Disco Dancer

Director: B. Subhash
Music: Bappi-Lahiri; Lyrics: Anjaan-Faruk Kaiser
Year: 1982
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

If you always thought what "Saturday Night Fever" really needed to reach that next level was some high flying kung fu, chubby background dancers and killers with machine guns, this is the film for you. Actually, I think this is a film for anyone with a sense of the patently absurd and an appreciation for a movie so corny that you will think you are stuck in the middle of a greasy Philly cheese steak sandwich. It is gooey and delicious and completely fulfilling. Filled to the rooftop with bad décor, bad outfits, bad hair, bad dance steps and bad melodrama, this film is an absolute hoot – so bad and yet so satisfying.

Time has not treated the disco era with much respect – and this film will not change that perception by any means – but from a distance of twenty years this is a film that one can perhaps enjoy much more now than when it was made (or not - read note below). Not for the reasons that the filmmakers likely intended  – as they seem to treat all of this with the utmost seriousness – but from our vantage point this film is so wonderfully campy that you have to fall in love with it. It is the perfect midnight movie ala Rocky Horror Show and one can picture the audience showing up dressed in their favorite bad outfit from the film, mouthing the English lines like “Get out you bastard” and dancing awkwardly in the aisles.
It all begins with Jimmy as a little boy – performing on the streets of Bombay along with Rajesh Khanna (in what is billed as a “friendly appearance”) – their guitar and drums entertaining the whole neighborhood. From the distance a rich little girl watches the fun loving pair in envy and one day she invites Jimmy behind her compound wall to make music together. Her father comes home though and whacks the boy across the face, throws Jimmy’s mother down on the ground and has Jimmy arrested. Jeered by their neighbors, the mother and son are forced to leave Bombay in shame and settle elsewhere – but the little boy swears vengeance – his weapon of choice – disco.

Jump ahead fifteen years into the middle of disco fever and the "I am so cool it must hurt" Sam rules the disco kingdom. The adulation and success have gone to his head though as he pleasures himself with groupies, talks about himself in the third person and yells out in English ”Shut up. Sam is great you know. Sam is a music king. Sam is a star”. Unfortunately for Sam his salad days are about to end. Frustrated with Sam’s egotistical ways, his manager leaves him and goes searching for a new talent. Not surprisingly, he spots Jimmy (Mithun Chakravarti) sort of skipping and dancing on a street and immediately knows this is the next big thing! In his first appearance the crowd is filled with hostile supporters of Sam (sort of like when the Beatles came along and pissed off the Elvis fans) and Sam's sister (only billed as Kim) leads the other women in throwing their shoes at Jimmy – but our Jimmy calmly catches them and soon has the crowd eating out of his hand with his white stretch outfit and his crab like dancing – and the occasional roll on the ground. It doesn’t look great as he performs some really odd moves – but at least compared to Sam it is a marked improvement. Sam sort of moved like the Energizer Bunny – all stiff armed and mincing steps – and enjoyed jumping into and out of the frame for no reason. Soon Jimmy fever breaks out all over India and everyone is buying Jimmy T-shirts, Jimmy Perfumes, Jimmy Ice Cream and Jimmy Fabrics. He is the new disco king! Meanwhile Sam descends from bad fashion sense to heavy drinking to shooting up in heroin in his depression at having no more groupies to grope.

Of course life being the perplexing bowl of cherries it is, it incredibly turns out that the girl throwing shoes at him was the very same girl he played with so many years before! This means of course that her father is the cruel and wide tied creep that so shamed Jimmy. What a conundrum – he of course soon falls in love with the girl but the father and son are trying to kill him so that Sam can once again regain his throne. Yes, they take disco very seriously in India. So they hire a gang of thugs to beat poor Jimmy up. In a truly classic scene they surround him – each snapping their fingers in unison as they pour blow after blow on Jimmy – soon he is a bloody helpless rag doll in the dirt – until they make the big mistake of smashing his guitar. Don’t break a man’s guitar when he is down – that is simply poor etiquette. Jimmy pulls himself up – and begins SNAPPING his fingers – the hooligans pause – in fear of the snapping fingers – and Jimmy uses his astonishing kung fu skills (which he had apparently previously forgotten he possessed) and wipes them all out. Bruce Lee would be proud. Later these same hooligans beat him up with hockey sticks and throw him off a cliff – but that’s not enough to stop this Disco Dancer. He is soon throwing them through windows and kicking them across the room.
The film has many such bad but enjoyable scenes – an electric guitar that literally electrocutes, Jimmy developing discophobia and screaming in agony when he touches his guitar, Rajesh Khanna showing up out of the blue to perform a double twisting flying somersault from twenty feet away to save Jimmy and the bad guys just mowing down the audience with a machine gun. Of course, during the disco period I think a lot of us would have liked to have done the same!

Add to this, the very fun dance numbers with the flashing lights, the spinning disco balls, the wonderful background dancers in tinsel and the disco beat. The music is actually very catchy  – some seven songs and each one of them a little pop delight. I had come across the music first and enjoyed it so much that I finally had to see the film – and from nearly the first scene to the last I had a big silly goofy smile on my face that returns each time I think of Sam and his female partner (squeezed into her hotpants like an overstuffed sausage) singing “Bang Bang” or Jimmy with some weird little Batman mask around his forehead crooning “I am a Disco Dancer”.

The DVD has no English subtitles (since I wrote this review a version with subs from Bollywood Entertainment has come out) but that truly doesn’t matter a whole lot and makes the occasional English phrase really stand out – “Jimmy I hate you. You coward. I hate you Jimmy” which translated into any language means " I love you, you big lug".

My rating for this film: This is a tough call - 6.0 on the technical/film level - 9.0 on the pleasure meter!

Note - I looked for some information on the film and found this article about the composer (only accessible I think with Explorer), but it mentions that Disco Dancer was actually very popular in India and began a disco craze and made Mithun a huge dancing and film star!

And an article on Mithun.

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3