In a masala-appropriate coincidence, Temple and I both recently selected vintage movies simply because of a hat that appeared in the film. (Hers is Yari Dushmani.) You can understand why I had to have this DVD as soon as I pulled it out of the bin at Planet M.
Fortunately, the hat was not a lie. Paapi is fantastic. Within seconds of the production banner, we have a lechy, shirtless Kamal Kapoor; an innocent, shirtless Heena Kausar; hot pink walls; a fake passport; a gold medallion; a fedora; Iftekhar as a police officer/father figure to a family of orphans; a motorcycle; and a stolen medal. If that isn't enough, someone looks out his window to see a party full of out-of-their-senses white folks dancing so suggestively that he is stirred into a murderous, rapey rage in the middle of the night/thunderstorm/a qawwali-like song led by Manmohan Krishna belting lyrics like "Clouds of sin are thundering and it is raining sin!" as the music intertwines with the firangis' hi-fi, someone almost gets burned alive in a haystack, someone else falls into a puddle and drowns, and then the sky turns red and the title drips across the screen like blood or tears.
That's all in the first eight minutes. Excuse me while I pause to catch my breath.
Basically, this film is 1970s masala magic of the highest order* and I am so happy the hat led me to it. The long-lost siblings are so beautifully emotional about each other before their reunion. One of them is even a sister, and as an adult (Zeenat Aman) she is not a prostitute or a long-suffering all-but-servant but a sought-after criminal with thieving, dancing, and allying skills. There are layers of villains (including the voice, but not the body, of Amrish Puri), relevant comic side plots, people who might not be dead after all, groovy clothes and furniture, a full-on role for Padma Khanna, tons of character actors and supporting players, and questions about the redemptive power of love and whether any of us has the right to judge another's wrongdoings. It has a few unfortunate detours about women—like Sanjeev Kumar being thrilled to find out that Zeenat has remained pure while hanging out with the criminal gang, never mind that she has pointed a gun at him and has been robbing people—but they're brief and seem to have little impact on the characters or their actions.
As I was writing this post, I began to feel bad that I didn't have more to say about Paapi. But then I realized that being called top-notch 70s masala is no small thing. In fact, it's one of the most important and heart-felt compliments I could ever give a film. So makers of Paapi, be proud!
The songs by Bappi Lahiri are fantastic. My favorite is "Pyaar Hai Gunah," a nightclub number that introduces Padma Khanna. Watch it here courtesy of Papy Potage!
Chunaoti, and in this one she is friends and allies with the heroine rather than a snarling competitor. She even talks sense into the heroine at her darkest moment, empathizing over a life that seems to have been lived for nothing and providing a very pragmatic and noble, if filmi, light at the end of a philosophical tunnel.
Lots of good disguises and shenanigans. For example, if you have seen Kahaani, you will know exactly what is happening here.
The acting is mostly right on pitch. Zeenat overdoes it a bit when her character learns the news about her long-lost brother, but on the other hand you could print these pictures in manuals of masala acting under REALIZATION!!! and OHNOES!!!
Ditto for some of the gestures. On the left, she extends her hands to her brother before clutching them at her heart as she realizes she can never meet him; on the right she extends her hands to the proper authorities, ready to accept punishment for her life of crime.
|Parallels: we can haz them!|
The dialogues are in for textbook masala-ness too.
|Zeenat's necklace has a key role.|
|Iftekhar is concerned.|
Zeenat drives like a maniac.
Prem Chorpa is gross (in a pleasing way).
Nadira shows up!
|Don't let the rickrack fool you into thinking she's a girl scout.|
It may also be the location of my favorite staircase. The characters talk about going to Hotel Volga, but I don't know if that's the location's actual name.
|Love the view from inside the staircase on the bottom right!|
Of course there are great clothes. I am especially fond of the men's shirts, but the ladies get some fun nighttime and performance wear. And Reena Roy's heart-bordered sari is a level of hilarious-yet-adorable that I've never before sampled.
So: watch Paapi. The hat will never lead you astray.
* Its only 1970s flaw: somehow not managing to include any of the Kapoor family.