I needed a respite from a spate of bad/mediocre Hindi movies, so I dragged out some favorites to watch again. Jugnu is one of them. Dharmendra and Hema Malini are dreamy together, and Pran takes a break from villainy. It contains 100% of the Recommended Daily Masala Allowance: it’s almost three hours long and jam-packed with excitement and entertainment. It’s also one of my sister’s favorite films, and there’s no higher recommendation than that!
We begin in 1942, during the Quit India movement. Shyam (Pran), the son of Rai Bahadur Jwala Prasad (Nasir Hussain) blows up a bridge and vows loyalty to the revolution. His father (who has been given a title by the British) disowns him as the police arrive to arrest him for his crime. Shyam’s pregnant wife Parvati gives him the opportunity to escape:
Escape he does; she gives birth to their son Ashok and brings him up on her own. She tells him about his father and how they never managed to find each other after Partition, and about Shyam’s father’s rejection of them. In a classic Hindi movie near-miss, he is given a school prize one day by Rai Bahadur Prasad; of course they have no idea of their relation, but Ashok does quote his father (something his mother does often)—reminding his grandfather of his lost son. On his way home, Rai Bahadur talks with his manager Munimji (Randhir) about his regret for his actions, and how he has no heirs to his fortune now.
Meanwhile, on his way home from school Ashok catches the zamindar of their town assaulting his mother. He beats the zamindar up badly with a rifle butt until Parvati intervenes and forces him to walk away.
The zamindar, thwarted, shoots Parvati and kills her. Ashok in a rage kills the zamindar in return and has to run away, now orphaned. As the townspeople chase after him, Munimji comes on the scene. He recognizes Parvati’s body and sees Ashok running, and realizes instantly who they are. He takes advantage of the situation in order to get his hands on Rai Bahadur’s money by presenting him with a fake grandson, Ramesh. This is done very effectively as a split screen also showing Rai Bahadur’s real grandson fleeing on horseback.
Cut to 15 or so years later, and Ashok (Dharmendra) has grown up and become a thief who calls himself Jugnu (firefly). There is a thrilling sequence where he steals both diamonds and money from a don’s agent aboard a moving train. The don (Ajit) and his agent communicate by a two-way speaker phone type thing. Her gadget doubles as a lighter with a spinning geisha inside it, while Ajit’s is a red ball (and I love that it requires his moll to hold it as it spins in front of him):
It’s superwow! But I digress.
Ashok escapes with the aid of his friend Mahesh (Mehmood) and on his way home comes across a beautiful sharpshooter named Seema (Hema Malini).
They spar verbally and then shoot each other’s hats off. As her friends congratulate him on his aim, she storms off in her car—which unfortunately has the stolen briefcase in it. Mahesh arrives just in time, and they follow her to the Inspector General of Police’s house.
They watch as the briefcase is taken into the house along with Seema’s luggage. They manage to steal it back from her after a funny sequence, and then we are introduced to Ashok’s “day job.” He runs an orphanage for boys (which incidentally greatly reminds me of Disney World), and uses his stolen goods to finance it—all in memory of his mother, whose statue adorns the garden where he talks to her.
Over at Rai Bahadur’s house, a drunken Ramesh (Prem Chopra) is talking to a portrait of his “father” Shyam about how he has celebrated Diwali by gambling and ogling courtesans. Rai Bahadur tells Munimji to take him to his room as Seema and her father arrive with holiday greetings. It’s clear that Rai Bahadur hopes that she will marry Ramesh and reform him.
Later, Ramesh is gambling at a club. Ashok and Mahesh see him cheating and expose him in front of his friends. Ashok challenges him to a game of cards. When Ramesh goes to the club owner to ask for a loan and is refused, a man in the owner’s office says that he will give Ramesh lots of money.
It’s Mike (Manmohan) whom we earlier saw with Ajit. He thinks that it will be easy since Ramesh is a pilot, and nobody will suspect him because he’s practically engaged to the Police Inspector General’s niece. Mahesh, eavesdropping practically right in front of them, hears everything and tells Ashok.
Ashok manages to switch cameras with Ramesh and romance Seema, all at the same time. He also steals the payment from Mike, with the help of one of those gorgeous Rajasthani horses that I love so much.
