Your frickin' welcome.
This is the first film we've ever seen where instead of The End they tell you Thank You! But, boy, the audience deserves to be thanked after sitting through a stinker like this one. Already in the first scene, our reaction was:
Now while we've reacted like that before, it's previously been a good kind of horrified shock. A delighted horrified shock. But alas, today we were well and truly horrified in the original meaning of the word. Because this is what we saw:
Yes. Yes, PPCC readership. They really did it. They put Shashi in a wig.
At this point, the PPCC already threw its hands up and went, "Bas! This is trash! The film is ruined!" But then we thought, OK, no, that's cruel and superficial. In Custody is, after all, an excellent Shashi film, and he is absolutely unrecognizable by 1970s Shashi standards. He's not wearing a wig, but he is, like, 40 kilos heavier and in a perm, no less.
But no, we should have just turned this off at that first shot. Because this film isn't bad like Kanyadaan or Bezubaan, where it's filmed well, and the songs are excellent, but the message is awful and the story kind of stupid. This isn't bad like Chor Machaye Shor, where it's a bit trashy B-movie, but is generally entertaining (and the songs are excellent). No, this is like Mukti bad. But worse than Mukti. Much, much, much worse. Exponentially worse. This should be a form of torture.
The whole sorry gang. Note that Shatrughan always wears the same wide-collared khaki outfit. Did he just walk off the Kaala Patthar set?
A lot of our hope was in the songs, since the music was by Kalyanji-Anandji, a legendary brothers of 70s funk. These guys did the music for Don (yeah!) and Muqaddar ka Sikandar (yeah yeah!) and Tridev (yeah yeah yeah!). To an extent, the few songs did deliver the minimal pleasure we received from watching this film. But that was really it. When the final Thank You appeared on the screen, we were so relieved.
The story begins promisingly enough, yet even in the first few moments, there are clanging signs that something dodgy is afoot. Anand (Shashi Kapoor, in a frickin' wig, a WIG! WTF?!) is a shifty, mysterious character who is implied to be an alcoholic and an insomniac. He also picks up disabled people and shakes them in women's faces. Yes, really. One day he runs into Neela (Shabana Azmi, thankfully looking normal) on a train. She matches him in shiftiness. By happenstance, both have the same destination: the home of the Kumar family - Anand arrives as a guest, Neela is the eldest daughter of the house. Anand has arrived from Bombay, sent by his friend, Navendhu (Shatrughan Sinha). Navendhu is the eldest son of the family, but he has been temporarily exiled (though the subtitles keep saying "extradited") from their village because of an intervillage rivalry with some random villain, Avinash (Utpal Dutt). Navendhu's family is now destitute. Neela is forced to engage in vaguely illicit activities which involve parcels, cash, and secret meetings with Mac Mohan. Meanwhile, Navendhu's father is bedridden and his mother is despairing that the younger children no longer go to school.
Shashi and Shatrughan get off to a rocky start. Though check out Shash's costume!
But soon enough they are friends.
Really good friends.
As expected, Anand is happily absorbed into this home, assuming the role of eldest son and caretaker. He arranges a marriage for the younger sister, he buys a wheelchair for the father, etcetera and so forth. Meanwhile, he also falls in love with Neela, though we only know this because the back of the DVD cover told us so. (OK, that's a bit cruel, their one love duet - which comes very late in the film - is actually very sweet. More on that later.)
A lot of people get carried around in this film. Shashi.
This guy on the train.
But the dodginess continues. All throughout the story, we are treated to flashbacks from Bombay: Anand and Navendhu's first meeting, their growing friendship, Navendhu confiding in Anand all his familial problems at the hands of evil Avinash. The PPCC was thinking, by this point, that the film would take a typical French psycho thriller turn and reveal that Anand had actually killed Navendhu in an effort to assume his role in the family. Anand certainly goes on and on about how the only thing he wants is a family, and this desire - common enough in Hindi films - gets such a sinister treatment, that we figured Anand was probably a psycho or something in disguise.
Or maybe it was just the wig.
Anyway, after some needless violence which includes a suicide (!), the film ends, and we were never so grateful. Ughhh.
First of all, as Shashi fans, we were annoyed. Shashi looked terrible. Not dorky in a cute, 1960s way. Not paternal in an overweight, 1980s way. He just looked bad. And he looked uncomfortable as well.
OMG Shashi, you look so bad.
Second of all, as Shatrughan Sinha fans, we were annoyed. His face appears prominently on the cover of the DVD, and the description seems to imply that this is Shatrughan's story first, Shashi's second. False advertising.
Third of all, as Kalyandji-Anandji fans, we were annoyed. Four songs in the span of an interminable 2+ hours, only two of which were up to their usual par.
Fourth of all, as Shabana Azmi fans... well, actually, she was fine. And her saris were gorgeous!
But what was the director thinking? Did this guy even know what an establishing shot was?! Apparently not! And why the 1-second close-ups?! This was terrible filmmaking. Terrible, bottom of the bucket. Uughhh. Claw your eyes out.
Attempting to find some good in this, we can say that the cross-cutting between the now-storyline and the flashbacks was good narrative structure. We always like cross-cuts. Unfortunately, we didn't realize the flashbacks would end up being so boring.
Another pretty good aspect of the film was the Shashana - that is, the Shashi-Shabana chemistry. It's sweet from a Brechtian perspective to watch them cavort, because Shabana apparently had a crush on Shashi when she was young. As a result, we always get a small, vicarious kick watching them team up in these 70s movies. It must have been a dream come true! And indeed, they've never let us down - neither in Fakira, nor Junoon, nor in In Custody. Even here, in this mire of trash, they are wonderfully sweet together. Their love duet, Rang Birange, was also quite explicit by Hindi standards - at least, they seemed to be enjoying themselves, and they seemed comfortable with each other.
The only good song.
They do a lot of nuzzling.
He sucks her finger at one point.
But the rest of the film? Uuughhhh.