Dir: Ramesh Sippy
Star: Dharmandra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan

This is widely regarded as the greatest Bollywood film ever, and took $50m at the Indian box-office - even now, thirty years on, the average cinema ticket there costs only 19 cents, giving you some idea how phenomenally popular it was. This is best summarised as a "curry Western". It's clear the makers loved Sergio Leone and decided to make a Hindi version, which means...yes, it's 200 minutes long, and has songs. Indeed, early on you may wonder what the hell this is, as after a fine action sequence involving a train hold-up, it drifts off into a buddy-comedy about two good-hearted thieves (Dharmandra and Bachchan) and their scrapes. It's not awful - the duo have screen presence and are fun to watch - but I actually had to check this was the right movie. Luckily, it eventually kicks in, when they're hired by a former cop (Kumar) to go after vicious bandit Gabber Singh (Khan), a task which brings the wrath of Singh down on the local village. Battle-lines are, inevitably, drawn.

The performances are uniformly great: Kumar has a presence of steel that is undeniable, and even the lead female role - often neglected in this macho genre - is a great character on her own terms, as played by Hema Malini. The main problem is, some of the comedic interludes suck the life from the movie; in particular, the prison warden who looks like Hitler and is constantly tripping over stairs. Oh, such humour. However, even after only a fistful of Bollywood, I've learned this is to be expected, so just grit your teeth or go make popcorn. Ditto the songs, in particular the first, which may be the gayest thing this side of a Judy Garland retrospective, and it says a lot about the stars that they can overcome these early setbacks and deliver. It's not my favourite Indian film, but I can certainly see why it's so highly-respected.

August 2005

Sari for laughing
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