Hum Paanch (1980)

(Which shall henceforth be known to me as Hum PUNCH.)

I guess I should begin by talking about the really interesting cast of this film: Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Raj Babbar, Amrish Puri, Mithun Chakraborty, Deepti Naval, Sanjeev Kumar, AK Hangal and Kanhaiyalal. Crazy!! My eyes got wider and wider as the credits rolled by. Halfway into the film I scribbled on my notepad: I love this movie! And I did! It was thought-provoking, interesting, sensitively handled, well-acted and gorgeously photographed on location in Karnataka.

But then it went off the rails, combining revenge masala with religion-mythology in a recipe which I am certain my father would tell my mother to go ahead and throw away. Thoughtful became jingoistic, interesting turned to predictable and cliched, sensitive handling and good acting were tossed out the window in favor of bulging eyeballs and sequinned jumpsuits. What a shame!

The story revolves around a small rural village where the local zamindar Veer Pratap Singh (Amrish Puri) rules with an iron fist, as his ancestors have before him. He is nominally the “protector” of the village and its inhabitants but in reality he is a man who will feed a pigeon with his own hands and then kill it for breakfast.

As per tradition, Singh’s blessings are required at every festival and celebration in the village and the villagers themselves call him their “Lord” and sing his praises to the skies.

Singh’s own family is estranged from him: his sister (Gita Siddharth) and nephew Arjun (Raj Babbar) live in the village. Arjun blames Veer Pratap Singh for his father’s suicide—after Singh cheated him out of all his money—and is the only person in the village who dares to stand up to him.

Singh’s brother Krishna (Sanjeev Kumar in a horrifying wig) is a saintly sort who lives at the local temple where Singh keeps him steadily supplied with liquor to keep him from claiming his share of the family property. Singh’s own son (Roopesh Kumar) is a wastrel who is rarely home.

Veer Pratap Singh’s chief bodyguard is a strong young man by the name of Bhima (Mithun Chakraborty) who has grown up in his boss’s household and served him loyally since being orphaned as a boy. Bhima is privy to all of Singh’s secrets, including his unsanctioned “marriage” to one of the village beauties, Soundariya (Shabana Azmi), whom he seduces nightly near the temple.

Now a young son of the village named Suraj (Naseeruddin Shah) arrives home from the city where he has been studying—to no avail, since his father Chandravan failed to send the money necessary for his exams. The reason for this is that Chandravan spends his evenings at Veer Pratap Singh’s palace gambling and has gradually lost all his ancestral property to the landlord.

Fed up, Suraj goes to confront his father—and Veer Pratap Singh.

As he leaves Singh’s property, he passes Soundariya and her two brothers (Uday Chandra and a very young Gulshan Grover!) who have come to plead with the zamindar to do the right thing: she is pregnant, and has told her brothers that she is married to Veer Pratap Singh.

Singh sends his greedy sycophantic manager Lala (Kanhaiyalal in a truly despicable role) out to get rid of them, and then appears himself to repudiate poor Soundariya and have them thrown out.

She is heartbroken and her brothers resigned, but Suraj and Arjun convince them to take their case to the priest (AK Hangal). He calls Veer Pratap Singh to the temple (Singh being a very “pious” man who worships daily) to ask him again about marrying Soundariya.

Bhima (who witnessed the marriage first-hand) is obviously disturbed when Veer Pratap Singh once again denies having married her, but he stays silent.

Nobody believes him, not even the priest—I love that this priest is not in Veer Pratap Singh’s pocket, although he is somewhat ineffective at handling him—but there is nothing they can do.

Soundariya loses her mental balance at this final betrayal too, and we get to watch Shabana do “masala”—one of my favorite sights! Bhima stops the two brothers when they want to chase down Veer Pratap Singh, but he is regretful.

Krishna now makes an appearance, singing (which I come to realize is his main forte) a sanctimonious song about God coming when his devotees ask, but needing their help too sometimes. I confess that all things religious kind of bore me, and this is no exception. This character—despite being mostly sozzled—seems to have otherworldly powers; he knows all about his brother’s faults and Veer Pratap Singh even seems slightly afraid of him when he appears out of nowhere on occasion to intervene. This becomes disappointing after a while, because it lets our more conventional heroes off the hook…but more on that later.

