Regular readers here know that by and large I adore Manmohan Desai and his films and can mostly forgive him for anything except Ganga Jamuna Saraswati. It has long been my great sorrow that two of his movies, Shararat and this one, are not available with subtitles. Manmohan Desai’s complicated plotting has always seemed daunting without them and though I have had both films for a long time I never quite had the courage to watch them. So imagine my great joy when I finally sat down with this one and (despite no doubt missing many nuances) could actually follow what was going on. There is a lot going on!
As is usual for him, he sets up the many characters and plot threads masterfully. Creating a web of relationships torn apart by misunderstandings and loss, he carries us along breathlessly rooting for our protagonists to *just stop already* missing each other by mere inches and find their way back to the lives they should be leading. As is also usual for him, the last 45 minutes or so go completely and a tad disappointingly off the rails into Crazy-land, taking the focus away from the pure emotional joy of the reunion(s), but never mind.
I still love this film.
Teja (Rehman=yummy) is a wealthy businessman living with his wife Sita (Indrani Mukherjee=tears ahead) and much younger brother Shankar (who appears to be about ten or so to my not-knowledgeable eyes). Sita has had difficulty conceiving and Teja has confided their sorrow to his business manager Laxmidas (Jeevan=trouble ahead!). At the local temple, Sita regularly prays for a baby; one day as she takes her leave a young woman next to her tries to take poison, and Sita stops her.
The woman’s name is Sonia (Sonia Sahni=more trouble ahead) and she tells Sita that she is unwed and pregnant. Sita has the brilliant idea of taking Sonia’s baby when it is born and passing it off as her own; when Sonia agrees, Sita tells a joyful Teja that she is pregnant. One of the many things I can somehow forgive Manmohan Desai for (and Salim-Javed too, who wrote the script and probably squabbled with him all the way through it) is how he blithely glosses over things like our need to understand how a successful businessman can be fooled for nine whole months by his not-actually-pregnant wife.
Teja goes off on a business trip with Laxmidas at just the perfect moment: Sonia gives birth to a boy and hands him over to Sita.
Teja and Sita enjoy a few brief days of happiness with young Shankar and their new son/nephew, but of course nothing is as it really seems. Sonia, it turns out, is the sister of Laxmidas and wife to the hulking Tony (Dev Kumar=Lurch), who is also of course their son’s father; Laxmidas has contrived an elaborate plot to separate Sita from Teja and insinuate the three of them into Teja’s life and then his fortune.
Sonia calls Sita and tells her she wants the baby back, because his father has returned to her. Sita balks at this naturally enough, and Sonia blackmails her for money instead. She gives Sita the date and place (a hotel) where she is to turn over the cash. Tony, meanwhile, calls Teja and tells him that he has proof of Sita’s infidelity—and gives him the date and place (you guessed it) where he can see it for himself. Sonia dresses in the exact same expensive saree as Sita (again, not sure how she manages this on such short notice, but never mind).
When Sita arrives at his hotel suite, Tony excuses himself and goes into his bedroom, embracing Sonia-as-Sita as an appalled Teja looks on from a rooftop across the street.
They close the blinds after a few minutes, and Tony returns to the sitting room where Sita gives him the money she has brought. Relieved (she thinks), she goes home—to find her husband cleaning his gun.
Furious, Teja asks her where she has been and of course she can’t tell him. Accusations fly, tears are shed, and as his anxious brother looks on, Teja kicks Shankar’s beloved bhabhi out of the house—even Shankar’s little poodle can’t stop him.
We all know what a scorned wife must do in this situation if she’s in a Masala Meister movie, and Sita heads for the nearest bridge to kill herself—Laxmidas and Tony trail behind to make sure she does it.
Dutifully, Sita jumps, leaving her brocaded shawl behind for Laxmidas to scoop up. What he doesn’t notice is that a Muslim man, praying nearby, sees Sita go in and jumps in after to save her. Laxmidas takes the shawl home and sorrowfully informs Teja that he is now a widower. But at a nearby hospital, Sita’s rescuer Khan (Anwar Hussain=pyaar, pyaar, pyaar) asks how she is and is told that she is fine—and pregnant! Sita, when she comes to see Khan, is self-pitying until he snaps her out of it by dramatically revealing the sacrifice that he has made in saving her life.
I guffaw inappropriately as Sita screams “Nahiiiiiin!”
Meanwhile, Laxmidas furthers his plan by telling Teja that his baby needs a mother, and then sending lovely Sonia in to finish the job.
I want her saree and the elephant and the scary bunny behind her, but Sonia can keep her baby—and remember, he actually is Sonia’s baby. Laxmidas’s plotting has been meticulous!
Khan is a kind man and marvellously philosophical; he takes the forlorn and pregnant Sita in as a sister and when she bears a son of her own, he is as overjoyed as she is. I am amazed that baby Sunder (so they name him) is not screaming in fright at Anwar’s wig.
When she recovers (from giving birth, not the wig), Sita takes the baby to see Teja—but finds him circling the wedding fire with Sonia and goes away sadly. Young heartbroken Shankar (who also thinks Sita is dead) and his poodle are no happier at the sight.
