Bada Kabutar (1973)

Anybody who comes here regularly will not be surprised that I could not resist a film called Big Pigeon. And I’m so glad I didn’t—it is oodles of fun, with a talented ensemble cast, nice RD Burman songs, and lots of laughs. And *wow* I love Rehana Sultan. What a shame she got pigeon-holed (yes pun intended, my bad) and her career fizzled. Deven Verma wrote, produced, directed and starred in this comic crime caper; the internet appears to believe that Amitabh Bachchan and Helen star in it, but Helen has just one cabaret dance and Amitabh is nowhere to be seen (nor is he credited, as imdb claims). It’s possible that he had an uncredited guest appearance but if so, it’s gone.

I didn’t miss him: Ashok Kumar, Leela Mishra, Rehana Sultan, Deven Verma, Pinchoo Kapoor and a little butterball toddler billed as “Golu (A Wonder Child)” kept me enthralled and in stitches.

Mama Rampuri (Ashok Kumar) comes from a long line of criminals, and is proud to call robbery his profession and himself the brains behind his gang. The trouble is that his plans never work out very well, and his nephew Bhola (Deven Verma) always ends up paying the price. Hapless Bhola gets no sympathy from either his Mamaji or his Ma (Leela Mishra) when he is released from his latest stint in jail and wants nothing to do with his uncle’s new plot.

How completely marvellous to have a son trying to take the straight path (he says he will sell bananas or baniyans) only to have his mother react with complete scorn! She points out with some logic that if there were no criminals the police and jailors would lose their livelihoods and professes humiliation at the thought of her beta making an honest but poor living.

So reluctant is Bhola to listen to Mamaji that Ma finally fakes a heart attack and lands up in the hospital “needing” expensive surgery. Mehmood makes a brief but funny appearance as a mechanic who poses as a doctor at Mamaji’s request, but who cannot stick to Mamaji’s script when Bhola insists on hearing details of his mother’s “illness”.

Hearing that her operation will cost 25,000 rupees, Bhola agrees to participate and even to fund the startup costs for his uncle’s new scheme. Mamaji is convinced that it cannot fail and to that end he plans to recruit some other gang members besides regulars Bhola, alcoholic blabbermouth Abdul (Keshto Mukherjee), and simpleminded Subbu (Subrato). These recruits are pole-vaulter Navin (I assume the Nikhilesh being “introduced” in this movie) and cabaret dancer Rita (Rehana Sultan); they sign on despite Mamaji’s somewhat stingy advance payment.

Their initial meeting with Mamaji supplies very few details of the plan except that Navin and Rita are to pose as husband and wife until it’s all over. Then he makes the gang take an oath which makes me giggle:

especially when it’s over and Mamaji unwraps the holy book to some consternation from his employees, pointing out that the names of people from all different faiths are printed in it:

Hilarious.

There is still one element of his plan missing, and Mamaji goes to see Panna Tambuli (Sunder), the local paanwala. Panna informs Mamaji that an old enemy of his named Gaffur (Madan Puri) has just been released from jail and is looking to take revenge on Mamaji for putting him there in the first place. Panna has also located Mamaji’s last requirement: a baby. Someone by the name of Tiger Sando is willing to rent his son to the gang for the sum of 100 rupees a week. Mr. Sando is a lot more unprepossessing than his name implies.

The deal is done and the baby (Golu A Wonder Child) is handed over to Rita, much to her displeasure. Mamaji takes them to an apartment in a housing colony and instructs Rita and Navin to mix with the neighbors posing as a married couple and their son, visiting on holiday from Assam. He emphasizes that nobody must realize the truth or his master plan will fail, and an uneasy Rita is left with Golu and Navin.

We soon find out what exactly Mamaji’s plan is, although he hasn’t worked out the details quite yet.

Millionaire businessman Dharamdas (Pinchoo Kapoor) has a small only son whom he dotes on. Dharamdas’ respectability is only a veneer, however; he is really an underworld don with one of my favorite Villain Mantras of all time.

