Saturday, August 28, 2010

SRIDEVIPALOOZA: Glittery Bras and Mermaid Outfits: Masterji (1985)

I never knew that all my favorite Sridevi movies from the early 80s were imports from Tamil/Telugu movies by the same director, K. Raghavendra Rao, until this SRIDEVIPALOOZA project, though I knew from the rustic settings of Himmatwala and Tohfa that they were most likely copies of South Indian movies. But one that I definitely knew was a remake was Masterji (1985) starring Sridevi and Rajesh Khanna, along with the usual suspects of Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Asrani, Aruna Irani, etc. The reason I was aware of this was because it's original, the tamil movie Mundhanai Mudichu (1983) starring K. Bhagyaraj and Urvasi, is one of my long-time favorite movies. Naturally we were excited when they remade it in Hindi, and even more excited when we heard that Sridevi would take on Urvasi's role.

The story is a village tale, far-removed from cities and justice systems. In this setting, everything from crimes to domestic spats, is settled by the "Panchayat" - a council of village elders. The story revolves around Radha (Sridevi), the daughter of the Head of the Village Council (Kader Khan). Radha is impetuous, sassy and rebellious.

She spends her days causing mischief along with her three best friends, who also happen to be three young boys (one played by a kid that pops up VERY often in Hindi Cinema, I call him Raju, and the third being Thavakalai, better known as "Little Superstar" the YouTube sensation). Radha is openly defiant of her father, and even accuses him to his face of having a mistress. Her parents want to marry her off as soon as possible, but Radha has her own ideas about the kind of man she is looking for.

*CLICK HERE* to view the song Dam Kham Wala
While gallavanting about the village, Radha and the boys see a young man get ejected from a bus with his child. They come to find out that he's heading towards their village to meet Radha's father, and eventually find out that he's there to be the new Teacher at the village school. Radha, seeing him busy himself with the baby, assumes that the mother will arrive in town once he's found a home and settled in.

RK wears many fabulous outfits like this one, with copious chest hair exposed
The new Masterji soon becomes the target of Radha and the boys pranks, until Radha finds out that he's a newly widowed man, and is raising the child alone. Radha feels terrible about stealing from him, and apologizes profusely. Masterji covers for Radha with her father, and is very kind to her despite her antics.

Radha is shocked to find out Masterji is widowed
We quickly realize how good of a man Masterji is. In his classroom, a child is revealed to be severly abused by his stepmother. Masterji is very upset by this, and clearly thinks that he should never remarry because he doesn't want to risk his baby ever being abused by a second mother. His mother-in-law arrives to visit and urges him to marry his dead wife's younger sister so that the child can have a mother, but he refuses, saying that he alone will be both mother and father to the child.

Also when the abused child is tied up by goons and his stepmother does nothing to save him, Masterji steps in to do some dishoom-dishoom and save him. In doing so, he gets a good whack to the head and passes out in Radha's arms, getting some blood on her chest. Radha gets all swooney about this, and goes into this very psychadelic dream song.

*CLICK HERE* to watch the song "Jab Tanhai Mein Do Badan"
Much like many of the South Indian import songs of this age, there some sort of prop-motif going on. In this case, it's umbrellas.

Rajesh Khanna struggles through the very limited dance moves they put in there, but is looking like a dapper fatherly sort of dude. Sri looks gorgeous in the supremely sparkly, sequins, 80s-tastic dresses, but there is a sort of light missing in her eyes? Did anyone else feel this when they watched her in this song? The Sri spark that's so evident in her other performances is somehow flat here. I remember reading tons of Stardust articles back in the day about Rajesh Khanna and his ... ahem, interactions with his female co-stars. I can't help but wonder if something went down that wasn't too kosher for the Sri during the filming of this song. But she still looks stunning, especially in the green Little Mermaid type outfit.
Move over Ariel.
 There are several side plots woven throughout. One being a totally unnecessary battle between a blackfaced (gahhh!) Shakti Kapoor and Asrani the priest for the heart of Aruna Irani (a flower seller). Masterji also campaigns to have another teacher brought into the village to teach the elderly folk reading and writing, which is met with scorn UNTIL the beautiful, young female teacher (played by Anita Raj) comes to town. Suddenly everyone's signing up for Adult Ed and humming Hot for Teacher.

