I’m I the only one who has seen Streets of Fire? If so, you must ALL WATCH IT IMMEDIATELY!!!! Anyway, Streets of Fire was remade in India as Tezaab, with Anil in a tapoori-type role and Madhuri in her break out performance, and lots and lots of 80s style action.
Really, I cannot over-emphasize the awesomeness of Streets of Fire. It had great images and action sequences, excellent soundtrack, really inventive film techniques, and a simple to understand plot that would work for anyone 6 to 60. Also, a teenage actress with a lot of talent playing the heroine (a young Diane Lane).
All of that was carried over into Tezaab. Or, to put it another way, “stolen”. In particular, there is this famous shot of a crowd of shadowed arms over the bottom half of the screen as the stage cuts across middle and you see the performer and band looming over the crowd. It brilliantly evokes the feel of being right there at the concert. Roger Ebert said “The effect is a little like a Roger Brown painting, and it works: This looks like it’s going to be a new approach to the basic street and rock images.”
Now, if you are at all familiar with the Hindi version, you will be going “wait, what? I thought that was the famous intro for Madhuri!” And yes, it is! That sense of the excitement of the crowd as the performer comes out, and the power this very young woman holds over all of them, that’s straight up ripped off from Streets of Fire.
Actually, almost the entire opening sequence of Tezaab is ripped off from Streets of Fire shot for shot. To be fair though, the essential idea of Tezaab then went on to be ripped off by Varsham, which was later ripped off by Baaghi. Well, “ripped off” is a little mean, each variation managed to add something and remove something and ultimately make the story uniquely it’s own.
Beyond the specific shots that traveled film to film, the broad outlines of the story remain the same. Our heroine is a performer who is kidnapped by an evil gang. Her ex-boyfriend, the dregs of society but also fearless and good in a fight, is hired to rescue her. After the rescue, they travel together in some form of conveyance and slowly and wordlessly come to feel love for each other again. But, in the end, (after many more battles with the “bad guys”) our hero tries to give her up because he thinks he isn’t good enough for her.
(I really like this song)
(But I also like this song!)
The original Hindi remake, Tezaab, added the Indian movie touch of a lengthy flashback taking up the first half, showing us the entire history of their original romance and how they were cruelly separated through no fault of their own. It also added some form of family blackmail that was forcing our heroine to be a performer, because of course as a “good girl” all she really wanted to do was sit at home. And it gave us the happy ending, making the heroine reject our hero’s sacrifice and insist on marrying the man she loves even if he has no future. It is this version of the plot that carried through to Varsham and Baaghi (and maybe other films I don’t even know about?).
What I want to talk about here is the not-irredeemably damaged hero. In a film like Deewar, our hero is so sunk into misery that he will never be able to come out of it. I’ll put it more simply: “Amitabh Doesn’t Dance.” If you watch his old classics, Zanjeer or Trishul or Deewar, his character is danced at or danced around, but he doesn’t really join in the fun. His life is so joyless, so filled with the ills and misery and injustice of the world, that to see him dance would be as abnormal as watching a dog on hind legs. I supposed technically doable, but uncomfortable and a little disturbing to witness.
But in Tezaab, our hero is introduced dancing. Dancing a Garba, just like Shahrukh in Raees! Which I guess is significant just in that it is a kind of joyful family friendly dance. He isn’t in some disco bar with an item girl, he is at a big neighborhood party.
And then, in a really cool visual metaphor that also just plain looks cool, he dances through the crowd until he has isolated the one he wants and reveals that his garba sticks hide knives! And the fight is own. But also, you know, his dancing sticks hide knives!
This is our hero. Cheerful, friendly, has that happy Anil Kapoor kind of face. But inside, knives! But on the other hand, on the surface, dancing sticks!
This is what Tezaab is like too. I was thinking about it, after watch 4 or 5, and how it deals with the two big gender taboos by creating a sort of simulacrum of them. For men, the worst thing you can do is sell your ability to kill. For woman, the worst thing you can do is sell your body. And so we have our hero who is a criminal-but-not-really. That opening scene makes clear that he is the paid protector of a slum community. He keeps out the much worse elements through his wits and fighting ability. And our heroine who is a prostitute-but-not-really. She is only “selling her body” as a performer, not in any other way. And even there, she is doing it under protest.
And so we have this movie that is really dealing with a pretty dark story. A heroine who is forced into sexualizing herself in order to support her alcoholic father, a hero who is wrongfully accused and had his future ruined so that his only possible profession is crime, a crime lord who kidnaps woman and children and runs his own kingdom (okay, there is some Ramayana mixed in here too). But it is still the happiest movie you will ever see! They mix in songs and colors and romance and a happy ending, and you finish it with a big smile on your face, not despair at society and human tragedy.
I honestly have no idea if Raees will go this way or not. But it feels like there is at least a fighting chance. We already saw that there will be songs and color and romance. And again, it’s consciously picking up on the 80s setting, not the 70s. And Tezaab is 80s all the way, bright and happy and a little silly, the medicine of the social message hidden under cups and cups of sugar.