Here we have another formulaic daku-drama, by which I mean I loved it. So many throbbing neck veins (Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Ajit)! So many ferocious eyeball-to-eyeball staredowns! So many lines spat out through clenched jaws—and Prem Chopra nowhere in sight! So many manly men named Singh!
It is chock-full of Man Candy; pretty, pretty horses; the usual assortment of terrible wigs that do nobody any favors; men in hoop earrings; and that love which passeth all understanding—the unconditional bhai-bhai rishtaa. Hema Malini provides the Woman Candy and is the feisty catalyst for the eventual showdown between brothers and rivals. Plus, wonderful music from Kalyanji Anandji, including some funked-up title music!
Thakur Ajit Singh (Ajit) leads a gang of dacoits with the help of his right-hand man Sarju (Vinod Khanna) and younger brother Ranjeet (Dharmendra). As children, Ajit and Ranjeet lost their parents and their home at the hands of a greedy man named Vijay Narayan Singh (Rajan Haksar) and his associates; Ajit has now killed off each associate one by one.
He sends off Sarju to threaten Vijay Narayan Singh, who insults Sarju (and Ajit, by proxy). Sarju reports this indignity back to Ajit and Ranjeet, and Ajit launches intensely into their backstory, obviously not for the first time.
Dharmendra is burdened in this movie by a spiky-mullet wig which causes him to resemble one of the Bay City Rollers.
As Sarju and Ranjeet pretend to listen to Ajit, DSP Varma (Iftekhar) briefs his men for an upcoming confrontation with the dacoits in front of—not a map! Nothing so mundane will do!—an actual miniature model of the surrounding countryside (not to scale). (Actually I made that last bit up, it might very well be made to scale.)
Apparently, they also have an informant inside Ajit’s band of thugs.
Varma places his men at strategic points around Faridpur (Thakur Vijay Narayan Singh’s town) so that once the dacoits try to return to their hills they will be cut off. In the meantime, Ajit and company arrive at the Thakur’s house—which used to be his—and terrorize him, although they let him go after stealing all his wife’s jewelry because she begs them nicely and also I think because then they can torment him later.
I personally think that Ajit and Ranjeet’s ruined-fort dwelling is much nicer than the house they have been robbed of; certainly it is more tastefully decorated and at least the plants there are real and glossy and not covered in dust that maybe I can’t see but I know is there.
Ranjeet is given the loot to take home and rides off by himself. Ajit and Sarju ride another way with the rest of the dacoits and are soon surrounded by the police. We discover that the traitor inside the gang is none other than Sarju’s brother Mahavir (Ram Mohan). After a ferocious gun battle, some of Ajit’s men are killed and some escape, including Sarju. Ajit himself is shot in the arm and manages to escape on foot, with police dogs chasing him.
Ranjeet is waiting back at their den, and when he is told of the attack he rides off immediately to find his brother. Somehow Ajit has managed to evade the police and all their dogs, and Ranjeet finds him. Slinging his big brother over his shoulders, he flags down a passing motorist and I have to laugh at her disdainful—and not at all apprehensive—look when she sees them.
I guess if she wasn’t frightened looking in her mirror that morning, she isn’t easily scared. She gives the boys a ride; Ranjeet thanks her politely, and when, around the bend, the police stop her to ask about them, she doesn’t give them away.
While Ajit recovers from his gunshot wound, the gang figure out (since he hasn’t returned) that Mahavir is the traitor, and they track him down.
Ajit shoots him in the back as he runs, with Sarju looking on impassively and only showing signs of grief after the rest of the men have moved off.
Now we are introduced to the CSP Shankar (Rajendranath), which I normally would spend no time on but he is eventually integrated into the plot so I will say this: Shankar is the eccentric and unloved only-surviving-son of a wealthy radish grower. He stumbles upon the dacoits, who take him prisoner and send his father a ransom letter, which is ignored (as Shankar himself predicts).
The town of Ramgadh is having their annual fair, and everyone is attending in their finest jewelry and with money in their pockets to spend. Ajit sends his gang out to loot them, led by Sarju (Ajit’s gunshot wound is still healing). The girl who gave Ranjeet a ride in her jeep is sitting on the sidelines, obviously one of the more elite members of society, until the dancers cajole her into joining them for “Aiso Paapi Sawan Aayo”.