The subtitles for this are very bad English indeed, but I love how colorful they are. He holds a press conference at which he announces the care and security arrangements he has made for his baby boy: a round-the-clock nurse from London named Marlin (Ashoo); eight bodyguards including his most trusted lieutenant Bhuta Singh (Paul Sharma); and “four English hunting dogs” which later turn out to be eight Doberman Pinschers.

Mamaji’s plan is to bypass this formidable array of protection and exchange Golu for little Baba, thus earning a handsome ransom from wealthy Dharamdas. His gang is not so sure. Even drunken Abdul objects.

But Mamaji has a surprise weapon: Dharamdas’ trusted bodyguard Bhuta Singh is in cahoots with them!

While Bhuta and Mamaji work out details of their plan, Rita and Navin set out to meet the neighbors with almost disastrous results. Poor fat little Golu!

Golu spends a fair amount of time crying and it mostly looks pretty genuine. I worry about him. Rita struggles with her lack of maternal feelings and Navin is absolutely no help at all. But after she calms him down with a wonderful lullaby (“Chanda Mama Bole”) Rita is pretty smitten too. I love that she is allowed to be non-maternal and awkward with the baby, and that chubby little Golu is cute enough for her change of heart to be believable.

There are several other distractions, including Gaffur’s repeated (and bungled) attempts at revenge and a burgeoning love story between Rita and Navin, but eventually Bhuta Singh comes through. The nurse Marlin is in love with Dharamdas’ driver, and they often take Dharamdas’ son to a park where they can indulge in a little romance. Rita and Bhola effect the exchange of Golu for little Baba rather smoothly.

Any semblance of everything running according to plan ends here, though.

Rita misses “her” Golu and frets about his well-being, meaning she keeps calling Dharamdas (anonymously but still) for updates on Golu’s health. Tiger Sando becomes suspicious when he shows up unexpectedly and they refuse to bring his son out to see him. Abdul almost spills the beans about Bhuta Singh’s betrayal in a drunken rant, Gaffur continues to butt in and worst of all, Dharamdas refuses to cooperate. Apparently our gang has underestimated his love for his money and overestimated his affection for his little boy.

Can Mamaji and his “Big Pigeon Gang” get little Golu back safe and sound? What will Rita (or Tiger) do if they don’t? Will clever, ruthless Dharamdas eventually pay their ransom demands, or will his considerable resources enable him to track his son down on his own? Will this bunch of misfits actually pull something off for once, or is Bhola going to end up back in jail all by himself? And why is Mamaji’s red convertible called Bada Kabutar, anyway?

This film doesn’t seem to have made much of a splash and I have no idea why. The story is good fun (if peppered with holes and dragging a bit in places, mostly towards the end) and the performances and humor spot on. Only Nikhilesh was sort of bland and provided the only moment that grated on my nerves (he lectures Rita on her lack of womanly feeling and she “sees the light”); even Keshto’s drunken schtick was mostly funny. I laughed a whole lot through this one, and I can’t say that about many Hindi movies. The humor never descends into that frantic mugging which characterizes so much comedy, but remains understated and the dialogue—even with hamfisted translation—is very witty. I even rewound several scenes to watch again. The songs are good, the lullaby especially, and Helen and Rehana charm with a couple of cabaret numbers. If you want some hearty laughs and for your heartstrings to be gently tugged, this is one you should see.

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44 Comments to “Bada Kabutar (1973)”

  1. Hi,

    Where can I get a DVD for this movie? Would love to watch it.

    Thanks

    Suj

  2. This sounds good. Wonder why it went unnoticed? I knew of it only because RDB scored the music and it features as a secret tip for Pancham fans.
    Thanks for the review!

    I am glad that you found some Leela Mishra roles, which are nice. I remember some time, back she irritated you a bit.

  3. Watched the first 40 min. on you tube. Your review is surely more entertaining than the film. As you said it drags. It needs a good director. Hrishikesh Mukherjee would have done wonders with it.

    • It drags in places…but that’s what the FF button is for :) I didn’t find it slow until a little bit later—I was surely interested in finding out what Mamaji’s plan was and in laughing at all the characters. But I’m glad you find the review entertaining if not the film!

      • Your reviews are always entertaining! :-)
        Maybe I should give it a second try. Last nite it was late and I very sleepy!
        Talking of sleepy, good night!

        • I hear ya. I sometimes don’t like films I tried to watch when I wasn’t in the mood, but then when I am I like them verrrry much. But if you don’t like Bada Kabutar, that’s okay too! :)

  4. I found the review entertaining too. (But then, I almost always find your reviews entertaining.) :) I must confess that it’s probable I will not find the film as entertaining, but that’s okay. Sounds like a good story that met not-so-good direction.

    • Awww, well I’m only telling you what I liked about the movie :) There wasn’t much to dislike, honestly, and the flaws were easily overcome by the entertainment! The direction was not awful, although the pacing could have been better. But I loved the performances and the script. Loved.

  5. LOL!! This *is* funny. Loved the one about his father not complaining even though he went to prison seventeen times! Seventeen times!! Hahahaha!!

    Since my capacity to watch slow films is great I think I’ll have great fun watching it, which I’ll do….TODAY!! The humour is just the kind I like. I trust your review. :)
    Thanks.

    Kabootar means a target/victim in the sense of being plundered or robbed. So a bada kabootar would be a big target. So the gang was *after* bada kabootar/big money.

    Deven Verma was actually a good comedian. He was Ashok Kumar’s son-in-law.

    • The subtitles were very literal, and didn’t mention the “target” aspect of kabootar…only the car is called Big Pigeon, and the reason the car is called Big Pigeon is quite funny too :)

      • Watched it, and found it just as I had expected. :)
        Yes, the name bada kabutar has an entirely ammunition related connections LOL!!
        My reasoning (before watching ) was based on dialogues like badi chidiya/bada kabutar ko phasana hai.

        The story kept me glued I confess. All those twists and turns.And I thought the direction was not bad. There were several subtle/blink and miss funny moments.

        • There were lots of subtle blink and miss funny moments—I caught some that I’d missed when I was doing the screen-capping. So much is left out in subtitles…but I’m working on it!

  6. I’ve heard of this film, and always wondered why it had that interesting (and puzzling!) name… now I want to watch it. Sounds like so much fun. Especially as I simply adore the ‘bumbling crooks’ theme.

  7. Long before I saw the movie, I heard the two Asha Bhonsle songs from this movie and absolutely love them. A few years back, I saw bits and pieces of the movie on a TV channel. But with the breaks and all that, no movie can be enjoyed on TV. Now, your review has bought it all back. Not a bad film at all. The only thing it needed was a good director because Ashok Kumar, Keshto and Deven Verma are all competent actors. Memsaab, you have made my day. Keep up the good work.

    • The songs are what got me interested in it (well, and the title and the cast). They aren’t the greatest but they are pleasant, especially as I said the lullaby. The direction wasn’t as bad as it might have been—I’ve certainly seen worse!!!!

  8. This is for Artiste gallery:
    Subrato is also known as SUBROTHO MAHAPATRA.
    He is a regular in Shakti Samanta directed movies.
    He is one of the sidekicks to Uttam kumar in Shakti samantha`s AMANUSH(1975)also acted as a sidekick to Amjad khan in Shakti samantha`s Barsaat ki ek raat(1981)

  9. The film’s title is odd even to us natives – that is what probably killed it :). I had forgotten about this film – trust you to dig it out. Googled the songs (songs are my memory bookmarks) and stumbled onto the old hit ‘Haye re Haye re’..rest of the songs I found typical RD – not bad but not his creative best either. All creative persons develop ‘tics’ by which you can recognize that the work is their handiwork – I guess they fall back on it when they have to clear work backlog. Those ‘Papppa ra’ ‘Hoo Haa’ abound in his work – some times it works and sometimes it’s just risible.

    The storyline is interesting though – but directed by Deven Verma (sigh) … though I like him I don’t think direction is his forte. Still you have piqued me enough to search for the film.

