Saturday, May 26, 2012

Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja

This month, the members of the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit are doing battle with HAIRY BEASTS. My contribution to the MOSS team project is the first unwatched film I could find in my collection featuring my favorite Bollywood hairy beast, Anil Kapoor, and you can see the other MOSS agents' projects here.
via Just Pazz
Sadly, he does not demonstrate his full hairy beastiness in this movie, and because I suspect this post will have more than the usual number of readers who aren't terribly familiar with Hindi films, I feel duty-bound to provide examples of why I chose Anil Kapoor for my hairy beast.
via Real Bollywood
via flickr
via To Each Its Own
via Shirtless Bollywood Men
No doubt some will say it is fortunate that you won't be seeing any images from RKRCKR* like those. If you need even more Anil Kapoor, go to the Post-Punk Cinema Club, where Anil was one of the house favorites. And now, on with the show!

I don't care how badly it tanked at its release in 1993. This movie is fantastic. I might even like it more than Mr. India, that other Javed Akhtar-written, Sridevi-and-Anil-Kapoor-starring film (and for all the Bollywood newbies who may have drifted over here from MOSS, that one was directed by Shekhar Kapur of Elizabeth fame). Though I know precious little about 90s films before the big hits of Shahrukh Khan later in the decade, I reckon this one seems as much like giddy 70s masala as I am likely to find fifteen years later than its heyday. While it is not fair to boil a film down to a checklist of ingredients, doing so for RKRCKR will help illustrate why I liked it so much.

the plot (for those of you who haven't seen the film)
Seema (Sridevi) was orphaned as a child when her father was killed by arch-villain Jugran (Anupam Kher) and her mother has some kind of psychotic episode upon seeing his corpse. In the orphanage, she is befriended by Ramesh (Anil Kapoor), whose father (Dalip Tahil), a customs officer investigating diamond smuggling, was also killed by Jugran when Ramesh and dad were out and about in downtown Bombay. I mention this detail only because of the great tragic poignancy of being orphaned in the maximum city, a location well-known for harboring familial near misses, especially among children who were separated as infants and thus cannot recognize their parents or each other. Ramesh is old enough to recognize his mother, sister, and brother (Ravi, a police officer played by Jackie Shroff when grown), but it takes awhile for him to encounter them. Fortunately, dad had given both brothers a special token, a lock and key, cementing their brotherhood by saying each was useless without the other. (Sucks to be the girl child, I guess.) Jugran, meanwhile, has been pretending to be his twin brother, the upstanding Manmohan, whom in reality he long ago killed, as a cover for his nefarious deeds. All of these threads come together exactly as you assume they would, with no one recognizing each other at first and all having their own reasons to use each other to get to Jugran.

the main characters and the people who play them
Sridevi is empathetic, intrepid, and funny as a thief and self-proclaimed "queen of beauty" in "the fashion and modeling world." (Why does she not include "music" among her credits when all we see her do is dance and sing—and, more importantly, act—rather than go to photo shoots?)
Anil Kapoor is smooth, tough, and clever as safe-cracker Romeo. They have good chemistry, no? It was hot and hilarious and affectionate and a million times more convincing than it was in the just-watched Lamhe.
At this point, Seema is trying to convince Romeo to do a job for Jugran in exchange for information about her father's killer. AND THE MULLET OMG THE MULLET.
Both of these actors can veer towards the hyper but were nicely in line here, and despite their frequent perkiness and swagger gave their characters a sadness befitting their backstories. Like many good Bollywood leads, they are very in tune with their inner mushiness, and their reunion, which is surprisingly early in the film, is very sweet. Seema and Romeo mean the world to each other, and the fact that they can join forces in a common cause is just icing on the cake.

Anupam Kher is not my favorite villain actor of this era, but I like what he did with Jugran. I also really like what he was given to work with—so hats are off to Javed Akhtar, as always—and he plays Jugran's eccentricities just this side of ridiculous, leaving him weird and unhinged but not completely laughable. For example, Jugran has a thing for turtles, so much so that one of the bars in his glitzy lair has turtles painted on the walls. Jugran also dresses like...I think he's supposed to be a fussy conductor, waving a baton around, and, like Mogambo before him, he has a multi-purpose catchphrase, "shaitan ki kasam," which he uses at every opportunity.

