Thursday, August 02, 2007

Movie Review: RANI MERA NAAM

Directed by K. S. R. Doss
India; 1972

Tough, revenge-seeking chicks never seem to catch a break in South Asian and Muslim cinema. In most of the ones I've seen, our heroine kicks ass, takes names and gets screwed. Err, metaphorically that is. RANI MERA NAAM is no different. But along the way, before our tragic finale, there's a raucous good time to be had. It starts out with a motley crew of grotesque thugs who look like they just stepped out of the 16th century bursting onto a nice upper middle class rural family, killing, raping and thieving their way through the shocked household. The only survivor of this murderous rampage is the youngest child, a little girl, who witnesses the atrocities whilst hiding just out of site. She grows up, trains in bad-assery with a guru-lookin' dude and when she's ready, heads out with a car and a horse (?), a gun and an aim towards vengeance on the scum-fucks what did her wrong. Her course of revenge gets her embroiled in all sorts of adventures wherein she finds herself aiding the helpless and fighting off corrupt politicians and crooked business men, all of whom of course end up being those who once upon a time destroyed her family. Her wrath in turn then destroys them and so sets the countryside free from their oppression. She, however, is not so lucky...

If, from the description above, it seems as though this film is a dour, serious revenge drama, then forgive me, for I've given the wrong impression. RANI MERA NAAM is a colorful, cartoonish blast of old fashioned movie fun, with action, comedy, eccentric characters, action, pretty girls, weird camera angles, giddy song and dance numbers and yet still more action. It's wacky, delirious nonsense with only the barest minimum of social “message” tacked on at the end. But then again, my copy had no subtitles so I'm not sure that I caught all the subtleties of the narrative so caveat emptor, my dear readers.

Mostly the film seems greatly inspired by 60s European popular cinema particularly Spy films, superhero flicks and most importantly Spaghetti Westerns. The third act of the film in fact is at its core a western with Our Heroine riding around on her Faithful Horse through the dusty countryside doing gallant battle with cowboy outfitted baddies. There's even a scene where she races after a speeding train, jumps aboard and holds up the engineers (I'm not really sure what was going on there actually) while a distinctly Morricone-esque scores blares away in the background. The movie is rich with silly cinematic ambiance and it never seems to take itself too seriously. The fights seem to be the main reason for the existence of the movie, and they are nothing short of spectacular. The camera seems to hurl itself around furiously as Our Heroine grapples with a series of villainous buffoons in the main action set pieces of the film. They are extraordinary examples of crazed and enthusiastic cinema at its most weird and fun. Only during a few talky bits does the momentum let up but those scenes actually pass rather quickly before the dutch angles, the blue and red tinted cartoony lighting, the ridiculous costumes and the catchy songs get up and running again, tossing your senses around willy-nilly. I was entertained throughout and felt the deep sense of movie-love overcome me that only the most deranged and bewildering low-budget cinema can provide.

But all good things must come to an end. And for Our Heroine the end is rather sad. After her triumphant defeat of the Chief Evildoer she must face the music for her uppity vigilante activity. She is arrested and shackled, to be put away and forgotten. While we in the west can only see her actions as nothing but heroic, in traditional eastern societies, women must know their place. And while all can feel sympathy for her plight and admire her accomplishments in doling out justice, the traditional viewpoint can not endure such a reversal of the male-female dynamic. It's sad, and we might feel righteous in our disgust at such an attitude, but at the very least it makes for great drama. And in the end, for much of Asian Pop Cinema, a very important part of the message of even the innocuous of films is that the balance of society is restored. But for me the most important thing is the wild details, the crazed cinematic qualities which tickle the eyes and sizzles the soul. RANI MERA NAAM has got all that and some to spare.

Print provided by Electric Larvae.


Poptique said...

What a great title!!! I bagged an original Greek VHS of this from Bill at Onar a few years back and it arrived just in time for a bewildering screening as my Christmas Day midnight shlock show!

Suffice to say the audience who crammed into my front room full of festive cheer left shocked, awed and more than a little confused...

Jared said...

It's great to hear from you Poptique!

What a weird thing, to watch something like this ... with other people!

Even people I know who like weird foreign cult films balk at Hindi Pop Cinemadness such as this!

It warms my heart to know there are others out there who love this stuff, too!

Surbhi Goel said...

It is not just the Asian propensity to 'show women their place' that leads to arrest of the heroine - not at all - it is the grave sense of justice that even such a 'justifiable' act will be punished and that no one is above law. This in turn is a result of a long colonial rule wherein freedom fighters were labeled criminals for civil disobedience and tried in courts and jailed. The end also affirms that law /State ( not justice/nation) is the order of the day.

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Actually Rani Mera Naam is the most incredible movie I ever seen in my whole life!

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