Some movies are a lot more entertaining when you are drunk. Ask a connoisseur of camp, and he will unabashedly assert that watching trashy films can be so much fun – pure and totally unforeseen. All you need is a can of beer and a suspension of your otherwise sophisticated taste and decorum. Gradually, the said film’s astonishingly egregious content and supreme sincerity opens up to you, in spurts and phases. Something ignites, and before you know how to fathom this unfathomable base desire, you are watching and re-watching these cult classics irresistibly from beginning to end. Pray, what pearls of wisdom do these ‘So bad that it’s good’ masterpieces hold within their three hours of lowbrow, low-budgeted incompetence? What explains some intrepid movie-goers’ obsessive, almost devotee-like fetish for them? To which, a fanboy might respond brusquely, ‘What’s NOT to like about Gunda?’ or ‘Who’s watching Farishtay for plotline when you can have Dharmendra’s waistline?’ Audiences watch these B-movies for cheap thrills. Filmmakers are inspired by their misguided sincerity and purity. “If there is a key to a good B-movie, it lies in the marriage of sincerity and sensationalism,” reckoned The Guardian in 2007. Many of these cheap, sleazy films, director Ashim Ahluwalia, whose Miss Lovely was a love letter of lurid C-movies, revealed to the website Projectorhead, “are unintentionally experimental and very cinematic, they can also be politically very subversive.”
By a common consensus, bolstered by its viral unstoppability in the Internet Age, Kanti Shah’s trippy Gunda has emerged as the Citizen Kane of B-movies. In the world of ‘Bad Movie Nights’, full of slackers and students, engineers and bankers, Gunda is, in the words of many addicts, a “baap-level” movie. A daddy lode of gift that keeps giving. Conversations about this movie is often peppered with gushy words like “epic”, “work of art”, “god-level”, “Bulla, khullam khullah” etc, all uttered with utmost seriousness. “There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen Gunda. And those who shall see it,” announced one popular blog, attributing the quote to one Roger Abhert — a twist on well-known critic Roger Ebert.
It takes a special turn of brain, not to mention absolute conviction, to think up a concoction as oddly endearing as this 1998 Mithun Chakraborty hit. In Gunda-land, it’s not so much “What the hell were they thinking?” as it is “We knew exactly what we were thinking.” The great Kaifi Azmi once wrote an entire film (Heer Raanjha) in verse. No less poetic is Gunda, devotees would gleefully insist. Kaifi Azmi: 1. Gunda: 1. In the film, every character speaks in rhyme, loaded with double entendre. The plot is boilerplate 90s. Mithun Chakraborty is Shankar, an honest-to-goodness, monkey-friendly everyman whose sanguine outlook towards life is turned upside when his entire family is wiped out by powerful ganglord Bulla (Mukesh Rishi), eventually turning into him a killing machine. Except that it’s not as sane and easy-peasy as it sounds. Characters from the film like Lambu Aata, Bulla, Chutiya and Ibu Hatela have long slipped into fanzine immortality, sticking their neck out with their own special limerick. “Maa meri chudail ki beti, baap mera shaitan ka chela, khaayega kela (untranslatable),” pipes up Ibu Hatela, one of the dozens of sick scoundrels populating Gunda, as he proudly celebrates his family credentials and his own twisty frame of mind. Gunda is a fine example of a film that outgrew its original mofussil appeal to enter ‘guilty pleasure’ Friday night outings for tired professionals and curious cinephiles, quickly rising from the ranks to become an antidote to urban existential crisis. “Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a “lamp,” not a woman, but a “woman”,” wrote Susan Sontag in her famous essay on ‘camp.’ Gunda ticks off all the boxes of a classic camp. It not just sees everything in quotation marks but does so on purpose, to call attention to its quick wit and perverted humour.
In Hollywood, the B-movie genre has long been a training ground for some of its greatest talents, from Martin Scorsese to Jack Nicholson who staggered out from the misguided ambitions of Roger Corman to critically-hailed haven of Taxi Driver and Chinatown. Quentin Tarantino continues to feed off on B trash to turn them into potentially Cannes-approved A products. Bollywood, on the other hand, provides an intriguing contrast. Once art-house darlings, Dharmendra, Jeetendra and Mithun Chakraborty helped give birth to a series of sleazy actioners in the dusk of their career. Dharmendra and Chakraborty started out with legendary Bengalis Bimal Roy and Mrinal Sen respectively while Jeetendra (Justice Chaudhry and Himmatwala) was a product of the venerable V Shantaram school. One common link for their collective B-gradisation was the OTT Southern sensibility that gave us such gems as the Matka number in Himmatwala and pretty much all of Mithun-da’s 90s output.
