February 24, 2011

Prapanch Paash/A Throw of Dice (1929)

Title: Prapancha Pash/A Throw of Dice
Year: 1929
Cast: Renee Smith/Sita Devi, Himanshu Rai, Charu Roy.

I stumbled on this gem of a movie, and have been wanting to share for a while now- was prompted to do so asap when Memsaab shared its predecessor, "The Light of Asia." Of course, she has written about this one earlier as well!

Renee is the daughter of a hermit/medicine man/educator played by Sarada Gupta. Sarada used to be King Charu's teacher, but left his kingdom disgusted when he saw Charu spend all his time gambling with dice with another king, played by Himanshu Rai.
Well too bad, because Charu and Himanshu have just come to Sarada's jungle to hunt a bit, and gamble some more. The scenery is amazing here, beautifully shot.
Himanshu's evil, and has his henchman shoot Charu when he isn't looking. I empathize; Charu is super ugly and supremely slimy, and makes me want to retch. I'd want to shoot him too.
Sita and her dad jump to the rescue, while Himanshu forever maligns himself before Sita by flirting AND more or less revealing his intentions re: Charu. Strangely, Renee continues to be quite a exhibitionist in these earlier scenes- I really don't see the point of it.
Sita and her dad nurse Charu back to health,which somehow encourages Charu to flirt with Sita, which she reciprocates (whu????),
and before you could blink they are in love!
His recovery does not sit well with Himanshu, who is kept informed by runners (riding in front of Jaigarh fort, in case you care) ...
...but he ostensibly makes a visit back to see Charu.
He and his trusted henchman have already decided on another plan, and when Charu and Renee/Sita elope, Himanshu has Sita's dad murdered and Charu's belongings planted there.
Meanwhile, the happy couple is having a good time, but Himanshu has evidence presented before Renee that makes Charu appear to be her dad's killer.. and so she leaves him... for Himanshu's court! Now Himanshu's court seems to be pretty cool- its been shot in the Jaipur City palace, and features lots of acrobats and even fire-eaters- fun!Himanshu quickly has his henchman murdered so that Renee may never know that he was behind everything,...too bad, because Charu's well-meaning minister has already decided to get her back to Charu. He lets her know the truth and sneaks her back... So we are all ready for Charu and Renee's wedding! The local handicrafts-men also get busy prepping... these are really beautiful scenes to watch.Its the day of the wedding, and Renee is being made up..... but no- Himanshu fools Charu into one last game of dice on the morning of the wedding itself, so much so that Charu is late for his own wedding... Interstingly, both Charu's and Himanshu's palaces were shot at the Jaipur City palace- its easy to identify; I am surprised Franz didn't decide otherwise. Ah well.Himanshu has been playing with loaded dice, so of course, Charu loses, and becomes slave to Himanshu, who also captures Renee. And its the minister back to the rescue! His little son (who is truly adorable- wait, he must be an adorable 80 year old now). The minister figures out that the dice were loaded, and informs the entire populace of the kingdom, as well as Charu. So Charu gathers an army double quick, and rushes off to Himanshu, who is now incidentally shooting again at Jaigarh fort. The surroundings are fab.So what will happen?
Will Himanshu have his way with Renee and Charu's kingdom?
Will Charu sing "slave for you" forever? or will he defeat Himanshu mano-a-mano?
Will justice prevail???????????????????
You can fairly easily find a copy of Prapanch Pash, and find out! Meanwhile, here are helpful hints :D
  1. The movie's title in English is "A Throw of Dice," which is interesting, since the literal translation of the Indian title is "Earthly/worldly ties."
  2. I really enjoyed Himanshu Rai in this- his evil is so palpable, so real, that one doesn't need dialogue to understand it. Subtle, yet menacing.
  3. Charu Roy is so OILY! his hair seems to drip oil, and he has a really slimy way of smiling at Renee, who is very very cute. I strongly suspect he was dazzled by Renee's beauty, and was trying very hard to ingratiate himself before her- at least it looks like that on screen. Yup, I'm not nice.
  4. As much as I'm anti Franz Osten's politics, one cannot deny his brilliance at his work. For the first half of the movie, I could not believe that this was truly a movie made in the 1920s. The movie is shot beautifully, not on sound stages like the norm of the times, but in and around the palaces of Jaipur, Rajasthan. I don't believe the city has ever looked better. Truly amazing vision, and it was fun to try to ID all the locations.
  5. Since this is a silent movie, the British composer Nitin Sawhney was hired to add a background score. I don't like it. The music is too incongruous for me- it jarrs at various points during the movie, and soothes when it should do anything but.


bollyviewer said...

It is very hard for me to imagine an old Bollywood film with no songs! Lack of songs probably makes this a lot shorter than your average Hindi film.

The cinematography is stunning! I really do need to get this one, if only to see Himanshu Rai and the lovely locales.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Bollyviewer: Absolutely- while watching, I kept thinking how much of a loss it is that none of us have seen enough of Himanshu- such a brilliant actor! the running is only about 1.25 hours, but its sufficient, and the tale is told well. I think you wll like this!

Anonymous said...

I've been wanting to see this ever since I came across it on Amazon! But laziness combined with the thought of the high shipping fees one pays to get stuff shipped to India... okay, I AM going to order this next time friends or family are coming home from the US. Thank you for the review - the cinematography looks startlingly crisp and clear, by the way. I'd never have imagined this film was so old.

gebruss said...

This was the first Indian movie I ever saw, about 15 years ago, when my university showed a selection of silent movies on balmy (well mostly, one viewing was spend huddled under umbrellas) summer nights in the court yard with live music. It was very impressive, though I remember the picture as more grainy than it looks in your screencaps.

Mette said...

You do know that Franz Osten is a German, right?
But as I haven't seen the movie, I can't say if I'm proud :).

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Dustedoff: If you do not mind piracy, it is downloadable on various sites. On the legit route, there may be used copies available too on and off amazon. I think they remastered /restored the movie fabulously prior to its 2007 re-release, which is a huge service to all of us!

Gebruss: Thats a great 1st Indian movie to watch (my 1st was Mahabali Hanuman (1981), which was- different)! I think you'd like the remastered version- theyve done a beautiful job, but the music may not compare to what you experienced.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Limette: Yep I do! Ive also heard that Franz had Nazi sympathies, which is why I wrote that I dont have sympathy with his politics. Whatever his other ambitions may have been, he did have undeniable talent. I didnt realize you were German, which I confirmed by quickly visitng ur blog :) adding u to my blogroll too.

Bollybeat Crew said...

Hey I really love your blog and I hope you can take a look at mine. www.bollybeat.blogspot.com
You guys are on my blogroll!!

memsaab said...

I have never heard that Osten had Nazi sympathies. In any case he spent much of WWII in prison in India mostly I think just because he was German :)

I love this film, and the score too...and I thought Charu was handsome! :) Different strokes! Charu was the one who did the costume design for Light of Asia, too. A man of many talents.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Bollybeat Crew: Thanks!

Memsaab: Rofl- I cant help but giggle at our diametrically opposing reactions to Charu :D Its good- makes him more talked about (by 2 ppl) :D Everytime he romanced Renee on screen, I kept wishing someone would rush in to rescue her. Re: Franz- I know ive read somthing online about it- didnt save it though, which is my bad...