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FilmBlog: Chaalbaaz (1989)- SriDeviPalooza

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When we agreed to have a celebration week for Sridevi, the movie I instantly wanted to re-watch to see the full power of the undisputed queen of the Bollywood 80’s was the 1989 Pankaj Parashar directed Chaalbaaz. This remake of “Seeta aur Gheeta” starred Sridevi in a double role of Anju and Manju, Sunny Deol and Rajnikanth as the male leads, a whole host of 80’s clichés and even a Subhai Ghai-style heavily made up troupe of villains headed up by a buck-toothed Anupam Kher wearing Nicole Kidman’s plastic nose from “The Hours”.  Check out Upodcast‘s full review of this Masala Classic and why this movie as no other illustrates the power and phenomenon that is Sri Devi AKA Thunder Thighs AKA Roopi Ki Rani… Click here for more!There are just a handful of actresses during the history of Bollywood Cinema that have reached a truly legendary status.  Stars hat have ruled the hearts and minds of the population mixing a cocktail of equal doses between obsession, fascination and box office success.
We can go as far  back as Madhubala, Nargis and other Golden oldies but the ones most vivid in my mind start with “The dream Girl” Hema Malini in the70’s (to which Om Shanti Om paid a wonderful tribute). After Hema Malini we had the years of Rekha and when she was done laying her claim a little known girl from South India started to impress people first through regional cinema, then remakes of those same movies but in Hindi and this time with Jeetendra dancing frenetically and finally taking over the crown of Bollywood queen from Rekha and becoming the One and only Miss Sridevi.
Although Sri’s reign was mostly in the 80’s and since my teenage hormones hadn’t quite yet kicked in I had a weird relationship with her. I understood there was something about this woman that entranced the entire desi population. Be it her face plastered on Kebab stalls in Karachi; to video cassette stores and the back of every Taxi and Riksha.
Sridevi was the woman my uncles and older brothers fantasized about, they called her thunder thighs, her rain songs were passed on from grubby hand to grubbier hands in VHS song top ten’s until the cassete was so worn, you had to do major “tracking” to get a clear picture again. Her high pitched giggle for which she became so famous using it to annoying heights in some movies ( miss Hawa Hawai?) used to be imitiated by my aunts and Baji’s.
Her hair styles, her ridiculous frocks… people were obsessed by this woman!
But to me Sridevi was the actress I wanted to have fun with, go gambling with dressed as The Bacha, kick my football in her room and beg her to give it back,  and if you ever got hungry she would feed you samosa’s and rub your hair. But that was Mr. India, I want to talk about Chaalbaaz!

To me there are a few quintessential Sridevi movie you have to watch to understand what she was about:
Chandni, Nagin and Chalbaaz.

Of course she has done hundreds of movies but these 3 more than any rely mostly on Sridevi’s star power to the point that she made 80’s macho heroes even take a back seat. Only a few Bollywood heroines reach such  a point in their career only the attachment of their name held the power to make or break a movie.  None of the new crop of actresses has this power! Kajol or Rani would be the closest but whilst writing these names next to Sridevi’s feels ridiculous.
Chaalbaaz was the first hindi filmfare award she won although she had been honored previously for a Tamil movie and she did win again for Lamhe, but since Bollywood usually equates quality with Box office success, I feel the award for Chaalbaaz was the one she must have cherished the most. I usually don’t care for awards of any kinds but was back in the day when Filmfare awards actually meant something and Shahrukh Khan didn’t win all of them without having to try.

Chalbaaz was the year of the height of her popularity, 1989 the last year of the 80’s. The decade which has mostly given us ugliness, mediocrity, bouffants and shoulder pads. Where massala films became such an overwhelming monster at the Indian box office that a divide between Bollywood and Hollywood conventions got created and people like Amir Khan and Shekar Kapur have been trying to bridge ever since unsuccesfully.
When people complain about Bollywood, the melodrama, inane musical numbers, played out romances, they complain about the 80’s.
These were the decades of Anil Kapoor, Sunjay Dutt (v1), Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff and well… Sridevi as the only woman to match up to these heavyweights.

This would also be Sridevi’s last last year reigning supreme even though she still had quite a few good/ hit movies out. A year before,In 1988 a little film called Tezaab got released and a certain lady with a light bulb smile came” Ek Do Teen”-ing into our collective hearts. (especially mine as now the hormones had truly kicked in!)
Taking over the template created by Sridevi and running with it like no one before her and no one after her ever had… Madhuri Dixit had arrived!

So what is Chaalbaaz all about?
Well it’s an oft repeated story formula in Hindi movies. It’s a plot we have seen in Ram aur Sham, Seeta aur Geeta, Kishan Kanhaiya, Judwaa, Duplicate.

