Red Rose—The Review

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[Has spoilers]

Winston Churchill had once said about Russia, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.

The Red Rose, (a scene-by-scene remake of a Kamal Hassan and Sridevi Tamil movie) is a Russia, wrapped in Russia, inside a Russia, so convoluted and complex it is, with its nested riddles, mysteries and enigmas.

Is Red Rose, with its themes of  perversion, voyeurism, gratuitous gore, sexuality, verdant chest-hair and mammaries (only Om Shivpuri’s is shown) , an Indianized tribute to the Japanese pinku eiga or the Hong Kong Cat III or the Giallo genre of Italy?

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Is Red Rose about random props that prop up at random places? A naked bust of a woman on the table of the CEO. A gigantic mermaid. A rotatory telephone that lets out orgasmic dial-tones. A creepy musical cigarette case. An entrance to a house shaped like the mouth of a lion. A blood-eating pussy cat. A knife stand stocked with the murderer’s knives  but which has Love One Another written on it. A library full of “waisi kitabein” (the kind that makes Rajesh Khanna’s wife played by Poonam Dhillon go teee-heee) that include books with names like “Sex Energy”. A snarling lion-toy controlled by a remote controller connected to the toy by a wire.

Is Red Rose an alternate history re-imagining of Rajesh Khanna’s Anand, since Rajesh Khanna’s character here is named Anand, a serial killer who records his acts of sex and violence on film and then writes down details on the walls, which is about as much of an anti-matter opposite as you can imagine of the happy-go-lucky terminally ill Anand, one a lover of life and the other an angel of death?

Is Red Rose about brassieres? In one of the film’s opening sequences, a servant-boy goes into Rajesh Khanna’s bedroom. The first thing he sees is a black pussy (cat) and a discarded brassiere, lying on Rajesh Khanna’s bed. Rajesh Khanna (Anand) is there too with covers drawn over his bare-torso enough to reveal an abundance of lush black chest vegetation. The viewer immediately wonders whose bra it is, given that there is no woman on the bed.  Is the bra then the pussy-cat’s which might imply that Rajesh Khanna had a night of passionate loving with Minerva MacGonagall, whose animagus all Harry Potter fans will recall is a pussy cat? Before your mind can solve the origin of the bra, the camera focuses on it again, as well as the servant boy’s aroused eyes, leaving you in no doubt as to that bra being a rather significant element of the sequence.

Indeed it is. The bra is one of the “hooks” of the plot. As we find out later, a young Rajesh Khanna (played by Master Mayur) was also a servant-boy whose menial duties included, among other things, the rather onerous duties of washing the bra of the daughter of the house, something he did with much diligence as the camera did not hesitate to point out through multiple close-ups. One day when Master Mayur and the aforementioned “daughter of the house” were together in the house, she happened to get a glimpse of Mayur’s legs made wet by his washing of clothes. Thrown into paroxysms of lip-biting lust, she invited the innocent Mayur (to be Anand aka Rajesh Khanna) inside the house, greeted him with her blouse undone and the bra hooks revealed, and then proceeded to outrage his modesty. Except that when her parents burst into the room unawares she blamed Mayur for molesting her. He was beaten and then kicked out. From them on, the image of the girl turning around with her bra revealed is seared into his mind, and it is this that fuels a murderous rage whenever something (usually a wanton woman) triggers that memory.  It is worth mentioning in this context that in his secret room of horrors, he keeps a rack full of bras though it is not explicitly mentioned if they belong to the women he has murdered or are just part of Om Shivpuri’s wardrobe. Were there any more bras? Oh yes. In a 5 second comic sequence, Keshto Mukherjee goes to a shop to buy bras.

Is Red Rose about the undergarment cotton industry in general? In an age when bras were not “lingerie” but un-glamorous white receptacles  with seams as prominent as a Kokkaburra balls, Red Rose glamorizes them in a way that makes one suspect surrogate advertising.  And it’s not just bras. It’s also baniyans and rumaals. Much of the movie’s action is set in a garments shop called Roopsagar Clothing Store where Rajesh Khanna randomly ambles in and starts asking for random things from random saleswomen.

