A daku-drama in the iconic mold of Manmohan Desai—what could possibly go wrong? Not much, I am pleased to report, at least as far as the film itself goes. The people in it suffer plenty, though, especially Feroz Khan’s angsty dacoit tortured by amnesia and an inexplicable phobia of water-pumps. Writer/director Chand hits every masala note he can think of even if not much is done with some of them (religious imagery, for instance, seems thrown in there for no good reason). A young family broken up, lockets and tattoos, socially respectable but morally bankrupt villains, blood transfusions replete with filmi irony (get it? irony? sorry), plus all the standard dacoit movie delights (beautiful horses, black pagris, tilaks, golden earrings), and a great cast make this one a complete paisa vasool winner.
I am thrilled by the title credits (and Laxmikant Pyarelal music) from the get-go.
Dreaded (only by sinners, because he is a Robin Hood type of guy) dacoit Thanedar Singh (yes, everybody is named Singh in this movie) (Feroz Khan) has two weaknesses: he cannot remember anything about his childhood from before he was rescued by dacoits from a nearby river, and the sound of the local water-pump terrifies him to the point where he has to shut it off as soon as he hears it. We flash back to before he lost his memory, when he was young Ram (Master Bittoo), the son of a village farmer Singh (P Jairaj) and his wife (Nirupa Roy), with a younger brother called Laxman (Master Raju Shrestha).
The countryside is suffering through a severe drought, but farmer Singh sells Ram’s locket (brother Laxman has a matching one) in order to buy him a much-wanted police uniform for his birthday.
One day as Ram is helping his father clear rocks from their dry and barren land, hoping for rain, Ram notices the servants of the local zamindar bathing his “English” dog (a dalmation) in the abundant water running from his pump. He also notices the stark difference between his own family’s ancestral land, and that of the Thakur; using his pick, he begins to break the banks of the irrigation canal belonging to the Thakur.
This raises an uproar which I fear can only end in tears, most probably Nirupa Roy’s.
Farmer Singh steps in to defend his son from the Thakur’s men as the Thakur (Rajan Haksar) and his brother Vikram (Ajit) drive onto the scene. Vikram Singh gets out of the car and begins whipping Ram’s father; Ram stops him and Vikram stubs his cigar out on Ram’s arm (just beside the tattoo which he needs more than ever now that his locket has been sold). The Thakur impatiently throws a rifle to Vikram, and pours himself a scotch and water (salt in the proverbial wound!) as Vikram shoots the farmer dead. Ram can only stand and watch in horror (with one eye twitching) as his father’s blood stains the water red and the brothers Singh drive away.
His mother and Laxman find him there, transfixed, and as predicted Nirupa cries. A lot.
That night, Ram sneaks out of the house with an axe and goes to the Thakur’s mansion. The Thakur is drinking heavily while his son Vijay (Master Romi) watches; Vijay can hardly wait to become an alcoholic himself and be gifted the gold bottle opener that his father wears on a chain on his wrist (I want one too). When Ram bursts in looking for Vikram Singh, Vijay grabs a pistol. Ram tackles him and gets hold of it, and in the ensuing scuffle shoots Vikram (coming to see what the noise is all about) in the leg and fatally wounds the Thakur, who dies spectacularly.
With the police chasing Ram, Maa packs up her belongings and boards a bus back to her village with Laxman (I guess she has just written Ram off). Ram in the meantime has taken refuge on the same bus, hiding on the roof amidst the baggage. When Maa gets off the bus to get Laxman a drink of water, he signals to her. Then as Maa fills her tumbler with water, the bus pulls away (you’d think the driver would wait for his passenger, but no). Water: nothing but trouble for this poor family!
Maa chases the bus, screaming, and then collapses sobbing in the shadow of a cross (this happens twice in the film, but doesn’t have any real meaning as far as I can tell, unless you want to assign it one like that it makes an interesting pattern on the ground which the cameraman admired) as it disappears from her sight. Ram tries to stop the bus himself but doesn’t really think the process through (not that I blame him) and scares the bejesus out of the driver, with disastrous consequences.
Ram washes ashore in an area frequented by dacoits (as the guy who finds him hilariously makes sure we know); Laxman is found by kind and lonely Police Commissioner Bhalla (Om Shivpuri).
When Ram regains consciousness, he’s surrounded by men wearing black slung with bullets, but their leader (Habib) treats him gently and asks who he is. Ram can’t remember anything (he has a head wound) about where he’s from or who he is, so they dub him Thanedar Singh for his police uniform and the tattoo on his arm that says “Singh” (note to self: if everybody in your area is named Singh, find another tattoo design). He grows up to become Feroz Khan and the leader of the dacoits, while Laxman—too young to remember anything himself—is named Rakesh and grows up to become Jeetendra.
