My Goodness Gracious Me, Tarzan.

I do feel guilty — honestly! — about the fact that practically any time I write about any movie from outside the America-Europe Axis of Evil, be the point of origin Japan, the Philippines, or India, I seem to be picking not some classic of world cinema, but some piece of ludicrous nonsense. The fact that I like ludicrous nonsense is a slender defense. Still, there was absolutely no way I was going to NOT write about TOOFANI TARZAN. It’s a film that seems to have been lying in stealthy wait for me since 1934, slowly fermenting and curdling and getting ready to pounce (I like my metaphors like my women: all mixed up and twisted).

TOOFANI TARZAN is a 1934 Indian movie which, as the title implies, heavily, remakes “One-Shot” Woody Van Dyke’s jungle loincloth extravaganza. Creative pilfering is a big industry in Bollywood. Or should that be, “Creative pilfering is a big industry CALLED Bollywood”? One of the first B’wood movies I saw turned out to be a fairly exact carbon copy of LETHAL WEAPON, only with musical numbers. Naturally, I preferred it to the original.

There’s a certain amount of singing in TT too, but it doesn’t quite tip over into being what you’d call a musical. Just a song-enhanced Tarzan movie, then. Made by pioneering director Homi Wadia, it’s obscure enough to have no IMDb entry, but celebrated enough to warrant a restoration and a Channel 4 screening. Go figure.

A pretty full-blooded romp, complete with man-in-a-suit killer ape, elephant (Indian modified to look African?), savage natives (Indian extras in blackface) and its full compliment of vine-swinging action, TT is funny for reasons that go beyond any kind of patronizing distance we might assume over 30s cinema or Indian cinema. It’s interesting that for reasons of exoticism, the filmmakers locate their tale in Africa, rather than using their own jungles and fauna, but that isn’t in itself hilarious. The matte paintings, by “Minno the Mystic,” are charming and commendable. The funny stuff comes in with the movie’s attitude to Africans, which is about 1,000 times more deplorable than in the original Hollywood version, which was hardly enlightened.

The fact that a lack of available real Afro-Caribbean talent led the filmmakers to break out the shoe polish and artificially darken a cast of thousands already lifts the film into a misguided stratosphere of offensive stupidity, without any malice or insensitivity being intended. But the fact that a lack of available chimpanzees has caused them to substitute for Cheeta a comic African sidekick, played by a shambling bit-player in minstrel-show blackface, with a set of mannerisms reminiscent of the late Spike Milligan playing an idiot, punches the movie right into orbit. “This is the real stuff,” as Werner Herzog says in JULIEN DONKEY BOY.

What was anybody thinking? WAS anybody thinking? Racism is, by its very nature, deeply, deeply stupid, and therefore would be laughable if it weren’t so foul. The fact that India has not, to the best of my knowledge, played a serious role in oppressing Africa, makes this misguided stereotyping a little less sinister than it might be, which is possibly why I was rolling on the floor laughing my white ass off during much of this movie. But now somebody’s probably going to tell me about some Indian massacre of natives in the days of the British Empire, and I will feel bad.

I feel bad already. But that guy cracks me up.

34 Responses to “My Goodness Gracious Me, Tarzan.”

  1. Clearly more interesting that the Bo Derek Tarzan.

  2. Jenny Eardley Says:

    I have no history-stick to beat you with, I know Indians were forced out of Kenya but I don’t suppose it was because of this film.

    When I page-downed to the second picture my arm involuntarily pushed the computer away. Awful. But what’s with the figure on the right? No features at all.

  3. That’s the baby Tarzan. This is a rather low-res AVI source, so if somebody moves they tend to smear off important parts of thermselves.

    It’s a lot more ENTERTAINING than the Bo Derek movie, that’s for sure. Although I can’t remember if I ever saw that thing all the way through.

  4. So this racism here is as ridiculous as the racism in The Mask of Fu Manchu (which has its roots in the book, of course)? I’d watch it if that were so.

    Errors and omissions are what make IMDb what it is! If it’s as bad as it is for American cinema, can you imagine how bad it is on world cinema?

  5. I think the racism here is MORE ridiculous. I read a bunch of those Fu Manchu’s and they were mostly ridiculous fun, but every now and then a line would come out and sting you with its nastiness. TT is just absurd from beginning to end, and almost innocent.

