SHAAN (1980)

  • Release Date: 12/12/1980
  • Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Rakhee, Parveen Babi, Shatrughan Sinha, Sunil Dutt, Bindiya Goswami and Kulbhushan Kharbanda
  • Director: Ramesh Sippy
  • Screenplay: Salim-Javed

Shaan was a pretty bad film even by the 1980s masala no-brains potboiler standards. I heard some good things about this film though. Mainly about its classic baddy, Shakaal played with willful madness by Kulbhushan Kharbanda for whom this was a launching pad. But when I watched this film recently for the purposes of this review, I couldn’t find much merit in his act, apart from an uncanny resemblance to Mogambo (Amrish Puri in Mr. India), that came much later but was written by Salim-Javed nevertheless.

The plot of Shaan can be summarized in as much as three sentences. Shakaal is a crime boss who has operations all across India. Shiv Kumar (Sunil Dutt), an uptight police officer marginally disrupts his operations and in retaliation, Shakaal kills him. Shiv Kumar’s brothers played by Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor, with the help of another “tortured by Shakaal” soul Ramesh (Shatrughan Sinha) get to his lair and kill him.

This 3 line plot is stretched to 2 hours and 45 minutes of mind-numbing caricature of a film what is very hard to get on the same page with. Many critics and film-writers have over the years spoken on the visual quality of Shaan, which according to them has been a redeeming factor for all that is lacking in this film in terms of reason, logic, believability or any other cinematic quality that makes a film what it is. I will start off by addressing this very issue.

Yes! Shaan has been shot on a grand scale. The film inculcates elements from Bond films and tries to fuse them into a Hindi blockbuster. There are a large number of wide shots that give us a panoramic view of setups and action sequence. There is a sequence where Shiv Kumar is chased by a large number of dogs let loose on him by Shakaal. This scene is particularly well filmed as we get to see how he is being chased by the dog from a higher angle. The only problem with this sequence lies in the fact that the dogs in this sequence are just about puppies. The close-ups reveal that and the viewer can’t help but laugh at this sequence. You can clearly see them running by wagging their tails something that dogs do when they are happy or excited. The dogs are super cute too. Shakaal’s lair is designed keeping in mind the set up of one of Bond’s biggest adversaries. Earnst Stavro Bloefield. The shark in the background, the animated parlor tricks that Shakaal does before killing his henchmen, the uniform that he wears and his mannerisms are straight out of Bond films.

The action sequences are well shot and very well executed. Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha have the necessary physicality to adapt to these sequences. They bring the kind gusto that is needed to make their respective essays believable. Here too, the visual elements of the action easily over shine the fight choreography. The song and dance routines are elaborate and they also make use of considerable resources that have to be attributed to the visual elements. The film also feels extremely lush and fresh owing to the fact that it is beautifully shot and shot at beautiful locales.

Having said all that, the film fails in almost every other department. The first hour of the film meanders inexcusably as we see how Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor try to woo their respective sweet hearts Parvin Babi and Bindiya Goswami who also happen to be con artists. The amount of time that is spent to set this pointless romance that adds practically nothing to the film except a few songs is criminal.

The film dedicates a whole song and lot of time to a character played by Mazhar Khan (in his debut). He is a pesky informer who also happens to be a cripple. A character of that type would generally be treated with a max of one or two scenes in any other film of Salim-Javed but that’s not the case here. Probably he was juiced up with the production of the film and hence got the unnecessary attention. Power to him! But that results in the audience going through the drudgery of withstanding a character that they don’t want to see. When he first broke out into a song on some horrible green screen with the traffic in the background, I knew what I was getting into.

Post the murder of Shiv Kumar, the film gets to its actual plot point. Shakaal is introduced (a little earlier) and we quickly understand which way he is headed. He is not so much a whisker on a Teja or Samant let alone Gabbar. He is loud, he is unintentionally funny and he does nothing except hollering “shut up” on his men who are already in his awe. He was never threatening and that was essentially the worst thing about him. Kharbanda is a brilliant actor, but this wasn’t his brightest hour.

Another aspect of the film that was alarmingly annoying was the change of mood of the characters. When Shiv Kumar is killed, you feel that the days of wise-crackery and running around trees of his brothers was over. They do spend a scene or two brooding and looking hurt. I was just beginning to think that finally, this film would get serious but I was wrong. The director and the writers (as they took the credit and blame for all their successes and failures) must have thought that so much of sadness would make the audience bored and infused scenes of cringe-worthy chirpy romance. This is done when our men know what they have lost. I was just unable to fathom this part. The scene where Amitabh is waiting for Parveen Babi and flirty-ly chats up another girl before she arrives is easily one of the worst scenes that a film like Shaan in a situation like that could have offered. Everything else that came after that really didn’t matter to me.

Shatrughan Sinha’s character is an unnecessary addition. I really don’t see anything that the film would have lost had he not been there. Maybe it would have been two action sequences short. But that’s about it. His character started from nowhere and went nowhere. There is also practically no chemistry between him and the other two leads. He feels like a sore thumb sticking out in his essay as well as his dynamics with the rest of the cast. I am not even getting into the logic of his proficiency with the weapon.

The three female leads are there just for the show. Rakhee has the meatiest role. She does some old school traditional dramatic stuff that a lady in her position is supposed to do. But that seems to work on her two devars only for as long as they are in her company. The moment they get in the company of their girlfriends they seem to be the chirpiest and happiest and funniest guys around. The other two are there to merely sing and dance and be the arm candies of the protagonists. Coming from Salim- Javed, these were some terribly poor renditions of modern women. Atleast they were a far cry from what Salim-Javed achieved in some of their previous films.

Shaan is a poor film. No matter how good a film is visually, without a coherent plot, affecting performances, intrigue, and drama it is bound to fall flat. The director-writer duo of Ramesh Sippy and Salim-Javed were under pressure to recreate the magic of Sholay, their seminal masterpiece. They also had an inflated budget and worksmen from across the border but what they forgot was the fact that Sholay wasn’t a great film because of its visuals. It was obviously a charming factor. There is no denying that but Sholay was immortalized by its characters, its riveting screenplay that still holds strong and the simmering drama that is bound to get to one and all. Shaan cannot even be called a poor recreation of those features.

Rating : 2/5 (2 out of 5 Stars)

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