Pataal Bhairavi (1985)
Cast: Jeetendra, Jaya Prada, Pran, Amjad Khan, Nirupa Roy, Bindu, Asrani, Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Prema Narayan, Shoma Anand & Silk Smita.
Director: K. Bapaiah
Nutshell: Swords and Sandals and fantasy time with the Southern Crew; Jeetendra, Jaya Prada, Kader Khan and crew presiding over some astounding 80s phantasmagoria.
It is often thought that the 1980s were a difficult, transitional phase for Bollywood, especially by those who were weaned on an era of Rajesh Khanna, Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherji, S.D and R.D. Burman. Though the parallel scene was thriving, commercial cinema went through an endless phase of Amitabh Bachchan’s revenge masala movies – increasing in quantity but decreasing significantly in quality as time went by. Then there was the dreaded Disco Age that reached Bollywood like a curse of the “Sprangles of Cataclysm“, descending upon Bollywood like an unrelenting bubonic plague.
Music directors struggled to come to terms with what they perceived as “good disco” music and started to churn out numbers with signature screeching strings and horns and mind numbingly monotonous HiNRG style beats. Bappi Lahiri, a dynamic and talented young director from the South via Bengal was the one who pilfered and purged and came up with his own catchy little numbers until he had perfected a formula that was repeated over and over and over with a few bars, notes and sequences changed here and there. Giorgio Moroder’s I Feel Love became the instantly recognized template for the early years of Bollywood Disco along with some Boney M and Eruption while the latter years were dominated by Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean style shuffling and shifting beats along with Thriller and the rest. The Pink Panther theme was the preferred choice for typical Bollywood comedy sequences but an alternative was sometimes found in Hot Popcorn from the early 70s as is the case in Pataal Bharavi. Melody was crucified and sacrificed in preference of the trendy Disco beats that saw Qurbani’s Aap Jaisa Koi turn into a craze overnight. The Song was produced by a man who knew exactly what he was doing and he already had the massively successful if totally inane “Kung Fu Fighting” to his credit. The man taking credit was Biddu who went on to score some deliciously awful numbers from “The Stud” and “The Bitch”.
The end of the 1970s also saw the rise of a figure who can also take a bow when it comes to the plunging standards of the 80s and the rise of a never seen before level of loud and brain dead cinema as well as some of the most painfully trite and cliché ridden dialogs ever known to Bollywood cinema over its entire history. Take a bow Kader Khan for having a massive hand to play in the flavor of cinema that emerged in the 1980s. There was a team of ingredients that were at the core of the stunning sequence of films that emerged that were symbolic of the shambolic 80s. These being Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Bappi Lahiri and Indivar, Padmalaya or some other Madras based production house and of course Jeetendra, Sridevi and Jaya Prada. This was a package deal that was the flavor of the day in the mid to late 80s and the body of work that they came up with needs to be studied closely to try to comprehend exactly what happened and why public tastes changed to accept films that were a total suspension of reality. Quite possibly it is just this mindless escapism that the public in general preferred to watch. The question is why and how?
Anyway, enough analysis for the moment; what’s the deal with this Padmalaya production titled Pataal Bhairavi starring veteran Jeetendra in the middle of this “South” phase along with the prerequisite Jaya Prada and the usual supporting cast of Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Asrani, Bindu and in this case a very rotund Amjad Khan, Pran & Nirupa Roy as well, taking a break from being Amitabh’s perpetual mom.
Pataal Bhairavi starts with Pran, the Maharaja and his royal family presiding over a competition; a fight to death. Nobody dares to challenge the fearsome, muscular Manek “Teeth” Irani who may also have been known as “the Indian Jaws” before his untimely death a few years hence. Bristling with typical menace and a very odd scalp that appears to be worn like a cap with tufts of hair sprouting from the sides. Pran beckons his effeminate son to take the challenge but then Jeetendra aka Ramu steps in with his sidekick Shakti as official cheerleader. A ten minute long fight ensues with them jostling it out on a net. Irani looks to have the measure of Ramu with his swirling mace, shield and teeth, inches from mauling him with each attempt. Jeetu aka Ramu survives by the skin of his teeth and then turns the tables fiercely on his opponent resulting in his being impaled horribly and spectacularly on a set of protruding spikes. Jeetendra wins the day and is rewarded by his bravery and skill by the beautiful, matronly Rajmumari (Jaya Prada).
