Desh Premee (1982)

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I would be hard-pressed to choose my favorite Manmohan Desai film were I ever forced to. But Desh Premee would be near the top of the list. I loved this film; once again the great director has given us a sprawling and complex story encompassing themes of compassion, unity, justice, patriotism, faith and love. He uses leprosy both as a metaphor for the corruption eating away at his country, and as a message of non-exclusion, and the unwavering courage and integrity of Masterji both destroys his happiness and saves his loved ones at the end. There are many moments of humor and silliness, of course, but the movie’s overall tone is quite serious as compared to some of his other work.

I think I’ve finally put my finger on why I love Desai’s films so much. Like me he has a cynic’s view of the world; and also like me, a romantic soul underlying that cynicism. That juxtaposition between often harsh reality and what we wish were real instead is present in all his work, and he always lets the “wishing” side win. Even when the ending is somewhat sad (like Roti) we are still left with a sense of hope. Plus, his imagery and plots are just so FAB.

Master Dinanath (Amitabh Bachchan) is a freedom fighter during India’s battle against the British Raj for independence. He is imprisoned and tortured: the film opens with his defiant cries of “Inqilab Zindabad!” as barbed wire is wound tightly around his body and his head. No prizes for subtle imagery here!

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After Independence, he is awarded the medal of freedom. The man who puts it around his neck is Thakur Pratap Singh (Amjad Khan)—but he is a man not worthy of medals. He is making his fortune through smuggling guns and other nefarious activites. School teacher Dinanath has a family: wife Bharti (Sharmila Tagore) and a son Raju and daughter Preeti, who has come down with a fever.

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In Masterji and Raju’s absence, Bharti sees Pratap Singh using her husband’s classroom to hide illegal guns. She confronts him, and he retaliates by having his partner Sher Singh (Kadar Khan) kidnap her and her daughter. When Masterji returns from his school trip, Pratap Singh offers him a huge amount of cash—and threatens his wife and daughter’s safety—as a bribe to keep him quiet.

After a long night weighing his options, Masterji returns the money to Pratap Singh and has him arrested. Pratap Singh retaliates by sending his accountant Munimji (Jeevan) to instigate rumors of Masterji’s corruption among the townspeople, who are only too ready to turn on the man they had lauded the day before as a great patriot.

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They torch Masterji’s house and he barely manages to rescue his sleeping son and escape from the back. Munimji informs Pratap Singh that Masterji is dead.

Meanwhile, Bharti and Preeti are being kept by Sher Singh in a filthy, dark shack. Sher Singh is attracted to her, but she rejects his every advance angrily. He tells her that her husband and son have been killed and rips off her mangalsutra in a rage, forcing her to put on a sari he has bought her. The police find a bundle containing Bharti’s old sari and her mangalsutra in the river, and tell Masterji that she is dead too.

Bharti escapes from her imprisonment and takes her daughter to a close friend of hers named Geeta (Gita Siddharth—better known to me as the hand-feeding Maaaaaa! from Disco Dancer), who is married to Major Verma (Jagdish Raj).

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She leaves sleeping Preeti with a note asking Geeta and her husband to bring her up as they would their own child, and slips away to confront Sher Singh with the reason she cannot care for her daughter.

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She has contracted the disfiguring disease thanks to Sher Singh’s dirty rat-infested prison. Poor Bharti! She shoots Sher Singh and is sentenced to seven years in prison (although he is not killed).

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Meanwhile, Master Dinananth and Raju have found their way to a new locality called Bharatnagar. Raju sees a man drop his wallet, and though he tries to hide it from his father, Dinanath takes it and returns it to its owner—who gives him a job delivering kerosene to the town.

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Bharatnagar is divided into four sections: Punjabi, Madrasi, Bengali, and Muslim, each section presided over by a its own “don”—Shamsher Singh (Shammi Kapoor), Puthu Anna (Premnath), Parunto Ghosh (Uttam Kumar) and Ghulam Ali (Parikshat Sahni).

These four control everything, and quarrel over everything too. Masterji attempts to bring them together with a song: “Mere Deshpremiyon.”

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When they realize that Masterji has the respect of the local police, they decide to present a united front to him to keep the police out of their hair. Raju, although still a boy, knows exactly what is going on, and he extorts money from them in exchange for his not telling his father what they are really up to (the usual corruption, mixing grains with gravel, etc.).

Years later, when he has grown up (Amitabh again) he is still a badmash, and his father is still blissfully unaware of it. One day Raju runs into Pratap Singh, who is now counterfeiting money in partnership with Sher Singh and selling Indian women into “foreign” slavery in partnership with Munimji. He is startled at the sight of Raju and questions him.

