There is no power on earth that could stop me from watching a movie which begins like this. Raakhee as a vengeful dacoit?! Removing her bangles?! It just has to be awesome. I have a severe weakness for daku-dramas as it is, but toss in a girl gone bad (especially if it is Raakhee!) and I am even happier. Plus there are subtitles, although they are unreadable about fifty percent of the time. Female kickassery, a strong moral center and plenty of plot twists enable me to say that this film basically delivers on its promise.
Pran plays Bhavani Singh, a notorious dacoit who is finally caught by a police sting with the help of the local thakur Shakti Singh (Vinod Khanna). Bhavani is not helped any by his own hungry horse, which settles down to graze while Pran and Vinod fight it out.
As Bhavani is dragged off to jail he vows—as a proper dacoit always does—to avenge himself on Shakti Singh.
The local Inspector General (Kamal Kapoor) wants Shakti to join the police force, although his daughter Ambika (Parveen Babi) is in love with Shakti and not happy at the thought that Shakti would be putting himself in danger. Shakti gently teases her along the lines of “absence and worry make the heart grow fonder” and Inspector Kamal looks on indulgently.
But Shakti’s stepmother Kalavati (Nadira), her brother (TP Jain), and her son Deepu have other plans for Shakti: a wealthy bride with lots of dowry. Kalavati frets that Shakti’s new enmity with Bhavani Singh will discourage good families from approving their daughters for him. I’m pretty sure that if the daughter sees Shakti and has any say in the matter there should be no problem.
Kalavati goes on to say that as long as Shakti gets married, then she doesn’t care if he is killed because she and Deepu will get all of his property. I’m not clear how that would work, but the subtitles aren’t the best so I may be misunderstanding things. Plus I’m just so happy to see Nadira that I don’t care if she makes no sense.
Deepu is a wastrel and refuses to dirty his hands with “work”, choosing instead to play lord of the manor. Idealistic Shakti points out that the landlord system is gone, and now that he’s joining the police Deepu and his uncle are going to have to pitch in to manage the property. Kalavati broaches the subject of Shakti’s marriage and he laughs it off, reminding her that the dowry system is gone too.
But he is about to fall in love on his own, with the lovely Devi (Raakhee), whom he hears singing and follows in the forest near one of his hunting lodges. Shakti is smitten on sight, although she flees when she sees him watching her.
Devi is an orphan who has been brought up by the caretaker of the lodge. She grumbles as she prepares lunch about the awful Thakur who kills defenseless animals (I love her now too!). Not knowing that Shakti is the Thakur she stops him that afternoon as he takes aim at three sweet little white bunnies (not too manipulative, filmmakers!); seeing how upset she is, he swears to give up hunting.
Her reaction when she discovers his true identity is pretty funny too.
I’m picturing Premnath, aren’t you?
As Kalavati arranges Shakti’s marriage behind his back to a girl with a dowry of 5 lakhs, Shakti marries Devi apparently while she’s sleeping (seriously, this really puzzles me: she wakes up in a wedding dress with sindoor in her part—and appears to be surprised—while Shakti himself is sleeping in another room until she wakes him up by touching his feet and bursting into tears!).
Needless to say, when Shakti introduces his new bride to his family it doesn’t go well.
I can only sigh when Shakti tells Devi in private that it’s her duty to win Kalavati over and she promises to give him no cause for complaint. It’s too bad that Shakti doesn’t hear Kalavati downstairs plotting to rid herself of Devi and Shakti. It also doesn’t take long for Deepu to put the moves on Devi and you can almost hear the shark music.
Poor Ambika, though heartbroken, welcomes Devi graciously by throwing a party for the newlyweds. But Devi has married into a house of horrors. Kalavati abuses her and forces her to do all the housework when Shakti is not around, and is all sweetness and light when he is. I am delighted to see a spark of defiance in Devi, but she is hurt that her beloved husband’s family treats her so badly.
