Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shaan: The Greatest Film Ever Made

I'm reposting this for Beth, who has the DVD of Shaan tempting her away from work...

Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about Shaan! Take equal parts James Bond, Hera Pheri, and Sholay add a healthy dash of camp and just a pinch of masala dil - heat it all up with some lingering shots of Parveen Babi and you’ve got Shaan!

I think Muffy St. Bernard put it best in this pithy quote, …[I]n Shaan you've got the standard plotline of a clash between the "virtuous" brother and the "criminal" brother (though in this case, the criminal brother is played by both Amitabh and Shashi...but don't worry, they are two different people in the film, not a two-headed monster, an idea which surely occurred to the screenwriters but was abandoned so they could afford a bigger crocodile).

Yes, Shashitabh are the criminal brother(s) to Sunil Dutt’s virtuous cop brother. Sippy doubles everything that can be doubled and crams so much in that I spent the entire film thinking, “How did this 1980 masala film turn out so awesome and bloated 1980 masala film Ram Balram turn out so terrible? Everything Ram Balram got wrong - Shaan got right!”

Here’s the story in a nutshell – Shashitabh are the kind-hearted petty criminal brother(s) to Sunil Dutt’s virtuous cop. Sunil Dutt is murdered by… someone, whom we suspect to be working for evil mastermind SHAKAL!

Shakal, played with more than a dose of self-aware humor by Kulbhushan Kharbanda, is a James Bond-style evil genius with a lair full of sharks, crocodiles, a giant gold eagle…

…and four beloved henchmen that he makes wear sweet matching white suits! (Hi, Mac Mohan!!!)

In the best evil masala villain fashion, Shakal doesn’t seem to have any real business schemes that would explain his giant lair – except murdering innocent people who get in his way! (and maybe some smuggling.)

So, Shashitabh give up petty criminalry and decide to TAKE DOWN SHAKAL!

All of this is fairly standard masala plot devices and as in any quality Bollywood production, the genius is in the details.

Allow me to run through what makes Shaan so wonderful, with references to terrible Ram Balram where appropriate.

Let’s start with proper use of Helen -

Helen is given a dance number and wiggles around as a “Gypsy Girl” in a delightful climatic item number. I, for one, love when the credits say “Friendly Appearance by Helen” and then she doesn’t appear until near the end so I spend most of the film in anticipation of the glorious moment when she reveals herself. Ram Balram, on the other hand, cast Helen as Zeenat Aman’s mother – a part that could easily have been played by numerous other actresses.

Copious use of the patented Sippy-POV-Spinny Camera added tension, where appropriate and glittery views up dancing girls skirts in other places! When I see “Sippy”, I am going to want two things – close ups of random body parts and lots of spinny camera. Shaan delivered both in spades.

Spinny camera keeps things from getting boring!

Shaan actually goes a step further with the spinny action by giving Shakal’s lair a GIANT ROTATING CONFERENCE TABLE! This means that not only can we use spinny camera in the traditional way, we can also have people spin around the camera, adding to the fun!

Not only do Shashitabh have the angst of their brother’s death to deal with, they are also given extra angst in the form of legless best friend Abdul – a kindly soul who gets his own song. The placing of Abdul and his mini-narrative is amazing in its melodramatic effectiveness. I have to admit that I got a little teary when we see his lonely skateboard-thingy later in the film…

Adding even more masala dil to Shaan is SHOTGUN SINHA and his awesome chemistry with Rakhee. Forget Sunil Dutt, Shotgun is the real third hero of this three hero film. Playing a character much like Pran’s in Don, Shotgun is forced to work for Shakal until his conscience gets the better of him and he joins forces with Shashitabh to take that bastard down.

In one of my favorite scenes in the entire film, Sippy gives us a shootout in a horse stable as Shotgun holds his own against Shakal’s goons while protecting Sunil Dutt’s widow RAKHEE and making me wish that they had written in a romance between the two characters.

Shotgun and Rakhee were amazing together!

Shashitabh in all their glory! Why have one hero when you can have two?!

One of the things Shaan got very, very right and Ram Balram got very, very wrong was the age appropriateness of the heroes. Shashitabh are clearly too old to be having parental angst, therefore the script called for an elder brother and his wife as family ties! Perfect! Where Ram Balram had Helen(!!!) as a mother figure, Shaan made Rakhee Shashitabh’s Bhabhi - much more age appropriate.

Shaan walked a fine line between camp and sincere emotion that was very effective to my eyes and hits close to how I watch these older masala films. I don’t like watching things just to make fun of them; it’s mean-spirited and bad for the soul. That said, I do appreciate the ridiculousness of classic Bollywood masala and I enjoy when the films can make fun of themselves. Example – having Shashitabh disguise themselves as pirates/gypsies to sneak into Shakal’s lair ensures that the final showdown between Shashitabh and Shakal will have extremely hilarious visuals of pirate Shashitabh kicking ultra-“hi-tech” Shakal’s butt!

It all comes together in my favorite masala of humor in with my dishoom-dishoom, giant crocodiles, and – you can’t leave this part out – lots and lots of squishy dil!


Vishal said...

Confession: I have seen Shaan several dozen times on TV, but only ever half of it. Something or the other invariably means that I have to leave, and so it is both one of my favourite movies and also one that I really need to see. :)

Hmm, next time I go to Mumbai I hope they have a cheap and cheerful DVD.


Filmi Girl said...

Oh!!! This film is a classic! I hope you find a copy!

shell said...

I finally picked up some Sashi movies last weekend on my city trip, but this wasn't one of them. Aargh. I might have to find other viewing options though. How can one be a fan of Hindi cinema and not see this?

kats said...

I loved the mad buddy con-caper way this film started (the scene where Amitabh's admiring the car and Shashi's goggling at the girl is priceless) but thought it got a little slow in the second half, and didn't really have the plot to justify it. Though because it's Ramesh Sippy, the production values were pretty uniformly excellent, I thought.

My other favorite scene is when Amitabh goes AYM over Abdul's death, trashes the bar, then strides upstairs and takes out all of Shakal's henchmen, leaving nothing in tact but a broken overhead fan rotating pathetically. Awesomeness. =)

Paresh said...


Lobelia said...

Loved this post!!! I agree with you about the mean-spiritedness of watching only to mock. I watch to love!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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