CinemaThis fortnight at indiaplaza.in
Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer,
Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth
Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia,
F. Murray Abraham, Harris Yulin
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenwriter: Oliver Stone
Director of photography:
John A. Alonzo
Music: Giorgio Moroder
Price: Rs. 499
For the longest time I desisted from watching this DVD as I could not bear to watch a bowdlerised version of “Scarface.” It was with a heavy heart that I finally put the DVD into the player. However, from the opening bars and the title card talking about Fidel Castro's decision to open the harbour in May 1980 to Tony Montana's interrogation at immigration, the movie grabs eyeballs and keeps it.
Despite the washed out colours (a bad rendering job), the bizarre subtitles (for a movie that got an R rating for language, you can just imagine the coy subtitles for every profanity!) and the clumsy cuts, the film is irresistible.
The opening sequence is vintage De Palma with the camera circling the faceless officials who are making a circle around this ferociously, grinning young punk, Tony Montana. The scene, like the opulence of the opening shot in De Palma's “The Untouchables,” where Robert De Niro as Al Capone is introduced as a king, sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Tony Montana comes to Miami from Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. With his best friend, Manny Ribera, he sets about taking over and ruling the cocaine empire. His dizzying rise to power and money is inevitably followed by an equally spectacular crash fuelled by addiction and paranoia.
Written by Oliver Stone who was battling cocaine addiction at the time, “Scarface” is a remake of a 1932 film. Though on its release, it met with mixed reviews, “Scarface”, has gone on to become an influential cult classic. Rap musicians have been deeply inspired by the film. The movie is a Grand Guignol vision of crime and punishment. The movie is full of quotable quotes from “I want what's coming to me, the world and everything in it” to “The World is Yours.”
Montana is an anti-hero in the truest sense of the word and not particularly likeable. He did not have anyone tattoo “mera baap chor hain” on his arm to take to a life of crime. He seems to naturally gravitate to it. He even destroys those he loves, including his sister, Gina, and wife, Elvira. As his mother despairingly says, “Why do you have to hurt everything you touch? Why do you have to destroy everything that comes your way?”
Mukul Anand's “Agneepath” (1990) is inspired by “Scarface” with Amitabh Bachchan's Vijay Dinanath Chouhan being Montana, Mithun Chakraborty's Krishnan Iyer, Manny, Neelam played Shikha, (Gina) and Rohini Hattangady's Suhasini as Mama Montana.
While “Agneepath” had some scenes straight out of “Scarface” including his visit to his mother's house and the meltdown in the hotel, the crucial difference was “Agneepath” gives a reason for Vijay to take to a life of crime. Montana turns criminal because he wants to get rich quick. He sees Elvira and decides he wants her. That she is his boss's woman does not stop him in his dogged pursuit of her. He is fascinating for his unapologetic villainy. Like he tells the stricken diners in the horrific restaurant scene just after he destroys Elvira: “You need people like me so you can point your fingers and say, ‘That's the bad guy.' So... what that make you? Good? You're not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie...”
A completely amoral hero is more acceptable now and it would be interesting to see if the “Agneepath” remake with Hrithik Roshan in the title role would be closer to “Agneepath” or “Scarface”. Speaking of Hrithik, last year's “Kites” had “Scarface”, inspirations in the nightmare upholstery and the siblings named Tony and Gina.
Despite going through many casting choices, now one cannot imagine anyone else in the roles immortalised by Al Pacino (Montana), Steven Bauer (Manny), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elvira) and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Gina). A stylish movie from the word go — filled with mind altering set pieces from the horribly fascinating chain saw torture scene to the hazed out assassination in the Babylon club culminating in the climatic bloodbath — “Scarface” is a paean to the Eighties. As Elvira rightly comments “nothing exceeds like excess”.