If I didn’t know any better, I would now believe that Sher-E-Watan means “Men Without Pants”. Experienced Dara fan though I am, the sheer amount of male crotch-and-thigh on display amazed me; most of them wear nothing longer than a micro-mini tunic (Dara’s looks like leopard print velvet) or short skirt. Female costuming is confused and random, ranging in style from Arabian Nights to 1950s American Prom. Of course, I am not complaining; in fact along with the music by Usha Khanna, muscular men and pretty women in sparkly costumes are basically the reason to see this. Along with the monster named Octopus which is actually a man in an ape suit with bear claws.
Oh Indian cinema, you truly are the gift that keeps on giving!
With all of this to distract me, it’s a wonder that I even noticed the plot points. But since there were subtitles—hooray for Dara with subtitles!—I managed to remain focused (as much as I ever do) on the story, which is, to be honest, very very silly indeed. Plus the subtitlers…well, let’s just say there were at least two of them and they had very different ideas on things like character and place names.
Khair. Dara Singh plays Aladdish (sometimes Alatis), the general of the kingdom of Yunan’s (sometimes Huzeban) army. Aladdish cuts a swath through neighboring kingdoms, conquering territory for Yunan. In Karthik he wins the heart of Princess Soferika (Aruna Irani), the daughter of vanquished King Alibadh (Prithviraj Kapoor looking very like his son Shammi) when he refuses to imprison her and her maids.
But Aladdish has room in his heart for only one woman back home in Yunan: Asmilla (sometimes Albela) (Nishi).
He returns home triumphant, leaving Karthik in the hands of one of his commanders, Tesh (?). In Yunan he is given the honorific “Sher-E-Watan” by Queen Olympia (sometimes Goswama and even Palimdia at one point) (Nadira). During the celebrations which follow I am thrilled by a Bela Bose dance, sharabi-style (she pretends to be drunk).
She also puts a drug in Aladdish’s drink, but nothing ever comes of that so I assume there may be some scenes missing here and there.
May I add that the drinking vessels in this film are marvelous, from the cylindrical shaped vase type above to Olympia’s ginormous wine glass below. The sage elders of Yunan are spared the indignity of mini-skirts, instead dressed in satin nightgowns which emphasize their man-boobs in a somewhat unfortunate manner. I suppose they had to mitigate all the man-candy elsewhere somehow.
I do wish this film was in color. I also think it took a long time to release, judging from how young some of the participants look, most notably Aruna (who looks like a baby) and Nadira: she is at times breathtakingly beautiful in this.
In any case, Queen Olympia herself is in love with Aladdish (although she knows that he and Asmilla are in love), but she fares no better than Princess Soferika had; he is only impatient to meet Asmilla, who has sent for him.
Angry, Olympia instructs her Minister (Rajan Haksar) to make sure Aladdish pays for his rejection of her. There’s no queen like a bitter old queen, and nobody does it better than Nadira (except maybe Nathan Lane). I think it’s kind of apt that she resembles the English Tudor queen Bloody Mary in this outfit.
As Asmilla and Aladdish sigh and sing and while away the night in a palace garden, the Minister steals Aladdish’s dagger and murders his faithful servant Philip (?) with it (just as he is about to have some wine out of a pretty glass goblet too!).
When Aladdish is arrested in the morning, Asmilla confesses to Olympia that he had spent the night with her. This makes no difference to the Queen, and she has Asmilla put under house arrest so that she cannot testify at Aladdish’s trial. The Chief Minister brings in a quartet of Men Without Pants to lie about witnessing the murder too. For his part, Aladdish will not dishonor his beloved for the sake of not being put to death; luckily for him, after an impassioned speech on his behalf is made by another of his commanders (Hiralal), he is sentenced to be banished instead of beheaded.
He is driven out of the kingdom as a desperate Asmilla manages to escape from the palace, fighting her way out with a sword and hampered by a long gown, unlike her opponents who—you guessed it—are not even hindered by pants. I cheer. I love Nishi, and I just adore these so-called B movies with kick-ass female characters. Buffalo shots and brawny legs are just gravy.
Alas, Asmilla is stopped by the jealous Queen at the border, and Aladdish forced to leave without her. But even then, Olympia is not satisfied. She sends a team of Pahelwans Without Pants to kill Aladdish, who is aided by a passerby (Bhagwan) in fighting them off. Now they fall into the clutches of a siren named Malka Saloni (Roopali?) and her bevy of maidservants led by Roopleela (Indira Bansal).
Saloni is—and who isn’t—instantly smitten with Aladdish herself. Back in Yunan, Asmilla’s maidservant (who is also an unfortunate participant in the most tedious CSP ever, with Brahmchari as a stuttering guard who does nothing but say “mumkin” and “namumkin” to emphasize his speech defect. It goes on and on and thank goodness for the FF button!) helps her mistress escape during a religious festival. Aladdish remains loyal to his beloved, which really pisses off Saloni—this is bad news, because the bouffant beauty turns out to be a magician of sorts.
She gives him a potion which saps his strength from him and ties him up in her front yard, while Olympia’s Chief Minister brings her the news that a volcano has killed the Princess Asmilla. If that all seems random to you, it does to me too. We have gone from a tale of conquering armies and court intrigue to immortal enchantresses and volcanos in no time flat. It’s The Iliad and the Odyssey in Indian B-movie form!
AND THAT’S NOT ALL.
Fortunately, Princess Asmilla hasn’t died and instead is now disguised unconvincingly as a man. If her ample bosom doesn’t give her away, the fact that she is wearing pants ought to. Aladdish recognizes her instantly and she sums up his situation perfectly herself.
Saloni is pretty gullible, or desperate for love, or both, because she is easy to convince and gives away all her secrets in about two minutes to Asmilla. This makes it relatively easy for Asmilla to free Aladdish and get them the hell out, which is a good thing because in Karthik where our story began, the Yunan commander left in charge, Tesh, is wreaking villainous havoc.
Deposed King Alibadh is fulminating, and Queen Olympia is not pleased with reports coming from there either. Despite her low threshold for male rejection she does have some principles.
Incidentally, to “make any place [my] fun place” is my new mantra for living. Thanks Tesh!
What will happen now? Will Alibadh regain control of his kingdom? Is Soferika still pining for Aladdish? (Here’s a hint):
Will Queen Olympia intervene, and will she discover that Asmilla and Aladdish are alive and reunited? Will she succeed in separating them?
If you don’t mind flimsy cardboard sets and props, women with hair like bird’s nests, lots and lots of male legs (some of them muscled, some remarkably bird-like in themselves) and a trite, facile plot with a few little eye-openers thrown in, you will enjoy Sher-E-Watan. I did, myself, although I wouldn’t call it a favorite by any means—it did feel like the same old, same old that I’ve seen before. To be fair, that is usually the point of a Dara Singh film! The cast is first-rate though and the songs are really lovely. I might have liked this more had it been in color—it is very shiny indeed—but you can’t have everything!