Fiffty Fiffty (sic) (1981)

This is maybe not the post I should choose to write in memory of Rajesh Khanna, but it happened to already be under construction and he was so charming in the film…so why not? One shouldn’t defy kismat.

I loved this lunatic movie. It cannot by any stretch be called either well-written or even wildly original, but it is solidly entertaining if you like this sort of thing (illogical melodrama) which I do. Infants are switched at birth for nefarious purposes and spirited away for good ones; one of the villains is a bitter hunchback; we have con artists conning each other, a mute illiterate downtrodden mother trying to communicate a terrible secret (and failing) for years and years and years, divine intervention at moments of sheer despair, and the Rainbow Splendor of Disco—a mishmash that makes this one hard to forget. Laxmikant Pyarelal’s music is good fun, and I love the cast, too: even the completely age-inappropriate Rajesh Khanna-Tina Munim pairing works, maybe because Tina’s character is so worldly-wise that she doesn’t seem young. Plus Rajesh seems to be enjoying himself thoroughly, as he should, and is very handsome indeed.

Om Shivpuri plays the evil and resentful Bihari, a hunchback whose dissolute father sold off all his ancestral property to the current Thakur Virendra Singh’s father to fund his gambling and drinking. Bihari is unable to reconcile his family’s lost wealth to his present circumstance as a servant in the household. When he and his wife Shanti (Indrani Mukherjee) have a baby boy on the same day as the Thakur’s wife (Purnima) he switches the babies at night so that his own son will grow up with his “rightful” inheritance (apparently all babies *do* look alike, because neither mother notices).

Unfortunately Virendra Singh catches him leaving the house, and Bihari kills him to keep him quiet.

As the two boys grow up, Bihari’s son Kumar becomes spoiled and arrogant as the widowed Thakurain and Bihari dote on him; little Kishan, the true heir, is brought up by a loving Shanti but mistreated by his “father” Bihari. One day when Kishan stops Kumar from hitting poor downtrodden Shanti, he is chastised by the Thakurain and Bihari.

Bihari decides to rid himself of this unwanted not-his-son and makes plans to send Kishan off to the city and an uncle who lives there. This distresses Shanti unutterably, and that evening while in his cups Bihari tells her that Kishan isn’t her son anyway so what does she care that he’s gone now? Oops. He sobers up at her reaction and strangles her into permanent silence—but not death, oh no, Indrani is never that lucky!! I have to say that the treatment meted out to this poor woman is dreadful throughout and I have analyzed it in all its gory symbolic glory.

Distressed that his mother is no longer talking to him, Kishan vows never to return and is packed off to Bombay where his “uncle” (Rajan Haksar in a godawful wig) is a Dickensian Fagin type making money off boys he has taught to pickpocket. Kishan reluctantly learns to steal proficiently and one day sees an old man (Nazir Hussain) blamed for a theft Kishan has committed. The old man is arrested, leaving his little girl Mary alone and sobbing (seriously? the police wouldn’t take her with them?).

Kishan comforts her and shares his food (it has to be “fifty-fifty” she says), but he loses track of her when he has to flee from the police.

The credits roll as he grows up to be Rajesh Khanna, a debonair jewel thief. We catch up with him at a fancy hotel, where he has his eye on the jewels belonging to a visiting dignitary. He steals her diamond necklace successfully, but encounters another thief in the form of a dancer in the hotel nightclub who lifts his wallet (to his grudging admiration).

She is a practiced and feisty con artist, and she soon runs afoul of Kishan again. And guess what?

Yup, she is none other than the grown-up Mary (Tina Munim) whose father had been jailed in Kishan’s stead when he was a boy. He is momentarily startled, but decides she can’t possibly be the same girl and stomps off. She is trying to come up with money for the rent on the house she shares with her elderly father, now in a wheelchair, before the landlord kicks them out.

Kishan, meantime, has kept in touch with his poor mute mother who still cleans house for the Thakurain. She reads Kishan’s letters to Shanti with some envy, which makes Shanti moan like a crazy person and frantically point. She’s never successful in getting her meaning across, but it is pretty entertaining.

Adult Kumar (Ranjeet!) has not unpredictably grown up no different than he was as a child; a spoiled, lazy, and arrogant brat who takes everything he has for granted. Someone (not me) should do a study on the effects of “nature versus nurture” in switched babies in Hindi cinema. It would be an interesting Master’s thesis or something and there is plenty of fodder out there.

And also, poor Shanti is still being hideously abused by her husband.

