Saturday, September 18, 2010

Neetu Singh-Along: Shambhu Dada wants Booty - Chorni (1982)

As I think I've stated before, 1982 was THE YEAR. So many fabulous movies came out in 1982, including (but not limited to) Namak Halal, Disco Dancer, Khud-dhar, Prem Rog, Vidhata, Sanam Teri Kasam, Arth and my personal favorite Bollywood movie EVER - Satte Pe Satta.

Among these was a Neetu Singh gem - Chorni. Chorni was directed by Jyoti Swaroop, who also directed Padosan and worked on the screenplays for Satte Pe Satta and Ram Teri Ganga Maili. It was a unique film in that it was heroine-oriented, which was quite unusual! And what a heroine to center it on, too. Neetu is feisty and tough as the hardened Deepa, who turns to a life of crime after being wrongfully accused of being a thief.

Right off the bat, the fashion is amazing in this movie. The 80s was really a different animal. Immediately we are treated to check-patterned frocks, bold-print shirts (including one on Jalal Agha that is fashioned after the American flag, with a stars and stripes collar!) and exposed chests (with copious chest hair).

Also, Neetu is luminous in this movie. She has those awesome layered bangs that are totally in right now, she wears definitively 80s make-up with drawn-in thick eyebrows, and looks absolutely lush, healthy and glowing. I guess I'm so used to today's pathetic, starved model-turned-actresses that I forgot what a healthy WOMAN looks like. And I love her simple cotton salwar kameezes and lehengas.

Anyway, within the first 6 minutes of the movie we have an attempted rape scene, but I TOLD you, this movie is unique! It's not Shakti Kapoor or Ranjeet! But we KNOW that the guy's evil because of his exposed chest and gold chains. His friend (he of the American Flag shirt) tries to stop Exposed Chest from attacking poor, simple Deepa and in the melee Deepa escapes. She almost drops her earring, but she runs back to grab it and then flees. American Flag Shirt is afraid that they will be in trouble for harassing the servant girl Deepa, so Exposed Chest calls the police and frames her for stealing. Deepa is unceremoniously sent to jail.

When she is released she has no way to support herself, so she goes to notorious goon Shambhu Dada for help and ends up being one of his best pickpockets (I don't really understand why she couldn't pickpocket on her own without giving him a cut, maybe it's a territory thing?). She accepts this as her new life, hardens her heart and sings a song that I start singing every time I think of Neetu Singh:

Eventually she is caught again, and this time brought before the charity-and-social-reform-minded Judge Sinha (played by the fab Dr. Shreeram Lagoo). She's sentenced and sent to a Remand House, and on a subsequent visit there Judge Sinha comes across her again. He sees something in Deepa, something special, some vulnerability. Particularly when she gets in a fight with another girl who has stolen her earrings. He finds out why those earrings are so special to her ... (drumroll) aaaaand we have a "Maa Ki Aakhri Nishani"! The earrings belonged to her mother and are all she has left of her family.

He decides that the best way to reform young people that turn to crime is to consider oneself personally responsible, and to bring them into your home and provide them with a loving environment. So he decides to adopt Deepa, even though he's got a brood of four at home and one son already grown and living away from home.

At Judge Sinha's, Deepa has a hard time fitting in. The younger kids (including Dr. Sinha's own Tiny Tim, Subhash, his disabled nephew) take to Deepa pretty quickly, considering her a breath of fresh air from their stuffy, proper life, but Judge Sinha's wife and and daughter Rani are impatient with Deepa's manners and speech. Rani is quite a caricature by the way. She's your typical "rich bitch" ... snotty mannerisms, speaking in mostly English, wearing Western dresses, etc. Rani and Deepa clash immediately, and rather than share breathing space with Rani, Deepa decides to sleep down in the kitchen on a mat.

She does however befriend Judge Sinha's elderly mother (Leela Mishra), though I'm not sure how since she's blunt and rude to her, as she is to most everyone in the house. I don't remember finding her quite so abraisive when I saw this as a child. Obviously she's the heroine and you're supposed to sympathize with her and find her charming. I must have changed quite a bit though, because I really found her annoyingly ungrateful and unnecessarily argumentative. But I suppose they DO make a point of that in these scenes. In this re-watch though, it made it difficult for me to really like her character.

But SOMEONE does! The Sinha household's eldest son Kishore's school friend Doctor Vikram (Jeetendra) comes by the house often, and he happens to have been a former victim of Deepa's pickpocketing ways. They also clash at first, but eventually settle into a teasing friendship of sorts. He also points out her unnecessarily harsh behavior to her, particularly after her antics in the household cause Mrs. Sinha's blood pressure to rise dangerously high. 

Eventually the eldest Sinha, Kishore (Jalal Agha), comes home and it is him that finally drives Deepa to accept the family as her own. And interestingly, Deepa makes a cup of chai for Kishore with salt instead of sugar to tease him. This cup ends up in Dr. Vikram's hands, and is what brings him to fall in love with Deepa. Brought together by salty chai! Isn't this movie unique?

Kishore encourages Dr. Vikram to tell Deepa his feelings, and arranges for them to meet at a local temple. I found this scene really cute, because Vikram tells her that he comes there for "Shanti" and she immediately thinks he has a girlfriend named Shanti, but then he tells her that he means his "man ka shanti" and that SHE is the one he is interested in. She denies having any feelings for him at first, and then Dr. Vikram decides to pull a Roman Holiday but finding a statue that he can stick his hand in and claim that if he is not telling the truth his hand will be cut off. Since I saw Chorni before I ever saw Roman Holiday, I thought this scene was really cute.

They then consumate their love in your requisite running around trees song sequence:

Their troubles aren't over though. Dr. Vikram is obviously a wealthy, eligible young man and his mummy-dearest (she of the amazingly varied hair lengths) isn't too pleased about him choosing a former pickpocket as his bride.

