14 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Razia Sultan (1983)
Wonderful film and music
5 March 2014
Kamal Amrohi's Razia Sultan is one of the most interesting historical films made in India. The story of the love between a 10th century queen and her slave general, what makes it especially interesting is the unconventional behavior and values of the primary characters, which makes the film seem campy at times, but which reflects the presumed historical context and values of the times.

The highlight of the film is the amazing music by Khayyam and beautiful song visualizations by VK Murthy. The language and lyrics are beautiful Urdu and Persian so requires repeated viewings by the modern viewer to fully understand and absorb the richness of the narrative. The sets and acting are also very high grade, especially by veteran Pradeep Kumar, who steals the first half in what was probably his best performance. Hema Malini and Dharmendra do a great job, as do some veterans like Sohrab Modi and Shahu Modak, in what may be their last roles. Special mention to the late Shandaar Amrohi whose portrayal of the dissolute prince Rukn-ud-din Firoz Shah is spot on for the character.

Khayyam's music, featuring a dazzling array of classical Indian instruments and voices, continues to be considered an all-time classic. The two songs by rarely recorded Kabban Mirza reach deep into the listener's soul. The classical Indian dances by dance maestro Gopi Krishna's troupe are also simply superb. The sets are magnificent and successfully evoke the historical period. Songs are filmed lovingly by the legendary cinematographer VK Murthy and are on par with the work he did for Guru Dutt on his classics - every song is a classic.

Now for the sad and shameful part, as the film took 10+ years to make and release, audience tastes had coarsened during its making and the released film was a huge commercial disappointment. Maybe as result of this failure, the Eros DVD print of the film is a dreadful "camera print" - poor transfer, terrible black transfers in the evening/night scenes, clipped images, unsynchronized sound, missing songs, and shamefully, the ~180 min film has been hacked down to ~140 min, causing huge continuity issues, muddled narrative, unresolved story lines and incomplete character arcs.

In spite of this shameful mutilation by Eros, the narrative is fascinating and demands repeat viewing by any interested viewers. I hope Eros, Hema Malini and/or the Amrohi family reads this review and publishes a complete and accurate remastered DVD print of this classic, so this labor of love is not lost to future viewers. The effort should not cost more than $10,000 if an original 35 mm print can be found.

Shahkaal weeps tears of blood for this lost classic - as a lyric in the movie says "khoon dil ka na chalak jaaye meri aankhon se" :(
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Great but owes a little something to Nicholas Roeg
23 February 2008
Finally saw it tonight and was really impressed with the superb acting and film-making. Very rare to see an American film these days operating at a level of intensity, socio-political subtlety and as affecting as this film. The use of sound and music was also superb and very different. Tone of the screenplay is a bit uneven but still very absorbing. Visual style was amazing and made me feel like I was in the oil pits of the early 1900's. Daniel Day Lewis was really amazing - I thought the performance would not live up to the hype but was very impressed.

Very much like Nicholas Roeg's Eureka - another film with similar strengths and flaws and a performance by Gene Hackman that matches the excellence of Daniel Day Lewis in this film. I hope the director will keep making films that are as interesting and unique as this one. One of the best character studies of the lust for power and money and how it can make a man paranoid and sociopathic in the long run.
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Dhund - The Foggy Bottoms
13 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The scariest family in Indian Horror returns to the big screen with a chilling chiller to chill your inner child - all achieved with only 4 of the 9 Ramsay family members.

While enchanting in its childlike innocence, the film clearly suffers from brother Keshu's steadying hand and the benevolent supervision of their late father - the genius F.U.Ramsay. The film continues to improve on Hollywood hacks like Diabolique, Scream, I know what you did last summer, and pays musical tributes to Ennio Moricone, Pink Panther, etc. Prem Chopra and Gulshan Grover give their best performances in months - their performances and the film won 8 Azghars - the coveted Indian Oscars.

