Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971)

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!

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25 Comments to “Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971)”

  1. A great post. I saw the movies years ago and dont remember enough about it to connect it to Sholay. I do remember the songs though (courtesy various song programs), and they were great! There was one funny scene where Dharmendra’s character helps the young boy wear shorts telling him,”Come here, let me make you Dev Anand”. Never figured out if it was a comment on Dev Anand’s sartorial style or an example of Dev’s immense popularity winning over the boy!

  2. Hi Bollyviewer—I just went and looked at your blog; I think we have similar tastes! :-)

    I loved that scene too (it’s the screen shot with the way-too-big shorts): and the kid was so endearing that when he was killed, I wanted to kill Jabbar Singh myself.

  3. Yes, Memsaab. We do share the same taste in movies. I am a huge fan of Shammi Kapoor’s 60’s masala flicks too! Have you seen his Boyfriend (1961, with Madhubala) and Bluff Master (1963, with Saira Banu)? They are both fun movies with great songs.

  4. I love both movies; when he sings “Salaam Aapki Meethi Nazar Ko Salaam” to Madhubala as she sleeps, I just melt into a puddle.

    And he is hilarious in Bluff Master—I especially love the qawwali with Saira where he’s dressed as a woman.

  5. How interesting- it truly IS the predecessor to Sholay- I must find a copy and see this- thanks! I feel a bit sad about Vinod Khanna playing such an evil baddie- I like him to play nice- he is beyond cute!

  6. Ah but Vinod is quite deliciously bad :-) It’s just as good as Sholay, although very different in spite of the similarities—not nearly as grand and sweeping, but you really get involved in the story and the people in the same way.

  7. Watching Shammi sing Salaam aapki meethi nazar ko salaam is probably my favourite Shammi moment of all time :-) Am not as much of a huge fan as you are, but that song has something about it.

    ~r

  8. I agree the Munnibai character was way more interesting and awesome than Asha’s character. Asha is not a heroine I adore; one of the few 70’s heroines I’m not nuts about! I guess for that, this movie falls behind and I mainly see it as an okay solid Dharmendra entertainer with the delicious bonus of very very bad Vinod Khanna (mmm this is totally his best villain role). The last song number is worth remembering, though.

  9. Wait, what!? Sholay is a remake?! And Dharmendra’s in both of them?! And VINOD KHANNA is the original -abbar Singh!?

    WHAT!?

    WHAT!?!

    This I must see.

  10. I wouldn’t call Sholay a remake—it’s quite a different film; but this one clearly contributed a lot to Ramesh Sippy’s vision. I would call it more of a starting point or inspiration for Sholay. It definitely is a must see in my book :-)

    I’m a bigger fan of Asha than many people are—although it took a while—but she didn’t have that much to do in this.

    And Laxmi Chhaya just really stood out. And yes, Vinod really rocked as the baaaaaad guy.

  11. “Sholay” takes inspiratio from many movies, and “Mera Gaon Mera Desh” is a major inspiration.

    I recall that when “Sholay” was released in 1975, then the most popular Hindi movie magazine (“Filmy Duniya”) has remarked that “Sholay” would have come close to “Mera Gaon mera desh” if its producers worked hard.

    Famous last words they were.;)

  12. I ordered this excellent movie after reading this excellent review, and I just finished watching it. It started a little slow for me but drew me in after the first 20 minutes or so. I loved it – it was really well shot, great job by the crew. Laxmi Chhaya was fantastic, as you said, as was Vinod Khanna (first time I’ve seen him in a ‘negative role’, and he did a great job). I loved Dharmendra’s performance as well (shocker!).

    I never really liked Asha Parekh in anything prior to watching this (ok, I’ve only seen her in 2 movies, but I found her a bit annoying in ‘Teesri Manzil'; and I didn’t like the first half of ‘Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki’, so I – unfairly I guess – projected my dislike of the storyline on to her and Vijay), but I thought she was really good in ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’, even though, as you say, it wasn’t the most challenging role. I loved how she was really feisty but also dignified. Now I think I’m ready for more of her.

    It’s interesting that although almost everyone praises Laxmi Chhaya’s performance, Laxmi felt that Asha stole some of her shine (according to Asha’s bio on IMDb). Perhaps Laxmi’s bitterness (if indeed she was bitter) is understandable – she probably hoped to get on the A-list after this strong performance, it’s a shame that didn’t happen. And it was also interesting to see that she appeared in quite a few good films, she just didn’t get the plum roles (except in this one).

    Random comment: It really amuses me how clearly you can see the one-armed man’s arm under his shirt – both in this and in ‘Sholay’. The ‘missing arm’ even moves sometimes.

