Sunday, September 06, 2015

Helen preserve us—this blog is now ten years old!

In honor of all the films, friends, and fun—the best decade of my life, actually—here are my ten favorite songs set in villain lairs. 

1. "Yamma Yamma" from Shaan (1980)
Amitabh, Shashi, Helen, Parveen, and Bindya Goswami in "disguise" as "gypies" dance in Shakaal's underwater lair around a flaming brazier amid a ton of backing dancers/acrobats/flags. If I had to name the most famous song in a lair, it's this one, partly because of the high-caliber stars; if I had to name a best lair song, "Yamma Yamma" might also win.
• Huge and spectacular set (flames, rock walls, gold throne, mural of tigers, oddly placed library near the throne).
• So much is happening!
• Classic villain (Kulbhushan Kharbanda as faux Bloefeld in faux military type clothes).
• Classic plot: the musical number is a ruse by our heroes to distract the villain while a colleague continues the mission elsewhere (there are shots of Shatrugan Sinha stalking around other parts of the lair).
• At the end, the villain does a slow clap and says "very good, wonderful."

2. "Zalim Duniya Ham Pe" from Wardaat (1981)
Where to start with this song's greatness? Almost all the characters are in Egypt ("Egypt") for no apparent reason (previous scenes superimpose them on backgrounds of actual Egyptian ruins, but in a blink of an eye they're suddenly in a lush green jungle before going back to the ruins) and the sets are a masterpiece of "don't let your budgets restrict your dreams," including some ceiling-height statues and a huge fanged sphinx. Most everyone is in sort of gypsy/tribal (though not Egyptian) costumes with feathers and fringe except Mithun and Shakti Kapoor, who seem to be just wearing whatever they came to work in. There are silent gun-toting henchmen. The villain has an enormous hunchback and presides in an elevated spinning chair (probably just a regular office chair that someone elevated on a box). Don't miss Mithun's unexplained (some may say "inexplicable") flamenco moves.

3. "Aye Naujawan Hai Sab" from Apradh (1972)
Feroz Khan stars in this and directs it too, and the man is Hindi cinema's master of enjoyable sleaze. Our hero (Feroz) is drinking too much and imagining the woman he loves (Mumtaz) as the item girl, a clear sign that all is not well in his head. Helen/Mumtaz's outfit is completely ridiculous and ugly in that way that 70s costumers and maybe even audiences found "glamorous"—and I love them for it. There are swimming pools and fountains with colored lights, full of stoned gori extras. There are gambling tables, a revolving bar, mariachis, a stuffed tiger mounted on some rocks with a bright red light shining on it, and naked statues in risqué poses. The setting is debauch-o-rama yet nothing particularly untoward actually transpires.

4. "Dekha Sahib O Sahib" from Chor Sipahee (1977)
This is a movie not enough people have seen, and this lair is fantastic. It has a spiraling slide! Oozily bad Ranjeet is dressed as a sheikh in a colorful tuxedo and silver boots. Shashi is an undercover cop who looks far more uncomfortable than he should if he wants to stay undercover. Parveen Babi shimmies around while wearing a giant tiara. Gaudy architecture and random dancing extras and henchmen in a variety of outfits. Shashi also uses the distraction to go free Shabana Azmi from wherever it is she's been hiding/being held.

5. "Shamma Jale Yana Jale" from Paapi (1977) (another film not nearly enough people have seen)
Again, it has everything I like in a lair—and set to music! Evil decor, alcohol, henchmen in white gloves, bar, masked man watching from behind a screen, villain looking debauched in his glittery bathrobe, weird furniture (tables held up by statues of naked ladies). I can't remember why Zeenat is doing this scene in the story (I think she's trying to infiltrate or distract), and then hey! Another random lady shows up in a short glittery skirt and cape (superhero cheerleader?)—because why not? Zeenat's clothes are also fascinating in a particular combination of outrageous and "I really wish I had an occasion to wear that, especially if I could chop off the black ankle frills." It just all screams "bad."

6. "Mujhe Maar Daalo Main" from Geeta Mera Naam (1974)
I haven't seen this movie because I can never find it with subtitles, but from what I've read this is the lair. It also has masala trademarks like baddies restraining the hero who protests while a good girl acts bad (I assume under duress or for a higher, possibly self-sacrificing cause?). Helen has a crazy wig and headpiece and is dancing in pink bubbles with an unfortunately attired guy who is actually a choreographer. Whip cracks punctuate the song in an unexpectedly S&M sort of way. Fun camera angles. Garish colors and seemingly randomly placed furniture. That black and white wall hanging of cats appears in film after film. Sunil Dutt watches (presides?) from the sidelines in a black leather coat, though unfortunately not clutching the stuffed toy monkey that he often has in this film.

