Aahutee (1978)

Manmohan Desai has been often imitated but rarely matched in his ability to pull heartstrings while conveying indelible (if occasionally incoherent) messages. What a lovely surprise to find a hitherto unknown (to me anyway) film that at least engages the heart in much the same way, if not the soul. There are plot holes and loose threads and I cannot in all conscience call it a good film; but I was quickly engaged by a story whose loony details and characters are easy to grow fond of. Laxmikant Pyarelal provided some nice tunes for it too, and if the message is simplistic—”Love your mother, do an honest day’s work, and don’t sell out your country”—at least it makes good sense!

I love the cast: Shashi Kapoor, Parveen Babi, Ajit, Madan Puri, Rajendra Kumar, Rakesh Roshan, Kamini Kaushal and Pradeep Kumar all have pivotal roles, ably supported by the likes of Raj Mehra, Krishan Dhawan, Zahira and Dulari. And really it is almost impossible for me to dislike a film which starts off with a fisherwoman kicking Madan Puri’s butt with a flying kick.

He plays Hiralal, leader of a gang of smugglers, whose nefarious activities are observed one night by two fisherwomen walking home. They manage to escape and give a description to Police Inspector Mehmood (Krishan Dhawan) the next day before Hiralal tracks them down again. The one who had put up a fight the night before does so again after giving her baby daughter to her friend and telling them to flee. Alas—she is killed, but her valiant self-defense keeps Hiralal busy long enough for Customs Agent Harnam Prasad (Ajit) to arrest him. Hiralal is found guilty thanks to Harnam Prasad’s testimony and sent to the Big House.

Could he look any more sullen?! Hiralal instructs his chief henchman Shera to exact his revenge upon Harnam Prasad, whose close-knit family consists of wife Kaushalya (Kamini Kaushal) and sons Ram, Laxman and Bharat. We meet them through a lovely song which becomes a leitmotif through the film “Bharat ka bhai Laxman, Laxman ka bhai Ram”.

The boys have large tattooes on their forearms, each with his own initial. I have to say that had I been an Indian parent in the 70s I probably would have tattooed my kids too before letting them leave the house.

The Prasad family is torn apart when Hiralal’s men tamper with the brakes on Ram and Laxman’s school bus during an outing—Ram tries valiantly to stop the bus containing his brother, but it rolls over a cliff taking both boys with it and bursting into flame. Harnam Prasad has taken the youngest, Bharat, on a boat ride; Shera, having hidden himself on it, stabs Prasad in the back and jumps overboard. Poor little Bharat covers his eyes as his father collapses and the boat collides spectacularly with the rocks on shore, bursting into flame.

The police have less faith in the ability of our boys to have survived all this bursting into flame than we devoted film fans know they should.

They might have looked for the live ones clad in brightly colored shirts lying out in plain sight near the charred bus, but never mind.

Bharat is luckier, as he is rescued by some passing fisherfolk who see him floating on a piece of his charred boat.

Meanwhile, Kaushalya is trapped when Hiralal’s men set fire to her house. Laxman finds his way home to a house as charred as the bus and boat, and is given some grim news.

Kaushalya is the only one of course who actually has gotten burnt, but she is still alive in a local hospital, although doctors are forced to amputate her leg. When she recovers consciousness and is caught up on all the (mostly inaccurate) news she leaves the hospital and tries to kill herself, but is stopped by a passing woman (Dulari).

Meanwhile, Laxman is searching for odd jobs—and refusing charity—to keep body and soul together, while older brother Ram takes to stealing. They both donate all their hard-won pennies to Dulari as she collects money to help Kaushalya perform her family’s last rites, but only Laxman sticks to the principles they have all been brought up with.

Bharat and Ram grow up to be comrades-in-arms called Badshah and Rocky (Rakesh Roshan and Rajendra Kumar respectively) working for Hiralal (now out of prison), although they continually fail to notice their largish and prominent matching tattooes and remain unaware of the relationship they share.

They are chased by the police one night into the home of Laxman—now known as LP (Shashi Kapoor), who has been educated in the meantime by a kind factory owner who took him in off the streets, and for whom he now works. Ram and Bharat tell him that they are downtrodden workers being chased by goondas disguised as the police and he sends the police packing when they show up minutes later.

