple, even though it's vaguely weird that she's his niece (ditto Babita) and that in another movie released the same year as this one she plays his son's girlfriend.
Somewhere in all of this, Ram and Shankar meet up with their long-lost parents,

and the parents themselves even have a near-miss that would be sad if I didn't know it'd be sorted out in another hour. More crazy stuff happens and there's a gigantic fight at the end involving every single extra who appears anywhere in the film.

Exhibit B: visuals

And that's just the credits! Throughout the movie, there are jarring juxtapositions of colors and patterns in the costumes and set design.

This last one is an oval spiral staircase at a hotel. If you know where this hotel is in real life, please let me know so I can book a stay immediately.
There is no safe place for your eyes in this film.

Update to post (December 14, 2008): Alert blogger Bollywood Food Club has posted some pictures from the 1970 film Sawan Bhadon, and the kaleidoscopic pattern that appears behind the producer's name in the titles of this film also appeared in the titles of that one!

Exhibit C: well done
I was so relieved to find out that Ashok Kumar was not going to be Shashi's long-lost twin. Shashi and Amitabh as twins, okay; Shashi and someone twenty-seven years his senior, no.

Shashilicious curls!

Yeah baby!

Ashok, here 65 years old, dances! And he's great!
He has a song with Bindu in which she tries to get money out of him and he, pretending to be a nawab (so yes, another disguise!), sings about all the starlets he has known (nudge nudge wink wink) - including Hema Malini, Parveen Babi, Helen, Bindu, and Shabana Azmi - so she'd be foolish to think she could pull anything over on him.

Babu's be-neckerchief-ed brigade of henchmen.



The gang's lair and its various outposts of evil have some neat touches, like a purple tunnel from the street, button-operated peep-holes at card games, and trapdoors at art galleries.

The sets, while totally eye-scarring, are exuberant, and either the production design team found some of the most god-awful interiors in Bombay or they spent a lot of money creating these things. Either way, I have to give them many points for effort.

When realizing that they are long-lost twins, Ram and Shankar have a conversation that goes like this: "Bhai?" "BHAI?" "BHAI?!?" "BHAI?!?!?!?!?!?" (For a discussion of the emotional efficacy of similar conversations, see PPCC on "A Joy like Knives.")

At one point, after evesdropping on the gang and discovering they have stolen the deity from the local temple, Amarsingh, now in disguise as a beggar, sings "Amiro Watan Se," an incongruous but awesome socialist, somewhat jingoistic
song about how the rich and powerful should set upon a course of social improvements.
O rich people, eradicate poverty from the country.... You buy the innocence of youth, liquor, and fair bodies, this beauty, this kohl, these anklets, these bells. Buy joys with the tinkle of money. If you save on tax, blow it up on sex. Blow it up! .... So many martyrs sacrificed their lives and got us freedom with great difficulty. Bapu’s death is immortal who gave his blood for peace of the country. Make the poor, too, a part of your progress. If the people of the country were with the government this country would make tremendous progress. There would be no theft, no corruption, no adulteration, and it would rain money in India. Wipe out poverty from the country. Everyone together say eradicate poverty from the country. Say it!
Both Helen and Gandhi make appearances in archival footage. I wonder if there's any other song that can make that claim!

An India made of people! Cool!

The movie has the very best secret identity revelation I have seen yet in Hindi cinema - and it's more fun than Keyser Söze (though with less overall impact for the story)!

Exhibit D: needs improvement
It is disingenuous to list Helen as a "guest appearance" in the opening credits when really she is just in a few seconds of archival footage. Everybody knows that the combination of the words "Helen" and "guest appearance" means she's doing a song.

After conning a queen out of some jewels, Shankar hides out as tawaif. As in Haseena Maan Jayegi, our beautiful Shashi still makes one heck of an ugly woman.

He also still looks like a man, thus undermining the utility of the disguise.

And there's a third one! It's not really a song - just some people dancing in the background while Shankar plays cards. The man wears a white satin martial arts-ish outfit and the woman wears a red minidress and pleather boots. She does go-go moves and, I guess does karate. All choreographed nicely under a disco ball, of course.

