My notes on Toofani Tarzan (1937)
This Indian film, directed by Homi Wadia from a script by J.B.H. Wadia and Pandil Gnyan, is an unauthorised adaptation of both the MGM series of Tarzan films (especially Tarzan the Ape Man) and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books. It also scrambles races and settings so that it seems to take place in an Indian colony in Africa — admittedly, one terrorised by sub-continental tigers, but they crop up in Burroughs’ Africa-set yarns too.
Running two and a half hours (with a few songs), it can afford a lengthy prologue which gives an origin story for Tarzan which is different from Burroughs’ but draws from it. Ramu (Dalpat), an intrepid scientist, and his wife Uma (Nazira) are in the jungle, where he is developing an elixir of life. They have a newborn baby, Leher, and a backstory involving a millionaire father (also Dalpat, in a false beard) who disapproves of his son’s marriage to a commoner. When lions attack, Ramu is killed and Uma driven mad because Leher (and heroic family dog Moti) drift away in a hot-air balloon with Dada (Daredevil Boman Shroff), who seems to be some sort of ape-man (he is hunched over and has a strange blackface look).
Some years later, the father arrives in the region with an expedition which includes his ward Leela (Gulshan), slick-moustached hunter Biharilal (Chandrashekhar), a comedy sidekick who does Harold Lloyd/Stan Laurel schtick (Bandal) and a local guide who sings if necessary (Ahmed Dilawar). Enter Tarzan (John Cawas), who is Lehar grown up and become a long-haired, athletic hero in a loincloth (with an amulet containing the formula for his father’s elixir). He catches the eye of the often-in-danger Leela and earns the enmity of her would-be suitor Biharilal — who grumbles because she won’t let him shoot Dada or even Moti.
Some swinging-through-the-trees footage is copied exactly from the Johnny Weissmuller films, but Cawas seems to do an appreciable number of his own stunt routines in the long and complicated course of the film, which features hungry cannibals, a King Kong-like jungle door which leads to a giant ape idol, and a moustachioed killer sacred gorilla in a pit which could have come from a Flash Gordon serial. The most unusual aspect is the presence of the hero’s mad mother, with huge swollen skulls taped to her upper arms, who rants doom and terror to anyone who will listen and plenty who won’t. Lots of wildlife is included, along with excruciating comedy bits from Shroff and Bandal, but it’s mostly entertaining, especially when familiar elements pop up for a few minutes before the film takes another surreally odd diversion into its own made-up world.
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