Tahalka—the Review

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Anil Sharma’s “Tahalka” is one of Bollywood’s watershed cinematic achievements, a spy thriller with a strong political subtext that mixes suspense, betrayal, cross-dressing, overacting, phallic symbolism, special effects and pure sensationalism in such an effective way that years later when Tarun Tejpal was looking for a name for a guerrilla newspaper that would ambush the establishment, he could do no better than to pay homage to this genre-bender by naming his rag “Tehelka”.

The movie starts off unlike most Bollywood fare. No frivolousness, no lady dancing in rain in towel ” Tahalka” comes straight to the point. As shots of the Himalayas are shown, a voice over informs us of a land called Dongri-la (a subtle play of words on Shangri-La, James Hilton’s fictional utopia in the Lost Horizon). However this Dongri-La is no idyllic kingdom cause it is controlled by the evil  dictator –Dong [Amrish Puri].

While many experts have analyzed the phallic symbolism inherent in the name “Dong” ( Dong is frequently shown running his fingers rapidly on the strings of a sitar with lusty expressions while semi-clad women dance about him), most film critics agree that the more important subtext here is definitely political. That is Dong is nothing but a surrogate for one-time Chinese supremo “Deng” Xaoping.

Indeed their hypothesis is supported by the voice-over that says, in a passage that is both politically charged and subtly erotic:

Yeh khoobsoorat wadi, yeh baraf se dhaake pahaar, sarhad hain us mulk ki jisse duniyawaale Hindustan ke naam se jaante hain. Aur inke us paar se shuru hoti hain un mulkon ki sahradein jinki hawas ki haad apne sarhadon se nikal kar hindustan ke hadon mein ghusne ki koshish main rahee hai.

Anyone with even an iota of political knowledge, will immediately cotton on to the fact that the country being referred to is China.This is confirmed by the fact that Dong and his cohorts have slit eyes, long “chotis” like the Japanese, elongated moustaches and most importantly talk to each other in Mandarin. Which in this movie is just one line: ” Bum chik bum bum”.

If there is any doubt as to whether Dongri-La is anything but China is quickly dispelled when Dong sings the Chinese Communist terror song “Shom Shom Shom Shomo Shashaaaa” (last heard being sung by the Red Army as the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square) just before executing his enemies.

It is here that the movie’s uniqueness lies. While most Bollywood products in recent years have concentrated on Pakistan-bashing, “Tahalka” trains its guns on the real  national enemy.

Namely Dong and his Himalayan nation the People’s Republic of Dongri-La.

Coming back to the story. Dong rules China sorry Dongri-La with an iron fist —so authoritarian is he that if anyone is sixty seconds late for any appointment he is shot.  His days are spent playing the sitar, plotting to destroy the great nation of India and capturing girls from Hindustan—the voluptuous ones he keeps in his gulaag under mind control where “they do anything he asks them to”. And what does he do to the “other” ones, the ones that do not catch his fancy?

I shall let Dong speak.

In ladkiyon ko bechkar hum dalali bhi naheen kar saakte hain. Inki aankhein, kidneys aur dil nikaalke bazaar mein bech do.

And that’s not all. Just like Saddam Hussein, Dong has an army of clones with whose help he escapes assasination attempts and even personally enters India to kill an Indian general (a waiting-to-die Parikshit Sahani) by shooting him during “National Day” from a gun that is being paraded in front of him, an obvious in-reference to the way Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was killed. And finally, after each act of evil he repeats two lines—which experts agree is the simplest statement of the Marxist philosophy ever conceived.

Uparwala wrong ho sakta hain,
Par Dong kabhi wrong naheen hotaaaaaaaaaaaa……..

In other words: God does not exist. The head of the Communist state is infallible.

Sick and tired of Dong’s attempts to destabilize India, Major Krishna Rao (who has the most awesome lines like “Daanver Karn ke najaayaz aulaad” and “Badalne waale hum cheez naheen, aare hum mard hain, koi kameez naheen” decides to assemble a crack team of  India’s best commandos (Naseeruddin Shah, Javed Jaffrey, Aditya Pancholi and Ekta [famous for her underwear scene in “Awaal Number”]). Their mission: to get into Dongri La, rescue a file that contains a list of all of Dong’s plants in India, rescue Krishna Rao’s daughter who has been captured for mind control and most importantly drive a stake through Dong’s red heart.

