collaborative-ish project #2: cinematic and musical hip-hip-hoorays for Shaan

Movies and music go well together, I think we can all agree, being Bollywood fans and all. So with that in mind, I'm delighted to present a collaborative post by Bollywood Desi Music Club and yours truly on the musical and filmi greatness that is Shaan.

A bit of background - redundant if you've seen the movie, of course, but I hope incredibly tempting if you haven't, because you really ought to.... Sunil Dutt, Amitabh Bachchan, and Shashi Kapoor play brothers; the former is an up- and outstanding police officer who moves to Mumbai, where the other two are small-time con artists - so small-time that they seem to be the victims of jobs as often as they pull them off. Kulbhushan Kharbanda is a Blofeld-esque bad guy who controls various evildoings from his underwater lair, which, according to the subtitles, is 300 km off the coast of Mumbai and is clearly deep in the ocean based on the sea creatures that constantly swim by the background of the evil meeting room. Almost everything about the plot and sets is familiar, whether reminiscent of James Bond or North by Northwest or other Hindi films (Parvarish and Don kept coming to mind) or Austin Powers - and I mean no criticism by that, because these are elements I'm delighted to see again, especially in such giddy combination. Eventually the younger brothers decide to bring the bad guy to justice, and, with the help of a circus sharpshooter (Shatrughan Sinha), Parveen Babi, Bindiya Goswami, Rakhee, and Johnny Walker, all ends as you'd expect. Other elements include an assassination attempt at an amusement park, double-crosses, silver boots, a one-man bar brawl, spooked horses, a fake-pretend elopement and assorted other shenanigans, a pack of attack dogs, Helen doing her thing, a very cute song on a double-decker bus (which I will leave to Sanket to tell you more about), the afore-mentioned disco lounge, and Amitabh fighting a crocodile.

By the way, now that I've seen the most exalted figure of Hindi cinema in a bloody underwater battle with a styrofoam crocodile - which, for the record, does not have a freakin' laser beam strapped to its head, although I certainly see no reason for it not to - I think I can die happy.

One teensy problem. While this may have been intentional, I didn't think Shashi Kapoor quite held his own here. I've never seen him before, so I have nothing to compare his style to, but Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha walked away the heroes, no doubt about it. About halfway through I realized I wanted to put Vinod Khanna (who may have been off gardening for gurus by this point, I don't know) in Shashi's role, feeling he could have just handled it in a stronger and more sparky sort of way. No particular harm done, though; Shashi keeps his character from getting lost in the shuffle completely, which I imagine was not easy to do in a plot like this one.

Anyway, this is an absolutely fantastic movie. It really does have anything you could ever want - and plenty of things, like the crocodile fight, that you didn't know you wanted but once you see them you'll realize that they were quite possibly what's been missing from your life all this time. It's Ramesh Sippy doing a Salim-Javed story, so you really can't go wrong. For me this was almost as much fun as Seeta aur Geeta. It comes in second because the women really didn't get to do much, and this is becoming a far-too-frequent complaint, quite frankly, and I'm pretty tired of having to say it, so someone needs to do something about it, and quickly. Within its own world, Shaan is by no means only silly. It never topples all the way over into ridiculousness or spazzy, purposeless running amok, which I think it could have done quite easily. Everything is in balance. The characters for whom you are supposed to feel sympathy never get treated too heavily. Villains are thoroughly bad but not cartoony. The romances are breezy and cute rather than sappy or slogging. It's only recently that I have discovered the unadulterated fun that is 1970s Bollywood, and I'm delighted that the various forces of the universe, fickle as they may be, somehow aligned to enable the creation of this sort of gem. Shaan is a must-see, the kind of movie that is so enjoyable that it will cure whatever ails you, but it's also so enjoyable that there's no reason to reserve it only for times you most need cheering. File it in the special section of the shelf reserved for the movies you're always in the mood for. Good, good fun.

And remember, go here and read about the music.


Anonymous said…
Hi Beth I am following your blogs since ages but seldom posted comments. I am a web designer and indi film maker in India (Pune) and want to make a mark as a dorector in bollywood and it seems a far fached dream as for now.

I have seen the list of films that you have seen and I'll tell you that most of these films were box office disasters and people even don't remember them now.

It is funny but true that 'Shaan' made by the Sippys after the legendry 'Sholey', now considered as a classic was a box office blooper when wes released. (According to 'Filmy''s show 3rd biggest box office dud in the history of indian cinema.)

I agree to your review and I love the like the film too.

Just enough of the chat.. will write you again soon! bye!
Maja said…
This sounds freakin' awesome (despite the disappointing lack of laser beams. Was there a mini version of Kulbhushan in there somewhere, at least?). It's going straight on my list!
Daddy's Girl said…
Interesting review - will have to look out for this one. I may have seen a bit of it though - is there a song with Parveen skipping gaily around a nightclub (or similar setting) in a shiny dress?
I really like Shashi Kapoor, but I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't 'hold his own' in this movie. I know people will disagree, but I don't think he quite held his own against Amit-ji in 'Do Aur Do Paanch'.
Still on Shashi, you might want to try out 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram'. It's an interesting counterpoint to the familiar Bollywood paradigm, with Zeenat Aman, Shashi, and lot of religious and sexual imagery and metaphor. The character Shashi plays in it is a real prat, though.
Unknown said…
By the time Shaan was out, Shashi Kapoor had dropped all pretense of being a marquee star and was doing masala films to finance his growing interest in alternative Indian cinema. It wasn't unusual to see him sleep walking through an entire movie and flashing his megawatt smile whenever he needed to be uh, starrish. If anyone is interested in watching a masala film he made with gusto, I recommend Fakira - a lost C-movie gem.

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