In a recent discussion about 70s Bollywood, mere dost over at Teleport City mentioned that he was looking to combine two great tastes that taste great together: Bollywood and ninjas. I've believe I've mentioned my tendencies towards the researchy, and this is the kind of query that keeps me up past my bedtime. Fortunately, it took me less than 30 seconds to find Commando and send the recommendation on its merry way. And though ninjas are not something I ever seek out, I figured that they were likely to correspond to things I do enjoy, such as spies, villain lairs, or crass, fake-pretend Japanese elements; when a little more research revealed that the star was Mithun "I am a disco dancer" Chakraborty, I gladly hopped on board.
Commando could have been so much more. Somehow the people in charge of this project managed to squander the following rich resources and wound up with a mediocre, half-arsed, unengaging snooze:
- Mithun as a nation-saving soldier who has a love interest played by Mandakini (whom I've never seen before and I am shocked to discover is somewhat of a star, because she kinda stank here) and an espionage colleague played by Kim (a.k.a. Rita from Disco Dancer)
- a supporting cast of Amrish Puri (as primo bad guy, of course), Shakti Kapoor, Om Shivpuri (a.k.a. Mr. Oberoi from Disco Dancer), Dalip Tahil, Satish Shah, Tom Alter, and Bob Christo
(Note Bob's hat. Remember, it's 1988. Quite on-target, actually.)
- ninjas, led by a guy named Ninja, who is also a would-be prime ministerial assassin (see above; I like that it isn't actually an Indian who tries to shoot Indira Gandhi here)
- silly "special effects" like pink blood, clearly model cars in chase sequences, and Himalayan backdrops that are really just hills with snowy peaks painted on top
- a snake on a plane (quite literally - although that does also work for a metaphor for how big a flop this was for me)
- original music by Bappi Lahiri - that is, when it isn't gigantic plagiarized chunks of Star Wars* - which actually is one of the stronger points of the movie, even when the lyrics descend into "commando, commando, commando" or "it's a dance dance party."
Of course, with a team like this, there were a few delightful moments, but they were in passing and never cohered into an enjoyable arc. For example:
If the only reason your parachute is attached to your body is because you're holding its straps in your fists, isn't it likely to dislocate your arms?
Despite having a wild Mithun pawing at her leg and a knife looming over...um...part of her body that I, for one, wouldn't want a knife anywhere near, our heroine remains calm. More than I could do. (This little sequence is pretty strange, actually. They're escaping ninjas or some such, and she's just complained that she can't run any further. He tells her to sit and proceeds to slash her skirt up the front with the knife. My guess it's to help her run better, but no one alludes to that. Her complaint was not skirt-specific and could just be because of her shoes or just being tired. The subtitles give no explanation about any of this. Anyway.)
Not long thereafter, still on the run, hero and heroine discover the shell of a crashed plane ("This plane must have crashed a few years ago," he helpfully points out) and take shelter for the night. Somehow it's filled with hay, and even though they're soaked from the rain, they find dry kindling to start a fire, which manages not to spread anywhere in the hay-filled plane.
Was 1988 too late to be doing the shopping cart and the robot?
There's a loony sequence within a car chase in which our hero and heroine are being aided in getaway by Satish Shah (his character is named Ram Chong and lives in a village with fake-pretend Chinese people, at least I think that's who they are, but it doesn't really matter, of course), who owns a red car dedicated to Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar (who do sing in this soundtrack, of course), and the continuity and cuts between the live footage and the bits filmed with models are awful. I can accept that Satish's wacky comic-relief car has a switch marked "parachute" that deploys a parachute and enables the car to float down safely from a mid-air jump, but having a wooded road suddenly change to a rocky cliff is too much.
The one consistently amusing aspect of this movie is the subtitles. They were crazy, and I loved them. The subtitler had an unconversational, stilted feel for the English language** and, more to the point, was also more often than not a bad writer, peppering us with things that didn't need to be stated, or certainly not stated like this. Some of the madness probably comes from the actual dialogue and was just translated faithfully, but I can only blame what I can actually understand.
- "I have to give a good new for you."
- "I have surely to go with gun convoy today."
- [dialogue] bad guy: "The route by which we are going are very dangerous. Our convoy will be passing through the area of terrorist."
heroine: "You mean original terrorist!...I will go for sure. I have never seen a terrorist."
bad guy: "But Asha, these are dangerous people."
heroine: "So what? I am a dangerous woman."
A rich exchange, don't you think? I'd like to start calling Teleport City "original terrorist," as a mark of Bollywood in-crowd bad-ass-iness, but I'd also like TC to remain Cheney-free, so no go.
- "Why is this entire happening?"
- "I think the matter is very deep and serious."
- "...the headquarters where Asha is being captivated"
In closing: Teleport City himself has recently said that boring is the real kiss of death for a movie, and I have to agree. Even here, despite not getting any of the elements to work well, the movie took no refuge in the last resort of "so bad it's good" - it wasn't so sloppy or under-resourced that hilarity or spectacular badness ensued - it just had no fizz of any kind. I don't know how they made everything so dull, wasting potential for both good and bad. I don't know if anyone will believe me, and I can understand why: the ingredients promise a loopy good time filled with excessive jingoism, bad 80s clothes, ninja fights, dizzying disco dancing, and campy Amrish villain fun. But it doesn't work. If you want to see for yourself, drop me a note and I'll send you the DVD.
* My advice? If you're going to lift music from another movie, try one that hasn't been seen by the entire planet.
** Please know that I think Indian English/es has/have absolutely nothing to do with the strange language in the subtitles.