Friday, October 24, 2008

Random Movies I Like: Loha

Chatting about the recent economic meltdown, a friend and I feared for our favourite business enterprise - the Indian film industry.
If in this suffocating atmosphere of layoffs and budget cuts, corporates spending godzillion rupees on Hindi cinema decide to cut down, what a mess it might be! All the multi-crore deals for the top stars would be out of the window... and Nilendu predicted that we may see a return of the 80's style cut-price multi-starrrers like Sultanat, Shaandaar, Mahasangram, Love 86, Ajooba, Vardi and the like.
These wonderful films had at least two sets of leading pairs, a leather-clad villain, at least one song in false rain, mechanical crocodiles, motorboat chases, jail-break from a place that looks not unlike Delhi Zoo, college functions starring 30-year old extras in skirts and item numbers in country liquor bars.
This kind of discussion always makes me nostalgic and it made me reminisce about one of my favourite films of that genre - Loha.

Dharmendra is a police officer, who gets suspended when he arrests a politician. Shatrughan Sinha is an ex-army officer who gambles for a living and is a part-time Robin Hood, who gives away his earnings to poor people needing to marry off their daughters. Karan Kapoor is a drug peddler, who is convinced that the drugs he peddles are 'harmless'. So when he sees a client drop dead because of an overdose, he kills his boss. Just the trio you need to escort a gang of death row convicts to freedom.
Why? Oh you bloody pedants - that's because dacoit Shera (Amrish Puri) has kidnapped a busload of tourists and is demanding the release of his arrested chums as ransom.
Of course, there are complications like Shatrughan's son (Jugal Hansraj) also getting kidnapped by Shera. A Police Commissioner's daughter being in the tourist bus. The government refusing to release the convicts so the trio doing a jailbreak. And of course, there is the matter of Shatrughan Sinha's name, which goes something like Nawab Qasim Ali Badruddin Ali Hassan Ali Jalaluddin Ahmed Jung Bahadur.

I liked this film because of many reasons.

* Firstly, the cast was loaded. Anybody who was registered under the Cine Artists' Association in late 80's was part of the film.
Apart from the three heroes, there were Mandakini, Madhavi, Amrish Puri, Jagdish Raaj, Raza Murad, Yunus Parvez and Kader Khan in speaking parts. In addition, almost each of the convicts was a known face - Macmohan, Tej Sapru, Joginder, Roopesh Kumar and Praveen Kumar (Bheem from the Mahabharat TV serial).

* The film was a mega-budget one by those day's standards. They actually went outdoors to shoot sequences in Shera's den and even one railway station where Karan was saved by Dharmendra and Shatru from the drug lord's henchmen.
The jail was however the same place where Shatru used some horses to save Raakhee in Shaan and Amitabh hijacked Amjad Khan's gold consignment in Kaalia.

* They used sex, violence and songs exactly the way they should be used - gratuitously.
When the depraved convicts are transferred from the jail to Shera's den, the heroines help out - by wearing hot pants and mini skirts. And when they are left all alone with the convicts, they divert their attention by singing and dancing.

* They made really absurd plot devices completely absorbing.
As part of his demand, Shera dictates that each one of his convict pals must reach him alive. So, when one of the convicts is shot in a crossfire, the three heroes desperately try to revive him - while Joginder is contorting his face (like only he can!) in the background. A kidnapped tourist is given a chance to escape by Amrish, but only because he wanted to check out the aim of his newly acquired telescopic-rifle and he shoots him as he goes beyond a certain distance.

* They had high-octane, super-charged action sequences.
In one scene, Shatru demolishes a gambling den to take his rightful winnings. In another, Dharmendra literally hammers a goon into the ground. Even the frail-and-firangi Karan Kapoor stuffs a packet of cocaine into a drug lord's mouth with such panache as if it was a doctor inserting a thermometer in a patient's mouth.

Nowadays - thanks to the astronomical star salaries - we have forgotten what multi-starrers look like. All the major films of the last few years have just about one lead pair and some assorted newcomers / character artistes. Of course, the other lament is that the concept of character artistes has evaporated.
Action directors are from Los Angeles. Locations are in Manila (for small budget films) and Miami (for big budget films). Choreographers are from Paris. Script sessions are in London. Stylists parade the 'look' of each film in Lakme Fashion Week. Even actresses are from Brazil.

Loha
was shot almost entirely in Filmistan, occassionally venturing out to Madh Island and Lonavla.
It did not have a bound script but the director knew the story by heart and so did we. The dialogue writer (Kader Khan) had a role, so that he could write the lines on the sets.
Even the fight-masters acted as the villain's sidekicks.
The heroines wore clothes they couldn't have worn anywhere in civil society, but they were probably used in several other films - all thanks to the monopoly of Maganlal Dresswallah.
And it was probably funded by the underworld, for all I know...

It is ironic that when these films were made, we used to crib that there is hardly any variety in Bollywood. Now, I am complaining of excessive variety!
Sigh... it has been such a long time since I saw a film with Sound Recording by Hitendra Ghosh (Rajkamal Kalamandir).
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