India’s best commandos under-cover and in the “cross”-fire

But Major Krishna Rao faces hindrances at each step. Superior officer Brigadier Kapoor (Shammi Kapoor) is unwilling to authorize an operation that is against all international law.  He expresses his opposition often silently with the most subtle of expressions.

Sham-i-Kebab

But the biggest impediment in the path to mission success is that no matter how good the commandos are, noone can break through the Dong’s defense.  Other than  of course ex-major Dharam Singh (played by who else Dharam Paaji). But he has been court martialed and dismissed because of his over-patriotism. Disgraced and despondent, this “ronin” lives his life in Bangkok in a go-go bar where he sings and dances to the 90s hit (reportedly the favorite song of a lady politician of Uttar Pradesh)

Put on the ghunghroo on my feet and watch my deramaaa (as rhymes with hungama)

Main tera…pee jayoongaaaa

Convinced that this mission will enable him to bring back his lost honor, Dharam Singh joins the merry gang of men as they troop through the rough terrain of Himalayas with a “Ho ho” song on their lips, only stopping for small breaks in which Ektaa slips into comfortable wear, gets wet under a waterfall and dances with Aditya Pancholi.

Mission Seduction

Has the pace of the narrative made you breathless already? Wait.  Things are just beginning. As the gang of patriots make their way through Dongri-La, they come face to face with Dong’s minions —–insect man and Captain Synthia. And towering above all of them is a sinister presence, a double-agent who imperils the mission at every step.

Insects in my veins…….Oooh Aaaahhhh

Captain Synthia: the wife of the Abominable Yeti is a Dongri-La agent

As the plot stumbles to a shattering crescendo, revealing layer and layer of twists and red-herrings, the audience sits at the edge of the seat, trying to guess the identity of the “double agent” –a minion of evil who is determined to destroy India at all costs.

Could the “mole” be the leader of the local Dongri-La resistance, King Cow (Prem Chopra) ? If he is so innocent, why does he wear small cow-bell like thingies on his hat?

Could the traitor be Major Krishna Rao’s leg ?Why does the leg keep falling off ? Does it have an agenda of its own? And why does Krishna Rao deliver dialogs and shayris while hopping on one leg?

Could it be Naseeruddin Shah? Why does he dress up as a Mongoloid and do suhagraat with local lass, Captain Jello ke behen Julie ( Pallavi Joshi) when the mission is at a climax? More importantly, by deciding to act in this flick Naseer has sold his soul. Then why not his country?

 

Could Dong’s secret agent  be.. ? Sorry wrong movie.

Can someone tell me what the hell is that above? And why oh why does Dharam sporadically shout out “Haramzaade”, “Pagal kutta”, Haddi pasli ek kar doonga” , often to noone in particular?

Telling you any more about the vicissitudes of the plot would be unfair but I can assure you that you will never see the end coming.  And if somehow you are able to guess the identity of the traitors, what you will never be able to anticipate is a song  “Tere Dil Mein Mere Dil Hain, Eeeaa Eaaaa Ooo” lifted from “Old McDonald Had a Farm”.

A last word. Do please wait till the very end of the movie –if not for the surprise ending but for Dharamendra’s last line where he provides, in the way only he can, a word of advice to all Hindi movie villains through history who have suffered from a strange case of performance anxiety just before the “deed”:

 If you want to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk

Actually I am wrong. That was not the last line. The last line is Dharamendra saying:

Motaa salaa

At that moment I felt as if the director, through the voice of Dharamendra, was speaking directly to me in the process doing that thing great movies do—connect with you emotionally, making you an intrinsic part of its madness.

Unforgettable.

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66 thoughts on “Tahalka—the Review

  1. And a great review to silence those cribbing about the lack of entertainment lately !

    P.S. : Got the movie on youtube and it goes straight to the top of my to-watch list.

  2. Tarun Tejpal was/is the founder-editor of “Tehelka”. Bahal was a journalist who worked on that arms deal sting.

  3. This was one of my favorite movies and had watched it when I was in class IV, memories remain as this is a classic

  4. I second Gaurav!

    Just when I was seriously immersed in such in-depth analysis of this classic I haven’t seen, you disturb my concentration by introducing lines like “Ekta (famous for her underwear scene in “Awaal Number)!”