Twins get separated at birth, one is raised by evil step parents/ uncles/ guardians being tortured in some way or the other, while the other is raised as a poor street smart kid and having borderline massala superpowers. Somewhere near interval point a switch takes places between the two creating much confusion for all parties involved and joy and laughter for the paisa-vasool public.
Although every character in these movies makes it clear that it’s impossible to pick both twins appart, the audience is helped by visual hints i.e. the meek character is usually in traditional clothes eg sari’s, shalwaar kameez, dhoti’s where as the street smart person is dressed in the height of fashion, matching shoulderpads and generally more volume in their hairstyles.(sometimes there is an allusion that they have stolen the clothes or hustled them).
Someone might make the point that these movies are about the evolution of India from rural to modern society, the role of women and their emancipation or something equally poignant. I am clearly not that guy!
I am going over the story very briefly as that’s what the movie does. The Public knows the story and Chaalbaaz knows this to the point that the main riddle of the movie is actually solved by a passing by paanwala.
The first 20 years of Anju- Manju’s life story is established in a weird voice-over cutting to the meat of the movie, when the grown up Sridevi’s enter. The weird voice over returns at back at the end of the movie to tie up all the loose ends too making it a small neat package of bread and games. Nothing more is needed.

Source: PinkVilla

So let’s go over some of the main characters in this movie:

Sunny “Dhai kilo ka haath”- Deol: Playing Saeed Jaffery’s ( playing Saeed Jaffery) rich but kind of an a*hole son. His intro speech to intimidate some goons stealing his car contains the words “mummy” and “daddy” before the beating ensues, he likes to stagger in drunk at ungodly hours with girlie hats on his head and he likes going to the “disco” (which conjures up some pretty funny images of Sunny Deol doing the electric slide) and he’s not ashamed to hit a woman if his feelings get hurt.
Good thing Sunny-paji saves “Damini” later in his career coz the Suraj he’s playing in Chaalbaaz is a complete douche bag.
Rajnikant, playing the second hero trying to figure out why he is a second hero in Bollywood. He plays a taxi driver that loves wearing red scarves and helps out Manju when things go out of control. When Manju is around that tends to happen quite often.  Rajni doesn’t get to do his trademark “kicking-ass-without-looking” kungfu but he does get a chance to do his wish-wish moves with a pair of shades (at night), this is enough to terrorize the hearts and minds of a bunch of goons more than , imagine if he went all out and started kicking some real ass with throwing knives.
He also hits a women in this movie… actually almost all male characters assault a women in one way or the other. I wish Rajnikanth had done more Hindi movies.
Rohini Hattangadi: Bouffant wearing midriff exposing fashionista and evil stepaunt
Anupham Kher: Evil uncle, unlicensed medicator, whip fetishist.

Special Appearances:
Shakti Kapoor: we get a double dose of comic side kick Shakti and rapist Shakti all in one . This is probably the transition from the first illustrious phase of his career to the second. His name is Balma, you will never forget it after seeing this movie.
Annu Kapoor: playing the benevolent servant similar to the one he has played in most of his career in Bollywood eg Tezaab, Gardish, etc
Aruna Irani: Crazy eyed baby snatcher
Aftab Shivdasani: Although very young he’s as good of an actor as he is now, playing the emotional dead weight that keeps Anju in the hell she has been living for the past 20 years. He also has an urge to see his grown up sister dance for him which will probably create a confused sexuality in his adult life but the movie does not go in to that aspect too much. The kid also disappears completely so he is of no further importance just like the next character.
Kader Khan, playing a beggar in one throw away scene with Shakti. Which I am still trying to understand the need for but I always liked Kader Khan when he’s with Shakti… he diluted the Shakti.

and then: Sridevi
Sridevi actually plays for Roles: She plays Anju (meek) Manju ( street smart) but she also plays Super Manju in one scene. Manju being the tougher sister of the two, when even Manju is not enough for our band of villains, Super Manju appears. She is more Manju than Manju alone would ever be.
She also there s a scene where Manju is acting like Anju, which is pretty hilarious but made me think of what Superman feels like when he has to don the thick rimmed glasses and cheap suit.
Anju: Wears sari’s, likes to dance at random hours, suicidal, drugged out, gets whipped a lot.
Manju: Drinks a lot, streetsmart, does raaj kumar impressions,professional bar dancer; amateur break dancer, likes to whip people.

Both sisters love dancing in living rooms.

Chaalbaaz was a pretty big hit in ’89 and Pankaj Parashar’s biggest hit.  Pankaj Parashar had a real eye for visuals and the movie is still stylishly shot, Sridevi is pretty much in every frame and gets most of the focus. Nothing major happened with Parashar’s career in Bollywood, the reason is a mystery to me. He did gave us “Tum Ko na Bhool Jayenge” with Salman Khan, again the music was pretty good, the visuals were great (containing the pinnacle of Sallu’s bare chest fighting, this time with an equally bare-chested Inder Kumar fighting mainly over Salman Khan’s Turqouise bracelet and secondly Sushmita Sen). Oh, Pankaj Parashar also launched Akshay Khanna in HimalayPutra, so maybe there is no big mystery on where he disappeared  because that movie was pretty horrible.
I do think Parashar had an eye for visuals in Chalbaaz there are even a few Michael Jackson inspired songs where Sri does a few poppin’ lockin moves, a flash dance inspired opening credits complete with vulture, serpent and goldfish shots. So he was trying to do something contemporary even if the story mould wasn’t original.