  6. The entire Tarzan concept is racist to the core. We are to believe that only an orphaned white male can becoem “King of the Jungle” — that title being out of the reach of African natives. Moreover he is required to mate with a white woman — the blacks that surround him being unsuitable by definition. Only the charm of Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan saves the original.

  7. Of course I must profess a personal fondness for Bomba

  8. Bomba look like a FINE show. Jack Nance’s head on top of Johnny Weissmuller’s body — now that’s entertainment!

  9. Speaking of New York Adventures —

  10. Well, at least the film seems to pass the Primary Criterion for a Tarzan movie: having a leading man who looks good in a loin cloth.

  11. Yes, Toofani’s not musclebound but he’s in good shape, and handsome with it.

    I’ve never seen the Disney Tarzan, but I bet I’d like it. Been a while since I saw a Disney… I want to see Princess & Frog too.

    Saw a bit of that terrible Clash of the Titans movie on the plane over, and was reminded of how the Disney Hercules has a much smarter take on the Greek Gods.

  12. David E.: Not just a white man, but also nobility, so it’s a classist/racist twofer.

    David C.: At least the Fu Manchu film veers into camp.

  13. Simon Fraser Says:

    The Indians weren’t kicked out of Kenya, but Idid Amin made sure that the Ugandan Indian population were not encouraged to hang around. There is a lot of African distrust if not actual hatred of the substantial Indian immigrant community, because they tend to be very cast conscious and therefore treat the indigenous population as somewhat more useful than livestock. The Indian diaspora in East Africa has roughly the same roll as the Jewish one had in Europe in the middle ages, they nearly dominate the merchant class and have a strong influence over banking , though due to ethnic/cultural problems very few have any public political power and tend to keep out of public life in general. During rioting it’s always the Indian homes that get looted first. Ironically those Indians who grew up in Kenya are regarded as low class by REAL Indians from India, who look upon them as somehow fallen people. It’s all very stupid, but caste systems are little more than institutionalised racism, with a few extra levels of contempt added for good measure.

    Do you feel bad yet? I think you deserve to after that metaphor crack! :)

  14. Simon Fraser Says:

    The Disney Tarzan crashes to a depressing halt while Phil Collins sings, otherwise enjoyable. The Princess & the Frog I desperately wanted to like, but found it kind of bludgeoning and overwrought.

  15. The Disney Tarzan crashes to a depressing halt while Phil Collins sings

    Doesn’t everything?

  16. Christopher Says:

    Why didn’t they just make The Jungle Book..Weissmuller for africans..Sabu for Indians..

  17. It did strike me as odd that the Indian cinema felt the need to play their Tarzan in a mythical African setting. Whereas Tarzan actually goes to India in one of the western movies, I think.

    I believe Philip Jose Farmer wrote a Tarzan book where he theorized that T would undoubtedly have had sex with gorillas when growing up. Seems feasible, if you buy into the whole raised-by-apes thing at all. So he’d have no business turning his nose up at African women, for sure.

    Don’t feel bad yet — can almost postulate African mistreatment of Indians as revenge for Toofani Tarzan. Excessive, yes, but not my fault.

  18. I would have thought Tarzan confused by human sex. I mean, waiting for the woman to present or he presenting to a woman. Neither would mean he’d score in the human world. And the missionary position? That would be the most confusing of all, “ungh, you mean I have to look at her face?” Of course, with gorilla genitalia being what it is, the female gorillas would be fighting amongst themselves for a piece of him. He’d anger many a silverback.

  19. Hey, wait. If Tarzan were raised by bonobos, then he’d be colonial Africa’s most eligible bachelor.

  20. Christopher Says:

    Amazons,Leopard Women and Nazis oh my!

  21. And leave us not forget George of The Jungle:

  22. George of the Jungle is wonderful. While I have yet to see the film, the cartoon series from the Sixties brings a grin to my face. George is quite dimwitted, whereas the ape speaks with a cultivated British accent. And his elephant, Shep, is basically a big dog in the body of an elephant. I look forward to revisiting these some day. And David E., I’m sure McKellan’s James Whale would have loved to have seen him in a loincloth.