So poor Soundariya is now crazy and her two brothers have joined Suraj and Arjun (at least silently) in their crusade against Veer Pratap Singh’s demonic rule, although nobody seems hopeful of change and Singh’s arrogance and cruelty appear to have no bounds. And we’re only 35 minutes into the film! Yes, really!!!

But as always, pride goes before a fall, and Veer Pratap Singh is about to make a big mistake.

Bhima is in love with village lass Lajiya (Deepti Naval) and when her father agrees to let them get married if Bhima can provide a mangalsutra for her, Bhima goes to Singh to ask for the money to buy one. Veer Pratap Singh scoffs at the idea of Bhima getting married (he is so vile).

I love Bhima’s sweet, sweet answer:

Knowing that Bhima’s request will likely be refused, Suraj has coached him in advance to remind Singh that he’s been working for him for free for twenty years; this absolutely enrages Singh despite Bhima’s humility, and after Bhima reminds him of his broken promises to Soundariya too he beats Bhima with his walking stick.

Bhima refrains from fighting back, but leaves vowing never to go back. Singh then has one of his men annouce to the village at large that Bhima is now persona non grata, not to be fed or housed. Suraj leaves his own home when his deadbeat of a father refuses to let Bhima stay there, and tries to find another place for them to live—to no avail. The entire village closes its doors on them.

Disgusted by their cowardice, Suraj vows to return to the city and leave the village of “dead images” behind. Bhima and Arjun try to stop him, then poor mad Soundariya and her brothers try too. But it is another song from Krishna which changes his mind, about abandoning your own people and your own home.

See what I mean about the wig?

Wily raakshas Lalaji sees the danger in the brotherhood that is now formed (they call themselves the five Pandavas) although he mocks them:

and he tries to warn Veer Pratap Singh.

Will “Hum Paanch” be able to save the cowardly villagers from themselves and from the truly horrible Veer Pratap Singh? Will Bhima be able to marry his beloved Lajiya? What will become of Soundariya (please please don’t stick her with that awful villain)?

Unfortunately this is where the story began to deteriorate (that dreaded Curse of the Second Half!). This whole first hour of meticulous and relatively subtle buildup—my heart is raging and I want vengeance by now!—is left to fall flat like a deflated souffle. Too much emphasis is put on Krishna’s character, and “Hum Paanch” go to waste. They literally disappear from the screen for most of it. Even when Lajiya is threatened by Veer Pratap Singh (which is very scary, to be honest, and well done) it is not her Bhima who saves her.

It’s just boring to watch God conveniently show up, even if he’s in a bad wig!

All the care with plot and character (noticeable even with really bad subtitles) taken with the first half gives way to caricatured formula and obnoxious piety, and the story falls to pieces. It’s like two different people wrote and directed this film. I am sure many references from the Mahabharata went past me (although they weren’t what anyone could call subtle); but even had they not I would have found this disappointing.

Not even the arrival of Aruna Irani and a little helping of tawdry disco could help, and this actually proves my point: the first half didn’t even need disco.

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50 Comments to “Hum Paanch (1980)”

  1. I get to post the first comment! Interesting to read your post but dunno if i will sit thru the movie esp the 2nd half. Why does it make me feel like it is a 80s telugu movie all over again? By that I mean the theme and story.

  2. yep the disco does sound totally out of place considering the story and setting but then film makers tend to pack in all crazy stuff trying to bring in the crowds which quite often they fail in doing so

  3. Awww… no one ever called me a silver dish. What a sweet compliment. But seriously, no, no vendetta flicks.

    • It was truly a melt-melt-melt moment. And Mithun’s character was so sweet in this.

      I love a good revenge flick now and then, but 80s Hindi vengeance output is pretty ugly most of the time.