I simply adore Feroz in full *ACK*ting mode: Manly Despair Version.
He is well-known locally for being a champion of the poor and a young woman comes and begs him for help. Her father is in debt to an old man named Jankidas (Jankidas), who is using it to force her into marriage.
Despite the heavily armed police presence—Jankidas having alerted them—Thanedar Singh and his men prevent the wedding from going through, loot the bridegroom and burn his account books, get the erstwhile bride married to the poor farmer she loves, take all the guns belonging to the police; and Thanedar loses his heart to a tawaif named Champabai (Rekha).
Meanwhile another very pretty lady by the name of Rita (Parveen Babi) is looking for a thief named Rocky who has a 10,000 Rs price on his head. Rocky is none other than Rakesh, aka Laxman, and he gambles too. On the run from the police, he is rescued by Rita on her motorcycle who whisks him away…and after stopping for a love song, takes him straight to the local lock-up. She is a bounty hunter, which is just awesome.
Her shtick is to pretend that she believes her target is her famous lover from a previous life (Rakesh being Salim to her Anarkali), lulling him into a sense of false security and then taking him in for the reward.
Unable to get Champa out of his mind, Thanedar Singh goes to her kotha. There, a grown up Vijay Singh (Ranjeet! my joy knows no bounds) is a frequent visitor accompanied by his best friend Shakal (Satyendra Kapoor), a local don who lends Vijay the money he needs for his dissolute lifestyle. Vijay has fulfilled his childhood ambition of becoming an alcoholic and using his father’s gold bottle opener; but his uncle Vikram has replaced his father as Thakur with all the inherent perks.
Thanedar Singh bursts in as Champa is singing and dancing for them, and skewers Vijay’s money with his signature dagger. He announces to the room at large that Champa belongs to him now (so romantic) and boots Vijay and Shakal out. Vijay takes his pile of money still embedded with Thanedar’s knife and a PLAN.
He and his uncle Vikram make copies of Thanedar’s unique weapon and begin a murderous rampage, leaving his signature at the scenes of their crimes. Thanedar’s reputation as a benign Robin Hood type goes right out the window—even Champa believes that he is guilty.
Rakesh breaks out of jail and gets to Rita’s house just in time to save her from some of her former victims.
I think I would be so distracted by her home decor, I would be unable to do anything except stare. Rakesh scolds Rita soundly for her betrayal as she gazes at him, smitten for the time being. He goes home to see Bhalla, and we discover that he isn’t really the scoundrel “Rocky” but an undercover CID officer working for his adoptive father. Bhalla has a new assignment for him: catch Thanedar Singh.
Rakesh sets off for Thanedar Singh’s territory, hitching a ride on a bus carrying a wedding party (and wedding gifts). As the bus trundles along, the real Thanedar Singh drops onto the roof and hides amidst the baggage (and wedding gifts). When the bus stops in the village, Maa is there; she has made a career out of selling water from that very tap she’d been using when she last saw her sons. She has an instant connection with Rakesh, who asks her for an extra drink of water as Thanedar Singh watches from above, but then has to leave when the bus pulls out. Poor Nirupa!
The wedding bus is stopped by Vikram Singh masquerading as Thanedar Singh, and Rakesh’s ears perk up. Real Thanedar Singh is fed up with this impersonation and Rakesh helps him fight off the bandits in a thrilling scene. During the melee, Thanedar Singh sees the gold bottle opener dangling from a masked Vijay’s wrist. When he reaches his hideout, he tells Champa what has happened and she—having seen it many time during Vijay’s trips to her kotha—tells Thanedar Singh who owns it.
Will Rakesh figure out who the “real” Thanedar Singh is? Will Thanedar regain his memory and overcome his fear of water-pumps? Will he and Rakesh come to know that they are brothers before it’s too late? Can they avenge their father’s murder? Will they figure out who their Maa is? Can they live happily ever after with a nautch girl and a bounty hunter? Or will evil in the form of Vikram and Vijay Singh prevail?
Watch Khoon Aur Paani to find out, and because it is so much fun. Rekha and Feroz Khan have nice chemistry together and though romance isn’t at all the focus of the movie, Parveen is pretty funny as Rita, the greedy go-getter. Jeetendra is also good as the upstanding Laxman/Rakesh and as I said earlier, Feroz is perhaps unwittingly very hysterical as troubled memory-less Thanedar Singh haunted by the sound of the local water-pump. Ajit has a great lair (complete with VW bus-sized elevator), he and Ranjeet are gleefully if somewhat incompetently evil, Laxmikant Pyarelal provide solid music, and it is a firmly tongue-in-cheek masala good time.