Dir. Harmesh Malhotra
Some time ago, I started to write a discussion of this fascinating, intense, visually gorgeous, relatively underappreciated film, only to discover that Beth and Greta had already said just about everything I wanted to say about it. Gaddaar (“traitor”) is a film that lines up all the usual masala suspects – Pran, Madan Puri, Ranjeet – and places them in a taut, intriguing narrative that is anything but masala. Here, the villains are the protagonists – individuals of relative depth, with personalities beyond “megalomaniacal villain” and “thuggish henchman.”
Where a masala film elevates a social ideal by embodying it in a hero and pitting him against a snarling, comic-book mastermind of pure evil, Gaddaar turns its lens on the workaday crook, releaving a narrative of the guys who commit crimes not out of grand, twisted principles but rather just to make a living. These are not larger-than-life cartoon mustache-twirlers who occupy the tricked-out techno-hedonism lairs of masala bad guys.
And yet Gaddaar still presents a high-70s, masala-esque aesthetic. It offers that wild sense of style that makes films of this era such a visual treat - the villains sport everything from shearling coats to pink ruffled shirts to checked jackets to wide-collared pastel suits. There are brilliantly gaudy interiors, and dancers glowing in colorful lighting. And in one of the most masala touches, the villains get a terrific qawwali.
Gaddaar explores themes of trust and betrayal, honor among thieves, as these villains try to track down a compatriot who has made off with the loot from their big job. Confined to a hotel room in Bombay or a snowbound lodge in the Himalayas, they move through a complex dance of shifting alliances and betrayals. These are manipulated by an interloper to the gang, the outsider Raja (Vinod Khanna), who is here so young and relatively unknown that his emergence as a good guy is anything but guaranteed.
So take a look at Beth's comments and Greta's, prepare yourself for some fabulous visual style and a narrative as lean and intense as Deewaar, and watch this fabulous film.