    Hilarious

  5. A fantastic review. Now I’ve got to see it. And what’s with the iPod? And by the way GB, there is this little typo that you might want to tend to.

    Telling you any more about the vicissitudes of the plot would be unfair but I can assure you that you will never saw the ending coming.

    Cheers

  6. Pingback: GB reviews Takalka : NAACHGAANA

  7. Well, actually author, the line goes something like this…

    “Shoom Shoom Shoom, Shaamo Sha.. Shaaa”

    Sha.. and Shaaa are sung in low notes.

    This is a defining movie of every Indian generation.
    Also, is it really ‘deraaamaaa’ in the song “Put on my ghunghroo on my feet”? As a kid, I first thought it was… ‘tirangaaa’.

    And Naseer didn’t sell his soul here. He did many other ‘deraama’ movies later like Bedardi and Lootere.

    You would laugh even more and slap your thunder thighs if you see this movie. I remember that my friends were impressed with this movie and immensely scared of Amrish Puri. For 10-12 year olds, it was an exercise in the Indian political problems. I am going to write my experiences about this movie sometime… that would feature my neighbour insisting we call him ‘dong’.

  8. An uncle of mine is a huge fan of shammi kapoor and he was really furious with Dharmendra for the last line…absolutely brilliant post which came from nowhere really…2nd photo of kapoor is simply priceless…great work

  9. Arnab, this line,
    “If you want to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”

    …is a direct lift from The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. I don’t know if Anil Sharma realized that he was giving a line from Ugly to his Dharam paaji aka Anil Sharma’s God incarnate.

    Ugly is cornered by some bozo while he is in a bath tub. The bozo starts telling Ugly why he hates him for killing his wife, kids, pet frog and what not. Unbeknownst to bozo Ugly has a gun in the bath tub, just for this situation. He shoots the guy, says the line and goes back to washing his Ugly self.

  10. great review…

    the reference to the ‘wrong movie’ starring yechuri and karat was the best timed one I have seen in quite a while…

  11. Want more- Vishwatma, Loha, Tridev, Lashkar …..
    I think Lashkar was the movie in which Adtitya Pacnholi explodes bomb/granite randomly as he was frustrated with life until he becomes part of Lashkar and then vents his anger in “right direction”…

  12. “In ladkiyon ko bechkar hum dalali bhi naheen kar saakte hain. Inki aankhein, kidneys aur dil nikaalke bazaar mein bech do.”

    Did anyone else read that in Amrish Puri’s voice like I did? Comes very naturally!

    Brilliant. This is now on my must-see list!

  13. Howlarious! The picture of Karat and Yechuri was a masterstroke. On a side note, ‘If you have to shoot…line’ is ‘inspired’ by the ‘When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk’ from the Good,the Bad, and the Ugly.

  14. Couldn’t help out laughing loud in office reading ur post.. awesomest!!
    showing Karat pic just at the right moment.. and saying sorry.. wrong movie.. lovely.. liked it the best..
    n the way u put last words of dharmendra.. motaa saala.. ROTFL!!

  15. बाकी सब तो ठीक है, but please stop spelling singular है as “hain”.

    Remember: hai=singular, hain=plural. e.g.,

    Uparwala wrong ho sakta hai (not hain)

    And uparwala is singular, remember? 🙂

  16. “At that moment I felt as if the director, through the voice of Dharamendra, was speaking directly to me in the process doing that thing great movies do—connect with you emotionally, making you an intrinsic part of its madness.”

    🙂 Its impossible to beat GB!

    And that ‘gun’ seems like an inverted sewer pipe.

