I love masala films. People may call them bloated or trash or a melodramatic collage of disjointed scenes full of song and dance setpieces. However I have grown up on them and am fond of them however contrived and illogical they may turn up to be.
When I was around seven years old, there were no film channels. Doordarshan had a monopoly over the airwaves. Our evenings were spent watching “Aamchi Maati Aamchi Maansa” and when we were lucky, “Giant Robot”. There were no multiplexes. Theatres were supposed to be occupied by the rowdies and we were forbidden from going there (My first film on theatre was Sholay in a matinee show…post on that later). You can say that watching films during my early years was tough.
In 1989, my father bought home a VCR (no CD players then). This machine bought the movies to our homes. Of course Doordarshan used to show films every Saturday and Sunday. However they were mostly old films of the 60s and 70s. Through the VCR, we could see movies that had just released (then there was no funda of films being released on CD/video cassette after the theatre run had ended.). The first movie we saw on the VCR is the one which I have chosen to start this small series on my favourite masala Hindi flicks – Tridev.
The story of the film is the basic heroes fighting against the evil smuggler flick with some twists. The film opens with a dramatic voice over by Naseeruddin Shah. “Naseer who” was my question to the parents. “Arre he is a famous art film actor”, was their response. I was to know later that Mr. Shah is one of the greatest actors with some of the finest films in his repertoire. But for a seven year old, he was just the good looking, well built dude with an awesome moustache. Once the credits roll we are introduced to the main villain (the late great Amrish Puri at his menancing best) conveniently sharing with his henchmen (and us) the mission statement and key objectives of Bhujang and Co. The best masala films are those which are easy to understand. We are supposed to leave our brains at homes, you see (or if you are watching on VCR, shut them off) and just enjoy.
Then we have the entry of the “1st Dev”, Sunny Deol. This was Sunny in his pre “dhaai kilo ka haath” phase when he was known as just a good looking action star and not the “One Man Army with the glass shattering voice pitch” that he is considered now. Hence, here we mercifully have Deol with the decibel level down. Deol throws his punch in the first scene itself showing us all that he is an incorruptible police officer. Cue celebrations over his bravery where we are introduced to the Police Commissioner, Deol’s judge father (who you know is going to get conked off), other sundry family characters and the love interest (Madhuri Dixit before her “Numero Uno” phase). We then have the entry of the 2nd Dev – Jackie Shroff (when he was handsome and bereft of a double chin). Here the film slightly deviates from the pattern giving Shroff an anti hero persona making his character very interesting (of course, the character straightens out in the second half. It is a masala film!!). Shroff is shown as the black sheep with his father, the Commissioner (Anupam Kher) disapproving of him. Introductions of the main characters (bar the 3rd Dev) over, the film goes into auto mode with the hero fighting against the smugglers catching one of them (Dalip Tahil as the phirangi) and taking him into court. However, the smuggler has an ace up his sleeve. He frames the poor chap and makes it seem like he is the rotten one!! To top it off, he makes his father pass the judgement. To top that top off, he gets the dad killed with us having to endure the scene of Sunny paji crying holding dear daddy’s feet as he “hangs” in there (atrocious pun. Sorry).
Poor Sunny paji is transferred to a small village. Cue entry of the 3rd Dev (Naseeruddin Shah). He is the “gaon ka chaila” who woos an actress shooting in their village (Sonam. How many remember her?) and gets a bit part in the film wherein he sings the legendary song “Oye Oye”. I remember the craze that song created. Pity the song was a rip off of a Gloria Estefan song. However, there was no cable TV and the chori was no “pakdofied”.
