SHEELA (1987)
Page 4: Comments

This film has several interesting things going for it:

• On the Gena Lee Nolan Sheena pages I go to some lengths to point out that I felt the series was historic for one achievement - it was the first time Sheena had accurately been portrayed as a savage fighter, the way she had originally been conceived in the Fiction House comics. Irish McCalla, for all her athleticism, appears restrained and slightly clumsy in her action sequences.  In the 1950s female actresses were generally still uncomfortable with cutting loose.  Tanya Roberts' Sheena is a true flower child and does not swing a punch, or strike a blow for justice, during the whole film.  Watching the catfight between Sheela and Tehehe in this film I found myself thinking of the lost opportunity of not pitting Tanya against France Zobda, which all fans were obviously hanging out for.  So, twenty-five years earlier Bollywood achieved something filmmakers in the West still hadn't conquered - making Sheena an arse-kicking heroine.  Those who quibble that this really isn't Sheena aren't paying attention.

•  Both Ranjeeta and Disco Shanti, the two principal actresses, are a little chunky, an Indian byproduct of growing up in a society where the poverty stricken are wafer thin.  For many years it was a sign of prestige in India to carry a few excess pounds.  These days Indian actresses aren't much different from their Western counterparts, but in the mid-1980s when Sheela was made this attitude was still very prevalent.  That said, they are still reasonably attractive and both appear to be quite athletic, despite the extra pounds.  They both do a lot of the fight stunts in the film and they are both talented dancers.  Strangely, sometimes Ranjeeta's face can be stunningly beautiful and at other times she appears a little too heavily jowled and plain (see below).  Her gorgeous, long, strait, jet-black hair that hangs down to below her backside is truely delightful.
• While discussing the sexuality of the actresses I would like to point out that it was rare for a Bollywood film of this era to portray an actress in such a disrobed state for the entire film.  Beach scenes in bikinis were usually rendered more modest by wrapping scarves around the actresses' hips.  The nude scene where the uninhibited Sheela entices Shankar to enter the water with her would have been equally risqué by Bollywood standards.  I'm guessing this film would have had the rickshaw wallahs in the back row hooting and hollering from start to finish.

• I was very impressed by the animal stunts in this film.  An "animals trainee" named Mr V H Bristov is credited.  The actors ride hard-to-train African elephants and Ranjeeta is shown in close proximity to lions, cheetahs, leopards, baboons and hyenas.  In the scenes where the villains are attacked by animals the sequences are generally handled with excitement and a reasonably high level tension.  Even an aardwolf, a rare hyena species, gets in on the action.

• Much of the scenery is stunningly beautiful, especially the scenes atop the gorges at Victoria Falls.  The Zimbabwe thorn forests and granite koppjes also provide a nice wild backdrop to much of the action.  Several beautiful flamingo-covered lake scenes are lifted directly from Meryl Streep's Out Of Africa, without acknowledgment.

Many elements of the film are very rough, even by Bollywood standards.  I suspect this is probably because the film is a joint Mumbai-Madras production.  Production Managers are credited for both Madras and Bombay, as are costume credits.  The principal actor playing Shankar, Kulbashan Kharbanda, is a south Indian actor.  The Tamil Nadu film industry, generally, was much less sophisticated than it's northern counterpart when this film was made and films from the south generally had lower production values.

Overall, the film is a lot of fun, mostly for all the wrong reasons.

• The poor-quality Sheela poster is from the DVD case of the abridged, Turkish-dubbed DVD - kindly and considerably enhanced in Photoshop by Julie McIntyre (a true lifesaver)
• The vidcap of Ranjeeta from the Jungle Campfire Drunken Orgy song and dance number is from the DVD

• To obtain this film - pray hard, it is near impossible to find

SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, non-profit, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2006 Paul Wickham