Coolie (1983)

Somewhere on the world wide web it says: “Coolie was the biggest grocer of 1983!” Heh heh. That is probably due to the fact that its star Amitabh Bachchan was seriously injured on the sets and almost died—everyone knows that story by now. Many people write the film off now as the same old hackneyed Manmohan Desai story with an aging Big B who was no longer hero material, but I really liked it. Sure, it has now-familiar Desai themes, and it is predictable. Predictably good!!!

Plus, this film is a little less crazed than some of his others. It sticks mostly with the main story, weaving in the side plots more neatly than usual. It’s also a bit lighter on the religious symbolism (most of the characters are Muslim, and secularism is waved at only in passing) and on the usual heavy-handed preaching and long-winded speeches.

Aslam (Satyendra Kapoor) and his wife Salma (Waheeda Rehman) live with their son Iqbal. Salma’s brother Nathu (Nilu Phule) and his wife stop by to visit with their infant son. They are one happy family!

Their contentment and the baby’s birthmark spell trouble ahead.

Trouble is being released from jail at this very moment in the form of Zafar Khan (Kader Khan). He is a bad, bad man who has been lusting after Salma for years. His first stop outside the big house is Salma’s father, who owns a lot of birds.

Furious that he has married off Salma to someone else, Zafar stabs her father and leaves. The old man writes a note to Salma in his dying moments and sends it off with his falcon Allarakha (could it be Sheroo the Wonder Bird?).

Meanwhile Zafar has gone to see Salma, who sends him packing. He hastens to the dam where Aslam works and manages to breach it, causing Aslam to be washed away. Nathu and his family are caught in the waters too. The broken dam floods the town, but someone rescues Salma and gets her onto a rooftop where she lies unconscious. Zafar passes overhead in his helicopter (being bad has its perks) and snatches her away.

Poor little Iqbal manages to make his way to his flooded home, but there is no one there until his uncle Nathu shows up, having watched his wife and birthmarked baby get carried off by the raging waters.

Now with Zafar, who is posing as her husband, Salma has lost her memory and is not speaking. The doctor recommends that Zafar get her lost child back to her, pronto.

[Side note: the list of ingredients for masala films should also include as number 21: Spurious medical diagnoses. End side note.]

Zafar gets a baby from an orphanage and gets on a train out of town with Salma. Iqbal and his Mama are at the station where Nathu works as a coolie. Iqbal sees her as the train is pulling out and runs after it.

She only stares at him, though, and he can’t keep up. Zafar sends his henchman Bob (Puneet Issar) after the boy to finish him off. Nathu comes to Iqbal’s rescue, but Bob hacks one of his arms off. Allarakha arrives in a flurry of feathers and claws and beak and vanquishes Bob. Iqbal vows to be his uncle’s new arm and:

Cut to the station, years later. A train pulls in and a wealthy man named Puri (Om Shivpuri) and his son Vicky (Suresh Oberoi) get off. An elderly porter takes their luggage, including a basket containing their fluffy white Pomeranian, who promptly bites him. He drops everything including the dog and Vicky hits the old man viciously. The rest of the coolies gather around; they are unimpressed when Puri tells them he’s a Railway Advisory Board member and Vicky pulls a gun on Nathu. Allarakha swoops down, snatching it from his hand, and flies away.

The police show up during the ensuing fight and when they threaten to arrest Iqbal, the coolies go on strike. They stay on strike (causing people to have to carry their own luggage! the humanity!) until the Railway Advisory Board chief agrees to a hearing. Puri quits rather than ask “forgivance” (as the subtitle says) from Iqbal.

Well what’s one more enemy when the whole world treats you like dirt, anyway? Meanwhile, the baby that Salma adopted with Zafar has grown up to be Sonny (Rishi Kapoor), a nice guy who drinks too much and wants to be a journalist.

He meets an editor by the name of Iyengar (Mukri) who has a wayward daughter named Deepa (Shoma Anand). Sonny mistakes Deepa for the mother of septuplets (a very short cameo by Tun Tun) and publishes her picture under a screaming headline on the front page of Iyengar’s newspaper. This finishes off the engagement Deepa’s parents had arranged for her.

