Not all masala is created equal. There is masala with a message - Amar Akbar Anthony comes to mind - where there is a bit of social commentary baked into the fluffy cake of wild stunts, dashes of romance, comedic disguises, and over-the-top misanthropic villains. And then there is masala that invites you to check your brain at the door and just come along for a wackadoodle ride. Ashanti ("unrest") is that kind of masala.
Bhishm Bahadur Singh (Amrish Puri), scion of maharajas, is bitter that he is merely rich, and no longer royalty. He vows to undermine law and order, sowing chaos and unrest to take his revenge against the democratic society that dethroned him. To carry out this plan he engineers a counterfeiting operation and a string of bank robberies executed by his son Ramesh. Police inspector Kumar (Rajesh Khanna) is framed and sent to prison by Ramesh. Released from prison some years later, Kumar hunts Ramesh down, only to lose his leg in their violent confrontation. Plotting his revenge, he collects three young women - Kamini (Shabana Azmi), Sunita (Parveen Babi), and Sonia (Zeenat Aman) - all of whom have been terribly and violently wronged by Bhishm Bahadur Singh and Ramesh's gang. He trains them in combat and surveillance, and with the help of the spirited bootlegger Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty), they set to work tracking down the villains and seeing that justice is done.
As with many light-on-substance films, though, the pleasure of Ashanti is not in the intricacies of the plot - it's in the grab-bag of masala elements and over-the-top moments. Ashanti puts its filmi touch on its Charlie's Angels-inspired setup. Kumar and his three angels solemnize their vow of revenge in a temple in a kind of 4-way wedding. The angels get up to wild disguised comedy antics as they carry out their plan. And in the scenes leading up to the climax, they naturally perform a jaunty song to con their way into Bahadur Singh's palace. To Ashanti's great credit, as well, it's very satisfying that the girls get to kick some serious ass in the movie's wacky fight scenes.
The angels aren't the only ones who contribute to the parade of memorable masala moments that make Ashanti thoroughly paisa vasool. Shankar has a big gay shirtless fight with Bob Christo, and a truly terrific drunk song with Sunita. A sweaty Bahadur Singh proves how badass he is by deliberately goading a venomous snake to bite him. There's even a role for the wonderful Nadira, who in a kitchen fight scene, gets a brinjal in the mouth from Sonia:
That fight scene also bears mention as another of Ashanti's tempting, if trippy, set pieces - the girls take on the hijra kitchen staff with ridiculously comic violence, as when Sonia slaps dough on top of a hijra's head and stuffs the head, and the dough, into a tandoor - pulling out a perfectly cooked naan.
Kumar, for his part, makes the most of his maiming - he gets a gun installed in one of his crutches and fires it with wild abandon, and in the film's climax he pulls off his prosthetic leg and beats Ramesh with it (never mind how he stays standing while he does so).
In short, if you are a fan of nutso masala, then run - or at least hobble on your bullet-loaded crutches - to the nearest DVD player and watch Ashanti.