India 1956
Directed by Chetan Anand.

The story of Funtoosh (Dev Anand), a lovable lunatic, released from the asylum a bit too soon. He gets out only to live on the street, and in short order, loses or gives away everything he came out with, his cigarettes, his money, his ring, a bike, and almost his hat, though he's willing to chase that down during an extended musical number. Finally he decides to kill himself, but passing stranger Seth Karorilal (K.N. Singh) makes a deal with him -- he'll set Funtoosh up at his place to live in style for a week, and only then can Funtoosh kill himself. Funtoosh agrees, but as the week goes on, finds himself developing a will to live. Too bad that Karorilal insured him for 100,000 rupees to pay off a bad debt, and now insists that, no matter what, he must die as agreed. And after the minstrel show Funtoosh puts on at the beginning, you may find your sympathies lie with Karorilal, too.

Yes, Funtoosh is another entry in the Bolly-blackface hall of shame. Picturizing the delightful mash-up song "Deniwala Jabhi Deta" early in the film, which switches crazily from one style to another, Dev Anand dresses in a variety of ethnic costumes to play along. Particularly egregious are the yellowface outfit he dons, complete with conical hat and Fu-Manchu mustasche, and a blackface swashbuckling outfit. What's worse is that the party he is singing to is intentionally shown to be multicultural and contain Chinese partygoers and one black man. The Chinese partygoers then must laugh along with amusing little Funtoosh, and the black man has to Uncle Tom it up with everyone, doing a little soft shoe and showing his pearly white smile. Still, one can say that Funtoosh was insane, so the story allows a certain offensive fantasy play to occur here. But then, the movie undercuts its own distinction between fantasy and reality when the partygoers all stand up and dance, and the black man pairs off with a black woman -- who, on closer inspection, is clearly an Indian extra in blackface -- literally so, as her exposed neck and arms are only hastily blackened and not at all convincing. Why anyone thought this was necessary is more psychoanalyzing than I'm willing to do at this point.

Nevertheless, there is much to recommend FUNTOOSH. The soundtrack by S.D. Burman is an eclectic mix of jazz and traditional and stands out for its constantly shifting styles and playful vocalizations by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle. The love interest is played by Sheila Ramani, who is a real discovery but unfortunately, if her imdb entry is correct, only appeared in a dozen films in the 50's. She is very mature looking, but then giggles childishly. Her face has a sort of classical beauty, but changes from scene to scene, making her an irresistable fascination that one has trouble keeping eyes off of. And the way she wears a full one-piece 50's style bathing suit makes you wonder if you've ever seen anyone wear one correctly before.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on May 18, 2007.

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