Next up in an eventual trilogy of posts on films by director K. S. R. Doss, all courtesy of Todd of Die Danger Die Die Kill: Mosagallaku Mosagaadu, a film I've been calling Vintage Pastel Telugu Cowboys because I have no idea how to pronounce its proper title. In my defense "vintage pastel Telugu cowboys" evokes quite a lot of the fun of this 1971 romp through the deserts of Rajasthan and the closets of a local production of Oklahoma with a heavy splash of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.* This post is going to sound an awful lot like my writeup of the last Doss film I saw, James Bond 777, because I found many of their shared features very attractive and gleefully fun to experience. If you read that post and are in a rush at the moment, you'll get the gist of what I'm about to say by mentally replacing any kind of reference to "spies/espionage" with "cowboys/treasure," "black and white" with "candy store," and "groovy/mod/fab" with "occasionally whiplash-inducing shifts in tone."
Add this to my next collection of amazing title typefaces!
Mosagallaku Mosagaadu again features Superstar Krishna as the slightly ethically questionable hero, Prasad, who takes a break from his usual shenanigans against the rich in aid of the poor and oppressed to go in search of some legendary treasure.**
This picture doesn't really fit here, but I had to show you that the cave the treasure was hidden in is full of skeletons and ginormous spider webs!
He is joined in this quest by all the other major characters of the film, including bad girl Bijili (Jyothi Laxmi), love interest Radha (Vijaya Nirmala), uneasy colleague and sometimes foe Naaganna (Nagabushanam), and a slew of bad guys whose names I didn't catch.
The treasure is protected by five keys, and part of the story traces what the bad guys did to Krishna's father to get those keys and what he does to avenge his father and collect them again before reaching the gold
Radha also has a revenge arc; her father too was slain by baddies, and it is just her good fortune that Krishna happened upon her when she was being stalked in the woods and took her under his baby-blue wing and turned her into a sharpshooter to be reckoned with.
Even though it seems sort of out of place, I like how Radha and Prasad stand side by side in some of their later confrontations, smiling and shooting bad guys, almost like they're doing it just to be silly.
Bijili is also an enemy of sorts, at turns in disbelief and fury that Prasad does not return her affections for him.
To see the enthusiasm with which Bijili expresses said affections, watch the following video at about 7:25.
To me, there is something utterly charming in her spazzy dancing and lyrics like (according to the subtitles) "Believe me, I too have crossed the limits/I formed a liking for your manliness.... We are made for each other in every aspect/If you will not accept this, it will create problems." It's probably what would happen if I ever had to dance for a hero.
I love both these feisty fightin' females; for those of you who like your feisty females to actually fight each other, you can have that too.
They're both kick-ass, and they both have their own missions. Radha has as much determination to avenge her father as Prasad; even before she has any actual skills, she swears she will provide rest for his soul. And like many good heroines, she dances in the snow in flimsy outfits and bare feet with no complaint.
Bijili's unrequited love for Prasad might read as somewhat comic—as perhaps does Jyothi Laxmi's daytime Emmy-worthy whips of her head in response to action or statements by other characters—but I admire her confidence that she doesn't need men but simply wants one particular specimen and will use the rest of the males she encounters to serve her own ends. She's always willing to give Prasad another chance to join her side (both romantically and in the search for the treasure), even though she comes veeeery close to producing the final result of "If I can't have him, no one will" as she aids—and, this being Indian popular cinema, serenades—Naaganna in torturing Prasad with a march through blistering sun and sands.
For all of their stylistic and component similarities, Mosagallaku Mosagaadu has more emotional impact than James Bond 777. Though we've seen children avenge parents many times before, somehow there was a brutality to those scenes in this film that rattled me more than usual. Prasad is initially is much more concerned about the oppression of the poor by the rich than about his parents' desire for him to come home, but the eventual murder of his parents sends him down an entirely different path littered with corpses. There is loud, squishy violence throughout the film, but it ramps up as Prasad takes his revenge. Even scenes that are only loosely contextual to it get grosser. I'm thinking specifically of the depiction of a tribal group, the leader of which has one of the keys to the treasure: they're shown carousing, drunk, and torturing one of their own who has informed on them. Clearly an uncivilized group who will feel the weight of the hero upon them, though the whole issue of "civilized" does not really come to play in this story, thankfully, and it can hardly be argued that Prasad is noble in the usual sense of filmi heroes. Of course, at the end of the film the hero is very noble indeed, tying everything up with a pleasant shiny bow...or perhaps a sunny yellow lasso, to stay in keeping with the aesthetics of the film.