This number has potential for epic weirdness. But it's not given the attention it would need to be a full-on over-the-top song. It's a wasted opportunity but yet too distracting to be mere wallpaper. Not that you could overlook the wallpaper in this movie if you tried.

Occasional moments of horrible writing, like the scene in which officer Ram drives a jeep in pursuit of diamond-smuggler Shankar, who is in a helicopter. This guy is Ram's office contact and keeps bellowing the same completely obvious instructions - "Stay with the helicopter! Do you read me?" - to him over and over and over again.

Antarra's Ramblings proposed that this guy must be the director's uncle. I agree.

Lack of regular cast of bad guys like Mac Mohan and Yusuf Khan. Lack of regular half-mad mother Nirupa Roy or even Durga Khote.

Worst, though, Shankar Dada does not rollick along like one wants a 1976 masala movie to do. It clunks. There's really no excuse. It's 1976!
Neetu is not used to anything near her full potential (though she gets to do a little more than in Deewaar). Shashi looks tired through half of the film. Maybe he too was uninspired by the ramshackle plot. Maybe it's because he had eight other movies out that year and had been incredibly busy. Maybe it's because they kept putting Shankar in pants that are four inches too short and show off his red socks.

Beth Loves Bollywood's verdict
Overall it's just kind of a mess and never really takes off. There's too much scrambling around and not enough wackadoo and dil squish. Does not live up to potential. What say you, people of the court?


Rum said…
This I conclude must belong to the Funkadelic Masala state as well as the backwass Masala. I remember watching this a few weeks ago on telly I was excited as it was double Shashi and PRANNNN! I now love Pran after reviewing Tumse Achha Kaun Hai where he's a bad rapist that is somehow so supafly too! Back to this, I was dissapointed but I loved the sets and credit art! But even Shash in a mush couldn't make me like as much as i wanted to! NAHHHIIII
Anonymous said…
OMG this one was worse than "the suck to the extreme" (as Amrita would put it)! It was as if the director kept forgetting his script to the shoot and making do with different films' scripts each day. Also it appeared that he couldnt get dates with the leading pair either, there was very little Shashi Kapoor and barely any Neetu Singh (apart from the songs she must have had, say, 10 min of screen time) - poor Pran had do it alone, for the most part. :-(

Thought that it was not just an "eye-scarring" experience but also a total waste of my time (and I never grudge 3 hrs to Shashi+Neetu)!
Ooh, dual citizenship! For all its excellent Praniness - the movie really is his, no doubt - and double Shashi and promise of Neeeeeetu and Neetu/Shashi cutness, it's pretty dang disappointing. Agreed - I didn't like it as much as I wanted to either.

bollyviewer - BWAHAHAHAAH. I agree, it's worse than...oh my gosh, what was that movie called? [searching through blog] ah yes! Ganga aur Suraj. Yes. It does feel patched together - which would explain the relatively short run time (about 2:20:00) and lack of better songs - like, how about a Shashi and Shashi song? - and lack of developed story about the twins' different childhoods etc. Plus we could have had more Neetu - and that go-go karate song!
Anonymous said…
Ok, between you and BV this is definitely off my list. For some reason I was under the impression this was a Mithun movie so it's not like it was ever on my list to begin with, but man this sounds like a mess. Although you never know - the power of vodka has made me do funnier things than watch a Shashi movie with measly dil squishness.

Oh, and I believe the dishoomiest Kapoor of all the Kapoors would have to be Rishi Kapoor, simply because he had a career in the 80s and early 90s. When he wasn't beating up other people, he was beating himself up (ref: Chandni)
gebruss said…
Worse than Ganga aur Suraj? I think I have to disagree, or at least, while it may have a more disjointed script, I found this one to be more entertaining. But then I can be endlessly entertained by the question where a doily pattern is going to turn up next.

I am glad you found Helen.
Anonymous said…
But...but...something with this many good elements can't really be bad, can it? Really? The heck with it, I'm bumping it to the top of my Netflix queue.
Amey said…
Is Ram firing a 303 with just one hand? Isn't he afraid of recoil?

And is that 6-pack beer belly we see on the karate guy?