The dance is interrupted by the arrival of the dacoits and much shooting and screaming and scuffling ensues. The girl escapes into her house, but is followed by Sarju. She defies him, which is a bad call on her part because instead of taking her jewelry and leaving, he decides that she is worth more than the jewelry. He attempts to rape her but is stopped by Ranjeet: they have very different moral values.
(The message that Ranjeet is a “nice” man and different from normal dacoits has by now been pounded into our skulls over and over again.) Ranjeet beats the crap out of Sarju, which is totally against the dacoit code as well (“Thou shalt not make thy leader bleed from a head wound!”). The girl—whose name is Asha—thanks Ranjeet grudgingly and then launches into a lecture on the error of his ways.
Back in their ruins, Sarju uses the execution of his own brother Mahavir as leverage to force Ajit into letting him whip Ranjeet for insubordination (rules is rules!). Unable to watch, Ajit slips out and—apparently not content with incapacitation in one arm only—uses the hand of the other to put out a lighted torch.
Ranjeet submits to Ajit’s command, but is not happy that Sarju’s character and deeds are not called into question. But brothers who love each other so deeply can’t remain angry for long, and they are soon reconciled. To celebrate, Ajit hires a dancer (Rani) to perform for his men; Ranjeet realizes that he is picturing Asha dancing instead. It must be love!
I know what I love: Ranjeet’s phulkari shawl. Want!
But things will never be the same again. Sarju is now fixated on Asha, determined to have her at any cost, and Ranjeet overhears him plotting to kidnap her. He sweeps in to save her in the nick of time and they escape in a thrilling horseback ride which culminates in a wooden horse carrying strapped-on dummies being tossed into a river.
Ranjeet takes Asha to her father, Shiv Narayan Singh (DK Sapru), in Delhi. Ranjeet plans to return home, but Asha pleads with him to stay and not return to that sinful life. Her worried father had contacted Varma when she disappeared from the village, and he comes to visit. She denies that Ranjeet is the man who brought her home, but Varma is suspicious nonetheless. He surrounds the city with a police dragnet. Meanwhile, Ranjeet has met up with Shankar (whom I guess was let go when his father failed to respond to the ransom demand) and they are now bosom buddies.
When Asha goes to meet Ranjeet in the evening, Varma has her followed (a smart policeman! Wah!). I am thrilled when they flee into a shopping center: I smell makeover! About time too!
Hooray! I am not sorry to see that wig go (even though hair continuity issues follow), and Dharmendra’s stint as a Bay City Roller with it.
I may have to change my views on Varma’s intelligence since he fails to recognize the “new” Ranjeet. Shankar cleverly comes up with a star-crossed lovers tale to explain the new guy’s presence and Varma accepts it. Asha takes “Mr. Kumar” home with her, where her father is throwing a party. He doesn’t recognize Ranjeet either, but Ranjeet recognizes another party-goer: his purana dushman Vijay Narayan Singh!
Back in Ajit’s fold, rebellion is brewing. As Ranjeet’s absence continues, Sarju wants Ajit to mark Ranjeet for death because of betrayal just as he did Mahavir. It’s also clear that Sarju wants to take Ajit’s place as Thakur—and the men are all backing him.
Will Vijay Narayan Singh recognize the cleaned-up Ranjeet (and is Shekhar played by Joginder, as imdb says)? Will Ranjeet find a way to avenge himself and his brother? Will Ranjeet return to his dacoit ways? What will happen to Ajit if Sarju takes over the gang?
There is still plenty of plot left, believe me, and a Jayshree T cabaret dance in The Egyptian Room (set or actual location? Anybody know?). And hideous 1970s fashions and set decorations (in that avocado green and orange palette so beloved of the era).
As I said, this is fairly standard dacoit-drama territory with plenty of over-acting and high testosterone levels. But the music, the pace and the eye candy (and occasional horrors) keep it from getting boring. That is pretty much all I need most days to make me happy!
Well that and a wig-free Dharam.