The two films both sport amazing music. This film uses the hero's theme a little more sparingly, but it's still a big fanfare blast with a sort of rallying cry for Prasad. Brass, harmonica, whistling, and a chorus of "Ya ya hoo! Ho!" set the tone beautifully for a galloping hero. Hear it here. Again, sometimes the background score does not, to my ear, coordinate with the emotional and ethical tone of what's going on, rollicking as it may be, but overall it is awesome, very energetic and lots of percussion used to emphasize action, motion, and maybe even a gunshot here and there.
Mosagallaku Mosagaadu features some of what I'm learning are K. S. R. Doss's regular techniques, like funky camera angles that visually reinforce the strength or significance of a character.
I know a hero stance when I see one.
He places his camera in trees fifteen feet above the action and looks straight down on it; later it's looking straight up as someone leaps off a camel over it; then it's on the ground looking through the sand as someone staggers across the dunes.
Several times he uses a fisheye lens to show the sky and trees or cliffs surrounding the character whose point of view he is expressing, most notably spinning around to represent the pain of someone on his back being drawn and quartered. The "victim's eye" technique is also used with Radha as she runs through a forest being pursued by an enemy we don't see; Doss actually switches the camera back and forth between prey and hunter, making the chase much more intense than it would have been if we were removed enough to see both of them in the same frame.
In the spirit of a picture being worth a thousand words, I made a collage of screen captures of what was for me the film's most significant delight, its gumball-hued wardrobe.
In the course of writing it up, I've seen the film three times and never failed to pause and reflect on the special joy that is the plastic cowboy hats, some of which seem to have been made of slightly melted and reconstituted garbage bags. In that spirit of the Halloween discount bin, there is something decidedly footy-pajama-y about some of Prasad's monochromatic outfits, even when you can see they consist of separate shirt and trousers. As someone with no attachment to film westerns from any culture or to any sense of accuracy when it comes to the loose pop cultural concept of "cowboy," this is a compliment: the film evokes the freewheeling fun of being a little kid on a winter Saturday, running around the house with a plastic sheriff's badge or a towel safety-pinned around your neck to make a superhero cape. There's also a certain unexpected drama that comes from the juxtaposition of lavender jeans or giant disco-ball earrings
with a lethal axe fight or forced death march. File these under the category of practical, versatile clothing that can go seamlessly from the day job of bloody revenge to a night on the town—or at least a sudden song teleport to Himachal Pradesh.
Before I leave the general topic of costumes, I must comment on hair and makeup too. Most of the men are also plastered with geisha-esque levels of white facial makeup (as in the picture of Krisha and Nagabushanam in a fur-trimmed hat above), and Krishna again appears with towering hair that somehow remains vertical after hours of being crunched under a cowboy hat. Even the principal baddie has one, featuring a style that Temple, Dolce and Namak, and I have begun calling, in the tradition of filmic Telugu heroic monikers, Shahenshah Squirrel Pompadours.
I like to think the uncrushable nature of the pompadour suggests the hero's almost eternally upright nature.
Read more about these violent violet cowboys in Todd's review and CineGoer. And stay tuned for an upcoming episode of Masala Zindabad that will feature Todd discussing more of Doss's films with Amrita and me!
* I have never seen The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly so will not discuss this film in reference to it.
** An aside about the story exposition: the introduction sets up some back story that I found confusing and not at all important to the "now" part of the film. All you need to know is that the treasure was rescued out of a battle between a kingdom in Andhra Pradesh and some evil Europeans. But because this episode is depicted in charming paintings, I had to include them here out of my love for illustrated title sequences, even though they aren't technically part of the titles.