Maha Badmaash is a 1977 masala extravaganza that's kind of bad, but also kind of amazing. When a film begins with some rather unfunny, yet simultaneously ludicrous anti-black racism (with the "African" in question being an Indian actor in blackface) I was ready to hate-watch the damn thing, but then the film proceeds to become a Vinod Khanna & Neetu Singh swimwear catalogue photo shoot, tops that up with the most ridiculous villainous plot I've seen in a while, and gives me Neetu Singh's version of Seeta aur Geeta. First I'm conflicted, then I'm completely charmed.
There's so much goodness in such a dumb wrapping, yet I can't pretend I didn't enjoy all of it.
So - big bad Mogambo, a villain who prefers to remain unseen, comes to Hindustan, and blackmails the local crook Ratan (Vinod Khanna) into his nefarious plans, with the help of Pinky (Neetu Singh), who's also being forced into a life of crime because her dad is being held hostage by Mogambo. Unbeknownst to Ratan, however, there is another plot happening - Pinky gets replaced by her twin Seema in contact lenses, all to take down Mogambo once and for all.
Like Gaddaar, this was initially recommended to me by Beth, and based on some other things I read about online I thought this movie would be a pretty dumb masala flick, which it certainly is, but hot damn how it makes up for the lack of wit and complexity with gallons upon gallons of pure fun. Admittedly, you may have to be biased towards the two leads to be able to relish in the fun. Vinod is a blast here, but Neetu particularly, from the flirty and brash Pinky to the (literally) blue-eyed Seema. It's not a very subtle performance, but it's also not as over-the-top as I expected.
Plus her chemistry with Vinod, as either character, is so precious.
And with gun-wielding hijinks, too? What more could you hope for? Gratuitous swimwear?
Got you covered right there, as well.
Of course, there is that all-important context for everything - a cheeseball plot in which they train for the big mission by having Ratan stay underwater for ridiculous amounts of time, and then for him to stay in ice-cold temperatures for another long stretch of time. Because mission. The ice training in particular was special. The choice to just cut between the trainers' shocked faces as various meters are going up or down or whatever, meters, who cares, made for a truly memorable scene.
Meters! Oh my god!
And then there's Mogambo's lair, which is a truly futuristic piece of set design. Doktor Kaligari called, you know, just to say hi.
There are a number of other awesome things, such as:
1. Neetu's cuteness.
2. The fight choreographer pulling out all the damn stops in the final fight sequence. Head-scissors take-down!
3. Vinod dealing with it.
4. Seriously, though, the swimwear...
5. Everything about this screenshot.
6. Twin goodness. Better yet, twin goodness with Neetu Singh!
Also, as sillydumb as this movie is, the female characters are kind of on fire here. Besides Neetu, there is a sort of airheaded, yet kind of perceptive Reena (Bindu), whose dad owns the hotel they're cooped up in throughout most of the movie. She is the only person who figures out the twin confusion before anybody else. Then there's this lady:
There isn't really all that much to say about Maha Badmaash in terms of plot or characters, because it's all pretty flimsy. Yet there's a certain sort of B-movie style charm to all the proceedings, the funky 70's sets and music and style, the undenial chemistry between the leads, the typical tropes (family lost and found for the twin sisters), the gross baddies and all the rest of it. Or maybe I'm just really deeply biased towards Vinod & Neetu cuteness.
It could very well be just that.