Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood ... I love them all!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Amrapali (1966)

Director: Lekh Tandon
Cast: Sunil Dutt, Vijayanthimala
Genre: historical, drama, romantic
Lenght: 1h:59m.32s

Amrapali is my very own Mughal-E-Azam. It’s a historical romance, it’s epic, the music is beautiful and.. and words fail me – I can’t describe Vijayanthimala’s beauty, dancing and acting. Here the comparison ends, because even though these attributes (doomed love, beautiful and gifted actress...) could be used with MEA too, Amrapali is the one that nestled itself into my heart and left a lasting impression. It reminded me of a fairytale. Maybe it isn’t the best way to describe it, seeing as it was based on true personalities and events. Yet I’m not sure how much ‘authenticity’ remained in the finished product; I’m sure the director changed some events and shaped the story according to his wishes. Either way, does it matter? :)

Not my idea of a romantic hero...
The story takes place in the year 500 BC. Ajatshatru, the mighty emperor of the Magadh kingdom, decides to add Vaishali to his list of conquered territories. He craves power, and it’s also a matter of honour – his father had twice attacked this little state, and he was twice defeated. The King doesn’t heed his general’s warning, nor his mother’s pleas. Of course he regrets it later. He’s injured in the battle, kills some of his pursuers while on the run, and sends his General back into the battle – nobody should learn that he has been hurt and fled the battlefield. He dons the attire of a fallen Vaishali soldier, wanders into enemy territory, only to finally collapse in a temple into the arms of Amrapali.

She doesn’t have the slightest idea that she’s helping her enemy. She asked her good friend, her guru’s son, to bring her Ajatshatru’s head; now she’s helping him to get back on his feet. The courage of this wounded soldier impresses her. Once the King’s in a better shape, he decides to stay in Vaishali and destroy it from within. He starts to put his plans into action with the help of a local minister who’s a loyal servant of Magadh.

But something happens. Amrapali voices her disdain with the court danseuse, claiming her speed is wrong. Now she must convince the onlookers of her truth, or face punishment.

Did you have any doubt? :-) She’s victorious. Everybody is very pleased with her dancing and she’s chosen as the new court dancer. She keeps crossing paths with Ajatshatru and she’s very aware of what she wants – she wants this soldier who refused to tell her his name. She can’t help it, and even though he’s somewhat trying to put some distance between them, he finally succumbs to her charms.

Honestly, he never stood a chance. None.
But it’s only a mater of time before his true identity is revealed and Amrapali will have to face the toughest decision in her life.

Now, I’m not I wasn’t very into oldies. This is the fifth one that I watched. At first it was the dance duel that enticed me, but after a certain point it distracted me how utterly breathtaking Vijayantihmala looked. I mean, it isn't just me, is it?

I can’t even count how many screencaps I‘ve made while watching Amrapali. Not only the heroine, everything else was also very beautiful – the costumes, jewelry, sets, choreography.. Most of the story took place in the dancing hall, Vaishali’s square or some random set made to look like natural setting, but it only helped in creating that ‚oldies‘ feel :) The fights were mostly a slash to the left, another slash to the right, a few elephants, some catapults and lots of cross-fading scenes. The confrontations weren’t graphic and there wasn’t much bloodshed. By the way, those soldiers weren’t extras. That was a real cavalry, requested by the director, and granted by the Ministry of Defence. And seeing as they were consistent with cavalry, even though it wasn’t that shown, you can only imagine how all out the dance sequences are – each and every one a work of art.

Vijayanthimala as Amrapali was a force to reckon with. Almost all of her steps, expressions or the sway of her body were filled with sensuality. I’ve heard of her before as one of the best dancers Bollywood’s had and now I understand why. Her movements just flowed as if on their own accord and she just let herself be led by the rhythm of the music. Have I mentioned how divine she looked? I know, I have, but I can’t stress this enough. :) She didn’t play Amrapali, she became her. A patriot with all her heart and soul, yet still a woman with her wants and needs. It surprised me how bold she was. Ajatshatru gave her the opportunity to move away several times. He even warned her that she’s playing with fire.

You go, girl!
I had to get used to Sunil Dutt at first. It never occurred to me that that bearded, angry and arrogant man would only a few minutes later look so longingly at a young woman. I didn’t know what to make of Ajatshatru. It seemed as though he was using Amrapali for his own needs, yet he was too puzzling in some scenes with her. His ambitions were getting into conflict with his feelings. When he realized that he fell in love, nothing could hold him back. Well, almost nothing..

Even thought the movie was made in 1966, the picture quality was great. It was a nice surprise, seeing as Indian movies tend to look much older than they really are. Sure, there were some moments, especially when the scenes were changing, when the picture would become of a certain colour, or some blurry lines would be visible. The sound was a bit muted and you can tell that the songs were recorded over 40 years ago. But those are only minor complaints. The music itself is lovely. I couldn’t really tell the songs apart at first (the ignorant that I am :D). Rhythmical dancing tunes were followed by melodious ballads about love and longing. I just wish Lata-ji had stopped recording music while her voice sounded like this, so I didn’t have to be exposed to her through Veer-Zaara.

Looks familiar? I'm curious how many of you recognize him :)
It seems everybody involved was as smitten by Vijayanthimala as me, because there’s an abundance of close-up shots of her face. Amrapali was playful and full of life, and sometimes it seemed her exuberance transferred to Ajatshatru. In scenes without her he looked cold and restrained, his posture was rigid and his head held high – in short, he looked like a true king :) I was caught off guard when he smiled sometimes; I don’t find Sunil Dutt particularly attractive, but he had the right charisma to carry this role and the more I saw him, the manlier he became... yes, even with those earrings and dubious haircut :)

If you like classical dances and grand love stories, don’t let this little gem slip through your fingers. It has a gripping plot, it’s gorgeous to look at and there’s even a message. The movie runs only a few seconds short of two hours, so there was no time for unnecessary elements. There’s always something going on. I felt as though I was watching the perfect blend of Mughal-E-Azam and Asoka.

Count me among her fans. ~Le sigh...

Wryly recommended! :)

1 comment:

  1. You have sheer poetry in your words. Beautifully summed up.