Following close on the heels of Parvarish, my investigation of the masala portion of Shabana Azmi's resume continues with Fakira. This tale, with its overtones of the legend of Robin Hood, has all the elements of what Beth would call the Recommended Masala Allowance: brothers separated in childhood, a roguish hero with a heart of gold, a plucky heroine who yields to the demands of her heart, and a bit of social commentary in the form of a corrupt politician who gets what's coming to him. Fakira takes a few interesting twists on those standard tropes, though, and that sets it apart among its masala brethren - that, plus a hearty helping of young Shabana that is just as tasty a meal as Parvarish.
A pair of brothers are separated in childhood when their parents are killed by smugglers. One of the brothers grows up to be the bandit known as Fakira (Shashi Kapoor). Fakira, who takes target practice on a dummy bearing a placard reading "smuglar hamare dushman hain" - smugglers are our enemies - makes it his mission to redistribute among the poor the loot from his attacks on rich bandits; but money stolen from the government he returns tot he police. Meanwhile the other brother grows up to be Toofan (Danny Denzongpa), a heavy-for-hire employed by a corrupt politician to put a swift end to Fakira's career.
Geeta (Shabana Azmi) - or Neeta, her name keeps changing - is a police inspector's daughter and a police officer herself who infiltrates Fakira's gang with the intention of bringing him to justice. Her plan is to seduce him to gain his confidence, but she soon finds herself confuzzled by Fakira's Shashilicious charm - she's really in love with him, and, before she knows what hit her, really married to him too. All of this is to the distress of Neelam (Aruna Irani), one of Fakira's sidekicks who has tried, repeatedly and unsuccessfully) to seduce him for herself. While Neeta makes up her mind as to whether she's with Fakira or against him, Neelam takes matters into her own hands, forcing a confrontation between Fakira and his nemesis.
Fakira is principally just a good, solid masala timepass. Fakira and his gang don disguises as he pulls off his capers, so there's plenty of comedy antics to go around, and the songs are light and fun. The bad guy relies on Rube Goldberg-esque plots in attempts to do away with Fakira, leaving ample opportunity for heroic, exciting escapes. And there's even an acrobatic catfight between Neeta/Geeta and Neelam. Even in this kind of potboiler fare, though, Shashi and Shabana are understated in comparison to some of their contemporaries, giving Fakira a somewhat more restrained feel than the most outrageous films of the era. The only unfortunate element of the film's plotting is that its heroine, Neeta/Geeta, is a non-factor in the film's resolution; for a character who started out with such promise - a gutsy police officer, trained in martial arts, "raised like a boy" in her father's words, it is frustrating to see her stuck in a "Perils of Pauline" routine at the film's climax.
Fakira's glorification of vigilante social justice through its dashing Robin Hood hero is the clear social message of the film. But there are some fun twists on the usual masala cliches as well. Here it is the hero, not the villain, who dwells in a luxuriously-appointed secret underground lair equipped with high-tech gadgetry. The bad guy is just a corrupt politician, not a criminally insane mastermind. And Fakira really pushes the envelope with some deliciously naughty sequences surrounding Fakira and Neeta/Geeta's first night together (after marriage, of course) - jokes about the noises emanating from the newlyweds' room, a bed broken in two thanks to a vigorous romp, and so on. I briefly thought that Fakira got away with such ribaldry in part due to the art-house credentials of both of its principals, but it then occurred to me that Shabana Azmi was so young at this time that Fakira may have contributed to her edgy reputation rather than drawing upon it.
Fakira's music (by Ravindra Jain) is fun, if not instantly memorable; the songs themselves are definitely dwarfed in this reviewer's mind by their picturizations; the joy of watching young Shabana dance around trees pretty much overwhelms anything else that might be going on.
Obligato (click for larger pictures):