Dharam-Veer (1977)

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!

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40 Comments to “Dharam-Veer (1977)”

  1. It’s suppose to be “historically confused” – Dharam Veer is obviously fantasy story like Lord of the Rings, Time Bandits and Krull etc.

    There’s currently a Dharam Veer TV series running on NDTV Imagine.

    http://www.ndtvimagine.com/dv/imagine_dv_about.asp

  2. The movie is incorrectly named – it should be called “A Fashion History of Human Civilisation”. lol!!! I hope Jeetendra wore pristine white suits and pointy white shoes in the screen caps you couldnt make space for – the history of human fashions would be incomplete without that. :-D

  3. Oh, oh, one of my favourites as a kid. Can you imagine our dress sense as we grew up? Really bizarre. But fun, too.

  4. Anon: those films are set in a “vague” fantasy place that’s consistent, but only time travel could explain these costumes, and I saw no evidence of that :-) But I didn’t care—that was part of its overall charm, which was extensive!

    Bollyviewer: definitely there were pristine white suits, I don’t remember pointy shoes though.

    Banno: SO MUCH FUN. None of us who were dressing ourselves in the 70′s can point fingers, anyway :-)

  5. This came out the year I was born! I really wish my birth year were marked with a greater fashion accomplishment than gold boots and matador shirts, but this movie will have to remain its legacy. ;-) I am so confused after reading the synopsis that I’m wondering if I have the mental acumen to watch masala.

  6. Ha ha ajnabi—you don’t need acumen to watch masala, just infinite patience and a rewind button.

    It could be much worse than gold boots and a matador shirt! And Dharmendra in a short short skirt!

  7. OH.MY.GOD.

    You know how nowadays before the release of every movie, the stars give extensive interviews (about the roles, director, co-stars, etc)? I wish they had the same practice back in those days as well. I’d have LOVED to know what Zeenat, Dharmendra & the rest thought about their outfits, if nothing else!!

  8. Actually, the person I would have wanted to be in this film is Indrani Mukherjee: she had a fabulous assortument of gowns and jewels, especially tiaras. Plus, she is really really gorgeous.

  9. Looks more like St Paul’s Cathedral than Washington Capital Building.

  10. “It’s a costume epic that doesn’t know what costume to wear; a period piece without a period!”… What an excellent way to describe this movie! I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks mad cow crazy. And where else could I see Pran as a samurai?!

    And oh! Tiny Bobby Deol. Looks like he was always adorable.

  11. Bobby is billed as “Bobby Junior Dharmendra” and he is cute as a button for all 10 seconds he’s onscreen. Pran is just plain awesome as usual.

  12. memsaab I’m overjoyed that you reviewed this film, its just so mad with the costumes but my favorite part was the Ranjeet whipping, pooor thing always wanted love, i love it!

  13. Hi Rum, am so glad you are glad :-) I did feel sooooo sorry for Ranjeet! He looked v.v. handsome in his outfits too I must say. The medieval/pirate look agreed with him!

  14. I adore this movie. I came for the buddypyaari, I stayed for everything else and screencapped the ridiculous awesomeness of the movie to death. It was everything! Just ..everything! From Pran the samurai-ranger to Ancient Rome to gypsies to pirates to whipping.

    It’s totally one of the craziest Desai movies out there and I’m so glad it was my first. It also introduced me to Neetu Singh who I adore now.

  15. Sanni, as I recall your review is what made me look for it :-)

  16. And the mythology of Kans and Krishna serves as the background for Satpal Singh’s actions. Kans was Krishna’s uncle who was told that his sister’s child (8th one) would kill him. So he imprisoned his sister and her husband, and started killing the babies that were born. Of course, it didn’t quite go per his plans.
    Where are the screen-caps of Zeenat in her lingerie costume? ;)

  17. You should also check out another movie called “Chacha Bhatija” with Dharam and Randhir Kapoor, directed by Manmohan Desai.

  18. I think I have Chacha Bhatija, will move it up in the pile :-) Thanks for the info re: Krishna/Kans, it’s the sort of thing I love to be educated about!!!

    The split screen cap of Zeenat in the white lace ensemble is her Hollywood lingerie look…so demure.