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Raju tells him that his name is Tony, and that he has no parents. Pratap Singh’s own son Deepak (Navin Nischol) has grown up to become a Police Inspector—and he is happily unaware of his own father’s activities. I love the symmetry in that. Pratap Singh hires “Tony”; despite his resemblence to Pratap’s old foe, Raju is clearly a rogue worth cultivating.

One day while running from the police, Raju hides in the midst of a group wedding along with a cabaret dancer named Asha (Hema Malini) who is fleeing from a cruel stepbrother. They are married along with all the other couples. Raju then wants her to get lost, but she’s determined to make it a lifelong commitment and follows him singing the lively “Jaoji Jao.” He caves in long enough to spend the wedding night with her in a seedy hotel, but then disappears before she wakes up.

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Preeti has grown up to be Parveen Babi, and become a doctor in the hope that she might one day find her lost and ill mother. Her loving foster parents, the Vermas, have decided that Inspector Deepak (son of the oh-so-respectable Pratap Singh) would make an excellent husband for her.

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The rest of the film (and it’s long even by Desai’s standards) weaves all the scattered ends of this masterful beginning together in a most satisfying way. I’ve left out lots of detail—both so as not to ruin the film, and also because I’d be writing until midnight if I didn’t!

So where is Bharti now? Will she ever discover that her husband and son are alive? Will she find her lost daughter? Will they recognize a scabby old leper woman as their wife/mother? Will Pratap Singh and Sher Singh get their comeuppance? Will Inspector Deepak discover his father’s perfidy? Will he marry Preeti? Can Raju be redeemed or is he forever lost to the dark side? What will Masterji do when he discovers his beloved son’s flaws? Will poor Asha ever find her new husband? For all the answers to this—and more!—watch Desh Premee. Put aside a whole afternoon, you’ll need it and you won’t want to stop the movie midway.

And despite the more sober tone, there is plenty to gape at open-mouthed too, especially during song picturizations (Laxmikant Pyarelal’s music is wonderful). One of them has Amitabh doing an exaggerated imitation of Mehmood’s famous lungi-wearing butler from Gumnaam:

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I wonder what Mehmood himself thought of it. I’ll bet he laughed.

Another song featured Prem Chopra, Amitabh and Hema Malini in blackface posing as members of a band called Santana. I howled, mostly with laughter but partly in pain. So very politically INcorrect (they are even called negroes):

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Here is lovely Hema in a cabaret number, in front of what looks like the NBC peacock:

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And of course, last but by no means least, my beloved Shammi:

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It must have just been SO MUCH FUN to act in Manmohan Desai’s films.

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37 Comments to “Desh Premee (1982)”

  1. Uttam Kumar, Naveen Nischol and Parveen Babi are in this mix too! Eeeee I HAVE to see this now. I saw some of the songs on TV as a kid and it struck me that AB was trying too hard to entertain. Besides I didnt care for either of the two songs I remember (Mere deshpremiyon and the lungi one you’ve screencapped) so I steered clear of this one. Does Sharmila have a big enough role or is she in a “special” appearance?

  2. Sharmila isn’t one of the main characters but she gets some good screen time. I loved this, I really did. AB does ham it up a bit at times, but hey—it’s 1970s Bollywood and Manmohan Desai! :)

  3. I’m fairly new to this blog and it’s probably one of the best I’ve seen. I recall watching Desh Premee a few years back. Didn’t really care for it though. I think Amitabh’s best films of the 80’s were probably Shakti and Shaan. Have you seen those? Namak Halal was pretty entertaining as well. I’m not sure as to whether you’ve seen a lot of the films that come out nowadays but you have to check out Ram Gopal Varma’s Company and Sarkar. They’re absolutely brilliant. Keep up the good work with this blog. It’s awesome to see someone devoting their time to vintage Hindi cinema. Oh, I just remembered – Kader Khan was a total bad ass in Desh Premee. He was a bad ass in Manmohan Desai’s Naseeb as well.

  4. I’ve only read mostly negative things about this film, so I was kind of surprised at how much I liked it. I think I just have an affinity for MD or something (I loved Mard too). The only film of his that I’ve seen (and I think I’ve only NOT seen one or two now that aren’t easy to find) that I didn’t love was Kismat (which I think I posted about here). I loved Namak Halal.

    Wasn’t Shaan a 70’s film though? I haven’t seen Shakti. Loved RGV’s Company, although I don’t like him much in general (also Daud, which I have written about in these pages). Sarkar I felt “meh” about. But Kader Khan is a TOTALLY great badass :))) Glad you have stopped by and thanks for your kind words :-)

  5. “I’ve only read mostly negative things about this film,”- yes, met too, which is why I’ve never bothered watching it. But since u love it so much, there must be some good in it, i am convinced. will look out for it.