The remaining cast is pretty fun too. Jackie Shroff is dull but sufficiently likable as Ravi, and he gets in a good moment of ACT!ING! when he shares with Romeo why it's so important to catch Jugran.
There is little I find more satisfying in a film like this than actors who are so overwhelmed with melodrama that they have to grasp furniture or walls for support. Vah! Bob Christo is on hand as a random cheesy business associate of Jugran. 
As usual, his presence signals a fight and a chance for a hero to get in some good dishoom. I couldn't get a passable screencap** of it, but in the fight scene he bursts through a stack of cardboard boxes sounding all the world like a kid making noises (and facial expressions, for that matter) for a toy T-rex. RAWR! STOMP! This happens on screen in far less time than I've taken to describe it, but still. Even Johnny Lever is in top form. As an cop who works with Ravi, his main task is to be shown in the proximity of filmi ephemera and imitating the stars depicted.
I caught Raaj Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Shatrughan Sinha, Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra, and Ashok Kumar.
the pigeon
Jango the pigeon—who was seriously short-changed by not getting the standard filmi appellation "Wonder __[insert name of animal]___"—is incredible. He can carry messages, steal diamonds, memorize license plates and then repeat them to humans by pecking at numbers on a table, attack villains, and even save his people from certain death as Jugran dangles them over a vat of acid. He even has appropriate theme music, a little flute-y line that often accompanies his feats. (Romeo also has other birds, including ones named Mogambo and Gabbar, but they are shown only in passing.)
It is a great pity that Jango was not in Todd/Die Danger Die Die Kill's Animalympics back in the day, but on the other hand, it's just a testament to the treasures of Indian cinema that a blog could focus on animal characters with such intensity and still not find even all the major ones. Wonders truly will never cease.

If you like Bollywood anipals, be sure to read next Monday's installment of "Bollywood Journal" at the Wall Street Journal India Real Time blog, in which I interview Todd about anipals.

the comedy
Sridevi is really funny. Yes, she bugs out her eyes a lot
but somehow it works, I think because her character is portrayed as so competent, mature, and relatively complex. Her comedy is also usually part of a con, meaning that she's doing it as part of a way to one-up somebody—she only seems cutesy and ditzy.
That said, there is a scene in this film that I simply do not know what to do with. I recognize that every culture's context for racial stereotyping is unique for many reasons, among them incredibly complex histories of interactions (and not) with the rest of the world, and I know that India's relationship with African peoples over the centuries is not the same as America's, but whenever Bollywood uses blackface I cringe into a little ball. Here it's on Anil wearing animal furs and then coupled with Sridevi in some kind of geisha get-up with her eyes pulled back singing "ching chong" in "Chai Mein Chini" and the effect is...let's call it regrettable and move on with our lives.

the songs
The Laxmikant-Pyarelal songs are otherwise incredible and impressive, perhaps more visually than musically, but still. To name a few enticements: Sridevi falls out of a cake before singing with four other versions of herself, none of which are repeated in the song's many costume changes ("Main Hoon Roop Ki Rani"); Anil shakes a black pleather trouser-clad leg rather impressively (or at least relatively to what I've seen him do in other films) ("Romeo Naam Mera"); both leads do some romancing in the rain, thereby presenting an excuse for a wet sari ("Jaanewale Zara Ruk Ja"); and there's a giant golden Egyptian set for an angry dance of revenge ("Dushman Dil Ka"), in which Sridevi pouts and stomps impressively.
I especially love the rap under the titles, which mixes up visual elements from throughout the film into a James Bond-like song with lots of backlighting of women in spandex leaping around. The pictures below show you things like a an Egyptian statue (which the two thieves compete for), the separated brothers' lock and key, some of Sridevi's outfits from other songs, and even Jango. A bit of googling revealed that apparently Arshad Warsi choreographed and danced in this? Amazing. 
Even the regrettable racial-stereotype song contains a gem or two, like Sridevi casing the Egyptian statue while singing into what I am pretty sure is a stalk of cauliflower. 

the costumes
HOLY MOLY. Centering a film on two thieves who pull cons and perform large stage numbers is a great excuse to let the wardrobe department run wild, and, hoo boy, wild did they run. And that's all I need to say.

villain lair
You know how I love villain lairs, and RKRCKR does not disappoint.
Jugran really has two: as Manmohan, he has a glitzy mansion, but as Jugran he has something more in line with truly evil purposes. (The two might even be connected? Not sure.) It's very hard to see in these pictures, but there is a long striped tunnel whose mouth at one end includes a ring of little flames (imagine almost a live version of the Nataraja statue; you can just make it out center left in the top photo) and the other a gaudily decorated dressing room in which his big black cape hangs. The main room appears to be this multi-storey wonder that includes light-up stairs, horse busts, red waterfalls, and female guards in silver headbands and go-go boots. Unfortunately, there is no death trap; Jugran's method of dealing with those who disappoint him is much more direct.

to close
I don't know if the people responsible for this film were trying to make contemporary 70s-influenced masala, but that's sure how it seems to me. That they succeeded is one of the highest filmi-related (filmish?) compliments I can give. Plot intricacies, big dramas and ironies, dil-squish, appropriate acting, fun songs, humor, plenty to look at, and a heartfelt sense of WHEEEEE! underscoring pretty much everything in the film make RKRCKR one of the best films of the 1990s I've seen yet. 

oh, but also
Is this the same location that Vijay and Ravi run through in Deewaar right before the horrible fratricide?
Granted I don't hang out at churches, but I've never seen cross painted with two-dimensional images of bloody Jesus and nails.
I was about to say that this has nothing to do with the film, but in fact the guy in the background there is about to meet his maker because of the way he wants to help the heroine, so maybe there is a bit of a statement about sacrifice. Hmm.

