Thursday, October 14, 2010

Seven Deadly Films: My Favourite Thrillers

Depending on where you are looking from, the number of movies in the thriller genre can be surprisingly high or depressingly low.
There are so many stories around the hero looking for a tell-tale sign that will reveal his parent’s killer. In fact, three of Ajit’s iconic films – Kalicharan, Zanjeer and Yaadon ki Baraat – had him identified as the elusive killer with a distinguishing mark right from th start and the only suspense was how the mark would be discovered by the hero.
There have also been several films that have a ‘detective’ in the lead role (title role, even) but his sleuthing is more-often-than-not obscured in tomfoolery and gadgetry. Try Do Jasoos and Badshah respectively.

My list consists of films that get as close to a true-blue murder mystery as possible. Barring some minor diversions – brilliant songs that need to be accommodated, star comedians who need to be given screen time and romantic sub-plots that need to be woven in – all of them have a gruesome crime, an interesting investigation and a gripping climax, which have thrown up a suitably ingenious criminal.

Without any further ado, here are my Seven Deadly Films…

Jewel Thief
There were no murders in this film… but then, the title told you that already. A police commissioner’s wastrel son is an expert in gems and his boss’ daughter. All is hunky dory till he gets mistaken as the notorious jewel thief. The two look identical – except for an extra toe – and a deadly game of mistaken identities start. To clear his name, the man decides to infiltrate the jewel thief’s den and all hell breaks loose.
The thriller format is embellished by the many red herrings, some cool locales, rocking cinematography and some very strong cameos. Songs are usually a hindrance in a thriller but here they actually manage to give the taut film some much-needed breathers. Of course, it helps that this is probably SD Burman’s strongest soundtrack.

Teesri Manzil
The film opens with a hysterical woman falling to her death from the teesri manzil of a hotel. Just before the fall, she was banging on the doors of the hotel’s handsome singer on whom she had a crush. Her sister suspects that she was driven to her death – murder? suicide? – by the singer and lands up to teach him a lesson. She meets a funny guy. The funny guy meets a prince. The prince meets a cabaret dancer. The dancer meets a reticent waiter. The waiter meets a detective. Nobody is what it seems. Not even the victim.
You will go crazy keeping track of the brilliant songs and the decoys the film throws up. That’s RD Burman and Vijay Anand on creative hyper-drive… Get out of their way and enjoy!

In the melodious world of Bollywood, a songless film is bit of a novelty. More so, when the entire cast consists of just two lead players and a few mysterious cameos. And when the protagonist is the chocolate-boy King of Hearts, playing a psycho convict – the film is unique by all standards. An escaped convict barges into the house of a lone woman and holds her hostage. There is a manhunt for the convict and sundry surprises keep happening as the two play a cat-and-mouse game. The twists keep piling up and nothing ends the way it started as.

Khel Khel Mein
The film starts off as a college romance with frothy songs and hockey matches. But then, there is an innocent prank to extort money that goes horribly wrong. There is crooked twist involving a dead jeweler, a typewriter with a crooked letter, lots of people with crooked ideas and the only thing straight is the moustache of the mysterious guy in the overcoat!
A couple of youngsters with guitars are usually enough to get RD all excited and composing great songs. That those youngsters have death staring them in the face is a minor blip geniuses don't bother with.

The classical whodunit features a dysfunctional group in a closed location, where people get murdered one by one. The best ones usually have the most nondescript or the most suspicious characters getting knocked off first. Imagine this group as a Bollywood film crew in a remote location. Add to that professional jealousy, sexual tensions and over-the-top psychosis usually associated with a Bollywood shoot, you wouldn’t have required a detective at all. But this film had that as well, not to mention a sleepwalker!
After Sazaye Maut, this was Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s second thriller and it totally rocked.