Iqbal still pines for his mother. He has her photo enshrined and talks to it every day. Poor Salma is subjected to regular electric shock “treatments” to keep her from remembering anything. Zafar considers her his prize—a symbol of his omnipotent power.

Deepa drinks to forget her childhood sweetheart.

So does Sonny! They don’t recognize each other but each has been pining for the other since they were separated as kids, and carries half of a torn photograph around.

They begin scamming poor Iyengar and his wife (Shubha Khote): Deepa runs away from home and a disguised Sonny “finds” her and returns her to her parents for a hefty reward, which they then split. Throughout this, lots of fun is poked—at South Indians in particular.

One day, though, Iqbal passes Deepa and recognizes her from the “Reward” advertisement in the paper. This results in a hilarious song (“Lambuji Lambuji”) during which Iqbal and Sonny argue over who gets to return Deepa for the reward.

They also become friends.

Nathu and the other coolies have invested money in a housing scheme and have finally saved the remaining balance for their rooms. The scheme has been taken over by none other than Mr. Puri and Vicky who now refuse to honor the agreement the porters had made with the previous owner.

Puri is guardian to an heiress named Julie (Rati Agnihotri). He wants to get her married to Vicky so that they can share in her fortune, but she is resisting because she wants to avenge her father’s death before she marries. Puri blackmails her into agreeing by faking a heart attack.

The coolies, led by Iqbal, crash the engagement party and demand the homes they had been promised. Iqbal (after managing to destroy many of Puri’s possessions) carts Julie off with him as a hostage. It’s pretty much love at first sight although Julie manages to escape after tying Iqbal up in knots (you’ll have to watch).

Having seen the poverty in which Iqbal lives, she convinces Puri that she will marry Vicky if he gives the coolies their housing, and he agrees. She and Iqbal continue their romance.

The coolies have deposited their money in the Bob Chit Fund Office, which is owned by Zafar and run by Bob (the very Bob who had cut off Nathu’s arm years ago). Before they get there Zafar’s other henchmen arrive and tell Bob that the office is about to be raided. As they are making off with all the money, the coolies arrive. During the fight that ensues, the screen freezes:

followed by the punch, where it freezes again:

I don’t know whether to be amazed, horrified or morbidly curious, and settle for a mixture of all three. I am not so distracted that I don’t see a gaping plot hole here—Sonny is present at the scene too but fails to recognize his father’s main henchman Goga, who practically lives with Zafar. In fact, he is almost shot by Goga but uses his typewriter case to deflect the bullet.

Afterwards, he tells Iqbal that his mother—whose photo he keeps taped inside the lid of the case—has saved his life. Iqbal sits down and confides in him about losing his mother.

Will Sonny show Iqbal the photo? Will he see it by mistake? Or will we have to wait? The suspense, it kills me!! Will Julie marry Vicky despite her love for Iqbal? Will Sonny find out that he’s adopted? Who are his real parents? Will he and Deepa discover that they are each other’s childhood sweethearts? Will Salma ever regain her memory? Where is Iqbal’s father? Did he really die in the flood? What about the baby with the birthmark? And who killed Julie’s father? Can evil men like Zafar, Puri and Vicky ever really be stopped? Can it all be wrapped up in less than three hours? (Okay, yes, but not much less).

Watch Coolie to find out. It’s good wholesome entertaining masala fun and will kill off a dreary Sunday afternoon before you know it!

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34 Comments to “Coolie (1983)”

  1. Gosh they really make a shrine to AB’s injury! Poor Puneet Issar got a lot of flak for big B’s almost fatal injury. I can still remember the hysteria it generated in India – national newspapers carried news of AB’s health on the front-page. And that in the days when filmi news never made it to newspaper front page!

  2. Yes, and at the end *SPOILER* when he recovers successfully from being shot in the chest three times he comes out on the balcony of the hospital like royalty and waves at all the coolies who have been praying (at different churches, mosques and temples) for his recovery. *END SPOILER*

    You gotta give the people what they want.