  4. Hum Paanch was adapted from a Kannada movie ‘Paduvarahalli Pandavaru’ and that movie was more hardhitting than the adaptation. You are right about this one losing its way in the second half. This movie certainly had a great star cast but I felt the original had its characters better etched out. Barring Mithun, I thought most of the other main actors did not get enough of a scope to stand out.

    • Namaskaara Faldo avarige. Hege iddeera? Neevu kannadadavaru antha thileedu tumba khushi aayithu. :-)

      For those who don’t follow Kannada – I am just greeting Faldo since I happen to be a resident of Karnataka where Kannada is the spoken and written language.

      • Shashi, Naanu chennagiddini. Nimma parichaya agiddu kooda nanage bahala santosha aayithu.

        Puttanna Kanagal, who directed the original movie was an iconic Kannada filmmaker had numerous successful films which were based on popular novels reflecting social themes of the day. However, most of his films that were re-made in other languages were not as well received. Possibly, the intensity of the films got lost in translation.

    • The characters that were nicely etched out in the first half just mostly disappeared in the second! What a tragic waste :( It had so much potential to be a great film.

      • Sigh! Tragic indeed.
        However, I guess this movie could be one for the trivia books. So many well known actors appearing together!

  5. The bible for “how to take a stellar cast and make an awful movie”? That takes some serious talent!! ;D

    • It wasn’t AWFUL…the first half was wonderful and then the second just…gave up or something. I’ve probably been harder on it than it deserves, but I was so disappointed and let down :(

  6. ‘revenge masala’, ‘tawdry disco’…wow….such a coiner of excellent terms you are! :)

  7. You have not written a line about the excellent dancers( i.e.,kalpana iyer,leenadass:both 2 are my favourites),phiroza cooper & sujatha bakshi) I think you got bored by the storyline & direction,to notice them(and the fablous playback singing by usha uthup & sharon prabhakar in “Aiyeye meharbaan”.)

    Further please, let me know that, whether “udaychandra” who acted as one of the brothers, got another name as DHRUV? (I think he acted in “baton baton mein “(as tina munim`s one sided silent lover, “khel khilari ka”(as shabana azmi`s lover in one song “ek babloo pooche, babli se”) , “aamir”(he acted as one of the passengers in the bus, where the bomb has been planted). As far as my knowledge, Udaychandra & shabana azmi both studied together in “Pune film institute”. That is enough for TRIVIA from my side.

    Further, I enjoy your reviews very much. I am very proud of you for loving hindi films, so dearly. “Please” review the recent movie “RUBARU(starring “ranadeep hooda & shahana goswami, both are my favourites”),if you find time, for me(that film is my favourite and eventhough it may be slow for you, you should watch it once. I will wait for your comments on “RUBARU”.

    • I THOUGHT that was Dhruv! I kept thinking—that guy looks exactly like Dhruv…but I’ve never seen Uday Chandra’s name before either. I only ever saw Dhruv in Khel Khilari Ka too.

      I am glad you like my reviews :) I didn’t really notice the songs in this (except the disco one, which you’d have to be deaf and blind to miss). I liked the festival one at the beginning led by Mithun, and actually the Mithun-Deepti song when we discover they love each other. But mostly I thought they were “meh” (sorry) :)

  8. Religious matters bore me too, but Krishna is such a complex God, and I’m sure nothing like Sanjeev Kumar in a bad wig. :)

    I’ve seen this as a kid, but remembered nothing of it.

    BTW, I tried out Induna and Linux Bazar, and got some DVDs already. ‘Tarzan in Delhi’ and ‘Haye Mera Dil’ but nothing to beat your goodies.

  9. As usual, a very good review, Greta.

    I have not seen this movie though I have heard of it. It was one of those remakes of a successful South Indian movie by South Indian directors. Often the Hindi version would fall flat – the broader audience would not not necessarily have the same taste as the more regional audience for the original version. And often, the direction and acting in such movies would be OTT (not saying it is OTT here, the cast is just too high-quality for that).

