March 20, 2008


Title: Baazi
Year: 1951
Cast: Dev Anand, Geeta Bali, Kalpana Kartik, KN Singh.

A prime example of Bollywood noir, Baazi is popularly hailed as Guru Dutt's 1st movie as director, and the 2nd production for Dev Anand and Navketan Films. While viewing, we must recall that the now clich├ęd story line was then among the first of its kind, addressing urban crime, and the "good guy gone bad" routine. What is worth a "dekho" are Guru Dutt's camera angles, some of which we will try to bring to your attention via screencaps.

The movie opens with a car stopping in a small side street- a man alights and quickly enters a random building, out side of which a lookout of the gambler's den he is entering sits- the lookout turns around- and we catch Guru Dutt in his Hitchcockian fleeting appearance in the movie.

Inside the small-time gambler's den, the game is afoot, and we now catch sight of a young and sprightly Johnny Walker, who is one of the gamblers and will appear only in 2 scenes in this movie....

Pedro (the guy from the car) huddles close to the game being played on the floor- Madan (Dev Anand) carelessly smokes (you can play a drinking game to the number of time he and others light up in this movie- 2 shots for every time Dev is seen w/ a cigarette, 1 for any bad guy, 1 for any good guy :) )

Madan is a really good at his game, and Pedro invites him to Star Club, an upscale casino, where his job would be to literally cheat customers on behalf of the management. Madan isn’t particularly enthusiastic, but Pedro drags him over regardless, to meet the "boss," but not before another cigarette...

At the Star, Lena (Geeta Bali) is shaking things up as a dancer and singer- she gets the best songs of the movie, and she certainly looks rather adorable here..

Madan is thus tempted w/ drink and our seductress, and then is marched off to meet the boss, who operates from the shadows...(he is smoking too! 1 shot!)

Of course, even though we can’t see his face, we know from his voice, that this is none other than KN Singh, who always strikes fear in my heart :D Madan refuses to join the racket and walks away from Star, and lands home to find his sister sick again.

He takes off to the community clinic, where he finds a new doctor has taken charge- it is Rajni, a very young Kalpana Kartik, who of course argues w/ Madan at first sight, in the tradition of all good Bollywood movies.

She manages to look really silly honestly, and I am not very impressed w/ either her looks or acting skills- Geeta Bali was tons better.

Despite all of Madan's- frankly idiocy, Rajni visits his sister for free, and diagnoses tuberculosis (the killer disease of the time- equivalent to "blood cancer" in 80's Bollywood).

Of course sparks then fly, and we see that Madan and Rajni are getting interested in each other as he borrows a car to drop her home.

However, between a rock and a hard place now, Madan takes up the job at Star- and becomes a jerk! For no apparent reason explained in the plot, he begins to ridicule Rajani at her clinic.

As he becomes a pro gambler at the Star, Lena develops a soft corner for him, and we continue to adore her, as she sways to "Tadbir se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer."

While Madan behaves like a jerk, Rajni is courted (unsuccessfully) by a cop, Ramesh (Krishan Dhawan, who played cop roles forever after this one)- we see some great camera work as Madan continues to smoke,

and Rajni drops Ramesh and kidnaps Madan (really!) for a quick song and dance-

They obviously make up, and go off to visit Madan's sister in the sanatorium Rajni has placed her at. They run into Rajni's dad (KN Singh) there, whose voice Madan recognizes as that of Star's shadowy boss, but keeps mum.

On their way back, KN Singh kicks out Madan, whom he does not want to associate w/ Rajni (why? a card-sharper son-in-law would help business along just fine).

Ramesh in the meantime, is suspicious of racketeering at Star, and calls Madan over to share (what else?) a cigarette and some kindly advice to turn good....

In the meantime, KN decides to have Madan killed off- Lena overhears his nefarious plans, and sings the lovely "Suno Gajar Kya Gaaye," as the attraction that evening- damn I love this song!

Madan puffs away with Pedro while the plot grows thicker-

Lena follows Madan to wherever he is at, and in true Bollywood style, takes the bullet meant for him, dying pathetically in his arms.

Instead of getting killing himself, Madan is implicated for Lena’s murder and thrown in jail.

He vigorously denies any involvement, until a very drunk Johnny Walker is thrown into his cell...turns out Johnny isn’t really drunk, but has been sent by KN to Madan with a letter.

The letter basically says that KN will bump off Madan's sister if he doesn’t accept the crime as his. So of course, when Rajni comes by (the sympathetic cop (remember Ramesh?) has called her in to meet Madan), he asks her to leave, and confesses to Lena’s murder.

Ramesh is a good guy, and goes basically nuts by Madan's confession- he knows Madan is lying, and tells him so, aided by the fact that all evidence at the crime scene disagrees w/ Madan's words. Madan continues to behave like an ass and doesn’t cooperate, to the extent that he is tried by the court and sentenced to hang.

Madan languishes in jail, Rajani sings sad songs at home, and only Ramesh is still out there, trying to make sense of it all (notice the window shot again- oh Mr. Dutt- I like, I like)-

The day of the hanging is here (that was quick), and barely an hour is left to go- this is where the movie stops making sense. Ramesh finds a notepad on which the letter to Madan was written, threatening him. The impression from the pen on the letter is readable, and Ramesh quickly reads through it.

