Ooh, yeah. This is a rarity in 1980’s Hindi cinema, a masala film that’s complete paisa vasool! It starts off with a bang and continues to entertain thoroughly right up to the end: a rollicking, swashbuckling good time. The screenplay was written by Jyoti Swaroop, who is one of those people I’d really like to find out more about, but whose presence on the web is mostly confined to the hilarious film Padosan, which he directed. He’s known to me also for directing the delightful Chorni, and also for writing Satte Pe Satte and Inkaar—two other Memsaab favorites. In any case, the fun quotient is greatly enhanced by the droolworthy presence of Vinod Khanna and Danny Denzongpa as bitter rivals who *might* also be long-lost brothers, and by some zany subtitles.
We begin with a man (Kader Khan) galloping along on horseback with a terrified baby clinging to his back and a knife sticking out of his shoulder. I’m pretty sure that Kader Khan is “acting” his pain and exhaustion, and hope that the wee little guy atop him is a precocious Stunt Baby and not a random Unprepared-For-Scary-Adventures Baby.
They come upon a gypsy named Badshah Khan (Om Shivpuri) unrolling his mat for afternoon prayers, and many “Hai Allahs” ensue, in case we’ve missed that they are both Muslims. I’m assuming that this is just the expected nod to communalism featured in most Hindi films, because it doesn’t ever matter (or come up again) after this initial fuss over it.
Kader Khan explains to Badshah Khan that he is fleeing from the soldiers of Durjansingh (Amjad Khan) who has murdered the rightful king Udaysingh. The little boy he’s carrying is Vikram, now Udaysingh’s only heir. In a flashback we see the Rajmata (Urmila Bhatt) fleeing with Uday’s younger son as Kader Khan carries Vikram. They are separated, and the Rajmata is chased by soldiers to the rushing river, where she jumps in with her Stunt Baby.
They are swept away in the raging waters, and now Kader Khan dies too, handing over little Vikram to Badshah Khan.
Badshah Khan and his wife then sacrifice their own infant son by painting a swastika tattoo (the royal emblem) on his shoulder and taking him to the palace to mollify Durjansingh. He has vowed to kill all the babies in the kingdom if Udaysingh’s remaining heir is not brought to him (the other baby’s clothing has washed up on the riverbank). Durjansingh kills Badshah Khan’s son in front of him, and it’s very sad. Hateful Durjansingh! I’m thinking this must be a story element from the Mahabharata or something since it seems to come up so often in Hindi films. (Anyone should feel free to enlighten me; I really must read the Mahabharata one of these days.)
Badshah and his band of gypsies bring up Vikram, instilling in him good moral values, fierce bravery and the ability to handle a sword or two. Adult Vikram (Vinod Khanna) comes to the rescue one afternoon of an old priest and a middle-aged woman who are set upon by Durjansingh’s soldiers. The soldiers are escorting a carriage in which a neighboring Princess named Ratna (Neetu Singh) is traveling to meet Durjansingh. Ratna stops the soldiers from fighting with Vikram, and takes a good look at him.
After she departs, the older woman with the priest thanks Vikram for her help. It’s the Rajmata—she’s alive! So maybe the other baby made it too! Of course neither recognizes the other, but he ties a scarf around her head to stop it from bleeding. So sweet.
She asks him tearfully if the tyranny in their land will ever cease. Vikram goes home and confronts his father in frustration—he wants to rebel against Durjansingh’s regime. Badshah decides that the time has come to tell Vikram the whole truth, which gives Vinod the opportunity to make many grimly astonished and dramatic faces. Badshash closes with these stirring words:
Vikram dresses like a cat-burglar and breaks into Durjansingh’s palace that night, planning to kill him. His plan goes awry, and he is forced to hide out in—yes, Ratna’s room. Ratna has discovered upon her arrival that Durjansingh plans to marry her to his idiot son Veer (Jagdeep) in order to get his hands on her kingdom and also in the hope that her intelligence will mitigate his son’s complete lack of it. She is not happy at this prospect, and tells Vikram so.
Ahh, subtitles. In any case, after promising to help her, Vikram escapes from the palace—but not without the help of a group of rebels outside, who sacrifice one of their own to save Vikram’s life. It turns out that they are led by none other than his father, who scolds Vikram for his recklessness. Durjansingh can only be defeated by cleverness, he declares.
An opportunity to win the King’s trust comes up quickly, with a tournament held every year on the anniversary of Durjansingh’s coup d’etat. Any brave man in the kingdom is allowed to come forward and challenge the king’s champion, Sher Singh (our bare-chested fave Yusuf Khan).
I am thrilled when a challenger in the form of a not-very-well-disguised Danny Denzongpa appears, although his outfit is more foppish pirate than fearsome knight.
After an exciting chariot-jousting match, he triumphs over the heretofore undefeated Sher Singh, and is about to collect his prize money when Vikram comes forward to challenge him. Being Vinod, he wins of course, and in the process unmasks Danny as the infamous dacoit Sangramsingh. Thwarted, Sangramsingh grabs Princess Ratna and makes off with her, followed by Vikram. Vikram manages to rescue her, although Sangramsingh escapes too—after promising Vikram that their battles are not over.
He tenderly bandages a wound on Ratna’s arm with his sweaty bandanna (as he had with the Rajmata): Vinod’s sweat clearly has healing properties.
They are well on the way to being smitten with each other. Back at Durjansingh’s palace, the king rewards Vikram by engaging him to train poor Veer, who is hopeless at sword-fighting in addition to everything else. This ensures that Ratna and Vikram can be close to one another, and they continue their romancing under the clueless gaze of Veer himself. Veer decides to throw a small moonlit party on the palace grounds and asks Vikram to make sure Ratna comes.
Of course, bringing Durjansingh down is still Vikram’s priority, and for that he and his rebels need money. To that end, he kidnaps Ratna from the moonlit party posing as Sangramsingh (he doesn’t even tell poor Ratna the truth), and demands a ransom for her return. Durjansingh pays it, and she is returned unharmed to the palace. But when Sangramsingh hears about it, he is furious. (Probably if Ratna found out, she would be too, but she never does.)
Vikram launches into an impassioned speech about the revolution and how he needs money to wipe out oppression, hunger, and disease. At the end of this, Sangramsingh agrees to help them, and he and Vikram devise an elaborate plot to relieve Durjansingh of more of his money—it’s also a funny plot which succeeds most entertainingly! Afterwards, Vikram leaves the gold with his men and Sangramsingh—he’s been neglecting Ratna shamefully.
Alas—when he returns hours later to his hideout, his men are all in a drunken stupor and Sangramsingh has disappeared along with all of the loot, leaving only a caustic note.
Noooooooo!!! Can Vikram get all that gold back from Sangramsingh? Will he ever be able to buy weapons for the revolution? Is Sangramsingh his long lost brother? Is he a hopeless case or can he be reformed? Will Vikram discover that the old lady is really his mother? Can he defeat Durjansingh and take his rightful place as King? What will happen to poor hapless Veer (and is Veer maybe really Vikram’s long-lost brother)? There is a long ride still ahead!
Well—the poor picture quality is unbearable (MoserBaer, please hire some people to do restoration work, please)!
But the rest of it is pure joy. There are some surprising plot twists and turns, lively dancing (Jayshree T!) and Kalyanji Anandji’s songs are lovely. Costumes and sets are FAB. And most of all, Danny Denzongpa and Vinod Khanna are oodles of fun together—their chemistry just jumps off the screen. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! And you won’t regret watching! (Bahut bahut shukriya to Bollyviewer for bringing this gem to my attention! Her excellent review is very thorough, but I loved this so much I had to write it up too.)