And of tortuous eye-searing aesthetics! It also defies convention in its lack of a “hero”: all this film needs is Rekha. What a presence she has indeed!
By any standards (even mine) it cannot be called a good film. But I was never tempted to stop watching. I only ever even paused, in fact, long enough to refill my wine glass. How Bollywood manages to consistently churn out things which are dreadful but riveting is a mystery to me. Gemma liked this one too, because the cast included two highly intelligent animals: Raja the horse, and Jumbo the dog. She barked at both of them gleefully, no doubt in encouragement for their perspicacity and valiant attempts to combat evil.
And there is oodles of evil. It begins with the murder of wealthy Mr. Saxena (Saeed Jaffrey—killing Saeed Jaffrey in the first ten minutes of any film is a crime in itself) by his greedy employee Hiralal (Kader Khan). This leaves Saxena’s ugly but kind daughter Aarti (Rekha with a birthmark, rabbity teeth and dark undereye circles) bereft. Her best friend Nandini (Sonu Walia), a gorgeous model who often reminds me of Parveen Babi, comforts her.
Aarti is a widow with two children, Bobby (Master Gaurav) and Kavita (Baby Swetha). Her husband Vikram (producer-director Rakesh Roshan in flashback cameos) died in a car accident some years earlier, and she lives in her father’s mansion in Bombay with faithful servant Ramu Kaka (AK Hangal), her kids, and Jumbo, a German Shepherd. Her property also includes a farm in Sitapur, managed by long-time servant Leela (Sulbha Deshpande) and the mute Baliya (Satyajit Puri), who looks after Aarti’s horse Raja. The servants and the animals are family to Aarti and her children.
Hiralal sends for his ne-er-do-well but good-looking nephew Sanjay Verma (Kabir Bedi). Nandini and Sanjay are involved in a romantic relationship, but he rather easily and quickly convinces her to turn on her dear “sister” Aarti by helping him to romance her.
She happily introduces him to Aarti. He goes to work on her through her children, whom she adores, and who have been missing a father figure in their lives. Plus, Aarti is a bit of a wet blanket and Sanjay is FUN.
The kids soon love Sanjay, and he asks Aarti to marry him. She doesn’t want to get remarried, because like a good Indian wife she is still devoted to the late Vikram (flashback song with Raja the horse, a wedding gift for Aarti from Vikram) but she agrees—at Nandini’s urging—for the sake of her children. They get married, and along with the children and Nandini set off for a honeymoon on the farm in Sitapur.
Sanjay is nice and understanding when Aarti is reluctant to consummate their nuptials.
I love the prison bar motif for their suhaag raat! She uses Bobby and Kavita as an excuse: they are used to sleeping with her.
It seems to me that Sanjay has a pretty good thing going: a wife who would rather sleep with her children, a girlfriend who is happy to sleep with him, and a lavish lifestyle at his fingertips. But, like most greedy people, he cannot leave well enough alone. The next day, he and Nandini are boating with Aarti when they all see a crocodile swimming towards them.
He seizes his opportunity, and pushes Aarti in.
I must say this: kudos, Rakesh Roshan, for one of the grimmest murder scenes I’ve ever seen! It’s quite harrowing. Nandini is distraught but keeps chup when the police arrive, and backs up Sanjay’s story that Aarti fell in. They do not find Aarti’s body.
She has washed up on another shore, covered in mud and blood, but not *quite* dead yet. She is rescued by an old man (P Jairaj), who takes her home and stitches her up, and nurses her back to whatever semblance of health anyone who has been through all that can attain.
Side note: I love P Jairaj, and can only wonder what he thought of this film, and why on earth he agreed to do it. End side note.
Back in Bombay, Sanjay is very angry to discover that unless her body is found, Aarti cannot be declared dead until a period of 7 years has passed. Aarti’s lawyer (Mangal Dhillon) clearly doesn’t care much for Sanjay, and he is pleased to also inform him that during that time, her fortune will be administered by the courts, who will pay the children’s and household expenses.
Meanwhile, Aarti takes her leave of the kindly man who saved her. She has stuff to do.
She pawns the diamond earrings she was wearing on that fateful day, and flies abroad for plastic surgery courtesy of kindly surgeon Tom Alter (goras represent!). It too is pretty gruesome:
but she emerges looking like Rekha sans birthmark, scars, rabbity teeth and undereye circles (although she had asked for a completely new face).
She returns home to Bombay, and goes to her home. Skulking about the grounds, she discovers the perfidy of her BFF Nandini, who is busy seducing Sanjay with a sexed-up version of the theme song from “Chariots of Fire.”
Nandini has continued her uber-successful modeling career in order to support Sanjay and Hiralal, since they can’t touch Aarti’s money. Aarti begins stalking her children from afar and generally doesn’t seem to have a clue how to go about the business of vengeance.
She gives herself a makeover, and goes to the ad agency where Nandini models. Just in time, too, because the agency owner, JD (Shatrughan Sinha), is tired of Nandini and looking for someone new. He is thrilled to see Aarti.
Um, I have some!
Actually, I hold Joan Collins and Madonna equally responsible for all this.
At least Michael Jackson can’t be blamed.
OR CAN HE?
Sanjay is more than ready to dump Nandini for the new and enchanting “Jyoti”:
Boooooo! Things drag on for a while as Sanjay romances a reluctant Jyoti while a jealous (but much better put-together) Nandini becomes angry and bitter, and Rekha’s fashions continue to give me a headache.
Then faithful elderly servant Ramu Kaka and the children overhear Hiralal confessing that he murdered Saxena. Ramu Kaka saves Bobby and Kavita from discovery, but is murdered himself by Sanjay and Hiralal as the children listen from underneath their bed sheets.
Poor bachche! Sanjay now forbids the traumatized children to leave the house, and their continued absence from school finally galvanizes Aarti into action.
Does she have what it takes to avenge herself and her loved ones (here’s a hint: she has a whip made from crocodile hide!)? Will her children need years of therapy? Will I need years of therapy, and will the Roshans pay for it?
For all the answers and much, much more, see Khoon Bhari Maang. Beware: it contains just about every excess known to 80s Hindi cinema, and then some. The nausea-inducing zoom shots, the creepy musical sound effects, the “pew-pew” and glaring lights of disco…only Mithun is missing. And the music is just awful, by Rajesh Roshan. Except the flashback song, which was okay.
Oh, and I was thrilled to see Shubha Khote in the CSP, as mind-bendingly ridiculous as it was:
A miracle of science and medicine indeed! Ooh, and speaking of dogs (and horses) here are Gemma’s pals:
Okay, I’m done.
Updated to add: Okay, not quite done. As is usual for me, all your comments prompted further introspection on my part about my feelings about this movie (I am not good at introspection in a vacuum). Several of you have the impression that I disliked this, which I guess is not completely wrong although I somehow really liked it, too. The horrible fashions and (sorry, music fans) songs, as bad as they are, are entertaining; more than anything I think it’s the bloodthirsty nature of the story which prompts my ambivalence. I am not entirely comfortable with the violence begetting violent retribution. My heart wants to root for it, but my brain says: this will not solve anything! What kind of message is it? So brain and heart are at war, and eyes and ears are both enchanted and horrified by what they are seeing and hearing. All these things combined keep me glued to my chair and the film, but it’s very disturbing. Very.