In this edition of Great Movie Fight Scenes an Indian gangland enforcer goes toe-to-toe with sword-wielding maniacs in one of the most important Hindi films of the modern era.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1989 Indian crime film Parinda (The Bird) marks a distinct tonal shift in the style and presentation of the Indian underworld on film. To this day the impact of Parinda can be seen throughout Indian cinema with Chopra’s engagement with the realities of gangsterism and the daily lives of Mumbai’s citizens serving as the benchmark for urban and crime dramas going forward.
Parinda distinguished itself from other popular Indian films of the period with its gritty down-to-earth approach, though it can be difficult to appreciate this when watching the film today. Chopra includes some of the mainstays of Hindi cinema but lessens their importance. There are, for example, a couple of musical interludes but they are set against heavier sequences of violence and emotional turmoil. For Chopra the songs are not frivolous interludes or throwaway spectacle, he uses them as a means of heightening the emotional impact of the film’s drama. The musical numbers show us an ideal, glossy, Bollywood version of reality, a reality that’s disrupted by crime and violence.
Parinda leans towards a hard-edged portrayal of violence. Fights are quick and often fatal. We’re first introduced to mob-enforcer Kishan (Jackie Shroff) through a stylish montage. Kishan is shown as any action hero – driving a cool car and wearing shades. Jackie Shroff is a very physical actor, he’s not overly muscular but he has a tough guy way of carrying himself. As the fight scene opens we see Parinda‘s style play out in a microcosm. We’re behind the wheel of Kishan’s car as it speeds into frame and knocks over a rival gang member. That’s Parinda in a nutshell flashy spectacle and brutal violence. This sequence starts as it means to go on and Kishan’s just getting started!
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One of the aspects of this sequence that I enjoy is Kishan leaving his sunglasses and wrist-watch in the car. It speaks to his character; he’s careful not to mess up his things but he knows he’s going to get his hands dirty. There’s a confidence and deliberateness to his actions that’s very appealing. Kishan starts up a winding staircase and is met by one of Musha’s men. The goon carries a sword, most likely a talwar, but Kishan makes short work of this first attacker. We see Kishan grabbing the man by his ankles pulling him to the ground and pummeling him across the face with both fists. The brutality of the action is emphasized by the sounds of impact on the metal staircase.
A second gangster jumps from the top of the structure to intercept Kishan. The goon puts himself at a disadvantage here, Kishan is able to headbutt his attacker sending him off balance. This is followed up with a whack of the staircase banister. Another mook takes advantage of the situation and rushes up the stairway. This sword-wielding foe attempts a downward slash but he’s interrupted and Kishan hoists the goon over the side of the staircase. We can see Chopra’s directorial flair coming into play here as the shot of the falling goon transitions seamlessly into a shot of Kishan as he stands defiant having reached the top of the stairs.
We’re now introduced to the rival gang leader Musha. Anna Seth, Kishan’s boss has some a beef with Musha. Kishan is distracted as Musha monologues about his territory and gangland politics. We see two talwar thugs rushing up from behind Kishan. Is this the end? Not a chance. Cut to a flash of steel as Kishan produces a knife. Chopra slows the action down. Kishan stabs both of his attackers, one of the curved words flies dramatically through the air and hits the ground with a thud. Musha has no recourse and submits to Kishan.
I feel that this sequence is particularly notable for its speed and ferocity. We get a great sense of just how deadly an enforcer Kishan is and any of our misgivings about his dodgy fashion sense are put to rest by fighting prowess. But there’s a lot more to Parinda than swords and sunglasses. Shropp is a talented and versatile performer and shows a great range in the film bringing an equal amount of force and intensity to the film’s dramatic content.
Chopra’s breakthrough feature is many things: a social conscience picture, an issues film, an action film, at times it’s a documentary of sorts. Parinda became the bible for India’s real-life gangsters who imitated the larger-than-life versions of themselves they saw on screen. It’s a movie of great importance for Hindi cinema serving as the blueprint for many other groundbreaking films, as well as a number of copycats and cheap knock-offs. With Parinda, Chopra found his metier and continues to break new ground in Indian cinema with innovative and highly-acclaimed projects.
Feature Image credit: Parinda (1989)