Later that night Jeetendra and Shakti watch the Rajkumari and her bevy of girls performing synchronized swimming in her private swimming pool and provide ample proof that you can be fully clothed and look drop dead gorgeous at the same time while swimming in the sea or swimming pool. This particular song sequence ought to be used to demonstrate to the current French government that clothes and swimming perfectly justifiable and indeed recommended.
As the two lovebirds inevitably start to fall for each other’s charms there is an insurmountable obstacle in the form of the huge Amjad Khan playing an effeminate buffoon determined to marry Jaya Prada. Into the mix is also Kader Khan as the conniving and evil Nepali Jadugar one trick too many up his scheming sleeve. He and his sidekicks including Asrani are determined to sacrifice Ramu to the God Pataal Bhairavi who will then grant them the powers to make their wishes come true. So the battle is on to see who will win the Rajkumari’s hand and which of her suitors will survive to tell the tale.
The first half of the film is almost entirely comedy sequences that are typical of the era with Kader Khan eating up the scenery, normally saving the best lines for himself. Some turgid Disco numbers set to exactly the style of song sequence that was parodied so brilliantly in “The Dirty Picture” which was about the late great Silk Smita, who also makes an item number appearance in this film and is easily, by far and away the high moment of this otherwise excruciatingly awful experience. In fact that film is so utterly awful, laden with crudity and vulgarity and double meaning songs and dialogs that it one wonders what kind of audience it was catering to exactly.
To watch Amjad Khan playing a semi retarded and obviously gay imbecile was offensive on more than one level. Firstly to see a great actor reduced to this kind of level was very sad and secondly the depiction of an effeminate man as a figure of ridicule was also rather distasteful and unfortunate but totally expected from a film of this caliber. Then to watch Dimple Kapadia appear for a cheap item number was beyond expectations. What was she thinking exactly? She has mentioned in interviews subsequently that Pataal Bhairavi was a huge embarrassment and a wake-up call for her to shape up or ship out of Bollywood at that stage of her career. Jeetendra is comfortable with the imbecilic level of acting require of him as are the rest of the case especially Kader Khan who revels in such crap. Bappi Lahiri is on auto mode and churning out songs that are long, boring, screeching disco numbers that are instantly forgotten the moment they are over. Only the el cheapo number on Dimple by Salma Agha is slightly catchy though awful but the others are all instantly forgotten which is a mercy in itself.
There are some truly brilliant and memorable moments but far from enough from rescuing this film from turning into the excruciating endurance test that it was. When Kader Khan chops his own arm off to off as a sacrifice, it’s a stupendous scene and his arm seems wonderfully soggy and pulpy. Then using a magic herb the arm is re-attached and as good as new. The terrifying crocodile attack on Jeetendra is also quite inspired.
Later there is a beheading that is quite fun, a few superb fight moves including Shakti, Jeetendra and Manek Irani all flying and hurtling through the air suggesting if the Indian selectors were more astute, the Gold Medal count from future Oh-lumpics ought to be really rather high. Amjad Khan’s little turn as a bombshell tranny is also a moment to savour but it is Silk Smita who smoulders and sizzles like only she can, and in just one item number totally steals the show from under everybody’s envious eyes. True that it’s not that difficult to steal the show when the show is as utterly horrendous as Pataal Bhairavi is. Perhaps the breathtaking moment of inspiration was the dancing giant parrots – arguably the most amazing giant dancing parrots in the history of cinema. In summing up, Pataal Bhairavi is an unbelievably appalling, strictly for die-hards, geeks and masochists. It is hard to imagine there might be people out there who could actually pay to watch 150 minutes of Kader Khan scripted comedy, surely not. That said, an alarmingly high percentage of these very films were hugely successful at the Box Office. In fact as mentioned by a reader, Singhasan was to follow soon after, shot almost simultaneously as Pataal Bhairavi with equally astounding results by the same house of excellence; Padmalaya.