I think a perfect example of what this movie is are the songs:
Na Jane Kahan Se Aayi Hai which also won some awards that year

Don’t you think Sunny Deol wishes he could go back to this time when he could get away with these moves and call it dancing?
Kudos to the background dancers. I love the flute guy and the bas dude!

Gadbad Ho Gayi

Probably Shakti’s best song ever. Check out Rohini Hattangadi’s hair!

And this last one:
The Fabolous baker boys inspired- TERA BEMAAR MERA DIL

Rewatching Chaalbaaz made me appreciate Sridevi even more than before. She was a beautiful talented actress, with screen presence, unbelievable expressive eyes and a chulbuli nature.
She does some awesome dances and quite a few classical one which I am sure our bloggerfriend Amaluu is a big fan of!  (Thanks for organizing SriDeviPalooza!)
Although Mr India will always remain my favorite Sridevi movie, Chaalbaaz is the one where her star shines the brightest!

In any case the whole movie is available on youtube if you search for it.
Let us know what you thought of Chaalbaaz in the comment section below!

For all other Sri Devi Posts during this week go to:

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9 thoughts on “FilmBlog: Chaalbaaz (1989)- SriDeviPalooza”

  1. Can anyone help me by telling me the name of the Srivedi movie from 1989 were she appears in a scene that takes place in Bombay airport?
    As a young girl I was traveling in India and had a job as a statist in a movie starring Sridevi. I would be very happy to find the right film.
    yours sincerely
    Karin Nielsen

    1. Hey Karin, thanks for stopping by unfortunately 1989 was probably one of the most productive years of Sri Devi’s career and Bollywood movies do end up having a storyline somewhere on an airport so I dont know if I can help you out! by bet would be it’s Chandni though! in any case it’s a good movie and let me know if you see the young you!

  2. This review has added SO MUCH to my appreciation of Sridevi, I cannot even BEGIN to say thank you. I need to see Chalbaaz, like pronto now. Awesome work, AWESOME.

    Also, favourite line ever re; Kader Khan “he diluted the Shakti”. OMG. SO TRUE.

  3. Hey this is fantastic!!! So many things to say … let me try to summarize:

    – Rajni is AMAZING in this movie – a lesser role for him in terms of his career, but his role had max impact for me and is one of the main reasons I remember this movie so fondly, besides the Sri herself! “aaj sunday hai, aaj sunday hai to KYA, aaj hamare daru peene ka day hai!”

    – Sunny – I didn’t remember his character at all and am now dying to re-watch this based on what you said!

    – Shakti – alternately ridiculous and terrifying in this role. I had “Balma – Mera Balma” nightmares after this movie. Also what happened to that dog – really, really scarring as a kid.

    – Anupam and Rohini were fabulous! They lessened the scary factor for me. I love the scene where Sri does Rohini’s make up, and she approaches Anupam who doesn’t recognize her “Amba ghar mein nahin hai, jao jao!” – LOL!

    – Sri is INCREDIBLE in this movie – the vast difference between the two characters is even more far reaching than when she did double roles in Lamhe and Khuda Gawah, at least for me. Anju is heartbreaking, and her fear is palpable. Manju is funny, endearing, kick-a$$ and you can’t help but root for her. I love that part where she dresses as Anju for Shakti, and he pulls her choti out, and she’s like “Koi baat nahin, mera paas ek aur hai!” – sorta reminded me of the Mahabharat when Bheema dresses up like Draupadi to kill Keechaka.

    – I LOVED the songs, though I don’t think any of them were brilliant compositions – it was the fun and the picturization that I was into. I used to sit in front of the mirror listening to Tera Bhimar Mera Dil and try to do all of her expressions!!!

    – Oh the classical dancing!!! I have LOTS to say on that, so I think I’ll save it for another post. But I DID love that scene, and my mom actually choreographed that music piece in Bharata Natyam for us and I think we performed it EVERYWHERE in Michigan and Ohio. 🙂

    Thanks Asim for the excellent, thought-provoking review!!!

    1. Thanks Amaluu, glad you enjoyed the review!

      Rajni: yeah, after Sridevi he was the highlight for me. Since I never watch any South Indian movies, I just have the Rajni of the 80’s and I jsut want more movies of his to watch. That death scene in Geraftaar still haunts me!

      Sunny: 80’s male characters just used to get away with a lot more, not his fault just the way the time was.

      Shakti: yeah that little white dog scene was clealry inspired from The Godfather… Ps how many times have we seen this white dog? didn’t he also give us the happy ending in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun?

      hope we can do this again soon!

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