From one (Aruna Irani), he asks for baniyans while reminding the saleslady that he will only buy a baniyaan “jispe koi daag na ho” (i.e. a baniyaan with no stain). Critics are divided on whether that is an insidious reference to Rajesh Khanna’s hit movie Daag or merely a commentary on the sorry state of the garment industry where soiled baniyaans were packaged and sold as new.

From the other, Shardaa (Poonam Dhillon), he asks for handkerchiefs. Of course he doesn’t just ask for them, he harasses her, like louts harass air attendants, making her unfold reams of rumaals before he buys exactly one, while all the time ogling her all over. This apparently is what passes off for serial killer romance as well as for cleverly advertising of bras, baniyaans and rumaals.

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Is Red Rose about Rajesh Khanna? In 1980, when this film was released, the superstar was well past his sell-by-date. In his heydays, he was all about head-shakes and romance, with sex entering into the picture only when Sharmila Tagore got into a towel. Here he is sexified, and in supreme scenery-chewing form, alternately romantic and lustful, pathetic and evil, breaking frequently into an English accent that would make Richard Burton go “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar”, and making no secret of the fact that he is hungry and it’s not for chicken roll. As he says once while romancing a lady, “Jee chahta hai aaj raat hum tumhe kha jaayein”. (My mind desires that I eat you). Whether it be dressed in a white shirt with red polka dots and matching white trousers, making him look an enormous loaf of horny bread, or a leather ensemble with dark shades, or brandishing a handkerchief with an image of a pussy-cat, Rajesh Khanna radiates an animal magnetism that is so severe “Red Rose” should carry surgeon general’s warning “Viewing this may give you spontaneous orgasms”.

And yet, and this is where Rajesh Khanna’s acting is supreme, he is most vulnerable even though he is a serial killer. When while showing Shardaa(Poonam Dhillon)  his “games room” he says “Main khelta hoon aapne aap ke saath” (I play with myself), it is difficult not to empathize with such a loathsome character, so powerful is Khanna’s craft.

Is Red Rose about religion? Rajesh Khanna repeatedly mocks the virginal Poonam Dhillons idols and temples, which shows that he may be even worse than a serial killer. He may be an atheist. (I am guessing this is the Kamal Hassan influence). The profusion of apples in different sequences, for example Rajesh Khanna gives prisoners apples as gifts and apples lie next to his bed, hint at original sin, and the skeleton that is found in  his room of horrors, might (and I didn’t look that quickly) be missing a rib, further strengthening the metaphor of Adam and Eve (Eve being produced from a rib of Adam).

Finally is Red Rose about ossified misogyny? No I am not just talking about Anand (Rajesh Khanna’s) ceaseless sexual harassment of his subordinates and of saleswomen, which somehow the women find dreadfully arousing.

I am talking about the deeper subtexts, which would make Gunda’s “Badshah ki behen ho ya fakir ki beti, ek na ek din zaroor aati hai mard ke neeche bajane ko seeti” look like a work by Gloria Steinem.

One of the main theses of Red Rose is that women today desire too much independence and bad things will happen to them as a result. As a matter of fact, a character says exactly that, namely that women have too much independence and the Rajesh Khanna character says that the fault is not theirs but society’s.

Indeed this message can be found in multiple mini-arcs within the overall narrative.

Woman character one. She smokes, she drinks, she says she wants to live life on her own terms, she uses her pendant like a hypnotist’s amulet to draw attention to her cleavage, she talks “smartly” back to her boss, she shows attitude, she wears Western dress.

Status at end of movie: Dead. Stabbed with butter knife.

Woman character two. She flirts with handsome men who come into her shop, dreams of snaring one, wears Western dress,  is the owner of racy English paperbacks (Harold Robbins’s Never Love a Stranger) and goes on a date with a stranger.

Status at end of movie: Dead. Stabbed with butter knife.