  6. I think Shaan came out in 1980. It was Ramesh Sippy’s first film after Sholay. Have you seen it? Thanks for the reply. I just happened to see your performance on Bollywood Ka Boss and it was amazing. I grew up on Hindi films and I would’ve only gotten 4/5. I would’ve went with Murli Prasad on the last one. Good job. I know you don’t like Raj Kapoor films much but how do you feel about Mera Naam Joker? I just realized you said you never saw Shakti. It’s a classic. It got Dilip Kumar his last Filmfare award. Oh and one more, Janbaaz. Have you seen Feroz Khan’s Janbaaz? That film is absolutely warped. I love it.

  7. That star cast itself is enough to make me want to see this movie – though I must agree with bollyviewer that “Aapas mein prem karo mere deshpremiyon” puts me off…. but if it’s got Parveen Babi, Hema and Sharmila Tagore, then I can grin and bear the song. And Naveen Nischol! I love how so many Hindi films in the 60’s and 70’s had people losing their children/siblings, only to be united later.
    Nobody I know ever lost a kid and found it years later… Maybe I just know very boring people. ;-)

  8. I’ve never seen this film. But now that you say it’s on the top of your Manmohan Desai list, then I must see it, mustn’t I?

  9. Lol you liked more than i did, and i have a huge intake of bad 80’s movies! i dunno it just seemed too long for me, but i must rewatch and assesss it again, and i hooted with laughter at Sharmila’s beard/rash on her face! the Blackface song is sooo funny in such a naughty way!

  10. Memsaab this is definitely a case of beauty in the eyes of beholder…you see things in MD that perhaps he never even dreamed of!!!!

    The merit is all yours, I think if MD had read your reviews, he would have been stricken into actually trying to making films worthy of your shining reviews!

  11. totally agree with bawa here!
    i don’t know why, but I feel mighty embarassed while watching such movies. It feels like I’m somehow responsible!
    i know i don’t like MD movies (except for AAA), but I just luv memsaab’s reviews of these films.

  12. Memsaab: in case you think I am always a bit cynical about films, I just discovered, thanks to That video sharing site, that the things that I was hooked on in mychildhood/teen years are not available for all to see. These were my heroes/heroines

    You may watch this for one or more of the following:
    1) if you have plenty of time (there are 41 episodes)
    2) you love beautifully written Urdu
    3) you might like to see Henry James in a true-to-the-book but somehow digestible form
    4) you love fine, and never OTT acting
    5) to see what PTV produced in the days before the Great One-Eyed Dicatator took over.

    Sorry have not been able to find any with sub-titles.

  13. hi every body , i am crazy about LP and Anand bakshi combination , in Desh premee Kishore kumar and his son Amit kumar were sung togather . This first time in bollywood film

  14. Now, I understand desh premi a bit.
    my interpretation:
    the older Amitabh, Dinanath (saviour of the poor), represents the upright citizens of old India
    and the younger one the new one – corrupt but still redeemable.
    Dinanath’s wife Bharati is bharat mata, mother of the Raju (Awara Raju? Prince – inheritor of India?) and Preeti (Love)
    After independence is Mother India in the clutches of bad men – smugglers and terrorists and Dinanath can’t do anything about it. She is tainted – caught leprosy, disfiguring her. India is not attractive any more for her children. They are being brought up other people (Preeti – love) or going on wrong ways (Raju).
    The daughters of Mother India needs the army to protect her (Major Verma as foster father of Preeti) and in the future, the police (Deepak), who is in the shadows of
    evil men (Pratap Singh).
    The youth represented by Raju meets Asha (hope), a runaway, are married by chance to each other, But he doesn’t want her. The youth forsakes hope (Asha) and clings to evil (Pratap Singh).
    Raju and Dinanath live in Bharatnagar (indian town) controlled by Punjabi, Madrasi (sic), Bengali, and Muslim thugs (representing four corners of india), who are fighting among themselves, but basically patriotic (last screen cap).

    So, Pratap Singh (majesty, pride) has to be vanquished. Dinanath (saviour of the poor) has to meet Bharati (mother india), Raju (prince, the inheritor of India) meets Asha (hope), Preeti (love) has to be unified with Deepak (flame), who is still in the shadows of Pratap Singh (evil or pride). the youth and love will see who their real parents are and this will surely lead to mother India’s healing. And evil, pride and ego will be kicked to the moon.

    Manmohanji aap ka jawab nahin!

  15. shweta: Well, I did love it but that doesn’t mean you will :) But give it a chance!

    R Singh: Ah yes, it was 1980! :) And LOL@ Murli Prasad—Raju Hirani (the writer and director of the Munnabhai films) was there, and he said he would have answered Murli too!!! I have Mera Naam Joker and will watch some day…but Raj K. just doesn’t do it for me. It’s entirely possible that I will love it though! And I have Janbaaz and need to watch it SOON.

    dustedoff: I think filmi people lost their kids enough for everyone in India :)

    Banno: Would love to hear what you think of it. It’s not nearly as insane as some of his other films—I felt it was much more serious. But still very entertaining!

