July 5, 2010

Bollywood Movie Review #1

Posted by Kanga.

Don, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman and Pran, 1978.

I’m starting with this movie, not because it’s the best or because it’s the first one I watched (which it isn’t), but because it is the freshest in my memory having watched it last night and because it is one of the few I managed to watch in one sitting without falling asleep in the middle. This tendency to fall asleep is not a failing of the movies, but a combination of my need for naps, the drain of having to read subtitles, and the fact that most of the movies are 2.5-3 hours in length.

I don’t pretend to be an officianado on Bollywood films, but there are a few patterns I’m picking up on. The movies often have main characters who are criminals, sometimes sympathetic because they were unfortunate orphans. Even more likely is the story of brothers separated at a young age – one becomes a cop, the other a criminal.

<<Word of warning: I will be “spoiling the ending” in my reviews. I am assuming that you are unlikely to ever watch these films and even if you did, knowing the plot twists is unlikely to spoil the enjoyment of watching the films. The real fun is in the performances, songs, dance, and corny stunts.>>

Don doesn’t have estranged brothers, but the don is a criminal and Amitabh does get to play dual roles – the suave, cold hearted don and Vijay, the homeless, betel leaf chewing street performer. When we first meet the don he is coldly shooting a police informant in his office. When we first meet Vijay he is dancing in the street singing a song about Bombay, all the time chewing betel leaves. (Betel is a mild stimulant.)

The police want to catch the don, the uncatchable criminal. However, when he dies in the back seat of the chief policeman’s car, instead of highly publicizing the capture, the policeman covers up the death. Why? you say? Because he wants to catch the bigger fish (and because we are only about an hour into the movie). The policeman remembers an encounter with a man, who filed a police report about abandoned children, who just happened to be the don’s doppleganger. He convinces Vijay, the doppleganger to infiltrate the don’s gang by impersonating him. The plot is far more complex than this with a girl who wants to avenge her brother’s death at the hand of the don who later falls in love with Vijay disguised as the don, and the involvement of the  father of the abandoned children in the don’s gang, AND the death of the policeman who is the only one who knows Vijay’s true identity and can clear him when captured. I could go on, but the details would tire us both. (The movie is 2 hrs 40 mins long.)

The best part of this movie is Amitabh Bachchan’s performance as both the don and Vijay. The contrast of the characters is quite entertaining and speaks of his acting talent.

man smoking and playing cards

Above is the don, below is Vijay.

man dancing with pink scarf on his head

Also of note is the final fight scene where Vijay, Roma (his karate chopping, gun shooting girlfriend), and the crippled Trapeze artist take on the whole criminal gang in a graveyard.

Well worth the price of admission.


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