Salt in the wound:

Kumar is rapidly spending his way through his “father’s” money as his “mother” and real father continue to indulge him. He takes off for Bombay and its gambling and nightclubs, not knowing that Shanti has stowed away in his back seat hoping to find Kishan in the big city. It doesn’t take long before Kishan and Kumar are at the same table playing cards under a mirrored disco ball, although they don’t recognize each other. Kumar is of course cheating, being Ranjeet, but Kishan outwits him and wins all the money he took from his mother.

Outside, Shanti spots Kishan but sees Kumar coming out behind him and has to hide her face as Kishan drives off. Then the belabored woman sees Bihari—he has somehow found her; she runs and is rescued by Mary.

Even when she’s only being talked about, there are bars! Mary continues to torment Kishan by interfering in all his plots and routinely getting the best of him.

Shanti finally tracks Kishan down as he is praying for a small house where he can move with her; but suddenly even her ability to moan deserts her as she is grabbed by Bihari and bundled back home (and pushed into the fire) without Kishan seeing or hearing a thing. She manages to tear off her mangalsutra and leave it there, but seriously: she is the most put-upon wife and mother EVER.

Kishan finds her mangalsutra, decides she must be in trouble (again, not sure how he reaches that conclusion) and to her great joy, goes to see her. He is shocked to find her in such bad condition and weirdly seems to still not understand that she is mute. I mean, it’s strange and everything to have your mother suddenly stop talking, but don’t you think her moaning and crazed gesticulating should be a clue? Repeatedly asking her to say something when she clearly can’t, and threatening to kill yourself if she doesn’t, is really not the way to go about things.

When he does finally understand, I can only guffaw at all the Nahiiin! Face (this movie is a veritable gold mine for the NFG) and the statue of Justice’s scales swinging in the wind.

Kumar appears, whistling genially, in the middle of this tamasha. When he sees Maa crying, he slaps her (because, you know, he’s Ranjeet and she’s Indrani Mukherjee) and Kishan thrashes him. The Thakurain arrives on the scene and scolds him; Kishan dramatically announces that he’s leaving and taking his mother with him. About time too!

Back in Bombay, Mary—now in possession of a million-crore diamond necklace and a car belonging to the royal family of Chandpur, thanks mostly to Kishan—has decided on her next scam, and it’s a doozy. Wearing a somewhat unprepossessing tiara, she crashes the Chandpur car into the Holiday Inn and pretends to have amnesia. The staff at the hotel (Jankidas et al) assume that obviously she is the Princess of Chandpur, which is just what she wanted.

The Ranimaa of Chandpur (Anita Guha) has been searching for her daughter, the Rajkumari Ratna, taken as a baby by a loyal servant named Tiwari (Jairaj) to the Maharajah. Unbeknownst to Ranimaa, her late husband had given the baby to Tiwari just before being murdered by the not-so-loyal Diwanji Shamsher Singh (Kader Khan), who still serves Ranimaa. How Mary and her gang found out about all this, I don’t know, but she manages to get her photo taken at just the right moment with an unwitting Tiwari. In the meantime, Kishan has found out from a source in the hotel that she is there.

He comes to the hotel and pretends to be her fiance (a trick she had pulled on him earlier), and the proceedings are briefly interrupted by this bit of lunacy (not that I am complaining):

During the song, Kishan manages to steal back the necklace that she had stolen from him (after he stole it from Johnny Whiskey). But in the pouch with the diamonds is a photograph of Mary with her father—and Kishan instantly recognizes him. In the meantime, her father is getting pushed around and knocked out of his wheelchair by the landlord and his goons.

Kishan gives them all a satisfyingly good thrashing and tells a grateful Nazir that he owes an old debt, and to tell Mary that “fifty-fifty” was there. Mary in the meantime with the help of her gang (an unfortunately irritating Jagdeep and Mushtaq Merchant) has sent a ransom note to Chandpur for her return. Shamsher Singh brings the money to them, but also tracks down poor Tiwari. He elicits the information that Tiwari had dropped the baby Rajkumari over a bridge into a river as he was fleeing from Chandpur from him, and then kills him.

Game up, Mary agrees to partner with Shamsher Singh posing as Rajkumari Ratna, and goes with him to Chandpur where she is welcomed with open arms by Ranimaa.

Kumar and Bihari are there too: it happens that long ago when the Rajkumari was born, Thakur Virendra Singh and the Maharajah—who were fast friends—agreed that baby Ratna should grow up to marry Virendra’s son Kumar.

