Disco Dancer (1987)
Starring: Anjuman, Sangeeta, Yusuf Khan, Shiva, Tariq Shah, Rangeela, Khanum, Asif Khan
Director: Zahoor Hussain
Synopsis: Bombastic Lollywood potboiler with all the right ingredients!
Brothers (or is it Father and Son?) Zahoor Hussain Gilani and Manzoor Hussain Gilani were producer and director of this Punjabi Action, Crime, Masala melodrama with a strong feminist message which contains the usual song and dance, as well as a touch of Tarzan of the Jungle, as icing on the cake.
The film featured unrivalled Queen of the Punjabi scene from back in the day, Anjuman, who has a double role and she is supported by a sterling cast including Yusuf Khan, Asif Khan, Tariq Shah, Shiva from Nepal who had become quite popular in Pakistan as well as Sangeeta and Neimat Sarhadi as the Tarzan-like Shera Janglee. There is also Khanam chewing up the scenery as Madam.
The film begins with a wealthy young couple leaving for a weekend to their privately owned forest along with their two infant daughters. They are off to visit their friend Shera who lives deep in the forest and looks after their vast estates for them. The Super Rich couple seem to have everything in life that anyone could wish for; a fabulous multicoloured house, numerous servants and sari clad maids and a couple of swank Toyota’s in which to nip around their vast property. The only thing they desperately need in order to achieve nirvana is a proper heir to their millions as the two kids they have are “unfortunately” girls and they yearn for that elusive son.
On the way to the forest they have a collision with a tree resulting in disaster. The tycoon leaps out of the car and proceeds to perform about 35 somersaults and rolls for hundreds of meters. He tries desperately to protect the infant in his arms but sadly ends up dying and leaving the poor child defenceless in the middle of nowhere. The unfortunate mother appears mysteriously beside a nearby stream as a result of the terrible accident, gasping for breath.
Shera who happened to be climbing trees nearby, hears the commotion and comes hurtling to the rescue only to find the mother in dire straits. She hands Shera her child and asks him to promise that he will care for her as his own. Before she drops stone, dead.
The first daughter is discovered by a roaming gang of criminals who are delighted to find a fat wad of cash in the dead tycoon’s pocket and even happier when they discover the child beside him, wearing a golden locket.
They haven’t any use for the toddler and are about to hurl her physically to the other end of the forest when one of the lesser nasty hoodlums; the chubby blonde one with a really hot weave, asks to keep the child for himself. The Boss reckons it’s a bad move but he is assured that she will be raised to be an asset to their crime business and so he relents.
So, one girl is with the faithful Shera Janglee while the other is taken away to the city to become a part of criminal Disco based operation.
Shera, who is a rather portly but fearsome version of Tarzan meets the stone man, teaches his adopted daughter how to fight, hunt and protect herself from the dangers that the jungle beholds. The two often have fierce jostling battles as practice, just to maintain their edge against any fearsome intruders of the forest as well as any from the city.
Shera’s adopted daughter Lali grows from an ugly duckling to a gorgeous Jane-like Jungle Beauty and the two of them live contented, oblivious lives out there in the forest with an array of fearsome wild beasts surrounding them. Judging by their attire and training, we can assume that they are hunters in the forest. Simple, but good folk.
We learn that the other sister has grown up as the gorgeous bombshell Disco and her role in the crime gang is to entrance the cops as well as all car owners with her spectacular Disco Dances and while she has her audience mesmerised, her partners make off with an array of cars and go on looting sprees all over the city.
One day back in the jungle, Lali spots a handsome stranger played by Asif Khan who takes a terrible tumble from his horse and is badly wounded. Sweet and innocent Lali, fearing for the stranger’s safety, decides to rescue him and carry the unconscious fellow home.
With the help of some wild shrubs that Shera collects, Lali nurses the stranger named Amjad back to health and finds herself feeling a stirring of never experienced, strange sensations.
The city man tells her they are the pangs of love and she blushes and giggles profusely before breaking out into a splendid dance in the forest to express her joy and delight.
Shera Janglee isn’t convinced though and feels some type of way. He refuses to allow Lali to go off to the city to be married with Amjad. He has a mini meltdown and vents about the perils of lust. He demands that Amjad return with his family elders to ask for Lali’s hand in marriage as is the traditional manner and until that happens the deliriously happy couple must wait.
Lali is terribly excited but bids farewell to her fiancé who heads back to the city where we learn to our shock and horror that he already has a harem full of wives.
An entire posse of women have been duped and then forcibly turned into prostitution by his evil and formidable elder sister known as Madam. Together they run a highly profitable, money spinning Club for Discreet Gentlemen.
Dare any of the wives complain about their treatment, Madam has them crucified like Jesus Christ and lashes them with a steel tipped leather whip taking great delight in pulverising the terrified women into abject submission. Madam also thrives on the local orphanage from where she procures suitable girls, has them marry her brother, and once they are brought home, she forces them into the lucrative flesh trade reaping huge rewards she splits with her brother.