Ambika helps her out by teaching her to wrap a saree like a proper lady and befriending her, but Deepu continues to try and molest her. Then Bhavani Singh escapes from jail and Shakti is called out of town for two days. Dismayed at the prospect of his prolonged absence, Devi finally breaks down and tells Shakti about her treatment at the hands of his family, particularly Deepu. Unfortunately, he doesn’t take her seriously.
That night Deepu and three of his friends lock Kalavati in her room and lure Devi downstairs, where they attack her. Devi puts up a ferocious defense, killing Deepu and one of his cronies as fire spreads through the house and another of Deepu’s friends is burned to death.
Kalavati screams for help as the house explodes in flames. By now hysterical, Devi escapes and runs into Bhavani Singh at a temple. He calms her down, and she tells him what has happened (and declares defiantly that she would do the same again if she had to). Struck by her spirit, Bhavani offers her a home with him and his men as his sister, but she tells him she must return to her husband. His right-hand man Sher Singh (Bharat Kapoor) breaks the news to Bhavani that his new “sister’s” husband is his mortal enemy Shakti Singh.
He makes sure that Devi returns safely to Shakti, who arrests her because she ran away initially instead of going straight to the police (thus apparently rendering a plea of self-defence impossible. Oh, Hindi movie logic and justice, thy name is bakwaas!). She is tried for murder, and Deepu’s cousin, the only one of his co-conspirators who escaped her knife and the fire, goes on the stand and tells the court that Devi has been his lover. His father—Kalavati’s horrible brother—takes the stand as well, and tells the court that Devi is a member of Bhavani Singh’s gang.
Bhavani Singh is in the courtroom in disguise, and he’s heard enough. When court is adjourned for the day, he creates a diversion and escapes with her.
This seems to me a bad idea, since Shakti has made it clear that he believes her. He has even (finally!) gone to his uncle and cousin and confronted them about their perfidy. But Devi herself has no faith in the justice system (and I don’t really blame her) and she decides to take matters into her own hands.
She tracks down Deepu’s cousin and beats the crap out of him before shooting him dead.
She is an excellent shot, but talk about burning your bridges! Even Bhavani Singh doesn’t approve.
He tells Devi that he doesn’t want to lose her as he has already lost a sister, and tells her the story of how he became a dacoit. The family into which he had married Radha (Kumari Naaz) demanded more dowry than he could afford, and though he made payments as he was able, her mother-in-law burned Radha to death in a “kitchen accident”.
He shot the evil MIL and her family in revenge and has been on the run from the law ever since. Sher Singh warns Bhavani that keeping a policeman’s wife with them is insane, but Devi seems to have taken to dacoity in a big way.
She accompanies the gang when they find out that an old man is marrying a fifteen-year-old girl in a nearby village, stop the wedding, and steal the money he had paid to the girl’s greedy father.
What will happen to Devi now that she’s willingly joined a band of dacoits, and killed a man in cold blood? She also gives birth to Shakti’s son. Will she ever see her husband again? Will he ever find out that he has a son? Can lovely and kind Ambika help him forget Devi?
I really liked this. It held my attention easily despite having uninspiring music (Laxmikant-Pyarelal) and a silly (but relatively unobtrusive) comic side plot with Rajendranath as a wannabe dacoit.
The acting is great (if occasionally melodramatic—I’M LOOKING AT YOU PRAN!) as is the marvellously engaging screenplay. Even without great subs, some of the dialogues are especially good (not surprising given that they were penned by Rajinder Singh Bedi), although I wish Raakhee had been less marginalized in the last third of it. In fact this would be a film I’d love to see remade with a few changes.
*SPOILERS HINTED AT AHEAD*
I felt very let down by the same-old, same-old double standard, forcing the female characters to represent either goddess or whore with no middle ground. This film could have been so much more powerful had it stayed true to what it was otherwise saying throughout, but in the end the filmmakers (or maybe censors) compromised with what they probably believed audiences would rather see. Too bad!*
*END SPOILERS AND REVIEW*