I have seen Kiran Kumar as a hero in a few films now and loved him in every single one. He has a sweetness about him, slightly clueless but kind at heart, which I find really appealing. He might not carry off “Angry Young Man” roles, but he is great in romantic and comedy films. This particular movie only falls under the comedy genre accidentally, but the role of a befuddled hayseed led astray by sophisticated evildoers is just perfect for Jeevan’s beta.
Ramanand Sagar’s films are generally too suffocatingly conservative and preachy for my liking. But my pal Todd’s description of the loony people and ideas in this one were too much to resist, and I’m glad I didn’t. Although this movie too espouses the traditional, there is plenty to cheer about, especially in the female characters. They are independent thinkers, beginning to question the status quo. They have their own agency, make their own choices; even if they screw it up it is they who are making the mistakes.
And of course there is plenty to laugh at from our sophisticated 21st century point of view. The depictions of the drug culture are laughably if sincerely over-the-top, and our villains hatch those evil but simplistic plans that I so love in Hindi cinema.
Kiran Kunwar (Kiran Kumar) is the younger brother of the local Thakur (Pradeep Kumar) in a small Himalayan town. He and his sister (?) conspire together to further his romance with local belle—and snake charmer—Ganga (Kum Kum looking gorgeous) behind big brother and their mother’s (Sumati Gupta) backs. Kiran is leaving for Bombay to further his studies; his family sees him off at the station but Ganga only appears on horseback after the train has left, riding hell-for-leather after it. This is our first look at Ganga, and it establishes her firmly as a feisty girl for whom snakes are family.
Kiran takes the farewell garland from around his neck and throws it over hers, promising to return and vowing to remain faithful.
Traveling in his compartment is another local girl, Malti (Padma Khanna). Malti is a nautch-girl and has attracted the eye of a wealthy man from Bombay who has promised to set her up as the cabaret dancer in his nightclub there. She is an eminently practical girl, and not too sure Kiran will be able to resist the wiles of the big city. She has a “modern” view, cynicism masquerading as feminism.
Kiran listens to her thoughtfully, although he assures her that he will stay true to his Ganga. Kiran’s arrival in Bombay and his first day at college set up the conflict to follow, with responsible—and nerdy—students taking on those who are merely interested in having a good time.
After class the Nerds—Shashikant (Raza Murad), Altaf (?) and Deshpande (Viju Khote)—congratulate Kiran on his good sense in “siding the professors” and respectful behavior (he had stood up when the professor entered the classrom, the only one to do so) and welcome him warmly. Another member of their club is the lovely Girija (Alka), who is working hard to support both her own studies and, in theory, her brother’s.
Shashikant knows what her brother VK (VK Sharma?) really does with the money she gives him, but Girija doesn’t want to hear it.
The Good-Time Gang are led by Kuljeet (Kuljeet), who works for the top smuggler in Bombay, called…well, Boss (Manmohan). Boss’s plan to rule the world, or at least to make lots of money, is relatively straightforward:
Kiran, as the son of a wealthy Thakur, is the perfect candidate for entrapment.
Kuljeet’s cohorts in school have a code which seems to be that love equals tradition, tradition equals oppression, and the youth of today’s India don’t need love or marriage (a sentiment which once again puts me firmly on the “wrong” side of the equation).
They mock Kiran’s devotion to Ganga, and Ragini (Neela) vows to put it to a test. Somehow this involves having him ride on her scooter (which gets him all hot and bothered) and taking him to one of those weird Indian picnics. There are many things I love about this particularly surreal event, starting with the people wearing two party hats on their heads instead of just one. I have seen this double-party-hat phenomenon before too; it seems to have been the fashion for a while.
Then there are the contents of the picnic baskets (scary clown masks), and the crazed dancing around Kiran’s prone form which commences after he has had whiskey poured down his throat.
