Well, that was a bad movie! But absolutely worth the $30 it took to buy the last DVD copy available in the world. It was definitely an interesting experience and now I can tell you all about it, so you don’t have to waste time tracking down your own DVDs.
Remember that brief period after Indiana Jones came out when everyone was trying to make adventure movies A Thing? With limited success? To my mind, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc is good, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is almost as good, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is terrible, and Romancing the Stone is somehow worse (Michael Douglas has a weird face, I feel this deeply). And then you have the made for TV movies, and the Indiana Jones TV series, and the more recent attempts like The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and The Mummy (I kind of love The Mummy), and behind alllllllll of those movies, somewhere down among the dust on the cutting room floor, you have this film. What I am saying is, it is not good. At all. In any way. A ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff. The film equivalent of those blue jeans made by Indian tailors that are nowhere near as good as the real factory made versions, but also somehow not as good as simply getting regular pants made without trying to make them look like blue jeans. But it is also fascinating to watch as a cultural artifact and a thing that somehow exists.
(A very old DVD)
Honestly, the making of this film was probably more of an adventure than the story it tells. Written by a Greek producer recently arrived in Hollywood, then brushed up and perfected by a young writer-for-hire, picked up by an up and coming producer in London, a former tennis star who also happened to be of Indian origin. And then handed off to a young producer in India with only one credit (Indian Summer, a British production filmed in India). A skeleton cast flew into India, a handsome German actor trying to make it in Hollywood, an actress with two episodes of Dallas on her credits, a British accented villain also from Dallas, and a comic actor from Brooklyn with 30 years of experience. Plus a young director for hire. And then the young Indian producer found Indian crew, extras, stuntman, locations and everything else. And, of course, the lead Indian actor, the local to add local color and maybe make it a crossover hit, Rajni Kanth (his name as spelled in the opening credits).
Unlike the other “crossover” hits that people have attempted, this film was clearly handed over entirely to the young local producer, Sunanda Murali Manohar. Well, “local”. She is also British based, wife of a doctor. But she is more of an Indian producer than a Hollywood one. She worked on this movie and a few others as the local producer for Hollywood-ish productions, and then went on to produce Jeans and Manali and other mainstream Tamil films. She swung back to Hollywood-ish for Provoked in 2007 (starring Aish! But set in England and filmed by an English production house), and then back to Tamil for Rajinikanth’s Kochadaiiyaan. In her total career she made 20 films in 30 years, 14 Tamil productions , 5 Hollywood, and 1 British. And the way she attacked Bloodstone makes me think that she had far more Indian connections than Hollywood and was not ashamed to use them in a Hollywood produced picture. There was no dancing around and retraining locals and bringing in outsiders to fake being locals like in Slumdog Millionaire, this film has an entirely Indian crew and cast. Besides the director and the 4 stars, everyone else was from India. I suspect part of Sunanda’s job was to translate from English to Tamil so the crew could understand what was happening.
The end result is a very very odd film. The fight scenes, the costumes, the camerawork, the locations, and half the actors, all look very Indian filmi. But the script is English. Not just English-the-language, but English-the-film-genre. It’s short, it has no backstory, it has no larger social meaning, it has no songs, it doesn’t even have a real romance. So, you have a nothing empty story filmed in a cheap way, and it ends up being the absolute worst of everything. Like blue jeans made by the cheap tailor, his work not perfect and also not covered up with the usual spangle and sparkle that makes it special.
(these pants. Why even bother? Just wear regular pants, or else buy real blue jeans)
I guess now I have to say the actual plot, don’t I? Okay, here goes:
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
I tell a lie, there is a flashback. Something about the death of a Raja’s daughter and how he curses the massive ruby in his crown with a glass sword in his grief. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but they wanted some kind of big royal crowd scene because that’s what the public like in their India set adventures, ever since Temple of Doom. I don’t know who plays the king here, but I can tell you he is no Amrish Puri.
And then in the present day, a couple of newlyweds, played by Brett Stimely (previous credit, “Bellboy” in an episode of Dynasty) and Anna Nicholas (her character actually had a name in two episodes of Dallas) are on their honeymoon in India. They trade terrible “witty” dialogue of the level you usually get from Oscar presenters and with a similar degree of spontaneity. They meet a mysterious man dressed in a white suit Jack Kehler who strikes up a conversation with them (his character’s name is “Lorre”, so someone knew a little Hollywood history here. I’m guessing Curt Hill, the hired scriptwriter who brushed up the Greek producer’s story idea). As they leave the train, the “humorous” detective Charlie Brill in brownface (literal brownface, they put face paint on him) waits for Jack Kehler. Clearly Jack has the stolen bloodstone rube that was mentioned in the big obvious headline that took up half a page in Brett’s newspaper, to make sure the audience didn’t miss it. And Charlie is waiting to arrest him. But Jack, in an obvious maneuver, offers to carry Anna Nicholas’ bag and puts the ruby in it. The newlyweds take off in a cab while Jack is arrested.
But, aha! Who is driving this cab???? It’s RAJINIKANTH!!!! Here’s the really interesting thing though, this is not the first time we have seen him. In the usual 1980s-90s exotic adventure movie, the local friend/guide is introduced about a third of the way in and seemingly only exists while in the presence of the White People. He disappears for large parts of the movie, just to pop up again at just the right time to save the day. He has no motivation of his own, no relationships of his own, no nothing of his own. Just there for our main characters. But this movie, it doesn’t go that way. Rajinikanth is truly his own person, including getting his own introduction.
