Naukri (1978)

This movie is what would happen if Hrishikesh Mukherjee somewhat absent-mindedly directed the first half and then handed the reins over to Brij so that he could take the film off the rails in his usual bombastic style. It started off in rare style: I was willing to live with the fact that our pre-Partition setting of 1944 looked exactly like 1978 (Gaudy Clothing, Bad Hair); I even found Raj Kapoor’s presence delightful! In fact the performances in this were quite wonderful, all of them. It’s great fun to see Nadira, Tom Alter, Protima Devi and the only thing that kept it from completely self-destructing finally was the acting.

When the Curse of the Second Half hit, it hit hard. From a tentatively sweet Capra-esque story about regret and living life to its fullest, it ballooned with over-ambitious ideas until we were left watching a hapless director and his writers grabbing at straws to wind things up. Overdone tropes and ham-fisted preaching did not accomplish the job satisfactorily, I am sad to report.

It is 1946 and Ranjit (Rajesh Khann) is a wounded war vet who can only walk with the aid of crutches. Rumors of India’s impending freedom from British rule swirl, but a local prostitute (Nadira) laments the departure of generous American soldiers and Ranjit’s family is struggling too.

His Ma (Protima Devi) stitches clothing, while his younger sister Rekha (Aarti) and brother Raja (Master Akbar) make shopping bags out of discarded newspaper and sell them. Ranjit himself is unable to find work because of his condition, and he is denied compensation by the Army because he can’t prove that he didn’t damage his own leg to get out of the fighting (as with many concepts in this, I wonder if that was really the case yet in World War II). His family is trapped in a cycle of poverty, as emphasized by chiaroscuro lighting and iron bars.

There is nothing very subtle in this movie except the performances which really are fine, as I’ve said. Rajesh manages to keep Ranjit fairly sympathetic despite eye-rolling amounts of self-pity and brooding, helped by the fact that we are not encouraged to feel sorry for him; the opposite in fact.

The next day when Ranjit leaves a suicide note and jumps from a bridge in front of an oncoming locomotive, the crippled beggar who tries to stop him is in marked contrast to Ranjit’s hopelessness.

Among the onlookers staring at the broken body on the tracks below is Ranjit himself. He is accosted by a cheerful man called Captain (Raj Kapoor) who informs him that he has crossed into the land of spirits (“Bhoot hai, bhoot!“) and points out that his leg is no longer damaged.

Wouldn’t that be a hilarious message for a film? Kill yourself and all will be well!

But of course that’s not the message at all—Ranjit has a lot to learn before he can move on to wherever it is that fulfilled souls go. Captain takes it upon himself to help Ranjit out by introducing him to others in the same boat (shades of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s A Wonderful Life”). He begins with a young couple (Deven Verma and Jayshree T) who committed suicide because they weren’t allowed to marry.

Who could have known that being a ghost takes all the sexy out of love?

That’s not the biggest problem, however. As Captain and Ranjit look on, a huge brightly-clad crazy man with a knife (Yunus Parvez) appears out of the bushes. He was the girl’s husband in her life before this past one, and he’s still jealous even if he can’t actually do anything about it. You can’t kill a man who is already dead!

Captain encourages Ranjit to open up about himself, and he goes back to 1944 and his life before the war interfered. A champion badminton player, Ranjit is in love with his doubles partner Ramola aka Rama (Zahira). Rama’s father (Om Shivpuri) is a very wealthy man who clearly thinks she is Out of His Reach, despite his respectable background. Ranjit’s father (AK Hangal) is a lawyer devoted to the Quit India movement and the family have a nice middle-class home. Sister Rekha attends college, and they have just adopted Raja (orphaned when his father is hanged by the British after being unsuccessfully defended by Ranjit’s father). Ramola is happily accepted and seems to prefer Ranjit’s home to hers, with some justification.

I notice that Ranjit is a defeatist even then—he won’t speak to her father about marrying Ramola because he expects he’ll just be refused. He probably isn’t wrong, but I’m glad when we return to the somewhat more cheerful purgatory.

Captain introduces Ranjit to a former (British) DIG named Anderson (Tom Alter) who was assassinated by two freedom fighters and still casually sports the gunshot wound to his chest. This causes me to wonder why Ranjit isn’t more of a mess, since his death involved his body being “cut up” by a train and his leg was damaged to begin with, but never mind. Anderson is hanging around in limbo because his one true love, a dancer named Firoza (Padma Khanna) is still alive. He passes the time waiting for her by debating the problems of India and the merits of freedom with his assassins (hanged for his death, and now his friends).