Finally Kiran is stripped of his clothes and thrown into a river containing a crocodile (not obviously fake enough to screencap though); abandoned by the gang, he makes it to shore and sees a woman’s skirt hanging on a line. He purloins it and gets to the main road just in time to be rescued by his old acquaintance Malti. She takes him to her sweet, sweet pad and I *die* over the mirror-encrusted little bar.
Malti’s new benefactor is of course…Boss! who is pleased to see that she is already acquainted with their next target. They recap The Plan again, in slightly more detail.
The rest?! How can there be any REST?
Oh yes, blackmail. (Which, by the way, never materializes.)
Malti attempts to get Kiran attracted to women by showing him a three-ring binder filled with what I assume are lascivious pictures of women. I love the expression on his face, much as I loved his experimental twirling in the skirt earlier. He is just so cute.
Malti thinks so too. She asks him to tell her about his romance with Ganga, and listens a little wistfully as he tells her about their first meeting (Ganga chastises him for shooting a bird, and then waves the poor wounded thing around in the air herself as she scolds him) and subsequent clandestine meetings (Ganga being poor is not a suitable girl for the Chhote Thakur). Mostly all I can think about is the Fourth of July.
Finally the rumors that plague small communities begin swirling, and the villagers demand that Ganga undergo a trial by fire a la Sita in order to prove that she hasn’t done anything she shouldn’t. UGH. She agrees to it, although it’s another sign of this film’s identity crisis that her father doesn’t want her to, and argues that she doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. Yay for Dad!
Kum Kum sadly isn’t in this film that much, but when she is, she is gorgeous and really wonderful as the feisty, loyal, snake-draped Ganga.
Malti is visibly moved by Kiran’s story, but it doesn’t stop her from doing Boss’s bidding. Kiran rather easily succumbs to temptation as well, which weakens the film for me quite a bit. I would have liked to see him put up more of a fight (although then there would have likely been much more preaching too, and I don’t miss that!). The scene which best illustrates his fall from grace is this crazy dance number by Padma Khanna inside the Boss’s den of iniquity, intercut with Ganga in pure white expressing her longing for her lover.
Kuljeet moves in and Kiran is quickly addicted to pills and then heroin. Malti begins to worry; she has become fond of Kiran. I begin to worry about Malti, because we all know what happens to bad girls who reform!
two three things:
1) Heroine: I do not think it means what you think it means
3) Look at this door! I feel like I’ve fallen through the Looking Glass.
Indeed, I am constantly reminded of “Alice In Wonderland” and Grace Slick. Trippy! (Plus, chandeliers!)
The Nerds make a token effort to help Kiran escape the clutches of drugs and sex, but fail; and poor Girija is ensnared by Boss through her own brother’s addiction (apparently Boss needs more help with Step 3 of The Plan).
Back home, Ganga receives a cryptic letter from Kiran asking for help (written in one of his rare sober moments I guess) and Malti sends a telegram to Kiran’s brother and mother telling them that he is in trouble. Will they be able to save him from Hindi film medicine and drug-induced blindness?
I love that the regular doctor’s solution (giving up drugs) is immediately dismissed as an option: obviously drug addicts cannot be reformed, seems to be the message. Except—enter psychiatrist Jagdish Raj—through love (he should stick to police work).
What will Ganga think of her beloved’s plight (not to mention his infidelities)? Can Kiran be rescued from the greedy clutches of Kuljeet and Boss? Will his brother agree to let Ganga help (she is a pauper snake-charmer, after all!)? What will happen to Girija and Malti?
I think it’s fair to say that this is my favorite Ramanand Sagar movie*. Despite the sometimes cloying paternalism, its Reefer Madness approach to the frightful scourge of drug addiction makes this highly entertaining and I do love the strong, self-willed women in it. The cast is oodles of fun too—it’s nice to see Padma Khanna with a good-sized role (actually bigger than Kum Kum’s); and I’m always happy to see creepy-crazy Kuljeet and the redoubtable Tun Tun, making fat jokes as usual at her own expense.
And really, I need to watch more Kiran Kumar starrers.