Jalte Badan (1973)

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.

Plus, chandeliers!

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!

Okay, two three things:

1) Heroine: I do not think it means what you think it means
2) WHAT?!
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.

*Not difficult.

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55 Comments to “Jalte Badan (1973)”

  1. Hmm firs one to comment. My first reaction on reading your post is “there is so much going on” – I must see this movie. Thanks memsaab for generating this interest in me via ur post. Yes Kiran Kumar was a good actor and good looking as well ie tall and good personality. it is sad that he was not much of a success as a hero.

    • DEAR FILMBUFF

      Here is the link to the movie, in case you wish to see it after this lovely review.

      The sad part is that this tall and handsome hero, Kiran Kumar, later on graduated to playing the baddie roles, while the heroes take the opposite route; they essay the baddie roles first and then move up the rung to the good boy roles. You have Dharmendra, Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna who essayed the baddie roles and then later on went to become highly successful heroes. Wonder what made Kiran Kumar swim against the conventional stream.

      Enjoy the movie.

      • Hello?!? Wrong tree I think :)

      • Thanks a ton Mohan for provding the link. Yes it is sad indeed that talented people seldom get the recognition they deserve. When Shatrughan sinha could graduate from baddie roles to hero roles I wonder what went wrong with Kiran Kumar.

      • Kiran Kumar, though later decided to play the baddie in many a film was Hero in a lot of Gujarati films, acting opposite Mallika Sarabhai and Rita Bhaduri, at a time when it was thought that he had disappeared from Hindi films. One of his popular films that did well as a baddie was ‘Tezaab’

    • You have no idea how much is going on, in every single frame just about! It was really hard keeping the screencaps in check, which I actually didn’t do very well. Just watch it. So much fun :)

      Thanks for the link, Mohan.

      Salim, I have no idea what you are talking about :)

      • You are most welcome Greta.

        Wonderful and fantastic review. I have always liked Kum Kum. She is really good. Did a few “A” roles but unfortunately was consigned to the “B” movie slot. However, she was definitely “A” material. Nevertheless, her movies always interested me.

        Just check out how gorgeous she is in this song “CHAND KYA HAI” with the dashing Vinod Khanna in the movie Dhamkee – 1973.

        I am a bit saddened by the route the handsome Kiran Kumar took after his debut as a hero. He started essaying baddie roles. Maybe the influence of his dad Jeevan, the classical baddie, was programmed into his DNA and he gravitated naturally towards that path. Or maybe the hero roles dried up and with age catching up, he thought it prudent to play the baddie, if only to keep the hearth going.

        Thanks for the fantastic review.

      • Memsaab, I was just playing about with the expression ‘barking up the wrong tree’ :) as Mohan Doshi posted the wrong link. I meant to give no offense Mohan. Its a common enough expression (everyone including myself ‘barks up the wrong tree’ now and then) :-)

  2. Love, love, love this movie! So glad you did a write up!! It was simply a pleasure just to look at the screen caps of Kiran Kumar and Kum Kum!

  3. Lovely, lovely review, Greta! I’m always amazed at your ability to capture detail and to be able to weave any material into absolutely compelling narrative!

    I haven’t seen this movie though I think I may have vaguely heard of it many years ago. Kiran Kumar is one of those who was probably at the wrong place at the wrong time. In the early 70s, the industry was already a very crowded place for young aspiring actors for a lead role. Rakesh Roshan, Navin Nischol, Vinod Mehra, Anil Dhawan, Amitabh Bachchan, Randhir Kapoor, Vijay Arora, Vikram were also trying their luck, not to mention villains-turned-heroes like Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha. Some like Kabir Bedi and Ajay (later renamed as Parikshat) Sahni fell away in lead roles and disappeared for a bit. I even remember names like Rakesh Pandey and Romesh Sharma who never quite made it. And all this, when Rajesh Khanna was a colossus, putting everybody else in the shade. And then there there were the other by-then established actors like Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra and Sanjeev Kumar. Dev Anand and Manoj Kumar still felt they could play leading-man roles even if they had to make their own movies for this purpose. :-)

    In this space, Kiran Kumar had to jostle for eyeballs. I think the other youngsters were a bit lucky in that some of them had a big hit early on or acted with some big names (like Vijay Arora in YKB). Kiran Kumar was left with then-aspiring starlets like Reena Roy and Radha Saluja. No wonder he got blown away!

    Having said that, I did like him in Jungle Mein Mangal and Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar. One bit hit may had made a difference but it was not to be.

    Moving on from Kiran Kumar, it is ALWAYS good to see Kuljit in a movie. Creepy-good! This sort of movie suits him to the T. And Manmohan is good in this sort of role too, though Ranjit would have done just as well.

    And Kumkum is always wonderful to see too. And Padma Khanna too.

