Monday 19 January 2009

Janbaaz (1986)

Moral purists, beware: Janbaaz (Daredevil) is not for you. It is a raunchy, sleazy, anti-morality fable that is sometimes nightmarishly (sometimes hilariously!) anti-puritan. The heart and soul of the film - the lustful attraction between the thoughtless hedonist, Amar (Anil Kapoor), and the badass, hard-core Reshma (Dimple Kampadia) - is not very vanilla or even masala. It's actually a lot more... Rocky Road (da dum shhh - thank you, thank you, we'll be here all night). Rocky Road with a strong helping of 1980s tackiness and SLEAZE. So if you recoil from vile anti-heroics and dodgy fashion sense, stay away. If instead you are like the PPCC and you suspend not only disbelief but also moral indignance when watching certain films, then Janbaaz is a plain ol' hoot and a hog. Or should we say: (insert your own poultry-related double entendre here). We loved it! It was a spectacle of pulp! Gosh, Anil's good at those. We also think (drumroll) that what it's really really about is not the 1980s fashion of drug dramas, but the modern cult of Dionysus.

Your brain on drugs.

The gorgeous and (mostly) empowered Reshma (Dimple Kampadia).

Molding itself along the two-brothers masala standard, only with a filter of old school Miami Vice, Janbaaz concerns itself with the strange moral quagmire that is the Singh family. These people run the gamut of the usual Mother Theresa-meets-Gandhiji fare (a favorite of masala moral tales!) to... well, Anil Kapoor in full-on bastard mode. The father, Rana Vikram Singh (Amrish Puri), is an aging epicurean (small e) who finds his older, straight edge son, Rajesh (Feroz Khan), incredibly dull, and instead showers praise and encouragement on his permanently-in-a-stupor younger son, Amar (Anil Kapoor). On a night when Amar lurches home after snorting lines of cocaine and playing Russian roulette, father Rana laughs with gusto: "Bravo, son, well done!" What's an honest Stoic (big S) to do in this house of sin?

Well, poor, harassed elder son Rajesh asks himself this, again and again. A police officer in the Narcotics squad (Hindi Movie Irony Bell goes CLANG!), he toils in a sighing, hang-dog way under the moral contradictions of his father and the moral vacuum of his brother, still grieving over his lost love (Sridevi in a cameo) and getting no love from anyone - except maybe his similarly bewildered-lost-lamb mother (Sushma Seth).

Father and son yakking it up over the most inappropriate party stories.

See what Reshma can do to your Macho!

One day, a new element is thrown into the mix with the arrival of the strong, capable Reshma (Dimple Kampadia). Recently orphaned after her gambler father (a dashing Kulbhushan Kharbanda) was killed by the local drug gang (among them Shakti Kapoor), Reshma is more like Rajesh: serious, hard-working, living unhappily under a shadow of sin (she's an illegitimate child, something no one ever tires of reminding her), and she doesn't suffer fools gladly. Or, for that matter, lecherous fathers and wastrel sons. As Amar tries his usual come-on strategy of strutting around and making godawful double entendres, Reshma does what any self-respecting girl would do: she rolls her eyes, gives him a good slap now and again (including ramming pie down his throat in one of the most satisfying scenes) and even - interestingly! - shows him who wears the pants by unmanning him via his horse (appropriately named, "Macho"). And then - surprise! - she falls for him, or falls for something, and soon enough they're rolling around in the hay.

And it's all fun in the hay until someone gets a pitchfork to the back, and we find ourselves on the run with Amar and Reshma on the motorcycle and Rajesh following close behind. Throw in one disgruntled drug gang, and the fact that it's 1986, and you're in for some full-throttle, grenade-explosion, flame-thrower dishoom dishoom.

There's a word in Italian for what Anil Kapoor looks like in this film: "sbronzo". Basically, it means sozzled - but not just drunk, it means that sort of tanned, bleary-eyed, ravaged nose drunkenness found only in the most devoted long-term drinker. As he guzzles champagne for breakfast, snorts coke for lunch and knocks back Johnny Walker for supper, you can only imagine what Amar's liver must look like! That man may be young, but - thanks to Anil's constant blush and trademark scraggly stubble - it looks like it's taking its toll, too. A tough cookie like Reshma is just what this guy needs if he's going to live past 35.

Sbronzo! Not to be confused with "stronzo", which is, well, also applicable.

