Sorry for shouting the title at you, but there is really no way to say it or read it or write it without hearing it shouted out at you. Kind of like it’s almost impossible to read or write or say “Gadar” without following up with “ek Prem Katha”.
Like many people, I came at this film through the spoofs before I saw the actual content. Most obviously, Aamir’s shockingly unembarrassed take on it from Delhi Belly. Let’s see if I can find this moment of wonder on The Internet.
Ah yes, there it is! And here’s another one I didn’t realize until I watched the whole film was another reference. What with the whole spelling lesson and so on.
The thing is, it’s really easy to make fun of this movie, because it is so out there and unembarrassed and heart on its sleeve. But if you watch the whole thing, those are also the reasons you kind of fall in love with it! There is a sincerity there that is missing in so many things today. It’s not trying to be “cool”, it’s just trying to entertain you.
What makes it feel a bit more disjointed is that it is entertaining you while using the story frame of movies that were looking for more than entertainment. There is social injustice and childhood flashbacks and love for the mother and all kinds of “deep” things happening. But they aren’t trying to make you think about or care about all that social injustice, it is just there to kind of give a nice framework to the story.
Although, this is still showing an awareness that the audience can relate to this particular framework, the cruelty of the wealthy elite to the poorer classes, the desire to become successful and “show them”, and all the rest of it. And it doesn’t make fun of that. I mean, we the audience can laugh at how they present this whole “I have poor people!” attitude, but I never felt like the filmmakers and every actor and dancer and everyone else was any less than totally sincere. They really felt the tragedy of their characters and wanted us to feel it too.
Mithun Chakraborty, of course, is the greatest of these actors. Well, not the “greatest” actor, that would be Om Puri. But Mithunda is the biggest part of the film. And by golly he COMMITS. He commits to the fight scenes, he commits to loving his mother, he commits to hating the wealthy, he commits to being afraid of guitars, he commits to being a rebel in love, and of course throughout the film be commits to being a DISCO DANCER.
The heroine is terrible, I’m just gonna come right out and say it. But terrible in a vaguely amusing way, not in a deadly dull way. I enjoy her overacting and constant head tosses. The real joy is in the villains. Bob Christo AND Yusuf Khan!!!! Oh, and Om Shivpuri as their boss.
Oh, and Rajesh Khanna is there too. No real reason. Must have had an afternoon free for it. And Karan Razdan plays a lesser villain type. If you vaguely recognize the name that’s because his sister is Soni Razdan (a much better actress), and she is married to Mahesh Bhatt and the mother of Alia Bhatt (a much much better actress).
There is so much more to talk about, but before I get into any of that, VERY IMPORTANT: Watch this video!!!!
(If you haven’t seen a Pretentious Movie Review before, WARNING: You WILL fall in love with Kanan Gill and that love will never quite leave you)
Okay, now we can move on to SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
I usually just watch a film once and then write up the review. But this film is so much of a muchness, I felt the need to watch it twice in order to make sure I didn’t miss anything! And I am sure I still well.
We open with Rajesh Khanna. No reason, he’s just there. Our hero’s honorary uncle and mentor, who somehow disappears after this childhood scene for another 18 years/2 hours, until he shows up again at the end out of nowhere with his absence never mentioned or explained. Oh, and Baby Mithun and Rajesh are performing in the street singing one of those classic anti-caste type songs. Which is somehow neither deeply touching, nor deeply cynical. They really thought they were giving an important message about social harmony, through these terrible lyrics and dance moves.
See, Mithun is poor, but his mother loves him and his dead father taught him to sing and so on and so on. He and his mother go out to sing in the streets, and a little rich girl invites them into her yard so she can sing with them. But then the little rich girl’s father Om Shivpuri comes home, slaps her and sends her inside, then hits Baby Mithun and his poor widowed mother, before falsely accusing them of trying to steal his daughter’s guitar. Baby Mithun and his poor widowed mother return home where the people of the neighborhood cruely mock them and drive them away.
And, of course, the son of his enemy grows up to also be a disco singer. Such a booming career path in the early 80s! But, thanks to the unfair advantages of his wealthy upbringing, evil Karan Razdan rises to the top of the competitive disco singer/dancer world of India while Mithun is stuck struggling on the streets. It’s just like VIP, only stupid.
But sincere! When evil Karan Razdan’s manager Om Puri fights with him and declares he will find a new star, then sees Mithun dancing down the sidewalk in the dark Goa night, by golly I felt something! Felt way more than when Aditya Roy Kapoor similarly discovered Shraddha Kapoor in the dark Goa night. There’s something a little magical about it. Because the director believes so much it is magical, he kind of forces you to believe too. And when Mithun’s first performance is interrupted by hecklers and he dances his way into their hearts, you kind of want to cheer him on!
And when Mithun is all sensitive and nervous about returning to Bombay, the sight of his traumatic childhood humiliation, you worry about him! Even though that childhood humiliation is ridiculous and hilarious, and yet Mithun’s face is so sensitive and his shirt is so open, it makes me feel things.
The romance plot is the one where I feel the least things. Really, this actress is TERRIBLE. I can see why she doesn’t even have a wikipedia page. And the relationship really needs a good actress to sell it. See, back when they were children, she was the rich girl who invited him in to the mansion grounds to sing to her (obviously). And then years later, her brother is his Disco rival. So she leads the heckling at his first performance and generally hates him.
