Against all reason, against all logic, against all standards of film appreciation (not that mine are very high), I loved this movie. The story is a Manmohan Desai fairy tale, replete with separated children, near misses, and absurd coincidences. And best of all, the costumes and sets are a veritable Halloween party!
It’s a costume epic that doesn’t know what costume to wear; a period piece without a period! Dharmendra is dressed as a Roman gladiator, Jeetendra wears a matador outfit, Zeenat lounges in 50’s Hollywood lingerie…the list goes on and on (as do my screen shots). Let’s just get to it, shall we?
The princess of a Rajput kingdom, Meenakshi (Indrani Mukherjee), is out hunting one day when she is set upon by villains sent by her jealous brother Satpal Singh (Jeevan). An astrologer has predicted that Meenakshi’s eldest son will kill Satpal, and he’s taking no chances. A passing hunter and Samurai expert named Jwala (Pran) rescues her with the help of his falcon, Sheroo the Wonder Bird.
The princess’ father has been looking for a husband for her, but has already rejected Jwala’s proposal since he is not of royal lineage. Jwala loves the Rajkumari, and has even carved a life-sized statue of her which sits in his house. As his reward for saving her life, she agrees to marry him right there.
Their post-connubial bliss is interrupted by a tigress, and Jwala goes after it. Meenakshi follows and finds a bloodied and mauled body wearing Jwala’s cloak. She faints, is found by palace guards, and taken home in a catatonic (no pun intended) state.
The King of a neighboring state, Pratap Singh (Pradeep Kumar) agrees to marry her despite this. She wakes up from her trance to a new new husband:
When she tells him that she had already married another man and wants to remain faithful to his memory, he agrees not to touch her. When she soon after discovers that she is pregnant, he asks her to keep the baby’s parentage a secret for the sake of his own honor, and she readily agrees.
Meanwhile, her father has discovered her brother’s perfidy against her, and has banished him from his kingdom. Satpal comes to Meenakshi’s new home with his pregnant wife Roopmati (Chand Usmani), and she welcomes them with open arms. Pratap Singh goes off to war leaving his wife in her brother’s care.
Roopmati and Meenakshi give birth to sons within minutes of each other. When Satpal hears the news, he remembers the astrologer’s prediction.
Meenakshi, meanwhile, has gone into labor again—she’s having twins! The midwife carelessly leaves the first-born on top of a dresser when she’s informed.
Satpal Singh sneaks in, snatches his nephew up and throws him off the castle parapet. Sheroo the Wonder Bird catches him before he hits the ground and flies off with him to the forest.
The midwife breaks the news to the Maharani, who is naturally devastated. Pretending sympathy, Satpal Singh brings his own newborn son in and surreptitiously switches him for the second twin.
In the forest, an ironmonger’s wife tells her husband:
Now see, that wouldn’t be my first question, but never mind. They decide that this infant is a reward for their good deed:
It’s Jwala! and he wakes up finally a few minutes later. He gets up, thanks them, and goes in search of Meenakshi, little dreaming that the infant the ironmonger’s wife holds is his own son.
Back at the palace, Roopmati switches the babies back—she wants to bring up her own son, naturally, and disapproves of Satpal’s actions anyway. She doesn’t tell him what she’s done.
Jwala, meanwhile, is in the crowd at the palace celebrating the new Rajkumar’s arrival. He leaves quietly, heartbroken at what he thinks is his wife’s betrayal.
Soon after his departure, soldiers arrive with the news that Pratap Singh has been killed in battle. At home, Jwala sets the statue of Meenakshi that he had carved on fire.
Years pass, and Ramdin (Hercules) teaches his son the ironmongering business. Look—it’s Bobby Deol in a very fleeting cameo!
He grows up to be Dharam (Dharmendra, in a mini skirt/gladiator outfit!)
He is giving this arrow to his best friend on their shared birthday the next day. At the palace, Rajkumar Veer (Jeetendra) is using his doting uncle as target practice.
Satpal is still under the misapprehension that Veer is his real son. He treats his own son Ranjeet (Ranjeet) with scorn and disdain. Poor Ranjeet! He’s always trying to keep up with Veer to win his father’s approval.
The next day Veer goes to meet Dharam and they exchange birthday gifts: the arrow from Dharam and a horse from Veer. It’s quickly established that their love for one another is enduring.
What is inexplicable to me, though, is that while Dharam is still wearing his gladiator skirt, Veer is suddenly sporting a wide-collared shirt and suit circa…well, 1977! He would not look out of place at a disco.
Later, they go to a jousting tournament that haughty Rajkumari Pallavi (Zeenat Aman) is hosting. We’ve now gone from European medieval to what appears to be a Bedouin desert-type palace, and is that the Washington Capitol building I see on the right?
While Dharam is still wearing a skirt, Veer is now dressed as a matador:
And Pallavi herself seems confused about what she wants to be:
Wonder Woman? A WWI-era Kaiserin? I am delighted (and distracted) by this craziness. Dharam wins the jousting contest and asks for the Rajkumari’s hand as his prize. Like father, like son!
She has him arrested for his temerity and puts him in a cage, where little people poke him with spears.
We could now be at the Forum during Caesar’s reign!
Veer escapes, and stumbles across a band of gypsies led by a beauty named Rupa (Neetu Singh).
After a fantastic gypsy song and dance at the palace, Veer rescues Dharam, to the annoyance of Pallavi and her brother (Dev Kumar).
Note that now Pallavi is dressed as a beauty queen contestant, although her brother is carrying on the WWI-era Kaiser thing. Here are some of her other avatars:
I particularly love the gold boots, of course. But on with our story!
Lest you grow weary with this long post, let me just say that Dharam has not learned his lesson, and continues to romance Pallavi. Rupa the gypsy is smitten too, and chases after Veer even after she discovers that he is a prince. Along the way, the foursome incur the enmity of Pallavi’s brother and other suitor Sujan (Sujit Singh) and Rupa’s wanna-be “fiance” in the gypsy camp, Azad (Azad Singh).
Jwala finds Dharam injured in the forest and befriends him, with the result that Dharam and Veer ask him to teach them the ways of the Samurai. He does, although of course none of them know their relationship. The Maharani finds out from Veer that Jwala is alive and goes to see him:
but he sends her on her way, still believing that she betrayed him. She doesn’t tell him the truth, being bound by her promise to Pratap Singh (even though he’s dead, which I think should kind of let her off the hook).
Oh! the angst! the broken hearts! the seething villainy! the costume confusion! Dharam’s leather pants!!!! His father’s Star Wars outfit!
Will Cinderella ever find her Prince? Just kidding: this is Meenakshi’s coach and four:
What a revolutionary idea: a HAND guillotine!
Will the villains band together to break Dharam-Veer’s unbreakable bond?
Will Meenakshi ever find out that Dharam is her lost son? Will Dharam and Veer discover that they are brothers? And Jwala their father? Will Jwala find out that Meenakshi has been true to him?
Although I love Manmohan Desai films, I generally have one wee little quibble with them: they start off so strongly and dramatically that by the end I feel a little flat: the payoff doesn’t somehow match up to the early promise. The plot seems to go off the rails a little bit after the middle. But I loved the end of this one—I didn’t feel let down at all, and in fact got more engaged and invested in it as the movie went on.
If you are like me, this historically confused epic masala film will win your heart!