Which segues nicely into Reshma and the relationship: a more typical masala heroine would have fallen for the poor, quietly tragic Rajesh, not the jackass Amar. And yet Reshma falls for Amar! Is it his gracious charm? (Definitely not, he has none!) Is it his studly mustache? (Possible!) We actually think she falls for that glamorously tawdry Dionysus in him. For those not up on their Greco-Roman mythology, Dionysus (called Bacchus by the Romans) was the god of wine, women and theater. He had all sorts of colorful, grisly things happen to him (including getting ripped apart by the Titans during one of his various deaths) and he represents, in modern aesthetics (and thanks mostly to Nietszche's reinvention of him), that sort of loose cannon, unregulated, uninhibited and unintellectual art that comes straight from the gut. A good example would be Jackson Pollock: an alcoholic painter famous for a style where he used to fling, dribble and pour the paint onto the canvas.

So Dionysus - the original and most archetypal "black sheep" of Olympus - has an attractively rebellious anti-hero quality to him, and he has become - like the Byronic loner - a standard character found in various incarnations in various media (film, music, art, etc). Dionysus has long been associated with the primal, and the marginal strata of society - back in the day, there was the cult of Dionysus which was renowned for its frenzied, crazy meetings and shrieking female fans. So of course Amar - the Dionysus of Janbaaz - is (1) going to be a male chauvinist jackass whose sole motivations are satisfying base, primal impulses and (2) Reshma, a "marginal" of society (lady! tough lady who wears pants! illegitimate daughter!), is going to fall for him. Tellingly too, their relationship is all about lust initially - even from Reshma's side (as baffling as that may be considering Amar's fashion sense - off-the-shoulder sweaters! - and hairiness), a rarity in the genre. Things go a lot more Hindi when that initial attraction turns into the emotional investment of real love and Reshma becomes a helpless damsel in distress. But everything up until that point: pure, seedy Dionysian. And the point of this film and the source of its notoriety is, after all, its envelope-pushing seediness, not its somewhat deflated ending.

Dionysus and Ariadne?

A short interlude about the PPCC's critical philosophy

Now, just to preempt a comment that could be made: yes, we know that Feroz Khan probably wasn't thinking explicitly about Dionysus/Bacchus when he made this film. But that doesn't mean the meaning's not there!

We at the PPCC are followers of the "death of the author" school of thought - that is, we don't believe that the author/artist/filmmaker's intentions are the most valid interpretation of a text/art/film. Just because the author didn't consciously put something into his art doesn't mean it didn't end up in there anyway. To take an example, J.R.R. Tolkien intended Lord of the Rings to be a Catholic allegory, but he also ended up with a World War II allegory - something he fervently denied. Does this make interpreting Lord of the Rings as a World War II allegory wrong? Not at all! In fact, it would be silly to dismiss the idea, considering Tolkien's background and context. (For crying out loud, he wrote it during the war!) You can go even further: people have argued that Lord of the Rings is an environmentalist allegory. Indeed, ecocriticism - the interpretation of literature through the lens of environmentalism - is a very recent development that by definition relies on reevaluating older texts in a completely modern way - a way which was probably furthest from the authors' minds. Of course Shakespeare probably didn't mean to make King Lear a "green" play, but that doesn't mean a green interpretation is wrong or invalid. Quite the opposite! And it's one of many, many valid interpretations. The possibilities are really endless!

Before you think we're just critical theory anarchists who'll accept any interpretation about anything, we do have two rules. An interpretation is valid if:
1. It presents a genuinely novel, stimulating way of understanding both the text/art/film and, where possible (brownie points awarded), reality. For example, Film X is a meta-representation of Swiss cheese...
2. It does so in a convincing, rigorous way, using real evidence from the text. For example, ...because its plot is full of holes!

So basically the argument is important - as long as you've got evidence and facts (Amar is a wastrel, Dionysus is the god of wastrels, Dionysus was worshiped by marginalized women, a marginalized woman falls for Amar) then you've got a valid argument (Amar is Dionysus). The fact "Feroz Khan probably doesn't know that much about Dionysus" is just as important as the "Amar is a wastrel" fact - one doesn't cancel out the other. QED. Ta da!

