My beloved Shammi’s second (and last) directorial venture, Bundal Baaz is a fantastical fairy tale beset by really cracktastic special effects (courtesy of Babubhai Mistry, one of the pioneers of special effects photography in Hindi cinema). It’s a goofy, fun ride, although the plot wanders quite a bit. Shammi as the genie with good intentions but poor execution shows his usual mischievous flair, and the music by RD Burman is great 1970’s funk-a-delic which complements the mayhem on screen perfectly.
Our story opens at college, where an impoverished student named Raja (Rajesh Khanna) dreams of making it big and winning his true love Nisha (Neetu Singh look-a-like Sulakshana Pandit).
His rival for her affections, Ranjit (Ranjeet) is the class bully and a cheat; but Ranjit’s father and Nisha’s father are close friends and want their children to get married when they graduate. Raja’s roommate and best friend Gopal (Asrani)—also poor—knows the truth of his circumstances, but Raja has fooled everyone else into believing he has a rich father (as most of them do). After he graduates he returns to his village, where he discovers that his sister Malti (Farida Jalal) and his aunt (Lalita Pawar) are being harassed by the local moneylender to repay the money lent to them for Raja’s education, or he will force Malti to marry him. Raja is overwhelmed at their sacrifices.
He returns to Bombay to find work so he can send money home, and is befriended by Sulaiman (Johnny Walker), who buys bottles and boxes for recycling, and teaches Raja the trade. Raja begins earning money and sends some home to his village. He also meets Gopal again, but doesn’t contact Nisha since he is too poor to court her. When he does run into her (as of course he must), she is going into a New Year’s Eve masquerade party, and thinks that his bottle vendor outfit is his costume. She drags him in with her, where he is tormented again by Ranjit, and further realizes the gulf between himself and Nisha (he entertains with a lovely song, “Kya Hua Yaaron”).
He slips out and returns home, sad and heartbroken. He takes his sack of bottles and throws it against the door; one broken bottle rolls outside where a big puff of pink smoke materializes from it. As the smoke clears a genie (Shammi Kapoor) appears.
The genie was imprisoned in the bottle 20,000 years ago by an uncle fed up with his naughtiness. He has sworn an oath to serve his rescuer for a full year, and is going to fulfill this oath whether Raja likes it or not. Chaos ensues! No matter how hard he tries, the genie causes problems for poor Raja. Sulaiman tells the genie about Nisha, and he tries to help bring them together, but Nisha’s father is determined to get her married to Ranjit. Raja’s aunt sends Malti to him from the village to get her out of the moneylender’s way. He marries her off to Gopal in double-quick time (and that’s the last we see of them!). Meanwhile, Nisha and her father fight about Ranjit. Nisha wants to marry Raja no matter how poor he is. When Ranjit and some of his friends try to run down Raja (literally) he is rescued by the genie in a flying car.
Pleased with himself, the genie gives Raja a ring to protect him from Ranjit.
The ring, when twisted on the finger, calls up a demon from the underworld who spouts fire and chants “Zum Zum Bah!” I find him much more funny than scary. Raja can’t handle one genie, let alone two, and he throws the ring away. Ranjit, watching, retrieves it after they go. Ranjit owes money to a bunch of goondas who are after him; his plan is to marry Nisha and then repay them. He enlists the help of the demon by asking him to change him to look like Raja, and vice versa.
Nisha isn’t fooled, since Ranjit hasn’t changed his voice or his manners. Raja and the genie rescue her when he assaults her. They celebrate by flying with the genie over Bombay (this time, without a car).
He transports them to a magical place where they sing another pretty song. I’m reminded of Kashmir Ki Kali with a genie thrown in.
By now Nisha’s father has discovered what a scoundrel Ranjit really is, and told Nisha that she can marry Raja. So Ranjit will have to resort to drastic measures! He and the demon go to Nisha’s house and kidnap her and her father, who is wearing a giant red bow.
When the demon picks up Mr. Sharma by his bow, he says: “Bad manners! Bad manners! Leave my bow!” I cannot not stop laughing (and throughout the rest of the film he keeps muttering “Leave my bow!”). They are taken away to the underworld. The genie and Raja follow, although the genie’s power doesn’t work in the underworld. This is what hell looks like, by the way.
Can they overcome the demon without the help of special powers? Will they rescue Nisha and Sharmaji? What will happen to Ranjit? Watch Bundal Baaz to find out! And watch it for the sheer spectacle of the sets, the costumes, the special effects and the intentional humor too. The story doesn’t much matter.