  19. I think I have Chacha Bhatija, will move it up in the pile :-)

    Or we can watch it on a Wed at Carla’s place. :-)

  20. Since I haven’t seen it either.
    (rest of the comment)

  21. Amit—what a good plan! :-) Let’s!

  22. Memsaab you are part of the crowd which simply loved this movie and made it a super hit those days!

  23. And I am soooo happy to be so, Anonymous! :-)

  24. I love this movie I watched it about 38 time and want to see it more

  25. Even though I just saw it a few days ago, I’m laughing my head off remembering it while reading here :) Aaaah, memories. This is truly an excellent masala romp and I’m already planning to make some innocent bystanders watch it as soon as possible.

    Something I had forgotten: on one of the scenes on the ship, Jeevan gathers all the enemies of Dharam-Veer together and introduces them, and they’re ALL NAMED SINGH, yet no one makes a comment about it. It played just like the Bobs from Office Space. I about died laughing.

  26. It is CRACKTASTIC, from beginning to end…I love the sailing ship :-)

    Have you seen Mard, Beth?

  27. I have not, but I am the proud owner of a copy and can hardly wait! Drinkawatchalong? :)

  28. We should remember this film just for all the ggod song and the entertainment value.In real life, there are very few or in fact rare cases wherein people get lost and then are found.Again, this happens -at all, in case of only two relatives/siblings/off springs and not with entire family getting separated and then united after a gap of bais saal (22 years-Amar Akbar Anthony) .

    But I like this film because, I saw it in 1977 when I was a kid and therefore, did not know much about the stories. It was a fantasy film for me with a lot of entertainment value. In those days, may be grown up people were also looking out more for good entertainment and songs and that is why this was a hit. Else, how can it be possible that the horse also goes in to the sea alongwith his dead master (Pran) ?

  29. Unfortunately, Manmohan Desaiji’s films starring AB started deteorating after AAA. AAA was definitely a super duper hit and it was a deserving hit as it had full masala with not a moment of boredom. Naseeb was also a very good movie but hardly 60 % compared to AAA. And then, Coolie and Mard were totally hopeless movies. May be Coolie was made to attract the railway coolies as well as the muslims so that they are attracted to see the movie as the profession of the hero was of a coolie who was a Muslim by religion. But story wise, there was absolutely no freshness in it. And less said the better about Mard.

  30. Ha ha! I see you are NOT a Manmohan Desai fan. I love his films—they don’t need to be realistic (and in fact do not even try)! But that’s what makes life interesting :) Thanks for your comments!

  31. Brilliant movie but where did you get a copy of the film with English subtitles??

  32. Did you know Shashi Kapoor was originally supposed to star in this movie? But he didn’t have the dates and hence Jeetendra had to step in.

    That brings to my mind, the only two Kapoors Dharmendra has NOT worked with are the first (Prithviraj) and the last (Kareena). It’s a record of sorts.

  33. I cannot believe you didn’t have any caps for Dharam and Pallavi’s uh… “courtship”!

    He tied her up and dragged her behind his horse and then she escaped and discovered her fiance had thin blood and then fell in love.

    Totally logical.

  34. So would somebody care to answer the following: Who’s ever worn the smallest mini-skirt/dress in a hindi movie? (Although I believe memsahib sort-of answers in the post itself!)

  35. Methinks Dharam is wearing a one piece, or else I’m praying it’s a skort.

    Loved this movie when I watched it ages ago as a wonderstruck child. I remember the friends and friends of friends I watched it with, the orange ice I ate at INTERVAL.
    The fantastic falcon! Pran! Indrani Mukherjee! Neetu Singh! Zeenat Aman! Dharmendra! Bobby Deol? Would’ve recognized him had we re-viewed this. Hum banjaron ki baat mat poochho ji! O meri mehbooba!
    Your costume appraisals!

  36. Watching Dharam-Veer again after so many years. The credits show that Lyrics by Anand Bakshi and Viththal Bhai Patel. I am very curious which song is written by AB and which one by Patel. I am a big fan of both and having tough time to recognize just by the style. Anyone out there who could shed some light?

  37. Finally watching it now. Can’t wait to find out what happens in the end!! *so exciting* *eeeeeee*

  38. The skirts worn by dharam were funny. Probably the only film where the hero wore skirts throughout.

    Jeetendra plays second fiddle as usual.

    An unaldulterated masala by Manmohan Desai.

    A pity, he committed suicide.

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