At a surprise party for Judge Sinha, Deepa gifts an expensive silver set to him. Mrs. Sinha and Witchy Rani accuse Deepa of stealing something from them to afford the silver set, and Dr. Vikram's Mummy also spews some venom about how she probably hasn't kicked her stealing habits. Dr. Vikram runs out, leaving Deepa there in turmoil.

But Judge Sinha notices that Deepa's "Maa ki Aakhri Nishani" are missing, and realizes that she sold her precious earrings to buy him the gift. He marches her right back to where she sold them and buys them back for her. She is so touched she calls him "Papa" and they go home happily.

Meanwhile Witchy Rani's been up to no good. She's dating good ol' Exposed Chest ... yep, the same guy that got Deepa incarcerated in the beginning. He takes her to this super-shady place (where Helen is rocking the house).

Exposed Chest gives Rani roofies and takes her up to his hotel room, where she passes out. He then undresses her and takes compromising photos of her, and blackmails her with the pictures for 1000 rupees. I must say this was a great PSA for me as a child. That idea of being knocked out, stripped and photographed totally haunted me throughout my high school and college days, and totally kept me from ever getting too toasted.

My poor Mom & Sister had to explain this to child-Me. Oy vey.
Anyway Deepa finds Rani crying her eyes out one night and they bond. When Deepa finds out what's happened, she goes and TOTALLY KICKS EXPOSED CHEST'S A$$!!! She totally is AMAZING. And I feel like Neetu Singh is one of the few heroines that can pull off scenes where she beats up guys. She realizes too that this is the guy that screwed up her life pre-Judge Sinha, and gives him an extra good thrashing (I just wanted to use the word "thrashing"). But now of course, Exposed Chest has it in for her.

Then Dr. Vikram's Mummy-Dearest wants him to marry Aruna Irani, who is supposed to be from America and is therefore a boozing, smoking whore fest. Check her out:

I think she's a little over-accessorized. The matching headband AND bow in her hair? The silver belt AND shoes?

Their fabulous solution to this issue is to have Deepa take lessons from the grandmother and Kishore in how to be a lady. Cue Pygmalion scenes of Deepa balancing books on her head and walking, learning how to talk like a lady, etc.  Someone was a bit obsessed with Audrey Hepburn movies during the making of this movie.
The Rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain!

Dr. Vikram loves makeovers. They give him a sense of control in a world filled with chaos.
Dr. Vikram takes her to the club, where he gets all judgy about her moves. I think she's awesome!
 And then to top it all off, they decide to have Deepa pretend to be some foreign princess to get rid of Aruna Irani and convince Dr. Vikram's mom once and for all. They rent some fabulously 80s carpeted ballroom and a bunch of frocked background dancers, as well as a veiled wedding salwar suit. This miraculously works?

So everything's all good now right? Deepa's got a family, a love interest, and manners now.

Soon after, Kishore realizes that he knows Deepa. He recognizes the "Maa Ki Aakhri Nishani"! It turns out Kishore was American Flag Shirt from the beginning! Despite the fact that he was a pretty nice guy and tried to stop Exposed Chest from doing what he did, he feels totally ashamed for what they did to her and flees back to Poona.

Two things also still threaten to destroy Deepa's happiness. One, when she went to beat up Exposed Chest, she failed to retrieve the negatives of the Rani's scandalous pics. Also Shambhu Dada has been released from jail, and he wants Deepa still working for him. He threatens her that if she doesn't steal from Judge Sinha that he'll kill him!

Because I am 12, these subtitles made me snicker ...

Deepa's definitely in trouble! But she DOES have Dr. Vikram and his power of tight white pant suits on her side, as well as her fabulous new BHAIYYA Kishore. But even if she is able to find happiness with her family, will they continue to accuse her everytime something goes missing in this house?

That was the question I was left with folks. As well as how Dr. Vikram fights in pants THAT tight, and how does Rani not have the most massive inferiority complex now that everyone LOVES Deepa and considers her the light of the household? Not to mention that Deepa's mother-in-law is pretty much guaranteed to suck.

Also, for a film that was so heroine-oriented and had such a fabulous, tough female character, it DID suck that at the end she had to be "saved" by the two guys.

But still a fabulous role MADE for a fabulous actress. Chorni is definitely worth the couple of hours. Also to see a slightly hardened, imperfect heroine was pretty unusual. The supporting characters played by Jeetendra, Jalal Agha and Dr. Shreeram Lagoo were fabulous of course, but the star all the way is Neetu as the beautiful and spunky Deepa!

There's tons of fabulous Neetu-Singh Along posts available for viewing on Beth Loves Bollywood's Delicious Links page. Be sure and check them out! Parvarish is next on my list, hopefully I'll get to it before the week is done. And coming up next month, REKHA WEEK October 4-10!


  1. Ooo I love this film! Neetu was so good and too arguementative at times, but it was refreshing how human and vulnerable she made Deepa! Though when I watched it last I wanted to smack Rani and her nasty mum, for being such shrews!

    I think I woke up the neighbourhood from laughing at the booty comment! I too am only 10 years old deespite turning 20 soon and any kinda subtitle like that just reinforces the baccha I still am!

  2. 1) YAY PARVARISH, which is my favorite favoritest 70s film! Oh stop me now before I write pages of comments about how much I like it.

    2) Excellent Clueless reference :)

    3) This sounds wonderful and I'd never even heard of it! Once again I learn a ton from one of your posts.

  3. WO! I must see this! Poor Neetu sleeping on the kitchen floor made me sad. ....And over accessorizing was the bane of the 80s!

    And I think we're all a little 12 year old when Subtitles are involved. ;)