Shikari (1963) [REVIEW] | Circus Cyclops Bollywood

Meant to get around this one last year, but this time i did manage to find a way to watch it with subtitle, as i don’t speak hindi, and what could be called “the Indian King Kong” – to no one’s surprise – was never dubbed or re-released westward. Still easier to find than the dreaded Bacalhau.

Yep, among the many King Kong knock-off, there’s an old Bollywood (kinda) version from 1963.

Gotta love the shit-not giving use of stock footage “ice skating ballet girls, chimps & clown” that a crowd in India it’s supposedly watching, sure it has a dissonant color that makes it more even obvious, but who cares. And it’s not just 1 minute or two of stock footage from a non-indian ice skating show, when the head of the circus and the sponsor set down to see it in order to understand why it’s supposedly taking away business from them… you’re gonna see a good chunk of the show.

Well, at least we start the movie with some ape action, but not of that kind.

It’s not a good way to start your movie by almost immediatly showing stock footage from something else, i mean, 9 minutes in and 8 of those are stock footage and opening credits, not a great start when your movie it’s also 2 hours and 20 minutes long.

The only thing that diegetically kinda justifies this obvious padding it’s the chimp, as in that gives them the idea of using an ape to reignite interest in their circus, and leads to them going on a hunting expedition (fitting as the hindi title translates to “Hunter”) to the jungles of Malaysia in order to catch a giant ape called “Otango”.

And yep, that’s the main plot device, but there’s more, as in this one too it’s a “double bootleg combo”, ripping off King Kong as well as Dr. Cyclops (also directed by Ernest B. Shoedsack), and by that i mean in the jungle there’s also a mad scientist… called Doctor Cyclops, ignoring that the title character of that movie wasn’t actually called “Dr. Cyclops”, but it doesn’t even matter as he’s not shrinking people here but trying to turn humans into gorillas.

Why? Dunno, and the version i found lacks 9 minutes of footage so it abruptly cuts from the group finding the village destroyed by Otango and the circus owner shooting one of his own men to avoid him involving the police… to them being on the doorsteps Dr Cyclops base/lab/home.

Even the shorter 2 hours version you can find (unsubbed) on Youtube has this cut, and given how the various synopses online describe the plot, i would guess not many people that went searching for the full movie online like me ever found (assuming it exists) a complete version with the footage that most likely closes this unintended narrative gap.

Also, i lied, Dr Cyclops does turn people tiny here as well (and keeps them in glass cages only to order them to dance and stuff, indirectly making this “ Hindi Attack Of The Puppet People”), alongside the human to gorilla conversion plan, he’s a multitasker this one, and given he wants to transfer human brains into monkey skull, i think he’s also trying to make it own Mojo Jojo.

So it’s both a double knock-off but it’s also very loose in terms of adapting elements from both aforementioned movies, and curiosly it’s also similar to the one of the lost japanese King Kong films, Wasei Kingu Kongu from 1933, as in the characters here are also trying to make money off King Kong, while in different ways and degrees of meta-referentiality….i would assume.

As you would expect by the movie being made in India, it’s also a “bollywood” affair of sorts, i’d say it doesn’t quite fit that label, but more the “masala film”, as the dance scenes are not that prevalent or long and are treated more as interludes than setpieces, but this isn’t exactly one of my fields of expertise, so i could be wrong. Even so, it’s not surprising that the songs made for the dance scenes were arguably the main draw to it, and became hugely popular in India that year.

Aside from that, Shikari it’s mostly played as half adventure film half comedy, with huge emphasis on slapstick, i mean, old school slapstick physical comedy, with plenty of pies in faces (and variants) and so on, mostly delivered by the comic relief character of the bumbling klutz assistent-manservant, Chandu.

