"Bloodstone", Dir: Dwight H. Little, 1988
Updated: May 9
I have to confess that seeking out "Bloodstone" (Arrow Player) has more to do with the fact that I know the actress who makes a very brief appearance early in the film as one half of an English tourist couple who get taken on a terrifying ride through the automotive panic of Bangalore, South India by a cab driver played by South Indian Superstar, Rajnikanth.
As a Western "cross-over" film, in this case co-produced by former tennis champion Ashok Amritraj and written by Nico Mastorakis, a Greek film director, the film represents the first and only Western film in which Rajnikanth appeared and he makes the most of the opportunity to turn in a stand-out performance, nabbing all the best lines combined with his signature stylistic quirks that his many Indian fans love.
By the year of release, 1988, the Western love affair with Indian subjects for films had begun to wane after the success of "Gandhi" to only reappear with "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Best Marigold Hotel" over a decade later, both marked by lavish location photography partly designed to attract tourism in a country where filming by foreign crews could be problematic due to excessive bureaucracy.
The other star of this film is the location work in the Southern Indian city of Bangalore, a town we visited as a family many times on family holidays since we have relatives there and which was also the base for David Lean's 1984 film "A Passage To India", and this aspect of the film benefits from the HD release by Arrow where previously the only way to see the incomplete film was on bad YouTube uploads, if at all.
Arrow could be considered to be the ideal platform for "Bloodstone" given that it comes across as rather lightweight schlock with a cast of unknown American actors and actors more familiar to fans of "Bollywood" films such as the Australian-born Bob Christo, who made a long career out of playing "heavies" in numerous Hindi potboilers, and Tej Sapru, with the rest made up of actors drawn from the South Indian film industry.
The English actor Christopher Neame plays a Dutch merchant desperate to get his hands on the legendary "Bloodstone", seen in the preface to the film where a maharajah of an earlier pre-colonial era is presiding over the funeral of his beloved daughter and places a curse on the bloodstone of the title when it is removed from her crown.
The plot then jumps to the present day of 1988 and an American couple on a train travelling to through India and to the southern city of Bangalore for their honeymoon, played respectively by Brett Stimely as "Sandy McVey" and Anna Nicholas as "Stephanie", his young wife.
Prior to their arrival in the city a bumbling American smuggler has somehow got hold of the gem and by some mistake resulting from clumsy baggage handlers, the gem ends up in the boot of taxi driver "Shyam Sabu" (Rajnikanth), who then picks up the American couple to take them to their hotel, by now unaware that he is now mixed up in a plot by "Van Hoeven" (Neame) to get his hands on the stone with the help of his henchmen (Christo and Sapru) - into this confusing scenario is added another bumbling character of a police inspector played by American actor Charlie Brill in brown face and full-on head wobbling comical Indian stereotype that typifies a film that plumbs all the Western stereotypes about Indians for comic effect but instead just feels cringeworthy.
Quite what influenced the decision to cast a non-Indian in an Indian film for the role of "Inspector Ramesh" is a mystery though it may have to do with a dearth of Indian actors capable of carrying off a comedy role in English but then since much of the film seems to be dubbed after the fact, this might have been possible.
Brill's performance opposite an Indian actor as his second in command is something like an Indian "Inspector Clouseau" and that may be deliberate as a reference point for non-Indian audiences.
The film has some rather unnecessary "adult" scenes, such as a brief boob-flash by a woman, one of many bikini clad women, in a pool in pantomime villain Van Hoeven's palatial villa styled like a English country house, and a sex scene heard but not seen in the jacuzzi of the hotel room of the newly wed American couple. clearly put in to appeal to the Western video rental audiences that this film was clearly aimed at and to help its commercial prospects though there is the overwhelming feeling that the film is aimed at the lowest common denominator of audience, which is a shame since Rajnikanth in particular is so good in the film, and I'm not saying that for the obvious reasons.
Rajnikanth's role as "Shyam" is to be a local ear on the ground and help for the American couple, who also become embroiled in the plot to get the ruby, aided by his own private army of local goons since he is a bit of a bad boy with a long list of parking tickets that make him a person of interest for bumbling Inspector Ramesh (Brill), with his added charm and street smarts being useful for getting himself and the American couple out of close calls with the baddies.
Nicholas' "Stephanie" is a kind of Kate Capshaw damsel in distress to Stimely's "Indiana Jones", though his blonde square-jawed looks just reminded me of Sam Jones' vacuous demeanour in "Flash Gordon", a character who can fight himself out of any situation with his fists and not much else, with the missing grey matter supplied by Rajnikanth's "Shyam" and to a lesser extent his wife.
When Stephanie is kidnapped and held hostage by Van Hoeven it's up to Sandy and Shyam to rescue her and retrieve the gem that is now in his hands, after agreeing a percentage split of the spoils.
The film's climax features a rope bridge sequence right out of "Temple of Doom" but with a less ambitious budget, a knockabout fight in Van Hoeven's villa that includes a sword fight and the random slaying of various henchmen before the trio get the gem back, which is then promptly handed back to the by now annoying Inspector Ramesh.
Rajnikanth really carries the film with some snappy dialogue and witty exchanges that feel totally natural compared to the stilted delivery and clunky lines of the two American leads, and as for Christopher Neame, he seems to revel in playing Van Hoeven as a parody of an upper crust English villain with nothing but disdain for Indians, and overall everyone involved seems to take the whole thing not too seriously.
The last shot is of the three new buddies walking off into the distance arm in arm while Stephanie makes yet another crack about needing the nearest restroom, because, you know, it's India.
"Bloodstone" just about manages to keep its' head above being a misfire as these types of cross-over Western/Indian projects often are and the main plus points making it worth checking out are the location work in places normally avoided in Western films set on the subcontinent and of course, Rajnikanth, even if the plot shenanigans are curiously un-involving.
There's a type of cinema made by producers with money to burn and who don't really have an appreciation for film beyond the appeal of hanging about on the Croisette during the Cannes Film Festival with other high rollers, but then I guess there is room in the film ecosystem for all types of people and "Bloodstone" comes from that end of the commercial spectrum where volume is of more importance than quality, but then I can't shake off the feeling that an actor like Rajinikanth was a little wasted in the film even if he gives it his best shot.
*As a postscript, Brett Stimely and Anna Nicholas are still active in various roles as actors, writers and theatre producers, so the curse of Bloodstone didn't extend to their real-world fortunes, so all good, and of course Rajnikanth is still kicking ass at the age of 71, often playing characters half his age :)
"Bloodstone", Dir: Dwight H. Little, 1988