Or are my eyes just trying to adjust to the backgrounds for credits?
Beth, you puzzle me: aren't words like "disjointed" used synonymous to words like "fab", "must-see" etc?
Todd said…
Great post!;)

I dunno, the visuals make this pretty tempting. I will put it in the shopping cart or not?
Anonymous said…
Sounds like the visuals were the best parts..and you've given me those in this post! I think I'll sit this one out. At least until I see all the "dil-squish" Shashi films first--(Love that term).

I just saw "Deewar" and had the same Shashi/Neetu thought...cute but...isn't that his niece? Lol--only in Bollywood, eh?(or in my dad's family--he married his "cousin's" niece...I put cousins in quotes because it seems like everyone is cousins--20 years his junior--but that's another story)
Amrita - Would the presence of Mithun improve things? Discuss! It might just!

I do think this would make a good drinking game film. Every time you see two different textile patterns put next to each other, drink! Every time you see a frilly piece of furniture, drink!

Interesting re: Rishi and self-dishoom!

gebruss - It's more fun than Ganga aur Suraj, but probably, technically, a less well-made film. Does that make sense? I agree that it is more entertaining. Like you say - doilies!

Brian - Bad! Fun! Both!

When push comes to shove, if a movie is so unilaterally bad that it has no kind of joy whatsoever, I wouldn't be inspired to take over 100 screencaps.

Amey - He might just be, yes! Apparently Ram fears nothing. He also shoots down the helicopter, you'll be proud to know.

Yes re: karate guy. Fit he is not.

But you raise an important point. It's hard to know what one really did see in this movie and what one hallucinated or experienced as after-effects, etc.

house - But it hurts! My eyes! MY EYES!

Todd - ;) Do. Then be inspired for Halloween.

Nida - Yes! Plus some good Shashi-Neetu (though not enough, given the potential it had). The songs are okay, actually - not hummable, but enjoyable-ish in context. Bindu is fun, especially for someone like me who first met her as Mrs. Kakkad in Main Hoon Na and is still adjusting to her as a vamp.

At least in Deewaar, as here, she wasn't his niece at the time of filming. Still. Weird.
Anonymous said…
Disco karate! I've seen that elsewhere recently, I know I have. Star?

In any case, I loved many things about this, but also felt a little let down at the end. Didn't reach maximum potential. But at least it HAD potential.

ps My verification word is noxition. Seems like it could be a v.v. useful real word...
red42 said…
I'm undecided too - should I risk it for the truly amazing visuals and all that Pran? The pictures look fab, disco karate sounds awesome, and more Shashi in disguise. I guess if my local store has this movie I could be very tempted.....
ajnabi said…
Hmmm, well if Bindu looks like a drag queen then maybe he's just trying to fit into the local aesthetic. Or something. Still, I'll definitely give this one a miss. LOL
gebruss said…
Beth -- being technically worse but more fun makes sense. Personally, I would go for the more fun movie any time. However, I wouldn't join that drinking game. Very few people would make to the end of the movie. Also, what would you do if there were two contrasting textile patterns and something frilly in the same scene, which isn't that uncommon a situation.
Anonymous said…
Beth! Don't you know that Mithun is the subject of Which We Do Not Speak. Bollywood has been bitterly divided by Mithun for decades. there are those who believe nothing suits a Bollymovie better than a little disco-lighting, tight white pants, and WackoJacko moves. Then there are those who think nothing kills a Bollymovie sooner than a man who fears absolutely nothing, not even rubbing his face into the fat bosom of some extra he picked out of a line up to star as his heroine because it was more cost efficient that way.

The avalanche will now begin.
Amrita, thanks to you I'll now start calling Mithun "Mithun the Fearless". Personally, I can only approve of someone who still had a career after Commando.
Anonymous said…
I am way late on this one - just watching it now. And agree with almost everything you've said, Beth.

I am just under the weird impression that Helen in fact did hava a guest appearence. Isn't she the woman in the karate dance? I might be wrong because she'd be quite thin and sexy in this one. But the face. The teeth. The steps. Am I going crazy?
Anonymous said…
Music of this movie is really good.

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