7. "Kisne Dekha Hai Kal/Aaja Mere Pyar Aaja Ab To Raha Nahi Jaaye" from Heeralal Pannalal (1978)
Amjad Khan is very clearly in darkening face makeup and horrible wig, and then there's Prem Nath in floral (?) pajamas decorated with pompoms and feathers and a very broad mustache and an absolutely enormous plumed hat. I have struggled for years to come up with a phrase that captures this look; the best I can do is "Chinatown five-and-dime slumber party goes to Carnival." The walls are sherbet colored, the bar has big lips on it, and backing ladies "play guitar" in satin fringed bikinis. R. D. Burman goes crazy vocally, which in my opinion is always a great time. Watch the moving doors in the background that keep revealing and concealing mirrors. Ajit also has a great wig and weirdly colored makeup.

8. "Jali Hai Nafrat Ki Aag Dil Mein" from Ganga Aur Suraj (1980)
This is not a great movie but the song is a fine exemplar of the trope "girl goes undercover among villains to free boy and actually illustrates her plan with her dance and song but somehow nobody notices." Plenty of requisite bystanding stock-still henchmen. I also like the sort of semi-ruined palace set—the villains aren't meticulous enough to restore everything and clear out the vines, but they do appreciate some nice jaali work. They're also more populist, relatible in ways that the mega-rich with their revolving bars and underwater death traps can never be.

9. "Jhoom Jhoom Ta Tu" from Players (2012)
This is a godawful movie and neither Sonam Kapoor nor Neil Nitin Mukesh are at all convincing in this song, but I include it to document my appreciation that the very form of "song in villain lair" is not dead. This shows just how similar lairs can be to filmi versions of "rich people houses." The only thing that really separates them is the illuminated spider logo. Speaking of, it's a pretty great lair by the definitions established in 70s masala: dance area, villain's personal logo as decor motif, reproductions of random famous artwork, spinning chair, round bed, big mirrors, random bright colors, surveillance equipment. The villain smirks while the good girl, writhing against walls/furniture, is undercover trying to infiltrate or seduce him into doing something. The light-up floor with a big map of New Zealand (where this scene takes place) even echoes the light-up globes on the arms of Mogambo's throne in Mr. India. It's all there, looking just as delightfully incoherent as it did in the masala heyday. Too bad it was wasted on such a nothing film.

10. "Main Hoon Don" from Don: The Chase Begins Again (2006)
This song almost had to exist in a do-over of a 70s classic. I should note that I do not know if this is actually a lair or just a nightclub, but I think if the bad guy owns the night club and does business there, maybe it can count as a lair? Lairs are often the site of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion, and this space and the lyrics do those things very well. It's the modern-day public face (or at least diwan-i-am) of the villain lair, whereas the song in Players is the private inner sanctum. And it continues the classic theme of a good character going undercover to serve the higher cause (or so we think, thanks to this film's truly great twist). All the things contained in the lair also meet the standard requirements: racially diverse audience members (though not in "ethnic costume" as in the 70s), random white ladies, a big dance floor, plenty of climate-inappropriate fabric (in this case, velvet), a bad girl, a good girl undercover, smug facial expressions by the villain, fog machine, gaudy chandelier, and both menace and debauchery.

And one more for all the films, friends, and fun yet to come: "Salaam Salaam" from Teesri Ankh (1982)
This is probably my very favorite lair song. There's another brain-boggling song set here, but I like "Salaam Salaam" better than "Superman" for actually showing off the features of the lair. The scale here is bang-on: more, more, more. The space is huge and the set designers and director use it well. Discordant furniture/carpeting/paint choices. Bar. Wrestlers and gladiators. Gold. Lots of statues and faces and eyes. Strong commitment to the owl and skull motifs. Talon fingernails. Leaping around. Spinning chair. Bad guy observes from above. Colored lights. Bleep-bloop communication equipment. Slide. Torture/death trap architecture. Bubblegum pink where you might not expect it. Weapons on the walls. Singing while fighting (which these other songs don't do, if I recall). Disco Helen.

I can think of no greater cinematic joy than that. Here's to many, many more.

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