As it happens, Shankar and the poodle are right to be sad: in short order, Sonia tries to murder Shankar by pushing him off the roof (he is in the way of course, as the next in line to Teja’s fortune). Teja doesn’t believe his little brother when he hears of this, and as the poodle comes to Shankar’s defense Laxmidas shoots it dead. If I weren’t already invested in seeing Laxmidas and Sonia pay for their sins, I am now!
Shankar flees, taking nothing with him and is adopted by a kindly old lady named Mrs. D’Souza (Durga Khote=FABULOUS). Teja does advertise a reward for his return, but Shankar is not about to go back to that home and I don’t blame him.
He finds work to support himself and sweet Mrs. D’Souza selling movie tickets in black, and grows up to become Dharmendra (=hooray!). His partner in crime is the always-drunk Keshto (Keshto Mukherjee) and the two of them frequent a local bar owned by the feisty Mala (Hema Malini=ooh! pret-ty). Mala and Shankar love each other, in a combative kind of way.
The neighborhood where Shankar and company live is under threat by a business owner (hmmm…wonder who that might be?) who wants to raze the basti and develop the land for his own profit (I assume). He sends one of his goons with that message and I am thrilled to see my new pal Hercules again.
Sunder (now Randhir Kapoor=pudgy!) has grown up with Sita and Khan and he loves horses. He meets Pinky Memsaab (Yogeeta Bali=pudgy!) when he rescues her from a particularly frisky horse that she has been goaded into riding by her wannabe-boyfriend Kiran (Roopesh Kumar=nasty).
Pinky is enchanted by her savior and invites him to a party. Also attending: Teja and Sonia, whose “son” it turns out, is Kiran. Teja and Kiran clearly have a somewhat strained relationship (Kiran hilariously snarls at him for a cigarette), but Teja hits it off immediately with Sunder and offers him a job. I know I am in the minority on this, but I have a cushy corner in my dil for Randhir. He has great chemistry in this with both Dharmendra and Rehman (and Yogita, for that matter; not in a dashing hero kind of way, but that isn’t required here).
He seems like fun, and fun is good.
Shankar now decides to give up his life of crime after realizing one day that he is no better than a shopkeeper (Moolchand) who cheats the basti residents out of their rations. He buys a taxi cab on an installment plan to make a life on the straight and narrow. This makes Ma D’Souza very happy (why are Christian women in Indian films always dressed like brides?).
One of his very first passengers is none other than his (as yet unknown) nephew Sunder. I laugh and laugh when Shankar instructs Sunder to sit in the middle of the seat to balance out the weight in the car (I was once the only passenger on a commuter plane, and was told to sit in the back because “we need the weight back there”). They argue about directions and Shankar asks Sunder if he’s come to Bombay to be an actor. But when Shankar discovers that Sunder’s destination is Teja’s house (where he has an appointment for the promised job) he boots him out of the cab, refusing to drive down “Teja Marg.”
This leads to a rather distressing would-be comedy sequence which isn’t nearly as funny as the scene we’ve just had inside the taxi. It culminates in a wedding celebration song for Tun Tun and Keshto, and Shankar and Sunder become fast friends—calling each other “chacha” and “bhatija” (which I assume means nephew?).
And guess what? We are only an hour into the film! Almost two more hours to go! Will Shankar and Sunder discover their true relationship? Or will Sunder’s job with Teja interfere (Teja—at the instigation of Kiran and Laxmidas—is not surprisingly the force behind the basti resettlement)? Will Teja ever reunite with Sita, his brother, and true son? Will Laxmidas, Tony and Sonia get their just desserts? Will Pinky let her father pressure her into marrying Kiran? Will Mala and Shankar stop quarreling long enough to find romance?
There is a LOT OF PLOT still to come. Plus a fabulous faux-pretend drunk song and an equally wonderful Kali-Ma song! And oodles of cracktastic outfits and scenarios. Here are some of my favorites (warning: one of them includes a *minor spoiler*):
Sonia still loves Tony, although he dresses like a pimp.
She doesn’t have much else sartorially to choose from though, between her bhaiyya Laxmidas and Teja, whose outfit makes him look like a piano.
Laxmidas loves his Boxer, and doesn’t shoot him:
although he is later led to believe that Shankar and Sunder (in disguise) have poisoned the poor guy (please to note that the portrait looks quite different from the Boxer above).
I guess he’s just more of a big dog person.
Here is the *minor spoiler*: Shankar is led to believe that Sunder has set the basti on fire and gives him a sound thrashing. Sita rushes in and stops him by slapping him silly. He lets her, stunned to see “dead” Sita again; as she picks up her son and starts to walk off with him, Shankar says “Bhabhi?”—and in that one word is a wealth of longing and love. As I said earlier, Manmohan Desai’s plots tend to careen out of control by the end and it often mars the sentimental payoff for me…but this is SUPER-SWEET.
Dharmendra plays it just right—anyone who thinks he couldn’t act when required should see this scene. I weep.
End minor spoiler.
I weep again later when I see these special effects, but for a different reason.
As collage art they work rather well, though, na?
See—I can forgive Manmohan Desai just about anything. Not Hypothermia Rape. Maybe not this either:
But almost everything else, seriously. Watch Chacha Bhatija: it is exactly why Masala Is Awesome. And somebody, for the love of God, please put subtitles on it. I can’t wait to find out all the jokes I *didn’t* get.