The 80s were as painful for Bollywood as they were in the west. And Disco Dancer is 80s Bollywood at its cheesy, campy, nonsensical worst. But it is just so much fun that it’s hard to resist, and that’s why this film – the foremost exemplar of a sub-genre of disco films from that era – is such a cult classic today.
The story almost doesn't matter, but it does draw on some classic Bollywood themes. A young boy, Jimmy, is accused of thievery by a cruel rich man. After his mother takes the fall for him and spends time in prison, Jimmy grows up with a mission to avenge her,
His weapon is disco dancing.
The mean old rich guy's son is a superstar disco dancer (whatever that means) but his attitude problem sends his manager David (Om Puri- really!) looking for new talent. David finds Jimmy (Mithun Chakraborty), and the struggle of good versus evil is underway, to be fought out in dance halls and performances, and also in back alley fisticuffs with meanacing thugs. Jimmy has some demons to overcome before his ultimate triumph - like "guitar phobia!" - and he does so with the power of polyester, flashing lights, and pounding beats.
It is every bit as cheesy as it sounds – but in a film with a name like Disco Dancer, of course the focus has to be on the songs – and these are catchy, even addictive, with deliciously, deliriously awful picturizations. The song that opens the film, "Goron ki na kalon ki," is actually a legitimately good filmi song, and immediately became one of my favorites, featuring an aging but still charming Rajesh Khanna (who reappears toward the end of the film sporting the Worst Toupee in the History of Indian Cinema). There is also an indescribably bad knockoff of "Video Killed the Radio Star," and a moving disco paean to Krishna. But the highlight is the title song, "I Am a Disco Dancer," with its infectious chorus that just makes you want to get up and sing along with Jimmy. You can watch the song by clicking on the link, but I think it must be seen in context to really be fully appreciated.
A comprehensive (though not flattering) review and summary of the film can be found here.