Two hunks married to two babes, vacationing in Mauritius is a perfect setting for the advertised plot of the movie – wife-swapping. But if mystery plots were given away in posters & promos, filmmakers deserve to die starving. One babe gets killed, the other hunk gets accused and you have a standard-issue Abbas-Mustan mystery thriller. Weaving its way through hit songs and headachey comedy tracks, the plot zips from India to Switzerland to Mauritius to Switzerland to a Singapore as alibis, lives and hearts get made and destroyed.
And by the way, there is a bit of wife-swapping in the movie. Go figure!

It started off as a love story, with the usual song-and-dance routines. It threatened to become a love triangle and nobody would have noticed it if it had ended like that. None of the three leading actors were of any consequence at the point of time anyway. But then, the suitor killed off his fiancee’s uncle in a fit of rage. He didn’t seem that sort but everybody else had watertight alibis. The court-case was about to end predictably when a strange twist emerged. The twist was cool enough to be replicated - with appropriate credits - in a film called Johnny Gaddar nearly three decades later.
One of the three leading actors went on to rule Bollywood in the coming decades. Seeing the film now, that twist is the easiest one to figure out.

That’s it? Missed out some obvious ones, didn’t I?

UPDATED TO ADD: Though horror is not always mysterious - at least, definitely not in the Bollywood context but all of you MUST read Aditi Sen on Bollywood horror films (in all four parts). And like a true connoisseur, she not only talks about the Ramsays but Mohan Bhakhri as well!


bitsofchocolate said...

The basic premise of Ittefaq was somewhat replicated in RGV's Kaun - which is a decent thriller in its own light.

Most of Abbas-Mustan's movies fall under the "Thriller" genre - Khiladi, Gupt, even Humraaz

Anonymous said...

Johnny gaddar, even if it replicated the parwana twist, should be on this list.

specially when ajnabee makes the cut (everybody who watched the song trailer of "mehbooba mehbooba" could almost guess the whole story), IMHO.

Aniruddha said...

Need to work on this list now...

Was rooting for Gumnaam though...

Yayaver said...

I was also rooting for 'Gumnaam' !

Abhishek Mukherjee, BSc MStat said...

Ittefaq possibly remains the best Bollywood thriller till date. I think a few others deserve a mention:
1. Woh Kaun Thi (you had definitely missed this, you could not have left it out on purpose).
2. Samay (a slightly less popular movie, but Sushmita was brilliant, and the storyline was exceptional by Bollywood standards; if it's an original, I would be surprised; the first half was especially breathtaking, as was why the movie was named so).
3. Chocolate (this one had The Usual Suspects, Anil Kapoor and Irrfan, pulling off some genuinely impressive performances).
4. Naqaab (Akshaye Khanna and Bobby Deol in a movie with a surprising twist; it's not a whodunit; it's more of a watwasdun).
5. Makdee probably doesn't count; but if it counts it's possibly one of the best; Shabana was fantastic, and Shweta Prasad did a very impressive job.
6. And then, there's always Pushpak.
7. I didn't like Dhund (Navin Nishchol, Sanjay Khan, Zeenat Aman, Danny Denzongpa) a lot, but some people rate it quite highly.
8. Many years ago I saw Baharon ki Manzil on Doordarshan, and was genuinely impressed.

Abhishek Mukherjee, BSc MStat said...

A couple more:
1. B R Chopra's Kanoon, vaguely based on Rashomon, but with an entirely different storyline.
2. Teesra Kaun (okayish in general, but gets a bonus point for the sheer co-existence of Mithun and Amol Palekar)

PS: Whenever I watch Ittefaq I get reminded of Saradindu's Bohni-Potongo (বহ্নি-পতঙ্গ).

Abhishek Mukherjee, BSc MStat said...

Just remembered another one that was quite decent: The Stoneman Murders. Can anyone confirm that the tantrik's voice in the end is the same as the Police Commissioner's?

Aneela Z said...

mera saaya

Indrayan said...

