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 â€œSeeta aur Gheetaâ€ starred Sridevi in a double role of Anju and Manju, Sunny Deol and Rajnikanth as the male leads, a whole host of 80â€™s clichÃ©s and even a Subhai Ghai-style heavily made up troupe of villains headed up by a buck-toothed Anupam Kher wearing Nicole Kidmanâ€™s plastic nose from â€œThe Hoursâ€. Â 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. Â 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 Â back as Madhubala, Nargis and other Golden oldies but the ones most vivid in my mind start with â€œThe dream Girlâ€ Hema Malini in the70â€™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 Sriâ€™s reign was mostly in the 80’s and since my teenage hormones hadnâ€™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 tenâ€™s until the cassete was so worn, you had to do major â€œtrackingâ€ 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 Bajiâ€™s.
Her hair styles, her ridiculous frocksâ€¦ 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, Â and if you ever got hungry she would feed you samosaâ€™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 80â€™s macho heroes even take a back seat. Only a few Bollywood heroines reach such Â a point in their career only the attachment of their name held the power to make or break a movie. Â None of the new crop of actresses has this power! Kajol or Rani would be the closest but whilst writing these names next to Srideviâ€™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 donâ€™t care for awards of any kinds but was back in the day when Filmfare awards actually meant something and Shahrukh Khan didnâ€™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 80â€™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 Srideviâ€™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 cameâ€ Ek Do Teenâ€-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. Itâ€™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 itâ€™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 sariâ€™s, shalwaar kameez, dhotiâ€™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- Manjuâ€™s life story is established in a weird voice-over cutting to the meat of the movie, when the grown up Srideviâ€™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.
So let’s go over some of the main characters in this movie:
Sunny â€œDhai kilo ka haathâ€- Deol: Playing Saeed Jafferyâ€™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 â€œmummyâ€ and â€œdaddyâ€ 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 â€œdiscoâ€ (which conjures up some pretty funny images of Sunny Deol doing the electric slide) and heâ€™s not ashamed to hit a woman if his feelings get hurt.
Good thing Sunny-paji saves â€œDaminiâ€ later in his career coz the Suraj heâ€™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. Â Rajni doesnâ€™t get to do his trademark â€œkicking-ass-without-lookingâ€ 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.
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 heâ€™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 heâ€™s with Shaktiâ€¦ 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 sariâ€™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 â€™89 and Pankaj Parasharâ€™s biggest hit. Â 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 Parasharâ€™s career in Bollywood, the reason is a mystery to me. He did gave us â€œTum Ko na Bhool Jayengeâ€ with Salman Khan, again the music was pretty good, the visuals were great (containing the pinnacle of Salluâ€™s bare chest fighting, this time with an equally bare-chested Inder Kumar fighting mainly over Salman Khanâ€™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 Â 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 poppinâ€™ 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 wasnâ€™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
Donâ€™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 Shaktiâ€™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! Â (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: