Sher-E-Watan (1971)

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!

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31 Comments to “Sher-E-Watan (1971)”

  1. I don’t know how I managed to read this without wetting my pants or should I be wearing skirts?
    Lovely! Hilarious!
    So whenever I am feeling blue, I’ll come and read this review and/or enjoy the screencaps!
    I am bookmarking it!

  2. That is a serious lot of crotch and thigh. And some butt too. :)

    I’m going to appropriate Tesh’s mantra too.

    And Aruna Irani does look like a baby here.

    • Even for a Dara flick, it was pretty incredible. Prithviraj’s short skirt had ruffles on it too, which I failed to point out above but also enchanted me. Dara Singh is my fun place! ;-)

  3. Oh, god! It’s so much more fun reading your reviews than watching these movies – thanks for taking one for the team, and writing this review so I won’t make the mistake of picking this up. :))

    • It sounds completely mad, doesn’t it? :-D

      I can’t say I was very impressed with the only Dara Singh film I’ve seen so far – Rustom-e-Hind – but this one sounds far worse. On the other hand, Nishi Kohli is an old favourite of mine, and I think Nadira looks so stunning in that “Why are you silent” screen cap. I’d see this just for them.

    • I don’t in the least regret watching it, although I am not likely to make it a go-to film. There are others a little crazier and a little less…dare I say dull? That makes me worry about my increasing daily masala requirements!

      Nadira is quite stunning in much of this. Her crown is always stylishly perched on one side of her head! And Nishi didn’t have that much to do, but I loved her skills with a sword! I’m always very happy to see Prithviraj Kapoor too :)

  4. I have a feeling that your write up is way more entertaining than the movie itself. haha. Oh gosh.. I just said what Anu Warrier has said. Well.. great minds think alike.

  5. You should copyright the phrase “Pahelwans Without Pants”. It will make a good name for a band or something. Since you mentioned The Iliad and The Odyssey, Yunaan is the Hindi word for Greece. It is possible that the plot points were lifted from Greek myths. There were a whole bunch of Hindi movies set in ancient Greece and Rome. One such good example is Yahudi, the Bimal Roy movie with Dileep Kumar and Meena Kumari.

    • The dvd cover blurb says this: “Alatis, the great general of Greece had been vanquishing country after country. Due to his brave and noble behavior he was the most honored man and was conferred upon the title ‘Sher-E-Watan’ right enough to attract any lady of high rank. But, he was in love with Asbela the princess of Greece. As fate would have it, He was charged with murder and was tried and banished from Greece…The people who once loved him, pelted stones at him…Will even Asbela’s love for him change? Will he be able to gain back his lost pride? Whether Alatis and Asbela united…watch as all the queries unwind in the climax.”

      However, I saw pretty much nothing resembling ancient Greek architecture, culture or clothing at all! Not that I cared :)

  6. When I saw the screencaps and read the first few lines of the review, I thought that your proposed article on skimpily clad male dancers had been posted. :) When I read further, I realised that skimpily clad males are to be found not only in cabarat dances , but also in B grade action movies of Dara Singh vintage. I was under the impression (gleaned through Women’s magazines) that women do not look at skimpily clad male figures unlike the male voyeurs of skimpily clad females. Now it turns out that those women’s magazines were wrong. :) And it is also gratifying to know that Dara Singh knew about that too and he had taken care to cater to the baser instincts of potential female viewers, especially female viewers of the generations that would follow half a century later. wow ! What foresight on the part of Dara Singh ! And all these days we thought that he was just the male equivalent of a female blonde. :)

    The review is great fun to go through. And it has enormous repeat value too. And your observations are great fun to read. My favourites being

    “If I didn’t know any better, I would now believe that Sher-E-Watan means “Men Without Pants”. :)

    “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.”

    “She sends a team of Pahelwans Without Pants to kill Aladdish..”

    and the greatest observation of them all being

    “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” :)

    Indeed, not wearing pants separated men from women in Yunan, obviously.

    Incidentally “Yunan” is Hindi word for “Greece”.

    Going through this review is great fun.

    Incidentally, I notice that the blog had 1.8 million hits. Heartiest congratulations and here is hoping for many more millions of hits in the coming days.

    • That male dancer post will take some time to compile, there is so much treasure to sift through on that front! I am not entirely certain WHO the skimpily clad males were meant to titillate at this point in time…I have a feeling that it wasn’t women but a segment of men involved in making movies ;-) But yes, we women benefit too if unintentionally, and women’s magazines are wrong wrong wrong. We just weren’t allowed to admit it back then :) And Dara kind of IS the equivalent of a dumb blonde!

  7. Kabhi naam bhi nahi suna thaa. I would have also called it the Shame! Shame! Puppy Shame! film, had I watched it at age 6.
    At the rate these females keep falling for Sher-e-Watan, it would appear he was the last man standing on this earth. Nadira looks stunning – if they’d filmed that wonderful Indrajal comic about Queen Heloise who lost her gifts of eternal youth and immortality because she fell in love with The Phantom at age 400, I would’ve prayed for her to get the role. All the other lassies are so lovely too. As for Prithviraj Kapoor, I remember looking at a poster for `Sikandar’ or was it `Sikandar aur Porus’ and thinking he reminded me of Shashi Kapoor (we never did get tickets to watch the movie, our school had recommended we go see it). He’d specialized in playing imperious, cranky, sometimes ineffectual monarchs, I’m observing.“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.” Still laughing over that.

    • Dara got a good deal of love in this one for sure! He tried to let them all down gently, but most of them didn’t take it very well. Prithviraj in this looked very like Shammi looked in the late 70s-80s. And as for the satin nightgowns, at least we were spared the sight of those old men in short skirts!

  8. Quite a bit on crotches, butts and skirts :-)

    Change of topic. As per my knowledge, Anubhav (1971) was the last B/W movie. Don’t know if this movie released before or after that. Any idea?

    • Yes, those took up about 90% of the screen time so what else am I supposed to discuss?

      1971 had quite a few b/w releases, but I think most of them were made earlier and only released that year.

  9. Greta ji

    I have a doubt about name of lady Malka saloni.She may be ROOPALI,

    But Her facial features tallies with another lady named SHEFFALI

    1)who was there in Rajendra kumar`s Ganwaar, as one of the dancers and

    2) in Shammi kapoor`s Manoranjan(in a role of call girl with zeenath aman and dances for one song in Police jeep with sanjeev kumar,faryal)

    3)also there in Chetan anand`s Heer Ranjha(1970)

    Over to you….

    regards
    prakash

    • There’s no Shefali in the credits…wonder if it’s the same girl but she used different names. Really, it gets so difficult! But the credits are not complete, for instance Indira Bansal is not there in them and she has several scenes with dialogue. Saloni’s a big enough character that she should be credited though I would think…

      PS: any idea who the guy playing Philip is? I see him everywhere, usually a henchman.

      • Sorry to disappoint you, I don`t know his name. I will search for his name from today onwards. I will let you know , as soon as I found his name.

        Sheffali and Roopali may be two names of single lady.

        It`s possible(actually regarding credits and names of actors-anything is possible ) in Hindi Film industry.

        regards
        prakash

  10. So glad you wrote up this film, Greta! It is one of my favorites and Nishi has some great scenes. If you look closely you will notice that the film was indeed made earlier in the 60s with some scenes completed around 1970/71, judging by Nishi’s hairstyle(s).

    • All the bird’s nests are very 60s :D Nishi isn’t in it enough for me, but I do love the fact that she gets to wield a sword on several occasions and does it very well indeed :)

  11. Ha ha..what a fantastic post, Greta! I was laughing all the way through it, from the first sentence to the last one. Lots of gems here – Atul has mentioned them, so I will not repeat them. This is definitely a review to keep coming back to, whenever I want to have a good laugh! :-)

    I love such movies – not because of their storyline but because they provide us with so much (clearly unintended) material for enjoyment. :-) None of these actors had any pretensions to being great at acting. And that’s also one of the reasons why they’re not self-conscious. Most of the times they had no inhibitions to go out there and do their thing. Which, in Dara’s case, basically means kushti (wrestling). And, for some of the female actors, often meant a good kick-ass role.

    I can’t help thinking some of the A-actors of the time (maybe Asha Parekh) would have been happy doing B-movies and getting a chance to do kick-assery than acting all coy and sobbing their hearts out at the one mandatory weepy song in each movie that they acted in.

    Thanks again. Absolute gem of a review!!!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. It is fun to watch these and be hit over the head with absurdities! I would have loved to see Asha P doing some “B-movie” roles. Although she did bring that quality to many of her “A-movie” ones!

  12. “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.”

    Memsaab, this one got a loud laugh out loud from me (especially combined with the photo!)

    Thank you for the lovely review.

  13. Dara Singh was the Steve Reeves of India. The man was handsome and muscular but he couldn’t act at all. Much like Reeves. But mr. Toofaan’ ,that’s what we called any hotshot macho man, best movie is Aya Toofaan.

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