the crooked straight, the rough places plane: Chor Sipahee

Chor + Sipahee = kaboom! The administrative staff of Shashi Pradesh stands staunchly and proudly by the institutional mission of uniting Shashizens world wide, and, to this end, two of the chief officers - namely Post-Punk Cinema Club and I - devoted some precious weekend time to a watch-along (or "chat cinema," some of the European bloggers call it) of Chor Sipahee. All in the name of the mission, you understand. Not for taking an extended gander at Shashi and Vinod Khanna in their bad-ass 70s street wear. No. Far nobler are we. The only trouble with such an undertaking is that sometimes one gets so distracted by chatting that one does not pay the movie sufficient attention, and sadly this is what happened to me. Even after re-watching most of the movie yesterday, I still wasn't sure what on earth I was going to write about it. Fortunately, PPCC really loves Chor Sipahee and has written about it extensively. Reading PPCC's post would be the right thing to do even if you'd already read it - but you probably haven't, because as of press time, I am the only person to have commented on that grand and epic tome. Go read it once you're done with my feeble observations and ridiculously extensive selection of screen captures. (In an appropriately filmi coincidence, PPCC has just written a post that starts like this, so even my fallback opener was better stated elsewhere. Le sigh.) It's Shashod time! Shashi Kapoor plays a son-of-a-thief cop (Shankar) (sound familiar?) who kicks ass and takes names. As PPCC said, he doesn't need to pack heat because he is the heat. Very un-Ravi like, as it turns out. That's Shankar, kickin' you in the face - which you clearly deserved, because if he shows up at your door, chances are you did something to bring him there. Shankar does in fact carry weapons from time to time, but the most merciless in his arsenal is (amongst his weaponry are...) his unwavering belief that criminals can and should be reformed, not through police being separate from and intimidating wrong-doers but by teaching them that there is a better way. Vinod Khanna plays an uneducated son-of-a-good-mother (Durga Khote) (sound familiar?) how-else-could-I-earn-for-my-family criminal (Raja) (sound familiar?). Shakes fist at society! Raja's sibling (Bharti, played by Parveen Babi) is horrified by his wrongdoings and threatens that until he changes his ways, he's not welcome at their house and she'll support their beloved mother (this sounds familiar!). PPCC and I could not decide what Raja's pendant meant. Sadly, upon closer inspection, it proved not to be the Jedi logo. Ma too wants the chor to mend his ways. No, I want you to die from being accidentally trampled by the hordes of women who can't get enough of my rugged, petulant yumminess. The officer and the thief, whatever the opposite of "meet cute" swarthy? meet menacing? and lock horns in an extended battle of stares, attitudes, and eventually blows, in the process destroying a ramshackle bar. The rambling bar fight from above - and for more thoughts on why we might have a heaven's-eye angle, keep reading. Mama said knock you out! What else could possibly happen when there are two angry young men? For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, Shankar takes it on himself to reform Raja Oh you will, will you? and entangles himself in a bigger crime group headed by the fantastically attired and debauched Sheikh Jamal (Ranjeet). So dedicated to his mission is reform-minded Shankar - like the Shashi Pradesh administration is to our own - that he loses sight of police principles and the bigger picture as he goes further undercover to show Raja the effects of a life of crime. The plot convolutes in filmi ways, assisted by Shankar's friend Kader Khan, Raja's gang of fellow cons (e.g. Mac Mohan) and helpers (e.g. a shyster doctor played by Asrani), and barely-there love interest Shabana Azmi (I'd tell you how her character fits into the story, but frankly I have no idea, but at least she rides a motorcycle). Lessons are learned and the ethical balance is restored and reset. Given the increasingly fevered pitch of my love of Shashi Kapoor, it was only a matter of time before I started seeing him as divine. But Shashi-as-Jesus actually is in this movie, I promise. That was water a second ago! Really! He's alone in the world with a mission and destiny shaped by not-present-on-earth father. He takes on the wrongs of others as his own and sacrifices himself to save them. His name is even one of a god (Shiva). (Quite appropriately, "Shankar" also means "causing happiness," according to the Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary.) In a twist that a dozen years of Presbyterian Sunday school did not prepare me for, it is the sinner who has stigmata. Or maybe that's just to indicate that the role of Christ has shifted from the do-gooder, lost lamb that he is, to the former wrong-doer, now suffering with the weight of the world's sins.... Aaaaah! (Why is it "do-gooder" but "wrong-doer"? English is so weird!) There you have it. Criminal who learns and reformer who gets lost in the muck he's trying to save people from. You could certainly get a lot more out of the movie than that - why does Shankar so seldom give his name, for example? how does the balance of good and evil work within each individual? does history, society, or the individual himself carry the burden of righting it? - but that's where I will leave it and turn you over to my watch-along companion. This movie spoke more complexly (is that a word?) to PPCC than it did to me, but I certainly did enjoy its layers and varying identities of badness and questions about responsibility and choice. And the songs (especially Shashi's entrance, "Don't Ask Me My Name") and the swanky villain lair, complete with slide, be-fez-ed guards and a gun-toting henchwoman, and a glass pod-based entrance system that reminds me of a life-size version of the plastic capsules at drive-up banks. My four-year-old self is so glad to see this technology can work for humans - she always hoped it could! There are many, many fun things in this movie. Many, many, many. Here are a few.
  • This's in pretty much every 70s film, isn't it? I can't put my finger on where I've seen it before...Parvarish, maybe? It's very, very familiar.
  • This pickpocket wears cartoon t-shirts: Spiderman, above, and a Pepe Le Pew emblazoned with "Little Stinker." Later, Shankar catcher her pickpocketing, restrains her with some kind of cord (it might be a whip, I can't tell), and shoves something cylindrical in her mouth to keep her from talking. She meanwhile squirms and moans. This might be completely over-the-top and out-of-context sexual. It's definitely weird.
  • Let's just call her Parveen Barbie, shall we? Flawless with big eyes, shampoo-commercial-shiny hair, and sheer powder pink finery.
  • Ranjeet has some great boots. Ziggy-Stardust-meets-Mogambo great!
  • Shirtless Vinod?
  • World-weary Shashi? Perhaps you prefer Errol Flynn? Sufi Shashi? (Sufshi?) White suit/dark shirt debonair? Professor Funk? There's something Rishi-ish about those sunglasses. And something familiar about that tie pattern. The parade of Shashi looks is brought to you mostly by the most excellent Jennifer Kendal.
I told you I didn't have much to say. Now put on your intellectualizin' hat and go read PPCC. Seriously. Shabana is all ears now that Vinod has his on. What are you waiting for?