This film should be required watching for the so-called Masters of Horror - Argento, Carpenter, Gordon, Romero, watch this film and ponder your work. If you dare, Shahkaal recommends the best of the early Ramsay triumphs - Do Gaz Zameen ke Neeche, Andhera, Darwaza, Aur Kaun, Dahshat, Hotel, Guesthouse, Saboot, Purana Mandir, Tehkhana, Veerana.
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Yakeen (2005)
This film is not plaigarized
16 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The film was a well-made and well-acted film noir - very good editing and cinematography, competently subtitled, well acted and directed, and extremely well-paced for s suspense thriller - as long as one forwards all the songs.

+++SPOILER ALERT+++ Screenplay writer Vikram Bhatt did not lift the script from the early 90's film "Shattered" - it just coincidentally turned out to be a scene to scene duplicate. Bhatt went back in time and wrote the script before the writer of Shattered wrote his version. Nobody to date has noticed or claimed that the script was plaigarized - because it was not. Bhatt is an original writer and this film is not plaigarized. There was no such film as Shattered.
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Shahkaal says - Undead on Arrival
27 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The best that can be said about the Devil's Rejects is that it is better than House of a 1000 Corpses. The bad news is that it is a very forgettable and derivative movie that looks like it has been made by .... a zombie.

Amazingly, the film is saved by some very good acting by Sid Haig (who dominates every scene he is in) and William Forsythe (amazingly good as always), and by two technically superb sequences (editing & cinematography) in the absolute beginning and end that play like very well-made music videos - set beautifully to 70's classic Southern rock - but nothing that we have not seen on MTV and VH1 before.

I saw it in the theater on a Monday with other 15 people, about 5 of whom walked out midway after indicating extreme boredom. The ting is that apart from these two sequences, the rest of the film is very ordinary. Just like House of 100 Corpses, the director continues his admirable effort to reprise 70's classic horror and western movies, but fails to create any subconscious fear in the audience or break any new ground. The problem is that with all the gore on the screen - nothing more goes on in your mind. You carry away a vague disgust but the film inspires no underlying fear or horror unlike most of the films that inspired this effort.

Bill Mosely has a very one dimensional role and is not able to do as much with it as he did in the first film. Interesting characters like Tiny and Mother Firefly are also quite cruelly ignored. Ken Foree and many other horror legends that feature in the film sadly also have very forgettable roles - very sad considering how rarely these great actors are seen on screen these days. Special mention must be made of Sherri Moon who does the impossible and is actually worse in this movie than in the first one.

The standouts are Sid Haig as Captain Spalding and William Forsythe as the Sheriff (reprising a Dennis Hopper role from one of the Texas Chainsaw films) - both actors who manage to outshine the material that they are given to work with and create some amazing moments on the screen. They almost save the film but the lack of pacing, themes, suspense or anything new in horror make this film sleep the sleep of the undead.

Along with his apparent heroes - Wes Craven, Sam Peckinpak, Arthur Penn, and Tobe Hooper - Mr Zombie should spend a little more time on Hitchcock, Polanski, Romero and DePalma so that he can appreciate the elements of suspense as he preps for his next project!
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Nishant (1975)
Amazing end to Benegal's first trilogy
25 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Nishant is a film that I first saw when I was about 12 years old and it had such a strong impact on me that I have felt the urge to view it again every 3-4 years. Nishant is the most dramatic and episodic of the three films that comprise Benegal's first trilogy - "Ankur", "Manthan" and "Nishant". The trilogy speaks to the coming of age of democracy and the last throes of the dying feudal system in India.

In the early 70's, director Shyam Benegal harnessed some formidable talents in this set of films and the cast and crew is a who's who of modern Indian cinema. All the films were made on low budgets and are technically very spartan but this actually helps set the mood for the on-screen proceedings - making everything seem very real. The rural Indian locations, the performances of the extras, the weaving of local art and dance into the stories, the local dialects - all help make this film feel very real.

In a nutshell, it is the story of a powerful local landlord (Amrish Puri before he became a caricature) who has two decadent alcoholic brothers (brilliantly wicked Mohan Agashe and Anant Nag), and one naive sibling (a very young Naseeruddin Shah), and who rules his village with an iron fist. He has inherited feudal power which is in slow decay. While he metaphorically rapes the people's land and crops, his brothers more literally prey on the women of the town - while their pet police patel (amazingly good Kubhushan Kharbanda in his pre-Shahkaal days) and village priest (writer Satyadev Dubey) collaborate in silence.