    I checked out the songs just now – and find that there are 3 songs that I remember being reasonably popular at that time. The title song of course “hum paanch paandav, ye shakuni mama” and two others that I did not know were in this movie “ka jaanoon main sajaniya” and “aati hai paalki sarkaar ki”. No great shakes, IMO.

    Borrowing character names (and even shades) from Mahabharat does not a Mahabharat make. The storyline does sound ok though till the curse of the second half kicks in.

    What is a disco doing in a movie like this? Looks like somebody told the producer “What? You don’t have a disco? What movie are you making?”.
    And he got nervous.

    I think this conversation may also have taken place:
    “Sir, we’ve finished the story and we’ve got to fill another 40 min. What to do?”
    “Come on, I am getting tired of this. Just throw anything in and finish it now. We’ve got to go on to the next project. We’ve spent enough time on this already.”.

    The COTSH (curse of the second half) rears its ugly head and smiles wickedly. :-)

    Additionally, it looks like Deepti Naval was not properly utilised in this movie. I refuse to see a movie where my “chamko” girl (oh, she was just so brilliant in Chashme Baddoor) is wasted like this.

    Hey, I love that “container” vs “silver dish” analogy. :-)
    Can be used a lot, e.g.
    – to ask somebody “so, are you a container or a silver dish”? , or
    – “I like you but I am not looking for a silver dish, am only looking for a container”.

    • Very true, Raja. Its a remake of “Paduvaarahalli Pandavaru” directed by Puttanna Kanagal. His only claim to fame in Bollywood is this movie named “Zahreela Insaan” (1974) starring Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh and Moushumi Chatterjee. This movie has one memorable song though – “O hansini” sung by Kishore Kumar with music composed by Rahul Dev Burman.

      • Sashi, Zahreela Insaan is also a hindi remake of an
        original kannada movie – name eludes me right now

        • Its ‘Naagara Haavu’ (1972) starring Vishnuvardhan, Arathi, Ashwath, Leelavathi, Shivaram, Ambarish and Dheerendra Gopal.

          Good to know you also follow Kannada movies to an extent.

    • The producer was Boney Kapoor, and Anil Kapoor is credited with the casting (I guess he had a small role too, but I must have blinked and missed it).

      LOLOLOL at the container-silver dish usage :)))

  10. Notwitstanding the melodrama I remember I quite enjoyed it then, but then I was young and impressionable. I quite liked Sanjeev Kumar, Mithun and the lovely locations captured excellently (looks wonderful on the big screen) by the cinematographer. If I am not mistaken I think the cinematographer was Baba Azmi, Shabana’s Azmi’s brother.

  11. I’d seen this film lonh tme back and just don’t remember teh disco or the second half. The first half was really good I remmebr with strong performances by almost everybody… After reading your review don’t know whether I’ll be game watching it again.

  12. The lovely Shabana Azmi and Amrish Puri? Chi! Amrish Puri should not be allowed to have a “love” life when he’s playing a despicable villain. He really is scary, even in his non-villainous roles. I wonder what he was like in real life.

    “The curse of the second half” seems to be a very common thing especially in BW’s 80’s and 90’s.

    As for the heroes “vanishing,” I thought it only happened to leading ladies. They come in, shine and sparkle, but the leading man has his work to do and they vanish. This movie has proved me wrong! Also, for me, the religious thing only worked in “Guide.” That’s it.

    If you really want to see a “revenge masala,” Karan Arjun pretty much takes the cake and who else would the villain be except the evil Amrish Puri. The poor woman to suffer: Rakhee, but she is no helpless lass and is a joy to watch!

  13. Sanjeev Kumar was never repetitive in his acting and better than many actors including Big B in my opinion.i don’t think it was a bad wig.his wig in ‘sholay’ was worse –don’t like that movie btw–.

    Was this Puri’s 1st full fledged villain role?he did ‘nishant’ with Shabana before this movie i remember.
    you don’t rate mithun bcoz of his disco movies but he was good in many movies like this one.