I thought there were a few notable omissions in the above list.
I would have loved if the following were added.
1. Shart - a movie about friendship, betrayal in a thriller format starring the better actors like Naseeruddin, Shabana, Kanwaljeet while Sarika added to the glamour quotient
2. Aitbaar – Almost a frame by frame copy of Dial M for Murder but it still remains one the better thrillers by Hindi movie standards. But then Ajnabee is also just another copy.
3. Plot no 5 – Had watched this one long back on Doordarshan and had loved the plot

When it comes to S.D Burman, I personally think Guide was his best soundtrack - better than Jewel Thief. But then it is a personal choice.
In the current genre I think Shriram Raghavan handles the thriller / mystery format really well – in a more slick yet elegant way compared to Abbas - Mastan

Would now look forward to your Hollywood list of thrillers.

Abhishek Mukherjee, BSc MStat said...

Indrayan, Guide is my personal favourite as well. Can you throw some light on Plot No. 5? I mean, Uttam Kumar, Amjad Khan and Amol Palekar definitely make one of the weirdest combinations in the history of the industry.

On that note, Maharathi was such a waste of resources! I mean, it takes some effort to do something less than excellent when you get Naseeruddin, Om Puri, Boman Irani and Paresh Rawal to act together.

Being Cyrus, if it qualifies as a thriller at all, is another brilliantly made movie.

Indrayan said...

@Abhishek - Plot no 5 is one of Uttam Kumar's better works in Bombay in addition to Kitab. Throughout this murder mystery he remains wheel chair bound and is like a surprise package. Like Ittefaq, this film did not have any songs but had superb background music by Salil Choudhury. And who would have thought Amjad Khan as a detective in a suspense movie that was directed smartly.

Thanks for reminding me of Being Cyrus which indeed was a good thriller of recent times.

Divesh said...

You can't leave Gumnaam out of this list!!

Lalit said...

Dipta since you are the repository of all knowledge on matters entertainment, can you help me remember the ancient TV serial on DD 20-25 years back in which a couple (perhaps javed jaffery and neena gupta or one of them) steps out on their motorcycle to tour India. it was a multi part serial. Was its name Bharat ki Khoj (not to be confused with Bharat ek Khoj.
Thanks in advance.

Plaban Mohanty said...

@Abhishek: Samay is loosely based on 'Seven' and of course it is brilliant. I think all of you have covered all the well known movies in the thriller genre.

But my personal fav has to be Khamosh for the sheer conflicts among the characters which gave it a thrid dimension, brilliant movie. Indrayan thanks for reminding Shart and Aitbaar.

But the deadliest of all suspense thriller was DRONA, audiences still in the shock that it was Super Hero movie...

Abhishek Mukherjee, BSc MStat said...

Indrayan, I cannot buy, download or watch online Plot No. 5 from anywhere. The only website that sells the movie is, where it's out of stock.

Alok said...

Thanks a lot for the list. I watched 4 of these over the weekend. Had a real good time.

Any pointers where can i get plot no 5, Shart and Kanoon online - buy, download or watch, anything will do.

Abhishek Mukherjee, BSc MStat said...

Kanoon and Shart VCDs and/or DVDs (original) are available in the market. Just browse through the usual shops in any Indian city.

I desperately need Plot No. 5, though. A Hindi thriller with Amjad Khan as a sleuth and Uttam Kumar in it, well...

Anonymous said...

aditisen @ blogspot has written a terrific series on Indian horror movies.

Lalit said...

aditisen @ blogspot has written a terrific series on Indian horror movies.

Diptakirti Chaudhuri said...

Wah - what a discussion!

Plot No. 5 was available for sale here - - but is now 'Out of Stock'.

@Lalit - Aditi Sen's posts are terrific. Thanks. But no idea/memory of your TV serial.

Anonymous said...

Ek Ruka Huwa Faisla......though a telefilm (I think)would in my mind be among the Top of this Chart.

Tollywood said...

Keep it up Mr.Blogger.
post latest updates.
Thanks for share.

Bishwanath Ghosh said...

There was also this little-known film called Inkaar -- Vinod Khanna and Vidya Sinha and Amjad Khan. I liked it.

Nikhil Rajadhyaksha said...

For the above people who wanted PLOT no 5 ----> its available on youtube .