(KYA?! Say it isn't so, Vinod!)
When I was debating on which Vinod Khanna films to watch for the Khanna-o-rama Festivities, there was one that I remembered from the copious reviews from my fellow Bolly-bloggers: Parvarish. I expected a nothing short of an all-out masala extravaganza. That was not the case. Parvarish isn't a total failure like Ram Balram because I did enjoy the film, but Parvarish is not really masala the way I think of masala.
(For me? Thanks, Tom Alter!)
For somebody who grew up with the low production values and high camp factor of things like the original Doctor Who, the entire oeuvre of John Waters, and the Frankie and Annette movies, I never approached masala as a mixture of Amitabh Bachchan, campy villain lairs, really cheezy special effects, and a handful of henchmen. That's all icing on the cake, to mix my food metaphors. Masala is, for me, a mixture of emotions - comedy, drama, romance, family ties, duty to country, religion, and sex. Films that I consider masala greats are things like Talaash (1968), which whips through the emotions so fast that your brain might catch on fire, and the original Don. Parvarish feels flat. It has little emotion, one dominant theme, a few splashes of comedy, covered with a lot of (yummy) frosting.
(Kya teri hogi, Filmi Girl?)
The story begins with a dacoit (Amjad Khan - like I need to tell you, although I suppose Ajit could have been called in) getting captured by a mysteriously wealthy police officer (Shammi Kapoor, looking suspicously like Bluto). The dacoit's wife gives birth and promptly dies for the sin of being married to a dacoit. Before she expires, she gives the baby over to Police Chief Shammi who raises him along side his own son, saying that nurture will override nature. We all know where this is going - or do we?! In a slick reversal of Deewar, the chief's real son grows up to be Kishan (Vinod Khanna), a scoundral and smuggler, and the dacoit's son is good cop Amit (Amitabh Bachchan). Along the way to Kishan's inevitable redemption, the two lads run into two lady thieves (Neetu Singh and Shabana Azmi) and hijinx ensue.
"Gosh, Filmi Girl, that sounds exactly like a masala film to me," you are no doubt shouting at your computer screen right now. And while you all are very loud, I still say that it didn't feel like masala to me - even if it was mostly entertaining and after typing out a lot of nonsense and then deleting it and then typing out more nonsense, I've come to conclusion that the un-masala-ness of Parvarish is tied to Neetu and Shabbu - their aborted attempts at revenge clutter up the narrative giving us two main stories driven by revenge and no b or c-stories to lighten the mood.
Parvarish glides along two parallel tracks of two Heroes each - Amit and Kishan battling it out on one side and Neetu and Shabbu banding together on the other, unintentionally, perhaps, showcasing some of the variety of the two Hero lineup. Despite the somewhat formulaic nature of these 1970s films involving smuggling and a Big Boss, there is quite a bit of variety in the way two heroes can be used. You can have one big hero and one smaller one in stories that only vagely intersect (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin), two heroes that for all intents and purposes share one role (Shaan), or two heroes whose relationship is one of the pillars of the film (Sholay).
The Heroines differ, too, of course. There is the action oriented Zeenat Aman school of Heroining and the sappy, forgettable Heroines, and the sexy Heroines. Sometimes both Heroes get a Heroine and a happy ending or just one Hero ends up with a gal but even the most action-driven, dark, revenge-filled, macho dramas have at least one song where the Hero and Heroine flit around outside and sing romantic tunes in the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi. Parvarish doesn't have this. No flowy chiffon, no flowers, no pastoral settings... nothing. The Hero doesn't necessarily need a romancey song but if he doesn't sing one than somebody must do it for him.
Take Zanjeer, for example. If memory serves correctly, Amitabh doesn't have a single song picturized on him but he is present for Pran's amazing qawwali on the topic of friendship - a heartfelt and softening song if there ever was one - and during another song where he stands next to Jaya and they watch two singers perform a romantic song. This lack of softness is a problem when it comes to Parvarish because no matter how small, masala needs a romance track. Sisters Neetu and Shabbu are highly entertaining and delightful lady thieves but their role as dueling duel Heroes in the film only serves to dilute the masala feel. We never get a chance to breathe in between revenge saga and revenge saga. Action sequence follows action sequence and the songs are all full of anger and tension. The celebratory party song is angry, the qawwali is angry, the quartet is bitter, the would-be seduction number is tense, and the opening duet has a bitter tinge to it. Not once do we get a carefree or sexy or romantic song. Nothing like "Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara" or "Dil Pukare" or "Baithe Hai Kya Uske Paas" (I don't know why I'm obsessed with Jewel Thief) to let us forget the anger for a moment.
(Assault with a deadly sax is hilarious but not really romantic.)
Without a romance, the film feels strangely incomplete. I kept waiting for the two couples to reveal their true love but they never did.
And that is where I stand on Parvarish. It's enjoyable but forgettable. I didn't really care who defeated Supremeo or if the dacoit found his lost son. I kept waiting for the film to really start and for the stakes to get raised but aside for a few confrontational minutes in tense closet POV scene (yes, really), the plot never picked up. The experience was similar to watching a film and waiting for the first song to kick in.
Vinod Khanna, since this is his week, was his usual slick self, rocking bellbottoms and looking appropriately menacing and faux-innocent as the script required. Amitabh Bachchan is wasted as the goodly police officer. Aside from a little clowning in disguise that looks remarkably like Mac Mohan, he doesn't have much to do. Neetu Singh is excellent and Shabana Azmi is acceptable but with so many competing lead stories, everything feels rushed and boxed in. Maybe this is my bias towards song picturizations but I can't help feeling that Parvarish would have benefitted from at least two more - a romance and an item number leading up to the climatic fight - just to give the audience to catch our breath.
Of course, all of this means nothing since 1977 has come and gone and Parvarish has certainly captured the fancy of many of my fellow Bollywood bloggers. But for me, Parvarish doesn't hold a candle to those bizarre masala adventures like Geeta Mera Naam, Johny Mera Naam, and Shaan - let alone even the intense masala like yesterday's Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, in my opinion, the far-superior Vinod-Amitabh starrer.
The tar and feathering can begin now.