Back to the review


In terms of performances, everyone is fine - with the real stand-out being Amrish Puri. Feroz Khan, who also directed the film, channels Manoj Kumar both in his directorial style and in his performance: he's the put-upon, quietly suffering, noble fighter for justice. The only problem is: we like it better when Manoj Kumar does it, perhaps because of his quirky, mumbling delivery style and nervous hands. Feroz, for however cute he is in an aging post-evergreen sort of way, seems to suffer from Frozen Face Syndrome.

Feroz's frozen face, item 1: Interrogating a drug lord.

Item 2: hearing something horrible has happened to a loved one.

Anil Kapoor has the more colorful role and basically hams it up. He's already played a rated-PG Dionysus for comedy value in Welcome, and he's always been very good at projecting maximum sleaze. Plus, his OTT performance style is perfectly suited to characters with tenuous grips on their serenity (and sobriety). Yay for Anil (again!)!

Dionysus doesn't feel too hot in chiaroscuro.

Dimple is new to the PPCC and, based on this debut performance, we give her two big thumbs up. In particular, she managed to find herself in a very feminist-unfriendly role - the girl who falls for the chauvinistic player and, later, the damsel-in-distress - and yet she manages to project strength, assurance and general badassness throughout the film. When she knees Shakti Kapoor during the dennouement - priceless. This girl doesn't need any help!

The standout performance though was Amrish Puri. He proved again and again that he could play the bug-eyed villain, but in Janbaaz, he gets a meatier role. The patriarchal Rana is a complex, contradictory figure: lecherous on one occasion and gently loving on another, a rebellious hedonist who becomes morally indignant about illegitimacy, and very, very flawed. But - like Anupam Kher in 1942: A Love Story - this was a role we could get behind, a role that gave an iconic villain a chance to flex some of those hidden acting muscles. It gave Amrish a lot of room to maneuver, and his gruff, morally ambiguous father figure was the best part of the show.

And finally, we should mention the aesthetics. Feroz Khan has taken a big lesson out of the Manoj Kumar School of Directing: hallucinogenic imagery (eggs exploding! hammers smashing into flowers! a cresting wave!) and INCREDIBLY BLUNT symbolism (wild, untamed stallions! the stud farm! passionate people literally catching fire!). He also seemed hell-bent on pushing the Hindi mainstream envelope. We all know about the roll in the hay by now, but there's also the overall theme of humanizing the immoral anti-hero and tough illegitimate daughter as well as the crazy amounts of on-screen drug use, violence and eroticism. This still doesn't get much further than an American PG-13 rating but it was, in a Hindi film, very unexpected!

Anyway, there's still more we could talk about - the Sufi presence was well-noted, and it would be interesting to compare Sufi and Dionysian aesthetics; also, Rekha's WTF cameo - but we'll leave that for another day. Today, we can only encourage you to enjoy Janbaaz, but please, watch responsibly.


eliza bennet said...


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

The debauchery drips out of that sbronzo picture!

Okay, now I will go actually read and see if in fact that is debauchery. But it sure smells like it from here.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I'm only watching if I can find a buddy.

How come she's a damsel in distress at the end? What happened? I don't mean plot-wise - I mean, why do you think the writers turned her from awesome to DID?

LOVE the detour on critical philosophy, and believe me when I say that is a high compliment because I never thought I'd hear myself say any combination of "love" and "critical philosophy" - but once again Bollywood and its proponents and agents have upended what I thought I thought. Anyway. Yes, I agree with your argument about arguments, and I wish I had your confidence in writing them out more often.

That second Feroz face...I made such a yelp when I scrolled down that I woke up the dog.

Anonymous said...

Beth I will watch it with you! But only in person. With cocktails close at hand.

Anonymous said...

I disagree! I think Reshma fell for Amar once she got a good look at the fur rug. Being the practical girl she is, she knew once she had him in the house, she wouldn't have to go searching for a polar bear to slaughter for a rug everytime she wanted a nice winter night's fireside lovin'. Plus, given Amar's coked out of his head, all that, uh, friction would be a big help in the bedroom I'm sure (yes, I went THERE!).

The true irony of this movie of course, is that Feroz was the Amar in real life.

And talking of Dimple, she's always done interesting roles - right from Bobby in which she was an actual real live Bombay teen to the life (before being consumed in RK sleaze and overblown romance towards the end) to movies like Rudaali which has a pretty interesting take on feminism in rural India to Lekin.