Woman character three. After escaping from the house of the woman-with-a-bra who had falsely accused Mayur (little Rajesh Khanna) of rape,(strange coincidence: she also used to read racy English paperbacks), our innocent hero finds refuge in the home of a kindly seth (Satyen Kappu) and his wife. Now the wife is all lovey-dovey and pativrata when the seth is around, but the moment he leaves in a Pan Am flight, she morphs into a slightly, well more than slightly, corpulent version of Savita Bhabhi where the curved lines are the wrong way round. In a scene that perhaps crystallized the moral perfidy like no other, little Rajesh Khanna is reading a book aloud, the lines being Sati aur savitri jaisi pativrata narion ke karan humare sanskriti ujjwal hai, when maaji, the seth‘s wife, comes in with a male friend. Both are drunk, both are talking in something that sounds like English, and as maaji totters along, anchal adrift, she giggles “Darling, do I look like a mother?” when little Rajesh Khanna addresses her as maaji. Then before the boy’s shocked eyes, she disappears into the bedroom  upstairs with paraya mard.

Status at end of movie: Dead. Stabbed with butter knife.

Woman character four. Sharda (Poonam Dhillon) works as a salesgirl in a store selling hankies. She looks demurely down whenever a man talks to her. While she does get coaxed into reading a racy English paperback (Harold Robbins) by her soon-to-be-dead fellow sales associate, she returns it unfinished, presumably offended by its lascivious contents. She falls in love with a customer who comes every day to harass her. When her beau, tries to kiss her, she repels his advances with a coy “shaadi ke pahele aap laxmanrekha ko paar naheen kar sakte”. (Before marriage, you cannot cross the line of control). At one point of time she says her only aim in life is to sit at the feet of her husband. And she doesn’t just say it to say it. After her husband Rajesh Khanna is revealed to be a sadist-murderer who was planning to record their conjugal couplings and her subsequent murder and give the tape to Satyen Kappu, the mad Seth, to derive carnal pleasure from, she still visits him in jail, brings him food, keeps the sindoor in maang, and remains madly in love.

Status at end of movie: Alive.

So friends, watch Red Rose at your own peril. It is not for the weak-hearted and the easily-offended.

It will shake your core beliefs, tie your mind in knots, and force you, like Rajesh Khanna in the movie, to scream:

You idiot, damn you.

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20 thoughts on “Red Rose—The Review

  1. I remember watching it when in school and my head started paining trying to make sense of all the goings on. I was still young and innocent enough to believe that there was some purpose behind all the seemingly random happenings and it was just that I was not mature enough to connect the dots!!
    Thank you GB for putting me out of my misery. – it was balderdash then and remains balderdash now. That is 3 hours of my life I will never get back.
    I suppose Rajesh Khanna only did for to emulate Kamal Hassan. But while Tamil original managed to pull it off, the bollywood remake was just painful.

    But hold the press – Wikepedia tells us the movie was remade in Japanese, Russian and Telegu!!

  2. Red Rose is a ‘milestone’ movie in rajesh khanna’s career just like how Gunda is to Mithunda…also a career deining movie for master mayur, who finally ‘came of ages’ after this movie and stopped doing child roles as this movie made him a ‘man’…..satyen kappu and om shivpuri are the most underrated ham-actors of our times…..whattay film !!

    the only thing mildly good about red rose is 2 RD Burman songs which are again not his greatest but just because the film is at some other level, the songs stand out.

    all in all an epic film ..a film which needs to be passed on from one generation to other…also this is one movie which is crying for a remake with new interpretations for this generation starring maybe SRK as only he can justify the psychotic killer role …

  3. IMO, desconstructing a Kaka movie is a futile exercise. One enjoys it solely for Kishore Kumar – RDB songs. Just listen to the opening “santoor” strings in “Kiski Sadayein” – Total paisa vasool

  4. But you didnt decipher the end of the blouse unhooking scene, where the innocent Mayur is getting punched on his back by the his maalik, as he looks at the “daughter of the house” making silent gestures with her left ugly toe by moving it left and right and left and right. What was that about? :)

  5. The movie made me look at bras in an entire new light. Satyen Kappu was brilliant here, in fact, I should see this one again.

  6. The kind of article that got me hooked on to RTDM. But you know what Arnab- if I had seen the Jeetendra post in the beginning, I probably would not have visited your blog again. Glad you didn’t do GIFs back then.

  7. Well written. I watched it as part of my late night curriculum broadcasted by local channel wallah. Turned out to be a absolute waste compared to Jain TV Saturday nights.

    I had this impression that first scene of the movie had Kaka beating up an eve teaser with a radio antenna that he pulled out of his sleeve, only to take the damsel in distress for his own amusement.

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