Anyways, Dev No. 1 and 3 clash over a supposed crime. Sunny Paji gets to know of Oye boy’s innocence. Oye man’s father was a freedom fighter turned school master (ahh, that old masala film symbol of morals) who was killed by a dacoit who turns out to be our smuggler (Inexplicable coincidence No.1!!). The two become chums. However, how could a masala film go on without causing more misery for our heroes. Sunny paji is woken up mid sleep by the goons of Bhujang led by, shock, gasp, Dev No. 2!! They proceed to tie him up and burn his house (why cannot they just shoot him up and then burn the house?). Dev No. 2 throws a knife at Dev No. 1 giving him a way to escape (and us the hint that he ain’t bad after all). By the way Dev No. 2 became part of Bhujang’s gang after saving his brother. There he is united with his love interest (Mrs. Azharuddin now, Sangeeta Bijlani then) who has her own agenda. Anyways, Oye boy thinking his friend being dead goes to Mumbai to take revenge (without knowing who killed his chum. Our heroes do not plan ahead). However Sunny paji cannot be killed (this was true even then) He also promises himself (and us) to wreak vengeance. Interval!! Till now, your brain is spinning with so much happening that you just cannot think. Hence the phrase “Leave your brains out”.
In Mumbai, Oye boy runs into who else, but the actress (In a city of millions, for such an improbable thing to happen, you gotta be in Bollywood universe). He is appointed as her bodyguard by her politician father (another masala film symbol – but of corruption) who is a close firend of, shock, gasp, Bhujang (Inexplicable coincidence no. 2). Sunny paji meanwhile becomes a cabbie (how he arranged for a cab and a taxi driver permit when he is supposedly dead is something which should not be asked). Sunny paji does wreck vengeance and leads to the villains getting miserable this time. An action masala film is always about misery. In the first half the good guys are miserable. In the second half, the baddies get miserable. He meets Jackie in one of his misery inducing mission while a Ms. Azharuddin item song is going on (kids, before Shilpa Shetty came on to loot UP and Bihar in Shool, it was the duty of the heroines to shake their booty thereby creating some major continuity issues. In the pre climax song, we have Madhuri madam dancing in skimpy attire while she is clad in Punjabi dresses all this while in the movie. Very inconsistent. Par kya kare, janta ki demand hai).
Jackie explains to Sunny (and us) that he is eating Bhujang and Co. from the inside and they both join hands. The baddies are almost bankrupted by these two and have to resort to looting a bank. There they are engaged by the twosome in a shootout. Present in the bank is Oye boy and his actress. Nasserji had overheard the robbery scheme and is out to show the actress the “kaali kartoot” of her would be husband (well, she is engaged to one of Bhujang’s son against her wishes.). Why Naseerji would want to put her life at risk just to prove a point is not to be asked. In the shootout, Bhujang’s bachcha is killed and a disconsolate Bhujang sets up a meeting with Sunnyji. There all the secrets are revealed to everyone but us (since we already know them). The 3 Devs finally meet up together. Bhujang though thinks up a dastardly scheme wherein he gets the Devs arrested (through the politician) and kidnaps the Commissioner (remember him?) and his troop. The scene is set for the Dev – cop transfer i.e. the climax. The aforementioned item song plays out and meanwhile the Devs escape. It is a good strategy of the director to have the story progress even while the song goes on. That way, no time for the audience to even contemplate thinking.
Cue the climax. Fighting starts. Sunny paji on a horse. Jackie on a bike. Naseer with a dastardly sword. From where they collected these items is a mystery. Three against the entire Bhujang and Co. Still you have the good boys winning. because the villains suffer from the climax syndrome. Their aim goes bonkers with the heroes dodging even the close range shots. They forget to attack the good guys together. They basically through their actions yell “aa Bail mujhe maar!!”. Which the goodies proceed to do. In the end we have Bhujang being punched by our 3 Gods while the Naseer voiceover bellows. The baddie is put out of is misery. The end.
While full of loopholes, coincidences and inconsistencies, Tridev is a real fun watch. The pace is fast and the film has a sleek look. It was supposed to be one of the slickest films produced till then. The acting by the cast was serviceable. The three main leads were good in that they actually made you care for them. Naseeruddin Shah in his first corny role (he had played the lead in an earlier masala film,Jalwa but that was more a Hollywood style film with him having to show some real acting chops) For a seven year old kid like me who was not yet exposed to the marvel that was the Terminator films, Tridev remained the benchmark against which all the other action films were judged. Well, until I saw the film I would talk about in the next installment of this, the filmy series.