Thursday, October 14, 2010

Seven Deadly Films: My Favourite Thrillers

Depending on where you are looking from, the number of movies in the thriller genre can be surprisingly high or depressingly low.
There are so many stories around the hero looking for a tell-tale sign that will reveal his parent’s killer. In fact, three of Ajit’s iconic films – Kalicharan, Zanjeer and Yaadon ki Baraat – had him identified as the elusive killer with a distinguishing mark right from th start and the only suspense was how the mark would be discovered by the hero.
There have also been several films that have a ‘detective’ in the lead role (title role, even) but his sleuthing is more-often-than-not obscured in tomfoolery and gadgetry. Try Do Jasoos and Badshah respectively.

My list consists of films that get as close to a true-blue murder mystery as possible. Barring some minor diversions – brilliant songs that need to be accommodated, star comedians who need to be given screen time and romantic sub-plots that need to be woven in – all of them have a gruesome crime, an interesting investigation and a gripping climax, which have thrown up a suitably ingenious criminal.

Without any further ado, here are my Seven Deadly Films…

Jewel Thief
There were no murders in this film… but then, the title told you that already. A police commissioner’s wastrel son is an expert in gems and his boss’ daughter. All is hunky dory till he gets mistaken as the notorious jewel thief. The two look identical – except for an extra toe – and a deadly game of mistaken identities start. To clear his name, the man decides to infiltrate the jewel thief’s den and all hell breaks loose.
The thriller format is embellished by the many red herrings, some cool locales, rocking cinematography and some very strong cameos. Songs are usually a hindrance in a thriller but here they actually manage to give the taut film some much-needed breathers. Of course, it helps that this is probably SD Burman’s strongest soundtrack.

Teesri Manzil
The film opens with a hysterical woman falling to her death from the teesri manzil of a hotel. Just before the fall, she was banging on the doors of the hotel’s handsome singer on whom she had a crush. Her sister suspects that she was driven to her death – murder? suicide? – by the singer and lands up to teach him a lesson. She meets a funny guy. The funny guy meets a prince. The prince meets a cabaret dancer. The dancer meets a reticent waiter. The waiter meets a detective. Nobody is what it seems. Not even the victim.
You will go crazy keeping track of the brilliant songs and the decoys the film throws up. That’s RD Burman and Vijay Anand on creative hyper-drive… Get out of their way and enjoy!

Ittefaq
In the melodious world of Bollywood, a songless film is bit of a novelty. More so, when the entire cast consists of just two lead players and a few mysterious cameos. And when the protagonist is the chocolate-boy King of Hearts, playing a psycho convict – the film is unique by all standards. An escaped convict barges into the house of a lone woman and holds her hostage. There is a manhunt for the convict and sundry surprises keep happening as the two play a cat-and-mouse game. The twists keep piling up and nothing ends the way it started as.

Khel Khel Mein
The film starts off as a college romance with frothy songs and hockey matches. But then, there is an innocent prank to extort money that goes horribly wrong. There is crooked twist involving a dead jeweler, a typewriter with a crooked letter, lots of people with crooked ideas and the only thing straight is the moustache of the mysterious guy in the overcoat!
A couple of youngsters with guitars are usually enough to get RD all excited and composing great songs. That those youngsters have death staring them in the face is a minor blip geniuses don't bother with.

Khamosh
The classical whodunit features a dysfunctional group in a closed location, where people get murdered one by one. The best ones usually have the most nondescript or the most suspicious characters getting knocked off first. Imagine this group as a Bollywood film crew in a remote location. Add to that professional jealousy, sexual tensions and over-the-top psychosis usually associated with a Bollywood shoot, you wouldn’t have required a detective at all. But this film had that as well, not to mention a sleepwalker!
After Sazaye Maut, this was Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s second thriller and it totally rocked.

Ajnabee
Two hunks married to two babes, vacationing in Mauritius is a perfect setting for the advertised plot of the movie – wife-swapping. But if mystery plots were given away in posters & promos, filmmakers deserve to die starving. One babe gets killed, the other hunk gets accused and you have a standard-issue Abbas-Mustan mystery thriller. Weaving its way through hit songs and headachey comedy tracks, the plot zips from India to Switzerland to Mauritius to Switzerland to a Singapore as alibis, lives and hearts get made and destroyed.
And by the way, there is a bit of wife-swapping in the movie. Go figure!

Parwana
It started off as a love story, with the usual song-and-dance routines. It threatened to become a love triangle and nobody would have noticed it if it had ended like that. None of the three leading actors were of any consequence at the point of time anyway. But then, the suitor killed off his fiancee’s uncle in a fit of rage. He didn’t seem that sort but everybody else had watertight alibis. The court-case was about to end predictably when a strange twist emerged. The twist was cool enough to be replicated - with appropriate credits - in a film called Johnny Gaddar nearly three decades later.
One of the three leading actors went on to rule Bollywood in the coming decades. Seeing the film now, that twist is the easiest one to figure out.

That’s it? Missed out some obvious ones, didn’t I?

UPDATED TO ADD: Though horror is not always mysterious - at least, definitely not in the Bollywood context but all of you MUST read Aditi Sen on Bollywood horror films (in all four parts). And like a true connoisseur, she not only talks about the Ramsays but Mohan Bhakhri as well!
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