Seriously though, any review that can find Dionysus in a Feroz Khan movie has my vote. The only time Dionysus has ever appeared in my mind when I see FK's movies, is when I think to myself "Man, I could use a drink". Kudos!

a ppcc representative said...

eliza bennet - Yay! Though I should warn you: you've got a lot more than nostrils to contend with in this film (see Amrita's comment!).

Beth - And you are bilkul right.

Beth2 - Admittedly, Dimple goes DID about the same time everyone does - Rajesh and Amar included - and no one's really got the upper hand in terms of strength. In fact, while Rajesh and Amar struggle to help her, she actually gets herself out of most of the jams (see my reference to kneeing Shakti Kapoor). Thanks re: crit phil! Of course you must write them out!

Memsaab - Can I come?! Though if I have a few cocktails, I might just cry in the end. Nahiiiiin!

Amrita - You have won the prize for Best Comment Ever.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Dionysus? Jaanbaaz? Never did I think I'd see the 2 words together, but now that u say so, it does make sense.

Still cant like this movie- it just tires me out though- OK w/ sexual references, but there has to be more in a movie than that. And such few scenes with Sri! :P

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I declare a drinkawatchalong!

Banno said...

Can I come too?

Rum said...

I think a drinkalong would be fun with an underage kid here! I kinda like this movie now, i rewatched it again but the hate is still there especially coz my ANil uttered such pervy double entendres!

eliza bennet said...

Hahahaaaa Amrita's comment is explanatory indeed but if I'm able to want Aamir in Rangeela to take me in his arms (hairy chest + fishnet), then I don't think I'll have a problem watching Anil's rug :)

Temple said...

P-PCC - All I can say is hay, back hair, rolling..This is the second Anil Kapoor film I watched (the first being the happy happy joy of Mr India) and I have had grave reservations about him since. I do want to read your thoughts on Rekha WTF, the Hasselhoffian male dancer, the gorilla suit and the rest of Pyaare Do...
Oh and my other thought on this movie, a familiar refrain to those who know me, is "Poor old Sri Devi, stuck in the era of dire films, worse fashion and dubious looking leading men.."

Beth - Drinks in hand could be dangerous during this movie as there are too many moments where you will want to use both hands to cover your eyes, or the eyes of a loved one sitting nearby. My friends and I agree that this comes with a General Beverage Warning (especially hot liquids) and all caution should be exercised when holding liquids near a computer or telly. If I tell you one of the other recipients of the GBW (ehl) is Akshay Kumar in the It's My Life song from the modern(?) Suhaag, you may understand how serious I am!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Eliza - I am mercifully not overly knowledgeable on this question, but if memory serves, Aamir is much, much safer than Anil, no? Aamir has some great toe-curling moments in Rangeela, doesn't he!

I declare everyone can come! The only requirement is that each person has a place to set her/his beverage per Temple's warning. Or we use those beer can hats.

Temple, I think we should start a list of moments that need to come with GBW (ehl)!

And now I am off to go watch that Akshay song, of course.

Anonymous said...

How about cocktail IVs? That way our hands will be free at all times, for covering eyes, ears, shaking fists, giving high-fives for Dimple, etc.

Let's do it!

Keith said...

What the...there's an awful lot of Janbaaz in the room all of a sudden. You and Run both write awesome reviews wih very diferent but equally entertaining viewpoints, then I get the movie in the mail last Friday and watch it over the weekend...who knows when this madness will end?!?!

Keith said...

Also, there's a whole lot of I can't type in the room today.


Is it too late to blame those on George Bush?

a ppcc representative said...

Shweta - Mwahaha, the horribly vulgar puns were hilarious though! And I thought it was highly interesting that those puns work both in Hindi and in English. Who knew!

Beth - I'm there! Time?

Banno - I hereby declare that you MUST come!

Rum - Haha, aww, poor Rum! I can imagine how traumatizing this would be if you grew up on the cute, righteous Anil of Mr. India and 1942: he's such a total sleaze in this!

eliza bennet - Have you seen the Parinda review? The caps there are worth a thousand words.

Temple - Hey now! I protest! How can you write off a guy just based on his shoulder fur? That's too harsh! *fulfills the PPCC Yuvvraaj promise of protecting Anil Kapoor forever*

Beth - I second beer can hats. Art project time!

Memsaab - ...and cocktail IVs! Though again, I warn everyone that I WILL shed some tears.

Keith - I know, the aura of Janbaaz has descended. Have you posted your thoughts yet!?