And no, he doesn’t see Ram’s tattoo either.

Laxman is in love with his beautiful co-worker Rekha (Parveen Babi) and I am struck anew by how very beautiful these two are, individually and as a pair.

Elsewhere, Bharat listens as his boss Hiralal waxes rhapsodic about the substance which is going to make smuggling billions for him: uranium. He is positively gleeful about it in his pink Valentine’s Day outfit.

He explains that uranium can only be transported in lead boxes, which are only made in one factory: the one in which Laxman works. He sends Kuljeet (how I love Kuljeet!!!) to steal some of these boxes, but Kuljeet is thwarted by the loyal Laxman.

I am thrilled when the proceedings now move to an underground rocky lair with lots of cages—and scantily clad dancers writhing around an uncomfortable looking guy as “The Hustle” plays in the background (the original). It’s hilariously bad.

The patron of this madness? My new best friend Pradeep Kumar, playing the “foreign” buyer of India’s uranium, named Mac.

The antidote (not that one is necessary) is a very sweet love song pictured on Laxman and Rekha (“Kash Aisa Hota”). Parveen is put in a series of shiny dresses (and the inevitable—for her—white wedding gown and veil), Shashi in a tuxedo; and things go off the rails a bit in a forest of skeleton hands, but I love the quiet moments during the song where they are in character the best. And I know I will be vilified for saying this, but I wish they’d gotten someone else to sing it, because Lata sounds far too old by this time for Parveen. Still: it’s a gorgeous song and the wistful romance of it catches at my heart.

But of course inevitable problems are cropping up. The man to whom Laxman owes his life—factory owner Raj Mehra—wants Laxman to marry his daughter Kusum (Zahira). Plus Hiralal needs those lead boxes and will stop at nothing to stop Laxman from stopping him! Ram is hired at the factory when Laxman puts in a good word for him, and Hiralal instructs both Ram and Bharat to kill Laxman.

Plus: Harnam Prasad resurfaces, as a pirate in a Santa costume, determined to get his fair share (or more) of the uranium smuggling profits.

What circumstances have made him a pirate? Will his sons ever figure out that they all have the same tattoes (I mean, if they were Scandinavian I could see that it might take a while—being covered in layers of down and all—but they are in India) and not kill each other? Will they find their mother and father, and can Hiralal be stopped from shipping India’s precious uranium out of the country? Will Rekha and Laxman find happiness together?

It takes a good while longer, with many plot twists and lots of WTF-ery:

and several more songs (“Jugni” is another favorite) (look them all up online, they are nice). It’s emotionally satisfying if not intellectually so, and pure loony fun—and sometimes that’s enough.

And I suppose I must be honest and say that there are other reasons to stick it out too.

You said it, Parveen Babi.

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29 Comments to “Aahutee (1978)”

  1. Lata’s too old to sing for *Parveen* “by this time”? Girl, she’s gonna sing for Parveen’s granddaughters before she calls it a day!

    I’d forgotten all about this movie until I saw Pradeep Kumar and his floppy bowvat. That brought it back to me all right! NOBODY could forget that outfit. Shashi and Parveen are so insanely beautiful, I can’t believe they tried to pass Vinod Mehra and Rakesh Roshan off as his brothers.

    I lmao at the tattoo thing – forget earrings, I’m totally tattooing my hypothetical babies.

    • I know she is, but she seriously should STOP. Should have stopped by 1975, I think.

      They tried to pass Rajendra Kumar and Rakesh off as his brothers! :) Rajendra Kumar is the same age as Ajit, basically, who plays his father. Still and all, it’s pretty fun.

    • And the song…you *must* teach the babies the family lost-n-found song! I suggest you get busy now…er, crafting and singing the song that is.

      :-D

  2. I, as well as media (movie reviewers) looked down upon this movie as B grade stuff, not worth wasting time. In my town, this movie was released in a mini hall (one with a capacity of under 100 seats) and even then the movie failed to last more than one week. So, even public was not impressed much with this movie. There was hardly any star material in this movie as far as I and most other people were concerbed,

  3. I remember this movie, now that I have read the review. Had no clue it was a Manmohan Desai movie.

    I saw it way back soon after it was released and remember liking it at that time. But then my taste has never been particularly classy anyway ;-).