In this time of discontent, a schoolteacher and his young wife (Girish Karnad & Shabana Azmi) arrive in town. Shortly thereafter, she is abducted by the two brothers as a gift for their youngest brother. The rest of the story deals with the schoolteacher's quest for justice - first through apathetic official channels and finally through revolution - leading to some very unpredictable and tragic consequences. The film starts slow, seethes and simmers and finally climaxes, set to a beautiful song by Priti Sagar, in a horrifying sequence that is among the best in Indian films - although it is very unlike Benegal.

This is one of the best Indian films ever and as politically as relevant today as it was in the 1970s - especially given the many parallels that still exist in the world today. I give it a 9/10 - deducting one point because it fades when compared to the later films of my idol - Dev Anand.
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Shahkaal says - Give the man a hand
21 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
With his first film in 2 whole years - Dev Anand tackles the complex social problem of love in Times Square. Ever watchful, he titles the film Love AT Times Square and the use of the uplifting AT instead of base IN sets the note for an experience of a lifetime.

Dev plays the pivotal and complex role of a widowed NRI billionaire whose young daughter has two suitors - one a yuppie IT whiz and the other a poor immigrant. She meets both suitors IN Times Square and is wooed by them both, and will pick one of them as her true love AT Time Square on new years eve - in the shadow of Dick Clark's giant ball.

Remarkably, the challenging role of the daughter is played by Heenee - possibly the first Dev find to be repeated in a Dev movie since Tina Munim - how special is that? Pouring all that she has into the role, Heenee outdoes her work in the formidable Dev masterpiece "Censor", and steals every heart including two lonely hearts AT Times Square. Who will win her heart AT Times Square? Will Dev get the girl as usual?

However, in a daring sub-plot, an exotic new Dev find named Sia plays the leader of a local girl band who develops a crush on 80-year old evergreen hero Dev - a Svengali to this merry band of young women - even as she sings thinly veiled odes to her love for him, violently playing a giant cello placed strategically between her comely thighs. How will this doomed romance end - will it be like that awful film with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder? Stunned fans ask - has the maestro slowed down given us a simple love story instead of an extraordinary hard-hitting critique of society - as he is prone to do? Is this Dev's "One from the Heart", his "Harvest Moon", his "Million Dollar Baby" get the drift, right?

Thankfully not...Dev has some aces up his sleeve - surprisingly due to Osama Bin Laden and his band of evil-doers. As it turns out, the 9-11 tragedy took place while Dev was editing this film. Shaken by these events, Dev inter cuts some grainy CNN style footage of the attacks with footage of him looking out of a window. This montage of events is astonishingly effective - the viewer is convinced that Dev indeed did witness these events and has donated zillions to bail out New York. Take that Osama and what a mighty good man you are Dev Anand!

Is that all, you ask? Not quite...Dev has one more ace up his buttoned down long sleeve. As we mentioned, Dev is a widower and in a heartrending flashback we learn that he has lost his beloved wife, Moon Moon Sen, in a horrifying plane crash. In a poignant moment, he searches for her after the crash - staggering around in a burning-field-in-the-dark set, calling out her name in vain until he spots her wedding ring on the finger of a victim. He takes her hand quite literally - only to find that it is attached to an amputated arm - presumably all that is left of her corporeal body!

This is the capstone of a directorial career built on a deep and intimate understanding of the human condition by this unrelenting artist. After all, the auteur seems to ask us - in the end, what are you but a body attached to an arm? In one fell swoop, Dev renders all other things irrelevant and transcends film and enters the realm of eternity.

Thank you, O Maestro, for this mind expanding and deeply personal film. Shahkaal highly recommends this film to one and all, and recommends that you watch it on the big screen - even if you have to buy one for this very purpose!
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Shaan (1980)
Shahkaal says - Its Shaantastic!
21 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"If you have read my reviews for Elaan-e-Jung or Return of Jewel Thief, you already know that I survived the end of Shaan. Yes, Sippy and I had planned a sequel - Shahkaal vs Gabbar - but the box office put paid to our plans of world domination." - Shahkaal circa 2005.

