Widely considered the inspiration for Sholay, this film is quite simply awesome. It’s much smaller in scale, but director Raj Khosla’s deft treatment of the same themes, the pace and the fantastic performances by everyone make it just as compelling. Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s tunes are foot-tappingly addictive too.
Laxmi Chhaya is especially impressive in her role as a dancer spying for the dacoits. Besides her dancing ability (she’s memorable as the girl in the golden dress in “Jaan Pehchaan Ho” from Gumnaam), she has acting skills too. She very competently played Asha Parekh’s best friend in Teesri Manzil, and she’s beautiful to boot. But in all her films (sadly few in number) she was relegated to secondary roles and bit parts. I don’t get it.
Anyway, our film opens with a thief named Ajit (Dharmendra) being nabbed by a one-armed man (the first of many similarities with Sholay—see if you can count them all!). He is put in jail for six months after telling the judge that since he has been an orphan since childhood he’s been given no opportunities to work and build a life like ordinary people. He also confronts Major Jaswant Singh (Jayant), the man who caught him, asking why he interfered:
Upon his release from prison, he is told that the Major has invited him to come to him if he really wants to better himself. He flips a coin and decides he’ll do it. The Major lives in a rural village which is routinely terrorized by a gang of dacoits; the inhabitants are cowed and do nothing to stop them.
On arrival, Ajit is greeted by a woman as her long-lost son—killed by the dacoits years ago, driving her mad with grief. Then as he is out walking, he comes across a group of pretty village girls bathing. They spot him spying on them and, led by Anju (Asha Parekh), throw cow-dung at him. Anju is the daughter of the village chief, and Ajit is quickly smitten with her. He meets and befriends more villagers, including Motumal and Chotumal (Asit Sen and Bhagwan) who are cheerful (and amusing) drunkards. He enlists a little boy Munna—who is Anju’s brother—to help him romance Anju by carrying messages to her, and gives him a pair of the Major’s shorts (since he is half-naked).
What with Anju and her family, his drinking buddies, the mad woman who thinks he is her son and large-hearted Major Jaswant Singh, he is quickly feeling at home.
I am pretty fond of this village and its denizens myself, by now. It’s picturesquely shot around the pretty landscape of Udaipur in Rajasthan, which doesn’t hurt.
Ajit’s pursuit of Anju is working like a charm too, and her father approves their engagement. Life is looking up! Of course, we haven’t met the dacoits yet, but we’re about to.
Their leader Jabbar Singh (Vinod Khanna is fierce!) storms into Anju’s family’s house one day. He kills one of her relatives and then turns his rifle on poor Munna and kills him too. It’s truly dreadful.
Anju’s father has recognized one of Jabbar Singh’s men, who used to live in the village. He agrees to testify in court against the man. Cue the Sergio Leone music. Jabbar Singh soon comes back, and kills Anju’s father as she runs from house to house looking for help. Doors stay firmly closed and locked. Ajit and the Major hear the gunshots from the fields where they are working, but get there too late.
The police get no help either, when they arrive. Nobody will admit to recognizing Jabbar Singh and his men. Anju is ready to, but her mother begs her not to and she folds. Meanwhile Jabbar has decided to teach the village a lesson in return for their chief’s “rebellion.” Ajit stands up to them when they arrive, but is unarmed and gets a good thrashing. Jabbar is worried that Ajit may be a policeman, so he sends a dancing girl named Munnibai (Laxmi Chhaya) to spy on him.
Why is she not a star, why? Anyway, she tells Ajit that she was abducted by the dacoits and wants revenge on them. He agrees to let her help him. What Jabbar Singh has failed to consider, though, is the magnetism of Dharmendra—Munnibai falls head over heels for him and decides to double-cross Jabbar. She doesn’t know that Ajit’s already in love with Anju.
What will happen when she finds out? Will Jabbar Singh use Ajit’s love for Anju against him? Will anyone in the village ever grow a pair?
Watch Mera Gaon Mera Desh to find out. The final scenes are spectacular!