Will Mary be able to deceive Ranimaa and get herself crowned as planned? Or is she in over her head with nasty Shamsher Singh? What is in the treasury that Shamsher Singh is willing to kill for? Will Shanti ever be able to tell anybody the truth about who her real son is, and the real son of Virendra Singh? Will Kishan and Mary fall in love? Or will Mary accept Kumar as her husband? And where IS Rajkumari Ratna? Did she really die in the river (nobody EVER dies in the river in Indian movies)?

I know this post has gone on and on…but this is a movie that keeps on giving, trust me, and there is lots of it left. Whether you want what it’s offering is of course up to you—but I loved it, and I loved handsome charming twinkly Rajesh (and his sparkling chemistry with Tina) in it the most of all…yes, even more than Ranjeet. He may be gone from this world, but he will never be forgotten.

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51 Comments to “Fiffty Fiffty (sic) (1981)”

  1. Aah! This was bad-movie bliss! Truly. I remember watching this on a re-run in a ramshackle theatre with my sister and cousin – and we loved it! It was over-the-top, and melodramatic, and colourful, and so full of masala… now I have to go and watch this again. (I seriously need to get a life!) Thanks, Memsaab. :)

  2. Nice, fun review, memsaab. I really needed this. And I guess I’m not the only one.

    Sounds like a fun movie too – I haven’t seen this. It was during my “Rajesh blackout” period.

    I do have vivid memories of it being released though. Rajesh’s Dhanwan, Dard and Fiffty Fiffty were all released in a short time frame and the promos would play on the radio. In those days that was a very popular way of promoting a movie. I used to be in Delhi then – I clearly remember posters all over the place – with “fifty” spelt as “fiffty”. :-) The spelling nazi in me was quite offended. :-)

    I think this movie did reasonably well too. The title song was briefly popular, for sure. Must say Rajesh does look pretty good in these screen pics.

    There are very few Rajesh movies of the 80s that I HAVE seen – I think I need to start fixing this. And by the looks of it – if your review is anything to go by – I could do worse than start with Fiffty Fiffty.

  3. Oh the humanity! I must purchase this DVD next time I order….hmmm, and the soundtrack, also!

  4. I remember watching this in Patiala with my mum and possibly my younger brother. It was always fun watching movies with mum because she always passed amusing comments – the kind you do – so we would have a great fun laughing along.

    I don’t remember much but that I found Tina’s voice annoying and that iconic ‘Fiffty-fiffty’ thing, esp in the begining just before the credits-roll. I don’t know the reason for the double ff in the title, it is quite likely that the filmmaker was told by an astrologer that an additional ‘f’ would turn his movie into a superhit.

    • I always blame a numerologist for misspelled titles, even maybe when it isn’t true :D It’s so annoying! But this movie is lots of fun to watch as long as you don’t mind leaving logic and any kind of restraint far, far behind.

  5. Memsaab, where do you get them? This is as bad as Chaila Babu, and boy, that was terrible. You really suffer for us, don’t you? ;-)

    • I agree with u. Memsaab do go out of her way to suffer for us. She is so good in all she does. Her writings and comments do drive the points home. How I wish I have at least a fraction of her talents. Way to go Memsaab. You are very very special. So on behalf of all your loyal fans I wish you a blessed long life. May you be endowed with more wisdom. Amen!!! Paul

    • Now, see, THIS is not suffering. Bhartiya naari movies—those are suffering. But these are just plain amazing in their madness!

    • It is the best one I’ve read…as I said elsewhere, it made me cry.

      • Yes, as far as I know no one has really written up a proper tribute. This is one of the few good ones I have seen. Of course the old movies are played quite often on some of the satellite channels in India and when a stars birthday comes up its a whole weekend of back-to-back movie tribute. So in a sense its been a long drawn out tribute to RK and Dharmendra and Amitabh etc… That might explain some of this apathy.

  6. …nobody EVER dies in the river in Indian movies…

    sure they do. but then they get reincarnated a la Sunil Dutt and Nutan in ‘Milan’ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milan_(1967_film)

  7. Ah Fiffty Fiffty! Saw it on TV as a kid. I don’t remember much about it but I do remember my mom saying that it made no sense!