He sends the camera to Seema’s uncle (the Inspector General) and goes to the station himself. Ramesh is there filing a complaint against Jugnu and he is horrified to see the camera there. Ashok intervenes as he’s about to steal it, and then Seema arrives with some friends. They are raising money for the National Defence Fund; debt-ridden Ramesh coughs up a few thousand rupees, but Ashok writes a generous cheque for 3 lakh rupees. Seema is finally impressed. When she discovers that he runs a home for boys, love blossoms. And when Seema drinks a spiked Coke that Ramesh intended for Ashok, love really REALLY blossoms (a wonderful SD Burman song “Jaane Kya Pilaya Tune”).
The chemistry between these two positively crackles! There is a very silly side plot having to do with Mahesh and his wife and father-in-law (Dhumal of course!) who is a circus ringmaster and wants Mahesh to join the family business. This requires a clown suit or two and a tiger wandering the streets, and culminates in Mahesh spotting Ajit and Mike’s hideout, but that’s all I’m going to say.
Ajit and Mike have discovered the useless photos and are not happy with Ramesh. Ramesh blames Jugnu, whom Ajit remembers from the train robbery.
Ajit has a steel hook which converts to knives, exactly like Mr. Han from Enter The Dragon! Ashok goes one better than Bruce Lee when he shows up though, and Ajit is the one left with scars.
Needless to say, he is out for blood. Ajit’s moll is not as dumb as she looks.
Well, okay maybe she is. But they decide that they must kill Ashok the next night at a dinner being held for the Defence Fund. He is the guest of honor and Seema is performing a dance.
Seema introduces Ashok to the organizer of the Fund when they arrive. He is Professor Chaudhury—and only we know that he is also Shyam, Ashok’s father! Only for about five minutes though. Ashok gives his card to the Professor and says he named his home for boys Parvati Mandir in honor of his mother. The Professor asks what his father’s name was and he quotes his father as his mother always had.
With this, the show begins. It’s a beautiful song with fabulous dancing by Hema Malini: “Meri Payaliya Geet Tere Gaye.” Professor Chaudhury is sitting next to Ashok and leans forward to pick up Ashok’s wallet (which he had dropped when he took out his card). At this moment, Mike fires his pistol and hits the Professor in the arm. On his way out, Mike kidnaps Seema. Since the Professor is not badly injured, Ashok-Jugnu goes in pursuit of them.
It’s a classic chase: now daylight, now night, while Ajit watches it from home on tv and gives instructions to Mike (via a regular microphone this time), like “spray petrol on the road and light it!”
It just keeps getting better. Ajit takes to his helicopter to join the chase. In a tunnel, Ashok manages to stop Mike and they battle it out, resulting in Mike and his henchman driving away in Ashok’s car, while Ashok and Seema are left with Mike’s car. Ajit sees Ashok’s car and deploys his giant magnet, picking up the car with Mike and his henchman inside and dropping it into the ocean as they yell “Boss! Boss!”
This simply could not be improved upon. “Jugnu” flirts with Seema but she tells him she loves Ashok. She teases Ashok when she gets home by repeating Jugnu’s outrageous sentiments:
Ashok pretends to be jealous until she reassures him that it is he she loves with another lovely song. But since we still have more than an hour to go, it can’t be that easy. She takes him home to meet her mother. A garlanded portrait of her deceased father hangs on the wall; he was the zamindar whom Ashok killed all those years ago. He leaves without an explanation or meeting her mother.
When he reaches home, he finds the Professor destroying the statue of his mother. The Professor, searching for them years ago, had heard the story of Parvati’s death and the zamindar’s murder. He is afraid that Parvati’s statue will lead the police to Ashok. Ashok thrashes him in anger until the IG arrives.
What happens over the next hour? Will Ashok discover that the Professor is his father? Will the police catch Jugnu? Can he ever tell Seema that he killed her father? Will Rai Bahadur ever find his son and real grandson? Will the giant magnet make another appearance? Will Seema need her sharpshooting skills? You will have to watch to find out. It is worth it, believe me.
And this, I freely admit, is just gratuitous: