Bullet


Director: Vijay Anand
Music: RD Burman; Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Length: 156 minutes
Year: 1976

Ah, this film comes so close to the so bad it’s good definition but in the end it really is so bad that it’s simply bad – very bad. But within this incredible mediocrity are some marvelous moments that made me tingle in disbelief and a non-stop series of idiotic shots, clueless narrative and bad fashions that it gave me a wonderful perverse sense of satisfaction. Perhaps to have reached true cult status it needed one more clunky fight, one more drug induced music number, one more brazen colored shirt, one more pair of hotpants or one more jaunty cap perched on Dev Anand’s head. What really makes this shockingly inept film so surprising is that it comes from the team of director Vijay Anand and his brother Dev – the duo who produced and starred in so many classic films in the 1950’s and 60’s – the creative forces behind the absolutely brilliant and profound Guide (1965) and the legendary Jewel Thief (1967). How could so much go wrong in one single film? What were they thinking? It did bomb at the box office and deserved to totally.

The entire film is such a fashion faux pas that it should be mandatory viewing in fashion school. This has to be laid at the feet of Dev who seems to have taken all too well to tacky 70’s fashions (as also seen in Hare Rama Hare Krishna) and who also as he got older appears to have tried to cover this fact up by ever widening collars, eye scorching colored shirts and matching ties, ascot scarves, leisure suits and a myriad of juvenile caps that were almost always tilted dangerously to one side of his head. He wants so badly to project an image of raffish charm, but instead looks like the guy in the park who feeds the pigeons. Still this is only a small guilty pleasure in a film with so many of them.

Inspector Dharam (Dev) is dead-set on nailing arch criminal Dhurga Presad (perennial bad guy Kabir Bedi) who pretends to run a legitimate shipping company but who is in fact swindling many poor people who are gobbling up shares of his company. Dhurga or D.P. as his friends call him – as I would like to call myself because I found myself rooting for him by the end of the film – has a very lovely secretary, Sapna, played by the strong cheek boned and statuesque Parveen Babi. In order to get information, Dharam manages to woo Sapna even with his predilection for canary yellow shirts and red polka dot robes. This though is nothing compared to the erotic bottle dance in which he and Sapna dance with a bottle between their foreheads. This would seduce any female I believe and I am practicing it as I type – though the wall has to fill in for my partner for now.

She helps by giving him the combination to D.P.’s safe and the ultra-slick Dharam cleverly eludes security by deftly hiding behind a column and then throwing them in the swimming pool. How legal it is for a police officer to break in and steal evidence is not really explored in this nail biting crime story. When Sapna visits his bachelor apartment it is a mess with every single picture on the wall listing heavily to one side. Only a real man would do that. She of course cleans it up and straightens the frames as a real woman does while her man is away breaking into a safe.

Later D.P. discovers who stole his files and sets up Dharam for a fall – Dharam gets sentenced to jail with tragically no access to his wardrobe. After he gets out he goes home where the pictures are again leaning to one side as if in grief for their missing master. He swears revenge on D.P. and visits him with a bullet in his hand and tells him “this bullet that rests so close to my heart will some day rest in yours” and then constantly shows up like gum on the bottom of your shoe wherever D.P. is - grinning like a maniac on medication and holding the bullet in his fingers. Not surprisingly D.P. orders five thugs to beat Dharam up just for being so annoying and to bring him back the bullet – but instead our hero wins the fight because he moves like the wind – on a very hot slow day where even the ants stay home. Then as a tour de force he is inspired to very quickly choreograph a music number at the night club where D.P. is waiting for his bullet in which five women in hot pants and Dharam's left over hats sing out “bullet, bullet, bullet” to taunt him. It’s so cruel.

Running out of narrative at only the hour mark or so, a side story is oddly introduced that almost saves the day. D.P. is having an affair with a married woman, Mala (Sonia Sahni) who is married to a wealthy older gentleman who has a daughter by a previous marriage - Roshi played by the marvelous Jyoti Bakshi in a deranged debut that had me cheering. She is a spoiled stoned out dope head who likes to hang out at a hipster drug den decorated in skulls and spider webs – taking big gigantic tokes and drinking until she is dazed and confused in her quilt colored patterned clothes. When she comes home late one night her father slaps her and she goes into a classic monologue that will break your heart – “Finally you pay attention to me. If you had only slapped me when I had my first cigarette at 8 years old, if only you had slapped me when I had my first narco pill at ten years old, if only you had slapped me when I had my first drink at twelve, my first pot at thriteen, my first boyfriend at fourteen, my first orgy at fifteen, my first appearance in a porno film at sixteen, my first lesbian encounter at seventeen, my first heroin overdose at eighteen, my first oral sex in the oval office last week, my first S&M session tonight, my first tattoo on my bottom tomorrow etc. etc. Thousands of joints now fill my blood”. Yay! Good for you sweetie.
When she is later “kidnapped” by Dharam to get some quick ransom money and in which he covers his criminal tracks like an elephant on its way to the elephant graveyard – she slips him an LSD pill and takes one herself and the truly mind-boggling Chori Chori breaks out like a paranoid Dali painting in therapy – it may be the strangest musical number I have seen in Bollywood yet and the very buxom and frisky Roshi tantalizes the older man in her pink slip as they crawl around the floor, walls and ceiling. Things only get stranger and stranger as Dharma makes a mess of everything he touches. Huge plot holes, astonishing stupidity from everyone and a suitcase of hand grenades all add to the general and unintentional hilarity.
Tragically both female leads later in life came to very sad ends. Parveen Babi was one of the real beauties from the 1970’s – chiseled features, luxurious long black hair, piercing dark eyes – and she had a large male fan base. She was a favorite of Amitabh Bachchan and appeared alongside him many times in films – her role as a prostitute who stands by him in Deewar got her raves. During this period the Bollywood “heroine” was getting a facelift into a more morally ambiguous character and Parveen and Zeenat Aman were the actresses of choice for this type of role. She also had scandalous affairs – a long one with Kabir and another with director Mahesh Bhatt (who is planning to make a biopic about her). The affair with Mahesh was the basis for a film by Smita Patil called Arth about a philandering husband. By the mid-80’s her star was on the wane and she disappeared to America for many years. When she returned she was nearly unrecognizable – very heavy – her face distorted and clearly mentally unstable with paranoid schizophrenia – she told newspapers that Amitabh was conspiring to kill her. She died alone in her small apartment in 2005.

I can’t find much on the very intriguing Jyoti – she made only a few more films into the early 80’s and then apparently dropped out of the film business for love – a love that went bad. Later on she was often seen drunk and stealing food from restaurant tables – she too died alone.

My rating for this film: 4.0 (but eminently watchable)