Farz (1967)

Country: India.
Director: Ravee Kant Nagaich
Starring: Jeetendra, Babita Kapoor, Aruna Irani, Kanchana, Sajjan, Agha, Manohar Deepak, Mukri, Mohan Choti, V.D. Puranik.
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Choreography: I. Hiralal

Although Farz was among the first Bollywood attempts at making a Bondian spy flick, it was in fact a remake of a Tollywood film called Goodachari 116 (1967). For the un-initiated ‘Tollywood’ can mean two things — either the Telugu-language film industry based in the state of Andhra Pradesh or a film from the the Bengali-language film industry based in Tollygunge of South Kolkata in the state of West Bengal. In this instance I am referring to a film in the Telugu language films. Goodachari 116 starred Krishna Ghattamaneni, or ‘Super Star’ Krishna as he was known. Krishna would later star in James Bond 777, which sort of makes him the leading contender for the title ‘Tollywood Bond’. But if Krishna was ‘Tollywood Bond’, then Jeetendra certainly worked hard at cultivating the title ‘Bollywood Bond’. Remembering that Farz was made in ’67, eighteen years later (in ’85), Jeetendra was still having a crack at the Bollywood Bond style movie, appearing in Bond 303.

Farz opens at a Dam, and three hairy terrorist types pull up in their beaten up car, and park some distance away. One of them sneaks past security and takes care of the sentry with a garotte wire. The two other terrorists start planting some explosives, and connect it all on a long cable back to a detonator/plunger back at the car.

What these bad-ass infiltrators don’t know is that Agent 211081 is on the case. Dressed in a classic grey suit, and sporting sensible, neatly trimmed hair, he casually disarms the explosives and then with a miniature camera — which by today’s high tech standards is not very small — he photographs the bad guys and the numberplate of the getaway car.

The bad guys push the plunger, and much to their surprise the dam does not blow up. Confused, quickly they flee and report back to their boss. Of course, like any incompetent minions, they get slapped around a bit, and then sent back out — this time their mission is to kill Agent 211081.
When we next see 211081 he is arriving home where his sister has been waiting. He apologises for being late, explaining that he had his duty to perform. I could be wrong here, but I think ‘Farz’ translates as ‘Duty’. Outside the bad guys have tracked 211081 to his home and set about planting a bomb in his car.

Next 211081 gets a telephone call from Indian ‘M’ to report to headquarters. Our hero grabs his jacket and heads out to his car. Now the bomb is not one of those turn-the-key, and then ‘BOOM’ ones. This is a start the engine, which starts the timer type of bombs, so 211081 starts the engine and drives off with the bad guys following behind, waiting for and watching their handiwork.
Agent 211081, in his rear vision mirror, realises that he is being followed and suspects something sinister is going on. He veers off the highway and heads down a dead end road. He gets out of the car in just the nick-of-time, as the vehicle blows up. Then the bad guys turn up and a gunfight breaks out. Our hero is not much of a marksman and keeps missing the bad guys. They close in, encircling our hero. Finally, 211081 runs out of bullets and decides to leg it. Outnumbered and surrounded, he is shot in the stomach, but even then he refuses to give up and keeps moving through the trees towards the road. At the roadside, he flags down a passing motorist. The lady behind the wheel gets out of the car holding a flashlight – even though it is daylight. Why? Because she is a villainess and the flashlight really conceals a pop-out blade. She plunges the blade into Agent 211081 and he falls to the ground dead. It appears that Agent 211081 wasn’t the hero of the film after all. And that flashlight scene appears to have been directly lifted from the EuroSpy film, Mission Bloody Mary. The flashlight tricked is used a little later on in the film too, but then it’s night, so it makes a little more sense.

Finally we meet the hero of the film, Gopal, Agent 116 (Jeetendra) and he reports to Indian ‘M’, where he recieves his mission briefing, which as you have no doubt guessed is to replace Agent 211081. One little observation about Indian ‘M’ — by the way his office is decorated it is fair to assume that the man has an obseession with geography and cartography. Behind his desk he has a giant map of India which covers most of the back wall. On the wall to the left of screen there is a large map of the world, and then in the foreground, sitting on his desk is a globe.

Now this is where the film starts, and to be honest, it gets pretty confusing very quickly. This is because there is not too much spying going on, and a lot of heavy family relationship drama going on. Firstly it seems like Gopal has fallen in love with a girl named Sarita (Babika). The thing is that Sarita’s father happens to be head villain. Now there is a lot of suspicion going on here. Is Gopal using Sarita to get to her father. Or is the father using Sarita to get to Gopal. I must admit, I don’t know.

As an adjunct here, just two little observations based on my limited Bollywood viewing. Firstly the head villain is always referred to as ‘Boss’. And secondly, there are always two Bosses. There is the first Boss, who you are supposed to think is the evil mastermind because he is giving all the orders — but half way through the film, as the hero closes in — it is revealed that this first Boss is just an underling to an even bigger and more evil second Boss. Now the way you tell these two Bosses apart is their appearance. First Boss will look normal. He looks like a businessman, albeit and evil business man. The second ‘Head Boss’ – the evil mastermind – will look weird. He will have an eyepatch, or a scar, or even just a downright ugly head.

To complete his assignment, Gopal happens to be given two comic relief sidekicks. One of them is like Lou Costello but with caterpillars for eyebrows, and the other is like Jerry Lewis in Nutty Professor mode. These guys, even without being able to understand the language, are just painful and they get way too much screen time. Gopal just seems to sit back whenever they are on screen and watch their performance with a gormless smile on his dial.

After quite a bit of mundane spying which does very little to advance the story, Boss’ number one henchwoman seduces Gopal with a sweaty dance routine. I don’t mean sweaty, as in watching the routine you’ll break out in a sweat because the dance is so hot – no, the dancer actually has large sweat stains on her back and under her arm pits, which are very noticaeable on the tight fitting orange ensemble that she is wearing. After the dance, she puts a pill in Gopal’s drink. He pretends to drink it (pouring it into a pot plant) and then pretends to pass out.

The bad guys send a fake ambulance to collect Gopal, but as this phony ambulance team are carrying Gopal’s body out to the vehicle, Sarita turns up at his apartment. Seeing her love unconscious, she demands to travel in the ambulance with him. She is allowed to. Gopal is shunted into the back and driven away and pretty soon, as they head out of town, it becomes apparent that they are not taking him to the nearest hospital.

Gopal is in fact taken to a secret cave lair in the forest. Sarita is taken as a prisoner too — despite her father’s position in the evil organisation. All ends well though, because Gopal is only playing possum and shoots up the place and rescues Sarita.

There’s still plenty of action (I use the word loosely) and twists to come in the story, but I’ll leave my feeble synopsis there. All-in-all, I found Farz to be rather flat, and even when there is a good sequence, the material leading up to it and after it are of little consequence. For those who are interested in the musical numbers, well they may be of some merit. There is some nice choreography that integrates traditional Indian moves with ‘the twist’, and during Sarita’s birthday sequence, Jeetendra proves that while he may not be a bone crunching Connery type, he is a passable pelvis grinding Elvis clone.

If you are like me, and taking your first tentative steps towards an understanding of Bollywood films, then I’d suggest Farz is not the film for you. Its pacing and attempts at comedy are quite a hurdle, especially when you’re juggling comprehension with poor picture quality and sound. But having said all that, from a historical point-of-view, it’s a film that may well be worth revisiting once I am more battle-hardened and my knowledge and understanding of Bollywood films has grown.

I wasn’t able to get any screencaps of the VCD set used for this review, so I have borrowed some shots from Keith’s Teleport City review. To read Keith’s review, click here.

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