If you are enticed by a story built on more than a few ludicrous suppositions and where skin color informs character, you might enjoy Gora Aur Kala. Or you might think—as I did more than once—that the racism inherent in all of it is so despicable that even Madan Puri atop a Disco Throne (before disco!) and the delicious irony of medically separated Siamese twin princes being separated again by fate hardly make up for it. But then again, it is all so very very over-the-top that I giggled at least as much as I cringed.
Said Siamese twins are the sons of a Maharajah (Dev Kumar) and his Maharani (Sulochana Latkar). Doctor Randhir (Randhir?) warns the royal parents that both twins cannot in all probability survive the surgery, word of which does not reach Zorawar Singh (Madan Puri). He is plotting with his henchman Dilawar Singh (Rajan Haksar) (and oh hell, I am going to dispense with surnames in this review because they are all Singh) to rid himself of the heirs and the King (who thinks of him as a valued friend) so that he can take the throne himself.
Doctor Randhir does manage to successfully separate the boys, afterwards making these mind-boggling pronouncements to the elated Maharajah and his loyal right-hand man Prithvi (Premnath):
He forgets to mention an actually believable development of the surgery, which is that the “dark” twin will also never have the use of his left arm, but never mind.
Zorawar soon murders the King, but Prithvi and Doctor Randhir manage to escape with the twins and the Maharani through a secret passage (unfortunately, they leave the door open behind them and thus ruin the “secret” part of it). After the usual plot machinations that separate the family are through, the Maharani has given herself up to save her sons and is imprisoned and tortured on a Wadia Brothers-worthy rack:
The fair twin, named Karan (Rajendra Kumar), is brought up by Prithvi and taught the art of sword-fighting and to fight against injustice and other badmashery. The poor dark crippled twin (aptly called Kali and played by Rajendra Kumar covered in shoe polish) and Doctor Randhir are “taken in” by a band of dacoits.
I have to say, I positively guffawed at my first look at adult Kali. That is a serious blood deficiency!
The shoe polish budget must have been crippling for the producer, but at least Kali isn’t green. Also I couldn’t help thinking: what if he had grown up as the prince he was supposed to be instead?
Kali is now a full-fledged Robin Hood type, robbing only the wealthy who take advantage of the poor and making sure the local villagers get a share of the loot. Local belle Phulwa (a young and very pretty Rekha) is in love with Kali but he doesn’t have the good sense to appreciate it.
She is not at all pleased when Kali kidnaps Zorawar’s beautiful daughter Princess Anuradha (Hema Malini). He and his men attack the procession bringing her home after years living away. He is only supposed to loot…well, the loot, but is so smitten with her that he brings her home to rape her.
The way Rajendra Kumar plays Kali sends a loud and clear message (especially given the film’s title) that while fair equals noble and good, dark skin means a person will be cruel, loutish, mentally deficient and distinctly lacking in table manners.
It’s so crudely done that it is cartoonish, but it makes me uncomfortable all the same. It doesn’t help that I know during this time frame Rekha was generally considered “dark” herself and thus is an obvious pairing with Kali. It’s probably mostly accidental (except on Rekha’s part) that Phulwa is a great deal of naughty fun and Kali probably the luckier guy.
Contrast this with Karan’s behavior after Anuradha escapes (with Phulwa’s assistance, and dressed as a man) and Karan finds her unconscious outside his home. He is shocked—shocked!—to discover that the boy he has rescued is a woman, and removes her clothes underneath the shield of a blanket. So noble! So pure!
But I know which broad I’d rather have cocktails with.
I digress. Karan, whom Anuradha deceives into thinking she is a maidservant to the Princess, returns her safely to the palace and romances her on the way.
I marvel at his sartorial tastes: Hey Karan! The Partridge Family called and they want their outfits back!
That night an obsessed Kali breaks into the palace to get the Princess back but is captured and caged and poked at with sharp sticks before he manages to escape. He also finally (unknowingly) meets his twin brother Karan when he goes to rob his house. They have a swashbuckling duel during which Kali feels the same pain as Karan after cutting him. I laugh and laugh.
Karan learns that Anuradha is the Princess herself, and sets out to teach her a lesson which naturally leads to love. I become distracted at this point by the palace decor, a mish-mash of styles that I can only call Greek Mughal Disco. You have to love a mirrored throne and pillars decorated by live caryatids!
There is a Space Age Wine Cellar aspect to portions of it as well.
Dilawar’s son Shamsher (Prem Chopra), who is Zorawar’s senapati and aspires to Anuradha’s hand in marriage himself, is furious at this development. He arrests Karan and chains him up in the dungeon and horsewhips him. Back in his den, Kali feels the lashing of the whip too and, yes, I laugh and laugh.
The good Doctor naturally immediately realizes what this all means. Karan is locked up in a cell next to his mother, who tells him her sad tale and that of his father (although neither realize who the other is at the time); and Prithvi rides out to rescue Karan and is himself arrested by Shamsher and thrown into the same cell as Karan.
Of course he and their neighbor recognize each other, and there is a joyful Ma-Beta-Loyal-Family-Retainer reunion in the dungeon. Will they manage to escape from Zorawar and Shamsher’s clutches? Will they be reunited with Kali? Can the brothers be restored to their rightful places? Or will their mutual love for Anuradha create an insurmountable rift? Will Anuradha be trapped by Shamsher Singh?
I can’t resist this one: when Karan and Anuradha at one point go to the palace in “disguise” they are amazed when Shamsher sees right through her flimsy veil. I can’t stop laughing, plus I am so happy that someone is finally not fooled by this silly tactic!
Still, despite all this, the Disco Thrones (yes there are two), and lovely songs by Laxmikant and Pyarelal (look them up online, do), Gora Aur Kala is not very good. Even the last minute message that “fair and dark are human equally” is way too late and way too weak to make up for the relentless racism underlying every other second of it. This would have been a lot more fun had the brothers merely been identical twins. There was no reason for most of the storyline to create the fair-dark dichotomy; and if the true intent was to promote blindness towards skin color, then throwing traits like mental retardation (seriously) into poor Kali’s makeup undermined that message thoroughly.
And I stand by what I said earlier: Hema may have been the “Dream Girl” but Rekha made Phulwa the only one in this movie I actually rooted for.