  8. “Someone (not me) should do a study on the effects of “nature versus nurture” in switched babies in Hindi cinema. It would be an interesting Master’s thesis or something and there is plenty of fodder out there.”
    Indeed it is; we have at least one whole movie that argues nature beats nurture. In other words, a petty thief’s son brought up by kindhearted rich singer goes on to become a petty brat, and the said rich singer retains the goodness of his heart, nay his blood, even if brought up by the said petty thief: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072870/

    “Nobody EVER dies in the river in Indian movies”
    Actually not true. Akshay Kumar’s Sabse Bada Khiladi has a very complex plot in which the whole suspense hinges on the child thrown in the river actually being dead. Then again, it is the exception that proves the rule: through most of the film, we the audience are deceived into believing that maybe the kid really survived, and we ARE fooled, not because the film builds its conceit so cleverly, but because… well because it’s a Hindi film, and when kids are thrown into rivers, experience tells us that they’ll turn up alive and handsome after a dozen years or so. (Don’t bother watching SBK though; it’s very. very. bad)

    • Thanks for the SBK warning…there are so many movies in Hindi cinema where babies are switched either by accident or on purpose…would be fascinating to see a pattern in how they play out. I am sure there is one, whether that’s by accident or on purpose!

      • Wasn’t “nature vs nurture” the main theme of Awaara (1951)? And then copied in Parvarish (1977)?

        • It’s the main theme of several films, but I’m not talking about it as a subject of films. There are so many like this, where kids are brought up by the wrong parents but that issue is never addressed as part of the story. It’d be interesting to collect all of them and see how the kids turned out. But like I said—not me. :D

      • It’s on purpose. The Indian film industry firmly believes in “jo chalta hai, use kyon badlein” – why change something that works. In the 90s, film actors, producers et al would blatantly say this in their interviews, explaining away the total lack of innovation in their product.

        • As a plot point that’s true; what I mean is that examining the plot point in terms of “nature versus nurture” is not usually a concern additionally.

  9. Me love this movie too – even though I don’t remember anything about it except the “pyar ka waada” song. I saw it as a kid during my Rajesh Khanna and face and found the whole thing delirious fun. And Rajesh K tres cute! Like Anu, I think I’ll watch it again.

  10. I have watched this movie as a kid and “Phir Wahi Raat” (1980) a few days back. While I can’t comment on FF, I thoroughly enjoyed PWR. I am sure you will also like it. Its available on you tube too without any commercial breaks :-)

  11. Considering even a hardcore Rajesh Khanna fan like Suhan disliked this film,I’m still hesitant on watching it.
    Enjoyed your review though!

    • I know, but Suhan has TASTE. You have to leave taste behind to watch these, which is a very easy thing for me to do :P

      • Ouch! You’ll never accuse me of that! But this one did give me a headache :-) Anaad, one of the forum stalwarts, was incensed at all of Kaka’s bad films and said he must’ve really hated his fans to have made them. I cited this one and asked whether there were others that one should avoid. He mentioned ‘Janwaar’ but alas that I loved :-)

        But given your delightful write-up, it’s time for a re-evaluation. Especially to see poor Indrani M soldier on so heroically in all that suffering. It didn’t help either that here she was his mother especially if you had seen them in ‘Aakhri Khat’ – Hindi cinema and heroine ageism, what a pain it is. Another reason I had a problem with this is Tina. She’s so pretty and sparkly on screen but that dialogue delivery totally kills it – awful. Sharmila Tagore has talked often enough about Kaka’s wonderful voice and dialogue delivery being one of the key elements that went into making him so successful on screen and I am in total agreement with her. Take away his voice, as they did with his daku in ‘Bhola Bhala’ and none of his other attributes like his smile, eyes, etc. seem to come together. At least that’s what I think :-)

      • Well,I too have a taste and it isn’t entirely different from what Suhan ji has. I do try to indulge sometimes in escapist stuff,but going by your review,I guess,it’s not that easy for me to watch.
        But then,I always rely on your reviews. I can differentiate from your reviews,which are the ones that are really good and the ones that are so bad they are good.(And you end up enjoying them. :P )

  12. The song got me to laugh but I am not investing any more time in this. Good to see another Rajesh movie review though.

  13. Fifty Fifty is one of the classic and evergreen movie of all times of Super Star Rajesh Khanna during 1981

    Now the whole world understood and came to know the real truth that Rajesh Khanna is the real Super Star of Indian Cinema. No actor can even match that Talent. My Salute to the one and only King of Romance. Even though there were few good actors from Bollywood…Now thinking back…I truly feel no one had the edge like Rajesh Khanna. May God bless his soul. He is true and complete actor.

  14. @Memsaab – I think I first heard of Fifty Fifty through what we called ‘story sharing’ – in my school years we would spend a lot of our free time by sharing stories of movies to others who had not. Your review seems to have refreshed some of those memories.
    I feel this is something I might like with some help from the FF button.