  14. Gulshan Grover became a master of disguises in the 80s and 90s.While Amrish only changed looks (wigs,costumes) Grover could become fat and thin in every alternate movie.
    like in ‘Army of’ site “rangeela’s” The Director (not RGV) and “ramjaane’s” bhau is the same guy! Steve has missed this info on his site reviewing both movies within 3 months! (repeat performers – if you know what I mean) btw both movies released in 1995.
    Grover has been harshly ignored nowadays- as all heroes play villainous roles but he is terrific in emotional,even comic roles.
    Shakti kapoor also did that but he does get good roles now.
    Add Ranjeet and especially Prem Chopra to this list of ‘Changing looks’

  15. how on earth has Salman khan not played a villain when even Aamir and Hrithik ,Abhishek have been bad guys on the screen?

  16. I quite love Mithun despite his disco movies (although I’ve still never seen any evidence that he can dance). I’m pretty fond of Gulshan Grover too, although I cannot abide Shakti Kapoor. Salman would make an excellent villain!

  17. memsaab,
    you are increasing the depth of your knowledge of hindi cinema. Kudos to your tolerance of such hindi movies! Sanjeev Kumar’s wig is appropriate to the 80s silliness!

    • You are hilarious :) Honestly it could have been a really really good film with just a bit better direction and scripting. If I watched the same type of thing over and over I would really get bored…sometimes 80s Mithun just beckons. Majboori hoon!!!

  18. I couldn’t quite get past Sanjeev’s wig but movies like these are why I could never bring myself to hate on Mithun. When he’s asked to act instead of play-act, he’s quite wonderful. Unfortunately, his big successes all came from play acting.

    Have you seen Gulaal? There were interesting echoes of the Krishna character there except much better and without the wig. And between Amrish Puri and Kay Kay Menon’s character as well. AP in this movie is all shades of vile yet… I can’t think of a word. It’s not that he’s sexy but he’s sexually potent? A combination of virility and power that creates a kind of character that is simultaneously hot yet repulsive, kind of like Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. I totally understood Shabana’s fascination with him, while being squicked out by it.

  19. i think mithun da was fantastic in that confrontation scene with amrish puri.

  20. Memsaab, Thanks for the review of ‘Hum paanch’! As a Kannadiga, the original of this remains one of the better and more meaningful movies Ive watched in my local language, so I suggest you watch that too (if you get it with subtitles) and compare. It’s definitely more effective. I was appalled to hear a disco was included in the hindi version (lol) and yes, it seems like Puttanna Kanagal’s efforts in the local screenplay and narrative some how did not translate into Hindi. I wonder if it’s similar to what Maniratnam sometimes goes through!

    • I will try and find the original with subtitles, because I can def. see that there was a really good film under this dying to come out (past the disco lights and wigs, ha ha!) :)

  21. Amrish Puri it is beautiful, what power, a figure in a duet with Shabana Azmi super/ Amrish Puri great

  22. A modern take on Mahabharat-the epic….’Kalyug’ does it much better…Memsaab I strongly recommend to you-‘Yahi Hai Zindagi’.(Its Life).it has both..a God and Sanjeev Kumar and if the subtitles do not play truant…you will not be disappointed…I do not remember the year..the decade though is the 70s

  23. Cameo appearance of Anil Kapoor in the movie hum paanch
    i did not find the moment
    can anyone tell about that scene

  24. where the movie Hum Paanch was picturized? The exact location / village name in Karnataka.

  25. Mem Saab, watching Him Paanch on Zee Classic. Read the review, and ROFL. But the locations are fantastic!

  26. Thank you for such a detailed and interesting review! I like this film very much. But most especially, I like the villainous Thakur. :) Yes yes, I know he is evil, but so charismatic and irresistible! Amrish Puri played him magnificently. I must say I was cheering for him not the five protagonists. :P

  27. Though I loved the movie, did I miss something? How all the five are saved from the fire lit by Lala Nayansukh prashad? And yes, before it, he poured drops of poison. Were all of them dead and returned as ghosts? Has the reason of their survival been shown in the movie and I’ve missed it? Or we have to guess it?

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