We now realise that Shera’s instinct was on point about the dastardly Amjad and that hell awaits poor Lali if she leaves the jungle for the big bad city. Little does the innocent Lali know that her impending marriage is actually a deadly trap and once snared she will be thrown to the wolf’s night after night after night.
One of the orphanage girls tricked by Amjad is Sangeeta who is confronted by two slimy studs on her wedding night instead of the husband that she thought she had married. She subsequently puts up some fierce resistance before Madam once again forces the upper hand and poor Sangeeta is subdued, at least momentarily.
Madam and Amjad seemingly have it all worked out and are laughing all the way to the bank, accumulating hapless women and putting them to work.
Madam has a legion of wives lined up to be thrashed and whipped into sadistic compliance and exploited for all they are worth. She has her faithful henchmen Shabboo and Babboo routinely administer the girls with deadly and addictive drugs to break their will and force them to submit to a life of debauchery and sin. She rules the brothel with an iron fist.
When Amjad shows his sister a photo of the jungle beauty Lali, her eyes light up and she is hastily packing her bags heading off to the forest to deceive Shera and secure the girl she reckons has what it takes to become her next No.1 draw card and bringing her huge revenue.
Veteran star from the 60’s Yousuf Khan plays an earnest police inspector who also happens somehow or the other to be the abandoned son of a deluded underworld boss superbly acted by Tariq Shah.
When the Inspector unwittingly adds to the supply of Madams girls by marrying off his adopted sister to Amjad, it proves to be a tragic mistake, but a fateful one. Later, when a star struck Lali is brought from the jungle she is mortified discovering her husband’s intentions. When she tries to inform Shera of her predicament, Madam threatens murder, thus silencing her.
Sangeeta, in a vivacious performance is the only defiant wife putting up a stoic show of resistance to Madam and provides some of the highlights of the movie but ultimately her brave plans of an attempted revolution is thwarted as one of the wives is martyred on her way to the police station.
A whole bunch of burning questions need to be answered. Will the dastardly Madam and loathsome Amjad be exposed? Will valiant Shera find out the truth about Lali’s terrible situation and rescue her? Will the Police Inspector discover that his sister is now a call girl? Will The Disco Dancer be re-united with her sister? Will Inspector Yusuf Khan discover that The crime king pin and Don has forced his sweetheart Disco into a life of crime is also his dad? Will Sangeeta’s women’s revolution ever come to pass? Where Does Shera get his fabulous headgear?
The film escalates to a dizzying climax and all the loose ends finally come together in thrilling dramatic style.
In the acting department, Anjuman, headlines the movie but doesn’t have much to do despite the double role. After the initial flurry as the jungle girl Lali, Anjuman’s city girl persona Disco though performing delightfully to the film’s plagiarised title song doesn’t have much scope. For once Anjuman is overshadowed by both Sangeeta and Khanam. Shiva the Nepali import has a small part and shouts with gusto while he is on screen.
Yusuf Khan’s role as the inspector is rather dull and his boring romance with Disco slows the otherwise rapid pace of the film.
The film is dominated by Khanam as the diabolical Madam and also to some extent Shera who is simply electric as the stubby Tarzan clone cum Primitive Jungle man.
Shera Janglee’s exchanges and dialogue delivery are simply sensational and worth watching the movie for on their own strength. He also excels in a dance number which proves a pivotal moment of the film.
The Crime Boss played by Tariq Shah is a bumptious loudmouth with an impressive belly and is a perfect caricature of the typical Lollywood bad-ass villain which he is obviously a seasoned hand at it.
The plot is as delicious and the feminist struggle elevates proceedings beyond normal expectations. The selection of wigs, moustaches and jungle costumes are impeccable with special props to Shera Janglee’s amazing, glow-in-the-dark headgear, continuing Lollywood’s excellence in that particular department.
On the whole Disco Dancer is wonderfully fast paced high voltage stuff with the first half occasionally breath-taking. Things begin to falter just a bit in the second half with some needless romance, comedy, a couple of extended fight scenes and one too many songs that could certainly have gotten the chop. But that is soon forgiven once we into the rip-roaring climax scene with some startling violence and superb dramatic confrontations.
One of the movie’s strengths is the extraordinary synth-based background music score which fizzes and pops with vigour heightening the thrills and dramatics on screen.
This film is heady concoction of typical Lollywood formula; lost children, family lockets, supreme sacrifices, forest with Jungle Men and so on but done with such magnificent style that it manages to enthral for the most part.
Yes, the film could have benefited with some judicious editing of about 30 to 45 minutes, but even then, Disco Dancer is an unmissable treat containing an irresistible dose of the finest masala ingredients that make for the perfect Ladies First Choice melodrama.
Khanam as Madam provides one of the truly magnificent villainous performances of Pakistani cinema history with her expressions and body language exuding menace and evil from every sinew and together with Shera Janglee and Sangeeta, they propel Disco Dancer to the memorable roller-coaster experience it is.
While it may be a slightly uneven ride it is also insanely entertaining and well worth a look in for fans of Masala Pakistani Punjabi cinema with a strong accent on powerful women. Disco Dancer is highly recommended indeed.