Until at a random party they are both invited to, Mithunda interrupts the birthday celebration to give a loooooooooooooooong speech telling this whole childhood story and she realizes who he is. Oh, and the birthday girl realizes that Om Shivpuri is horrible and slaps him. The birthday girl is more interesting in that one tiny moment than our heroine is in the whole film, I kind of wish they had just shaken the plot up and made her the heroine!
Anyway, now the heroine is in love with him. Because I guess she fell in love with his sweet dance moves and intercaste love message way back when they were children? Or something? I guess she must have, because she also kept the toy guitar he was playing with all those years ago, and brings it to him now to apologize and admit she loves him or something?
And then we get a freeze frame love song which is the most 70s thing I have ever seen in an 80s movie. Right up there with the “It Might Be You” song sequence from Tootsie. Here, see, compare! Tootsie:
And Disco Dancer. Go an hour and 20 minutes in, really! It’s worth it!
What redeems the romance is the marvelously refreshing way they handle the father objections. Evil Om Shivpuri locks Bad Actress up in the house, so Mithun just walks in and she walks out with him. There’s no need to beat anyone up or anything, she’s a grown woman who can use her own two feet to leave whenever she wants. And when Om Shivpuri calls the police on them, she calmly says “I wasn’t kidnapped, I’m an adult who can do whatever she wants and it’s kind of silly you thought I would leave with someone against my will. And take my father’s word for it instead of just asking. And now we are getting married”. And then the police officer is all “by golly, you are right! See you at the wedding!” Oh that’s nice! How did India regress so far from there in just 30 years?
Of course, true love does not run smooth. Om Shivpuri still hates Mithun, and now for kind of valid reasons. Om’s son Karan Razdan is sinking into despair and drugs (maybe? It’s unclear) because of his career downturn. Om’s daughter has walked out on him for Mithun. Oh, and Om has lost all his money because, first, Mithun prevented his goons from taking over his old neighborhood by force. And second, at the land auction, Mithun drove up the price just so it would bankrupt Om to pay it. So you can see why Om has no choice but to bring in Bob Christo, Famous International Disco Singer Killer (a killer of disco singers, not a killer who is also a disco singer).
The plan, brilliant in it’s simplicity, is to electrify him to death with a guitar. How could it go wrong????? Well, by his saintly mother overhearing somehow, rushing to the venue, and picking up the guitar moments before he does, and dying.
Again, in a different movie, this would be a sad and dramatic moment. But what with the whole disco killer electrified guitar thing, it is not so much. But also not vapid. They really cared about this whole electrified guitar plot! And Mithun’s pain afterwards, that’s real pain!
I should mention at this point that while the director was a hack who never really did anything else, and the heroine was terrible, and Bob Christo was Bob Christo, at least the scriptwriter was a really good guy! Same one who helped write Lamhe. So maybe that’s there all the sincerity is coming from. Mithun’s performance, and the script. And maybe, in the script, this whole death-by-guitar thing had a brilliant sort of simple significance. Not sure how, but maybe it did! If so, it did not come through in how it was presented.
Now, let me take a moment here, I wasn’t alive in the early 80s so it is possible I just don’t know about this, but was there really a massive international Disco community? With specialized Disco singer killers (again, not singers who kill, but killers who kill singers)? And an incredibly important to the honor of India international Disco competition? Were there any disco competitions at all? How would they be judged? Who would care?
Anyway, at the big international competition, after the “African” competitors and the “Paris” competitors (this is exactly the kind of pattern breaking that drives me insane. Either Africa and Europe or Cape Town and Paris!), Mithun is brought out. But, evilly, Karan Razdan (who is there for some reason) thrusts a guitar in his face activating his crippling fear of guitars.
Not only do I find myself feeling for poor Mithun as all of India is counting on him to save their Disco honor, I feel even worse when the crowd turns on him, and Bad Actress heroine has to come out and try to save the day with Bad Dance Movies and a remarkably catchy little song. Why isn’t she the representative of India’s Disco Honor?
But no! He still cannot bring himself to sing! Until, out of nowhere, RAJESH KHANNA!!!!!! Remember I promised he would pop up again? Where has he been keeping himself? Why hasn’t he shown up before like, say, when Mithun’s mother died? Oh, so he pops up long enough to sing the childhood song (I have got to get a childhood song so I am ready for such occasions), which inspires Mithun to sing a Disco tribute to his mother and throw off the literal and metaphorical shawl of sadness.
Naturally, he wins the international disco competition and all the worldwide fame that, surely, goes along with it. But, before he can enjoy his victory, Rajesh Khanna is shot!!!!! When an assassin’s bullet, meant for Mithun, hits him. My goodness the music business is exciting!
He dies, tragically, saying “no matter if I am not there, my songs are always with you”. Which is yet another great line we could have all been reciting at his death, right up there with “I hate tears”. And that whole song from Anand. Really, Rajesh left us well prepared for his death, at least in terms of appropriate quotes!
And then Mithunda, angered at the death of his uncle he hasn’t seen in 20 years, drives a car into the villain’s den, beats them all up primarily with kicking, and then hits his girlfriend’s father until he is electrocuted or something? This part is confusing.
And REPRISE! I AM A DISCO DANCER!!!!!!