I have no idea what the plot of this movie is—seriously no idea—but I know that I love it. Even if with subtitles it became a maudlin, sexist melodrama (which I doubt) I would still love it. Why? Well for one thing it is extremely shiny. Premnath has a lair made completely out of mirrors, and not in a pretty Mughal-e-Azam kind of way but in a spectacularly gaudy disco kind of way. The songs by OP Nayyar are delightful and the cinematography (VN Reddy) is gorgeous. The cast is a veritable Who’s Who of character actors. And a still-dashing Sunil Dutt makes a dacoit I can really root for, although he does seem a little old for plump young Rekha. The story is liberally sprinkled with dacoit-drama masala ingredients: greedy moneylenders, long-lost daughters, flashbacks, dozens of people named Singh, pretty pretty Marwari horses, and real ruffians lurking beneath a veneer of respectability and draped with scantily-clad gori extras. I felt totally sated by the end.
Did I mention the mirrors? Lots and lots of mirrors.
My plot synopsis is no doubt be riddled with errors but since I was entertained by what I thought was going on hopefully you will be too. Feared and respected Raja Thakur (Sunil Dutt) is called in by a girl’s parents when local rich man Bhanwar Singh (Rajan Haksar) refuses to marry their daughter. There is some issue with her purity, I gather, although it seems to me that Bhanwar Singh doesn’t have much room to point fingers when a) he seems in all likelihood responsible for the issue to begin with; and b) his hobby is whipping nautch girls. Plus of course I can’t approve of her “loving” parents marrying this poor girl to such a nasty man, but izzat is izzat after all. Khair. Raja and his men find Bhanwar in the local brothel, owned by Chandabai (Indira Bansal), pursuing his hobby.
As Raja’s men force Bhanwar to dress in his wedding clothes, Raja is entertained by a dancer named Janiya (Rekha), and smitten on sight.
See what I mean about the photography? The film is full of these interesting angles and the colors are to die for (although a little source TLC would be in order, along with subtitles).
Dance ended and Bhanwar and his bride tied together in what will no doubt be a horrific nightmare for her, Raja either proposes marriage or wants to confer the status of mistress on Janiya. She refuses indignantly: Raja is a criminal, a dacoit! He is amused and returns to his Ma (Veena) and her rather more welcoming arms; we are treated to a flashback which reveals that Raja’s father was making sure his son got a good education before a greedy moneylender (Tiwari) and his assistant (Randhir) ruined him, and he died from a heart attack.
I am always happy to see Veena and ecstatic to see Tiwari; that kurta almost rivals the pink nightie, although he looks very thin. I worry that he was sick and he sadly never appears again in this movie.
Back in the present, the police (led by Kedar Sehgal, a long-standing “that guy” recently identified by readers Quezar and Mool Narain Singh) decide to trap Raja Thakur and his men at the local temple when he goes there to worship. Luckily for Raja the police in this film aren’t any smarter than the ones in other seventies movies and are easily outwitted. It’s also an excellent excuse for another song and dance, this time courtesy of Jayshree T. I’m also thrilled to see a young and very fine RANJEET! and Raja’s beautiful well-trained white horse.
Raja now finds out from local scumbag moneylender Dharamdas (Jeevan) and one of his dacoits (Maruti) that nobody is attending Janiya’s dances since finding out about Raja’s interest in her. Raja’s best friend and right-hand man Pandit (?) doesn’t want to get involved, but Dharamdas and Raja come up with some sort of plan that pleases them.
Meanwhile, Janiya is at the local police station bewailing her fate and confiding in Inspector Darogaji (?) that she was kidnapped at the age of six. Taken from her wealthy father Seth Dhanraj (Iftekhar), she was sold off to Chandabai and brothel life. Unbeknownst to Dhanraj, none other than his own brother-in-law Jagmohan (Madan Puri) was involved, along with Dharamdas and a wealthy man named Mangal Singh (Premnath).
