How much do I adore this film? Let me count the ways! 1) Dharmendra; 2) Mumtaz; 3) everybody else in it—wah! what a cast; 4) the gorgeous songs; 5) the fine ultra-masala plot; 6) Dharmendra’s chaddies; 7) the props and sets, including my new obsession the Egyptian Room; 8) the best use of Indian Movie Balloons and (possibly) Padma Khanna EVER; 9) Mumtaz’s outfits and Spare Hair; 10) no Comic Side Plot to speak of; 11) wooden gora extras; and 12) everything else I haven’t mentioned. Everything.
Loafer is also one of the very first (if not the first) pre-1990s movies I ever saw, and it propelled me gleefully into an obsession with its kind which eventually led me (and now you) here. Armed with more knowledge than I had back then, I can say with perfect assurance that while not as stupefyingly original as I first thought, it still holds up brilliantly under scrutiny and remains one of my go-to staples when people ask me for an introduction to classic masala. I never mind watching it again!
We are plunged into high drama from the get-go, as a fight between prankster student Ranjit and tattle-tale Mohan ends, well, badly. Really badly. Mohan couldn’t simply die from the third-floor fall, oh no.
At least there’s no blood. Ranjit flees the scene and hops on a train where he meets a man named Singh (KN Singh) who adopts him and teaches him how to steal. Little Ranjit takes to theft like I do to bacon, and grows up with “Uncle” to be Dharmendra.
He and Singh own and live in a hotel (home of the Balloon cabaret); in addition to grand larceny, they specialize in smuggling. This puts them squarely in rival arch-criminal Pratap’s (a very enthusiastic Premnath with huge pearl earrings) sights. Pratap has hired Rakesh (Roopesh Kumar) to spy on Singh and Ranjit from within their organization. This ends badly for Rakesh when Pratap, being Dharmendra, single-handedly defeats all of Pratap’s goondas when they try to interfere with a delivery of diamonds.
Rakesh momentarily escapes and runs to his sister Anju (Mumtaz), where he is caught and brought back along with her. Anju pleads for her brother’s life—naturally Pratap takes advantage.
She agrees to play up to Ranjit and spy for Pratap and instead of killing Rakesh, Pratap locks him up and promises that Anju will get him back once Ranjit has been taken care of.
Meanwhile, there is an apple vendor named Gopinath (Om Prakash) who sits in front of Singh’s hotel all day selling his apples and entertaining a parade of passers-by and fellow vendors. This is as close to a CSP as this film gets, but Gopinath also provides a parallel plotline which converges eventually with the main one. He has a daughter named Rupa (Farida Jalal) in a boarding school in Simla which he is just barely managing to pay for.
He has told Rupa that he is wealthy, and she thinks that he lives at Singh’s address and sends her letters there. Poor Rupa longs to see him again (he can’t afford to visit her, and won’t let her visit him) and Gopinath takes to alcohol in the evenings to comfort himself. Ranjit is fond of Gopinath and gets an apple for “good luck” every day from him.
Anju puts her plan to snare Ranjit into motion and my OCD kicks into overdrive at this familiar sight:
Now that The Room has been identified, I think we need to concentrate on Egyptian Room here and whether it is a set or actual location. I have seen it in a million movies, no lie. If anyone knows anything about this particular decorating triumph, please do let us know!
Anju uses her considerable assets (which include pickpocketing and being Mumtaz) to attract a reluctant Ranjit’s attention; after a series of fabulous outfits, lots of spare hair and this jaunty little number, she succeeds.
Rupa has increased the pressure on her father to visit her, so Gopinath takes a loan and goes to Simla. Rupa’s best friend Meena’s father (Raj Mehra), who is wealthy, offers his home to Gopinath and throws a welcome party for him. This gives rise to one of my favorite Om Prakash moments as he struggles to appear respectable, but when prodded downs an entire bottle of whiskey at one go.
(Also, I would kill to get my hands on his shawl.) When he realizes what he’s done, he explains to the amazed guests that he always drinks the entire bottle when offered a cold drink, implying that he doesn’t even know what liquor is. Meena’s father and guests are impressed by his “simplicity” and he returns home in Rupa’s good graces.
Ranjit and Anju’s romance has flourished with more great music: one of my favorite Dharmendra songs, “Aaj Mausam Bada Beimaan Hai”. Anju is feeling very bad about her deception, having now (not unpredictably) fallen head over heels for Ranjit. Something new is revealed too, when Rupa graduates with honors. Celebrating, Gopinath gets very drunk and Ranjit takes him home. After he leaves, Gopi takes out a photograph.
It’s little Mohan, who was impaled upon a fence so gruesomely—thanks to Ranjit—all those years ago, and Gopinath is his father!
At the same time, an enormous exhibition of rare jewels is coming to town and both Singh and Pratap want them. When Anju tells Pratap she wants out, he says that she must do one more thing for him first: lure Ranjit to National Park, where Pratap’s henchmen will kill him.
Can Anju betray the man she loves for the sake of her brother? Can Ranjit forgive Anju for her betrayal if she does (and if he survives)? Who will get the treasure—Singh or Pratap? Will Rupa find out her father’s real circumstances? Will Ranjit and Gopinath realize the history they share?
I am not telling, because if you haven’t seen this film you really must. There are lots of twists and turns to come, and some real treats in the form of cameo appearances (Hiralal, Anwar Hussain, Mohan Sherry, Madan Puri and Tiwari as a gang of master criminals, for one) and cuteness (e.g. Farida Jalal and this little toy dog used in a heist).
Mumtaz’s wardrobe follows her character arc in predictable masala style like so (although Acceptable Girl Behavior sarees make her no less stylish):
And Dharam is, well, Dharam. In his prime, I might add.
Beyond all the eye-candy and fun, the script is tightly written and the direction (A Bhimsingh) nicely paced. The story may be a little on the tried and true side (good versus evil, rich versus poor, redemption, forgiveness), but it is so well done in every detail that there is nothing boring about it. Mumtaz and Dharmendra share some sparkling chemistry; Om Prakash gives one of his finest performances; and Premnath cracks me up at every turn, especially when visited by dancing girl companions (Faryal and Rani)—he is as enthusiastic about dancing, or at least writhing on the floor, as they are, although his lair is positively boring compared with his living quarters!
And every song is a gem, from the plaintive “Main Tere Ishq Mein” to the marvellous “Koi Shehri Babu” (another of my favorite Mumtaz songs, and that is saying something). Laxmikant Pyarelal wrote the music with lyrics by Anand Bakshi and it’s truly one of the best soundtracks there are. There is simply NO reason not to see Loafer, none. And I was so happy to know this man’s name when he came along!—identified over at the Facebook page this week by reader Mool Narain Sardana. Now I can add him to the 70′s Gallery as well!