    It could also be to do with Parveen and Shashi. I used to be fond of Parveen and I thought Shashi was quite good in this movie. I remember that “kaash aisa hota” song very well. I also remember another song “naukri sau ki hazaar ki, keemat nahin hoti pyar ki” (cannot seem to find this one on youtube now though). I liked these songs.

    I am pretty sure this movie bombed at the box-office. That was Amitabh time and these type of masala movies (Shashi, Jeetendra, and even some Dharam movies) did not do too well.

    For some reason, now that I am reminded of Aahutee, I am reminded of another Parveen movie of the 70s. “Rangila Ratan” with Rishi Kapoor. I remember the song “rangeela hoon main dil ka” and Parveen in hats. :-)

    Used to love Parveen in those days. :-)

    • It’s not a Manmohan Desai movie, it WANTS to be a Manmohan Desai film…doesn’t quite make it except in terms as I said of its heart—it is really engaging emotionally, at least for me. But as you know my taste is not what anyone would call classy either :D I think all the songs are on Youtube except the loony Hustle dance…

    • Dharmendra did have Azaad and Phandebaaz in 1978 which performed well. Yes, his other movies like Dillagi and Shalimar didn’t doo that well.

  4. It is not a Manmohan Desai film, is it? you meant it just that it has MD touch, no?
    The song: Kaash aisa hota was very famous then and was played quite often on Radio.
    And I remember it being screened either on Ganpati or Navratri days at the BEST colony, where my aunt lived.
    What about Rajendra Kumar and Rakesh Roshan, they don’t have any heroines to prance around with?

    • Yes, it’s made in the MD style :D It’s a lovely song. Rajendra Kumar and Rakesh Roshan had nominal heroines—Rajendra ended up with Zahira, and Rakesh Roshan with Asha Sachdev who was either Hiralal’s daughter or the woman he murdered at the beginning’s daughter, but I could never quite make out exactly who she was or why. And those romances were not more than a bare sketch :)

  5. Bwahahaah stop at nothing to stop the stopping! Brilliant! As is the “shocking” vest :) Having seen the whole film, can you explain, or at least contextualize, the giant skeleton hands in that song? They totally threw me for a loop!

    • No. No I cannot. The skeleton hands made no sense contextually, unless one wants to try and delve deeper into the psyche of it all, which I do not, feeling it would be futile. My guess is that they were lying around neglected and the director thought (not completely in error) that they might as well be used for something.

      (And thank you: the stopping thing did seem to feed on itself)… ;-)

  6. This was one of the 13 movies of Shashi Kapoor released in 1978.

    Apart from ‘Trishul’, none of his other movies made a mark at the box office. During this period, he was also shooting for ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ and was so busy shuttling from one studio to another that Raj Kapoor (the director of SSS) asked him, ‘Are you an actor or a taxi?’. This gave Shashi one of his famous nick names – Taxi Kapoor. He has himself confirmed this in one of the interviews.

  7. That is a rare picture of Parveen Babi in a saree esp the first one – off white with orange border. She looks beautiful. Parveen often used to wear western dresses and few Indian ones in her movies. She did look gorgeous in any dress of course including the saree.

  8. This is perhaps the only story with Ram and Lakshman where Lakshman is the hero – that is quite against Ramayan conventions! I remember finding this a sweet, toned-down-masala kind of film, but nothing except Kaash aisa hota (and SHASHI!!!) made much of an impression.

  9. Doesn’t Shashi look yummy!!!

  10. Heeheeheee just started watching Heeralaal Pannalaal and someone has their husband’s name tattooed on her arm and then an unrelated outside person NOTICES THIS. I couldn’t believe it!

  11. Rajendra kumar acted well in this movei.

    But,it is not amoung his best movies.

    Arzoo,Dil ek minder,aas ka panchi,gora aur kala,saahti…….etc…. are his classic works.

  12. the film is great I watched it when I was 10 years old I love shashi uncle and my all time best actress parveen babi she is my best actress in bollywood still to day and shashi kapoor uncle god bless him I hope he has a long life

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