Ramesh Sippy is among the best Indian directors of the 70's and 80's but has had a very sporadic output in the late 80s and 90s. Like many other directors of his time, he was caught in the downward spiral of Amitabh Bachchan's box office draw in the late 80s and 90s caused by the star's increasing desire to not allow himself to be overshadowed by other actors or a plot.

Shaan was the first film to be a victim of this phenomenon. Amitabh did not have a strong counterfoil to balance his antics in the film and the film did not do well as a result. Technically, it is among the most slickly filmed and edited films of its time, and has a very good case - Amitabh, Shatrugan, Sunil Dutt, Kulbhushan, etc. The film has an excellent soundtrack and the first hour is very good with Sunil Dutt subduing a desperado aptly named Durjan by his parents. However, the film is a little too long and Bindiya Goswami puts in a very cloying performance.

The most important flaw is that fans did not react well to Kulbhushan Kharbanda's breakout portrayal of the villain Shahkaal. On a personal note, I must admit that I did not appreciate his confused and tentative portrayal of Shahkaal either. It was a weak follow-up to Amjad's formidable Gabbar Singh, and really, the real Shahkaal is much more scary that Kulbhushan made him out to be. No nervous patting of a bald pate, no infinite chances for tricky opponents, no getting fooled by people masquerading as gypsy dancers, and most importantly, no rubber crocodiles in his den. On the other hand, they did get the attire and epaulets right, as well as the undersea lair with the sliding doors, and self-destructing island bit. Fans were also confused with how this Shahkaal fit in with Ajit's podiatrist plagued Shahkaal from the classic Yaadon ki Baraat (separately reviewed) Just fyi, these days, Shahkaal is semi-retired and living in the suburbs of Navi Mumbai in a modest 1-room chawl flat. The neighborhood kids laugh at his baldness and ironically shout "Shahkaal" behind his back and run away - not knowing that he is actually an aged super villain. The depreciation in the rupee and falling interest rates have hit his ill-gotten gains badly, and he should never have invested in the Harshad Mehta stocks. The same thing happened to Amitabh - but alas no TV comebacks for Shahkaal. There is no honesty among thieves any more. If anyone reads this, and is looking for a genuine super-villain, Shahkaal still has his chops. Send a telegram and he can help you plan something big. If nothing else, throw a few CIDs to ravenous marine life, sharpshoot at a ferris wheel, fry a few henchmen (MacMohan and Sudhir are available) in their round table seats, and catch up on old times. Fie on you - Kulbhushan for your craven performance!
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Shahkaal says - RD is the King!
21 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Yaadon ki Baraat is one of the best formula Hindi films of the 1970s in which director Nasir Hussain perfected his formula - Lost brothers meet up and destroy the smuggler who killed their father - a formula that was copied by many imitators thru the 70s and 80s. It is graced by some great acting, dialog and killer soundtrack by RD Burman inspired by Santana and Afro-pop. Additionally, it has a swimsuit clad young Zeenat Aman featured in the film and on the album cover which is also a major plus.

The film has many memorable scenes - the juxtaposition of running train jump by Dharam cut to from the separation of the brothers by another running train - an elaborate and innocent mise en scene. Tariq (a young Aamir Khan look alike), Vijay Arora, chubby Neetu Singh, smashing Zeenat Aman all dance and romance to RD's spectacular music. Dharam flares his nostrils at the wicked and dominant Ajit - who steals the show as the wicked villain - Shahkaal.

This is Ajit at his thespian peak - the handsome hero of the 50's, the wicked dacoit of the 60's, the massage-acquiring smuggler of the 70's, the lost memory of the 80's, the caricature of the perverse 90's - save for his stunning turn as the geriatric rapist beholden to Man-Friday Joginder - in Dev Anand's 90's shocker "Gangster" - but that is another review.

All this is hunky dory but where does this leave Shahkaal? The people want the truth - how does the Shahkaal of this film fit in with the one in Shaan? At long last, the truth can now be told...