While the White People were having boring “witty” conversation on the train, Rajinikanth was being hired by a British couple to drive them to catch their train. He got off a couple of fun lines about wanting money in advance and a promise of payment, and then got to have an action scene as his taxi speeded through the streets. He was even introduced doing tricks with a cigarette. It’s the usual Rajinikanth intro! Could have been used in any one of his films, just happens to be in English instead of Hindi.
(See? Wisecracking and cool!)
And now here he is again, taking them back to the hotel. But no big impressive intro this time, because the White People are here and the camera has to focus on them. No literally, since we have to watch the honeymoon couple and Jack say good-bye and the bag change hands and so on, Rajinikanth ends up sort of sidling up midscreen, and his first dialogue with them is rushed over so as to get them into the cab and away from Charlie Brill’s police officer.
And then the movie goes on, we have a sex scene in a hot tub for our young attractive couple, interrupted by goons (BOB CHRISTO!!!!) searching their hotel room, leading to Brett having a fight scene in the classic 80s style of no shirt and jeans. Brett, it turns out, is an ex-police officer. Meanwhile, Rajinikanth’s taxi is being chased, he manages to maneuver the other car off the road and then sits and thinks.
The young couple leave the goons behind and forget about them I guess, and then go shopping in the marketplace where Anna is kidnapped. Brett chases after her and is rescued by Rajinikanth who takes him to a lowclass taxi driver kind of dive. They learn Anna is being held in exchange for the ruby, Brett doesn’t have the ruby, they go question Jack, are interrupted by goons, still don’t have the ruby, and then Rajinikanth reveals he has had it all along, he took it from their luggage. Brett and he have a fight.
Okay, let me pause here again! All along, Rajinikanth and Brett have been treated as true double heros. When they question Jack, Rajinikanth holds the knife to his neck and threatens him while Brett asks the questions. Rajinikanth saved Brett, and then found an informer to take them to Jack. And Rajinikanth is filmed like an equal, the camera literally does not look down on him. He isn’t wearing the usual rags of the “natives” in these films, he doesn’t have a ridiculous accent (he has his own accent which is barely noticeable on his cautious English), he doesn’t have ridiculous hair or jewelry or anything. And then in this scene, he and Brett get into a fight, and it is a draw. We only see them from the other side of furniture and so on in the usual way of fight scenes, bodies diving behind sofas and then one or the other of them popping up momentarily triumphant. And then it ends when they admit that neither of them will be able to beat the other.
And that was the moment I realized that this isn’t a “native guide assists brave hero” movie. This is a “two hero film” movie. This one part is from the Indian tradition, not the English/Hollywood. Rajinikanth and Brett are both brave men who become friends through adversity and frankly have more chemistry together than with the heroine. It’s Sholay, it’s Dostana (the original or the remake), it’s Shakti, it’s Kaala Patthar. It’s no doubt also tons of southern movies, I just don’t know them as well.
(Dostana. Those SUITS!!!!!)
But the rest of it, it’s still a stupid action movie. Our heroine is being kept by the evil British accented (did I need to say both things? Surely British accented was enough to imply evil) villain, a collector who just wants the stone as an artifact. He makes her wear “native” garb (a spangly jumpsuit with a scarf kind of draped like a sari) and invites her to dinner with him where there is sword dancing and then fireworks. Certainly what happened at every dinner I went to in India.
Meanwhile, Brett and Rajinikanth are trying to reach her. After first being ambushed by the traditional long rope bridge over a rushing gorge, Brett captured and Rajinikanth leaping into the gorge, they then reunite outside the palace for throwing ropes around and climbing walls and so on. Burst into the dinner, fight fight fight, Anna is tough and wise-cracking (truly, no actress besides Karen Allen can pull that off), Rajinikanth and Brett both fight their bestest, and then Charlie Brill shows up to rescue them. But, the rub is lost. They gave it to the evil British guy, but that one was a fake, the real one is gone forever.
(Karen Allen. She’s just the best)
Or is it???? Brett and Anna, in a boring board meeting (with authentic looking Indian business men, wearing 80s suits and smoking and taking about spreadsheets. Really, remarkably few stereotypes here! Besides Charlie Brill and the cursed-stone flashback), suddenly realize where the stone is. Cut to Rajinikanth tossing it in the air casually and singing to himself by a pond. Brett and Anna (somehow) tracked him down there and hold him at gunpoint until he agrees to split the profits with them 33-66. At which point Charlie Brill shows up and instead they agree to split the reward, and then go off laughing arm in arm into the sunset, “Beginning of a beautiful friendship” style.
So, generally speaking, this is a terrible movie. But, surprisingly, it’s not a racist movie!!!! Rajinikanth has a great character and some real heroic lines and stuff. India isn’t totally fantasized, there aren’t a lot of poor people, and really the only problem is Charlie Brill. Who is only a problem because he is played by a white man, otherwise he would be the bumbling-police-officer from every movie, Indian or American.
And I have to say, if this movie had been any good at all, or gotten a theatrical release, Rajinikanth would have been the obvious break out star. His eyes, his gestures, his line delivery, he just glows on camera. I can picture generations of Americans stumbling across this movie on some late night cable channel and going “who IS he??? This Indian sidekick fellow is great!”