Filmi Girl said…
EEEEEEE! Why haven't I seen this yet?! Vinod + Shashi + regular band of 70s masala gang members (i.e. Mac!)

What is it with slides? Are they really decadent or something? I've been watching Caravan and the slide on the set of Helen's big number is way over the top.
ajnabi said…
Hahahahaha! "That was water a second ago!" Everybody in this film looks like they totally overdid the spray tan, but the movie itself sounds awesome.
Anonymous said…
I must see this. Must.See.It.
Filmi Girl - Yeah see it! You'll have a field day with it :) As for slides, I think they must be a comment on the lack of principles of their owners - after all, they wildly impractical and probably difficult to construct and maintain, thus showing that the owner has no concerns for pragmatics and reality. Sort of like masala-world Hummers, maybe?

Ajnabi - The Jesus symbolism is pretty rich, but the wine and stigmata were the kickers for me. (It's actually not stigmata - if I recall, Shashi has just shot at him and grazed his hand - but still.) Good call on the tan - I hadn't noticed until you pointed it out. The pictures of Vinod in jail are especially bad. I think the print this DVD was made from is pretty lousy - it had lots of scratches, and the color is decidedly weird from time to time.

Memsaab - Do it! I want to read!
Todd said…
Yes! Our next coinage definitely must be a phrase that means the opposite of "meet cute". This would be particularly useful to me, because I also review Hong Kong wuxia movies, in which, whenever any two characters meet, the first thing they do, no matter what their allegiances, is fight -- usually for no apparent reason. Of course, I also like to refer to this as "meeting cute" because I think it's funny.