    Rum, bawa, harvey: I don’t know…I think he DID know what he was doing. I think his films reflect very much who he was as a person, and how he felt about things. I don’t agree with ALL his views, but I simply love the way he puts them forward in his films. I love the childlike GLEE that shines through his crazy plots—and those plots are very tightly written, which cannot have been easy. He sets things up and then ties them together better than just about anyone.

    bawa2: I’ll take a look, thanks :)

    hitesh: I liked the songs very much too!

    harvey: You have summed it up very nicely (why don’t you have a blog, hmmm? :-)

  16. Hema looks quite chunky.. and look at those costumes…..

  17. Yeah, she was not as lissome as she once was, but maybe she was having her kids around this time?

  18. Yes hema was having kids by this time that is why she is chunky.My excuse exactly. If Hema can be that way, I can be too! HA!

  19. Well I don’t have kids but my love of wine and food is my excuse! :-D

  20. thanks for the compliment memsaab, but I think I would rather be like the old wodehousian aunt and let me revelled by your wonderful reviews rather than watching the films myself.
    And moreover Hindi movie DVDs are hard to get in the place where I live.

    Thanks to your review, I could realise the symbolism. Otherwise I’m too much of a superficial person!

  21. That barbed wire looks uncomfortably convincing. Eek. I’ve been wanting to watch this since Sita-ji mentioned it on her blog–I think you both have convinced me to move it up the list!

  22. You want to know why you’ve only read negative things about this movie? Look at the screencaps and you’ll know why! :D
    But I have to say your post made me appreciate anew the sheer genius of MD – it takes an extremely twisted and talented mind to take the already subversive Benhur and filter it into Deshpremee. Somebody should send Gore Vidal a copy.

  23. harvey: If there’s one thing you can say to sum up Manmohan Desai, it’s that he isn’t subtle :) His symbolism does pretty much smack you upside the head. But there’s so MUCH of it usually that it can be hard to sum it up!

    ajnabi: Ooh good :) Can’t wait to see what you think!

    Amrita: Noooo….he is so entertaining. How can that be bad? I think he’s a genius, I really do. Crazy, but genius. And at least he channeled all that crazy into making movies instead of…ruling the world, or something.

  24. I loved the barbed wire, and the leprosy references (as I focused on in my post, http://bollywoodfoodclub.wordpress.com/2008/12/18/desh-premee-1982-leprosy/) in this film. So, so much suffering! I’m so glad you got the excellent screen capture of Hema looking like the the NBC peacock. And thanks for solving this mystery…(Gita Siddharth—better known to me as the hand-feeding Maaaaaa! from Disco Dancer), I knew she was familiar. Well done!
    All the best!
    Sita-ji

    • Sita Ji…I realy like desh premee movie and specially the Barbwires scene i love it and i realy like barbwires, Can u please tell me is this scene is available with or u have any other link can u please please please email me, i will be very thankful to u…
      Regards
      Ali

  25. sitaji: I knew I had seen a review of Desh Premee that had made me really want to see it—it was in fact yours! (I couldn’t remember, but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning either). Thanks for providing the link!

  26. Hey Memsaab, I came across the soundtrack for this film. I’ll probably upload it in a few days. I thought I’d tell you just in case you’re interested.

  27. Thanks, R Singh; I already have it, but others might want to stop by and download it :)

  28. In fact I thought that this movie was better than many hit movies of amitabh 9 viz “Suhaag”, “Muqaddar ka sikandar” etc. I in fact watched this movies 5 times in the same movie hall. that is how much I liked this movie.

  29. The ‘blackface’ song – ‘Gore nahin’, if I remember right is sung by composer Laxmikant. Probably the only time he sang one of his own compositions.

  30. I found the movie very silly. Two incidents come to mind.
    The torture machine used by Amjad Khan has the victim going clockwise but the background going anti-clockwise. Now since the victim cannot see the background it only serves to confuse the torturer. Then there was the famous imitation of Mahmood by Amitabh. After tormenting Hema (and I daresay the audience) he concludes that since Hema didn’t fall for him in the disguise, she has not changed. Which self respecting girl would fall for a guy like that? Now if it were a handsome and rich person one could unequivocally say Hema still had Amitabh in her heart.

  31. navin nischol is no more

  32. memsaab, suffering from fever, so going through your reviews is one of the few pleasures left to me. :( I *loved* Desh Premee! It was SOOO Manmohan Desai that I couldn’t resist. Jaya once said in an interview that she gave Amitabh a hard time for the Mehmood-tribute song – how *could* Amitabh behave so disrespectfully to such a dignified actress, even if it was for a film? Amitabh himself has confessed to feeling mighty embarrassed at having to shoot that song. He said he was especially afraid that Dharmendra would have his hide for the shot where he lifts his lungi up. :)

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