In ’90s, Ooty was Mithun Chakraborty’s summer, winter and monsoon capital all-rolled-into-one. From here, the monarch of camp (pushing 40) churned out cheap quickies with maestros like TLV Prasad, B Subhash and Kanti Shah. Dalaal, Ravan Raaj, Loha and Yamraaj, you name it. Yet, not all are for the ages. Thanks to Chakraborty’s ubiquity in hundreds of such B-movies, the same old revenge formula repeated film after film, the National Award-winning star became a high priest of low cinema. He was now a genre, loved and adored by the masses who spent their hard-earned money on his cinema that promised justice, a world where the small guy can make it big and one of happy endings. Revenge exacted for sister’s rape or mother’s death. Check. OTT (Ooty Tourism) songs. Check. Beautiful, young damsels. Check. Mandatory raksha bandhan moment. Check. Vicious villains getting their rightful comeuppance. CHECK. While urban, discerning audiences still reserve some contempt for mass stars such as Chakraborty, veering as they do towards the more mainstream Amitabh Bachchan (whose Sooryavansham and Hindustan Ki Kasam are on our list) what’s truly remarkable is that Mithun-da himself never took his image seriously. Haters hated, but Mithun-da marched on. At some point, cinephiles well-versed in world cinema rediscovered the goldmine that was Mithun’s Dream Factory. Gunda and Loha are two of his most-watched films, perhaps more than his award-winning classics.
With Dharmendra, two things happened. Parody and Anil Sharma. The rest is history. One of Hindi cinema’s finest legends, the man who gave us Bandini, Satyakam, Chupke Chupke, Sholay and Guddi, also gave us unintentional milestones like Farishtay, Loha and Policewala Gunda. Granted, Dharmendra may have been sleepwalking through most of these movies, but today, they are being cherished by audiences who see beauty exactly in their flawed attempts. Besides Dharmendra and Chakraborty, several top Hindi stars have been a part of ‘So bad it’s good’ titles. Here are 10 of them. PS: Special shoutout to Dev Anand, the evergreen star who, sadly, became an embarrassing shadow of his former self. Dev Anand’s campy excesses were clear as water to everyone except, apparently, Dev Anand himself.
‘Ab toh Mumbai ki zameen ko pavitra karke hi Haridwar snaan karne jaayenge’ — Raja
“You know my father’s BP shoots up each time he sees me,” protagonist Raja says in the film. Ditto for the audience, every time they see Kamaal Rashid Khan on screen. Much of the laughter in Deshdrohi originates from the debutant taking himself so seriously. Kamaal Rashid Khan goes by the SRK-inspired acronym ‘KRK’ and this film is clearly a vain exercise in self-indulgence. Which is what makes it both laughably incompetent and utterly sincere at the same time. This is how you blow up all the dough you earned in Dubai, god knows doing what. Even though Deshdrohi is a timely broadside against politically-motivated attacks on UP and Bihari migrants in Mumbai, the film suffers from a major 90s hangover. Clearly, KRK’s idea of filmmaking borrows from such fleapit legends as Deepak Shivdasani, Anil Sharma and B Subhash. In one scene, a Marathi bus conductor rebukes the unsuspecting Raja, blaming him and his ilk for turning Mumbai into a “kabutarkhana”. Another gives him a mouthful, saying, “You have made Mumbai an orphanage.” Raja arrives in the city looking for his friend (Manoj Tiwari) who, he later discovers, has joined the underworld. Consumed by a sudden desire for ‘patriotism’, especially towards North Indians, Raja swears to wipe out all the nefarious elements from Mumbai. What Sanjay Nirupam couldn’t achieve in his entire political career, Raja does in two hours and twenty minutes of non-stop blathering, OTT songs to fill every imaginable plot hole and some kick-ass catchphrases like, “Ab toh Mumbai ki zameen ko pavitra karke hi Haridwar snaan karne jaayenge.”
Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani (2002)
‘Sabki izzat karenge toh lutenge kiski’ — Rajesh
In Hindi cinema, doting fathers have used their influence to launch the careers of their children, even though at times the kids had a talent roughly equivalent to a doorknob. As far as nepotism goes, nothing matches the grand ambition of Rajkumar Kohli, who repurposed his own blockbuster Nagin, to reinvent son Arman Kohli. It’s a mystery as to why if JD was supposed to be a showreel for the astonishing mediocrity of Kohli Jr did the filmmaker expend all his goodwill by lining up literally the who’s who of Bollywood. The end result is that Arman, the alleged hero of the premise, gets sidetracked in his own film, a pageboy at his own wedding, a gatekeeper in his own hotel. Leading the pack here is Sunny Deol who looks at half-brother Sonu Nigam the same way he would look at Bobby Deol. There’s Arshad Warsi who performs pretty much the same function that comic Raju Srivastava did in Deol’s Big Brother — a circus joker. Akshay Kumar is an atheist. Sunil Shetty wears the same expression he did in the ’90s while Manisha Koirala plays an “icchadari nagin.” The rest, we suggest, you find out yourself. Note on two-left-feet Sunny Deol: “Chal kudiye” is probably the best showcase of Paaji’s dancing skills since “Yaara oh yaara”.
‘Yeh apne paanch members ke faisle ko majority ka faisla batate hue mere film ko shamshan ghat mein jala dena chahte hain’ — Vicky
Dev Anand’s latter-day filmography contains such gems as Awwal Number, Love at Times Square and Chargesheet. But Censor is one film that perhaps resonates most with the evergreen star. It’s a film about filmmaking. About the tortuous process of film censorship, to be precise. A subject, you could say, that might chime more with the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Sanjay Leela Bhansali than unsuspecting movie-goers. Anand himself has been mired in censor-related scandals. On the surface, it’s a multi-starrer, but Dev Anand fans and foes know just as surely that it’s not. Starring Anand as a forward-looking director who goes from pillar to post to get his film released, Censor is — if you haven’t already guessed — a home-produced homage to Dev Anand himself. The film neither gives any useful insight into a filmmaker’s mind nor says anything new about the censor process. It exists purely to offer its ageing (ageless in his mind, however) lead star a perfect stage to hurl monologues about filmmaking. The war cry of a battle-weary film director is aided cordially by Anand’s star friends, including Rekha, Jackie Shroff and Shammi Kapoor, who agree to act as his foil. Through the ‘filmmaker against system’ artifice, Anand trains his gun on the hypocrisy of the so-called respectable custodians of society. When no solution is forthcoming, he takes off to Hollywood. Here, in the “land of the free human spirit”, his stalled masterpiece gets its ultimate due — an Oscar nod. The late Dev Anand never won the Academy, but if he had, he would have recited exactly the same fiery speech. Purists, even diehard fans, tend to dismiss his later films. But Censor has its corny charm.
‘Woh shaks jo tumhare saamne baitha hai apne aap mein ek high court hai’ — Commissioner
Imagine a movie that has been forcefully hammered down your throat every weekend, without respite. It repulses you at first. Then, you learn to ignore it. Finally, you warm up to it. And then it becomes a habit. Sooryavansham is that rare film, like A Wonderful Life, that gained a following thanks to repeated telecast on Sony Max. Why is that all the campy creations starring Bollywood biggies have a southern connection? Mithun-da’s Ooty innings or Jeetendra’s matka years? Sooryavansham is Bachchan’s brush with southern ingenuity. This is before AB got his mainstream mojo back with Mohabbatein.
Sooryavansham follows the Bachchan father and son, with possibly the most strained parent-child relationship ever committed to Bollywood screen — indeed, more strained than Dilip Kumar and Bachchan bond in Shakti. Thakur Bhanu Pratap Singh (elder Bachchan) is cat’s whisker who treats his own son (Heera, the younger Bachchan) with disdain, with blustering abuses (ouch) like, “You’re my blood’s most discredited cell.” A human mule, Heera still hero-worships his dad, ignoring all the curses hurled at him. Radha (Soundarya), who in the beginning generally orders Heera around, realises his precious worth and marries him. Heera was never great at studies. He couldn’t even fudge his market sheet because he didn’t how many zeroes does 100 contain and whether to place it before 1 or after 1. But once married, luck shines on the unlettered black sheep. And the rest, as they say, is Set Max history. PS: Watch it also for the cracking chemistry between Kadar Khan and Anupam Kher, the old ware-horses with splendid comic timing. In the end, however, Sooryavansham is a catalogue for Bachchan’s double whammy. One Amitabh thinks no end of himself. The other suffers from low self-esteem and self-pity worthy of Rajendra Kumar. Perfect company to bat away the Monday blues.