    The props look very interesting and typically early 70s. So much fun just looking at the props. Lovely screenshots too, btw. That tongue..ahem!!!

    Thanks for this most enjoyable review, Greta. :-)

    • I know his timing was bad, but it’s sad :( He is just so adorable, Kiran Kumar. But he did make some fun films, including the two you’ve listed, and I guess he’s gone on to make a career of acting anyway so good for him!

      Every shot is a gem in this film. Just needs to be seen.

  4. The man in the screen cap (left to JAGDISH RAJ`S screen cap)
    is KARAN DEWAN,
    who is a famous and popular hero of yesteryears(starring in superhit musical-RATAN(1944)(with swarnalata).

    He is also there in Yash chopra`s DAAG(1973)(as a character artiste)

  5. Good Lord. You’d almost have to take the drugs to survive the decor! That pic of the bedroom with the paisley mural and chandeliers. Wow. I will shuffle the DVD a little higher up the to-be-watched pile. Just a little. Great review! Cheers, Temple

    • It’s hilariously surreal and completely OTT. All I could hear sometimes was Grace Slick singing FEED YOUR HEAD! FEED YOUR HEAD! :)

      • I tried to ‘persuade’ Beth to watch it but she didn’t have a copy :( So we watched a terrible Ramsay Bros instead. Next time!

        • Hi Memsaab – Jenni (snake fancier extraordinaire) and I watched Jalte Badan today and it was really rather good! Eyeball searing, yet good. Malti’s bar is my new ‘want’. And your review did nothing to prepare me for Kiran Kumar’s drug addled scenes. Gold. Pure gold. I really did like Malti, Ganga and Girija and it was so nice to see women be resourceful and strong but not OTT. I have to say I did think Ganga deserved better than Kiran as he seemed very eager to slide into moral turpitude. Thanks again for the lovely review that made me watch a film I highly enjoyed. Although I have to confess we also watched Hisss so perhaps my standard of ‘good’ had been adjusted. Cheers, Temple

          • I guess I could not find words to describe Kiran Kumar’s drug scenes! I hope you can, I will enjoy reading it! (So Hisss was bad? I can’t believe it!)

  6. The actor`s name in 12th and 22nd screen cap, (man with long moustache and pink shirt on which white flower imprints are there and who wear a strange cap on which 2 cones are there) is JAAVED KHAN. He was there in PremRog,Satyam Shivam Sundaram,Raam teri ganga maili(a guy who is after Mandakini,to marry her),many mahesh bhatt`s movies including SADAK,DIL HAI KI MAANTA NAHIN,TADIPAR.
    Further he got popularity through a famous T.V.serial NUKKAD(1986) in barbar`s role.

    Not to be confused with another JAAVED KHAN, who acted as a HERO, in many C grade horror films like apraadhi kaun(1982),Haveli(1985)

    IMDB people merged the information of above two actors and projected in their site as both of them are the same guy.

  7. I think I used to see 45 RPM records of this film’s songs at home when I was a kid. With that kind of timeline it’s not surprising I did not hear much about this film with its symbols of ‘last’. Reading this together with the caps on Filmi Girls’ site I think the gals are real badass in this film! That’s one good reason to see this film. Also I have seen too little of Padma Khanna and would like to see more of her.

    But with the kind of title the film has, I am sure if I ask the salesman for the film he will push across his packet of soft porn films! I myself did a double take on first look at your previous post (what on earth is Memsaab reviewing?!?).

    Mohan Doshi above is barking up the wrong tree though:)

    • Yes, I love Filmi Girl’s pointing out that Ganga’s outfits were far more revealing than the college girls’ westernized outfits :) And yes, the girls are kick-ass in this and that is always a Good Thing.

      I still don’t understand what tree you are talking about though.

      • Yes ‘kick-ass’ describes it better :) But I better go easy with idioms – I seem to have offended Mohan Doshi with my play on the expression ‘Barking up the wrong tree’. ( Peace Brother! )

        • All’s well that ends well. No offence was intended by you in your idiomatic usage and none was taken by me.

          It’s just that this particular idiom has canine connotations which didn’t exactly allude to or highlight what was essentially intended here regarding the inaccuracy of the link suggested.

          Lovely movie though. Kiran Kumar could have given the heroes in his time a run for their money, except that he chose the wrong time to enter the Hindi movie world. He could not have had much choice in the times in which he chose to graduate to being a hero. I like him though.

          Sweet are the uses of adversity – the wrong link has made us brothers.

