Manmohan Desai! How I adore you. And this sort-of-medieval swashbuckler with snake gods, sword-fights, dacoit Ranjeet, Bela Bose as a greedy courtesan, and Jeetendra and Shatrughan Sinha as brothers on opposite sides of that pesky line between good and evil has not changed my mind one little bit. The setting is gorgeous too, as the movie was shot on location at the spectactular Laxmi Vilas Palace belonging to the Maharajah of Baroda. It’s much less loony than the film it vaguely reminded me of (Dharam-Veer); I guess, my dear Manmohan, you hadn’t quite reached your full masala stride yet. Still, it’s an entertainer in your trademark style, with lots of action and well-drawn characters.
Wealthy Thakur Sahab (DK Sapru) has two sons. The older, Ram (Shatrughan Sinha) is married to the lovely and good Gayatri (Indrani Mukherjee) but spends all his free time—and any money he can get his hands on—at Munnibai’s (Bela Bose) kotha, where he drinks and gambles each and every night away. Ram is a bad, bad husband and father. He ignores his wife and daughter, and only shows up at home when he needs more money.
The younger son, Bharat (Jeetendra) is obedient and devout, and spends his time taking lessons from his Guru (Bipin Gupta), the family priest. Despite Ram’s debauched ways, Bharat worships him as a good younger brother should.
There is a temple on the family property in which a Snake God protects a bejewelled sword belonging to the family. It will kill any outsider who tries to take it; dacoit Maan Singh (Tiwari) makes the mistake of trying one day, and pays with his life. His son, Mangal Singh (Ranjeet), manages to escape after being shot in the leg by Ram.
The Thakur has no patience for Ram and his wayward lifestyle, and they fight daily, but he clearly loves his sadly neglected bahu and granddaughter.
Ram is accompanied in all his wrongdoing by Mamaji (Jeevan). Mamaji has a wife (Praveen Paul) and daughter Sushma (Jayshree T). Bharat’s best friend Jaggi (a hilarious Jagdeep) is romancing Sushma behind her parents’ backs—her mother doesn’t want her to get married because an astrologer has foretold that she will die on her daughter’s wedding day, and Mamaji is…well, too busy carousing with Ram.
Bharat has a somewhat combative relationship going with his Guru’s daughter Rupa (Hema Malini), as we can tell from her teasing song “Chor Chor” one morning.
But when the priest approaches Thakur Sahab with a proposal that Rupa and Bharat marry, everyone is thrilled, including Rupa and Bharat. They seal their engagement with a great song (“Bol Meri Gudiya”) featuring a pair of dolls. Well-done special effects (courtesy of Babubhai Mistry) bring the dolls alive as a miniature Rupa and Bharat arguing about their responsibilities after marriage. All the songs in this are great, by the way—the music is by Sonik Omi and the lyricist is the great Sahir Ludhianvi.
This happiness is short-lived of course! The Thakur catches Ram stealing some money one night and expires in a rage (it’s kind of poignant, actually, and his last words are a sad—and ironic—“Hey Ram”). Ram leaves him there dying and goes back to Munnibai. Ram is a bad, bad son!
In the wake of the Thakur’s death, Ram assumes that he will inherit everything and he even goes so far as to invite Munnibai to come and perform there. As Bharat tries to reason with him over this insult to both their father and Ram’s wife Gayatri, a lawyer arrives to tell them that the Thakur has in fact left everything to Bharat and Gayatri, with Ram to receive nothing unless and until he reforms.
An enraged Ram tries to force Bharat to sign everything over to him, but Bharat refuses and Ram whips him ferociously (what IS it with whips in Hindi cinema? Pran is always whipping people too, and Manmohan Desai seems positively addicted to them). He refuses to fight back and is pretty badly hurt (Ram is a bad, bad brother!). Rupa hears about it and comes, not to offer sympathy, but to scold Bharat for his passivity.
She tells him she won’t marry him until he learns to stand up to Ram, and stomps off.
Bharat is about to be forced into standing up to Ram, anyway. He overhears Mamaji and Ram plotting to kill him and take over the estate from Gayatri. He dreams up an elaborate plan and executes it with Jaggi’s help. They “disguise” themselves as dacoit Mangal Singh and one of his men.
This just makes me die laughing, especially the skull and bones “dacoit tattoo” (get it?) which Jaggi sports very proudly (flexing his biceps to show it off at every opportunity). Jaggi kidnaps Mamaji and Sushma, and brings them to their den. Mamaji instantly recognizes Bharat, but is soon convinced that Mangal Singh is Bharat’s double. They torment him (and poor innocent Sushma) by making Sushma dance, which I find acceptable only because:
Bharat points out Mamaji’s double standards when he protests:
and Jayshree T dances up a storm to a lovely song called “Aaja Meri Jawani.”
After Mamaji pays a huge ransom to get his daughter back (Bharat—as himself—gives him the money), he tells Ram that he’s found a lookalike who could take the place of Bharat once they kill him. They visit “Mangal Singh” who agrees to stand in for Ram for a price.
Bharat allows himself to be lured by Ram into a trap (Jaggi helps out once again).
Ram offers him one more chance to sign over everything, and when he refuses, he shoots Bharat “dead.”
Now we are interrupted by a scene which seemed kind of random to me, but was very funny nonetheless. Jaggi dresses up as Yamraj the God of Death and saves Sushma from being burned alive by her mother, who is upset that Sushma spent the night at a dacoit’s den (like she had any choice!). Jagdeep is absolutely hilarious as Yamraj (or—as he says—Kumar Yamraj). Yamraj is apparently famous for sending minions in his place.
Anyway, Bharat soon shows up at the palace as agreed, posing as Mangal Singh posing as Bharat. He uses his knowledge of Ram’s evil deed to blackmail him into giving up his vices. This does not sit well with Ram, and he begins to wonder if his trade-in was really a good idea.
Will Bharat succeed in reforming his beloved older brother? Can such a bad, bad (vile, really) person be reformed? And where is the real Mangal Singh? Here’s a clue:
It’s another rocking good time from Manmohan Desai, packed full of brotherly love, duty, forgiveness, humor, great songs—and a fantastically breath-taking and snake-filled finale!