  23. Sir Ian McKellen is a big George fan. He was thrilled to be working with Brendan Fraser.

  24. Christopher Says:

    Frasers all puffy now…McKellen could do a one man stage show as Mister Jimmy at his Easel,telling ..war stories..

  25. “I believe Philip Jose Farmer wrote a Tarzan book where he theorized that T would undoubtedly have had sex with gorillas when growing up.”

    You mean ‘The Jungle Rot Kid On the Nod’, PJF’s sublime short story which re-imagines Tarzan as written by William rather than Edgar Rice Burroughs. There must be a copy of it online somewhere – I haven’t read it in two decades and am suddenly seized by the need to re-read it.

  26. That might be it, but I think Tarzan also appears in his big Wold-Newton universe book, along with Jack the Ripper and everybody else. I eventually found a copy of that but it was dreadfully written.

    I do think his novel A Traitor to the Living could make a nice low-key sci-fi movie though.

  27. What was the opinion of the esteemed commenters here on the Greystoke film? (The one where Glenn Close overdubs Andie MacDowell, or vice versa)

    I have Toofani Tarzan but haven’t really summoned up the interest to watch it yet, so it’s nice to know that now I don’t have to! I have my issues with many, many Bollywood films which mostly seem to have nice musical numbers but are utterly stultifying and contain face-slappingly dumb moralistic plots (And can often make Israeli cinema appear subtle in comparison!) We appear to be in the age of Bollywood discovering the pleasures of melding Forrest Gump with the trials of being dark-skinned in the wake of 9/11 if My Name Is Khan is anything to go by:

    And there is the wholesale ripping off of any vaguely successful Hollywood convention that makes Italian cinema of the 70s seem tame (and far more successful!) in comparison. Things probably reached their nadir in the sci-fi films Koi…Mil Jaya and the sequel Krrish which takes in every imaginable cliche – cute E.T. aliens, a mentally impaired child who grows to adulthood (his disability apparently signified by wearing glasses and v-neck jumpers, which is a bad sign for me!), the kid being given superpowers by aliens which lets him do Crouching Tiger style wire-fu and to become a superhero when he is an adult. The sequel tackles more Forrest Gump stuff, a long lost father who has been kidnapped by a secret organisation (which allows for some top secret bunker infiltration stuff by the good guys and torture porn from the military), and of course the obligatory romance.

    And one of the films ends with the alien helping a kid to victory in his all important basketball game!

    Here’s a typical example from one of the musical numbers – note the ripping off of the Sound of Music and the subtle product placement, the likes of which have not been seen since Mac And Me!:

  28. Christopher Says:

    you ain’t lived till you seen…BANGLER KING KONG!

  29. That looks comparable to the Anglo-Italian Queen Kong, of which star Robin Askwith reportedly remarked, “If this movie ever gets released, my career is over!” Which raises the question, “Career?”

  30. Oh my, if you like “ludicrous nonsense” and find some of the silly remakes better than the original, I might recommend the Hindi film Mann which is a “pad it out with songs” version of An Affair to Remember. I know it’s not at all couth of me but I laughed my head off at the end when the grandmother willed our heroine her heirloom anklet when…no, you just have to watch it. Poor Aamir Khan…he’s done so many better films, but I just have a fondness for this biece of hokum. It’s free on Youtube, by the way.

    Also, if you liked Anil Kapoor in Mr. India, check him out in Nayak, which is one of the most over-the-top and campy films I have ever seen, yet it makes some effective points on how the press can manipulate public opinion, and how the public can possibly effect change in government. I think this is one of Anil’s most arresting performances, especially when covered in mud. And Sushmita Sen doing “Shakalaka Baby” is a lot of fun, too. Great AR Rahman score.


  31. Those are both EXCELLENT — the first is a nicely elegant exercise in pure camera blocking, with all the shots evolving from one composition to another, and the second has enough visual ideas to fuel a week of MTV. I particularly liked the camera assistant checking the gate midway through the number. A musical number with its own making-of incorporated into it!

  32. Glad you liked them…may be safe to show you this one. Also from Nayak. No, I can’t explain it, even when I had the subtitles…still it’s a wild trip. Perhaps there were some substances involved.

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