          • I didn’t understand the connection to Mohan’s link myself, but “barking up the wrong tree” is not pejorative in English usage anyway :) We have a lot of idioms relating to dogs (another one that could have been used in this case: “he’s gotten hold of the wrong stick”) and that is only because dogs are such an integral part of our lives. Mine especially! Both mean essentially that someone has made a mistake, but it’s very mild commentary :)

  8. Memsaab, I know I can always count on you to catch those wonderfully absurd little details that I missed — the double party hats! the clown masks in the picnic basket! WTF? It seems like you enjoyed this one as much as I did, which makes me very happy.

  9. The tongue, and the yellow pill. Oh, I must see this movie now. What fabulous sets. I like Kiran Kumar too. I became a fan when I saw ‘Aaj ki Taaza Khabar’ when I was a kid.

    • He was really pretty good at playing this spaced-out druggy character too, although there were moments which were a little over-dramatic. But probably not his fault! I blame the director :) Sets, clothing, props—eye-candy everywhere!

  10. I’m looking at screencaps featuring the lean, intense-looking and nerdy `The Voice’ Raza Murad, remembering his other role as the dying shayar in Namak Haram and then his villainous turn years later, in RTGM with that other Ganga.
    Yes, Ganga in this film looks lovely – I probably saw a bad video of the song last year and felt she looked weary.
    I’ve played that `Yeh waada’ song so many times these last few months, it got on my children’s nerves and they started going back to school.
    Have hugely enjoyed reading and responding to `Bekari/Berozgaari ka Shaitan’ and this – thanks, as always. I think your attention to the props, fixtures, trinkets and most of all – the rest of the cast – is the ultimate embellishment, it certainly keeps me coming back.

  11. You like Kiran Kumar??? Well I find him a bit stiff, but then we all have our personal likes and dislikes. Though I haven’t seen this film I remember feeling that the Kumkum- Kiran Kumar pair was rather odd, Kumkum who entered the industry long long ago looked much older and was much older to Kiran Kumar who was then a fresh newcomer.

    • I do!!!! He is SO CUTE. He’s much better in lighter moments than he is in the melodramatic ones, but I think pretty much nobody does melodramatic well. Kum Kum looked wonderful to me, not old at all…although she did have a great deal of eyeliner on :) What a figure though, I am so envious!

  12. Having seen Kiran Kumar in all those villainous roles with a firm demeanor, I am not sure if I can like a wimpish Kiran who allows everyone to stomp over him. If this role had been played by any of the other aspiring heroes jostling for space in the early 70s, we might have seen some serious dishum dishum.
    That being said, this film does have some strong women who make up on that front. That could be reason enough to watch this.

    • Well, he was a bit weak but the movie would have gone on longer and probably been more unbearably preachy if he hadn’t been such a wuss :) The girls more than made up for it though!

  13. Memsaab, after your last post, I thought that would be it, but you have surpassed yourself this time :) It nearly (not quite, but nearly) makes me want to watch it. But I had my masala overdose with Aa Gale Lag Jaa, which wasn’t of the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. I will pass, I think, but I definitely got my day’s amusement with this review. Thanks :)

  14. Kiran Kumar was an okayish actor in the lead. He had some fine films, like Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar. Jangal Mein Mangal was okay too. Am I the only one, or did he really resemble Rajesh Khanna (in his acting)?

    Sadly he ventured into villain roles in the 80s.

  15. Hi Memsaab, love your blog, I keep coming back to visit to see what you have written about next! Lol! I LOVE Parveen Babi so much, wish you would do more posts on her:)

  16. “Mostly all I can think about is the Fourth of July.”

    Oh that Memsaab touch – thank you for this review. As usual it is probably more entertaining than the film itself.

  17. loved the review!
    very amusing!
    Wow, the thermos flasks in the train screen caps! My parents had a similar one in the 70s! Wonder where it is now?
    Kum Kum was Ramanand Saagar’s girlfriend at that time, I think and Devyani Chaubhal wrote once that she got along quite fine with Sagar’s wife!

  18. I’m sure they’re collectables now except that we did not have any of those at home :( It was not just thermos flasks though. We even had bubble gum and candy wrappers, calendars, pencil boxes and what have you, displaying pictures of ‘pictures’ (as most of us referred to movies back then). Those were the days before TV had invaded Indian middle class living rooms so anything that could reach out to the movie going public was fair game. While we still see some of that today, it is not all-pervasive and the novelty certainly has worn off.

  19. Hi there Memsaab,I was just looking for this movie “jalte badan’ and was happy to see the link you have posted which is actually for wrong movie ‘Jalta badan’.Hope you are aware of it.if not then please can you please post right link for the same movie?Thank you.

  20. I saw “Jalte Badan” yesterday on Zee Classic (It shows at regular intervals). It is a good movie and your review made it more interesting. Javed Khan was also in ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ (1994) as co-passenger of Amar and Prem (Aamir and Salman) who also was in pursuit of the rich girl. He later tagged along with Amar and Prem till the last.

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