Raaj Mahal (1982)

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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.

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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.

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They are swept away in the raging waters, and now Kader Khan dies too, handing over little Vikram to Badshah Khan.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Oh Vinod!

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Um, okay!!!!

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.

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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!

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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.)website statistics

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29 Comments to “Raaj Mahal (1982)”

  1. absolve you of impuissance? inutile? really?
    seems like they got a geeky english language major from a purely hindi speaking area to do the subs :)
    Much entertainment !

  2. The legend that you refer to is technically not from the mahabharata, but the bhagvad gita about the birth of Lord Krishna and his swapping with another child… More details here:

    http://loverofart87.blogspot.com/2009/08/story-of-lord-krishnas-birth.html

  3. The subtitles are awesome – I need to re-watch with subs now. Huh! like I need an excuse to watch Vinod+Neetu… :-D

    • They were really amusing. Although the film was good enough that it didn’t need goofy subs to make it entertaining. And agree completely—Vinod is so beautiful in this one.

  4. Have again checked to see if seventymm have this in their list of DVDs/VCDs for rent. No luck! :-(

    Will probably order from induna… ever since bollyviewer reviewed this, I’ve been wanting to see it. And now your review, too. Can’t miss Vinod Khanna + Neetu Singh + Danny (though I think I’ll turn off the subtitles).

    • Yes, worth owning IMHO :-) Although Moserbaer could really have done some work on the quality, as I said…

      Sigh. (And the subtitles are funny, but not necessary for enjoyment as I said above) ;-)

  5. there are films of those eras like….Raaj tilak, patal Bhairvi, sinhaasan….which were extemely entertaining in those times….well recently i was watching pataal bhairva on TV after looo….ooong gap and it looked as entertaining and Jay Prada also looked seductively beautifullll

  6. Neetu really lights up the screen. I was watching bits of kala patthar yest and among other grim faced ppl , Amitabh, Shatrughan and Rakhi (Shashi and Parveen were bubbly at times), Neetu really kept the endorphins up.

    • She looks radiant in this, although she seemed less sparkly than usual (internal sparkle—externally she sparkled like mad!). I guess she was probably trying to wrap up all her films before marriage, and might have been tired. But in general she is always a welcome sight!

  7. I was under the impression that one enjoys a movie better without sub titles. Now I am not so sure. the sub titles of this movie apprear more fun ( and that too inadvertent fun). The sub title man ( who must be learning French in his spare time) comes up with some real gems. “inutile”, “impuissance”- waah, waah !

    And your observation about Vikram’s sweat having healing properties is in the same league. :)

    Poor picture quality ? One cannot tell that from the screen caps. They are as fabulous as always. How do you do that ?

    Honestly, I had never heard of this movie, but then there is nothing surprising there. I tend to remember movies of 1970s with clarity whereas I have no recollections of movies of more recent vintage. I must be selectively amnesiac.

    • Vinod’s sweat does have healing properties, of that I am sure. (No matter what role he is playing!)…

      I try to improve screen cap quality as much as I can in Photoshop without losing the original “flavor”—the picture here was very scratchy and the color washed out. I am positive that some of those guys who upload “improved” versions of films on torrent sites could have done a lot with this. MoserBaer should hire them!

      My favorite subtitle above is Jagdeep’s “Full moon! Tent and the privacy!” It’s almost, um, poetic?

  8. Ooh, I haven’t seen this one, and it has Neetu in princess curls and hairy man cleavage! Holy Barbie doll, how could I have been so negligent in my fillum watching?:-(

  9. Thank you for adding another film to the must-see list. Perhaps the interpolated French (inutile=useless; impuissance=powerlessness) is the Pondicherry factor…French embraced into Hindi, the way English was in the British colonial territories. Frindi? Hinch?

    • Yes, when you look the words up online they are referenced as Middle English, or Old French…so there is likely something to that. I think I’ve seen this subtitler’s work before (Choron Ka Chor?) too!

  10. This is a rarity in 1980’s Hindi cinema, a masala film that’s complete paisa vasool!

    So rare as to be unheard of in my limited experience. Memsaab: Bringing Worthwhile Hidden Gems to the Masses. (It should be your tagline.) Love all the scowling screencaps–I keep on picturing how they should be used on greeting cards. Screencap #13: Happy Anniversary! Screencap #16 (I think): one of those annoying cards that plays tinny music when you open it.

    • I thought “I watch crappy movies so you don’t have to!” was my tagline ;-)

      We should totally start a line of greeting cards!!!! OMG, what a fabulous idea! (*falls over laughing at #13: Happy Anniversary!*)

  11. Ah! I watched this on DD when I was three. Absolutely dugged it back then. :) I had no idea which film this was, so thanks for clearing that up!

  12. i am kind of confused !! I have read that neetu singh quit acting right after she got married in late 1979 or maybe early 1980, however, here she is in a 1982 movie !! so, was this movie shot before 1980 but released later in 1982? or did she sign the deal and agreed to act in this film before she got married so she had to act in it then she quit?

    • I think Neetu and Rishi got married in 1982 (at least I have some Stardust mags covering her weddding that date from 82) so that’s probably the source of your confusion :) This was probably one of the last films she shot before she got married—she went into a frenzy of filming long hours at the end to get all her commitments finished before her wedding.

      Edited to add: My bad! They did get married in 1980. So I have no idea, probably it took a couple of years to finish the film post-production and find distributors?

  13. memsaab,

    yeah, wikipedia, imdb etc all say that neetu and rishi got married in 1979 / 1980, not to mention that their son Ranbir was born in septemper 28,1982. so, that means he was conceived in late 1981 or the first couple of weeks of 1982.

    your explanation for why do they say she quit acting when she got married in 1980 yet, this movie raaj mahal was released in 1982 seems to be the only logical explanation right now even though i think it’s highly unlikely that it took them two years to finish the film post-production work, editing etc and find distributors.

    i looked at some of Neetu’s facial close ups in this movie and i think she was in her early weeks of pregnancy maybe around spring of 1982 (her son was born in sept of that year)so, maybe this movie was shot in early 1982 but again, i am not sure.

    i have read about a few actresses who decided to quit acting after they got married but they had to finish filming a couple of movies they had previously agreed to do and were very much obligated to act in them sometimes to avoid paying penalties . so, they had to go back to the studios after they were done with their weddings and honeymoons. i am sure that the heroes enjoyed the fact that they were having some fun with those newlywed beauties fresh out of their honeymoons lol

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