Well, ONE of the comic relief characters, the doctor it’s also very over the top and shouts “Idiotic” in English constantly as a verbal quirk, to the point you’ll get sick of it WELL before the middle point of the movie…. but it comes around to be kinda funny as even the characters pretty much prep him to spout out “IDIOTIC!”, little things like these make it harder for me to get proper angry at the movie, even when it’s old and CRAPPY slapstick too, mostly handed performed by a character – the aforemented “monkey boy” Chandu – that’s also incredibly grating, not that lovable (god i wanted to punch him right in the head) AND it’s in a LOT of the movie, so yeah, not an easy movie to get through, especially if you want your films to have fast moving plots.

Shikari just has its own slow pace, and i hope you didn’t expect for the ape to show up anywhere early, you’ll have to wait until 1 hour in to even see “Otango/King Of The Bongo Bon”, as in, seeing him partially and kinda clumsily rear projected, for the proper reveal that happens in the last 10 minutes.

Of this 2 hours and 20 minutes film, let me restate that.

He shows up in the crazed finale which has a forced marriage, a tribal ritual, and Three Stooges-style shenaningans saving the day, alongside people dying in non-comical fashion, dramatical brink-of-death pleads, the tribe praying to a stone idol but getting destroyed as Otango just kinda comes around to the tribal village (they didn’t quite summon it)… and it’s obviously a person in a rubber monkey suit. That was to be expected, so… how bad is the suit?

Surprinsingly, better than i expected. Still shlocky, but at least it looks way better than the “dollar store monkey costume” seen in 1976’s A*P*E… the effects for the composition of the “Otango footage” over the rest though are mostly craptastic enough to make it almost worth it.

Like he getting dropped into the lava and resting on “floor as lava” as he’s projected into the frame, that’s how he dies, in the very quick paced climax, which has the people of a village that’s gonna be destroyed by Otango come up with the big brained idea of setting the village on fire themselves to trap and kill the giant ape, without waiting for the crew of Cannibal Holocaust to pass by.

Gotta love the way the party expedition basically crashes halfway through the movie into what feels like an unrelated plot about tribal people ambushing a woman in the jungle, for reasons we don’t know… and i’m fairly sure we never will, i think it’s because they are chums with Dr. Cyclops, but it’s never properly explained and we never get back to it, aside from the cheftain of the local tribe remembering the forced-to-marry Rita that he never can forget “their people”… because they tried to stop him from abducting people (most likely for experiment purpose).

I’m not making shit up.

Then again, maybe the missing footage explains that a bit better, but it’s a bit hard to not get lost when you have to look out for malaisian jungles full of animal stock footage clearly shot NOT in the same jungle, fight scenes as well staged and executed as the original Star Trek series, a weird chained dog-dragon monster (done via the good ol rubber suit method) guarding the secret passage out of the lab/prison (with weird dragon faces peeking out from holes in the close rock formations), and all the old fashioned sensibilities, with age only magnify the various negative “isms”.

I don’t think Shikari it’s overall a bad movie, as the song and dance scenes are enjoyable (music is ok too), acting it’s pretty decent overall by the cast made up of mostly characters actors (my favourite performance being of K.N. Singh as “Dr. Cyclops”), it can be quite entertaining at times, cheesy but fun, it’s full of laughably dated effects and cheap ass solutions (like the “stock footage snake pit”).

But i find incredibly hard to recommend, as it clearly made long because indian audiences (among many others, gotta say) at the time wanted a lot of bang for their buck, the narrative being way too slow moving, the “old fashioned” values in it, the insanely grating deluge of beyond dated crap slapstick. To be honest i personally struggled to see it through to the end, i had to watch it bit by bit in multiple sessions, i really felt like i was trying to eat a stone pillar with a spoon at times, but it’s also obviously a movie never designed for international western audiences to any degree.

Draw, pilgrim.

Still, Shikari it’s worth seeking out and watching it (with subtitles if you don’t speak or understand Hindi) for the aspiring cinema buff-historian worth their salt, though this is one case where the history and the stuff around the movie it’s arguably more interesting than the movie itself, at least to modern western audiences.

A great cinema curio but also a decent(ish) movie in itself.

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