Sometimes a film’s music is so fabulous that you don’t even care if the film itself is bad. But when you get a soundtrack like that and a film that is highly entertaining if a *teeny bit* flawed, then life is good! So it is with this one. Kalyanji Anandji have delivered what may be my favorite of all their many awesome soundtracks—every single song, and the background music, is sublime. Toss in Dharmendra, the Indian Luke Perry, a young Shabana Azmi and a very fine Masala Death Trap indeed (operated in part by Helen), and let the fun begin! Just listen to this:
The film opens at a Diwali fair—always a sign of grim things to come, especially when a pair of brothers are getting matching tattoos. Young Ajit is there with his older sister Laxmi (Padmini Kapila), his father (Bharat Bhushan) and little brother Munna. Unfortunately, Laxmi’s beauty captures the attention of a wealthy local man named Sangram Singh (Dev Kumar).
Before the day is out, Ajit’s father has been murdered by Sangram Singh and his equally lecherous pals Dharamdas (Rajan Haksar) and Nandan (CS Dubey). They have raped Laxmi, who then stabs herself, and poor little Munna has been tossed into the raging river. Ajit himself is left for dead after he falls down a riverbank, but he hauls himself up in time for last-minute instructions from the dying Laxmi.
Out of the three men, only Nandan is known to Ajit. All he knows about Sangram Singh is that he has gold teeth, and that Dharamdas has a large scar running down his back.
Ajit tracks Nandan down the next day and kills him with the same knife that was used to kill his father, and then used by Laxmi to kill herself. As Sangram Singh’s men pursue him, Ajit escapes on Nandan’s horse and then jumps on a train bound for Bombay.
Meanwhile, tiny Munna with his Shiva tattoo that matches Ajit’s has washed up alive on the banks of the river and is found by a drunk named Khairatilal (Johnny Walker) and his wife (Shyama) who take him home.
In Bombay, Ajit briefly befriends a footpath kid named Mohan after thrashing him in a boyish altercation and then patching him up in remorse. Mohan promises to help him out.
He teaches Ajit how to steal, but they are separated one day when the police chase them. Mohan hides in a temple, where the priest prevents the police from arresting him not once, but twice: Mohan repents of his sins and stays with the priest, while Ajit finds shelter with a smuggler named Murli (Hiralal).
Years pass, and Mohan grows up to be (director) Arjun Hingorani and opens a school for wayward boys. Ajit grows up to be Dharmendra, a wealthy man called Raja Sahab by respectable society and Sakhi Lootera by the police (although everyone seems to know that Raja Sahab and Sakhi Lootera are the same person, i.e. Ajit).
Little Munna grows up to be naughty Dhruv (who doesn’t seem to have had a very spectacular career despite being very cute in a teen heartthrob kind of way although to be honest he’s not a very good actor), who is the despair of his adoptive mother. She packs him off to Mohan’s school, where he meets this gang of boys:
They are a seriously disgusting bunch. Tony (Shakti Kapoor in his debut but still incredibly creepy to me and not in a good way), Sony (? the most benign one), lice-ridden Rana (Phansok, a skinny Danny Denzongpa wannabe) and paan-stained Rahim (Mehmood Jr with truly the largest hair I have ever seen on anyone, including Sly Stone), are punks who terrorize the local neighborhood.
The “ewww” factor is escalated when Ajit’s middleman fixes up a meeting with wealthy Dharamdas, who wants to buy some of their smuggled goods. And Dharamdas is in the middle of a massage when Ajit arrives.
Ajit (who had *just* been complaining to Murli about how he was letting his sister down miserably) lures Dharamdas out for a drive in the countryside and kills him with The Knife.
When he gets home, the gang and Munna are fighting in front of his house. Ajit convinces them all to shake hands and be friends as I marvel at his failure to see Munna’s Shiva tattoo even though it’s right in front of his eyes.
Hema Malini makes a special appearance now (and again later) as a pickpocket who is a big fan of Sakhi Lootera’s. She tells Ajit that she will reform Sakhi with her love one day. It’s very cute, but kind of pointless, although I imagine they were glad for the excuse to spend some time together.
The boys soon get into more mischief, and when chased by the police, they flee into an All India Students Qawwali Competition (woo-hoo!) and disguise themselves as the male half of the competition. Munna is instantly smitten by his female opposition. And who can blame him, really?
Rachna (Shabana Azmi) is the niece of none other than Sangram Singh, who is still wealthy and now living in the city. Munna tells Rachna that he comes from a wealthy family too and they are soon head over heels in love.
I am leaving out a mid-air jewel heist and lots of other nonsense for the sake of space, but let me just say that this is a film with so much plot it could have been made by Brij instead of Arjun Hingorani—who, as Mohan, finally manages to reform the gang after refusing to turn them in after they beat him up badly. From mischief and mayhem they turn to good works like sweeping the streets and helping little old ladies, and study hard for their exams. Mohan is suitably gratified.
Alas, poor Munna is separated from his beloved Rachna when she discovers at her birthday party that he is not who he said he was. Sangram Singh is furious as well and forbids her to see him again.
Munna goes into a heartbroken spiral, and his friends try to help him out by returning to theft (with Raja Sahab’s help) so that Munna can regain his lost love. Mohan and Ajit are reunited when Mohan comes to remonstrate with Ajit and Ajit recognizes Mohan’s necklace, a talisman that is his legacy from whoever abandoned him as a baby. But their joy is shortlived: their now very different morality separates them again.
Sangram Singh is unnerved when he hears of his friend Dharamdas’ murder, and decides to rope in his wastrel son (Narendranath) to help him trap Ajit. He finds out from one of Ajit’s servants about the matching tattoos and duly decorates his son likewise. Hilariously, Ajit is as oblivious to this tattoo as he was to the actual Munna’s, but after some painstaking efforts by Narendranath the penny drops and Ajit embraces his enemy’s son as his own lost brother.
Now harboring a snake in his bosom, and with his young friends (including his real lost brother) back on the wrong path, what will happen to Ajit’s plans for vengeance? Will he succeed against the odds? Will Munna be reunited with Rachna? Will Ajit find his Munna eventually? Will any of them survive the spectacular Masala Death Trap in Sangram Singh’s lair, where the only thing standing between Munna and a fiery death are a complicated pulley system and the strength of Dharmendra’s manly biceps?
Helen and her colleague don’t help matters when they add their weight to Munna’s for a nice long swing as they sing the title song:
and then cut the rope with a knife.
The mechanisms of evil have just begun to turn, too. Helen—and Sangram Singh—have more in store for poor Ajit and his straining muscles!
I haven’t gone into much detail on the songs; they seem to be hard to find unfortunately (why, God, why?!) but every single one is spectacular. Trust me! And so is the funky background music. You can’t do much better if you are in the mood for a Dharmendra caper and can suspend disbelief requirements as appropriate. Your reward is an emotional journey complete with many ewwww factors, eye-popping plot points and plenty of WTF (that is a recommendation, in case you were wondering).