So who really was Shahkaal - 70's gold smuggler or 80's super villain bent on world domination, shoe size issue or nervous tics, woolen suit or white tights with epaulets, Octon style antiseptic island citadel or smoky smuggler's den, train track victim or island explosion victim - will the real Shahkaal please stand up? Maybe it is time to confess that the suave and scheming, bewigged Shahkaal and the bald and sniveling Shahkaal of Shaan are one and the same - fictionalized depictions of the exploits of the real Shahkaal.

As the lost sequel to Shaan - "Shahkaal vs Gabbar" explains - Shahkaal escaped the oncoming goods train with some judicious and last minute use of a handy shoe horn in YKB and lived to pursue world domination in Shaan. He merely dropped the blond wig and went in for the trendy bald look - very 80's. Shahkaal is now in retirement in Navi Mumbai with Mona and her sisters - just another harmless pensioner... or so he would like you to believe. There's more about him in his review of Shaan. Until next time, don't be silly. This is not a "dhamki", just a "waarning" ....
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Censor (2001)
Shahkaal hails the Dev-Id Lynch film
21 July 2005
Every fan knows that when you go to see a new Dev Anand film, you can expect the unexpected. In a stunning break from tradition, Dev abandons his classic chaotic, non-linear story telling and simplifies it just plain chaotic story telling in his 2001 classic "Censor". In many ways, this is his most personal movie ever and in a courageous move, he takes on the powerful and suffocating power of the Indian Censor Board.

Starring a massive number of out-of-work stalwarts including the always available Jackie Shroff, Rekha, etc - the film showcases an unprecedented appearance by Randhir Kapoor in a daring interpretation of his father - the plump and cloying Raj Kapoor's overfed tramp persona. It is akin to a boy's slaying of his father on screen (so that he can become a man at last) when Randhir appears in a scene (attired in Japanese shoes, English pantaloons, and red Russian cap) where he zips his fly after apparently urinating on a wall, and then bursts into a touching song on national integration to children who have been threatening their playmate with a future spent on cleaning the excretions and shoes of his peers. (No kidding here!) The narrative is a David Lynch like story of a film within a film. Director Dev Anand plays a director (Dev Anand) who makes a masterpiece movie that is blocked by five members of Censor Board but all this is embedded in a non-linear fashion within the movie - or something like that. In a Rashomon-like editing style, Dev inter cuts the actual move with the movie within the movie, until one is the other and the result incomprehensible to all but the chosen few. In a triumph of continuity and consistency, both movies are equally badly made in terms of technical accomplishment, acting, editing, camera-work, etc - all Dev Anand hallmarks. How did they manage to do this? As it turns out, the film (within the film) is a masterpiece, and has been blocked by each member of the board for personal reasons such as corruption, bribery, old enmity, and - hold your breath - the rejection of one members sexual advances on the 80 year old but eternally attractive Dev Anand. Thankfully, a US citizen takes note of the films virtues and submits it for an Oscar, which it wins by a mile - all leading the climactic address by Dev to the Oscar audience (and televised to the world) - sort of Dev's Dogme manifesto to urge filmmakers to adopt his deconstructionist approach to film making.

The Oscar sequence involves close-ups of Dev speaking, roughly edited with video captures of the Oscar show from TV - all edited to look like the real thing. This magic special effect has only been emulated by Dev himself in his recent "Love at Times Square" when he witnesses the 9-11 attacks in person, and donates several millions of dollars to reconstruction efforts in NYC.

Clearly after years of being cruelly ignored by the tainted Oscar committee, sort of like Martin Scorcese, Dev has decided to take things into his own hands and award himself the Oscar. Lets see if the gritty Scorcese has the GUTS to claim his Oscar like Dev just did. Ha! For those of you who know what I am talking about, thankfully, Dev also includes the expected perversity, crudity and exploitation of nubile young Dev discoveries - the continued supply of which is as baffling yet as gratifying as the mysterious source of continued funding for his films. Could this be the work of cross-border evildoers from an unnamed neighboring country? All in all, Censor is a return to form for the legendary Dev Anand - a hard-hitting film that is a must-watch for fans of the genre of Dev Anand films, and a masterpiece that packs off the yelping Kurosawas and Kubricks of the world back to film school with their tail between their legs!
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