Thursday, 7 March 2013

Haseena Atom Bomb!

This definitive review on one of the greatest bits of trash cinema ever produced by Lollywood was written by Omar Khan. The review is not for those easily offended -ed note

Haseena Atom Bomb (Atomic Beauty) (1990)
Starring: Mussarat Shaheen, Badar Munir, Shaheen, Shehnaaz, Nazia Hafiz
Director: Saeed Ali Khan
Synopsis: Mindblowing experience reaching new heights of Trash art brilliance. Astounding!
Reviewed by: Omar Khan

Haseena Atom Bomb AKA Atom Bomb became a nationwide craze in the early 90's shortly after its release - and its not too difficult to understand why. The film is nothing less than a major work of art and its director immediately elevated to the ranks of John Waters and Russ Meyer, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Paul Naschy and other masters of gutter-trash-art. It is a breathtaking slice of the bizarre and the macabre as well as a searing sociopolitical indictment and commentary on a society gone haywire. Haseena Atom Bomb is one of the few great movies to have emanated from the subcontinent in many a decade and deserves to be admired by a much wider audience.

The movie became such a craze that its producers had to oblige a thirsting nation with dubbed versions so that the epic masterpiece could be appreciated by those unfortunate souls not fluent in Pashto - the language of the gods. Not only that, but it was critical that the films deep philosophical commentary be understood by everyone and not only Pusho speakers and so the dubbed versions arrived as a major blessing as well as a very sound business decision as Haseena Atom Bomb went on to conquer the Box Office all over Pakistan and then overseas as Video distributors raced to be the first to release it in such lucrative markets like London, New York, Cannes and Kabul.

Hasina has to deal with smelly toes, a heavy corpse and the goons. What's a girl to do!

Haseena Atom Bomb starts with a blistering dance number belted out by the evergreen Madame Noor Jehan AKA Malka-e-Tarannum AKA Melody Queen, if not beauty queen as well. The poetic and lyrical number has a crescendo line that goes....."main hoon, main hoon Haseena Atom Bomb" at which point the director has inserted some astounding and thrilling shots of a volcanic eruption, no doubt culled from some National Geographic video! No doubt he deliberately used a volcanic eruption rather than an actual Atomic Bomb so that he could actually equate the potency of the Bomb with the destructive power of nature. It would have been far too simple and even crude to merely show Atom Bomb's exploding when the singer goes "Atom Bump". Much more subtle and indeed symbolic to show Volcanoes instead.

Killer syringe goes to work! Ouch!!

The sizzling dance number by our country's future leader (wishful thinking?) is no less than blinding by its sheer dazzle and oomph. The choreographer and indeed the dress designer have to be congratulated for putting together a sequence that is a veritable show stopper, and that too, in the opening moments of the movie.

Atomic completes her rollicking dance number "main hoon Haseena Atom Bump" and goes off through the woods and fields on her way home. Its her wedding day, so she seizes the moment like any sensible girl would, and jumps into the nearest stream to have a quick wash - naturally fully clothed. While our naive beauty is frolicking in the stream little known to her she has attracted an audience of despicable hoodlums, the kind who bathe in the stream on the service road beside FC College in Lahore. Just as the nasty goons are about to descend on our hapless and compromised beauty, who has since mysteriously slipped from her disco clothes into hejab, a handsome, dashing, if slightly overweight young man on a puny white horse comes to her rescue. A few aerial stunts and repeat-kicks soon has the goons running gingerly for cover, with their "animal lust" yet to be satisfied.

Meanwhile we are shown various flashbacks just to establish the credentials of some of the characters as well as explain why they are, erm, the way they are. One scene, enacted with "Dentonic" precision by the children involved is memorable as the two kids start arguing and then proceed to pull each others hair virtually off their scalps. Its a bizarre episode followed by a twisted scene of patricide as a tot gets pissed off with dad for selling "po-durr" (heroin). He grabs his favourite tape-ball bat and in a brilliant imitation of Inzamam Ul Haq, he square cuts his errant father to death in a surge of raw moral duty. A late cut if ever there was!