Looks like KN handwrote it, and implicated himself- wth- you'd think a successful casino boss would have more sense- but whatever. Apparently the letter itself isn’t proof enough, and so Ramesh rushes to KN's house- its late, and KN is asleep in his chair. Ramesh wakes him in a few minutes, and tells him he has found out that KN falsely implicated Madan for Lena’s murder. Ramesh also congratulates him and convinces him that he is with KN in the whole deal, since Madan's death could mean his finally getting Rajni.

KN warms up to his prospective son-in-law, and confesses the entire deal, in complete detail....
And he is immediately surrounded by police, who have been eavesdropping on the whole conversation...KN goes to jail.

Madan is fine, since Ramesh had set the clock in KN's house an hour back when KN was asleep (where were the hired help? why did no one see him??). Madan does serve a light sentence for racketeering at Star. Ironically, when he is released, before he hugs Rajni, he accepts (what else?) a cigarette from Ramesh.


The best songs go to Geeta Bali rather than Kalpana, the heroine! Which is fine by me, since Ms Bali has tons more charisma than the latter.

1- Dev's hair has a life of its own! I llllovve it!
2- While the theme wasn't uncommon, Dutt's treatment was excellent- the movie kept me engrossed throughout. Plus the interesting shots- a lot of actors look through windows at various points of he movie with the camera capturing them from outsside; a lot of shots of people driving in a car - this was supposedly very new technique at the time, and inspired a lot of movies to do the same.

1- Don’t like Dutt's attitude towards women- they are always so meek- the dying Meena Kumari in "Pyasa", and Madhubala as the shrew who must be tamed in "Mr & Mrs 55"- here we have Rajni who is a qualified, gutsy doctor, but as meek as a lamb in front of her racketeering dad- she doesnt move a muscle to save her incarcerated boyfriend, and seems to forget work completely when they are separated- she sits around and weeps and cries in a rocker in her garden :S Lena serves no better- as the moll, she is delegated to writhe seductively (for that time), but typically, is too impure to live the length of the movie :S. Very frustrating.

2- Whyyy did they get Kalpana? She can barely act, and is absolutely spineless, with not a shred of charisma.

3- Childishly, I wish they had shown Ramesh get together with Madan's sister- then we'd have everyone paired off neatly :D

Trivia (tons of it in this one):
1- Geeta Bali: wife of Shammi Kapoor, and aunt of Yogita Bali (who made some movies in the 70s before marrying Mithun- that makes Mithun Shammi, Raj and Shashi's son-in-law cousin)!!! Gosh, seems like everyone is related to everyone else in Bollywood.

2- Dev Anand's real name was Dev Dutt (no relation to Guru Dutt). He is maternal uncle to Shekhar Kapur, and father-in-law to Navin Nischol (actor from the 70s) and Parikshit Sahni (A TV actor whose dad, Balraj Sahni was a brilliant actor of the 50s-70s, and who also co-wrote Baazi- his only screenplay ever). Both the daughters divorced the men in question though. Aagh! I'm getting dizzy!
3- This was Kalpana Kartik's debut movie, and she only acted in Dev's movies from then on until they married in 1954. Makes sense.

4- This was Zohra Sehgal's 1st movie as a choreographer- she had acted in Afsar (1950) before this. Her real name was Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan- an aristocrat from a U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) Pathan family, and one of the few college educated women of the day.

5- This was Johnny Walker's debut as well (original name: Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi). A bus conductor with the Bombay local buses, he was "discovered" by Balraj Sahni, who was helping Guru Dutt write Baazi at the time.

6- This was Sahir Ludhiyanvi's 2nd movie as lyricist (there is a misconception that this was his debut vehicle too)- ironically, Sahir died in the 80s of a heart attack during a "baazi" (game of chance) of cards.


Anonymous said...

And Pedro is played by one of my favorite character actors---Rashid Khan. He appeared in a lot of Dev Anand's films, also Shammi's :-)

And Geeta Bali is just....fabulous.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

True- Navketan actually "introduced" him in "Afsar"- I've seen him around, but for some reason, I remember him most from Guide.

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Banno said...

Great. "Tadbeer se" is one of my favouritest songs. Must see the film. Am going to see "Jewel Thief" today.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Jewel Thief is probably my fav Dev movie ever! Cant wait to see what you think of it. When Dev did something right, he manged to do it great :) If only someone else would play Vaijanti's part in the movie, It'd b close to perfect :D

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thanks to your narrative and the screenshots, I feel like I've seen the movie! Albeit in filmstrip form... :)

This sounds like a movie I would like. I'm a big fan of American Noir (who isn't?), and would be interested to see another cultural take on it. I know that in the old Bogart and Cagney movies, the hero also often acted like a jerk around women--especially if the story was based on something by Mickey Spillane.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

The fugly heroine, all the smoking- it was a movie made for screen caps!

What you say makes sense- it may be that they got overenthusiastic in their attempt to do noir right, and so got "jerky." Dutt certainly got the hats, overcoats and smoking down :)

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