This certainly looks like one I need to check out. I've got to admit that I'm beginning to love Ranjeet. Not that I'd want to see him carry a movie on his own, but whenever he's in the supporting cast I know I'm guaranteed to see some seriously envelope-pushing menswear.
Todd - Yes! "Meet menacing" works in this instance, but it's not really the opposite. Um...well, no filmmaker worth their salt will give us "meet boring and stupid," so that's out.... Keep me posted.

Ranjeet does have some great fashion here, namely tuxedo tails-style jackets (see the boot picture) and, well, the boots, which are seriously wonderful. I think he has them on all the time. Who wouldn't! He certainly rocks the acrobat wear in the other thing I've seen him in recently (Duniya Mere Jeb Mein) (and by "rock" I mean "does not have the figure for, but Hindi film heroes very rarely do").
Wheee! Thanks for a FAB review! (And thanks for the plug!)

This is all causing a major revival of Chor Sipahee in my sympathies. Thank goodness we chat cinemaed, or I would have forgotten how much I love this movie! (And love the screencap choices.)

Off-topic: Have you seen Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic? It's thweet.

Todd: You review wuxia movies?! *investigates*
Todd said…
PPCC: I'm working on a review of Chor Yuen's Murder Plot for Teleport City as we speak. If we were actually speaking, that is.
i love love love pravin barbie :D
She always exhibited some spunk in her roles- and ooh that fabulous hair! and i love me some sunglassed, pipe-smoking suited shash good!
Bollyviewer said…
Inspite of Shashi, uber-hot Vinod and lovely Parveen and Shabana I found the movie seriously boring and the songs terrible. But then, I didnt have the benefit of PPCC's company for watching it! Even the discovery that Shashi=Christ (yup I religiously read all ppcc's posts) is unable to revive my interest in the movie. Love your review, though - its way more fun than the movie. Those *Errol Flynn* and *Sufi Shashi* screen caps look like he just wandered in from the sets of Junoon!

The Hon'ble Minister in-charge of International Shashi Relations is hereby informed of a new review of one of his 60s romantic comedies up at my blog. In more Shashi-related news, I just finished watching Shakespeare-Wallah and loved it! Wont say an unkind word about MerchIv again!
PPCCpeeps - But is it thweet in a good way or in a "I just threw up in my mouth a little" way?

Shweta - I generally like her, although like most women she occasionally suffers from not having anything interesting to do in certain roles. They could have used her a lot more in Kaalaa Patthar, for example. And yeah, good and plentiful Shashin in this movie! There's a look for everyone!

Bollyviewer - Musically I did not think the songs were fantastic, but the lyrics were more interesting, if sometimes overly Full of Important Meaning and Symbolism, if you know what I mean. And thank you for your compliment - I think "more fun than the movie" should be my new goal if the movie is bad! Yes re: Junoon - I hadn't put my finger on that one, but you're totally right. And most of all, I am SOO SO SOOO SOOOO glad you liked Shakespeare-Wallah! Hurrah!!!!!!
Rum said…
yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!! i cannot contain my happiness that you featured so many screencaps of my Shashi and a shirtless Vinod. the Shashod never dissappoints me and is in a tie as my favorite along with Vinotabh jodi, I love that in any Vinod film there is one lovely shot of Vinod's bum in his tight bellbottoms!
ajnabi said…
Meet scary? Meet ugly? Meet rabid-wolf-style? Must stop!
rum - By "my," perhaps you mean "our" ? :) Yes, both of them are very feature-able here. I was telling a friend before I watched this that viewing it was going to be an endeavor with a high risk of swooning and hitting one's head on the coffee table, what with all the 1970s Paragons of Idealized Masculinity running around in it.

ajnabi - "Meet rabid wolf style," I think that will do nicely. I'd really like a one-word term for that, so I'll ask the German fans, since they have the luxury of sticking words together.
Bingo with the lingo, bay-bee!
Anonymous said…
Was that really Shashi as Christ? Coz it looked like he was wearing an arab costume. I don't remember the movie...they all just blur in my mind!
Not literally, no. For me, the costuming (supposed to be a sheikh, I think, as you say) just cemented some ideas they were playing with.
Anonymous said…
We did agree on this, ppcc had a much more in-depth appreciation of it than I did, but I so enjoyed the things you did (many screen caps are the same or similar)...


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