    Thanks Memsaab, for recommending this movie!

  13. I’m so glad you liked it and came back to tell me so!!!! I love Asha P., she’s been in lots of good films and is usually pretty feisty. She’s my favorite Shammi heroine, she really didn’t take any grief from him (he acknowledges that it was true in real life too)…

    And I *do not* understand why Laxmi didn’t make it as a bigger heroine but always ended up in secondary roles. She’s a good actress, and beautiful. It’s a mystery to me.

    And Garam Dharam….well, sigh.

  14. verrry interesting…never knew that sholay was an almost remake of MGMD :) thanx for the knowledge enhancement

    have been browsing though the archives of your blog for some time…and some very nice reviews you have done…mucho interesting reading for me :D

    oh…btw…it is ennio morricone music, and not sergio leone…ennio did the music in most of the sergio eone westerns ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ennio_morricone ) …and a fab job of it he did too…have an entire collection of his soundtracks and just love to have the spooky music play when i am trying to study…provides a nice distraction :))

  15. Hi sandeip :-) Thanks for your kind words! And yes of course it is Ennio Morricone (I have the same collection of his soundtrack music, and it is fabulous)—thank you for clarifying, I meant the music from Leone’s films, but didn’t make it at all clear that he didn’t write the music :-)

  16. mgmd the best film i’v ever seen.sholay was inspired by this great movie.if sholay is 5 star mera g m d is 7star. i’v seen it about 100 times.brillient music lovely songs, dharmendera,one of his best perfomace.

  17. Laxmi Chhaya number ‘Maar diya jaaye ya chhod diya jaaye’ became something like an anthem.

  18. trivia—what is gabbar singhs father named in sholay??????/

  19. I love dharmendra but not asha parekh > I only like dharmendra with hemaji . what a couple it was . I like this film very much My fathere took us (all my brothers and me to the theatre) to see this film years ago . touching story. Nothing exaggerated in it (which I like the most

  20. Hah! Jayant played the thief-tamer in MGMD, while his son played Gabbar in Sholay.
    You’re so right, Laxmi Chhaya was under-rated and probably exploited too – she played heroine in a few B-grade movies, as they were called. And Shashikala too, didn’t receive her fair share of acclaim. I read a long time ago, she worked with Mother Teresa for several years.
    Yes, I too am struck by Manmohan Krishna’s kind face, but he did play the baddie in at least one film, I won’t spoil it for you, you’ve already seen it probably. As you can see, I’m on a Memsaab marathon today. You r observations about these lesser sung performers are exactly how many of us feel about them.
    I rather liked `Sona lai jaa re’ and of course, maar diya jaaye.

  21. persnally would recomend this movie to generation born post 1985 to have a look and see what real cinema was. RAVINDER MMINHAS JALANDHAR CITY PANJAB minhas35@yahoo.com.
    AN epic by itself,1971 I believe if I remember to be exact though I was in first std of school ,I can recloect in bits&pieces ,but when it was rereleased in 1973 and before the release of KACHE DAGHE to build the tempo,I remember there was place to set a foot in cinema hall. Coming back to movie one cannot remake it anyday this one one of most underrated director respected RAJ KHOSLA,be it social DO RASTE 1969, MAIN TULSI TERE ANGAN KI 1978, PREM KAHANI 1975, or suspense thriller WOH KAUN THI 1964,,ANITA 1967or even DOSTANA 1980, this movie was entirely shot on actual location to expect high pitch preformance from respected Dharam uncle&Asha aunty was nothing unusual, but ones who stole the show were respected Vinood uncle/and Laxmi Chhaya aunty and Jayant da father amjad khan uncle,one cannot miss a single sceneand not even one song nor they seemed were forced upon,they all were interegal part of happenings,even today fourty two years after the release it remains fresh in minds,I

  22. Much better than Sholay in my opinion. Sholay was just too long, and the climax was too abrupt. Although some scenes were brilliant but clearly inspired by spaghetti westerns. Sholay’s story was “inspired” by the Seven Samurai and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidd. Where MGMD is uniquely original in its tune. And probably Dharmender ‘s best movie and VK’ best performance as a villain. The music and background soundtrack is the best ever for an action movie. Raj Khosle went on to make an even better movie with two of the best looking men in all of Indian movie history Kabir Bedi and VK . My all time favorite dacoit movie. Shot in the same village it is a masterpiece. A must see!

  23. The name of the movie was Kachee Daage !

  24. Mera Gaon Mera Desh really captured the essence and smell of soil of India’s West (dacoit infested regions of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) better than Sholay. Vinod Khanna asb Jabbar Singh was superb.

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