  17. Tehelka part two:

    There is a blog world known as Bong-ri-la, ruled by a guy whose favourite line could be:

    Bong kabhi wrong nahin hota…
    A good post, for a nice movie… I still remember it was a hit line in my school, whole of the class singing “shom shom shom shamo shashaaa” to irritate a bald master ji.
    Cheers,
    Nimesh

  18. Off Arnab_da, tumi paaro botey , aar just tumee paaro Guru ! Kothaay duto post aagey loke ekhono comment korche Saudia Arabia tey democracy niye, aar taar modhye:

    “and Ekta [famous for her underwear scene in “Awaal Number”])” 😀

    Kaampiye diyecho Guru! Onek_e onek kotha boleche (post_er quality etc.) , tobey etaa Classic ! Ekebaare Sourav Ganguly style_e 🙂

  19. Damn! It is hilarious and reading this in office is a bad idea….I am leaving it at “they speak in Mandarin which is only one line ‘Bum chik bum bum'”. Going to finish it later.

    Great post, just like the Gunda review. And there is a plethora of such movies in bollywood archives (half of them starring Prabhuji). Once in a while you should dig up such movies, I mean more frequently.

    The post is excellent.

  20. While the whole review is hilarious, this line takes the cake > “Could Dong’s secret agent be.. ? Sorry wrong movie.”

    Lage raho greatbong!

  21. Amazing movie this…There is a scene right at the beginning where dong performs the shraddh of a person before killing him….hilarious…and when naseer,javed and aditya get in the drag….and who can forget dharam paaji…the item number right at the start where the only lines are shom-shom-shom…shonosasa…amazing.

    But inspite of everything,still falls behind the cinematic execellence of Gunda because of the absence of one man..

  22. GB.. Outstanding post. I cant believe u hadn’t seen this classic earlier. The wrong movie serves as the right reason and right time for this post now. BTW where do u find such classics in US? In India you get to watch these masterpieces during primetime on Zee Cinema.

  23. A total eye-opener as I had listed this movie as one of Ten Worst Movies I have ever watched… How the Chinese subtext elevates the message of the film to a different level altogether!
    Brilliant.

  24. Saw it a looooong time ago. I remember the cross-dressing song and the terrace scene. You’re right about Naseeruddinji acting in trash movies…. there are so many of them! But then a man’s got to make a living! How else do you explain Om Puri in “Budda Mar Gaya” and Naseer in movies like “Lahoo Ke Do Rang” (Akshay version).
    Anyway, I humbly request a review of Mithunda’s “Commando”…. pleeeeeeaaaase! Anyone remembers the battalions of Ninjas, a strutting Hemant Birje (Desi Tarzan) and Mithunda’s pop saving Indira Gandhi? And if Eastwood-bhai ever saw the rip-off scenes from “Where Eagles Dare”………

    PS: Talking of Z-movies, anyone seen “Fantasy Mission Force”?

  25. Brought back pleasant memories of school holiays, VCRs and “rented for Rs. 10” video cassettes.

    Actually the film has a pretty good in-joke about Naseer looking like an “art film hero”.

    Other than that, a really campy film which actually has decent action for an early 90s hindi film.

    When I actually saw the commie mascots’ photo, I actually thought you were going to link the film to the farce that happened in Parliament and was imagining MM Singh as Dharmender shaking a leg and madam Sonia in the waterfall. Not to forget Lalu in the drag. Too bad that did not happen.

  26. how about the epic theme song which haunted the viewer throughout the movie…..I believe it went,”Boing Boing Boing..Tttttttahalkaaaaaa!!!!!”

  27. The 80s & the early 90s was THE cheesiest era for Hindi movies. It’s replete with gems like this movie. Do review more of them in future, GB.

  28. By the way, while we are on this subject, have you heard of that movie called ‘Don 2’ – it came out sometime in 89/90 & it’s the only movie I remember which was made just so that it could feature songs from Hasan Jehangir’s superhit pop album ‘Hawa Hawa’.

  29. I was planning to watch “Jaane Tu…” this weekend (yeah, I know, so late), but I have to watch Tehalka now. Your review has peaked my interest too much. 😀

  30. This movie has a priceless line delivered by Naseer at his suhaag raat. Naseer and wife are having their private moment in prison while soldiers guard them outside their room.

    Clearly it is the best time for driving a hole through the wall and making a great escape. But that also means coming up with a ground-breaking reason for the drilling noise.