Prem Aggan (1998)
‘Hamare desh ki ladkiyan kuch karne hi nahin deti’ — Sooraj
This film is Feroz Khan’s all-expenses-paid birthday gift to his only son. Upon release, Fardeen Khan’s first offering was a spectacular bomb. But since, it has acquired fans for all the wrong reasons. One of the film’s main appeal is Khan’s dumb expressions and reading-from-a-teleprompter dialogue delivery that makes him a worthy heir to Sunil Shetty. There’s no shortage of corny situations with Khan and co-star Meghna Kothari around. She harbours a secret crush on him and in their first proper meeting, he kisses her. It’s only been this long since they met and Sapna (Kothari) is emboldened to ask, ‘Can you please describe to me your first sensual experience, WITH A GIRL?’ Next, she goes on to repeat the same question in chaste Hindi. Recounting, he cooks up an elaborate scene about this bikini-clad blonde on the beach. He could well be describing a steamy scene from a Feroz Khan hit. Did someone say, “Very ishqy?”
‘Aaj gundagiri aur netagiri donon ek hi baap ki do harami aulad hai’ — Lambu Aata
One of the mysteries of this Kanti Shah creation is why every character speaks in rhyming sentences. Each man introduces himself with an absurd tagline. For example, the feared Bulla (Mukesh Rishi) announces his arrival with, “Mera naam hai Bulla, rakhta hun khullah.” Innocents might think he’s referring to the dagger conjured without its scabbard. But you know he doesn’t really mean what he says. Read between the line. The film is full of such double meaning inferences. Everybody is overreacting except the straight-faced Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty) who’s probably not in on the joke. Despite the film’s ostensibly simple plot, there’s a lot that happens in Gunda. Like most Mithun-da sleeper hits of the time, Gunda is a typical common-man-against-the-system fare. Revenge was the subject of most of these hinterland hits and Gunda is no different. The film combines the ludicrously misguided ambitions of Kanti Shah’s inner cinephile with a drunk poet’s angst against the system. It’s a movie version of a group of crackpots trading barbs over bonfire. Reviewing the film on his show Pretentious Movie Reviews, comic Biswa Kalyan Rath deadpanned, “Gunda is a movie way ahead of its time. It’s way ahead of the concept of time.” It’s tech geeks like Rath and partner-in-crime Kanan Gill who have helped catapult Gunda to cult status, one of the most improbable B-movie success stories of our time.
Madam X (1994)
‘Hum hain maut ki woh express, duniya jise kehti hai Madam X’ — Madam X
Madam X is Met Gala’s wet dream. The phrase ‘fashion faux pas’ does not even begin to cover Rekha’s inspired sartorial choices. No less than four costume designers are credited, including the famous Kachin (now defunct, but not due to Madam X). A cross between Kadar Khan and Raj Kumar, Rekha stars as a larger-than-life mafia queen in this Don (1978) spin-off. The purple prose with which she tips her many hats and headgears to her own genius can put hardcore wordsmiths to shame. Using colourful animal analogy (lioness’ hunting skills or scorpion’s venomous sting), she pumps fear into the hearts of her nemesis. “I sniff out the police’s plot even before they lay the trap,” she crows, telling her captive minions and hanger-ons how she’s always one step ahead of her enemies. Much of the plot revolves around Rekha and her lookalike who the police co-opt to capture the fancy dress don. Rekha’s Madam X is in character from beginning to end, tossing out monologues even before her death in the climax. All of which is terribly low-grade and surprisingly, great fun.
‘Mera naam hai Ramojirao Ranojirao Shivajirao Gaekwad Arjun Thange’ — police inspector Gaekwad
In the dusk of his career, the great Dharmendra did some implausibly iconic roles. One of them was Anil Sharma’s Farishtay. The He-Man took to the B-movie turf like Keshto Mukherjee to the bottle. But for the suave Vinod Khanna, this was a new high. His creepy ‘doodh-doodh’ act, opposite simpleton Sridevi in Farishtay, is unforgettably cheesy. The otherwise classy Khanna does all manner of obscene activities involving his fetish for milk. While Sridevi feigns ignorance, he explains away his milk fetish to native Mathura, the cradle of Lord Krishna. When he says he drinks only from “beautiful and buxom” cows, it’s simply a bad joke. The film is pure camp in all other ways, too. Petty thugs, Khanna and Dharam have cop Rajinikanth (“Teecha aila, aata kaala hero ala re”) for company. Villain Sadashiv Amrapurkar drives around in a cardboard swan chariot, in gold-laden finery egregious enough to give Bappi Lahiri an identity crisis. Farishtay’s opening moments offer a solid clue as to what will follow. AK Hangal shows up in Steve Jobs glasses, raising his hand to the God in the face of oppression. “You made evil, but where are the angels to counter evil?” A cut-out of godsend Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna appears, rescuing a handicapped boy as a speeding truck (drunk driver) approaches to kill him. That opening scene tells you everything this film is going to be. The driver is drunk, the director is drunk, Dharmendra is drunk. Watch it sober at your own risk.