Keith2 - It's never too late. :)

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Oh Temple. Thank god my glass was empty.

Temple said...

p-pcc - I dunno but I just can. He is forever damned by the memory of straw woven into his pelt. ALthough I did njoy the look on his face during the cut-away shots in Rekha's item.

Beth - I am glad you heeded the GBW :) Red42 who sometimes appears here and there has begged the universe to keep Akshay Kumar away from all bodies of water when on film and I am praying along with them.
One day, if I feel strong enough, we will revisit Akshay Kumar and Rekha and the mud wrestling, grabbing, shower song. Ewww.

eliza bennet said...

"straw woven into his pelt."

This got me scared alright!

Beth, Aamir in Rangeela is v.hairy (and they come out of his fishnet vest) but based on Parindar screencaps and Temple's quote above, I think Anil will be the king of hair!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Yeah, I don't think there's any contest about King of Hair, at least not in my experience. It's Anil all the way (though Akshaye Khanna should be in the running).

Temple said...

Beth and Eliza - Anil's pelt can even scare me when it isn't there...think Tashan..think string vest and very pale shaved shest..pallid man boobs that had NEVER seen the light of sun..So I am always a bit wary of Anil. And Akshay Kumar has a penchant for the wearing of the budgie-smugglers so I am also alert and often alarmed. Akshay Khanna hasn't horrified me to that same extent.

a ppcc representative said...

Temple - LOL, YES! That was why I capped that moment. He's got the same expression I have sometimes, "Oh God, NOOOOOO." I'm at the office now, but you've got me at mud wrestling. Will investigate.

eliza bennet - Ultrabrown reckons he should win an Oscar.

Beth - I've gotta say, Sunny Deol had some pretty hairy shoulders in Ram-Avtar. And I've seen some Abhishek back hair sneaking through his t-shirts in Dostana. But the big screen is MERCILESS.

Temple2 - I think now's probably a good time to admit that I never really thought of Anil as "the mustache guy" (as previously claimed), as that infamous moment in Tashan was actually the first time I really, REALLY noticed him (and he became Anil the moobie man for me 'til Yuvvraaj). That was partly costume design's fault/insanity though - fishnet wifebeaters don't do anyone any favors. Hmm, pelt > moobies? Not sure. But that's another thing I've grown to love about Anil - thighs of steel, hair or no hair, moobs - it's a party under his clothes and WHO KNOWS WHAT'S INVITED!

Temple said...

"it's a party under his clothes and WHO KNOWS WHAT'S INVITED!"
OMG PPCC - That comment needed to carry a Genereal Beverage Warning!!!

Temple said...

and just to save you some PPCC research and google time:

Its from Khiladiyon ka Khiladi

and my verification word is "mudgest". Sometimes the universe really wants something to happen...

red42 said...

OK, so Temple and I have discussed this film endlessly, and the Rekha WTF moment has been immortalised in our little group here for many a year. This was my first Anil movie, watched quite a few years ago now, and hence why I am not such a huge fan - although I do have to admit that he is getting better with age - much like a fine wine. I really didn't like the plot of this movie at all, and the back hair in THAT scene in the hay was just gruesome! It took a very long time before I was able to watch another Anil movie, and only then when I was assured that he kept his clothes on! Probably not helped by the fact that my subtitles died half way in, and this was when I was just beginning to learn Hindi, so I did get somewhat lost. Dimple just annoyed me, and Feroz was, well, Feroz I guess.
The GBW (ehl) came about because the first time I was sent the Akshay 'Its my life' clip, I spilled my coffee, and yelped loud enough to bring the girl from the pharmacy opposite in to check that I was all right - hence my vigorous campaigning against Akshay and all forms of water!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I am currently watching this and am so glad I came back to review. I have put my coffee safely out of easy reach (and the computer) on the coffee table.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

PEOPLE! ALERT! ALERT! I do believe that the drug den/disco in this film has the same neon orange squares seen in Sawaal and Kalyug!!!

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That Mash Guy said...

the fact that his brother is the straight laced one fits in with the Apollonian/Dyonisian dichotomy

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Unknown said...

I recommend Yalgaar where Feroz casts a man in his 30s as his character's father. Its hilarious to hear the 50+ Feroz calling an obviously young man his dad....Its better than Jaanbaaz-I found Jaanbaaz just odd but I too was intrigued by AMrish's character though the director never really explored it much.