His lecture to Captain and Ranjit on the home-grown “vested interests” which will continue to ruin things even after the British are gone begins to change the tone of the film, and I feel caught in a weird time-warp.

Maybe Hrishida deliberately kept the “look” of the film contemporary to further push this message (India hasn’t used its freedom wisely?) across, but it doesn’t work at all for me. At one point music from “Jesus Christ Superstar” is used in the background of a party scene, and it is jarring.

There are distractions in the form of more dead people shenanigans and a lovely dance from Padma Khanna. I decide that “Captain” must be the Raj Kapoor so beloved by his family and friends—irreverent, moody, funny, a charming rogue with an eye for the ladies. He is quite a character! Ranjit questions Captain about his past and he says that he fled from the violence of the Quit India movement (he was a relative of Bhagat Singh) and joined films to become a stunt double. He was killed along with his horse in an accident on the sets when they were supposed to jump a ravine.

His ongoing regret is that he didn’t do more to further India’s quest for freedom, and he goes berserk when Ranjit mentions Partition. (An impassioned speech about unity and religious tolerance follows.) Ranjit’s path to bad luck continues to unfold as well. His father had mortgaged their house to a client of Ramola’s father in order to secure money for his defence of freedom fighters, and the client (with Daddyji’s help) is foreclosing. Ranjit’s father has a heart attack and dies, leaving the family enmeshed in debt. Ranjit sells the house and moves his family into a much smaller and shabbier one.

When Ramola finds out about all this, she goes to her father and he agrees to see Ranjit. More “trapped by poverty” bars, but I love how overstuffed with furniture and objects the new house is. It looks a bit like mine.

He offers Ranjit a job, which Ranjit turns down. Ramola is furious and fed up, they fight, and Ranjit enlists in the Army. We already know how that works out.

When the war ends Ranjit is unemployed and the landlord (V Gopal)—after denuding the house of all its valuables—threatens them with eviction when they can’t pay the rent. Ranjit, unable to bear the thought of his family on the street and feeling helpless (I scribble on my notepad: LEARN TO SEW), commits suicide and we have come full circle.

What has happened to his family since then? And Ramola? What will it take for his soul to be able to move on? And Captain’s, and those of all the other denizens of purgatory too?

Uh-oh.

There is plenty of WTF and fervid speech-making to come, let me tell you. We are bludgeoned with the problems of 1978 India (adulterated food, adulterated medicine, hoarding grain to manipulate prices), all laid at the feet of the British government (because it’s 1944/46). I don’t know if the message is that India’s problems are a result of the colonial occupation, or whether it’s a message about India’s failure to take advantage of its freedom, or both, or neither. It’s all very confusing and clumsy. In fact, there are about a gazillion “messages” thrown in here (value life while you’re living it, don’t despair, etc. etc.), some more successfully made than others. I honestly enjoyed the first hour of this (and part of the problem may be that the whole film isn’t here, it clocks in at about two hours even) but the script just didn’t keep up with the charm of the characters and the setting. It jumped over a cliff, much like stuntman Captain and his horse, and pretty much as successfully.

But many thanks to my beloved bahen Suhan for supplying me with this (twice). It is refreshingly different, and I’m glad to have seen something I really enjoyed Raj Kapoor in!

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42 Comments to “Naukri (1978)”

  1. I think Hrishida wanted to do Namak Haraam – 2. Rajesh Khanna’s costume and hair style hasn’t changed one bit. :-)

  2. it was a nice film..but the review is doing complete injustice. zahira-rajesh khanna scenes were very nice. they shared good chemistry. and the movie is remake of muthal thedi starring sivaji ganeshan and anjali devi in tamil in 1958. that movie was a hit. here raj kapoor’s character was added thats all. raj kapoor and rajesh khanna shared a great chemistry too. only minus point was songs in the film and fact that 76-78 khanna had plain bad luck….otherwise why should such nice films fail..non cooperation by media…..tyaag, naukri, PKCM, Mehbooba, Chakravyuha..total 9 flops….(of which 7 desrved to be hits).

    • The songs were very disappointing, coming from RD Burman. They could have been dispensed with altogether, except maybe Padma’s. I didn’t care at all about Zahira and Rajesh’s relationship, found their chemistry to be pretty cold but agree that he and Raj Kapoor were great together. Captain’s exuberance was a great foil for Ranjit’s more subdued and dark character.