Hindustan Ki Kasam (1991)
‘Iss mulk mein petrol ki kami hai khoon ki nahin’ — Kabeera
Veeru Devgan’s Hindustan Ki Kasam is mind-bogglingly shoddy, espousing the sort of preachy, hyper-jingoism that would make the right-wing patriots proud. The credits announce it as ‘a dream by Veeru Devgan’ in place of the standard directorial billing. But the dream has been turned into a nightmarish reality, as the one-armed, patriot-in-chief Kabeera (Amitabh Bachchan) discovers to his dismay. Devgan gives Big B his very own Forrest Gump moment when a younger version of the superstar recounts in a flashback sequence how he and his friend had intervened Netaji Bose’s famous ‘Give me blood, I will give you freedom’ speech to offer their life for the country. Wherever the national flag is desecrated or riots erupt, Kabeera miraculously shows up to eulogise the sacrifices of freedom fighters and harangue random people with social commentary. Was Kabeera’s script mixed up with Modi’s speeches? At heart, however, HKK is a lost-and-found that’s supposed to follow Ajay Devgn and his separated-in-childhood twin brother who is now in Pakistan, but a ghost-like Big B tries hard to distract everyone, most of all director Devgan, from the issue at hand. As if the Indo-Pak metaphor wasn’t self-evident enough, Bachchan once again lands up on the border in the action-studded climax to lecture some more on ‘brotherhood’ and ‘two-nation-one-culture’ spiel. And there’s one other thing we learnt from HKK — all Pakistanis begin their sentences with ‘Janab.’
100 Bollywood movies to watch in your lifetime series | 10 socially relevant films from Bollywood | 10 essential Hindi crime thrillers | 10 book-to-film adaptations | 10 parallel cinema classics | 10 Bollywood gangster films | 10 Bollywood and indie movies from the 21st century
Disco Dancer (1982)
‘Hum geeton ke saudagar hain, yehi hamara kaam’ — Jimmy
There’s more gold here than on Bappi Lahiri’s body, who, incidentally, invented the Indian disco genre with this film. Watching Gunda and Disco Dancer as a double bill gives you a creepy feeling that auteurs like Kanti Shah and B Subhash were not finding new ways to inspire Mithun-da, but instead striving hard to flatter the boss’ ego and inflated bank account. Disco Dancer is not just a bad movie. It’s a masterpiece of bad movies. It’s a musical rags-to-riches journey of Jimmy (Mithun Chakraborty), with a little help from mentor Master Raju (a hammy cameo by Rajesh Khanna). For more Kakaisms, turn to Avatar in which RK loves kheer prepared by wife Shabana Azmi but cannot bring it to relish it because his right hand froze in an accident. Another of his peculiar oddity is wiping hand (err, the functioning one) with his wife’s pallu despite servants offering him a towel. But Kakaism is for another day. Moving on, one of Disco Dancer’s highlights is Mithun’s guitar phobia after his mother’s death caused by electrocution. A phone call from a panting young girl informs Jimmy’s mother about a plot to kill her son. His guitar is streaked with electric shock. The mother reaches in time and jumps right in. Jimmy is saved, but he’s as good as dead. The memory keeps him from the one thing he loves most — music. One time, he passes out when trying to return to the stage. Will the heartthrob be able to perform? Will he, won’t he? Enter Kaka, strumming on the guitar furiously, sneaking in such life philosophy as, “Neither dark-skinned nor fair-skinned, the world belongs to the compassionate.” Kaka makes a fervent plea. ‘S-I-N-G,’ he roars and Jimmy’s back amid loud cheering. How you wish only if you had a philosopher like Kaka to show you the path! Just like Bappi-da, DD exists to persuade us about the powers of music, so long as there’s no guitar-related death in your family. Say D. Say I. Say S. C.O!