I don’t know if this film was made for children or not, given the number of cute baby animals etc. in it, but it is chock full of dumb messages like “Go ahead and pick up a wild baby lion cub even if its protective mother is lurking nearby!” and “If you are chased by a tiger, climb a tree because it can’t get you then!” all of which are followed by “…oh wait…ohhhhh.” Attention to detail is such that leopards are misidentified as cheetahs and the mama lioness has a mane. It is painfully stupid, over-long, harrowing to watch if you’re an animal sympathizer, and Nirupa Roy (as Dharam’s Maa) is the only sensible character in the movie!
So how and why did I make it through? Well, because I knew from the dvd cover blurb that eventually Dharmendra’s character was going to GET HIS from a mother elephant, and within the first five minutes of the film that became something I really wanted to see.
Vijay (Dharmendra) is a wealthy and macho landowner whose forest is teeming with an endless supply of wild animals, despite the fact that he spends a good part of every day traumatizing and trapping dozens of them for sale to circus owners (1976 India is teeming with circuses, apparently).
His mother (Nirupa Roy) disapproves of his hobby, especially when he separates helpless baby animals from their mothers, making her for once someone with whom I fully agree; but Vijay doesn’t believe that animals have the same feelings as humans—although there is plenty of evidence to the contrary if he would just pay attention. I detest Vijay intensely from the get-go, and not even the charm and good looks of Dharmendra can redeem him. There is only so much running-in-abject-fear that I can watch these poor animals do (and I am pretty sure they aren’t acting), so the FF button is quickly my best friend.
My dislike of Vijay is only furthered when I discover that he insists that his mother feed him by hand. Eye roll. Grow up!
He sells the animals he traps to middleman Gopaldas (Om Prakash). I am not sure what the point of a middleman is when it seems it would be just as easy for circus owners to contact Vijay directly, but never mind. Balraj (a relatively subdued and sartorially underwhelming Ranjeet) and his pretty girlfriend-slash-partner Padma Khanna are trying to cut into Gopaldas’ business, and we get an all too brief side plot whereby Balraj and Padma conspire to steal Vijay’s animals, with no success. They are quickly caught and jailed and we don’t even get a proper song and dance out of it.
The music in this is singularly uninspired too, although I like the title music with trumpets simulating elephant trumpeting. But the songs are dull, and in the case of Hema’s, made truly painful by Lata’s screeching. Even though Hema doesn’t look that dewy and fresh in this, she looks way younger than Lata sounds. Between the patently obvious distress of the animals and Lata’s “singing”, the FF button gets even more use.
Speaking of Hema, she arrives in the form of Nimmi. Daughter of Gopaldas, Nimmi has lived abroad in the US for several years and now has a hankering to make wildlife films. Nimmi proves as unlikable as Vijay, albeit for different reasons. She doesn’t have the common sense of a houseplant and mostly serves as a squealing (in admiration) backdrop to the excesses Vijay visits upon the poor denizens of the forest. When she insists on walking right up to dangerous animals to take pictures, I change her name to Nummi, as in Numbskull.
She and Vijay fall in love when he rescues her from one of her dumb moves, and Vijay’s Maa and Gopaldas quickly approve the match. Maa asks Nummi to please try to talk some compassion into Vijay, but Nummi is smitten with his bravery and manliness. I just will never understand how shooting at animals with guns, trapping them terrified in pits, and crushing their legs in bloody claw traps constitutes bravery. Egging them on to attack him, as he also takes joy in doing, is idiocy combined with sadism. No, I do not like Vijay.
More proof, in case we needed it, of Vijay’s awesome masculinity is the way he drives his jeep in through the front door of his house through the living room and up the ramps which have replaced the staircases to the second floor. Subtle!
Even their matching patchwork shirts don’t give Nummi and Vijay any chemistry, or me any pleasure in their romance.
Nummi changes her mind about his bravery when Vijay is attacked by the lioness with the mane after he snatches two of her baby cubs (still not weaned, even).
He recovers from the mauling quickly and announces his intention to get back to work. Nummi tells him that if he doesn’t stop his dangerous way of life she’ll leave him.
It probably should be a red flag to you Nummi if the man you are going to marry tells you straight out that his priorities are: 1) the thing you don’t want him to do; 2) Maa; 3) God; and 4) maybe you.
He gives a manly speech about how hunting makes him feel alive! (another cliche that makes no sense to me—if you feel alive only by killing and wounding, then you really are a sad sack Vijay) and stomps off to catch a baby elephant for another circus owner. Nummi decides to go home with her Daddy so she can think about her options and I sigh.
There are distressing scenes ahead indeed. A sweet little baby elephant comes along with its mother and falls into a giant pit which Vijay’s men have dug and then covered with leaves. Anguished, the mother calls to her baby as he desperately tries to climb up and out, falling back again and again. Their cries attract the rest of the herd, which gathers around but is equally helpless; and when Vijay and his men show up with their guns, they run. I will say that the filmmakers do an excellent job at conveying the female elephant’s palpable distress at losing her baby and by this point I am easily completely and utterly on her side.
After an inspiring but vain attempt to rescue her howling baby from the truck it is chained in, she turns on Vijay and trees him just as Maa happens to drive past. Maa runs towards them, and the female elephant switches her sights. Vijay is caught in two of his own bear traps (YAY!) and watches helplessly as the elephant makes short work of his mother.
With her dying breath, Maa begs him to give up his sinful animal trapping, and makes him promise to reunite this mother elephant with her baby.
Nummi returns and forgives him, and Vijay now sets off for the city, where he finds the calf and gets permission to take him home. But this little guy is not nearly as addled as Nummi: he wants nothing to do with the man who has separated him from his mother, and he escapes into the dangerous streets of Bombay.
Will Vijay catch him before something terrible happens? At home, the mother elephant is now on a rampage through the neighboring villages and farms. Vijay has asked Nummi to protect the mother until he can reunite her with her calf, but the local villagers want to kill her before she destroys their homes and kills someone.
Will everything work out for our Maa-Beta? Will Vijay and Nummi find happiness? I wish I could say that I care, but I was long past that by the end. The scenes of Vijay trying to catch little Ganesh (as the calf has come to be known) are cute for about five minutes but go on for way, way, way longer. It takes some sort of skill to make a cute baby elephant boring!
Plus I am never convinced that Vijay is truly repentant or has learned any lessons; he is mostly concerned with keeping his promise to his Maa, but there’s no real sense of remorse at what he has done to all the other animals whose lives he has systematically destroyed or any glimmer of understanding that they have feelings too. He is still a jackass at the end, and Nummi is still a moron, and I am just confused as to what the filmmakers were trying to say.
The mixed message: “torturing animals is manly and fun!”-“although, wait…you shouldn’t do it”-“but it is manly and FUN!” with Maa being the only, and very weak at that, voice of reason; the inattention to detail and complete lack of common sense; endless footage of anxious and unhappy animals; and those worst of crimes, poor pacing, a dull plot and indifferent actors, make this a bad movie for me.
I will say this: it was fun to watch the Mama Elephant twirl Nirupa around with her trunk before throwing her to the ground and stomping on her (even if Nirupa in this case did not wholly deserve it). And it was funny to watch Baby Elephant push Dharmendra around a bit (he did deserve it, and more). And *SPOILER* the elephant reunion is very happy and sweet! *END SPOILER*
So there’s that. But that’s about it.