Purdah by day, Volcanic eruptions by night.
Anyway this pseudo idyllic community of earnest, simple folk are tormented by the local goons who control things with a Stalinesque Iron fist and have a very strange sense of justice and virtue.....but then don't we all?

The film switches back to the present, and Atomic, having been rescued by Tubby on the emaciated Pegasus clone skips off homeward to enjoy her wedding to local stud, Cool Joe and village law enforcer who is one hell of a fellow. He also goes for white when it comes to transport - the four legged kind that is. Just as the marriage is about to be consummated the bliss is shattered as the vengeful goons who had been thrashed by Tubby return to satisfy their "animal lust". You have to at least give them some credit for their persistence.

The gang rape scene that follows is memorable for being amazingly gratuitous and endlessly long but was deemed suitable for general viewing by the censors - that includes children. Poor Atomic's husband is forced to watch helplessly as each of the low life goons assaults her repeatedly. After a brief but highly enjoyable fight sequence the husband is left dangling perilously by a rope from the ceiling. The only support he has momentarily is the shoulders of Atomic, but she is hardly in any condition to prop him up after being gang raped and it isn't long before she decides she has had enough of standing up. The husband is left dangling for two thirds of the movie because Atomic returns to talk to the festering corpse when ever she feels the need for a friendly face to talk to or keep him updated on how she is progressing on her mission of vengeance.

Her life does indeed acquire a mission and this is where the movie veers directly into I Spit On Your Grave territory. Atomic is transformed from a purdah wearing bombshell and dutiful wife to become a hardened but ferociously dedicated crime fighting vigilante type. The rest of the movie is devoted to telling the story of Haseena's exacting a most miserable revenge on those goons who shattered her existence.

We are treated to a series of scintillating and voluptuous dance numbers where Mussarat Shaheen adequately displays exactly why she was Pin Up girl number 1 in the NWFP for throughout the 80's. The make up man must have gone through crates of material as there isn't a single shot of Atomic looking like anything less than divinely gorgeous with cascading colours leaping out from every angle of her very shapely form. The dress designer has come up with creations that would be the envy of every Parisian Catwalk, but the models would have to be as alluring as our Mussy which would be nigh impossible.

The film is a surreal sort of heady, dizzying mixture with the most sublime ingredients and a moral that is as bewildered as the society that spawned it. The scenes where giant syringes are used to drain the blood out of some drug dealing thugs are pure cinematic art. The symbolism of using these giant syringes to pulverize the nasty heroin pushers is something that only a director of the most remarkable insight, vision and intelligence could have conceived.
The cameraman has a slight propensity for zeroing in on various parts of the female anatomy. I don't think you need to be told exactly where the focus tends to linger ever so often. Then we are treated to the tasteful usage of the zoom lens to create that subtle "in-out" effect. Delicate, serene beauty. We are so glad the censors saw the sheer beauty of the several sizzling dance numbers, all belted out by Madame Noor Jehan, of course.

Many of the dialogues are laced with crude undercurrents and double entendre's - tactics that have been fine tuned to an art so that smut can thrive within our "strict code" of censorship.

It's a fantastic, elevating and dare we say, enlightening as well as culturally enriching experience watching this classic tale of post feminist social political backlash.

Mussarat Shaheen in the title role is a knock out and if the film were to be re-released a month or so before elections, then we all know who would be the landslide winner. What a talent, what a bombshell! What a Movie!

Very clearly a work of inspired genius. If there would be one criticism it would be that the film is a touch too short at 2 hours and 20 minutes and could have done with an additional 20 minutes or so. Trash art at its unbeatable best.

NewsFlash: We just completed viewing a Pashto film called ATOM BOMB which turned out to be Haseena Atom Bomb in its original Pashto version. The film is almost entirely identical to the nationwide Urdu dubbed version but tellingly the rape scene is significantly longer and even more gratuitous, complete with creaking springs and the mattress bobbing up and down.

-this review was originally published by HotSpot Online in July 2006 
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