  3. this is one of the best backwass masala movies ever made?! it had a whole plate full of masala elements thrown onto the screen. lost bhais, memory-challenged maa’s, hindu/muslim/christian references, though i do love that silly shot where they found it necessary to show “this is the scene where amitabh got his intestines kicked in’
    As much as i hate to say this, i whole-heartedly loved this movie while my mum was gagging from all the masala-ness! though i wouldn’t mind if manmohan did leave the part of amit dying it woulda made a bit of sense! and that hilarious yoga-omelette scene, i was passed out from laughing too hard! and it had suresh in it, and his wonderful flippy sunglasses, and his general aura of HAWTNESS! and i liked rishi waay more than amitabh here, coz he was did the “broody cry” if only he read your poster on the pitfalls of alcohol then he wouldn’t have taken his dad’s kidney!
    Thanks for reviewing this movie, it is a silly but great movie,
    ciao as me and allah-rakha/sheroo walk off into the sunset!

  4. Rum: You are so right, Rishi should have had my Beware of Alcohol poster for sure. And I’m glad you mention Suresh—I think this is the first film I have ever seen him in and he WAS hot, though evil. And I think you also just reminded me that there should be a 22nd masala ingredient on my list: An animal, preferably a dog or a bird, who is smarter than most of the people around.

  5. This is one which is one my list to see! I love the Big B in full-on masala mode!

  6. After this movie was released, another talk of the town was the flipping glasses used by Suresh Oberoi (or was it Kader Khan? I forget) where the shades can be flipped up and down. (I think it was Suresh.)

  7. Filmi Girl: I think you’ll love it!

    Amit: It was Suresh; AB called them his “windows” :-) or at least the subtitles did!

  8. That birthmark is so perfectly etched- I am completely mesmerized :D

    Despite the obvious regionalism provoked by the Lambuji song, I do think both Rishi (a lil more) and Amit ( a lil less) look really funny in their curly wigs and pencil-thin moustaches- and what outfits!

    and I am convinced that hawk/eagle was the best part of the movie!

  9. They were hysterical. I love a good politically-incorrect song.

  10. Manmohan Desai is the greatest. I adore this quote from Connie Haham’s book:

    “Who wants to see realism? People in the West! There’s always some bright aspect, even to a poor man’s life. I’m saying that there should be humour in a film. These art filmmakers think humor is a sin, it’s a cardinal sin for a person to laugh in an auditorium, according to them. What’s wrong with a person having a bit of enjoyment in the theatre?”

    And, a question: Is Kader Khan the actor the same person as Kader Khan the scriptwriter? Thanks!

    • Yes Kader Khan the actor is the same person as Kader Khan the scriptwriter. He was a writer who was brought into movies by Manmohan desai in Roti (1972) I believe

  11. I cannot stop laughing about the freeze-framing of the shot where Big B gets his stomach punched in. OMG.

    Okay, now that I got that out of the way (am sick) I think I need to take some sort of masala supplement because I just read the synopsis twice and still can’t make heads or tails of it. There has to be a way to increase my masala-following ability!

  12. This sounds good. And it has Rishi; it is going on my list of movies I need to watch. There is little that pleases me more than a horribly convoluted plot and bogus medical conditions (Yes, I know I am strange).

  13. I just saw the first 10 minutes, and it certainly makes no bones about starting!
    Are dodgy special effects a part of masala? Two that deserve mention in the beginning are the plastic bird swooping down to Waheeda’s house and the particularly bad plastic doll floating down the river whose has (I hope later) been substituted by an out of proportion real baby head!

  14. One thing, however extravagant masala movies maybe, real life in India always seems to beat it. I regularly read my daily paper, and unbelievable stories like this seem to turn up too often:

    who can blame masala movie writers? At least they give us happy endings.

  15. Laura: He was so completely right about that. I demand a happy ending even though my life is not a hard one by any stretch of the imagination! And yes, I believe it is the same Kader Khan.

    ajnabi: Practice my dear, it’s practice. And anyway I think these films were meant to entertain a repeat audience; you have to see them at least two-three times to catch everything.