      • Another disappointing Kaka-movie of 1978 was “Bhola Bhala”. Even that one had music by RDB. Surprising I hadn’t heard of even one song from that movie till about 6 months back….

  3. Memsaab, I saw this movie about 15 years back, and could make no head or tail of it, and I doubt even now would I be able to comprehend the movie(after Rajesh’s suicide). Actually Raj Kapoor appears totally creepy here, one would wander if he actually was alive once.
    Indeed, the CSH has struck this movie as in no other movie, and the climax was entirely shoddy and over-dramatic, just like vintage Raj K. Rajesh should never have accepted the role, no matter what the chemistry was between the actors. Viewers should be advised to carry 100 doses of aspirin, and choose this movie if you want to get totally depressed and ultimately throw yourself down from a flyover.

    • I felt like the makers had a lot they wanted to say, but should have pared it down a lot because with all that was going on whatever might have been meaningful was lost in the chaos. It’s not that depressing to me, but it’s an unholy mess by the end.

  4. Heh heh, gotta agree to disagree this time obviously Memsaab :-) But thanks so much for doing it – I don’t think more than 5 people actually saw it when it came out if the stories are anything to go by. This is going to be longish one so apologies in advance for hogging up the comments space. Most likely I’ll be repeating what I’ve said elsewhere before.

    Just to put it in context, remember that a couple of left-leaning Bengali intellectuals (Hrishikesh M and Salil Chaudhury) dreamed this up I think around the time of the Emergency when things were very gloomy indeed but looks like it was a very long time in the making given Rajesh’s wildly different hairstyles ;-)

    I think that Hrishikesh M erred in trying to fit ‘Naukri’ into the mainstream with songs which this could have done well without, given how uncompromising the subject was. Its treatment, for the most part, was like theatre rather than cinema. Also, in its sentiments it seemed to continue with the thread HM explored in ‘Satyakam’. ‘Satyakam’dealt with the disillusionment of an idealist after the country’s independence—‘Naukri’ anticipates that disillusionment, that corruption, greed, selfishness, etc. will not go away when the British do (the film is set in 1945-46).

    Both the RKs (Raj Kapoor and Kaka) are quite brilliant here. But Rajesh’s performance is an eye opener, a total anti-hero, wearied look, dark circles under eyes, despairing, helpless. Played just right, no one-upmanship on screen, what a really good actor he was in the hands of a good director.

    As a friend, in one of our forum discussions on the film, put it: “It is a sort of anti-Anand. The main theme here is despair. The lead is frustrated, suicidal and hates his lot in life. Uncompromising stuff for the most part…. Very Italian masters inspired but heavy going with minimal BO trappings. If Anand explored the APOGEE of human positivism, Naukri plumbs the NADIR of human hopelessness. Maybe the two movies ought to be seen by history as two halves of a larger epic—human life which has both ups and downs.

    ….These two movies are essentially about the quality of the SOUL. In both films, the hero is physically damaged—cancer in Anand and a cripple in Naukri. In one film HM explores how the soul rises above it all and a human tries to moderate this soul (Bhasker) and in Naukri the soul is defeated and an ANGEL helps him rise above the desperation. Only people like HM and Salil Choudhury could think such thoughts in Hindi filmdom and that’s why Kaka who never has time for most people loves HM to the extent he spoke about him at Goa (IIFI) in 2005.

    .. Also the romantic interlude with Zaheera in Naukri fits in with Anand’s airy description of his lost love in Anand. Interesting how these themes are interwoven. Naukri should have been marketed better and Kaka whose insecurities were at their highest in that period must have given up on Naukri commercialy which caused it to drag on in making. The scenes between Rajesh and Raj ji on the park bench are touching. Wonder how this true clash of titans got such a low key critical reception. No one promoted it in 78.”

    • I agree with you on what was being attempted, I just have to disagree that Hrishida succeeded. Anand was a much better movie IMHO, this one got too muddled to makes its point for me.

      I also agree completely on both RK performances. Ranjit really didn’t get irritating to me despite his sad sack affect, and that can’t have been easy to make happen, but Rajesh did it. And I think I’ve made it clear that Raj was great too :)

      And I really don’t understand why no effort was made to set the film in its proper time; if it was deliberately visually very 1970s in order to draw parallels between 1946 and 1978 India it needed to be done better somehow. Not that I know how, but that’s why I don’t make films :D

      I’m glad I saw it, was engrossed in it despite its flaws. Just wish it had been better, it had the potential. Very fine performances by pretty much everyone.