    • He is very funny in this film, and I love that he didn’t need to be the “hero” but left romancing to others. It was really a lovely example of ensemble casting, and bless him for that! The songs aren’t anything special (by Pancham standards anyway) but they are pleasant and fit into the film well. I do really like the lullaby, and the title song is certainly an earworm if nothing else!

  10. “Wonder child”!?! What’s good for the falcon and mutt is good for the baby, I guess! :)

    Delightful. I have mixed feelings about Deven Verma but your recommendation is plenty word for me. Is that Rekha in the “Tiger Sando” caption?

    • Poor little Golu. I believe that IS Rekha on the poster but my eyes aren’t what they used to be so I wouldn’t want to say yes for sure!

      • Absolutely, its Rekha in a Gold Spot (an orange drink) ad. BTW Rampuri is also a knife made in Rampur and used mostly by criminals! The blade folds up in its wooden handle.

  11. I agree with the Rehana Sultan love (and Ashok Kumar & Helen love too of course) but sadly the movie as a whole didn’t work for me. The contrivances went on for a tad too long and the humor was on the forced side. Should have watched it with you – I’m sure you’d made the proceedings more entertaining!
    :-)

    • I wonder how the use of the FF button colors my reviews, ha ha. I did use it on occasion, although I didn’t find the humor forced (sometimes Keshto could have shut up a bit sooner, but the others made up for it). Thought Ashok and Deven Verma were absolutely hilarious. Deven made a good “straight man” for Ashok and Leela. Rehana was absolutely wonderful and so gorgeous and stylish :) Want to see more of her in not-depressing roles! (Dastak I’m looking at you!)

  12. Never heard of this movie, which is odd because a lot of obscure movies were able to get a good screen time and publicity. Ashok Kumar is a big name, Rehana and Deven were pretty famous too.

    • I would think this one would be a popular one for showing on tv as well…but maybe the glorification of crime as a way of life made it less so. I don’t know, but I liked it!

  13. Thanks for the review @Memsaab. Wishing you a happy new year. I shall mark this one on my ‘to watch’ list.
    As some others remarked, the name does not do the film any justice and could have reduced its chances of success even before release. The story seems interesting enough to overlook any minor flaws. The FF button is always there to help.

  14. This film I remember was quite a flop but I guess I would like to watch it now.

    • Lots of good movies have been flops I guess! There’s no accounting for tastes! Happy New Year Shilpi—I know this one will be a much better one for us both :)

  15. Rehana Sultan was excellent in “Hum Rahen Na Hum” a murder mystery with Vijay Anand, Shabana Azmi, Ashok Kumar, Sujit Kumar, Kanwaljeet Singh, Dheeraj Kumar and Simple Kapadia. It was directed by Chetan Anand and Ketan Anand. There is never a dull moment in this movie and it is a fast paced movie. The movie revolves around Rehana’s character. Would like to read your review.

    An interview with Rehana Sultan : http://www.indiaglitz.com/channels/hindi/interview/6482.html
    Happy New Year.

    • Oh I would love to see that. I adore Vijay Anand and have usually liked Chetan’s direction too. I’ll see if I can find it with subtitles :) Thanks!

    • I didn’t know Rehana was in “Hum Rahe Na Hum.” I’ve been intrigued by the movie ever since I saw this lovely song (by, wonder of wonders, Bhappi!) from it. The fact that Rehana stars in it might finally prompt me to watch it.

  16. Your review is so interesting that it tempts to watch weird named never heard Indian movies by Indians. Luckily it is there on you tube and I watched for 30 minutes and yes i agree with your review totally. The movie is not bad at all may be floped because of bad name and marketing, if they had a review by you published in papers at that time it was sure to collect a titel of hit comedy. I shall watch all in one go in weekend and will keep an eye on costumes, sets, locations, homes, props, etc etc. in the repeated scences (just want to have if not all but some of your sharp observance acumen).

  17. Happy new year 2012!

  18. Raaz ki Baat is a fab song! Trying to convince the 70s Bollywood cover band to cover it, but it’s way obscure, so I’ll have to wait for that moment when we need songs to fill 3 60 min sets, then pounce!

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