    Guards pour in and justify why they broke into the couple’s intimate moment

    “Humein deewar todne ki aawazein sunayi de rahi hai”

    Naseer explains coyly

    “arre bhai suhaag raat mein to deewar tutthi hi hai”

  31. The key question has not been answered here — is this Anil Sharma Hindu or Muslim? My father taught me that there are 2 kinds of people — Bengalis, and non-Bengalis. Hence I don’t know anything about the origin of this gentleman. Could you clarify? In the absence of this vital information, I am unable to form any opinion about the article itself. Perhaps you could label all non Bengalis mentioned in your esteemed blog as (M) or (H), to make it easier to form viewpoints. Kindly do consider this valuable suggestion.

  32. GB, I am just curious to know whether you saw this movie now or when you were a kid. I saw this when at school and was blown over (that was the right time and age to see this and get blow over). Immortal dialogues such as ‘Dong kabhi wrong nahi hota’, ‘Shom shom shom samoshasha’ remain part of my growing up years. I thank you for the great tribute to this inspiring classic.

  33. Oh maaan, this brings back memories !! I remember there was a friend of mine who actually saw this movie and Tridev TWICE, just so he could hear Amrish Puri sing !!!!

    …and yes, those two secret agents are definitely the icing on the cake. 🙂

  34. Man I watched this one 17 years ago just for one Kumar Sanu song (yes I am a huge fan). you have compelled me for a re=watch.

  35. Seen this movie when I was kid (in cinema hall)…

    And that background notes
    Dong, Dong Dong… t…ttt..tttt..ttttt Tahalka
    still echo inside me.

    This masterpiece is a true reflection of soul and heart of bollywood.

    And how could you skip that song “Meri chattari ke neeche aaja..” in your review?

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  37. Arnab Da, waiting for a review of ‘Free Entry’. Latest Jewel From Kanti Shah and Bashir Babbar. The video can be downloaded from google videos.

  38. “If he is so innocent, why does he wear small cow-bell like thingies on his hat?”

    ““Tere Dil Mein Mere Dil Hain, Eeeaa Eaaaa Ooo” lifted from “Old McDonald Had a Farm”.”

    OMFG ! ROFL !!! GB Thank you from the bottom of my heart for an awesome laugh.Its been quite some time since I had a bellyful1 of laughter !!

  39. Arnab I just came across this blog while searching through google.It is veryyy good.Am completely hooked to it.I have a request though.Can you please write a review of Clerk(Or as Mahendra Kapoor sings in the movie “Keylerk”).It is a gem and can beat even God’s(mithunda’s) movies in its dialogues.Just imagine Manoj Kumar’s brother telling him “Pani ka bill,bijli ka bill,yeh bill woh bill” and Manoj answers “Bhaiya bill ke liye dil chota mat karo.”It is supossed to be a heart wrenching scene.Classic!!!

  40. Simply superb GB,astounding.
    It used to be one of the movies I loved watching on our VCR when I was a kid.
    And guys, in case you didnt kno…this movie was actually a remake of the Hollywood Blockbuster “The Guns Of Navarone”.

    think about the parallels,you will know it GB.This is a fact.
    I pray to god that Gregory Peck,Anthony King,David Niven and Anthony Qwale do not turn in their graves.
    Were YOU aware of this GB?

  41. Useless Trivia : Tehelka is part of a trilogy with Hukumat and Elan-e-Jung being the other two.

    Also a spiritual spin off : FARISTEY, with Dharam paajee, Vinod Khanna and Rajni (special appearance).

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  44. [i]”And finally, after each act of evil he repeats two lines—which experts agree is the simplest statement of the Marxist philosophy ever conceived.”[i]

    One of the only times I will differ from your hallowed words. The most succint Marxist statement EVER was made when my father tried singing ‘Allah duhai hai’ from Race. What came out was: ‘Allah [i][b]bidai[b][i] hai’.

  45. Um no.A pigtail or “choti” that Dong is wearing is NOT a Japanese hairstyle.The one Dong is wearing is a Manchu pigtail.It wasn’t until the 17th century or so that the Manchu race came into China and forced everyone to wear a pigtail.So when the 1911 revolution came,everyone had to cut them off as symbolic that the foreign Manchu no longer owns China.Interesting fictional country if not for two BIG mistakes which was the father at the beginning giving the Hitler salute and Dong returning the salute Hitler style.For communist countries,doing such a salute to a communist leader is like doing a vulgar sign if we bear in mind Hitler’s anti communist doctrines and invasion of Stalingrad.

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