  5. This film was released very late even after completion, i remember it was telecast by doordarshan immediately after theatrical release, it was rajesh khanna’s bad phase, many of his films were delayed or there were no distsibutors to release them. Poor thing in bollywood still there are movies made in 60 and 70’s which are still not released. One film aahat starring vinod mehra and jaya bhaduri released after 35 years of completion, when i went to theater, there were only 25 people in the hall. Memsaab please write about these movies in ur column.

  6. Naukri is one of the classic and evergreen movie of all times of Super Star Rajesh Khanna, its is a story about a unemployed and physically challenged young man who cannot makes his ends meet. This is a typical Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie- a must see.

  7. I initially thought I’d never heard of this movie but now I realise I have heard of it. In fact, I now remember reading a review of this film in the Illustrated Weekly of India in 1978. It was, at best, a subdued review.

    By 1978, Amitabh was the undisputed No.1. It was also the era of multi-starrers. The other movies that used to get made were either the Amol Palekar type movies or the occasional “art” movie. Rajesh’s fall had been so dramatic and unforgiving that he was really up against it whenever he appeared in any movie. His fans had deserted him en masse – mea culpa, I was one of those. In the circumstances, this movie stood no chance, especially when I read the storyline.

    There is a good chance this movie took 3-4 years in the making. Maybe that explains the curse of the second half to some extent.

    Reading Suhan’s comment about Anand and Naukri (one with a hopeful hero, the other with a despairing one), I couldn’t help feeling this probably mirrored Rajesh’s career at those points in time. If Rajesh played the role of a despairing man in this film, he may not have had to act much, these may have been his natural emotions coming into play.

    I’d like to see this movie – if only because I’d like to see Rajesh movies of that period. Yes, the period AFTER his superstardom. Then, I was only a high-school kid and could not bear to see his fall from grace. Today I’m in a much better position to understand him, not just a superstar, but as an actor with his insecurities. During his superstardom, a lot of his movies got carried on his shoulders (and songs). I’d like to see, in his post-superstardom phase, shorn of the Rajesh-hype, what these movies are about. And if they didn’t do well, how much of it can be attributed to Rajesh himself? (I suspect not much).

    Ok, coming to the review. It does seem to be a different sort of movie,and considering you say there were too many messages coming at you and confusing you, I think you’ve done a pretty good job of putting together a review that holds itself well. Thank you, memsaab.

  8. I’m very glad I watched it, would not tell anybody not to for sure. I have seen several “post-Superstar” movies from Rajesh, and it’s my impression that he really (when allowed) just wanted to act, and act well. He also chose very unusual subjects and characters, and a wide variety, by the late 70s which I think deserves credit :)

  9. I was always wondering what this film was about. Now, thanks to your review, I know!
    The beginning part does sound very funny (the undead part) also Anderson’s message endeared itself to me, but what comes afterwards seems to be a mess.
    It sounds a bit like of all his previous films, beginning with Anari.

  10. Memsaab my quick thoughts on this movie before i venture into your review….

    Hrishida’s career during this period was facing a downhill if you look at his filmography…Chupke Chupke was a hit and Arjun Pandit was talked about…His other movies like Kotwal Sahab, Alaap and Naukri had tanked big time….

    1979 turned things for Hrishida with Golmaal while Rajesh Khanna too made his mark once again commercially with Amardeep…sort of coincidence…

    Well coming back to Naukri, i remember the well sketched posters of this movie hanging on lamp posts of Delhi streets….I doubt if it was released in Delhi at all….You had lots of movies that would first get released in Bombay and if it bombs there, it would be the end of road for that movie across the country…probably Naukri too was one of them…just guessing…

    Ok, now i will read your review…

    • OK, have read the review..Thanks Memsaab…Sounds interesting….

      On your comment..

      “Maybe Hrishida deliberately kept the “look” of the film contemporary to further push this message (India hasn’t used its freedom wisely?) across, but it doesn’t work at all for me.”

      Wikipedia says the film was set in 1944-47….therefore it becomes a “period” film made in 1978 ….something similar to Shatranj ke kilari released more or less in the same period….
      There is a vast difference in treatment and i read somewhere Hrishida had problems with Rajesh Khanna and who in turn had problems with the producers of this movie….