    Gebruss: If you are strange, then all of us here are too! :-)

    bawa: Yes, dodgy special effect certainly are part and parcel of the masala experience. The bird had an even worse stand-in in Dharam Veer! And I read Indian newspapers every day, just for that jaw-dropping WTF?! experience.

  16. Lord, I’d forgotten the entire middle portion of this movie. The real tragedy of that injury of AB’s is not that AB was injured (however terrible it must have been) but what it did to that poor man who landed the punch. He was blacklisted for years and it wasn’t until the 90s that he was able to move past it. Pretty steep price to pay for an honest mistake.

    They stay on strike (causing people to have to carry their own luggage! the humanity!) … well, when you put it like THAT!!! Bwahahaha!!!!

  17. Ah, Coolie… one of the few AB movies that didn’t work for me at all. It felt like an all-you-can-eat masala fest with stale food on the menu.

    Puneet Issar really got screwed for that mistake — I think what finally got him noticed was the TV serial Mahabharat where he played Duryodhan. Not a bad thing in some ways, coz otherwise he probably would’ve been well-entrenched as a villain in the Hindi B-movie universe, playing henchmen to the Doctor Dang’s of the world. This way, when you mention his name, everyone who watched TV in the late eighties immediately knows who you’re talking about. But I don’t think he would’ve seen it that way back then.


  18. And yes, it is the same Kader Khan. He even wrote the dialogues for Sharaabi, the AB-Jayapradha starrer.

  19. Amrita/Ramsu: Did AB try to mitigate the fallout for poor Puneet? It doesn’t seem like he would have himself blamed him for it…it was a freak accident.

    Amrita: I have to admit that after three weeks in India I’m glad to have coolies to carry my luggage. The textiles don’t weigh so much, but all the books about Bollywood and the DVDs tend to add up. Sometimes I’m surprised that the plane home can actually get off the ground! ;-)

    Ramsu: I liked it, I thought it was a lot less OTT than MD’s other films. Maybe by then when you were seeing films in the theaters only it was tired tired tired, though, I can see that. Luckily I can offset my masala dosage with other genres and periods :-)

  20. Far as I know, AB never blamed him for the accident but the poor guy had to deal with the trauma of having landed the punch, plus public vilification for a long while. I believe he got death threats and things while AB was in the hospital and had to go underground for a while. After that he was pretty much unemployable until Mahabharat came along, like Ramsu says.

  21. What I meant was did AB actually DO anything publicly to try and help Puneet? Did he make a public statement about it not being Puneet’s fault, or anything like that?

  22. Hi..didn’t know that you had an entry on Coolie as well.

    I recently stated a bollywood blog myself and the first entry I made was ‘Coolie’. Must confess that the quality of your review and the captures were far more interesting than my attempt.

  23. This is another crap from MDK
    his films were senseless but entertaining like AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY, PARVARISH, NASEEB

    but this was utter crap just showcasing on the star power of Bachchan

    The major highlight was the accident which occured which made the film work

  24. What version of the DVD did you get? The version I got has very poor quality video and no subtitles on the songs.

    • Ha! Proof that dvd companies slapping their logos all over the screen doesn’t help them market themselves! ;-)

      • COOLIE was a mediocre movie and of course Amitabh’s injury helped it a lot. He was huge then and the injury was a nation wide known occurance and discussion. he was (and is) a great artist. If I remember right in 81’s Filmfare article they had top 20 heroes listed and Amitabh was 1 thru 10. From 74 thru 80 he had 21 films and 17 were hits or super-hits!

        Freezing the frame was needed to let his fans know and this movie is small piece of Mr Bachchans great body of work

  25. I only remember this movie because of the excellent fight scenes by Pappu Verma! (specially the 1st fight with Suresh Oberoi – excellent camerawork)

  26. Coolie was one of the biggest hits in 83..Saw the shooting of the song(Humka Isak hua) at Children’s home in Mankhurd Mumbai …I still remember children talking abt their fathers taking the day off from work from BARC to see Amitabh shooting…The huge crowds at the shoot spoke volumes of his popularity as a superstar…Great Masala movie with the best action scenes ever in a Manmohan Desai movie….