Darogaji doesn’t appear to believe her, and has her arrested (why, I have no idea) but he does send another inspector to meet Dhanraj and tell him the story. Dhanraj wants to meet her and arranges to come to the police station later. Naturally Jagmohan does not want a reunion to happen, fearing that his involvement in the kidnapping will come to light. He goes to see Dharamdas, who is whiling his time away with a tall skinny European. Dharamdas scoffs at the notion that Janiya is really the long-lost Sheetal—he just wants to get back to his girl (“June, come sooon!”).
But before Dhanraj can get to the police station Raja discovers that she’s been arrested. Although Pandit is once again reluctant, Raja immediately organizes a rescue. It is accomplished with a maximum of noise, smoke, and gunfire, and Janiya is grateful—and impressed by Raja’s manliness (so am I). Pandit is shot, but escapes and makes his way back to the dacoit cave: he is pretty angry and I assume it’s because he’s been shot over something he didn’t want to do in the first place. I could be way off on that. Raja knocks him out with a swift punch to the face, takes out the bullet and douses the wound in liquor.
The next day Seth Dhanraj arrives at the police station and is shown the clothes and a gold necklace that Janiya had said she was wearing when kidnapped. They are indeed long-lost Sheetal’s, and Dhanraj is thrilled (Jagmohan not so much), at least until he finds out she’s been taken by bandits.
Now Dharamdas panics along with Jagmohan and goes to see Mangal Singh. Mangal points out that the only link to them and Sheetal’s kidnapping (besides Sheetal’s memory, which apparently they dismiss) is Chandabai, and he sends his henchman to kill her with a poisonous fountain pen which I guess he does because she’s never seen again after he pokes her with it.
In Raja’s cave, Janiya has now decided that she loves Raja whom she had previously scorned. And unfortunately, Pandit decides that he loves (or wants, more precisely) Janiya whom HE had previously scorned. After he tries to rape her one day, the long-standing friendship between him and Raja is broken and he is banished from the gang. The attempted rape scene is interesting for two reasons: one, the film itself has an “Adults Only” (A) certificate and the only reason for it that I can think of are the prolonged (what I suppose the censors might consider tantalizing) hints that Janiya is not wearing anything (although she clearly IS); the other is that Ranjeet is the one who saves her! How delicious is that?!
Raja takes Janiya to his Ma for safekeeping (the police are now looking for Janiya and Raja as well). This proves to be a bad idea, because Mangal has by now decided that kidnapping Sheetal for ransom is a good next step for him. He double-crosses Jagmohan (who thinks they are just getting rid of her so that his treason will remain undetected by Dhanraj) into arranging the kidnapping (courtesy of Shetty and Khursheed, a scary duo if ever there was one—poor Rekha! She does a lot of shrieking in these twenty minutes or so!). Poor Ma is killed when she tries to stop them, although she doesn’t die until she’s given a long speech to Raja while clutching a gigantic piece of silver jewelry in her bloodied hand which he eventually puts to good use.
So now poor Janiya/Sheetal is in Mangal’s clutches (and his disco lair) and Dharamdas is still determined to kill Janiya to protect his interests. Will Dhanraj be able to pay the ransom and save his daughter’s life? Will Raja get there first? Can Dhanraj accept a dacoit as a son-in-law?
And is there anything more fun than a gleefully debauched Premnath reflected in a thousand brightly colored mirrors?
No, dear friends, I think not. Especially when that lair contains a MASALA DEATH TRAP labyrinth of needle-like spikes.
I know there were plenty of nuances that I missed (or misread), and there is a dizzying array of characters tossed in at the end whose genesis I never did understand. Still and all, I thoroughly enjoyed this loony fun-filled glitter-fest and can’t recommend it highly enough. At the bare minimum look up the songs; and please, universe, make subtitles happen!
And last but not least, these are some of the several million actors appearing in this for whom I need names. Can anyone help?
(left to right: police inspector, Darogaji, Pandit, Mangal henchman)
(left, Mangal henchman 2; right, crazy man)
UPDATE! Some ids courtesy of encyclopedia Mool Narain Sardana: Darogaji=SP Mahendra; Mangal henchman=Kirti Kumar; Mangal henchman 2=Fazloo (Fazal Khan); crazy man=Rajpal. Yay!