Friday, September 09, 2005
A Tale of 21 heroes...
I was invited to a friend's place last week for a drink where I happened to chance upon his rather fascinating collection of old film posters. Being a film buff myself, I went through each and everyone of them. The ones that stood out where, 'Scarface', 'On the waterfront' and that John Sturges classic, 'The Magnificent Seven'. All original and and in mint condition.
The classic western brought visions of two other movies with almost identical themes rushing to mind. The Akira Kurosawa masterpiece, 'Seven Samurai' and our very own Raj Kumar Santoshi's 'China Gate'.
Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' has to be the best film in this genre. A motley group of hired firebrands bond together to vanquish a plundering enemy. In this 1954 film, a group of villagers hire samurai warriors to defend their village from bandits who regularly steal their harvests. They are so poor that they can offer nothing more than 3 meals a day our heroes ('the Magnificent seven were offered $20 each and our China Gate veterans mopped up more than a lakh...theres inflation for you!). Our men train and ready the village for the battle and succeed in defeating the bandits. The films strengths are its actors and its emphasis on human emotions, rather than on the action. The master's character sketching is near perfect and his use of deep focus would put Orson Welles to shame. He concentrates of human emotion and the bonding between the warriors and the villagers rather than on the action sequences (which are very raw and life like so if you're looking for fancy sword play and Jackie Chan-esque combat then go watch... a Jackie Chan movie!! duh!!). The bandits aren't sketched at all in this film. Shimura Takashi and Mifune Toshiro stand out amongst a stellar cast.
The 1960 remake by John Sturges was as good a Western as they come, but failed to capture that human quotient of the original, perhaps intentionally. The film was entertaining and made stars out of Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Charles Bronson. Yul Brynner plays the gunman with a heart of gold and leads a bunch of cowboys to protect a Mexican village from a roguish Elli Wallach. This movie borrows heavily from the original but focuses on the battle more than it does on drama. There is an interesting bit of trivia connected to the film. RJ Reynolds bought the theme song for $5000 and used it in their Marlboro commercials. Yul Brynner, who is often shown smoking in the movie, died of lung cancer in 1985. There are hints of heart in the movie, shown through Bronson's association with the village boys and McQueen's insistence on settling down after the 'final battle', but the focus is on the action. Loads on quick draws, duels and gun fighting here. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Santoshi's 'China Gate' was a rework of 'The Magnificent Seven', and in my opinion succeeded more than the original. The movie struck the right balance between action and drama. There were many issues here apart from the main purpose of 'daaku termination'. A bunch of aging, court martialled ex-army men out to prove to themselves that they were not deserters after all and still have some fight left in them. One of them is terminally ill, one has communal issues, and another is on the verge of suicide. Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Danny Denzongpa and Amrish Puri put in solid acting performances. It also had that famous Urmila Matondkar item number, 'Chamma Chamma', which later appreared in 'Moulin Rouge'. The movie also introduced the talented Mukesh Tiwari as the larger than life dacoit. I quite love a good 'underdog Vs. huge odds' kind of film,(especially when the heroes have old age to contend with as well) and with a cast which showcases some of the best veteran talent in Hindi cinema including Jagdeep Jaffrey and Anjan Shrivastava. Very Bollywood, very smooth. Sameer Soni and Mamta Kulkarni provide the lighter love angle. An easy watch. You'll smile the most while watching this one!
1. Seven Samurai
2. China Gate
3. Magnificent Seven