Black Mail (Vijay Anand, 1973)
I tried to write this one without spoilers and failed. So: (very tiny) spoiler alert.
Black Mail is both ludicrously deranged, and extremely engaging: it’s a wonderful paradox of a film. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend much of the film laughing uncontrollably at the genuinely ridiculous plot twists, some AMAZINGLY questionable acting and shoddy stuntwork, and the ‘futuristic’ props associated with the ‘solar energy’ storyline…all presented with ABSOLUTELY zero irony; the flipside of this is that, again, if you’re anything like me, you’ll also spend much of your viewing time ACTUALLY TALKING TO THE SCREEN, uselessly yelling out clichés like “NO! He’s TRICKING you!” or “DON’T GO THERE DON’T DO IT!” and peeking through your hands as the characters get embroiled in each other’s manipulations. Black Mail, as well as being quite silly, is actually extremely thrilling. And DEEPLY romantic. And above all, AMAZINGLY entertaining.
The convoluted plot is improbably based around a scientist – Dr Khurana developing a secret phaaaarmooola for capturing the formidable power of SOLAR ENERGY and keeping it in BATTERIES.
It's the look on Dharmendra's face that gets me. MASTERFUL ACTING.
(Honestly, is it wrong that the fact the whole movie was based on people essentially wanting to steal BATTERIES from each other just cracks me up?)
Such an amazing discovery cannot be kept a secret for long, especially when Khurana’s face is on every international magazine cover and newspaper front page ever.
They can harness the power of the sun, but they can't take a PHOTO?
I like this one because you can see that they have just PASTED the article in a real newspaper. AWESOME!
Which is kind of unfair, since it seems like he couldn’t have discovered the formula without the help of his industrialist backer, Kailash (Dharmendra).
Danger – apparently to India’s international reputation as ENERGY CHAMPION OF THE UNIVERSE – comes in the form of Jeevan (Shatrughan Sinha) who will, apparently go to ANY LENGTHS to steal the solar energy battery formula from Kailash…his ALLEGED BEST FRIEND. Dun dun dun.
Those red things: batteries. Everyone in this film is OBSESSED WITH BATTERIES.
Kailash, in the meantime, is busy mooning over Asha (Raakhee) the girl of his dreams, and is SO ADORABLY SHY that he can barely even look at her, let alone speak to her.
Self-assured Jeevan doesn’t have this problem, chatting up Asha effortlessly…a little TOO effortlessly, in fact.
TURNS OUT THAT JEEVAN AND KAILASH CAN’T BE ALL THAT GREAT BUDDIES SINCE KAILASH DOESN’T EVEN REALISE HE’S IN LOVE WITH JEEVAN’S FIANCE.
Like – seriously? What kind of a best friend IS Jeevan?
The kind who will DITCH HIS OWN GIRLFRIEND and SET HER UP WITH KAILASH for a shot at the sweet sweet solar power battery formula. That kind. The kind who will stop at NOTHING, be it importing a team of international scientists disguised BADLY as pro-golfers to help in his evil machinations,
Jeevan has clearly NO IDEA of what "golf" is.
But Italian "scientist" Antonio gets into the swing of things (heh heh)...
...though Antonio also, CLEARLY, has greater priorities than the game.
faking his own death, grow some questionable, emo stubble,
Antonio knows he didn't shave because he just kissed him. I'm not making that up, either.
burn down an entire forest, pull out some really hilariously over the top melodramatic overacting
….and resort to pure, simple BLACKMAIL to get what he wants.
DOES THIS FILM SOUND FREAKING AWESOME OR WHAT?
With Shatru reaching new heights of peacocking (he has more colourful, eyecatching costumes than even Raakhee does in this film, and she has some pretty gorgeous 70s saris), strutting around almost LITERALLY chewing on the scenery or pushing other people out of the frame,
Is it kind of obvious I just want an excuse to post as many pics of my filmi boyfraaaaand as possible?
and with the mad, melodramatic plot inspiring some kind of crazy turns: for instance, the song when Asha, torn between love for both dastardly Jeevan and sweet, wonderful Kailash ACTUALLY TALKS TO HERSELF:
to convince herself down the right path possibly wasn’t actually intended to make me WEAK WITH LAUGHTER but – hey – it was wildly enjoyable all the same; the entertainment quotient is well and truly covered. From science, to action, to romance to melodrama, to finally, out and out thriller, Black Mail pretty much covers all the bases, including comedy (I just can’t tell how much was intentional).
Basically, you can’t go wrong when you cast Dharmendra as the morally righteous, upstanding, yet ADORABLY RETARDED WHEN IT COMES TO ACTUALLY WOOING hero. Apart from all the cracktastic nonsense going on, this film really is one of THE most utterly, genuinely, heartbreakingly romantic films in the universe. The majority of the film is actually focused on Kailash and Asha and the trajectory of their relationship – from shy first meeting and falling in love; to newly weds; to turbulence and suspicion as it all falls apart under the pressure of Jeevan’s manipulation and misunderstandings; to reconciliation as it all get sorted out and everyone lives happily ever after (uh…spoiler alert? But seriously, this isn’t Devdas, what did you expect?).
I can’t talk about romance and not mention the song Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas (sung by Kishore Kumar). The context: Kailash goes to meet Asha at her house, but is so shy that he can’t think of anything to say to her. Instead, he gives her a bundle of letters – he says that every time he thinks about her, he writes letters to her with what he wishes he could say.
Another moment in the film that really stood out was the song O Naina Mere – which is picturised on Asha getting ready for Kailash to come home. They are married at this point in the film, but their relationship has been an unhappy one, never once living up to the romantic hope and promise offered in Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas – Kailash has been sleeping in another room and the two have been fighting regularly. But this song was so touching and intimate in seeming to give a window into the souls of the characters. It comes just after a moment of sweetness between them, when Asha is hopeful, but uncertain about the status of their relationship. We see her putting on her sari, applying her makeup, combing her hair, sprinkling the bed with rosepetals (as it had been on their wedding night), and we see a nervous looking Kailash make his way home to her…the tension: is he thinking the same as Asha following their brief reconciliation?
I guess it’s kind of interesting to see Vijay Anand apply his reknowned thriller direction skills to something like this – the building tension around a romance, a different kind of thrill. It works so well! For a film that elsewhere is frequently SO VERY cracktastic, this sequence is utterly, utterly absorbing, authentic and just heartwrenching.
Believe it or not: I HAVEN’T EVEN COVERED THE HALF OF IT! There’s so much going on in this film that you really need to see it with your own eyes – including one of the most erotic scenes to come out of Hindi cinema ever. I’m gonna avoid writing about it so as not to look like a pervert, but can I just say: Kailash and Asha, hiding in a burning forest – the trees aren’t all that get pretty HOT.
Dharmendra is at his PEAK in this film, looking SO dreamy, you can watch for him alone – though why you’d want to, when swaggering Shatru is there to steal every scene, I do not know. Raakhee is luminous
(she’s actually TINY! So much shorter than Dharam, and he’s not a tall man) and looks like a living doll, and it seems criminal that only a few years later she would be relegated to playing ‘maa’ roles. That is possibly more cracktastic than anything that happens in Black Mail.