Rajesh Khanna makes a fabulous
Tarzan Dara Singh hero in this tale of palace treachery which extols the moral superiority of animals over man, a message I wholeheartedly endorse. Zeenat Aman plays a wild jungle girl (yes, it is as hilarious as it sounds), the rightful heiress to her murdered father’s throne, who has been raised from infancy by a very maternal gorilla—by which I mean a guy in an ape suit.
Plus, Pran as Dr. Doolittle! Oh, how I love B-movies. I was fortunate to get this one from my dear friend and Rajesh devotee Suhan, who also watched it with me and filled me in on all the unsubtitled goings-on—and there is a lot going on.
Our story opens with a glorious host of character actors: Murad as a benevolent king and Veena as his queen, the two finally being blessed (despite their advanced age, ahem) with a long-wished-for baby girl. The little Rajkumari is born after the king makes (and keeps) a promise to a goddess who takes the form of an eagle (so I’ll call her Eagle Devi Maa) that he will free all the caged animals in his realm.
Now that is a birthmark!
Unfortunately, the king’s younger brother (Pradeep Kumar) is not nearly as happy as everyone else that there is a new claimant to the throne. He enlists the help of a fearsome dacoit (Kamal Kapoor) who is made even more frightening by the liberal application of bushy faux moustaches on his face, some of them posing as eyebrows and later, as he ages, pasted on upside down.
King Murad has vowed to take the baby Rajkumari to the temple on a pilgrimage, taking with them a huge hoard of precious gems as a thanksgiving offering to Eagle Devi Maa. He sets off aboard an elephant which also carries two huge chests containing the treasure, the baby in a cradle and the king’s trusted advisor and friend Ram Singh (Pran). They are surrounded by guards who prove completely useless when Kamal (I didn’t catch the good names of most of these people and they were all named Singh) and his men attack.
The king is killed, but Ram Singh fights Kamal off (after getting a good look at his distinctive eyes) although he is badly wounded in the process. As he too falls from the elephant, he instructs it to take the Rajkumari to safety, which it does—gleefully trampling Kamal’s men in the process.
At the palace, Pradeep receives word that the Rajkumari and the treasure have vanished but that the king is dead. He announces that Ram Singh has betrayed his king and offers his baby girl Taramati to poor grieving Veena as compensation for her lost daughter.
The injured Ram Singh hears the proclamation blaming him for the tragedy and realizes that he has no way to prove his innocence; we are treated to some most excellent Pran Nahin Face.
It rivals even that of Ram Singh’s wife (Nirupa Roy), who flees with their young son Raju as their house is burned to the ground.
Meanwhile, the elephant has reached the temple; as it enters, the trunks containing the precious gems fall to the ground and the stones scatter, sparkling in the sun and reflecting on Eagle Devi Maa. The elephant kneels with the baby in her cradle and animals appear from the surrounding jungle. One of them, the aforementioned “gorilla”, climbs up and rescues the little girl.
As the credits roll, we watch her grow up, raised with love by the forest animals—big cats, bunnies, elephants, birds and of course her adoptive Gorilla Maa. Pradeep takes his brother’s throne and makes Kamal his right-hand man. Kamal wants his son Mangal (Prem Chopra) to marry Pradeep’s daughter Tara (Yogeeta Bali) in order to inherit the throne. And they all really, really want to find the former king’s long-lost treasure but have been unable to locate it.
Ram Singh’s wife and now-grown son Raju (Rajesh Khanna) have made their home in a village near the forest, and Nirupa still mourns her husband. Ram Singh himself is now a sage of sorts who talks to the animals.
Raju has inherited this skill from his father too, and enjoys a good swing through the trees. Mangal and Tara arrive in the forest for a hunting expedition and wound a tiger, causing it to ravage the surrounding villages in its pain. I am a little confused as to Ram Singh’s role in this—he seems to be helping the hunting party, although it seems out of character. In any case, the fearful villagers ask Raju for his help in finding the angry tiger and putting it out of its and their misery.
He goes to meet Mangal and Tara, and then Ram Singh is brought to camp, himself wounded by the tiger. Raju cauterizes the wound using a piece of wood from the fire (can you spell i-n-f-e-c-t-i-o-n?) and as Ram Singh clutches him in pain Raju is strangely moved by this “stranger’s” embrace.
Reunited! And it feels so goooood…well, maybe not so much for Ram Singh. But I adore the cheesy drama of it all. I only wish you could all hear the background vocals of “aaaah…aaaaaaah….aaaaaaaah” that accompany Rajesh’s facial twitchings.