      Maybe Hrishida would have never expected that this movie of his would be dissected this way.. :D

      • Shatranj Ke Khiladi was pretty true in settings/clothes/etc. to the period, but this one made absolutely no attempt to look or feel like the 1940s. Very strange. In any case, if you are a Rajesh fan (and I know you are!) you should give it a try.

  11. HM always managed actors to get rid of their usual mannerisms – hence the acting in his film is generally better. The springboard for this story appears to be Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The attempt to indianise Capra’s film apparently resulted in this muddled mess (the South Indian movie also must have been inspired by Capra/Dickens). Did it end like Capra’s movie too? As Raja and others have mentioned, RK just slipped out of practically everyone’s radar at the time of this film’s release – it’s a mere blink of an eye in our collective memory. And obviously there was no good word of the mouth about this film.

    Liked your ‘Learn to sew’ – you can’t imagine how many times that crossed our minds :D. The beggar’s remark “The poor fellow was a cripple and very depressed” sums it up. It all seems to be moan, moan, moan. At that time the films had to be angry, gungho or funny to be a hit (isn’t it that always?).

    • It was more like Scrooge than Capra but not identical to either. It did not end like Capra’s :) One thing I did like about this was that even though Rajesh’s character was fairly self-pitying and depressed, it wasn’t something we were supposed to like or pity about him.

  12. I liked the film a lot. But then I liked films which tried to show case corruption etc in the country. I remember being very impressed by the dialogue about the ‘bad ways’ not disappearing with the disappearance of the British :)

  13. Love your new header, Memsaab. Just noticed it today. God, have I been away. I never did see ‘Naukri’ not being a huge Rajesh Khanna fan, or a Raj Kapoor one, but somehow, your review does make it sound like a little bit of fun. Hrishi-da mixed with Brij, I’d like to see. Poor Jayshree T and Deven Verma, though.

  14. BTW, Greta, just wanted to let you know that my next set of songs for Great Indian Talent are up for grabs on you tube :-)

    Click on my name and you will see one of those.

    • I don’t really know what Great Indian Talent IS…something like American Idol? Do you audition? I’m one of the few people who has never seen American Idol :D

      • Its something like AI, but its more of an online version. 4 rounds of videos are to be submitted and if they are cleared, the participants are called for a face to face audition. Winner goes on to win poore 1 carod :-)

  15. Ofcourse Naukri is rajesh khanna’s not so hit film, today i always love to see all old hindi movie 1970-1982 specially rajesh’s movie.The songs , the scene,hair style, costumes,dance,garden, hotel everything fantastic. Noukri has all of them.Zahira the girl whom many of us donot know much, still she attract when you see her.Thanks memsaab for remembering padma khanna, zahira, nadira and ofcourse rajesh khanna.

  16. WHAT IS ON RAJESH KHANNA’S HEAD? And how fly is Tom Alter! Now I want to see this just for the hot messiness of it all. Damn you and your tempting writeups! :D

    • He is firmly in Bad Hair Territory, sometimes worse than others :) Tom Alter was great in this!!! I was so happy to see him. I think you’d enjoy at least the first half—I’d do a watchalong of it with you.

  17. Never thought I’d read about this movie. All I ever remember is a badminton scene featuring Rajesh Khanna and Zaheera in Picturpost, so please accept my hearfelt thanks. In my mind, I tagged this with movies like Ulfat (Sadhana, Raaj Kumar and Waheeda Rehman). Photographs in Star`n’Style, don’t know if the movie was ever released. I believe one of the posts above mentioned this movie with another title.
    Interesting story and with hubby being an intense Rajesh Khanna fan, no stone will be left unturned in the unearthing of this movie.

  18. Didn’t see the movie, but just based on the photos/review I agree that portraying 1944 through the lens and looks of circa 1978 is a throughly bad idea. No comparison to Shatranj ke khiladi please, Ray was not only meticuluous about period details but also did not prvoide preachy messages. Above all, Ray’s film shows the complexity of colonialism and the culpability of all (Indians and British).

    Love Tom Alter! He is so young here! Does anyone know his background?

  19. I think hrishida did a mistake in remaking the tamil film “Mudhal thedi” in hindi. The erason – the tamil film released in 1958 & this in 1978. Issues were different. Also, Raj kapoor’s role is not there in the original. The publicity for the film was poor & also the film had no “masala” so to speak.

    Rajesh is excellent in the title role, but hrishida should have handled the film better.

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