Radha, seeing Masterji's hard working nature and kindness, is totally charmed and decides she is going to marry him. She proposes, which he brushes off rudely and without much serious thought. She approaches him again and again and he continues to reject her. Meanwhile her little friends fill her head with the idea that Masterji is cozying up with the sexy new teacher in town.

This is Radha's worst nightmare. Cootchie-cooing and chalkboard hearts
 When she refuses to believe it, the kids decide to demonstrate for her what they are doing - in the HIGHLY disturbing song "Galon Par Yeh Kaise Nishaan". The sets for their dream rendezvous include life-size cutouts of famous Indian lovers, tons of instruments and a tota (parrot).

*CLICK HERE* to view the song "Galon Par Yeh Kaise Nishan"

Also, Anita Raj is wearing shortie-shorts and pink fringey boots. A rose plays the guitar, apples play the tabla and her hair plays the sitar. It's all in all a very WEIRD sequence. It ends very symbolically with grapes falling into goblets of milk (or very cloudy water). I have NO IDEA what that means.

Pink fringey boots!
Also highly disturbing is this sequence ... apparently the KIDS are describing all of this to Radha. What is up with these kids' fantasies???

Anita Raj goes behind a screen to undress ...
...and toss her silver glittery bra on the tabla?
 So Radha decides it's time for drastic measures. She carefully tells the kids to pretend that she's said she was going to kill herself, and they bring Masterji running to stop her. They also arrange for the whole village, including the Panchayat to arrive on the scene. When everyone has assembled, Radha claims that she has lost her innocence, and when her family urges her to confess who she's sinned with, she points directly at who?

The next scene is very well done, although it's obviously far better in the Tamil original. Set to a score of heavy drums, the entire village is shown arguing with Masterji and Radha, fingers being pointed, Masterji having a mangalsutra thrust at him and her mother pleading at his feet for him to marry her daughter and save them from shame. I felt my gut twist a little for Masterji when they showed his mother-in-law and sister-in-law arrive on the scene and leave immediately after finding out what was going on.

Eventually the drums stop and Masterji lays his baby on the ground. He states to the crowd that he will agree to marry Radha IF she steps over the child and thereby swears on the child's life that what she's saying is true. Radha is shocked and afraid, but everyone pushes her, saying that if what's she's saying is the truth then she should go ahead and swear on the child. In a dramatic slow-motion scene, Radha does the horrible deed and steps over the child, swearing that her lies are true.

Now there is no other option for Masterji. He ties the mangalsutra on her and she moves in to his home, but that he doesn't mean he has to like it. No he absolutely doesn't accept Radha, no matter what she does. And she does a lot to try and get him to accept her, including a hilarious episode where she tries making an entire meal with drumsticks (vegetable) which is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures. This leads to a lot of ... ahem ... *discomfort* for Masterji that night, and Radha makes it worse by singing the awful and inappropriate "Aankhen to Kholo Swami". The highlight of this song is the baby in the swami costume.

*CLICK HERE* to watch "Aankhen To Kholo Swami"
From there, the couples goes through a series of melodramatic events, some bringing them together, some driving them apart. With all of the lies and anger that Masterji feels, and with all the fear for his child's future driving him, will it be possible for him to forgive Radha. Can Radha find a way into his heart? And how far will Radha have to go to prove to Masterji that she will love his child as her own and never ill-treat him as a stepchild? And can they squeeze in a few more dishoom-dishoom scenes? Will Rajesh Khanna spend the entire movie looking bewildered about what he's doing in it?