  15. By the time I got to “a mute illiterate downtrodden mother ” I was already collapsed over my desk in giggles.

  16. Thank you Memsaab, this review just hit the spot.

  17. Dear friends All fans of KAKA, we have a special information for you some thing to be very proud about type the name Rajesh Khanna in google and just see the number of links which appear – 5 CRORES 88 LAKHS and continously increasing , second only to Salman Khan who has 6 .5 Crores , Amitabh Bachchan has 4.50 Crores , Shaharukh 3.20 Crores , Aamir 4.50 Crores , Dev Anand – 45 lakhs , Shammi Kapoor 33 lakhs , Shashi Kapoor 33 lakhs , Dilip Kumar 46 lakhs , Raj Kapoor 55 lakhs, Dharmendra 66 lakhs , Hrithik Roshan 1.50 Crores . And at the pace its increasing he may overtake Salman too , in the morining when i saw it was 5.20 Crores its now close to 6. Now its responsibility of the fans of Rajesh Khanna and the media to highlight this … The Tiger roars again

    Now the whole world has come to know the real and true Super Star Rajesh Khanna of Indian Cinema. No actor can even match that Talent. My Salute to the one and only King of Romance. Even though there were few good actors from Bollywood. Now thinking back. We truly feel no one had the edge like Rajesh Khanna. May God bless his soul. He is true and complete actor. It seems acting comes naturally for him. Such a rare talent.

    • Well that may be due to Anita Advani wanting “Fifty – Fifty” in RK’s property :D.

      As usual it is a song – “Pyar Ka Wada Fifty Fifty” which plays a bookmark in my memory for this film. I don’t think I have seen this movie – but Rajesh Khanna repeatedly asking Indrani Mukherjee to say something despit her being plainly mute seems to ring a bell. Poor Indrani – she really got an awful deal. Can’t stand her scenes of domestic violence – but there are such sad realities.

      Practically everybody seems to have been switched or play switched roles here :). A real bonanza for you Memsaab.

  18. Of course, pyaar ka vaada fifty-fifty. Thanks for bringing that up again in my memory. As for the rest, luscious Tina and twinkly Rajesh, and all I can ever think of, when I think of them together, is the interview they did, for Stardust (I am sure) with cover-page headlines, “We share a toothbrush.” Rajesh Khanna’s life contained a lot of excitement for all of us, in the more fuddy-duddy days of yore.

  19. Convent school education, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Rajesh Khanna have had the most profound influence on who I am today at almost 50. Anyone else feel that way?

  20. Yes, I remember the “we share the toothbrush” thing and it was really awful. Indrani Mukherjee came out of the closet after Rajesh Khanna’s death. She lives in Nashik now after having migrated from Mumbai in 1992. She was one of the actresses who donned up a mother’s hat much earlier in her career.

    Purnima who plays the Thakurain is current serial kisser Emran Hashmi’s grandmother and Mahesh Bhatt’s maasi.

  21. Oh memsaab! I rented this movie on netflix with such high hopes of entertainment after reading your review but this is the first time I have to disagree with you ( and it is a Rajesh film!) In fact I enjoyed your review a whole lot more than the movie.
    Yes, Rajesh looks as delicious as ever, songs are also good, but the movie was too disjoint for me to get into. I don’t know exactly at what point Rajesh and Tina fall in love! I don’t see any of the usual tender-Rajesh-getting-the-heroine-hooked scenes (may be edited out in the DVD I have? I don’t know). Heck, he has more emotional scenes with Indrani Mukharjee (whom I really really like and I think is too OTT in this one) than Tina. Instead of all those new subplots popping up one-after-the-other, even the Khajana had to have a trick, I wish it had more Rajesh and Tina cozying up to each other, which would have made this die-hard Rajesh fan a lot happier *sigh*

  22. A nice comedy which proved that kaka is good in comedy also. Nice pairing with tina. It was a super hit at the box office.

  23. What do you mean age inappropriate? He was Rajesh Khanna ,the man oozed charisma! And Tina who probably grew up with his movies was clearly star struck. They had a hot affair at the time. RK wanted to marry him but his “wife” wouldn’t give him a divorce. I love seeing the sight of a middle age RK romancing the super hot Tina Munim. The man had a potbelly and looked like he never exercised a day in his life. He still looked handsome though. Fun, fun movie. Not as much as Suthen where a super over fed and pampered looking RK romances the less than half his age the very very super hot TM.

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