Friday, May 16, 2014

Gaddaar - if you find it, grab it.

Around two years ago, me and Beth compared our Vinod Khanna notes, and she recommended some films I hadn't yet seen while I recommended some films of his that she hadn't got to yet. In that conversation, Beth recommended the film Gaddaar from 1973 (here is her write-up of it), and has been on my "to see" list ever since. However, in typical Vinod Khanna bad luck, one of his better 70's films seemed to be universally, perpetually unavailable, and underappreciated. I did my regular searches on the online stores and youtubes of the world wide web, and always, always came up empty. In India, I scrutinized every G-section of a DVD shop. Nothing. Ever.

It's not like being a Vinod Khanna fan is easy without the hunt for underappreciated gem films of his being this arduous. The man only had about a decade of solid stardom before he regrettably retrieved from the material world, only to return when Hindi cinema was at its creatively crappiest. If you have nostalgia for the action flicks of the late 80's and early 90's, and dig that particular Vinod Khanna, more power to you, but I personally can't pretend that those performances have even a quarter of the charm his 70's filmography does. It's tired plots and tired performances, and thus my first question when hearing about a Vinod Khanna film isn't "is it good?" but rather, "when was it released?". So hearing about Gaddaar, an early 70's film, and seeing the screen caps and the high recommendations, I had to have it, and it killed me that it was nowhere to be found, despite my best efforts.

Eventually, though, I found Gaddaar (with a little, okay, a lot of help from Carla), or it found me - and I honestly couldn't be happier about the fact.

The film begins with BK (Pran) assembling his team of crooks for a grand heist (including Iftekhar, Ranjeet, Manmohan and Madan Puri). The heist goes well with only the minor hitch of BK being shot, leading him to give the loot of Kanhaya (Madan Puri), and agreeing to meet him later, along with the rest of the gang. As luck would have it, however, Kanhaya betrays the group and is nowhere to be found. Enter a small-time crook Raja (Vinod Khanna), who blackmails his way into the group, and they set off to search for Kanhaya.

The real triumph of the story is that as the search winds down, Gaddaar becomes less of a crime film and more a drama thriller between the the thieves, and the bystanders who are forced to get involved. It gives these character actors more to do than they otherwise get to in your average masala flick, where the focus is so much on the hero, and crooks are usually merely just that. Here, their relations with one another form the backbone of the film, and make for a gripping watch, particularly as the latter half of the film is spent in one particular setting.

It's just good fun, aided by solid writing and fantastic acting. The frustration that builds up between our central antagonists in the isolated Himachal Pradesh cabin flares up every now and then, and it is these moments that allow the drama to escalate further and further. It's cabin fever, further exaggerated by the desperate circumstances.

And then there's Vinod.

Raja is the type of character Vinod Khanna seemed to play a lot of in the 1970's. He's a rogue, sure, but he's charming, and even when he has his particularly cruel moments, he seems to have a beating heart and a humane side, too. Sometimes there's a twist in store, sometimes there isn't. Yet the character works, particularly in this setting, because he's surrounded by other crooks of varying shades - some noble, some horrible, some cruel, some cowardly.

Also: he's got swag up to his shiny, perfect hair-do. Pure swag.

It always bugs me to recommend a film I know you'll probably have at least half the trouble finding as I did, but regardless, that I must do. It's a great film to check out if you're not quite with the over-the-top traits of a typical 1970's masala, but still would like to see the style and some of the actors (because let's face it, 70's Pran, 70's Iftekhar and Ranjeet in general are all joys to witness). It's a nice change of pace in many ways, and without a doubt one of the most underrated Hindi films of the 1970's.

I wonder if Sriram Raghavan was inspired by this film to formulate his Johnny Gaddaar (2007) around a similar (if very differently actualised) plot devise. It's a more available film that is also relatively underrated, in part because Neil Nitin Mukesh's career never took off. There are some good performances in it  - Dharmendra, Zakir Hussain and Vinay Pathak all stood out to me - and while I should probably give it a rewatch before singing its praises so loudly, I would be willing to bet it references this film in one way or another. It's another film where you know who betrayed who, but the dramatic tension in Johnny Gaddaar comes from the rest of the gang slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.


Filmi~Contrast said...

You are so right about (A) the vague bitterness one feels as a Vinod-lover making do with his limited 70's filmography and (B) that this film is wonderful if you can get it. If. I spent about 6 months trying to track it down, and definitely "bought" it more than once (only to get the run around from DVD distribution centers saying they didn't have it after all). Now I feel like I should keep looking, just in case my DVD dies! I wouldn't want to be without this one :)

veracious said...

Yeah, it seems this is another one of those films that was released on DVD but then another batch never released of it, so the copies are hard to find. Maybe Shemaroo lost the rights, and whoever owns the rights now hasn't put out a DVD of it. Thankfully stuff is getting digitized and put on youtube or something these days but this remains one of the hardest to find films that shouldn't be that obscure, considering who's in it.

Filmbuff said...

I would love to see this movie. Care to share where you got this though I did notice you said Carla was really helpful in your getting access to it. Quite a few movies are difficult to find in India. I have family and friends trying to get me old 60s and 70s movies but sometimes no luck like Reshma aur Shera etc