* I have typed the name of this film so many times I want to shoot myself. Abbreviated it shall be!
** In fact, all the screencaps of this DVD turned out really dark! Boo!

21 comments:

SunnyBlueSky said...

I absolutely agree... it was an entertaining movie...

Gaja Gamini said...

Oh Gosh.... I thought this film was just terrible. Nothing made sense and plot holes were the plot. Sridevi was at her annoying worst and ANil didn´t help. ANupam Kher whom I love gave me a headache with his Dracula costume and not being scary at all. I didn´t even like the songs and thought it all a big waste of money really. Nope, not a good film at all.

Anonymous said...

Hi, your blog has been mentioned in Outlook today.

http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?281004

Carla (filmigeek) said...

Am curious to see this because of the Sridevi comedy - am always on the lookout for watchable Sridevi movies which seem so rare. I loved her in Mr. India; you are right that there is something about the way she uses the bug-eyed expression that just works. I can (and have) watched the "Hawa Hawai" song from Mr India over and over because of her.

I have nothing to add except that I just can't look at Bob Christo the same way since you told me about his memoir. Ew.

Carla (filmigeek)
http://filmigeek.net

Beth said...

Sunny - Yay!

Gaja - Wow, we disagree on every front, it seems. I'm curious about your criticism of plot holes - not only did I not notice any in particular, the plot overall did not strike me as more outrageous or far-fetched than the average masala adventure/crime/revenge story.

Anonymous - I saw! Thanks for the link.

Carla - It is rare that I steer someone into the 1990s but I truly loved this and I think you'd definitely find it amusingly watchable at the very least. And yes, it was extra satisfying to see Bob get punched in this one. :)

Anonymous said...

OT here, but WHAT have you done to the typeface? It's now too small and too thin. (The comments are fine, though.)

icyHighs said...

This was hilarious. Sreedevi saw me through many a lonely teenage year, I can't believe I haven't seen this one.

Beth said...

Anonymous - I know, I know, it's been a pain. I tried to fix it yesterday so I hope what you're reading now is better!

icyHighs - :) That is a true testament to the power of cinema! I hope you get to see this soon - it's so fun.

Wedding Hair and Makeup said...

Ya that was really full entertaining movie. I have only one word for that movie and it is "JHAKKAS"...

Shivangi said...

superb...
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memsaab said...

How did I miss this post? I must see this, for Jango if nothing else. Although I may have to wait a little while until I've recovered from the shininess of Disco Dancer.

Shalini said...

I actually got to see this movie on the big screen when it released and loved everything about it except the music (too loudy and busy though I suppose that's appropos for the movie).

Completely agree with you on how funny Sridevi was in the comedy bits. I know her schtick is Lucille Ball-ish but as you said it works. Have you seen "Gurdudev" with Sridevi, Anil Kapoor AND Rishi? It's along the same 90s masala lines as RKRCR. I think you'd like it.:-)

kiran chikkala said...

Very nice post

Beth said...

WH&M - Agree!

memsaab - YOU MUST. I think you will love it. Watch it with Carla since she is always on the lookout for palatable Sridevi films.

Shalini - Jealous! That sounds so fun. I haven't seen Gurudev but will keep a lookout for it!

pon said...

superb...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fantastic posts. I have been following you for a whilst on my rss reader, thought i would make the effort to say THANK YOU these days.

Daal mein Kuch Kaala Hai said...

Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja is super film. In this film Anil Kapoor and Shridevi plays beautiful role this film was really good.

bollywood news said...

Hey it's was an awesome movie. Super Duper Comedy, full too drama, masti and lovely romantic scenes...:)
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Samudrika said...

The location you ask about is the Horniman circle gardens near Churchgate, Mumbai. It can been seen in several films. Here is a Wikimapia link

http://wikimapia.org/#lat=18.9319843&lon=72.834862&z=18&l=0&m=b&search=horniman%20circle

See the buildings in the north of the gardens. (Dena Bank, Dinshaw building etc. ).

The church might be St. James Cathedral which is very closeby.

P.s. I loved Roop ki Rani.... when it came it. Never understood why it flopped.

Beth said...

Samudrinka - AHHHH! Thank you! That wikimapia picture is so useful, and I see the Town Hall is RIGHT THERE too! :D

makeup artist said...

awesome movie and shreedevi was awesome in this movie