It's difficult not to view this movie without comparing it to it's Tamil original, which is definitely superior. K. Bhagyaraj's Masterji is much funnier and more pathetic, so you definitely feel sorry for him throughout the film. And Urvasi's Parimala is incredibly innocent as compared to Sridevi's cheeky Radha. In fact, Radha's character overall is not likeable. She's spoiled, selfish, arrogant and disrespectful. Yet somehow with all those character flaws and despite the EXTREMELY messed up way she lied to get what she wanted (which bites her in the a$$ later), Sridevi gets you to root for Radha. The overall environment has a distinct South Indian feel. The overtly sexual innuendos and situations seem more ... vulgar ... somehow, in the Hindi version. And Thavakalai, who obviously could not be replaced or recast, has great difficulty with dialogue delivery in Hindi and his lines don't have the natural humor that they did in Tamil (he's still awesome though).

I'd still recommend it for the funny moments. And though Sridevi's performance overall isn't as convincing as Urvasi's (which I attribute to script/direction and not her abilities), she still managed to get me a bit choked up in certain scenes. And look at how gorgeous she is!

Though SRIDEVIPALOOZA ended on August 20th, there are still a few entries trickling in, so check out our Delicious and Tumblr links to stay updated!

Also we're all in preparation for Neetu Singh-Along! organized by Beth Loves Bollywood, A Fairy Filmi Ending, and Totally Filmi. I've got my Neetu movies all set, so I hope you will check back in between September 13th and 20th for a plethora of Neetu-pyar.


  1. I'm not sure I would make it past Radha's horrible lies! I _hate_ when movies set up independent-minded women and then have them be foolish, selfish, etc (though of course we all know people like that). In fact, as I was reading your summary, I thought "Whaaaaat?" when they went ahead with the marriage. Sounds very ethically uncomfortable :)

    On the other hand, Temple had told me about the song where someone's bra plays tabla, and while this song did not quite match my mental image, it is still pleasingly crazy. Rajesh Khanna really squicked me out with all his upper thigh-grabbing and thrusting. Urk.

  2. Beth - you are totally right about hating what Radha did ... it's completely inexcusable. And I am frustrated with the morals in this tale. Somehow Urvasi's 'Parimala' in the tamil version is more innocently selfish ... you seriously believe she doesn't realize the far-reaching consequences of her actions. Not that it makes it ok, it definitely doesn't. But she somewhat pays for it in the course of the story, particularly when the child's life is in danger and her lies are brought out in the open.

    And yes, OMG, that song! Craziness. I've heard some interesting stories about his behavior with co-stars, this couldn't have been fun for Sridevi OR Anita Raj.

  3. I came here looking for Anita Raj's images. I'm so glad I found this blog. This post took me back to the late 1980s when I had bunked my saturday school extra classes to watch this movie, morning show screening at Alankar cinema, in Delhi. We were not allowed to see many movies those days, hence I graduated to bollywood rather late in life(only in my college days). Since then I have been watching and collecting all sorts of hindi movies, visiting old obscure shops to buy vhs, cds and dvds of rare movies. I'm not a very big fan of mainstream movies, Masterji is one of my favorite ones for obvious reasons. I do have the TNT vcd of the movie(the same one where your screen shots come from). I hope someday they do bring out a proper dvd of this, and many other, bollywood movies which are till now only available in low quality vcds.

    You write quite well. I wish I could write as well. There is also a Telugu version of this movie named Moodu Mullu. The Anita Raj 'WIERD' sequence song was one of the highlights of the movie. Incidentally this sequence was a repeat of the same sequence enacted by Sridevi in the Telugu film Vajrayudham (1985). Both sequence make a nice comparison. You can watch the Sridevi sequence at I find the Anita Raj one better.

    Hope to read more of your blog(and many interesting bollywood blogs that you follow)

    -Vijay Kapoor (my bollywood name)