Princess Tara is enchanted by Raju although she insists on shooting at everything she sees despite his efforts to stop her. He sings a song pointing out the virtues of animals compared to man (“Insaanon Se Jaanwar Achche Hote Hain”). The music in this film (Laxmikant Pyarelal) is sadly mediocre, although I probably would love the lyrics if I could understand them properly. In any case, Tara invokes the wrath of Eagle Devi Maa when she shoots at a cute little deer.
Please note that Mangal is not interested in blending into his surroundings! Eagle Devi Maa causes him to crash the jeep into a tree and they have to set up camp for the night; to his great frustration, Mangal’s attempts to romance Tara are thwarted by her obvious preference for Raju.
But early the next morning Raju sees a beautiful girl rising out of a bed of flower petals, clad only in her own hair (although subsequently she gets to wear outfits made from peacock feathers and the like!). Smitten at first sight, he follows her.
She is of course the long-lost Rajkumari, and her skills with the animals who brought her up are far greater than his. She proves it when she comes across him lying unconscious: he has been bitten by a cobra and she makes the cobra go back and suck its own poison out of his hand! Really, it doesn’t get any better than this. Plus, we know Zeenat is serious about her role because she isn’t wearing makeup, and I particularly love it when she gets up close and sniffs about Raju’s face.
When Tara comes looking for him, the Rajkumari retreats and watches in amazement—she’s never seen anyone who looked like her before, and has never heard humans talk. She repeats “Ju” when Tara calls Raju’s name and tosses a stone at her when she gets too close to him. Warily, she follows them all to camp, where we are treated to views of Rajesh’s chest hair. Suhan and I (and evidently the Rajkumari too) agree that it is so much nicer than the waxed over-muscled chests of today’s leading men, and we are glad that Rajesh likes to display it whenever possible. I also love his picnic blanket sarong.
Anyway. “Ju” and the princess soon begin romancing. He calls her “Ri” (cutesy for “Rajkumari” although he doesn’t know she really is one yet) and several annoying songs interspersed with footage of lovebirds and fluffy little baby bunnies are inflicted on us; it’s quite nauseating really. He tries to teach her how to speak although she doesn’t progress much further than “Ju” and “Maa” (naturally!!! Maa is universal!). Zeenat spends a good deal of her time posing provocatively in scanty leaf and peacock feather dresses, while Suhan and I revel in yet more equal opportunity Rajesh chest hair.
Raju takes his newfound pal Ram Singh to see the elusive Ri and she tosses some gemstones at Ram Singh from a tree. Gathering them up, Ram Singh quickly realizes that she must be the long-lost princess and heir to the throne. For some reason which I’ve forgotten if I ever even knew but is probably because he suspects who she is, Mangal has planned to kill her but is thwarted by Ram Singh and Raju (and the princess’ own kickassery).
To keep her safe, Raju (who is still ignorant as to her true identity) takes her home to his own mother, who tries to help him domesticate her. And one day of course she finally notices the girl’s distinctive eagle birthmark—a birthmark she vividly remembers seeing while bathing the infant Rajkumari long ago.
Mangal tries to kill Ri again, but Raju rescues her (although again she does a good job of defending herself!) and this time takes her to a cave for shelter, watched by a hidden Ram Singh. He then goes home to get his mother, who tells him who Ri really is and about his own father taking the blame for the king’s death and the disappearance of the princess and the treasure. When he returns to the cave, Ri is gone: Ram Singh has taken her to the palace as proof of his innocence, not realizing that he is taking her back to the very people who are responsible for that tragedy.
But when he meets Pradeep’s most trusted aide and recognizes those distinctive eyes, he sees his blunder all too clearly and too late. He hands the gemstones which Ri had flung at him to the king and tells him that she is the only one who knows where the treasure is. Pretending to be sympathetic to Pradeep and Kamal, he hands Ri over to them. Frustrated by her inability to tell them anything, Pradeep, Kamal and Mangal lock her in a cage, where she is discovered by both the Rajmata and Raju at the same time.
Raju unwittingly saves her for the moment by informing the Rajmata of Ri’s true identity. Thrilled to be reunited with her daughter, the Rajmata—who still completely trusts her late husband’s younger brother Pradeep—celebrates.
What will be Pradeep & Company’s next move? Can Ri be taught to communicate? Will she tell them where the treasure is? What will happen to Raju? Will his parents be reunited as well? Will Eagle Devi Maa have the last word?
I know this is a long post even by my verbose standards, but it is a complicated plot! I cannot in all fairness call this a good movie, but it is highly entertaining and Rajesh is charming. The veteran cast throw themselves into their roles with enthusiasm, and the lead pair’s chemistry is as sparkling as ever. Just know that still to come is Tom Alter as a ruthlessly efficient brainwasher and lots more fun with jungle animals: it’s a winner in my book!