  27. I’ve been wanting to watch this movie for the longest time, since I LOVE Amitabh Bachan, and tonight as I was flipping through the channels, I saw AB’s face, and stopped right there. I started watching it from the part where him and his fellow coolies are waiting for a train and as one pulls in all the coolies begin to run. I instantly knew this was Coolie, and instantly knew this was going to be a great movie. I was watching it by myself, and was laughing hysterically whenever the Eagle flew in, and was passing comments to myself like, “WTF, this is awesome!” “Allah Rakha to the rescue!” I thanked god later that I was watching it by myself, because if someone were with me, they would’ve walked away, disgusted by my interest in the movie, and how I found it so enthralling. I couldn’t get over the bling Allah Rakha was wearing, which had a massive Allah written, Kader Khan’s falling to his death( The stuffed body was just hilarious and how it was falling made me almost fall to the floor laughing). Kader Khan’s shades were the shit, seriously, I want a pair just like his! I give the movie an A+ for everything. Everyone acted so well, the dialogues were awesome, and the special effects just blew me away. I’m going to watch this movie again, so that I can watch the start, since I missed it. The still of AB being punched in the gut was just a little weird, since it made me feel bad for the actor who punched him, and made me a little sad too. The idea of AB being so badly hurt and actually seeing the pain on his face, made me thank god I wasn’t alive in 1983 because I would’ve probably broken into the hospital AB was in, and would’ve tried to save his life myself (yes, I’m that obsessed). Did they stop the shooting right there and then? Or did they go on for a few more seconds and then cut? Just wish the songs were better and catchier like other Amitabh Bachan songs. I also loved that when dividing the ransom the first time, Rishi Kapoor was dressed as Akbar Allahbadi, from Manmohan Desai’s ‘ Amar, Akbar, Anthony’
    This movie made my boring Independence Day a lot better. We Pakistani’s love Bollywood, and everything about it. I on the other hand feel like I’m an old soul (I was born in 1987), the old Bollywood movies do it for me, and I’ve seen more old movies than new. I loved this piece on the movie, I was actually looking for a picture of Allah Rakha with the Allah bling around his neck, but couldn’t find it, but reading this page made up for it. Amitabh Bachan is AWESOME. And I feel like he gets finer with age, like wine. Hahahaha. He was way better looking at the age Abhishekh Bachan is now. Abishekh can’t ever be as good looking or a better actor than his dad.

    • As far as I know, they weren’t aware immediately how badly Amitabh was hurt. Don’t know how long it took them to stop shooting though. I am glad there’s another Coolie fan out there, I loved it too!

      I know what you mean about old soul…I am much older than you are, but even when I was young I preferred “old” Hollywood films to the new ones coming out :)

  28. I am sure there are lot more Coolie fan including me … I have lost count on how many times I have seen this movie. Right from Amitabh’s Grand Entry scene to final Climax, movie is such a solid punch. Its not easy to make movies on Coolies and labors, but this movie was so true to its subject(coolie) and yet so entertaining. Probably world’s one and only movie based on Coolie(Coolie No. 1 was not about coolies) … I still get goose bumps seeing so many brilliantly executed scenes. Entry scene of course, that entire sequence of Coolie’s Strike, Lambu Ji Tingu Ji song sequence, Entire sequence of Coolies entered to Vicky and Puri house, Chit fund office fight, Amitah kidnapping Rati, Umbrella scene and Rati’s confession of her love and further Dono Jawani Ki Song, Salma’s hitting bullet, Hazz sequence, Jawani Ki Rail song, Iqbaal electing, Climax dramatic speech and of course legendry sequence of Iqbaal hit by bullets. Background score still gives goose bumps.

    In my top masala movies of all time .. Coolie would top the list followed by AAA and Karma.

  29. i would like to know the name of the young Iqbal.

  30. One of the first Hindi films I watched. I must confess I was feeling completely lost, trying to figure out the reason for most of the scenes and feeling overwhelmed by the scene changes. I loved the yoga-omelette scene though.
    Some ppl might find this movie a little too much…I love it though…call me a dreamer or whatever but I love these over the top, romantic, action filled movies with a happy ending.

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